Nobody televises picnic baseball games. Anyway, who wants to watch an out-of-shape fifty-something miss fly balls and huff and puff chasing grounders? High level corporate sponsors aren’t on the lookout for athletes who occasionally play on Sunday afternoons. I could imagine the endorsements: “Hi, I’m John. I can catch a ball if all the planets are aligned and I’ve had a nap. By the way, drink Sprite.”
The first band of disciples fit that ragamuffin profile. As God’s “team,” they were an eclectic group of fishermen, activists, ex-tax collectors, good guys, quiet guys, and loud guys. None was professionally religious. You’d think Jesus would have gone straight to the synagogues to recruit men who were used to announcing the Scriptures sabbath after sabbath, and who knew the Torah like the back of their hand.
You’d think He would recruit priests (maybe even the High Priest), so the gospel could piggyback their existing influence. The Jewish people cycled in and out of Jerusalem on a daily basis and flooded the district on holy days. A committed disciple among Jewish priests would have provided a powerful endorsement for Christ.
Instead, the first disciples ended up being a motley crew of outsiders. The only thing they shared in common was the fact that each had responded to Jesus. “We saw His glory,” John said (John 1:14, 2:11). As imperfect as their perceptions of Him had been, they had detected something of His infinite worth. At that early stage, “Jesus is awesome!” was the only felt requirement for being on the team. Not their sweet skills. Not any alleged social placement. Not a barrel chest. He called them and they responded by following. That was their entrance into His inner space.
Yet this wasn’t going to be a wandering sage with fan club attached. Jesus began training these men to bring the eternal, heavenly kingdom of God down here to the ground. First He gave them authority to do it—a divine “I said so!”—over all hostile spiritual forces (Mt. 10:1). He told them where to go and what to do and who, specifically, to look for. He also gave instructions on how to face resistance and persecution (Mt. 10, Lk. 10).
Like apprentices they listened to Him, watched Him, and with His supervision, did what He did. Then He started sending them out on short forays by themselves. Discipleship necessarily involves the mission of Christ. You can’t simply leave that component out.
Nothing remains theoretical when you hit the streets. I remember a few of us trying out “spiritual authority” or at least our version of what Jesus gave the disciples in the gospel of Matthew. We had no idea how it was supposed to work or even what it was. At one point, while approaching people in the neighborhood with the gospel, someone invited us into their home. A television was blaring in the next room. My buddy ordered the homeowner to turn it down. His “authority” didn’t work. We got thrown out of the house. That was only the beginning of cluelessness.
It rapidly became apparent that on-the-job training was a different animal than books, devotionals, and personal interior growth. For instance, when going out to minister, Jesus had told the disciples to look for a “son of peace,” but I couldn’t tell one of those from a basset hound. I spent a lot of time with the wrong people. Some just wanted to play mind games, like asking me, “Can God make a rock too heavy for Him to lift?” I thought anybody willing to engage me meant they were hunting for the peace of God. On campus, most were killing time between classes and felt dueling with a religious guy might be fun (I wasn’t one of the loud, intimidating campus preachers, though—I actually had conversations with people).
Oh, and don’t forget about rejection, a side-effect that comes from working with God. If life really is like a box of chocolates, then rejection is the little square dark one filled with sawdust. A couple of times I got cursed out. I also got escorted away by police. It wasn’t only me. A mild-mannered girl on our ministry team got verbally manhandled, so she went somewhere in secret, cried, and then went back into the fray.
You learn what situations call for walking away (or running) and which ones require you to submit to being trapped, relax, and trust God to provide the right words.
Think football. Nobody ever starts out knowing how to don the equipment or play the positions. Nor do members charge out on the field thinking their zeal is enough and they have nothing to learn.
This is the part where you put the theology books down, the devotionals, the smart phone loaded with praise music. People are waiting for you. From the standpoint of learning, you need them as much as they need you.