Sometimes Discipleship Isn’t Cool

Discipleship may yet turn into the evangelical designer accessory of our time. Think about it: Jesus, java, mentors, workbooks, sign-ups, practice, learning, deep talk. It all sounds so…spiritually subversive, which creates a strong attraction for those wanting to connect with vintage Christianity. In fact, discipleship has been packaged that way for folks who might buy weathered skinny jeans from thrift stores (when they could have paid less at Target). I’m not taking swipes at more stylish brethren. I love preaching in jeans, hiking boots, and sport coats. I like the small, relational angle of church with everybody doing ministry. Something about grass-roots Christianity excites me. I like all that spiritually subversive stuff (Check out my website, Gospel Outfitters while it still exists). The fact is, if someone said to me, “Dude [we say dude around here], let’s have a 5 a.m. Bible study on the book of Leviticus at Alum creek,” I would seriously consider it just because it sounds so rad.

And yet there are thoroughly uncool parts of discipleship as well. Focus is one of them. If you’re a junkie for variety, the mundane, roots-down approach needed for spiritual formation will try your patience. The novelty will wear off. A few years back, I started an early morning men’s fellowship group. All the cool elements were there—a couple of guys, opened Bibles, a secluded location, a God-awful early time slot, plenty of coffee. Enough time has passed for us to learn there’s absolutely nothing sexy about any of it. Our meeting no longer has that new car smell.

In fact, I’ve found that focus is a challenge for folks all across the spectrum of discipleship. Take Charlie. He’s interested in being discipled. One of the early things we stress is church attendance (Heb. 10:24-25). Knock the approach as old school if you will, but we’ve noticed a definite qualitative difference between those who regularly meet for worship and those who don’t. Charlie has a problem with this because he finds church boring. He doesn’t get much out of it. Besides, he has other commitments and responsibilities during that one hour on Sunday. I’m sympathetic. It sounds like me when I was trying to make a case for not wanting to go to school in the fourth grade. What good will multiplication tables be later in life, anyway? Addition and subtraction are good enough. I already read on my own (comics). Besides, school does nothing but stifle creativity (you can learn more with Play-Doh at home). I laid out my case about the educational system being irrelevant and boring and made points that my parents hesitantly agreed with. Some they couldn’t answer at all. “I hear you,” they said. And then they made me go to school for the entire twelve years.

That was one of the best things they ever did for me.

So when it comes to some areas of the Christian life, we don’t stress inspiration, but continuity and focus. Like tithing, character development, Bible reading, prayer, holy living, etc. You can mix these things up and spice them differently, but you have to face them with a degree of consistency that leads to establishing them in your soul. Too much of a static approach in the short-term will be like uprooting and moving a tree around your front yard for the sake of variety. That stunt will sooner or later kill your oak sapling.

Plant. Water. Wait.

5 comments

  1. Yes, the way you understood it is the way I meant it. Some things we can’t dismiss, although we can certainly manage to make them interesting. That’s why I believe so many of these discipleship issues are not spelled out in the Bible with hard formulaic descriptions. And some need to change with time. Arithmetic for example, becomes math which becomes algebra which becomes calculus. But you never get away from arithmetic. If you do, your “math career” is over. For instance, our understanding of biblical doctrine can deepen and we can find fifty creative ways to study it. Our appreciation and application of it will change, but the propositional teachings themselves can never change. Only the man rooted in it is supposed to actually change.

  2. I agree with you … sometimes we count on meetings to do too much .. when there are issues in other places .. it’s always easier to blame the meeting … right?

    Another question though … and maybe I need to go back and re-read some of your earlier posts on discipleship … but can you clarify again what you mean by discipleship? Because you mentioned going to church regularly, an early morning bible study, other sources of spiritual need, etc.

    Using the analogy you used of going to school for 12 years … could a persons life be those 12 years and discipleship is staying planted for those 12 years and continuing to grow .. whether the source of growth is personal time, church, a meeting, shepherding etc.? And our challenge as a Christian like yours was in school is to not say “going to church is irrelevant” … “reading the Bible is not that important” etc. What do you think?

  3. Great question! This article is bent more toward a front end approach to discipleship. However, this is a good question, just because I’ve heard it applied from everything to Bible reading to meetings to prayer. It seems anything can become mindless habit. A couple of possible considerations: For sure we must ask whether any activity has sufficiently changed to match the spiritual growth of the people involved in it. Another possibility is that the thing (whether meeting, etc.) might be counted on to do too much when other sources of spiritual life are needed. Then there is the consideration about whether the individuals involved simply need personal breakthroughs. Finally, we can assess whether something has outlived its function and either stop it, or give individuals the grace to opt out of it.

  4. A good reminder about the importance of being consistent! But when is variety okay for a Christian gathering or meeting? What if losing the new car smell means – no growth, staleness, status quo, etc.? At that point are we supposed to drive that car until the transmission falls out?

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