“Son, you know you’re going to be a preacher someday, right?”
People told me this all through my childhood, though few knew that I was not a believer at the time. Once I got saved at the age of fifteen, I still thought the people who said this were completely crazy. I can clearly remember a few weeks after I was saved telling God that there was no way I was going into the ministry.
I have since learned that you don’t ever tell God the things that you will never do.
BORN TO MAKE DISCIPLES
Since my conversion, I’ve been discipled by several men who have shown me what it means to be and make disciples. I’ve been an itinerant preacher, a youth pastor, and now an author and speaker. During this time, I learned that discipleship is not just a class you take inside the church. For me, it is having a deep, meaningful relationship with a fellow believer so that you can have gospel faithfulness mirrored for you. God put multiple men in my life who very willingly said, “Follow me as I follow Jesus.”
I truly love my job, even with all the difficulties that come with being a pastor. I would not trade this for anything else in the world. The call to make disciples day in and day out is an amazing opportunity. There are costs that you must count much in the same way that you must count the cost of being a disciple.
I know there are some of you who are reading this and praying about going into full-time ministry. If that is you, I want you to know that ministry is hard. The hours are long and irregular. Your family will bear the burden of the constant stress of the job. You will constantly see people at their worst. There will be seasons that you will want to quit and get a different job. You will have days that will make you wonder why God called you in the first place.
That’s when God reminds you why He called you. It is because your life is about His kingdom and not yours. It is because He is going to get all the glory and you are set to get none of it. It is because He wants to set you apart and not to just set you up for earthly success. It is because it is about His claim on your life and not your comfort.
As a matter of fact, that call is to come and die. Die to yourself, die to your wants, and die to this world. Our aim is to make His name great among all peoples and nations, but we have the honor of starting to make His name great among all people. Whether you are called to full-time ministry or not, every believer is called to make disciples. Even if that means pouring your life into one or two believers while also working your nine to five, the cost of making disciples is well worth it.
I sometimes thought the cost of making disciples was too great for me to handle. It is funny to think that I built my independence on not quitting or giving in to excuses, but I wavered the moment that stepping into ministry became an option. I can clearly remember my prayer life being filled with a whole lot of, “But, God—”
But, God—I am a horrible speaker. But, God—I am an introvert.
But, God—I have no idea how to do this.
But, God—people aren’t going to see past this armless thing.
I was the young Christian who had staked my young faith on Philippians 4:13. I was living like God could help me overcome anything … except my fear of ministry. I was buying the lie heard in the garden, “Did God really say?” That was the only question that the snake offered Eve to get her to fling herself into disobedience. It was the same lie that I was diving into wholeheartedly because it was the easy thing to do. I didn’t want to walk another hard road. I had been down so many trying to learn to eat, write, and dress myself. I was happy to not fight this battle, until God took me across Jeremiah 1:
Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lord said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’;
for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you,
declares the Lord.” (Jer. 1:4–8)
God has a way of stopping excuse-filled hearts with His very words. Jeremiah wanted to hold up his age and lack of wisdom as evidence for his uselessness in ministry. God had only to say that age is just a number and Jeremiah’s words would be the very words of the Lord. The same words that formed the earth. The same words that always accomplish their purpose. The same words that are sharper than any double-edged sword. God had made Jeremiah for this, equipped him for this, and was there to walk with him through it all.
In digging into the life of Jeremiah even further, you see how he earns the label of “weeping prophet.” His message centered on the sinfulness of Israel and their need to turn back to the Lord. He gets persecuted by his own family, and, because Israel ignores the words of the Lord, Jeremiah suffers through the destruction of Jerusalem. This suffering prophet who told of the suffering of sin to come must suffer through his obedience to what the Lord sent him to do.
Excuses are meaningless to the God who made all things.
THE REALITY OF DISCIPLE-MAKING
Suffering is the brand of the believer. That truth left me in convicted silence as I sat in front of God’s legacy in the life of Jeremiah. I had been told lies from the enemy and had bought them. I saw an easy road, and I was happy to take it. But what in the life of Christ was built of excuses or ease? He didn’t step off that cross when the very people He was dying for spat on Him. He didn’t bail when He was born in a barn and not a palace. The life of my Lord was absent of ease and excuse. In fact, the life of Christ shows a redemption bought willingly in His own blood.
So why do I so easily divorce the life of the disciple from the example of the Savior? Why do I expect comfort when my Lord had anything but that? Why do I whine and complain when the perfect Lamb who stepped down from the right hand of the Father was silent before His shearers?
The cost of discipleship is a hard reality for all of us to count. It is a reality that makes the Great Commission a choice between comfort or obedience. Either we go and make disciples, or we disobey. The Great Commission is not a mission statement for pastors; it is marching orders for the church. Either we buy excuses to justify our disobedience or we rest in grace so that we may speak of grace. The choice is ours.
Talk about a hard reality to swallow. Equally, what a hard reality that our Savior conquered sin and death so that we can have eternal life. It is in that beauty that we rest in and can have the courage to stand. It is that gospel beauty that the believer can abide in and tell of. It is when we savor the beauty of Christ that we want to share that sort of sweetness with the world. That’s why in Acts 20:24 Paul can boldly say: “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
Why is Paul able to stare at life itself and choose Christ over comfort? Because grace is better than comfort. Gospel words are better than excuse-encrusted silence. Christ gave us a calling that sets captives free and calls people from death to life. The church cannot be silent about that. There is too much at stake for a lost and dying world for disciples to accept the lie heard in the garden. Some of us may never step on the mission field or walk into a pulpit, and that is perfectly fine. We all accept the call to make disciples the moment we call on Jesus as Lord.
The question is not if we’re called to make disciples; the question is a question of when and where.
Daniel Ritchie is a speaker and writer from Huntersville, North Carolina, who has contributed to such publications as Desiring God and For the Church. He has 10 years of experience in student ministry and a bachelor of arts in biblical studies and the history of ideas from the College at Southeastern. He and his wife, Heather, have two children. You can learn more about Daniel at his website or follow him on Twitter.