I have become an avid golfer. For most of the past 20 years of my life, I played golf sparingly — something like 12 to 15 rounds a year. The bar I set for myself as a golfer during that time was relatively low. Scoring below 90 was “clearing the bar” for me. When we relocated to Oroville, California, in 2019, I joined the local golf club as a way to meet unchurched members of the community. As a result, I have played closer to 100 rounds over the past year. As my skill level has improved, I have had to raise the aforementioned bar several times. Shooting a 90 now would be cause for some good old-fashioned club throwing.
Does following Jesus work the same way? Does the bar, the measuring stick for success, move as we grow in faith? That is the question I considered when I was asked to write this article about “high bar discipleship.” If we start by agreeing that setting a bar equals setting an expectation, and go back to Jesus calling His first disciples, there appears to be just two expectations: follow me, and “[become] fishers of men.” The bar for following was high, as the disciples were required to leave everything behind and quite literally FOLLOW Jesus. As the next three years of their lives played out, Jesus’ disciples came to understand that being a fisher of men required much more than they could have imagined. From their point of view, Jesus kept moving the bar up, from follow me to give this massive crowd some food, to go heal the sick and cast out demons, to eat my flesh, to feed my sheep, to go make disciples of all nations. In reality, the bar never moved. Jesus set it, called His followers to it, and set about teaching them how to clear it. What moved, or rather expanded, was the disciples’ understanding of what following Jesus means.
Two thousand years later, as we live out that same call to follow Jesus and make disciples, we need to model His twofold approach. The “follow me” is a call to relationship, and growth in character. The challenge and promise to become fishers of men is a call to responsibility, to competency. The people we disciple will grow in their relationship with Jesus and in their competency as partners in His ministry in unique ways and at individual paces. To set the same bar, on the same linear timeline, for every disciple’s growth in their intimacy with Jesus is unrealistic and will lead to frustration and failure. The best discipling relationships allow space for people to struggle with truths, to wrestle with the level of sacrifice, incrementally surrendering more and more of themselves to the Lord.
High-bar discipleship needs to be just that — high-bar — but only as it relates to the commitment of followership. At the outset, discipling relationships must be based on a mutually agreed upon expectation of HIGH commitment, just as it was for Simon, Andrew, John and the others. The discipler has to be willing to do life together with those he/she is discipling, granting their disciples inner-circle type access and care. The disciple has to acknowledge a willingness to leave everything behind and follow Jesus wherever He may lead. Put more succinctly, the bar for commitment has to be high and unchanging, while the bar for results or competency must be fluid, and ever-evolving in tandem with the development of character. As a pastoral leader, it is all too easy to slip into CEO church-builder mode and start viewing disciples as faceless numbers moving through the church machine rather than people moving in relationship. We must remind ourselves daily that our primary and most important call will always be to make disciples, not build churches. Well-organized, well-intentioned groups of people calling themselves a church can do great things. Disciples have, can, and will change eternity. Who are YOU in a discipling relationship with?
About the Author
Chris Hemberry currently serves as lead pastor at Foothill Community Church in Oroville, California, and as director of church planting for the Sierra Pacific Conference.