Truth in Advertising

“From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near’” (Matthew 4:17).

I get all kinds of church newsletters, and a while back I got an interesting one.  It contained an announcement for a pastor’s class, offered “for anyone thinking about joining the church.” The minister wrote: “This class is open to anyone considering baptism and a deeper commitment to the Church and our Lord.  We will meet each week through Easter, and discuss the life of faith and the history of the Church.  There will be assignments to read and people to talk to.”

I was impressed.  Frankly, I think this minister had the right idea about the sorts of things people ought to know if they are going to be baptized and join the church.  In fact, I was pleased to note that this particular minister thought that unbaptized adults ought to know anything prior to being baptized; discipleship is a long, hard road, and people ought to know what they are getting into before they “take the plunge”–as it were.

Where I ran into some problems was the next sentence, again speaking about the assignments: “They will not be hard” (emphasis in the original).  Everything that the minister had been trying to say about the fact that Christianity takes time to understand, about the sacrifice it takes to become a Christian, it seems to me, is washed away by that little line: They will not be hard.  Now, I think I know what this minister meant, but to say that learning about baptism and joining the church is not hard is to mislead people about what it means truly to be a Christian.  It is, in fact, hard to be a Christian; not much of it has anything to do with not being hard.

But that’s often the way the church works nowadays.  “People are busy,” we reason, “so let’s not put anything extra on them.  If we want them to come to church we have to convince them that what we’re going to ask of them is not hard.”  Let’s be honest, if you’ve ever done any work in the church, if you’ve ever tried to recruit anyone to work in the church, you understand the logic.  The church needs someone to serve in a particular capacity, and you’ve been selected to approach people about serving.  What’s the first thing you say?  If you’re anything like me, the first thing you want to say is, “Don’t worry, what we’re asking you to do will not be hard.  In fact, it won’t take much time or effort at all.”

It makes all kinds of sense to advertise the Christian life as “low-maintenance.”  But if that’s true, then we ought not complain when everybody is too busy to serve in a leadership position, or to teach a Sunday School class, or sing in the choir, or visit shut-ins, or even come to church.  Why should they work?  We promised them that it would not be hard.

But when Jesus met Peter and Andrew and James and John, they were fishing, and what did Jesus say?  “Hey, fellas, I have an interesting proposition for you.  It might be worth your while.  Could I have a moment of your time?  What I’m going to ask of you will not be hard.”  No.  He said, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”  And the text says that all four of them dropped what they were doing and followed–dropped their jobs and their families (Matt. 4:22) and followed.

I know the whole deal sounds pretty rigorous, but Jesus isn’t bargaining for a few minutes of our time and chump change.  He wants it all.  He wants us . . . hook, line, and sinker.  And if that is truly the case, the church is going to have to drop phrases like “They will not be hard” from use.

Let’s face it, it will be hard, but it will not be in vain.