The mixed multitude in your church–and what to do with them

“And a mixed multitude went up with them.”   Exodus 12:38

“And the rabble who were among them had greedy desires, and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, ‘Who will give us meat to eat?'” — Numbers 11:4

The world is attending your church.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is sometimes we turn it over to them.  Not good.

When the Israelites left Egypt under Moses, they were not alone.  Exodus 12 says a large company of riff-raff seized the opportunity to flee the Pharaoh’s harsh rule also.  (Various translations call them “a mixed multitude,” “a motley mob,” “a mingled array of other folk,” “a crowd of mixed ancestry,” and “a great rabble.”)

Did we think the Hebrews were the only slaves in Egypt?  Doubtless there were slaves from many countries.  So, in the same way a jailbreak might free all the prisoners, many of the Pharaoh’s “inmates” decided they had had enough, that anything was better than the slavery of Egypt, and they threw their lot in with the Hebrews and the fellow named Moses.

Before long, the wisdom of that decision would be put to the test.

Bear in mind that these people were outsiders and had no idea who Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were.  They had no inkling that the great I AM was doing something mighty in their midst.  They had no knowledge of Moses and no loyalty to him.  Their thoughts were of themselves and their wants.

Don’t miss that.

They were the ultimate in carnal-mindedness.  If the mind set on the flesh is death, as Paul says in Romans 8, these people were the poster children for that fatal condition.

Throughout the forty-year trek up and down the Sinai peninsula–usually called the wilderness–the constant bickering and “murmuring” which drove Moses batty often originated in the unbelieving rabble.  The griping is recorded all through Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  In most cases, no mention is made of the instigators.  But in Numbers 11:4ff we read: “The rabble who were among them had greedy desires,” a condition which was apparently contagious. “And also the sons of Israel wept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat?”

What follows is almost comical.  “We remember,” said the people of the Lord, “the fish and the cucumbers, the melons and leeks and onions and garlic–all of which we ate for free in Egypt.”

They’d forgotten the cruelty of their captors and the hopelessness of slavery, and were remembering only the pickles and onions.  How like us they were.  (Incidentally, the various translations call this mixed multitude “the rabble,” “the alien rabble,” the foreign elements,” “a mixed company of strangers,” “riff-raff,” and “the Egyptians.”)

Vance Havner made light of the yearning of the people for such.  He called cucumbers 12 inches of indigestion, and said watermelons are 95 percent water. As for the onions and garlic, “They speak for themselves.” 

Once Israel settled in the Promised Land in the days of Joshua, not all the pagans were moved out.  Some were spared and remained.  They are called the am-ha-aretz in the Hebrew, meaning “people of the land.” They were a constant sore in the side of the nation.  They worshiped other gods, observed pagan practices, and had no sympathy for the faith of the Israelites.  Their proximity made it impossible for Israelites to avoid them, and before long were picking up their mannerisms, their fears, and their values.  Not good.

The foreign element is still with us. 

The reason this little history lesson matters is that the typical church of today is like the multitudes that followed Moses through the wilderness. The  faithful are there, and their families.  But scattered throughout the congregation are the outsiders, the “Egyptians” if you will–some of them seeking the Lord but not “there” yet, others just along for the ride, attending church out of curiosity or attracted by the free food or entertainment.  Or the pretty girls.  (I don’t knock that, by the way.  It brought my dad to church as an 18-year-old.  And I stand here before you today as a result of that fateful Saturday evening attraction in 1930.  Mom and Dad married four years later and produced seven children over a marriage lasting nearly 74 years.)

The outsiders are not children of the Heavenly Father, not redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and not born again. At least, not yet.  And until they are saved, they do not walk by the Spirit but in the flesh.  And, lest we forget, the mind set on the flesh is “hostile toward God for it does not subject itself to the things of God” (Romans 8:7).

Whatever else we must do in the church, we must not turn over the leadership or decision-making to these people.  No matter how numerous they are, how influential, or how wealthy.

From this we conclude several things….

One. We’re glad they’re in church.  Many will hear the gospel and be saved.

Two. We welcome them to church.  We  should be advertising our services and making parking spaces with them in mind.  And–I’m thinking of a church I visited recently–we should unlock the front doors!  (Let’s make it easy for a first-timer to enter the premises and want to return.)

Three. But we err in catering to the outsiders.  There are pastors who dress like the rabble in order not to “turn them off” (or so they say).  Personally, I find this sad beyond words.  We have pastors and members who talk and act like the mixed multitude and call it “relating to them.”  Some churches pattern their worship music like the world, thinking erroneously that this will attract them. Very, very mistaken.

Repeatedly, God told Israel not to pick up the habits and customs of the Canaanites. The rabble, the outsiders, the foreigners.  They were to be a people set apart.  (The problem, as you may have figured out by now, is we don’t want to be a people set apart.  Like Israel in the time of the Judges, we want to be like the people around us.  After that–after we start copying their values and talk, their culture and their mannerisms–it’s all downhill.)

Four. We err far more seriously when we put the rabble in charge.  Even if their representatives do contribute large sums of money, we don’t make them deacons or elect them to committees.  They are not allowed to sing in the choir or teach Sunday School.  They are foreigners, not following the same Lord.

You are not insulting them if when you are asked, you explain the reason why they are not allowed a role in the decision-making of the church.  If they get mad and leave, you must not take it personally as though you failed them.

Five.  The unsaved are the source of most of the complaining and bickering within the congregation.  People who haven’t come to the cross in humility, repentance, and faith have little appreciation for submission, love for their enemies, and obeying their leaders.  Like the rabble under Moses, they were always clamoring for their needs to be met.

We remember the “men of renown” who rebelled against Moses in Numbers 16.  “You have taken too much authority, Moses,” they said.  “All the congregation is holy, not just you.  Why are you elevating yourself above them?”  You know the rest of that story.  The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob made short work of those rabble-rousers.  (By the pedigree given in Numbers 16:1, these were Hebrews, not Egyptians.  And yet there can be little doubt where the impetus for their rebellion started.)

Six.  The complaining of the carnal is contagious.  Soon, the immature within the congregation picks up the attitude of the malcontents, and the murmuring becomes deafening.  One wonders how Moses stood it for a full forty years!

Seven. Church leaders must be taught repeatedly not to cave in to the complaints and demands of the rabble, the foreigners, the mixed multitude.  Pastors must speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and the lay leadership should support them when they do.

In deacon training conferences, I stress this point.  Deacons will often be called upon to listen to the complaints of some in the church against the leadership.  And, from time to time, the concerns are genuine and something must be done.  However, if the pastors are faithful and the complaints unjust and unfair, the deacons must be courageous and speak truth to the plaintiffs.  They must never let the church be held hostage by those who do not walk by faith, do not understand spiritual things, and do not respect the God-called shepherds of the congregation.

The time will come in every church when the lay leadership must accept the truth of I Corinthians 2:14 and then teach it to the congregation.  “But the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”

God, help your church.  Please! 

 

6 thoughts on “The mixed multitude in your church–and what to do with them

  1. Pastor Joe,
    Thank you so much for saying what needs to be said. I give it all a strong AMEN. I have encouraged many fellow pastors to read your insights. Blessings,
    Doug

  2. Please don’t use the labels on decent people who are telling you about legitimate issues. Also, when you refer to the unsaved, I have heard that used to describe people who just don’t agree with every single detail of the official opinion.

    • You don’t care for the labels scripture puts on groups, I gather. Please take that up with the Lord, friend. However, if you see any place where I have applied a scriptural term unfairly, I’d welcome your pointing it out.

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