Jesus had an amazing habit of never expecting too much those who were earnestly seeking Him. He also was completely frank about the cost of following Him, so that those seekers who encountered Him recognized that they had to choose in order to follow.
Sometimes I think we get this backwards in the evangelical church in America.
Ways that we expect too much of earnest seekers:
1) We expect other believers to expose their lack of knowledge – It is easy to create an environment in a Sunday school, small group, seminar or other group setting where it is easy to give expected answers. We live in a culture of experts. We have learned how to give expected answers to experts, so that the lecture can continue. What we want is honest discussion, so that error can be replaced with truth. But we can’t correct error until we recognize it. We need safer groups where people can truly admit where they are at, so that they can grow, instead of groups where it is expected that people will adopt a “pose” of faith – in hopes that others will not realize that it is merely a pose. Kids who grow up in church, know how to do this very well by the time they finish High School.
2) We expect other believers to expose their lack of faith – Many times in the group settings we create a performance culture, where it is not easy to talk through our own issues. We want to be regarded as spiritual, but our measures of spiritual maturity are largely superficial measure of performance or conformance, rather than inward measures. What we want as leaders is to create opportunities for true accountability where disciples can expose their personal areas of struggle with sin, without consequences of judgment or humiliation that might be a concern. This accountability must be modeled by leaders and mentored in very small groups to achieve real penetration into the body.
Ways that we are less than completely honest about the cost of discipleship:
1) God has a perfect plan for your life – This phrase is destructive – it is not biblical – God does not have ONE single perfect plan for your life, and all other plans are flawed. God’s plan for your life is perfect, but you may not enjoy it, certainly you will not always enjoy it. In fact, your enjoyment is not necessarily part of the plan. Take how it worked out for Jesus – He even asked the Father to remove the cup (carrying our sin) from him, but it pleased God to use Him in that way for our salvation. We are instructed to take up our cross daily. There is a cost to discipleship. Spiritual maturity can be seen in the joy with which one bears suffering and trials.
2) Failing to study the history of the faith – We evangelicals like to study doctrine and theology. We like to study the Bible, but we don’t spend very much time studying the lives and habits of saints and apostles that went before us. It can be said that we often act as if the Bible and our theological systems and doctrines sprang out of the new testament church and directly into our sanctuary. But 2000 years of church history across many paths and winding stories help us understand the traditions and opinions of our forbears. Knowing how we came to the present state will often help us to not repeat errors made before by our predecessors.
3) Failing to reflect on (pray for) the persecuted church – In North America, we have experienced unprecedented religious freedom for a couple good centuries. To the point now, where we don’t “get” the kind of persecution that Christians in other areas of the world experience on a daily basis. Yet we react to the minor resistance that we experience here from those who would have God booted out of the public square using positional plays, rather than relying on God to work through revival and conversion. Is it a sign that our faith is weak that we seek to commandeer resources of human government to secure our value system, rather than using spiritual means to conquer the hearts and souls of our detractors?
4) Responding poorly when we experience opposition – Christ pretty much promises us that we (if we follow Him) will experience opposition. Yet we somehow seem surprised when it happens. Alternatively, we imaging that natural consequences of our own dumb decisions are somehow spiritual opposition. We need to recognize that we have an enemy, and we need to recognize that our own actions often cause opposition, separate from that which is the result of following Christ. We need to respond by deepening our relationship with Christ and pushing through in peaceful grace, rather than resentful indignation, anger, or wrath. But that is certainly not our first instinct.
We want to grow disciples. We want to produce the fruit that our Lord entrusts to us. We cannot produce discipleship without being honest about the cost of discipleship, and without modeling that discipleship before the world, and before earnest seekers.