Christian discipleship fascinates me. I’ve been pretty steadily in the habit of blaming poor discipleship on the general laziness of most participants. But lately I’m starting to see our lack of dedication as a larger, systemic, and mostly American byproduct of our spectator culture. We’ve become experts at belief & support without knowledge or participation. We don’t go to war; we have people that go to war for us. We’re not active in social justice; we buy bumper stickers and other sweet swag from those that are. We love bands whose songs we can’t name. Ask your average (sports team from your area) fan if they watched the game last night. Probably not. But they’ll swear it’s “my team.”
We’ve taught ourselves that what matters is our endorsement. Like our lives exist mostly to serve as product-placement testimonials to those around us. We don’t have to really know anything about the products & services that we surround ourselves with so long as we like them. Everything will be fine as long as we have the laptop that matches our personality on the end table, the right phone in our pocket, an appropriate size/brand of television on the wall, and our beverage of choice in hand. Why bother having more than passing knowledge about any of the products you consume?
In fact, if you do, you’ll come off like a weirdo. We’ve all got friends that know too much about their technology/car/music. Our fascination gives way to disinterest. It’s all well and good to have a favorite album here and there, but if you get around to learning the band members’ birthdays, that’s a bridge too far. It’s great that you think Mac’s Pages is better than Microsoft’s Publisher (no contest, really), but if you go mouthing off too much about Instant Alpha or the quick keys for paste-and-match-style, you’ll have less friends, not more. And it’s obviously all about having more. (Fine; to keep you in the article: it’s shift+option+command+v. Nerd.)
I think we’ve done the same with Jesus. It’s all well and good to support the idea of Jesus; heck, I’ve always been a big fan. Same goes for the church as an institution. Great things going on over there; can’t say enough about it. But when you get right down to it, people don’t want to hear about how Christians are supposed to live. I’ve correctly placed the product in my life as described in my membership contract. Now please leave me alone about the minutia of discipleship; I’m really more of a Methodist “greatest hits” guy. I save myself for the big events like Easter and Christmas.
Here’s the problem, if you care to engage it. We can go on leading youth ministry that hand-holds Christian families through a Christian product-slathered existence. There’s plenty of it. They’ll be pretty happy. You’ll probably keep your job and everything. Or, we can try to wake people up to a crucial truth:
You can’t consume Jesus.
Discipleship is not a product to be placed. It’s supposed to be something you do, not something you have. It’s not an arranged marriage. Like love, it’s meant to be something that irrevocably changes your life. How did we turn something so beautiful into an accessory to a selfish existence? Maybe it’s easier. But it sure isn’t fulfilling. Or deepening. Or “vital,” if you need to throw buzzwords at things. Spectator discipleship is simply a waste of time. And enough people doing that together can crush real discipleship within a church. Or community. Or even a denomination.
It won’t be a pleasant wakeup call. In increasingly busy lives, people crave control. Nobody wants the wildcard of an influencing Jesus careening around on the carefully arranged bookshelf of life. He might knock something important over. What if he bumps into football practice and wants me to help at the shelter? What if he steps on my social agenda and wants me to speak and live love to those around me, putting others before myself? What if he says, “Come, follow me”?
I keep saying it, but it’s because I mean it—this life of discipleship business isn’t for everybody. I pray that I may become worthy of it.