Top 10 Excuses Christians Give For Not Making Disciples

You had one job. 

Have you seen these funny memes circulating through social media, featuring mistakes made doing one, clear job?

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I wonder sometimes if that’s what Jesus will say to us? Before Jesus left, he gave his peeps one job: make more disciples. Very clear. Not really up for debate. Jesus, possessing all authority in heaven and earth, tells people who are under his all-encompassing authority to do just one thing: Make More Disciples.

Every Jesus-follower agrees. Any church worth the name “church” hails Jesus’ Great Commission as their central mission.

But is that what we are doing? Are we making more disciples?

Sort of.

When I look around the church-scape, I am happy to say that “Yes, disciples are being made.” Men and women, boys and girls, are coming to follow Jesus, and I celebrate that! It’s amazing to see. But–and here’s my concern–making disciples seems to happen more by accident than intention. I’m thrilled for each person following Jesus, but can we do better? I think so.

When questioned about our one job, we often make more excuses than disciples. I’ve hear them from others; I hear them whispered in my own heart. Here’s the top 10 excuses I’ve heard. Do any of them sound familiar?

The Top 10 Excuses Christians Give For Not Making Disciples

  1. I can’t disciple someone because I still have faith struggles.  This one’s a classic. We think we must operate at some higher level of spirituality to make disciples.  Listen, we are not perfect saints; we are forgiven sinners. What matters is who we follow together–he’s got enough perfection for all of us. Don’t let this excuse keep you from obedience.
  2. I don’t know enough.  While teaching and learning are central to discipleship, we don’t need to know everything. Invite people into places where you are learning and praying and serving. And as you do tAccident or Intention?hat, your own learning will accelerate quickly.
  3. I don’t know what to do. Discipleship is not complicated; it’s not about a technique or methodology. Wondering what to do? Here’s my thing: just start. Invite a friend to discuss spiritual things. Take someone to church with you. Pray for a friend. Learn along the way. It’s not nearly as complicated as you think. It’s simply helping someone take the next step after Jesus.
  4. That’s the pastor’s job. I love this one. As a pastor, I want to laugh out loud, mostly because it’s so absurd. All disciples must make disciples. Pastors help us become better disciple-makers, so we can all do our one job.
  5. I don’t want to be presumptuous. Actually, it’s not called presumption to help someone follow Jesus–it’s called loving obedience. Remember: any trace of presumption or hierarchy is evidence that you’ve forgotten what’s going on: we are not making people our disciples but disciples of Jesus.
  6. I’m not an academic.  You don’t need to be. In some circles discipleship has, unfortunately, become a kind of rigorous academic program–read these 40 books, pray 2 hours a day, etc. Discipleship is not primarily academic, though it includes loving God with our whole mind, as well as heart, soul and strength. In the end, we are not becoming religious egg-heads who know stuff but passionate followers of Jesus who serve him in the world. Be who you are.
  7. I tried that once and it didn’t go well.  Yep. Sometimes things don’t go well. That’s just true. And we learn through it. But stopping because it didn’t work out well? I don’t think Jesus left us that option.
  8. I don’t have time. Then your priorities are wrong. At any job, how long would we last if we kept ignoring the one thing we had been tasked to do, claiming we don’t have the time for it?
  9. I don’t feel I have much to give. This one really shuts people down, and often includes a combination of excuses. Here’s the fact: none of us have that much to give, but by the Holy Spirit can give through us. Keep your relationship with Jesus in focus, and simply share where you are growing. Let Jesus be the giver.
  10. I don’t want to. This final one isn’t an excuse–it’s flat out disobedience. If we are honest, there are times when we hear Jesus’ commission to us and we reject it. We don’t want to. What do we do with that? We need to repent, reconnect with Jesus’ heart for people, and get on with the task at hand. Because in the end, we only have one job. Are we getting it done? 

What kind of excuses do you hear the most? Which ones do you use?

How can we become more intentional disciple-makers?

Every Martian Matters (even when there’s only one)

the-martianDo we believe every person counts? Not just our friends or the people we enjoy, but every single person? Jesus does, and he showed that in how he lived.

Religious people have never liked Jesus’ people priorities, considering certain people less desirable than others. One way Jesus pushed back against their bigotry was with stories about the value of people. Luke 15 relays three of these famous stories, each one featuring something, or someone, of value becoming lost and then being found.  And the point? Each person really matters to God, so much that they are worth searching for, taking personal risks, paying tremendous costs, doing whatever it takes to bring them home.

I love it when Hollywood shares a story that aligns with God’s heart for people. The recent Damon-Scott blockbuster The Martian, based on Weir’s book,  is a parable resonant with Jesus’ point about the incredible value of one human life, worth expending every effort for their rescue. Like the lost coin, sheep and sons, The Martian underscores the never-changing truth that everyone matters, that every life counts.

