We are called to make disciples. People we will invite to walk with us, to learn from us, to follow us for a season as we follow Jesus (consider John the Baptist, who invested in Andrew and then released him to follow another disciple-maker, Jesus himself: we, too, may disciple for a season). People we will encourage and confront, in order that they grow more fully human.
If we are to do this, we must take the revelation we have been given – not just the general revelation of how we are to live, but the personal call on our own lives – and allow it to determine restraint, allow it to set the boundaries within which the disciple-maker/disciple relationship exists.
We must not control another person. We cannot tell them that they need to follow us. We can only invite them to follow us – making clear the parameters; making clear that they will only be able to follow within those parameters – it is up to them.
And we must give them absolute freedom to choose not to follow us.
But we must not give them opt-out clauses, an invitation to follow on any other terms – because that simply isn’t possible. You can only follow someone whom you are prepared to follow, to take your lead from.
This means that we must be focused, determined, uncompromising, not swayed, not accommodating. And this means that few will follow – which is a good thing. Jesus did not have many disciples: why would I think that I can disciple more people at any given time than Jesus?
Jesus didn’t ignore other people – he had compassion for the crowds. But they weren’t his focus. We tend to mistake the Sermon on the Mount for a public rally; in fact, a closer look reveals that he called his disciples to him and was addressing them – the crowd was listening-in.
There are a very many people in our lives, and we are called to engage with them all, at one level or another – those we meet in the course of our work, in our neighbourhood, in our extended families. But Jesus’ commission to every one of his followers – regardless of work, or neighbourhood, or family context – is to make disciples, not gather crowds. And that is counter-intuitive to those who want to save the world. Discipleship requires revelation and restraint.