Someone made a comment in a leaders’ meeting last month about how I had personally challenged a young man. I was a campus minister, and he was a college senior about to graduate. Knowing him very well, I simply said, “The greatest thing you could do with your life would be to become a minister.” I wouldn’t automatically recommend that to anyone, but to this person, it was indeed the appropriate thing to say. He went onto to become an extraordinarily effective evangelist.
__My suggestion about his career choice was not very dramatic — no music playing, no Bible verses, no message preparation. It was a comment I made sitting at a Wendy’s restaurant somewhere between finishing the burger and the soft drink refill.
The organization of which we were members at that time was constantly trying to inspire young people to serve in campus ministry or foreign missions. The invitation to serve was repeated at every conference and in every publication. My suggestion about his career choice was not very dramatic — no music playing, no Bible verses, no message preparation. It was a comment I made sitting at a Wendy’s restaurant somewhere between finishing the burger and the soft drink refill.
I think one reason is that it was not a general announcement but a personal challenge. And that reminds me of several stories: a New York murder, a faked epileptic seizure, small churches, six-person juries, and the Great Commission.
A New York Murder
In 1964 an assailant chased and attacked a woman three times over a period of thirty-five minutes before stabling her to death. Thirty-eight of her New York neighbors watched from the safety of their apartment windows. No one did anything to help. No one even called the police.
Several academic studies were conducted, attempting to explain what has come to be as the “bystander effect.” In the final analysis, the woman’s biggest problem and the one that contributed to her death was that there were too many witnesses.
__In the final analysis, the woman’s biggest problem and the one that contributed to her death was that there were too many witnesses.
An Epileptic Seizure
Four years later, another study (Darley & Latane, 1968) was conducted in which a New York college student appeared to be having an epileptic seizure. When there was a single bystander, the student in need received help eighty-five percent of the time, but only thirty-one percent of the time when there were five bystanders.
Six-Person Juries — Research on the difference between six-person and twelve-person juries reveals that the fewer the jurors, the more each juror tends to process the data and the more personally responsibility each feel for the outcome. Consequently, there is a statistically significant difference between jury verdicts and whether or not they can reach a verdict.
Big Church, Small Church
When my wife, Linda, and I left an Orlando mega-church (seven services a weekend) and began attending a small church, I commented on how different it felt. At the mega-church, as one of the multitude, I felt less responsibility to give, to serve, to lead, or even (subconsciously) to respond to the message.
__What would the difference have been if Jesus had ministered primarily to a congregation and (rather than personally commissioning the eleven) charged the whole group of followers to go into all the world, preach the gospel, and make disciples of all nations?
The Great Commission
So how does all this relate to the Kingdom of God? Reading the Gospels, I often ask myself whether a particular saying of Jesus’ was addressed to the small group of disciples or to the multitudes in general. According the Gospel writers, the Great Commission was given specifically to the eleven disciples (Judas was already gone) — not to the seventy, not to the larger group of followers, and not to the multitude.
What would the difference have been if Jesus had ministered primarily to a congregation and (rather than personally commissioning the eleven) charged the whole group of followers to go into all the world, preach the gospel, and make disciples of all nations? What do you think would have been the result? It might have been similar to the stories mentioned earlier.
If that had been the case, Christianity might have never take root or spread throughout the world. But we know that was not God’s plan and that’s not what happened. The personal challenge (i.e. the Great Commission) in the context of small group discipleship changed the world.