Anyone can claim to be a Christian or churchgoer, not everyone can boldly attest to the fact that they are disciples of Christ. For most people, when they hear the word ‘disciple’, what immediately comes to their mind are the 12 disciples Jesus first chose to be with Him, follow Him and learn from Him (Matthew 10:1-8). These are Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Canaanite, Thaddaeus, and Judas Iscariot. Jesus started with this 12 men, but His call and search for disciples didn’t end with them.
Every believer is called to be a disciple of Christ. When Jesus was about to ascend to heaven, He widened, broadened and greatly extended the number of His disciples by giving us this command, ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…’ (Matthew 28:19). Disciples of Christ are to keep increasing and multiplying. Jesus didn’t say go and make churchgoers, He said go and make disciples.
What’s the difference between a disciple and a churchgoer? A churchgoer is a regular attendee at church services and programs, but there’s no internal change going on in the person’s heart. Luke 8:12 explains why. As soon as the churchgoer hears the Word, the devil comes and takes away what was heard. The devil uses so many things to prevent the Word that was heard from taking root in the person’s heart. Things like the pleasures of this world, problems of life, busyness of life, peer pressure, bad friends or focusing more on material things than on things with lasting value. Even though churchgoers don’t joke with church services, the Word doesn’t stay in their heart to create the desired change God wants to see in their lives. The Word never sinks in, mainly due to the fact that many who fall into this category haven’t yet given Christ a place in their heart. Understanding the Word of God and retaining the Word of God in our heart, begins with having Jesus in our heart and life. A disciple has committed and surrendered his life to Christ, which makes his heart fertile soil for the Word of God to thrive and grow. The seed of the Word is planted in the person’s heart and that seed begins to grow and cause an inward change (2 Corinthians 4:16). As the heart is changed by the seed of the Word, every other area of the person’s life is positively affected. In Matthew 3:7-8, when John the Baptist saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to be baptised, he challenged them to produce fruits worthy of repentance. What in essence John the Baptist was saying is that it’s not just enough for you to be involved in religious activities and rituals like undergoing baptism or going to church, there must be evidence of a changed heart and life; there must be a transformation in your life, which is the mark of a true disciple.
Another type of churchgoer is seen in Luke 8:13. This churchgoer displays a lot of joy and enthusiasm when he first hears the Word. For example, a lady hears it preached on the altar, join the workforce today; serve God with your time. Instantly, she puts her name down to become a worker. Starts to attend workers classes and sessions, happily joins a department in the church. Then a storm of life comes her way. She is dumped by the guy she was engaged to marry a week to their wedding or she loses her high-flying job. The pain and disappointment in her heart, causes her to abandon the faith and fall away. She can’t stand and endure in the day of adversity because she was never really rooted in Christ and in the Word. True disciples are firmly and deeply rooted in Christ, trials and afflictions draw them closer to God and not away from God. Love is a mark of a true disciple (Luke 14:25, John 13:35) and a true disciple loves, stands and sticks with God in good times and bad times, when it is comfortable and convenient and when it is extremely difficult to follow God (2 Corinthians 4:8-10).
Then there are the churchgoers who worries of life choke out the Word of God from them (Luke 8:14). These type of churchgoers worry more about what people think, their reputation before men than about God. One of the dangers of worrying about what people think is that it can get you more concerned about pleasing people than pleasing God. Constant worrying and bothering about what people will think, what people will say, can keep you from evangelising, speaking out for the truth, making a stand for God in public places, being useful to God and obeying simple instructions God gives you. This is why this type of churchgoers experience stunted spiritual growth; they don’t become mature believers. They remain churchgoers, they don’t grow to become disciples.
Attending church services and programs regularly is good, enjoying the fellowship of believers is highly commendable (Hebrews 10:25). But for us to shine for Christ in a dark and rebellious world (Matthew 5:16), be grounded and rooted in the Word (Colossians 2:7), make significant and lasting impact, bear much fruit for Christ (John 15:5), follow Christ in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2), in times of plenty and times of lack (Philippians 4:12), when it is suitable and when it is the most awkward and difficult thing to do (Psalm 126:5), we must be disciples of Christ not mere churchgoers.
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