Often, when thinking about ministries, people create a dichotomy between numerical growth and spiritual depth as if the two are not compatible. The thinking goes like this – if a ministry grows numerically it’s at the cost of challenging people spiritually. In other words it’ll be a mile wide and an inch deep. I get this thinking because too often, unfortunately, this is reality. So it’s easy to be a bit cynical when a ministry is experiencing significant growth and wonder if the increase in numbers is the result of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace”.
But cheap grace hasn’t and isn’t always behind exponential growth. 2000 years ago a small group of Jewish people from a dusty Roman backwater saw the mission they inherited explode into a global movement. How did that happen? How did the Church become global and include hundreds of millions of people? It didn’t happen because the leaders of the Church watered down the message of Jesus. It happened because these leaders and their followers both lived out the Gospel fully, including being willing to give their life for Christ and His Church and challenged others to do the same. The Church today continues to explode in some of the most repressive countries in the world, where being a follower of Christ is a life threatening proposition. There is no “cheap grace” in places like these, yet, paradoxically, there is incredible growth.
At SpringHill we are continuously challenging ourselves to reach more kids in the same way the early Church and the Church in many places today are reaching more people – by being faithful to the Gospel and by being bold in sharing it with others. We want no numerical growth through cheap grace. Instead we desire to reach more kids through an uncompromising expression of Christ. To assure that young people can clearly hear the Good News of Jesus, see it lived out in the lives of our staff, and to experience Him in every part of every one of our programs.
Being a mile wide and a mile deep is not only possible it’s the expected model of healthy and effective ministries.
“God has used this book and Bonhoeffer to show what my life needs to be as a disciple of Christ. As a result of God’s call through this book I am committed to obey and follow (adhere to) Christ with single-eyed focus. I will obey before I worry about faith. I will do this in context of the visible believing community – which is Christ’s Body. I want the costly grace and not the cheap grace and I pray that God will call me to Him and I will follow. Michael Perry 11-21-1991”
So I went to my bookcase to find the copy I read back in 1991 and as I opened it I discovered the above note I had written on the back cover.
The note reminded me of the impact this book had on me twenty years ago. As I have had the chance to re-read it I realized it continues to have a significant influence not just on my thinking and philosophy of ministry but more importantly on how I live.
Here are a couple of the questions I wrestled with after reading The Cost of Discipleship twenty years ago and am again challenged with as I re-read it.
First, Bonhoeffer’s concept of “costly Grace” verses “cheap grace” raises an important question that is relevant for us today. How do we share the Gospel with people without gutting it of the difficult parts? How do we tell the good news that we can’t earn our salvation and yet, to be a follower of Christ, will cost us a lot – maybe everything?
The second question is how do we assure we do not fall into the trap of believing that being a Christian is just simply making a decision (or multiple decisions) in a single moment in time instead of accepting that being a Christian means following Christ in every moment of time?
Both of these questions are as relevant (or more relevant) today than in the days Bonhoeffer wrote The Cost of Discipleship.
So if you are looking for a challenging, thought-provoking book about what it means to be a follower of Christ this classic maybe just the book. It’s not perfect but it will have you asking yourself questions like the ones I dealt with above.
For over twenty years Michael Perry has made it his mission to bring young people closer to Christ through his Bible study publications, his capacity as the President and CEO of SpringHill, and his recent book, Experience = Everything. Over the last fifty years, SpringHill has changed over half a million lives—proving that it is more than just camp, or a place, SpringHill is a transformative experience.