Raising the Bar
Are churches making following Jesus too easy? Where's the call to count the costs?

I recently stumbled across an interesting set of questions. They are used by Asian Access (A2), a Christian missions agency in South Asia, to determine a new convert's readiness to follow Christ. In the West, we might ask newcomers if they prefer contemporary or traditional worship. As you can see, the questions they ask in other parts of the world are a little different. Here they are:

Are you willing to leave home and lose the blessing of your father?

Are you willing to lose your job?

Are you willing to go to the village and those who persecute you, forgive them, and share the love of Christ with them?

Are you willing to give an offering to the Lord?

Are you willing to be beaten rather than deny your faith?

Are you willing to go to prison?

Are you willing to die for Jesus?

Besides making me feel very grateful for where I live (and slightly guilty for feeling grateful) the questions sounded familiar. I heard an echo of Jesus' words from Luke 14. You know the passage. Jesus spins around to the people following him and says, "Are you sure you want to do this?"

That's my paraphrase, of course. What Jesus actually said was much worse. If you want to be my disciple, you have to hate your family, take up your cross, count the cost, give up everything—real crowd-pleasing stuff.

It's tempting for me to dismiss these radical demands. Jesus' challenge seems harsh, even bizarre. But hey, we'll file that one under "divine prerogative." And the A2 questions? Well, those are necessitated by persecution. In a country (name withheld for security reasons) where converts and evangelists get jailed, weeding out the phonies is essential.

Still, I'm not so sure there isn't a lesson here for those of us in the West. Could we benefit from raising the bar for those considering a commitment to Christ?

For the most part, we have specialized in doing the exact opposite. We talk about smoothing the path to God, and removing obstacles to faith. Every time I question the validity of a "soft touch" public ministry, I'm assured they have a solid discipleship program on the backend. But that strikes me as backwards. "Hey, come to church and you'll have a better family. OK, now that you're here, you have to die to yourself."

I think that's called a bait and switch.

What would happen if, like Jesus and A2, we put the hard demands of the gospel front and center? If we dispensed with slick campaigns and puffed up promises and gave people the unvarnished truth of what it means to follow Jesus? If we told them that sometimes following the Carpenter from Nazareth means donning your own crown of thorns? I'm sure it would cost us numbers up front, but would it be worth it in the end? I think it would be. How about you?

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April 06, 2012

Displaying 1–10 of 13 comments

Reese

April 19, 2012  1:12pm

It is interesting to see the adaptation of Christianity to the culture in which it is supposed to pervade. The question is to me, is it radically and truthfully creating disciples who will surrender all we are to all He is regardless of the cost and toll it has on our lives. Grace IS important to note but it is also the crutch we modify to encourage people to join our club rather than radically alter their life for the sake of the Gospel. maybe in this nation, we don't have to radically alter it because there is so much of a fight about freedom of religion that we are seeing bumper stickers of "COEXIST" and TOLERANCE" using religious or social symbols. it is when we offer the ultimatum of Christ that says I can't accept simply existing with others if I believe wholeheartedly because of many reasons, namely that Jesus was who He said He was and that He came to restore us to the Father. In that is the path to the Father which requires us to count the cost of our own lives and if we are truly allowing God to make us holy - set apart - and to stand proclaiming that, lives must change radically in order to follow Christ and others must not only see that change but want to change accordingly. it is true, we do have it soft but until you see it first hand, the radical lives being put to the test elsewhere in the world, you can never fully understand the sacrifice these truly passionate people make.

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Daryl

April 19, 2012  7:19am

Some commenting here have said that the bar is too high. What is too high about something that does not exist in the average church? 80%+ of churches have thrown out the biblical bar concerning head coverings, modest dress, no jewellery, separation from worldly entertainment and lusts, use rock bands for worship, allow divorce and remarriage, etc. They have NO bar. Are they even Christian? Some commentors have pointed out, that many churches are simply a money making business using Christianity as a front and having a biblical bar in place is bad for business. So no bar, come one come all, just as you are and give us your money. We will even provide worldly entertainment while we fleece you. The biblical bar is in place to separate the goats from the sheep. If you find the bar too high, perhaps its because you are a goat? If your church is against a biblically based bar, perhaps you have a false teacher for a preacher? Repent, accept Jesus, obey Jesus' commands. Simple as pie for sheep with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, impossible for goats and demons.

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Dennis

April 12, 2012  10:11am

How many of today's preachers can tell Simon the soccerer "May your money perish with thee.."?

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ali

April 10, 2012  4:52pm

Interesting article. I've always felt that the church was in the "bait and switch business."

