The Cost of Discipleship
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, once wrote, ‘When Christ calls a man, [or woman] he bids him [/her] come and die.” The quote comes from the most challenging book I have ever read on discipleship, ‘The Cost of Discipleship,‘ and Dietrich was all too aware of the cost.
The cost is, I believe, an essential understanding of what it is to be a Christian. Yet how often do we make this an integral part of our evangelism? It often comes as a second part and comes for some as a shock. This aspect should not be something we add on after we have done the Alpha course but outlined right from the beginning.
Balance is absolutely necessary. The joys and enriching aspect in living the Christian life is a must as well, but should not be at the expense of the real challenge, otherwise the danger is that becoming a Christian is considered a means to help us grasp our present ‘dream of life’ or enhance our present lifestyle. Rowan William hints at this when he writes, “And of course, in the Gospels, where the Master goes is very frequently not where we would have thought of going or would have wanted to go.”
Consider the ministry of Jesus. The call to follow him was often abrupt, clear and challenging: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their and cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9: 23) and note daily! If we do not make this a part of the message of our evangelism, then we are doing a disservice to people and continuing to maintain a chaplaincy culture of church membership. I believe that many people will appreciate the challenge and, in the long term, it will enable followers to grasp what is faced by all but with a different understanding.
The learning of who Jesus was and what it was to be His disciples came as they literally followed him. They intuitively grasped by being with Him, watching Him, listening to Him, engaging with Him what it was that was important. Much that they became is because they absorbed this into their lives and living. Yes, they often did it wrong but because of this they may have had a greater understanding of the outcome that finally came into place as a result of the crucifixion. And there is no clearer portrayal of the cost than the cross!
Neil Hudson from the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity suggests that what we need is ‘Bigger Christians not necessarily bigger churches’. For me, that is so true and honours the full implication of the gospel challenge.
So how can this be done? Firstly in our own lives, by living out integral lives of gospel living. Then by outlining the cost and difficulty to others from the start, giving as much as is possible a ‘picture’ of what it is to be a disciple of Jesus. Its not just about going to church, not just about how we get to heaven, and not just about what we have to do, but how we need to live – the ‘Christ like’ character which we want to look to nurture. Its also important to emphasise that this a lifelong pilgrimage. Underpinning this is an ongoing fuller understanding of prayer that is taught and experienced, and a robust grasp of the biblical narrative to the Christian faith, that expounds this call of discipleship as being a part of the people of God.
All this is reinforced in a church culture that is one of discipleship. A culture where exploration and questioning is encouraged and where there are opportunities for newcomers to see where their ministry is to be, hopefully, in their lives outside the life of the gathered church.
Church Army’s vision is for everyone, everywhere to encounter God’s love, and be empowered to transform their communities through faith shared in words and action. To empower people, we must never shy away from the cost of following Jesus as one of his followers and so must outline the cost of discipleship as part of our evangelism. It is not the second part but part of the whole message of transformation.