Inspired by the parable, I showed this trailer during our Sunday morning gathering to illustrate God’s conviction that every person counts. As Christians, what God cares about, we care about. Because people matter to God, they matter to us.

When I reflected on all four of these parables (ancient and modern), I realized that in each parable people were willing to take great personal risk and pay tremendous costs to restore the lost sheep, coin, son, and astronaut.  The shepherd left the 99 to risk a wilderness search; the woman worked feverishly to find her coin; the father disdained personal reputation and wealth to restore his sons. In The Martian, the crew of the Ares 3 put everything on the line, risking life, limb and legacy, to bring Mark home. Teams on the ground spared no expense to see him rescued. The world launched an all-out effort for one man, stranded far away, to make it back to earth. I love it. That’s the heart of God for people, and that’s our heart, too.

THE MARTIAN
The crew of Ares 3 was willing to take tremendous risk for one human life. Are we?

As members of the church Jesus leads, this is serious business. We want to be the kind of church where every person matters, and not just the “insider,” but those who are far away, out of touch, detached, disinterested, wandering, even lost. Churches often expend great energy to care for those who are present, who “show up,” knowing that they matter (and they do!). But it’s been too easy to forget our call to expend even more energy, more cost, more effort, more money to reach people who will never show up for the party unless someone seeks for them, works for their return, prays for their rescue, does whatever it takes to see them home. The church must become obsessed with finding people who think they’ve been forgotten, who do not know they matter, who are not even aware that an all-out search is being raised on their behalf.

Why? Because to God, every person counts. And if that’s God’s heart, then it’s ours.

How does this story change the way you see others?

Why does Jesus put so much emphasis on people who have been rejected by the religious?

(If you want to hear my original message, using The Martian to reinforce our vision at the Erickson Covenant Church, you can listen to it here.)

Want to make people feel included? Drop insider talk

Make people feel included by dropping insider language.

One of the most important ways we include people is by dropping insider language.

Within any particular subculture, such as the medical profession or among sports fanatics, insider talk makes sense. Jargon is a kind of short-hand that makes conversation more fluid. I get it. Everyone is on the same page, speaking from the same dictionary, and that works.

But what about when your group exists to include people who are not part of your group? That is the case with the church of Jesus: we have been given the job of including “outsiders”–people who have not previously identified as following Jesus–in the life of our community. If we actually want to include outsiders, then we must include them from the very start by dropping insider talk, or (second-best) at least taking the time to explain the meaning of the short-hand words we are using.jargon

I’ve learned this through failure. I remember sitting with a friend years ago, trying to mentor him and encourage him, when he finally said, “Tom, please be patient with me. I don’t get half of what you’re saying. You use words I’ve never heard and don’t understand.” Folks, that was my fault, not his. All my theological and Christian jargon, comfortable to me, was not helping me do what Jesus had told me to do. So I started breaking down the big words and simply stating what they mean in ways that outsiders, or new insiders, could understand. I don’t do it perfectly, but I do try to make my language more understandable to the people I’m passionate to reach. And it’s not about dumbing down the message; it’s about actually conveying one.

My everyday conversations have become more accessible, but it’s my preaching that I’ve worked the hardest to change. Believing that our worship gatherings are a crucial time when outsiders (non-church people) begin to be included, I use everyday, common words in my preaching. I avoid Christian cliches (sometimes called “Christianese”, which is itself a “Christianese”!), long theological terms, terms that have a long Christian history but are no longer known culturally, as well as words known only to the literate few.  Sometimes I can’t avoid it. For example, I’m currently preaching through the book of Revelation, and while I’ve managed to avoid the word “eschatological” (meaning the study of last things), I’ve had to lean into the meaning of the word “apocalypse” (meaning “revelation”, not some catastrophic event) because of its centrality to the book and because of its helpfulness in explaining the Revelation . . . er . . . the Apocalypse of Jesus Christ. When I have to use a word that is longer or lesser known, I take time to explain it.  I don’t always succeed; I know that. For example, I’m fairly confident I used the word “Messianic” last Sunday without explanation, and I know there’s people who didn’t know what that meant!

A few days ago, in a group conversation reflecting on people’s experience in our church, I heard something encouraging. An elderly man, who is himself a new insider who came to trust Jesus within the last year, said, “I like how this church uses everyday language so I understand what’s going on.”  That’s a win, folks.

While I know that there are people who will defend the importance of theological terms and their use in our common gatherings, I think others who agree with the need to drop these terms in certain contexts face one particular challenge: we’ve used these words so often and for so long that we are no longer aware of them and how foreign they are to most people. Growing in our awareness of our insider talk takes work and self-reflection, as well as candid conversations with others in our church about how we can become more welcoming to new people among us. Remember, it’s all about including people and helping them find and follow Jesus.

So let me ask you:

What “insider” words do you tend to use without thinking?

What ways have you made your language more accessible without sacrificing depth of conversation?