Making Disciples Through the Eye of a Needle

The area has been historically culturally Christian. However, the relative economic prosperity of the area that was created within a relatively short amount of time (post-WWII) then mingled with the prevailing cultural Christianity to create an implicit prosperity gospel that introduced materialism and secularism into the area churches (including the conservative Evangelical ones).
This implicit prosperity gospel and the resulting materialism and secularism, in turn created idols of comfort and superiority within the churches. Thus, one of the great hurdles one faces when trying to introduce true discipleship of Jesus into these churches is that following Jesus requires sacrifice, suffering, and humility. Whereas the church members in the area have become accustomed to comfort, plenty, and self-righteousness.
In fact, many believers in the area view their comfort and plenty as blessings from God for being good Christians who give their tithes and attend church regularly. The problem with this hypothesis is that there are more than a few unbelievers who have attained the same level of comfort and abundance (or an even greater level). What is it exactly that God is blessing them for?
Ultimately their hypothesis is untenable. The most likely explanation for the relative prosperity of the area is simply that the unique social and economic factors of the area led to an economic boom in the decades following WWII, and everyone, both believers and unbelievers, benefited from it.
But as a result of this economic boom and the widespread cultural Christianity of the area, there was an influx of wealth into many of the area churches. This resulted in the construction of many relatively nice church buildings in the area; and thus, the expectation of comfort and convenience. Moreover, many of the churches were able to pay a generous salary, which created an expectation of comfort and prosperity for pastors in the area as well.
However, in response to the materialism, secularism, and self-righteousness that became blatant in the churches; many people have now begun to reject cultural Christianity, and the area is quickly becoming a post-Christian culture. But what is unique about the area is how rapidly this is occurring, and that as a result, the two predominant cultures are existing concurrently.
It is common for a retiree who grew up in abject poverty, was raised to be a devout Christian, and who become relatively wealthy in just a few decades; to now be watching their grandchildren abandon the faith and adopt a liberal, secular humanist worldview.
Therefore, the older generations may see the need for the younger generation to be taught to be disciples of Jesus; but at the same time, they are unwilling to let go of the traditions, comfort, and self-righteousness that they would need to abandon in order to reach them. Rather, they want to find a way to reach the younger generation with the same traditions used to reach themselves.
Unfortunately, they fail to understand the severity of the culture shift; and the price that it would cost them to follow Jesus as His disciple in order to be able to reach those that are part of the post-Christian culture.
This produces perhaps one of the most frustrating features of the area…
Men who present themselves as church leaders and pastors, but are unwilling to personally abandon all in order to be disciples of Jesus who can make disciples of Jesus.
As previously noted, the amount of relative wealth that was produced in the area and flowed into the churches was used to both construct buildings and establish organizations that ultimately became idols. The church buildings of the area are often sacrosanct; especially if they have a cemetery.
For some, devotion to God is actually devotion to a church building and the remains of their ancestors buried behind it. The churches themselves have become organizations that are kept in existence as a matter of pride. Again, what is called devotion to God or Jesus is actually pride in a long running social institution.
And of course, to keep these buildings open and institutions running, they need a pastor. Therefore, they look to hire a pastor that will do exactly that.
Often these pastors do initially have idealistic aspirations of actually reaching people for Jesus. But if those aspirations run contrary to what keeps the doors open and the people coming, the pastor may soon find his livelihood in danger. And this is what men who would actually lead others to be disciples of Jesus who make disciples of Jesus find themselves up against.
This in turn reveals another surprising circumstance of the culture and context: in order to step out and truly follow Jesus as His disciple, you don’t risk being rejected by the world; you risk being rejected by church people.
The people of the world so despise affluent, selfish, self-righteous Christians; that they find people who actually follow and imitate Jesus to be a breath of fresh air. That may change over time to a point where the world hates all followers of Jesus regardless; but right now they are so feed up with Christians who act nothing like Jesus, that true disciples are getting somewhat of a free pass from the world.
However, in regard to other believers, men who would be leaders and pastors who would actually seek to keep the Great Commission of Jesus and actually make disciples of Jesus who make disciples of Jesus, face the prospect of losing access to a church building, no longer being welcome in an established church, and if they are a pastor, losing their livelihood (and possibly their reputation).
This is because the remnants of the cultural Christianity that was once so prevalent in the area tells them that if God is going to move in this area, it will be through these churches, through these church buildings, and through these paid pastor positions that they have come it idolize.
And so, because these men want to be and make disciples of Jesus, but because they are unwilling to sacrifice everything to do so; they attempt to strike up an uneasy alliance and work through these churches, these buildings, and these paid pastor positions.
The great irony is that these men will then stand up in their respective churches and say that they are looking for other men who will step up and abandon all in order to follow Jesus and make disciples; when they themselves are unwilling to abandon all to follow Jesus and make disciples.
The sad reality is, if a man (or men) who are truly willing to abandon all to be and make disciples of Jesus were to rise up in their churches and begin to do so; these leaders would probably attempt to silence them or run them off because they would make everyone else uncomfortable and threaten the status quo (ask me sometime me how I know that).
But Jesus said:
“Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23-24).
I would argue it is also this hard to make disciples of Jesus in this particular culture and context.
But as Jesus also said:
“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
But what I believe it will take, is men who will step up and abandon all to be and make disciples of Jesus; no matter what it costs.
For more information on what that looks like, start here:
Photo by amirali mirhashemian on Unsplash