A necessary reality to being a genuine disciple of Christ is recognizing the call it places upon your life. When Jesus found the soon-to-be disciples along the Sea of Galilee, he called them to become fishers of men. When John the Baptist’s disciples asked Jesus questions he told them to come and spend some time with him. When Jesus ran across Matthew, he called him away from the life of a tax collector. And on the story goes. The call of the disciple is a call away from and toward: away from a life antithetical to the way of Christ and toward a way of life transformed into the image of the Son of God.
Christ went and found disciples and called them to be with him. In the case of Mark’s story, they were average, probably young, laborers going about their task. Christ found them in the midst of their family’s work, called them and changed everything about their lives and ours. In the stories in John, Jesus took interested people and drew them into life with him. For others, like Nathaniel, Jesus answered questions – even skepticism – and brought them into his power and kingdom. In every case people became disciples because they left what used to be and became intimately aware of Christ.
But we need to be careful not to assume that discipleship is a call away from ‘normal’ life and a change of vocation into full-time ministry. Christ calls us all, he demands a change of life from us all, and provides the power for that change for all of us. The critical factor is not necessarily the change of job or vocation, but of life. Following Christ changes our priorities and outlook on everything and it might change what we do for a living. It will change how we do what we do and how we relate to everyone and everything around us, but it just might leave us in our job.
The disciple who remains in their vocation but whose priorities and perspectives are changed by Christ has answered the call. The disciple who leaves everything behind, yet whose priorities and perspectives remain unchanged, has not answered the call.
So the significant question for the disciple may not be exactly, “what do I do now?” as much as it is, “how do I do it now?” Christ’s claim on your life is complete and he will in all likelihood leave you in the place in life where he found you, so now the way you do everything changes.
In fact, Mark’s story of the calling of the disciples is instructive at this point. They were working. They were tending nets, preparing for the day’s catch, and probably reeked of fish and lake water. Jesus did not hunt down the most pious among them or the ones who were already most of the way toward moral and spiritual perfection. He sought the right people, who were average people, and changed everything.
Jesus did not look for what the world calls excellence when he called any of the disciples, but his call turns into excellence. So it is with us. We are not called because we are already the cream of the crop, but after the call there is an almost severe expectation – the work of Christ in you is a work of totality. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ bids a man, he bids him come and die.” And while the call of discipleship is a claim on your moment of death, it is also a claim on every breath between now and then. Many a preacher has said that there is only one thing you do not say to your Lord, “No.” So, the reasoning goes, if you have told Christ “no” then he is not, in effect, your Lord. Something else is.
A sloppy and half-hearted disciple is one who has not come in contact with Jesus Christ. They fit into a stale rhythm of church attendance or a cold routine of some prayer or simple observance, but their life lacks the fire of dedication and transformation.
A disciple rigorously devoted to their vocation and pursuits, but who languishes in their pursuit of Christ has misunderstood the beauty and truth there is in Him. They are busy trying to find their fulfillment in other things, putting them ahead of the mind of Christ, thus misusing and misunderstanding both the God-given gifts of the world and the Giver himself.
Excellence is one of the missing ingredients in discipleship among American Christians today. Maybe we have grown a little soft, maybe we have grown sloppy in the way we think about Christ and the faith, maybe we have had too much spoon-fed to us for too long. Maybe we simply have not grown into adulthood mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. Whatever the cause, we simply are not, as a whole, excellent for Christ. The church and the Christian family need to be places where the greatness and grace of God are on constant display. Our God is Lord over all the spheres of life, but can we articulate the wisdom of God at all in any of them? Is the church the center of cultural greatness and beauty in our communities? Is the church a place where people are enamored of a Creator God and understand the truths of science? Is the Christian family the house on the block where things simply are different by the grace of God? The evidence of the majority of the Christian church seems to be on the side of mediocrity right now. That has to change.