Discipleship: Unclear, Inconvenient, and Uncomfortable

Kyle Norman
We’ve all heard the joke: How do we change a lightbulb in the church?” Depending on the version we know, the answer is multiple. Either we reference our longing for “the way it was”, or we speak about the beloved family who donated the lightbulb in the first place. Others offer the simple answer of “Why change?”
The humour rests in acknowledging that the unwillingness to step outside of our own comforts is a very human quality. We like what we like in the way we like it. Of course, this isn’t simply a phenomenon in the church; it extends to all areas of our lives. After all, I get upset when the grocery store changes where they place the chickpeas.
Living the Christian life begins with a shift in perception. If we approach our faith life in a “I like what I like” mentality, then we will never be stretched beyond our comforts. We will never uncover how the Spirit moves us from comfort to transformation, from familiarity to new life. It is impossible to live the Christian life and be comfortable at the same time.
The Gospel of Luke recounts three calls to discipleship, paired with three rebuttals (Luke 9:57-62). As Jesus walks along the road, a man calls out to Jesus, expressing the desire to follow Jesus wherever he goes. Jesus responds by revealing that “the Son of man has no place to lay his head.” The implication in this interaction is that the prospective disciple seeks to follow Jesus only insofar as the road is clear. He wants to know what lies ahead. The possibility of disruption, hardship, and sleepless nights is too high a price for this individual.
Following this interaction, Jesus meets a second prospective disciple. The call is clear and straight forward: “Follow me”, Jesus calls. A simpler invitation could not be made. Yet this person responds to the invitation by citing the need to bury his father. It is unclear whether the father had recently died or is on his death bed. Jesus responds by saying that the dead should bury their own dead. This may ring harsh to our modern ears, but the issue at hand is that the desire to follow Jesus is mediated through a desire for convenience. As good as the call of Jesus is, it is a disruption to the man’s previously laid plans. The person turns away from Jesus for a more convenient way.
The final prospective disciple presents Jesus with a similar request. “I will follow you; but first let me go say goodbye to my family.” This sounds reasonable enough. Yet again, Jesus responds negatively. He states that no one who casts their focus backwards is fit for discipleship. Discipleship calls us to look forward, to follow the way of Christ. Undoubtedly, this is going to create some discomfort. The call of Jesus leads us to a way of life that may counter the sensibilities and structures of modern day.
The life of Jesus is a life of discomfort and inconvenience. Jesus lived for the will of the Father and not for the maximization of his pleasures, comforts, or conveniences. He calls us to do the same. Henri Nouwen writes “I’ve discovered for myself the great extent to which I’m inclined to “secularize” Jesus. Instinctively, I look to Jesus for cheap liberation, a solution to my problems, help with my desire for success, getting even with my opponents, and a good measure of publicity.”1 When we live from the basis of our own comfort or convenience, we grasp only our selves, our understandings, and our own strategies. Jesus becomes a prop for our strategies and self-focused desire.
The Christian life, however, demands that we empty ourselves in love before the one who redeemed us. Discipleship calls us to release ourselves to the fire of God, a fire that called the disciples to exit the comforting safety of the upper room to preach, teach, and heal. Daunting? Yes. Challenging? Absolutely. Uncomfortable? You bet. Powerful and life-changing? Beyond compare.

1 Nouwen, Henri; 1988, Letters to Marc about Jesus: Living a Spiritual Life in a Material World; (HarperCollins US)


Reverend Dr. Kyle Norman is the rector of the Anglican Parish of Holy Cross in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has a doctorate in Spiritual Formation and is often asked to write or speak on the nature of Christian community, and the role of spiritual disciplines in Christian life. His personal blog can be found at www.revkylenorman.ca