Now don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that you bless your pastor by planning to go to the coast or the park on Sunday morning as a special Bank Holiday weekend treat. Like most pastors I will be praying for a distinctly unpleasant temperature and slight drizzle, that will make attending church seem all the more attractive! (A massive freeze or full blooded downpour can be counter productive as people get worried about leaving the house and the journey to church.)
It's just that as I was working on Mark 1 for Sunday morning I was struck by how Jesus' priority wasn't a full church. Let me explain...
After a days preaching and healing in Capernaum we find Jesus, the next morning, in a quiet place praying. The disciples arrive with what should be fantastic news.
“Everyone is looking for you!” (Mark 1:37).
"You should see the queue to get into the church car park Jesus! They're gagging for more! Let's go."
'Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”' (Mark 1:38)
This isn't about Jesus moving on because the whole of Capernaum is converted. Far from it! This is Jesus flagging up his priority compared to the reason that people want a piece of him. They are coming for healing. He has come to preach his kingdom. To call them to follow him as God's King.
I was chatting to a lad this week who had recently been looking round his local churches. He's quite a new Christian. He said told me about one he went to "Daf, it didn't really feel like a sermon. More a motivational speech."
His experience isn't uncommon. And it's very popular. Because we love being told we're great. We love a message that is about us. We love the idea that Jesus has come to make us happier, healthier and wealthier. We might not be taken in by the full blooded prosperity gospel, but it's all too easy to think that what I need to hear more than anything else is a message that helps me get through Monday feeling content.
The temptation as a pastor is to give people what they want. Because it fills the church. And who doesn't think that we should be about filling churches? Jesus apparently!
Now I know that when I say churches I mean church buildings. And I know that Jesus is building his church. That he is gathering his people to himself. But the only way that we will do that faithfully is not by going for popularity but rather by preaching the biblical gospel with clarity.
Now back to that sermon...