Have you ever claimed to be something you’re not? I once posed as a town sheriff, brandishing a gun and stopping everyone who disobeyed the law. Of course, at the age of 4, and with a plastic orange-tipped six-shooter, my parents thought it was cute. I fear in calling ourselves disciples of Christ, we sometimes claim to be what we are not.
When I fail to feed the hungry, clothe the naked or visit the prisoner, I fail as Christ’s disciple. When I don’t pray for my enemies, forgive others readily or judge people for any reason, I fail as Christ’s disciple. When I seek vengeance instead of turning the other cheek or trust in my own accumulation of wealth for provision I fail as Christ’s disciple. Discipleship is tough stuff.
Luckily, following Christ is a lifelong journey —one in which we are called to mature daily. We serve a gracious God who wipes away sin by the power of Christ. Paul writes, “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14). Even though I daily fall short of God’s will, God continually rescues me from darkness. Praise be to God!
This means that when I call myself a disciple of Christ, it’s not because I’ve somehow arrived spiritually, that I never struggle to live a godly life, or that I’m better than anybody else. Rather, when I call myself a disciple of Christ I am admitting my deep need for God’s grace, my utter dependence on the sustaining presence of the Spirit, and confessing my desire to live in the way of life everlasting rather than the way that leads to destruction (Prov. 14:12).
When I call myself a disciple of Christ, I say it realizing that being a disciple is about living the way of Christ, not just what I believe about Christ. The former is far more challenging, and requires much more on my part. Perhaps it’s better to say that I aspire to live as a true disciple of Christ.
Oswald Chambers once said, “The ‘show business,’ which is so incorporated into our view of Christian work today, has caused us to drift far from Our Lord’s conception of discipleship. It is instilled in us to think that we have to do exceptional things for God; we have not. We have to be exceptional in ordinary things, to be holy in mean streets, among mean people, surrounded by sordid sinners. That is not learned in five minutes.”
I wonder how distraught Chambers would be if he saw the “show business” we incorporate into North American Christianity today. My guess is he might be aghast.
Hardly a youth conference or camp exists where lights, smoke, and a rock band aren’t part of “the draw.” I’ve helped run many such camps and conferences and numerous students do make life changing decisions at such events, however, part of me wonders if the reason “nones” and “unafilliateds” continue to grow as population segments is, well … us. For over 30 years we’ve too often invited teenagers to entertainment rather than discipleship.
Many churches figuratively scream (like Russell Crowe’s character in the movie Gladiator) “Are you not entertained?” The resounding answer from many Millennials is, “Thanks, but we’ll find entertainment elsewhere.” If I often fail at personal discipleship (and I’m a pastor), and our churches often fail at corporate discipleship, isn’t the future of the church bleak?
Thankfully, the church was not established by human hands, and she does not live or die by human effort. Paul tells the Ephesians that the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ as the cornerstone. God is the master builder of the church. Paul, Peter, Isaiah and others are but stones God builds the church upon. Stones do not labor, have absolutely no control over where they are placed, how they are cut, or how far they are carried to their final destination.
Discipleship is tough stuff. Do we claim to be something we are not? Authenticity ranks among the top values of younger generations. When we attempt build the church, are we emphasizing discipleship and trusting in the Master Builder to continue creating an ever new ecclesia, or relying on entertaining programs? Perhaps the wave of Millennials leaving the church is an indication.