Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Core of Discipleship

By Tiana Murray; adapted from Global City Missions

Too many church services have ended with an altar call, a "repeat-after-me" prayer, and a tally of new converts. And then... nothing. People become members, sit in the pews on Sunday mornings, and maybe even read their Bibles a few times a week and join a Bible study. But we should start to question whether Jesus is satisfied with this.

The God of the Bible isn't interested in the number of members in a church or Bible study, or how many hands are raised in a service. He isn't interested in converts, but disciples. The God of the Bible is interested in people who drop everything to follow Him wherever, whenever. The God of the Bible is interested in the transformation of the individual, the community, the world. He is a God who makes all things new.

Sometimes we want people to know Jesus so badly we are willing to compromise the  message of Gospel just so that they don't feel threatened or walk away. Instead of training disciples and entering joyfully into sanctification, we promote, perhaps unintentionally, a message of partial obedience. It's the idea that church attendance and a "please save me" prayer is enough, or that certain pet sins can be ignored, because true discipleship is a hard sell and people might walk away. We don't preach that God demands perfection because, well, who would sign up for that? But the truth is that being a Christian does mean being perfect, or at least  striving for the perfection Jesus attained for us by His power and strength (see Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,”  and Philippians 3:12, ” Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ  Jesus took hold of me.”) It does mean changing everything, down to the very core of who we are. Jesus isn’t just an idea to try, hoping  it works out but always holding onto the option of bailing if things don’t “work for you.” He is the truth. When we water down the Gospel, or only look at church attendance, the truth of the Gospel is not heard nor spread; we promote a counterfeit Gospel.

Global City Missions summarizes the focus of true missions and discipleship, in this way: "Church planting occurs as an outcome of making disciples who in turn make other disciples and form Christian community wherever they are. Social justice occurs when we make disciples who are imitating the compassion of Jesus. Transformation of cities and communities becomes possible as transformation begins in individual households, and they too become agents of transformation. Evangelism occurs as new disciples become witnesses of what they have seen and heard -- and then teach others to do the same. Family restoration occurs as making disciples brings the ministry of reconciliation into households. Like the parable of the mustard seed, focusing on making disciples of Jesus often begins small and slow but makes a deep and far-reaching impact. It is a seed of transformation that ultimately embodies the mission of God." God isn't interested in how many people raise their hands in a service. He is interested in a body of people who have been transformed, and are transforming the world around them, both locally and globally, as a result. Discipleship transforms everything.

Jesus had the biggest heart for people of anyone that ever lived, but his interactions with people often look different from ours. Jesus doesn’t beg for  followers or lower his standards when he sees he’s losing someone. Jesus says blunt, harsh things like, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is  fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). Other times, when people walk away from him in contempt or confusion, he simply says, “He who has ears to  hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:9). Jesus is more interested in a few follow-you-to-the-end-of-the-earth disciples than a large number of bargainers masquerading as believers.

In Luke 18, A rich ruler, compelled by the buzz regarding this strange, amazing man, approaches Jesus and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. I  imagine he played over the conversation in his mind and rehearsed his lines so that, when the moment came, it would be everything he hoped for. After the  ruler assured Jesus he had kept the ten commandmants, Jesus’ reply was as simple as it was brutal.
“One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

And here the story comes to a climax; the tension is palpable. I see the man’s sweaty palms and quickened pulse next to Jesus’ calm composure. I see the  man’s shifty eyes, looking for a way out or a loophole or a “just kidding!” next to Jesus’ direct gaze. The man takes a breath, time stops, and everything in  me as an onlooker hopes for the best… and slowly, horrifyingly, the man walks away. Almost as horrifying, Jesus lets him.

Jesus wants disciples. It's time we started to make them.

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