A word to pastors…
As I am reading through the gospel of Mark, I am struck by many of the things that Jesus says. Without fail, a careful reading of Jesus’ words will blow every predictable stereotype or expectation we might have for what a “good pastor” should or should not say. There are many times when I think to myself, “Wow, that wouldn’t go over well” or, “I don’t think I could say that…at least not that way”
We are much more willing to overlook what we’d consider “verbal slips” by Jesus’ ( being God incarnate), but seems that we wait like doctrinal-mercenaries to pounce on any pastor who might try the same thing. For example, consider what Jesus says in his encounter with the “Rich Young Man” as well as the words to his disciples following the conversation (See Mark 10.17-24). After this young man tells Jesus how law-abiding and moral he has been, Ju-jitsu-word-master Jesus cuts deep into his idol of materialism. He tells him to sell everything he has. The young man is very wealthy so he leaves, choosing to be miserable with his money rather than be joyful with Jesus.
But those aren’t the words that get me. After the young man walks away, Jesus says to his disciples, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God.” Difficult to enter. Hard to get in. I always thought I was supposed to say it was quite easy. Perhaps he speaks simply to the depravity of man and the fact that it is hard (impossible) for the “natural” man to accept “spiritual” things. Regardless, it is doubtful you’ll hear many pastors throwing down such statements from the pulpit real soon.
This little passage has led me to wonder if pastors make it too easy to believe, too easy to confess, to easy to “enter the kingdom of God”. Obviously, it is “easy” in a purely theological sense. Paul tells the jailor in Acts 16 to simply, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” I guess I am struggling with what many might call “false conversions” or “easy believism”. It seems like Pastors are often so desirous to see more people come to Jesus, that they will preach the most fluffy-feel-good picture of grace possible. And because they don’t speak about how EXPENSIVE that grace was to obtain (it costs the Son of God his life, not to mention infinite humility), we those who are led to confess don’t experience the weight (or cost) of that commitment.
It’s probably not new, but it seems like Pastors get more giddy over making “converts” than they ever do about producing disciples. It is not uncommon to read pastors tweeting about how many people confessed Christ on a Sunday or how many people they baptized at Easter. These are good things to celebrate and these things are happening in our church too. But I wonder if, through emotional coaxing, whether it be guilt or joy, people are often being pushed to “make decisions” with their mouths that they really are not making with their hearts. We’ve all heard about the person (or people) whose answered 25 altar calls and “invited” Jesus into their life every Summer camp they ever attended. This is not to say that grace isn’t the power by which faith in Christ comes, only that we cheapen it when we believe that faith won’t cost us anything. Of course, it is anathema to speak of grace “costing” anything because of the fear one might be claiming, hinting, or otherwise implying that someone can earn their salvation. Hogwash. They can’t.
But there has to be something wrong when people don’t believe (at least not as observed in their behavior, attitudes, or perceptions) that confessing Christ means actually following him joyfully AND sacrificially. I have started to wonder if people don’t consider the cost enough because pastors don’t talk enough about it. They push them to believe meaningful truth, but they refuse to push them to follow in any meaningful way. Jesus talked often about the cost of discipleship in ways that many today would consider cold,insensitive, or at least unwise for a pastor. It was as if, from an outsider’s perspective, he was trying to convince them NOT to follow or at least he wasn’t worried about scaring away some of them: Consider Mark 8.34-36
34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.
Or consider again “heartless” passages like Luke 9.57-62 where Jesus warns about what it will cost three different people to follow:
57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
I don’t know exactly where I am going with this, though I know I am not hoping nor expecting pastors can or should try to make it “harder” to get into kingdom. I supposed I am simply saying everything that Dietrich Bonhoeffer has already said in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, that there is a cost to following Christ. And because he said it much better than I ever will, here you go:
Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. ‘All for sin could not atone.’ Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin….Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. – D. Bonhoeffer