The line between being prodded to action and feeling beaten up is one that runs along a knife’s edge. In Christian discipleship this is the case no less than anywhere else.
As a church family, we recently tried to walk that line as our small groups read through Francis Chan’s Crazy Love. Most of the time—in my opinion, anyway—we ended up on the right side of that divide. We felt challenged but not defeated. But occasionally (especially towards the end) Chan seemed about to totter over the divide and drag us all into a collective fit of failure. At times we all couldn’t help but ask, “Am I getting everything wrong?”
Sometimes that’s the question we need to ask. We lead pretty complacent lives much of the time. We need to hear the true gospel call to commitment. But Chan’s challenge sometimes took on a different tone: instead of “Be committed” he seemed to be saying, “be in constant transition.”
If you’re not changing, you’re not growing. That’s the refrain we hear. In one sense it’s true: growth is a kind of change. But to some of us it felt like Chan was saying that unless we picked up and sold our homes and moved to a remote location to become missionaries or street evangelists we weren’t truly following Jesus. It sounded a little like change for change’s sake, rather than change as a response to God’s call. The radical call of discipleship, phrased this way, starts to make you wonder if it’s about being radical simply to escape the boredom or frustration of the everyday.
With all of this in mind, I’ve begun reading a wonderful book—kind of a response to the sort of thing we find in Chan’s book—called Ordinary, by Michael Horton, a theologian at Westminster Seminary California.
Ordinary’s premise is this: most Christians are going to live out their Christian walk in decidedly unglamorous circumstances. Most of us will live our devotion to Jesus out in our daily life in families, work places, and especially in our church communities, where we hear the gospel, grow in grace, and deepen in understanding over the course of decades. Most of it will not be spectacular, but will simply be our crucial, if gradual, course in learning to love God and love our neighbour as people who have been saved by a gift of God and at the cost of Jesus’ life.
Horton makes it clear that he isn’t advocating mediocrity. He never shies away from stressing the importance of a full commitment to Christ. He simply reminds us that this full commitment can be lived out as faithfully in the mundane surroundings of our “normal” lives as it can be in the wilds of Africa or the inner cities of Asia. We are not all called to the same ministry or the same location. We are all called to love the same God and to love the neighbours that God has given us.
In a time when the new and the different hold such allure, a book like Ordinary gently but strongly reminds us of the simple core of Christian faith. When we don’t think anything is happening, God is transforming us. When we can’t see any miracle, God is holding onto his church and helping it grow to be the light of the world in each generation.