Summary: When adherents and members leave the fellowship of a congregation, how should we respond? We find guidance for our response in the actions of the Master.

JOHN 6:60-71


“When many of his disciples heard [Jesus’ describing Himself as ‘the Bread of Life’], they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.’ (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’

“After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.’ He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.” [1]

“Do you want to go away as well?” No man will have served long in the pastorate before he is compelled to ask this question of congregants. If the minister remains focused on honouring Christ and obeying His Word, he will eventually offend all. It cannot be otherwise since the man of God will himself be offended as he grapples with obedience to the Master. He reads the Word and is rebuked for his own perfidy to the Master. Because he is a fallen being, the man of God must always struggle against his fallen nature, as is true for all people. The closer he walks to the Saviour, the more he will be offended by his very nature. If the man of God was not appointed by the Head of the Church, he would quit his work. However, he has been appointed and he will serve until released because he is appointed.

Serving a congregation is one of the most challenging tasks any man will ever assume. Candidly, a man must either be ignorant of what is expected, or he must be somewhat unbalanced to enter into the task of serving Christ’s people if he has not received divine appointment. Balancing the conflicting expectations and, yes, even the demands of multiple people—people with different interests and with different priorities—is an impossible task. Superficially, it will often appear that for the congregation progress is defined as one step forward and two steps back. In part, this arises from the nature of fallen mankind.

The sixty-sixth verse of the text is transitional; that verse informs the reader, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” Fame is fleeting; it is an axiom of service that the preacher must beware those who praise him most loudly. The man who rejoiced at the pastor’s arrival will be the first to insist that it is time for him to pack up and leave. Growing out of this is another truth worthy of consideration: The preacher who imagines that he is responsible to make people like him will lead a miserable life. What was true in the life of the Master during the days of His flesh is equally true for His servants. Jesus warned His servants, “If [people] kept my word, they will also keep yours” [JOHN 15:20b]. Then, He said that people will act this way because they do not know Him [see JOHN 15:21]. That is stunning!

During my service before the Lord I have witnessed more “backdoor revivals” than I care to remember. Most such negative situations result in growth ultimately if the congregation can rest in the Lord. Such responses by those who profess to love Christ and to love His people lie in the fallen condition of mankind—there will always be those within the congregation who have a better idea, or who second-guess pastoral decisions. The Master Himself warned His servants, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” [LUKE 6:26].

I know it can be distressing whenever people grow disgruntled and leave the fellowship. Let me show you something that I picked up listening to a fine expositor of the Word.[2] As the first church passed through the earliest days as they are described in Doctor Luke’s account, I want you to take note of the cycles. In ACTS 1:12-26, the church is focused on quality. They are selecting someone to take Judas’ place and they are focused on prayer as they wait for the promise of the coming Spirit. In ACTS 2:1-41, the congregation experiences quantitative growth. The Spirit is poured out and about three thousand are added to the congregation on that one day. Again, in ACTS 2:42-47 the church is focused on quality as the congregation focuses on ministering to one another. In ACTS 3:1-4:22 we see the church again experiencing quantity as the Spirit works in power, adding thousands to the assembly. In ACTS 4:23-5:11 the church again focuses on quality—the believers are learning to stand firm in the face of trials, they are learning how to serve one another and as God purifies through removing those who dishonour Him. Then, in ACTS 5:12-42 we again witness the church experiencing quantity as we read “Every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus” [ACTS 5:42]. Then, in ACTS 6:1-6 the congregation again focuses on quality as they select the first deacons. You see, then, the cycles of church progress as revealed in this book. What was true of that first congregation remains true of churches to this day—quality followed by quantity followed by quality followed by quantity. Consolidation followed by progress—this is the pattern by which our Lord has worked among the churches. It will prove to be the history of this congregation as well, provided we don’t allow our fears or our personal desires to shove the Spirit of God aside. We don't want to be the church with the most people; we want to be the church with people most pleasing to God.

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