“The youngest megachurch pastor in history.” While I would dispute that claim, it was nonetheless the label given to me when I went to pastor a large, thriving church in the Deep South. But I found myself becoming uneasy.
For one thing, my model in ministry is a guy who spent the majority of His ministry time with 12 men. A guy who, when He left this earth, had only about 120 people who were actually sticking around and doing what He told them to do. More like a minichurch, really. Jesus Christ—the youngest minichurch pastor in history.
Soon I realized I was on a collision course with an American church culture where success is defined by bigger crowds, bigger budgets and bigger buildings. I was now confronted with a startling reality: Jesus actually spurned the things that my church culture said were most important.
I am convinced that we as Christ-followers in American churches have embraced values and ideas that are not only unbiblical but that actually contradict the gospel we claim to believe. And I am convinced we have a choice.
You and I can choose to continue with business as usual in the Christian life and in the church as a whole, enjoying success based on the standards defined by the culture around us. Or we can take an honest look at the Jesus of the Bible and dare to ask what the consequences might be if we really believed Him and really obeyed Him.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian struggling to follow Christ in the midst of Nazi rule, penned one of the great Christian books of the 20th century. In it he wrote that the first call every Christian experiences is “the call to abandon the attachments of this world.” The theme of the book is summarized in one potent sentence: “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” Bonhoeffer aptly titled his book The Cost of Discipleship.
Based on what we have heard from Jesus in the Gospels, we would have to agree that the cost of discipleship is great. But I wonder if the cost of nondiscipleship is even greater.
The price is certainly high for people who don’t know Christ and who live in a world where Christians shrink back from self-denying faith and settle into self-indulging faith. While Christians choose to spend their lives fulfilling the American dream instead of giving their lives to proclaiming the kingdom of God, literally billions in need of the gospel remain in the dark.
Just a few months before becoming a pastor, I stood atop a mountain in the heart of Hyderabad, India. This high point in the city housed a temple for Hindu gods. Every direction I turned, I glimpsed an urban center filled with millions upon millions of people.
And then it hit me. The overwhelming majority of these people had never even heard the gospel. They offer religious sacrifices day in and day out because no one has told them that, in Christ, the final sacrifice has already been offered on their behalf. As a result they live without Christ, and if nothing changes, they will die without Him as well.
As I stood on that mountain, God gripped my heart and flooded my mind with two resounding words: “Wake up.” Wake up and realize that there are infinitely more important things in your life than football and a 401(k). Wake up and realize there are real battles to be fought, so different from the superficial, meaningless “battles” you focus on. Wake up to the countless multitudes who are currently destined for a Christless eternity.
The price of our nondiscipleship is high for those without Christ. It is high also for the poor of this world. Consider the cost when Christians gather in churches and choose to spend millions of dollars on nice buildings to drive up to, cushioned chairs to sit in, and endless programs to enjoy for themselves.
I remember when I was preparing to take my first trip to Sudan in 2004. The country was still at war, and the Darfur region in western Sudan had just begun to make headlines. A couple of months before we left, I received a Christian news publication in the mail. The front cover had two headlines side by side.
On the left, one headline read, “First Baptist Church Celebrates New $23 Million Building.” A lengthy article followed, celebrating the church’s expensive new sanctuary. The exquisite marble, intricate design and beautiful stained glass were all described in vivid detail.
On the right was a much smaller article. The headline for it read, “Baptist Relief Helps Sudanese Refugees.” Knowing I was about to go to Sudan, my attention was drawn. The article described how 350,000 refugees in western Sudan were dying of malnutrition and might not live to the end of the year. It briefly explained their plight and sufferings.
Now, remember the headline on the left: “First Baptist Church Celebrates New $23 Million Building.” On the right, the article said, “Baptists have raised $5,000 to send to refugees in western Sudan.”
Five thousand dollars. That is not enough to get a plane into Sudan, much less one drop of water to people who need it. Twenty-three million dollars for an elaborate sanctuary, and $5,000 for hundreds of thousands of starving men, women and children, most of whom were dying apart from faith in Christ.
Where have we gone wrong? How did we get to the place where this is actually tolerable? Indeed, the cost of nondiscipleship is great. The cost of believers not taking Jesus seriously is vast for those who don’t know Christ and devastating for those who are starving and suffering around the world. But the cost of nondiscipleship is not paid solely by them. It is paid by us as well.
Adapted from Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream by David Platt, copyright © 2010 by David Platt. Used by permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted in any form.