He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34)
Jesus had followers. He had thousands of them. People with all kinds of reasons like: curiosity, the need for healing, the enjoyment of new authoritative teaching, or an invitation from a friend. Jesus definitely had his following, and he should have been very pleased. If things were going so good, why would Jesus ask for a higher commitment in this text? How come he was not pleased with merely numbers? Didn’t he know that the commitment to self-denial, risk of death, and obedience would be not as attractive? Was Jesus trying to thin out the crowd and send people home?
Jesus seems to be adding another layer of commitment from the people who follow Jesus. Rather than simply having followers who were curious about him, Jesus raised the bar of discipleship. From those who desired to go to the next level of “follower-ship,” he demanded a decision of life commitment that went far beyond curiosity and the hopeful fulfillment of personal need.
I believe Jesus is highlighting an essential aspect of discipleship. Following Jesus was not to be convenient, but an action of continual self-denial and unwavering obedience to Jesus. How we understand this idea is an essential component to the work in Evangelism and Church Growth. The call to discipleship was not about numbers, but about being humble, dedicated, and faithful in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Once discipleship is on a proper trajectory within the church, things like evangelism, church transformation, church growth and starting new initiatives can be brought into place with greater effectiveness.
'Lord, in light of all that is happening in our churches today, continue to sound the call for a radical commitment to discipleship so that we can be faithful Christ followers."