Recently I finished an interesting book by Simon Sinek called Start With Why. The basic premise is that while many people and organizations know WHAT they do, and a few know HOW they do it, very few know WHY they do what they do.That is, what’s their purpose? Why do they get out of bed in the morning? What’s the point?
His basic argument is that why we do something is far more important and powerful than what we’re doing or even how we’re doing it. And while I’m not sure it’s a perfect application of the principle in the book, I began relating this question to discipleship.
It seems to me that lots of churches know that they should be pursuing discipleship (WHAT), and some churches have a plan for it (HOW), but do we really know WHY discipleship to Jesus is a big deal? Why pursue a discipling culture in the first place?
The most obvious WHY for discipleship is that Jesus told us to do it. And while this is a decent motivation, I believe Jesus’ commands are never arbitrary. There’s a reason he told us to make disciples and not something else. The problem is that most people don’t know the reason Jesus told us to make disciples, and the way we often talk about discipleship makes it feel like it is arbitrary, that it’s less of a vital thing and more of an extra-curricular activity, an add-on to the “main thing,” which is typically “getting saved” or “going to church.”
So it all comes down to what we believe the “main thing” really is. What is the good news we are proclaiming? If the gospel message is merely, “God will forgive your sins and let you into heaven if you can intellectually comprehend and agree to the following propositions…” then there is no reason to become a disciple of Jesus. Indeed there’s no reason to involve him at all. The call to discipleship has no WHY under this understanding of the gospel. There’s no reason to become a disciple of Jesus because the “main thing” has been taken care of by my agreement with the propositions.
But the gospel is so much more than forgiveness and heaven-when-you-die! It is an invitation to participate NOW in the life of God, joining with him in what he’s doing right now on earth. The gospel of the New Testament is the good news that through Jesus Christ, life in the kingdom of God is available to anyone and everyone.
Discipleship makes perfect sense with this gospel, because we realize that we really don’t know how to live in God’s kingdom, but Jesus does. So the way we enter life in God’s kingdom now is by trusting Jesus now to teach us and empower us to enter into this new kind of life. Discipleship to Jesus is the natural way to say Yes to the gospel of the kingdom.
In other words, discipleship finds its WHY in the gospel of the kingdom. But if we try to pursue discipleship while retaining our inherited, anemic conceptions of the gospel, we’ll always fall flat on our face, because there isn’t a sufficient WHY to propel people through the sacrifice and effort it requires.
I’ve said it before, but it needs to keep being said, over and over, until we really begin to change the way we preach the gospel, so the people in our churches begin to really understand how radically different the gospel of the kingdom is from the gospel of going-t0-heaven-when-you-die. If we want to see a discipleship revolution take root in the North American church, we have to grapple with our inherited assumptions about what the gospel is. I believe this is the watershed theological issue of our time, honestly.
If we can truly begin to preach and respond to the gospel of the kingdom, the one Jesus and Paul and whole New Testament preaches, it will naturally lead to discipleship, because the WHY will be obvious.