Jesus was not even slightly interested in the personal preferences or comfort of his disciples, according to the Gospels.
Frequently, his disciples tried to convince him to tone it down. They urged him to modify his call to deny self and follow and to offer a more palatable approach. After all, he would scare away potential members with his radical call to a servant-shaped lifestyle.
“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” asked the bewildered disciples (John 6).
But Jesus doesn’t back off. Instead, he cranked it up. “Does this offend you?” he replied and then launched into an ever greater call to lifestyle change.
So how did we move from Jesus’ call to disciple life to what we commonly expect from church?
Most people don’t expect to be challenged much at church. We would rather church pat us on the back and say, “You are doing fine,” regardless of how much our lives reflect the teachings of Jesus.
Politeness becomes our guiding principal, rather than honest engagement with the gospel.
As a result, we are not consistently challenged regarding our loyalty to political party over Christ, relationships to money, or even insignificant items like worship times.
Church leaders know this, so some work toward keeping as many people happy as much of the time as possible. The outcome is spiritual anemia – a watered-down, patronizing, tepid, lowest common denominator kind of religion.
“When the salt loses its saltiness, throw it out,” Jesus said (Matthew 5:13). Too many people are doing just that, joining the “Dones.”
So where do we go from here?
Congregations that decide to become more robust might lose some members. Again, Jesus didn’t much care: “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him” (see John 6:59-71). It appears as if Jesus preferred a few engaged, committed disciples to multitudes of members.
To become more invigorated, robust churches, many of us would have to change our expectations of church. We would have to accept some truths about church and about what this life of discipleship might include.
For example, robust churches accept that:
- Our personal lifestyles will be challenged and disrupted as a result of engaging the way of Jesus.
- We will regularly be challenged when we gather for worship, Bible studies, small groups and other church events.
- The kingdom of God is a contrast society in comparison to our culture’s recommended way of life.
- Our leaders must challenge our assumptions and values, influencing us to appear less conventional to our surrounding culture.
- We are citizens of God’s kingdom, making us resident aliens in our own communities.
- There will be times when the values of God’s kingdom put us in conflict with our government and political parties.
- We will be called on to lay down our personal preferences and comforts often in order to live as servants.
Who, then, would sign on to this kind of life? Who wants to be part of this kind of invigorated, robust church?
When we experience the grace, love and life that Jesus brings to our lives, then we will do anything to continue that kind of life.
Jesus called this captivating way of life “the pearl of great price” and “the treasure found in a field.”
When we experience Jesus Christ, laying aside personal preferences shrinks to the category of very small potatoes (insignificance).
Robust churches expect to be challenged when they gather for worship, Bible study, small groups and events.
Robust churches accept that the way of Jesus is different from the way of this world.
Robust churches accept that their commitment to the way of Jesus will put them at odds with most everyone and everything at some point.
Robust churches value their commitment to Christ over commitment to their country.
Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates. A version of this article first appeared on Pinnacle’s blog and is used with permission. His writings can also be found on his personal blog.
Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates.