67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. John 6:67-68..."If we focus too much of our attention on what people want, we will only increase the amount of complaining. The more we try to fulfill their desires, the more they complain when their desires are not met." Francis Chan
Have you ever noticed that Jesus had no problem drawing "followers" so long as He was giving out good "bread and fish." Or dispensed miracles of healing, provision and restoration. But when He made a statement that required whole and complete devotion to Himself, a willingness to come to the same cross He would die upon, these followers turned away in droves. He was left with the twelve, and pointedly asked whether they would leave Him as well?
There has been a subtle but steady move of the church to be "need meeting communities." Identify needs in the culture and then seek to meet those needs in response to them. Let me say that this certainly needs to be part of the role and work of the Body of Christ, but it is not central to it. The providing of bread and fish meets a need, but it doesn't meet "The Need;" that of the transformational life of Christ laying hold of us, and working its wonder within and without. It is so easy to hear the culture tell us what it wants and try to give it that. The underlying hope is that when we do, they will be open then to the "deeper message of the cross." The problem is that we get bogged down in trying to minister to the temporal, and only touch the surface of the spiritual and eternal. We can't transition to that deeper message because the people won't allow it. They're focused on the bread and fish. They don't see, are blind to, their need for the Bread and Water of His Life. Worse, the pressure only increases on the leadership of the church to continue to minister to the flesh, for if they don't, they fear the people will leave....and find a church that will.
Jesus ministered to thousands, and great crowds followed Him everywhere. Yet when He told them that they could not be His disciples unless they "ate His flesh and drank His blood," He was left with the twelve. The crowd wasn't confused about what He was asking for. They knew He was commanding and demanding a total, surrendered devotion to Himself. They wanted the good bread and fish, they weren't looking for that. The disciples remained. Why? They did so because they saw beyond the provision and the miracles. They knew He spoke words of life. They knew they couldn't find that anywhere else but in Him. That meant more than the bread, fish, and miracles. It meant everything. Does it mean everything to you and me?
Prioritizing ministering to peoples "felt needs" is a double-edged sword. It can be effective while also being destructive. No church can ever keep up with all of them, and, as Chan says, the complaints will be angry and loud when they can't. Jesus was willing to risk losing, and did lose, the bread and fish people in order to proclaim the whole message of the gospel. Are we, in this generation of bread and fish consumption, willing to do the same? People may well leave, likely will leave, but I believe He will, in response, raise up a generation of those with the heart of the twelve. Can we believe that? Can we trust Him in that? Bread and fish, or words of life? Which is our focus?