The Way of the West and the Way of the Cross

Westerners, particularly Americans, love big. Big paychecks. Big business. Big burgers. Big houses. Big yards. Big contracts. Big stadiums. Big events. I suppose this is a human thing, of course. But we Americans tend to specialize in big.

Unfortunately, churches in America love big, too. We think that if just more people show up on Sunday, we’re growing. We think that if we had a successful outreach event on a Friday night, we’re doing evangelism. We think that if a large crowd gathers for an class, we’re making disciples. We think that if we just have more “big” events on the calendar, we are a spiritually active and healthy church.

But Jesus didn’t care much for crowds. In fact, he tried to get away from them. The big crowds and events were interruptions for Jesus. He embraced it, to be sure. He went out to preach to the crowds, but to Jesus, big crowds and big events weren’t the main thing. They were peripheral. To Jesus, real learning, real application, and real life change would happen in small, intimate settings. He had a band of twelve disciples. Three of them were his “inner circle.” He explained things more fully to them. He walked with them. He ate with them. He camped out under the stars with them.

Yet, in America, we like the glitz and glamour. We like to busy ourselves planning big events and then have the audacity to call it “ministry.” It’s the way of the West in the church. And it’s categorically different than Jesus’ method for spiritual formation. Now, big events aren’t bad. I like events. They can be a lot of fun. But when big events become a the thing, they become an ultimate thing. And only Jesus and his way is ultimate. Why do we think we can improve on the methods of the Master? His way is subtle, ordinary, slow, patient, and everyday. He talked about wind and water, figs and flowers, mustard seeds and sheep, virgins and vines.

But go a step further. Think about the end of Jesus’ life. He was alone. His disciples had left him. There was only one crowd and they were shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Jesus died alone, with but a few women, and his beloved disciple John, standing beneath the cross. The way of Jesus—the way of the cross—is not flashy or glamorous. It’s not sexy or attractive or popular. It’s the narrow way—the hard way.

The gospel of Jesus Christ flips the values of the world upside down. It calls us to something radically different. Are we willing to die alone? Are we willing to give everything for a few and lose ourselves—our reputation, our prestige, our ambition—in order to truly gain it all? Or will we—the church in the West—continue to pursue the big, the flashy, the marquee, the eye-catching. Will we be a slave to events and big crowds? Will we forget the way of the Master?

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