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Drew Dyck

April 09, 2012  2:31pm

Thanks for the great comments on my post! One note of clarification: when I talk about "raising the bar" I don't mean reverting to legalism. We all sin and are in continual need of God's forgiveness and grace. What I'm referring to is our way of communicating to interest outsiders on what kind of commitment coming to Christ entails. That it's an all-or-nothing proposition, not a casual sort of thing. That doesn't mean that once you become a Christian you're going to be perfect. But I think it's just more honest and, in the long run, better for the church.

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Daniel

April 09, 2012  12:35am

Awesome article, it seems to be a growing thought among the Church around the world. As for the bar being too high, yes it is... If we want to continue to live according to our old nature. We cannot through our own works reach it. But die to self, and begin to live in the Spirit and guess what? There is no bar anymore!! That's the beauty of the Gospel, when you are dead, you cannot be killed or judged, if you live wholly for God and you can live the life of Holiness that you dream of! He has made a way! Praise Him!

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Steve M

April 08, 2012  10:20pm

Are we making it too easy to follow Jesus? Simply look at virtually any Barna poll recently and think about how many "Christians" there are. Look at how many denominations we have and how confusing that is to outsiders that we can't agree on Saturday / Sunday / Wednesday services, what version of the Bible to use, what non-Bible books to read, what music to listen to, etc. Look at what is happening with most of our teenagers as they mature out of their parents' houses and out of their parents' faiths. Is it too easy to be a Christian in America today? Yes. Is it because we aren't under any kind of persecution? I'm leaning towards yes on that one as well. Would the Church as a whole be better off with perseuction? Probably. Does that mean I want persecution? Well, a couple of years ago I was praying for the Lord to give me a burden, something I could pray for, and I felt that he burdened me to pray for a purification and purging of the Christian church in America. I admit I have not been as faithful to that burden in recent months as I was originally. But I still feel that it will take persecution for Christians in America to really be different from non-Christians. As it is, right now I bet 80% of my non-Christian acquaintances wouldn't label me as a Christian, simply because there's not enough difference between me and them. There doesn't have to be - there's just not really a lot of ways to distinguish us.

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Race

April 07, 2012  10:58am

Yes we should ask those who are considering becoming a Christian some questions and I would almost say that the list given isn't quite long enough. I would add some questions like these: Will you follow even when those closest to you die? Will you follow when your (or a loved one's) health takes a turn for worst? Will you follow even when nothing seems to work out in your life? Will you follow despite the terrible things that are happening in this world? These are just a few but they are questions that every American, at least, should be asked. Even those who call themselves "Christians" should ask themselves these questions. I have heard of so many "Christians" who have "turned away from the faith" and say that they "hate God" now because of one of the above issues involved with life. We then need to explain that we cannot do any of these things without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and that we must depend on Christ to get us the rest of the way through life. We will always fall short of 100% without Christ and our lives will be a mess without Him but that doesn't mean that right after we start following Him life is going to become awesome. Life for the Christian is supposed to be hard so that we are reminded how much we truly need Christ. When we have those awesome days were we just see God's blessing all around us we need to remember to thank Him as well and not just take them for granted. In the end we must remember that a person isn't going to come to Christ unless Christ is calling that person to himself. We are just the second step in the process.

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elegance

April 06, 2012  11:45am

Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commandments." What were those? Obviously the 'ten'. But additionally he said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind...and your neighbor as yourself." I confess that I have never been able to achieve that commandment, and I doubt that many others have either. I love the Lord my God, most of the time; with all my heart, sometimes; with all my mind occasionally, but my neighbor as myself? Really? I long to be able to honestly say that I can do all of this, but I can't. And I never will, at least not until I am face to face with Jesus. So why does Jesus ask this? Because it points out that without Him, I can do nothing. I agree with Jerry, the bar is too high. But God's grace is greater than my sin and my lack of faith. There is the sweetest verse in 2 Timothy 2:13, "if we are faithless – he remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself." I think that those of us who are truly born-again are fearful of telling others the good news because we don't want to loose friendships or be ridiculed and, well, who wants that? If a person is convinced that they are not a sinner, they won't think that they have need of a savior. And thus, there is no good news. So we are left with a "soft touch" ministry as Drew has stated. We might just as well go surfing.

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Randal Kay

April 06, 2012  11:28am

Yes, I believe we NEED to ask these questions. First of ourselves and then of those we are called to shepherd. Raising the bar is a good thing...though I most likely tend to duck under it, or even if I try to leap, I often fall so short. But let us not give up trying. 1 Peter 4:12-19

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