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Jesus isn’t “just happy you’re here!” A Case for Deep Discipleship

In the vast landscape of modern churches, a seemingly harmless phrase reverberates through the halls as a greeting to newcomers:


"If this is your first time, we're just happy you're here!"


On the surface, it exudes politeness and hospitality, fostering an environment of comfort for those stepping into a foreign space. However, beneath the surface lies a more profound question – should we be "just happy you're here"?



In the megachurch of my upbringing, this phrase often preceded the passing of the offering plate, subtly relieving newcomers of any guilt associated with donating money to a church they just walked in to. It became a mantra to reassure them: "Just sit back, relax, and let that plate slide right on by." Yet, this well-intentioned message may inadvertently cater to a culture dominated by consumerism and comfort.


TRIAL-RUN CHRISTIANITY


Our world thrives on free trials and minimal commitments.


Be it streaming services or gym memberships, the appeal lies in the lack of immediate obligation. Unfortunately, this mindset, when it seeps into a church, leads to what I’m calling "trial-run Christianity." The unspoken agreement becomes, "Put in the minimum effort, just observe for a while, and see if this 'Jesus' thing works for you."


It's a short-sighted strategy that focuses on getting individuals to keep coming to church rather than fostering genuine discipleship.

Our goal is to avoid offending, overwhelming, or guilt-tripping, so we settle for pandering under the guise of “politeness and hospitality.” A pastor at an extremely large megachurch once let me in on his ‘discipleship’ strategy. He said, “We just want to make it really easy for people to go to Heaven, and really hard for them to go to Hell.”


And my first thought was, “But did Jesus make it easy to follow Him?”


HOW JESUS TREATED THE FIRST-TIMERS


I mean, surely this was how Jesus greeted newcomers, wasn’t it? He had to have been as accommodating as our current church leaders towards the ‘seeker sensitive,’ right? Didn’t Jesus even say that his ‘yoke was easy’ and his ‘burden was light?’”


It doesn’t require a lot of time skimming the pages of the gospels to discover the stark contrast between Jesus’s posture to first-timers and our own. Jesus never once uttered any semblance of a comforting "I’m just happy you're here." Instead, His invitations were transformative and demanding.


  • To Peter and Andrew, He declared, "Quit your job and come, follow me." (Matt. 4:19-20).  

  • To the rich young ruler, it was, "Sell your possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and then come follow me.” (Matt. 19:21)

  • To a potential “customer”, Jesus said, “Are you willing to be homeless like me?” (Luke 9:58)


No free trials, no minimal commitments – just a call to deep discipleship. And yes, Jesus offered a light burden and an easy yoke, but only after his students learned, through intensive training with the master, how to live freely in God’s Kingdom. It would be similar to me encouraging you that, after years of committed practice on the piano, you could effortlessly perform Beethoven’s moonlight sonata.

 

But, the notion of trial-run Christianity creates a slippery slope. Encouraging newcomers to remain comfortable observers for an indefinite period can result in spiritual stagnation. As Sir Isaac Newton discovered long ago, an object at rest stays at rest. And, generally, a church member at rest stays at rest. So, when we decide that this hibernating church member is ready for deep discipleship, it is very likely that it will be perceived as a bait and switch. They may even respond, “but this wasn’t part of the deal. I thought you were ‘just happy I’m here.’’


When churches emphasize being "just happy you're here," they inadvertently promote a passive approach to faith.

Contrast this with Jesus' approach. His first invitation was never, "Join a church" or "Become a Christian"; it was a simple yet profound directive – "Follow me." This initial call to action set the tone for a transformative journey that required complete surrender. Jesus didn't seek mere attendees; He sought devoted followers willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of a deep, interactive relationship with him.


The truth is, Jesus isn't “just happy you’re here.” Make no mistake, he fiercely loved you and delighted in you long before you ever set foot in that sanctuary. But He will never be satisfied with your mere presence in a church. He desires your entire being, not just an hour of your time on a Sunday. He isn't interested in your money, attendance, or service; His business is you. All of you. He wants to destroy the evil in you and make you a new creation. He wants to walk with you, hand-in-hand, out of the sanctuary and into your messy, complicated world. And the deal he wants to make with you excludes the safety net of a trial period. His teaching is mostly ‘on-the-fly’ kind of stuff.


WHAT JESUS KNEW


If we’re worried about giving up that much to follow someone we don’t fully know or trust yet, rest assured that we already live in a constant state of surrendering SOMETHING to attain something else. If I avoid exercising, I am getting an extra 30 minutes of Netflix but giving up my health and longevity. If I avoid quality time with my spouse, I am getting an extra hour at the office but giving up the opportunity for genuine, intimate connection with another human being.


And Jesus understood what we often forget – that not following Him comes at a greater cost than following him. Dallas Willard reminds us:


"NON-discipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God's overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil.”

And if love, joy, peace, and power are what we surrender when we don’t follow Jesus, then naturally, they are what we receive when we do surrender our lives to training with him as his apprentices. Following Jesus is not a comfortable journey; it demands complete surrender. It may require giving up possessions, putting Him before family and friends, or even abandoning one's current life. The point is not to dissuade but to emphasize that the cost of discipleship is high. Yet, the return on investment is immeasurable.


So the church, then, must place these two ideas before a newcomer as early as possible.


  • Idea one: Following Jesus demands complete surrender and costs everything.

  • Idea two: Following Jesus results in gaining more than you could ever give up.


With these ideas in view, the vision is clear and the choices are simple: Either ‘I’m all in’ or ‘no thanks.’ And while some may walk away, as many walked away from Jesus, at least the lukewarm option of ‘Trial-Run Christianity’ has been utterly obliterated. 

              DEEP SOIL

  

And yes, to be “all in” means that you are giving Jesus permission to kill the person you currently are in order to raise up a new and better thing in you. But as Jesus understood millennia ago:


 “I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)


The church inhabits a world accustomed to shallow commitments. And if it wants its people to experience a deep, rich, and nourishing life, then it must, at the risk of losing ‘business,’ resist giving them the option to remain in shallow soil.


The church does not exist to be nice or polite. It exists to be good. It exists to give off the aroma of Jesus, who was also not nice nor polite, but intensely good.


So, instead of saying, "We're just happy you're here," may we quickly announce,


"Welcome. The Kingdom of God is available to you today. Jesus, the master of the universe, the one who can help you recover your life, is taking on new students. Will you surrender your current life, your current way, your current agenda, to Him and trust Him to be the greatest bargain you could ever imagine?"

This is an invitation to deep soil, where transformation becomes not just possible but inevitable.

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~ Andrew

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