My obvious answer to that question is no. But I can’t help but feel that sometimes we treat Jesus as if he is boring. Sometimes I can’t help but survey the lives we are living and conclude that serving and relating to Jesus often times looks more like an obligation than an opportunity for life transformation.
In my last post I referenced Gospel Centered Youth Ministry edited by Cameron Cole and Jon Nielson. Chapter 2 of this amazing book, “Making disciples who make disciples,” is written by Darren DePaul. It should come as no surprise that the content of this chapter deals with discipleship. It’s the topic of discipleship that has prompted my question for this post and the thoughts I laid out above. DePaul writes, and I agree, “the primary role of the youth pastor and the student ministry in the local church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.” Yes, that is what youth ministry is all about… making disciples. But what exactly is a disciple? A disciple is a lifelong learner who is following and growing in relationship with Jesus Christ.
Now comes the million dollar question(s)… What does it look like to be a life long learner? What does it look like to follow Jesus? What does it look like to grow in relationship with Jesus?
In all fairness, to claim to have the only true and right answer to this question is arrogant. If we knew a perfect answer to this question we wouldn’t have the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant church right? If we all agreed on what it looked like to be a disciple we wouldn’t have the multitude of denominations within the church today. With all that said, I was moved by the words of Tom Sine in answering the question ‘what does it look like to be a disciple?’ Sine writes, “Jesus expects those who follow Him to be as extreme as His first followers were in putting aside every lesser thing and making this business of being a disciple a whole-life proposition.”
If you’re like me you flinched at those words the first time you read them… Really?! You’re telling me that the ONLY way for me to be a true disciple is if I act like the first disciples of Jesus?! Get out of here, there’s no way that could or would ever happen. That standard is simply too black and white and is calling for too much sacrifice appropriate to our lifestyle.
Isn’t this exactly what discipleship is all about? Isn’t being a disciple of Jesus defined exactly as Sine suggests, that we would put aside every lesser thing in our lives in order to give our lives to the kingdom of God? I think there are a few things that make us flinch at such a ‘radical’ definition/proposition.
First, we hold the disciples up on a pedestal that they never claimed to occupy. When I talk with students (and adults in all fairness), being like the disciples is close to being like Jesus. When that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Did the disciples do many great things in the name of God? Yes! Did they give their own lives professing their belief in the resurrected Lord? Yes! Did the church take off in the 1st century largely due to the work of the disciples? Yes! Were the disciples perfect? No! Did they need Jesus just as much as we do today? Yes! Jonathan Dodson says “Gospel-centered discipleship is not about how we perform but who we are — imperfect people, clinging to a perfect Christ, being perfected by the spirit.” Perfection is not required for discipleship. In fact, even if you are an A+ disciple, perfection is something you will never experience this side of heaven. To be a disciple is to be a broken mess that learns how to be put back together by Jesus and the work of the Spirit. Discipling others is the business of one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.
Second, we misunderstand what life as a disciple looks like. We think its all about walking in robes and sandals (okay maybe that’s just me), living as homeless people in order to serve poor people, being persecuted (maybe even violently) for our beliefs, etc. Perhaps our problem is that we think of what a radical disciple looks like before we even consider what the daily life of a disciple looks like. DePaul suggests that the lifestyle of a disciple looks like loving Jesus, loving others, and loving mission. Notice the order of those three things? Notice how the service project comes after love of God and neighbor? Notice how martyrdom isn’t a requirement, yet learning how to grow in relation with Jesus and others is? Being a disciple more than anything else is learning how to grow in relation to Jesus more and more each day. From our experience with growing in Christ, we learn better how to relate to and love our neighbor. These two things empower our service to God’s kingdom. Don’t make the mistake in thinking that being a disciple only means you’ll just be serving. The foundation of discipleship is life-giving relationship with God and others. I don’t know about you but that sounds like something I can give my life to.
Third, and possibly most important, our culture has conditioned us to reject the possibility of putting aside lesser things. David Platt agrees with this sentiment, “Somewhere along the way, amid varying cultural tides and popular church trends, it seems that we have minimalized Jesus’ summons to total abandonment.” I think the primary reason we flinch at the cost of discipleship is because we’ve been conditioned by the cultures around us that we can somehow keep the lesser things while also serving the Kingdom. We get distracted by sports, dramas, hobbies, community outside of church, etc. We convince ourselves that we can have the best of both worlds.
As a youth pastor, one of the constants I’ve seen is that when people convince themselves they can keep the lesser while also being a disciple… in the end, the lesser becomes what they give their life to. Sorry, I can’t go on the mission trip… I really want to, but I’ve got ______ practice two days that week. Sorry, I’m not able to make it to bible study, the basketball game is tonight. And, my personal favorite, sorry, I’ve just got something better to do (no joke I hear this excuse more than you think). Too often I hear excuses from students not wanting to engage in discipleship because there is something more ‘fun’ or entertaining available to them. Which prompts the needed question… Has Jesus become boring? In no way, shape, or form am I condemning sports, dramas, or community outside of church. I am just as guilty of watching Netflix with my wife more than I pray or read scripture with her. I’ve skipped church for a football game before. I’ve let the lesser win out many times in my life…
The question we need to ask ourselves is what are we a disciple of? Are we truly a disciple of Jesus Christ? Living a life that seeks to abandon the lesser in order to advance the kingdom of God? Or, are we a disciple of the lesser we’re called to abandon for Christ’s sake?
Is Jesus boring? Or is it possible that we’ve truly never truly experienced what it’s like to truly follow Jesus as one of His disciples?