Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.
The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities. —Stephen Covey
“I don’t have time” is the most common response I hear from people when I ask them to pursue a lifestyle of discipleship. Living in the “tyranny of the urgent,” people’s lives are more reactive than proactive. Discipleship is something we may someday get around to pursuing, but for now life is too complex, hectic, and demanding. We are already committed to Christian connecting and serving activities so time spent in the inner life of pursuing apprenticeship to Christ is optional. Perhaps we will get around to it once life settles down.
If discipleship is the personal, intentional pursuit of Christ and His kingdom, why is it frequently an elective?
This is not only a 21st
century problem. Jesus faced the same response from people in the first century. Luke gives us two case studies in which discipleship is an elective rather than a priority (Luke 9:57-62). In one case the answer to Jesus’ invitation to follow Him was, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” Jesus responded by saying, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:59-60).
In the second example, the person’s response was, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” Jesus’ response was, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:61-62).
There are several reasons for our “elective” mentality of discipleship.
We view Jesus Christ as the resurrected Savior and ignore that He is our ascended Lord and King who is worthy of our allegiance and alignment.
We substitute Christian activity for personal apprenticeship.
We pursue information about Christ rather than transformation to be like Christ.
We live on the edge of urgency rather than on the platform of priority.
Leadership and time management coach Stephen Covey said, “You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage . . . to say no to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside.”
More important, Jesus said, “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness (discipleship), and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:31-33).
Reading the gospel accounts about discipleship, we will discover that discipleship is to be a priority over family, self, friends, comfort, and even worship. Which of the systemic life issues that plague us (divorce, fatherlessness, unwed mothers, drugs, alcoholism, abortion, crime, suicide, poverty, checked-out kids, cheating, disrespect for authority, hate) would not be solved if we made discipleship the priority?
Discipleship is not urgent like a flat tire, but it is un-urgently critical. It is the scheduled maintenance that prevents having to call Roadside Assistance. According to a study in 2017, the average American spends 2.5 hours per day on social media. Yet the common excuse for elective discipleship could be summed up as, “I am too busy trying to be a good parent, spouse, worker, and church member to spend time daily developing my personal relationship with Christ.”
If we really believed that the power to live the victorious Christian life comes from our relationship with Christ, shouldn’t our response be more like, “Life is so complex and demanding that I can’t afford NOT to spend daily time with Christ in His Word”? What we become tomorrow is based on the choices we make today.
With this elective mentality, we live spiritually passive lives until we face a major problem. Basically, we live our lives as practical deists, believing there is a real God but acting like He is not relevant to our ordinary daily lives. True discipleship is not withdrawal from life; rather, it is making our relationship with Christ the ultimate governor of our daily lives and the choices we make. The only way that will happen is if there is a bigger “yes” that burns in our hearts so our lives will no longer be controlled by what is urgent rather than by what is priority.
Questions for reflection:
What are other reasons for elective discipleship?
What are the “but firsts” that challenge your discipleship priority?
Ron Bennett, senior staff with The Navigators, has led discipleship ministries in many settings in the United States. He and his wife, Mary, are currently serving with Navigators Encore in Raymore, Missouri. While on the national leadership team of Navigator Church Ministries he wrote Intentional Disciplemaking and coauthored The Adventure of Discipling Others and Beginning the Walk (NavPress). This article is adapted from his blog, The Adventure of Discipleship. All Scripture references are from the
New American Standard Bible.