I was intrigued by an article in Preaching Magazine last month. I found myself standing up, pacing, reading aloud, making notes, and shouting, "Halle-glory and Praise-eluja." Some things do that to me. This was one of them.

O.S. Hawkins' article took me inside a question that Christ asked his staff. Actually, two questions; one on Public Consensus ("Who do men say that I am?"), and the other on Personal Conviction ("Who do you say that I am?").

The questions were posed just outside Caesarea Philippi, Israel's most northern boundary. It was a perfect spot to survey local perceptions of the young evangelist, far from the canned bias of the Jewish leaders in metro Jerusalem.

Hawkins article, however, took on a different slant, contending that these questions reveal the plumb line for today's pulpiteers. The author believes churches showcase two distinct styles of leadership: pastors who lead by public consensus, i.e. taking a congregation "where they want to go," and pastors who lead by personal conviction, i.e. taking a congregation "where they need to go."

The trend, he points out, has shifted from leading people to following them.

But let's be honest, bucking the crowd is no picnic:

  • Just ask Aaron about his short lived stint of leadership while Moses was away. The multitude wanted to build a golden calf. And, when asked why he complied, Aaron's only defense was, "The people made me do it!" 
  • Just ask Peter about his spontaneous answers to an inquisitive young girl while Jesus was on trial. Peter's leadership in the upper room was easy; he was with friends. But outside, among the rank and file of unfamiliar faces, he fell apart.

From the opening moments of Pentecost the church was fashioned to be distinct from the world. God designed us that way; to praise Him, to please Him. Conforming to the world was not His mandate. His bride was never meant to be one of the girls. Scripture underscores this distinction with words like, "peculiar," and "transformed," and "unblemished."

But though we've been called to be "separate," we seem to be terrified of being different. We feel the need to popularize the church, to broaden its appeal. Rather than claiming our spiritual birthright, we work overtime to hide the distinction.

But Jesus didn't do it that way: 

  • Remember the Rich Young Ruler? When this rising star quizzed Jesus about the prequalifications of eternal life, Jesus gave him a list of commandments intended to underscore the impossibility of the task. But the self-righteous RYR claimed to be equal to the task. So, Jesus raised the bar because He would not offer easy believism, even if it meant losing a great prospect.
  • Remember the Woman at the Well? After five minutes with Jesus she ran into town exclaiming, "Come; meet a man who told me everything I've ever done." And when you consider that she was the most despicable person in town you begin to realize that Jesus didn't sugarcoat His words.

To the Savior, the gospel was not cheap. Yet, the multitudes came from far and wide to hear it. That's because the multitudes desperately wanted something the world couldn't offer.

So do our churches.

Few of Jesus' conversations would be considered church growth techniques. His words tended to alienate rather than recruit. Posting attendance figures was not important. Nor was the favor of power-brokers. His favorite audience was the pitiful, the sinner, and the outcast. His goal wasn't to be admired, but to be followed.

That's still true today.

That's why His question speaks specifically to Pastors. "Who do you say that I am?"

Blessings,

Ron Walters
Vice President of Church Relations
P.S. If you're looking for great preaching tools, don't forget Preaching Magazine. It's my favorite. Check it out at Preaching.com. Do your congregation a favor by subscribing.
Copyright 2007 by Ron Walters

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Original publication date: February 17, 2009