A windy Friday evening found myself and a dear friend sharing a couple of Belgian-inspired beverages together in the outdoor dining area of our favorite local haunt. Somehow, I don't know how, we ended up on the topic of discipleship. He and I have read several of the recent books on discipleship, and the discussion revolved around trying to figure out what it means and where our lives are falling short. Then, we hit on the idea of discipleship vs. evangelism (a hearty discussion if you attend an "attractional-style" church these days) and a thought came to mind.
Is discipleship "good news"?
People typically consider evangelism (from a word meaning "good news-ing") to be the process of a person hearing that Jesus died for their sins and that through grace they could live a new life and have the promise of heaven when they die. Something like this is what most people would call "good news." Salvation from sin. It's good not to go to hell. Etc.
But then I see the images of Jesus in the Gospels calling the original 12 disciples and I find something interesting. At no point does He preach the good news to them, at least not as I described it above.
Instead He says, "Follow me." The call is so compelling they drop everything uncritically and head off after Him.
I'm assuming they felt that the call to follow Jesus was "good news."
What I fear most is that even though there is more discussion today than ever about Christianity being about more than "heaven when you die" there is still a line in the sand that somehow excludes discipleship from the talking points of evangelism.
In other words, we're scared to lead with discipleship in talking about faith because the threat of hell is so much more compelling and in turn we turn the good news into simply avoiding bad news.
I don't have a ton of answers on this because, yes, the early disciples were evangelized with the call to follow Jesus (i.e. discipleship). The first 3000 converts of the church answered the call to "repent and be baptized" (Acts 2) which sounds more like the heaven when we die paradigm but then they lived out discipleship in early communities. Once again, the Biblical narrative is less interested in solid lines and more concerned with the tension of God's Spirit working in a world that has lost its hospitality towards Him. So where does discipleship fit in the "good news"?
There are questions - in my mind - that still must be answered:
Is discipleship not compelling enough - discipleship meaning to shape our thoughts, motivations, and actions until they routinely fall into line with Jesus - to present it as the best news anyone has ever heard?
Are we practicing "bait and switch" when we emotionally charge people toward a decision "for Jesus" (or is it "against hell"?) and then hand them the discipleship plan? "You feel good and forgiven, huh? Well, now just take up this cross and die." Is that view of discipleship even accurate anyway?
If discipleship isn't good news, then what is the good news anyway?
If evangelism is about spreading the "good news", then how do we do "discipleship evangelism" (stolen from Willard, by the way) in our neighborhoods and churches?
And finally, I ask this most painfully:
Are we afraid of discipleship being good news because it is a status of living that we are completely ignorant of?
The good news must be reunited, reshaped, and revealed through people who know both the promise of rescue and the power of transformation. Discipleship must return to being "good news."