Resolve for a Long Apprenticeship
“It is not difficult…to get a person interested in the message of the gospel; it is terrifically difficult to sustain the interest. Millions of people in our culture make decisions for Christ, but there is a dreadful attrition rate. Many claim to have been born again, but the evidence for mature Christian discipleship is slim. In our kind of culture anything, even news about God, can be sold if it is packaged freshly; but when it loses its novelty, it goes on the garbage heap. There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.
Religion in our time has been captured by the tourist mindset. Religion is understood as a visit to an attractive site to be made when we have adequate leisure. For some it is a weekly jaunt to church; for others, occasional visits to special services. Some, with a bent for religious entertainment and sacred diversion, plan their lives around special events like retreats, rallies and conferences. We go to see a new personality, to hear a new truth, to get a new experience and so somehow expand our otherwise humdrum lives.” (Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Intervarsity Press, 2000, p. 16, emphasis added)
Every month I feel the pressure to come up with some new “game plan” for ministry so that people will continue to feel a level of excitement about Cornerstone. I hate to confess that. I don’t want it to be true. But the “tourist mindset” that Peterson observes fits our culture so well; that, and the view that churches are part of the marketplace in that they are expected to offer “religious experiences.” So what is the answer?
Paul writes to the church in Rome, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” (Rom 12:2). The answer is here – the renewal of the mind. Even as believers we have been so saturated with the ways and patterns of our culture that the ways and patterns of God are foreign to us. This is not a quick fix. The renewal of the mind does not come in an instant. The pattern for God’s people in this renewal is the wandering of the Israelites in the wilderness. They wandered for 40 years so that they might learn what it means to trust God. The Christian’s life is like that. Each day the world will sing its siren song to come back to its “quick fix” approach and allure with its promise of instant gratification. But we mustn’t buy into it. In the end it leaves us callous and empty because they don’t sustain us but enslave us. The Israelites remembered the food they ate in Egypt but forgot the slavery that went with it. So our first step is setting our resolve to be transformed.
Secondly, we must note what it means to be a disciple. A disciple is someone who spends his life apprenticed to his master, Jesus Christ. It is a growing-learning relationship, always. “A disciple is a learner, but not in the academic setting of a schoolroom, rather at the work site of a craftsman. We do not acquire information about God but skills in faith.” (Peterson, p. 17) Discipleship means “taking [Jesus’] yoke upon you” which is to learn how Jesus spent time with God the Father, how he served the people, and how he viewed the world. His burden is light, much lighter than the burden of the law for the law weighs us down with our guilt for failing to live up to it. Jesus removes that burden from our shoulders and carries it for us. In this way he offers himself as our substitute. In terms of discipleship, however, he invites us to walk with him and see the pattern of his life.
Thirdly, and this may be the hardest of all, we are to commit ourselves to the ordinary means of grace: the Word, sacraments, and prayer. Jesus spent time with God in prayer, submitting his will to the Father’s, seeking the counsel of the Holy Spirit, and interceding on behalf of his disciples. He was steeped in the Scriptures from his time in the temple and weekly worship in the synagogue, and in personal meditation and memorization. And he gave us the Lord’s Supper as a perpetual remembrance and participation in his suffering and death so that we too might participate in his resurrection.
Fourthly, we must see the church as family rather than a marketplace. Learning and growing happens in community too, and perhaps especially. God designed us for community. The only thing not good in God’s creation prior to the fall was the fact that Adam was alone.
So, as we start the new year, let us resolve to be part of a long apprenticeship.
For the glory of God,