April 6, 2012
Raising the Bar
Are churches making following Jesus too easy? Where's the call to count the costs?
I recently stumbled across an interesting set of questions. They are used by Asian Access (A2), a Christian missions agency in South Asia, to determine a new convert’s readiness to follow Christ. In the West, we might ask newcomers if they prefer contemporary or traditional worship. As you can see, the questions they ask in other parts of the world are a little different. Here they are:
Are you willing to leave home and lose the blessing of your father?
Are you willing to lose your job?
Are you willing to go to the village and those who persecute you, forgive them, and share the love of Christ with them?
Are you willing to give an offering to the Lord?
Are you willing to be beaten rather than deny your faith?
Are you willing to go to prison?
Are you willing to die for Jesus?
Besides making me feel very grateful for where I live (and slightly guilty for feeling grateful) the questions sounded familiar. I heard an echo of Jesus’ words from Luke 14. You know the passage. Jesus spins around to the people following him and says, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
That’s my paraphrase, of course. What Jesus actually said was much worse. If you want to be my disciple, you have to hate your family, take up your cross, count the cost, give up everything—real crowd-pleasing stuff.
It’s tempting for me to dismiss these radical demands. Jesus’ challenge seems harsh, even bizarre. But hey, we’ll file that one under “divine prerogative.” And the A2 questions? Well, those are necessitated by persecution. In a country (name withheld for security reasons) where converts and evangelists get jailed, weeding out the phonies is essential.
Still, I’m not so sure there isn’t a lesson here for those of us in the West. Could we benefit from raising the bar for those considering a commitment to Christ?
For the most part, we have specialized in doing the exact opposite. We talk about smoothing the path to God, and removing obstacles to faith. Every time I question the validity of a “soft touch” public ministry, I’m assured they have a solid discipleship program on the backend. But that strikes me as backwards. “Hey, come to church and you’ll have a better family. OK, now that you’re here, you have to die to yourself.”
I think that’s called a bait and switch.
What would happen if, like Jesus and A2, we put the hard demands of the gospel front and center? If we dispensed with slick campaigns and puffed up promises and gave people the unvarnished truth of what it means to follow Jesus? If we told them that sometimes following the Carpenter from Nazareth means donning your own crown of thorns? I’m sure it would cost us numbers up front, but would it be worth it in the end? I think it would be. How about you?