Disciple Making's Biggest Barrier

It all started one April morning in 2012 when Kimberly “Sweet Brown” Wilkins woke up to get a cold pop. She smelled what she thought was a nearby barbeque, but when she realized her apartment complex was on fire, she ran out as quickly as she could. Still, she inhaled some smoke and got bronchitis. As she shared her story with a reporter, she made a statement about her bronchitis that made her famous: “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

Unfortunately, American Christians and churches are saying, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” when it comes to disciple making.

Recently, The Barna Group and The Navigators published “The State of Discipleship.” The book is the culmination of thousands of interviews with pastors, church leaders, discipleship leaders, and Christian educators on the state of discipleship in America. In it, every group identified “general busyness of life” as the #1 barrier to discipleship.

The study also reveals that 90% of Christians believe “spiritual growth is very or somewhat important.” So, desire is there, but it’s not enough to get through the general cloud of busyness that so many live in.

Our culture is committed to the idea that “busyness is next to godliness”. Before America’s industrial revolution, German sociologist Max Weber wrote “The Protestant Work Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism”. In it, Weber argues that work, frugality, and wealth generation is proof of salvation for Calvinistic Christians. He points to America as a model for that protestant work ethic: an emphasis on productivity, efficiency, and speed.

Regardless of your beliefs about work and salvation, our culture has absorbed these values. Recently, I passed a car whose bumper sticker read, “Jesus is coming, look busy.” Americans have no problem looking (& being) busy! Day after day I observe pastors, church leaders, and many others respond to, “How are things going?” by expressing how busy they are.

Our value of busyness is on full display in our language. We constantly seek to balance and juggle our responsibilities. We wish there were more hours in a day and a higher gear. No matter how hard we try we just can’t seem to squeeze it all in. We proclaim busyness, not with shame or embarrassment, but rather with the pride of significance. 

The problem is all this striving leaves us burdened, empty, and often alone. In short, it’s exhausting.

So what can be done?

The same principles that I use to help churches in Dayton, Ohio align with Christ’s way of life apply to an individual’s life.

Put simply, the first act must be to change our perspective and return to the ways of Jesus. A simple definition of discipleship is the intentional process of becoming like Christ.

Busyness is contrary to how Jesus lived and walked. When traveling from Judea to Galilee, at least a three days' journey, Jesus took the time to spend a couple days in Sychar because the Samaritans urged Him to stay (John 4:40). When Jairus begged him to come to his house to heal his dying daughter, he had time to go. Though there was urgency to his trip, he took the time to stand and minister to the bleeding woman on the way (Mark 5:21-43). A close look at Jesus’ life reveals many more examples of how he was purposeful without living in a state of busyness.

In addition to being contrary to the life of Christ, busyness is indicative of an out of control life. Rather than a badge of honor, it’s an admission of a frantic and unprioritized life. It’s neither intentional, nor purposeful. An anxious frenetic life is not attractive, it’s not desirable, and it’s not the easy and light burden Jesus offers.

Once we have altered our perspective we must align our priorities with those of Jesus.

A command of our priorities shows an understanding that saying yes to one thing means saying no to another. They function as a filter for both our current commitments and our future opportunities. Do our current commitments align with the priorities of Christ? What will we say yes to? What will we say no to? Do we have time to love others deeply (both Christ followers and non-Christ followers)?

Discerning the answers to these questions is the easy part, the hard part is to bring change through action.

What about you? Does your life emanate the deep love of Christ or the shallow love that modern American life breeds? What priorities does your life revolve around? What changes in priority or application need to be made? Don’t let the general busyness of life keep you from taking action today.