There is an interesting interaction among Jesus, James, and John at the end of Luke 9.
1 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But Jesus turned and spoke sternly to them. 56 And they went on to another village.
In my Bible reading this morning, I literally laughed out loud as I read as I read verse 55. I could imagine this scene in my head, with James and John coming up with their outrageously inappropriate response to the unwillingness of the Samaritans to receive them and then Jesus sternly and quickly putting a stop to their suggestion. I don’t often think of Jesus as frustrated, but I imagine that He was at this point. He quickly handles it. He might have told them the Aramaic version of shut up and stop being so stupid. But I imagine that He did more than that, sternly DISCIPLING them in that moment. They were, after all, His disciples, and His warning and rebuke changed them so that they did not again attempt a similar response when rejected after His ascension.
I marveled at that interaction as I read through John 9 this morning. After pondering it for a bit, I went on to read the final verses of the chapter.
57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
After reading this and thinking about it for a few minutes, I was suddenly struck by the juxtaposition between these seemingly reasonable guys who didn’t have the needed commitment to follow Jesus and the unreasonable ones in the last scene who did.
James and John were immature. But they were committed to Jesus.
As I meditated on this, I saw a key to discipleship that I have missed in previous ministry opportunities (though I do think I’m growing in it). I have often discounted and overlooked immature believers. I instead notice those I consider more mature. Maybe they have a drama-free family life, read the books and blogs I like to read, and so forth. Those mature, drama-free people seem like good people to draw into ministry with me. The problem is that they aren’t particularly committed. For whatever reasons, they have things that keep them from enthusiastic commitment. This passage in John 9 frees me from focusing on those people.
Instead, there are enthusiastic immature people who come across our paths in ministry. Pastor or church leader, if you want to raise up mature leaders in your church, I suggest you notice them this holiday season. You can disciple someone through immaturity to maturity in Christ. But you can’t make people care more about ministry than themselves. The holidays give us a chance to observe people this way as we prepare for new ministry focuses in the New Year.
Of course, the problem with immature people is that they need more discipleship. It annoys me when my kids can’t do something without me and need me to give them instruction or even hold their hand as they do it. But, hello, that is parenting! And walking with someone through ministry life to guide them from immaturity to maturity IS discipleship. Ministry like Jesus is not possible without it.
Praise God that, if the example of James and John teaches us anything, involvement in the work of ministry only has one prerequisite, commitment to Christ. Everything else can be grown. May we have the same eyes to disciple the immature but committed in our churches that Jesus had.
By Wendy Alsup