A Rant on Discipleship
Kingdom discipleship is often overcomplicated.
From step-by-step discipleship books to yearlong internship programs, the word disciple has begun to evolve into something Jesus most likely did not intend. In the church, a disciple or apprentice often refers to someone who means to graduate high school, attend a Bible college, participate in a church internship, serve as a youth leader for a few years, then possibly take over a youth ministry, eventually retiring as a lead pastor. Unfortunately, many churches, especially youth ministries, communicate this message without realizing what they are saying. “Maybe God is calling some of you to a life of full-time vocational ministry…” These subtle seeds are often planted by youth pastors into the minds and hearts of their students, and for the majority of the most “dedicated” students, these words are adopted as their one and only calling.
Don’t get me wrong: the church obviously needs dedicated young people to step into roles of pastoral ministry…BADLY. But the question must be asked: is this really what Jesus is asking of every single believer?
By suggesting that the most dedicated disciples will one day become pastors, we alienate the vast majority of churchgoers who, in their genuine love for Jesus, have absolutely no desire to work for a church. Though Jesus may genuinely call some into vocational ministry, he will likely call most to something else. In The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard gives a summary statement of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus:
“To be a disciple of Jesus is, crucially, to be learning from Jesus how to do your job as Jesus himself would do it…‘in the name’ of Jesus” (Willard 285).
For the average churchgoer, this definition may be of a bit more use. With an understanding that discipleship is less about specific vocation and more about bringing honor to Christ in almost any vocation (excluding explicitly anti-Christian vocations), the possibilities of sincere, effective ministry are endless. A lawyer, doctor, chef, or dump truck driver can all extend the love of Christ throughout their everyday lives, so long as their frame of living is to do everything “as working for the Lord” (NIV Colossians 3:23).
Still, it ain’t always easy.
Many might conclude that under this definition for discipleship, following Jesus is quite easy. While a truly transformed heart that longs to serve God may emerge easily, the willingness to leave behind the luxuries of the world is often quite difficult. When Jesus encountered a man who desired to follow him but had unfinished business at home, Jesus replied “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (NIV Luke 9:60). Jesus is not some heartless, anti-family dictator, but he does make a strong point with this response. Many desire to hold on to the cares of the world while equally following Jesus, somehow thinking that the two can coexist without every interfering with one another.
This simply does not work.
While Jesus may not specifically call every disciple to give up all of their personal rights, families, etc., he does require that all willingly place the Kingdom of God above those things. There are obvious, Biblical standards for how many of those things are governed (i.e. the family unit), but they should first and foremost be subject to the authority and obedience of Christ. This cost should come as no surprise to those who have been genuinely changed and are pursuing Jesus and the establishment of his Kingdom here on earth.
May we find what it truly means to follow Jesus, no matter what we set our hands to.