In this life, there might be people who sacrificed the possibility of a romantic relationship because that attractive guy or girl demanded too much of their time, money and attention. They were not ready to sacrifice their relationship with God. There might be people who lost jobs and business opportunities for moral reasons. They didn’t want to go against their values. Discipleship can come with many temptations.
Jesus told a crowd that was following him:
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-27).
Jesus had a huge following of fans. He had paparazzi hounding him all day. People were astounded by what Jesus could do. He was a fantastic speaker. He was a very charismatic spiritual and religious leader. He was a performer of miracles and healed many people with disabilities and illnesses.
Despite his huge fan base, Jesus would have known that only some of his fans would actually become devoted disciples who would follow him to their deaths. Jesus presented a challenge to true discipleship because he wanted hard-core followers, not just a large fan base.
“Jesus presented a challenge to true discipleship because he wanted hard-core followers, not just a large fan base.”
Jesus was a person who understood sacrifice and calculating the cost of following him. He knew there would be hardships in following him to the end. He used an example of the cost of constructing a skyscraper (v.28-30). He followed up with an example of the cost of carrying out a military operation (vv.31-32). If a person is not willing to sacrifice everything to follow Jesus, they might end up resenting their decision.
In this life, there are costs in following Jesus. Jesus expects us to see the long-term possibility of losing everything. He said, “So, therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (v.33). In some countries, Christians are persecuted for their faith and face death threats. Are we ready for anything if this were the case?
Can we be totally devoted Christians without hiding away in monastery or convent? How do we do it in the marketplace without being beaten down for our faith?
Under Emperor Constantine in the Roman Empire, by imperial decree, everyone was baptized as an infant and understood to be a Christian. To become a Christian was difficult because everyone else was already considered a Christian. The difference between the Christian and the “Christian life” became blurred. Rather than help the Church, this may have hurt it.
There were Christians then who wanted to become seriously devoted Christians and made a personal decisions to give up everything to follow and serve God. To pursue a higher calling then meant becoming a monk or a nun and renouncing materialism and marriage. Monasticism grew. People even made vows to the evangelical counsel of poverty, chastity and obedience. In effect, this raised the bar higher. There was now more things to differentiate mainstream cultural Christians from those who sacrificed everything and committed their whole life to serve God.
In the Protestant and evangelical world, we don’t have monasticism. So how can we express our devotion to the Lord Jesus without hiding away in a monastery? Can we boldly bring our Christian faith into the workplace without sacrificing our total devotion to God? It’s not easy, but I think it can be done.
… a series of posts on politics, church life, culture, theology-discipleship, and ministry
It seems that it’s not only the mushy middle in politics, church life, and culture, that are being pushed out, but also the mushy middle in theology. It used to be that generations of Christians stuck with the church/denomination of their parents. However, this is also the way of the mushy middle. Today, Christian young people are moving around from one church to another (church hopping) because they have a spiritual need that is not filled. They want a theology that is stable, rock solid, and not one that’s wishy-washy and changes with the times. Pastors and denominational leaders in established mainline churches hate it when we lose the few devoted sheep whom we are desperately trying to hold onto. We end up accusing other churches (e.g., charismatic/evangelical that tend to be missional) of sheep stealing.
The fact is that it was never a matter of “sheep stealing” in the first place; rather, it was a matter of not adequately feeding our own sheep. Hungry sheep are always looking for green pastures to feed on. Many parishioners, especially in our post-modern age, who really do care about their own spiritual growth do not care so much about which church they are attending, as long as, they are growing in faith and deepening their spirituality. I know this because I am a product of this myself. We, who are ministry leaders and clergy, need to be actively engaging and providing our sheep with substantial “spiritual food” to deepen the faith of our own flock. Otherwise, we will lose hungry sheep to “greener pastures”.
In most cases, “sheep stealing” might not an appropriate description of what is happening. Even the very churches that are experiencing growth are also experiencing big fluctuations within their attendees; however, it doesn’t bother them because they accept what is happening, and they are adapting quickly enough to improve their methods of ministry and discipleship. Today, it is no longer “the big eat the small”; it is “the fast eat the slow”, as Pastor Mark Driscoll says.
My point in this post is this. The mushy middle in theology and discipleship also seems to be in the process of being pushed out. Today’s generations of young Christians in this post-modern culture are willing and able to join Christian communities where they can deepen their Christian faith and spirituality. Wishy-washiness is no longer tolerated. It’s time to say “bye bye” to the mushy middle attitute.