American churches eagerly accommodate Christians who have professed belief but have no intention of becoming disciples. In fact, churches have worked so hard to build an environment that will attract and retain nominal Christians (and non-believers) that nearly all have abandoned discipleship entirely, replacing intensive and personal mentoring with optional fellowship groups.
The starting line (salvation) has become the finish line. “Follow Me” and “take up your cross” are simply too time-consuming and costly in our consumer culture. We prefer experiences and events over transformation. We count professions, not disciples. We require only that non-believers repeat the Sinner’s Prayer – everything else is optional.
Yet Jesus demands much more. Yes, we are saved by grace through faith, but sanctification is a process – one Paul described as “beating my body to make it my slave” and “working out your salvation”. It does not culminate with repetition of a few words in the heat of the moment, as evidenced by the single-digit percentage of those still walking with the Lord a few years after professing their faith at Billy Graham crusades.
In Jesus’ time, disciples of a rabbi were called Talmudine. It was considered a great honor to be asked by a rabbi to “come follow me”. It meant they were deemed worthy, with potential to become exactly like their rabbi one day. To attain that goal, disciples imitated who they followed in every respect – literally every step of the way. In fact, a common blessing in Jesus’ day was, “May the dust of your rabbi be upon you.”
But we live in a salvation culture rather than a repentance or discipleship culture. Churches offer what Bonhoeffer calls “cheap grace”, where the goal is avoidance of a penalty, not obedience to the Master. The gift of eternal life brings along with it no moral or evangelistic obligations or other disruptions that should necessarily accompany following Jesus. We entrust those responsibilities to pastors and staff, who fail to fully disclose that the Bible defines you and me as the embodiment of “church”. We may cuss less and do more nice things but the end goal of salvation doesn’t necessitate being transformed into Christ’s image. In fact, two recent studies have found that Americans don’t believe their Christian neighbors live or act any differently than their non-Christian neighbors.
To entice consumers, churches and Christian music go one step further, stressing all that Jesus will do for us. Pastors tell us what Jesus’ resurrection will save us from, but not what it requires of us. As a result, the more pastors pursue members, the less members pursue the lost in the community. Too many professing Christians go on living largely as they did before, even though that would seem unconscionable for a true believer given the magnitude of that gift and the consequences awaiting those who don’t believe.
Words Frequently Heard…
What God does for me…
Get Me Out of Trouble
Give Me a Better Life
Save Me from Hell
- “My Redeemer”
- “My Deliverer”
- “My Savior”
- “Cancel My Debt”
Words Rarely Heard…
Americans are fickle, accustomed to convenience and blessed with options, quick to “vote with their feet” or demand “their money back” if not completely satisfied. Pastors are reluctant to challenge and eager to cater, knowing there are plenty of churches down the road that still define church as a place, asking only that they give and invite their friends. Christian radio stations and artists realize that we can change the station with the push of a button. We want to enjoy and be inspired by music, not be guilted into adding any more responsibilities to our overloaded schedules. Therefore, pastors tip-toe gingerly around the following words and musicians avoid them entirely:
What I should do for God and His Kingdom…
Making Disciples is Not Optional
- “Discipleship” (only loosely used to refer to small group meetings, which don’t make disciples)
- “Obedience” (the essence of discipleship)
- “Accountability” (for the Great Commission)
Taking up a Cross Requires Radical Change
Following Jesus is Going to be Hard
In some cases you do hear challenging words inside of a church or on the radio, but they’ve taken on entirely different meanings or their emphasis has shifted to benefit us rather than glorify Him. As the narcissism of a salvation culture overtook the selflessness of a repentance culture, the focus of linchpin terms of the Christian faith skewed in our favor…
- “Grace” – The mercy shown to me by God versus the mercy I show to others
- “Holy” – Our standing in God’s eyes versus His standing in ours
- “Outreach” – Marketing our church versus our individual obligation to serve others
- “Ministry” – Serving at our church versus Jesus’ command for us to share the Gospel
It’s Your Turn…
What other “it’s all about me” words do you regularly hear on Christian radio or at church?