I’m sitting here this morning thinking over the passage we will be reading at the Diakonos Community Simple Church Gathering tomorrow morning. Our theme for the day is “We Die With Christ.” I’m particularly struck by these two illustrations presented by Jesus:
“Don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’
“Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down with his counselors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him? And if he can’t, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace while the enemy is still far away.” (Luke 14:28-32)
As I reflect on this I can’t help but ponder how this compares with the way we often approach evangelism in contemporary American Church. I don’t hear too many pastors saying from the pulpit, “Take your time to think about the cost…” Instead, evangelism today seems more like a marketing scheme where we give people a quick set of facts about Jesus to agree to, say a prayer, and (presto) you’ve bought your ticket to Heaven. Then we can tack another “sale” onto our annual business reports when we gather with others in ministry. Even the rite of baptism can become a part of this game by keeping a running total of how many people we dunked in the tank each month.
Jesus seemed to call His followers to a deeper level of commitment. He said to count the cost when we decide if we will follow Him. Yet, He still had crowds following him as he traveled through the context in which he lived. Many of those people probably spent much time deciding if it was worth it to follow Jesus. Jesus gave them space to make their decision. Many would eventually reject the call as they felt the cost was too high. Yet others took careful count of the costs versus the benefits and responded, “where else could we go? Jesus has real life for us.” For them, the life they found living in the Kingdom was more valuable than anything they would give up in their previous way of life.
The challenge for me as a leader is to give people in my life the space they need to really ponder what it will cost them to enter into a real, life-giving relationship with Jesus. So often I want to shake someone by the collar until they finally realize what Jesus offers them is so much more fulfilling than anything they would give up. That won’t do any good, though. Instead, I need to create space in my life and in our faith-community where people can be in our presence while they ponder the cost and take the time to make a real decision. I may need to walk with someone for years before they decide the path they chose.
It’s also important that I remember that the decision another person makes is not necessarily a reflection on me or our faith-community. Jesus had many people walk away from Him. He didn’t take it personally. He was sad, but His sadness was more out of concern for the person that was passing on a more fulfilling life than it was for His own reputation. As long as I am faithfully living the Kingdom life, what others decide doesn’t determine my skill as a “salesman.” My reputation is only measured by faithfulness to Jesus and His Kingdom.