The cost of non-discipleship

One of my themes over Lent are the words of Jesus about discipleship:

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? (Mark 8:34b–37, NRSV)

I think the application to Lent is fairly clear. Taking up the cross is about sacrifice, hardship and ultimately death. If we want to be Jesus’ disciples, we know what to expect.

If you want to read a good book about this subject, get hold of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship. Be warned, it’s not an easy book to read.

I have often wondered where I’d be now if I wasn’t a Christian. I have the intellectual ability to do pretty well any job I’d like. I could easily have been a lawyer or a doctor. I would certainly be quite rich. I’d have a very nice house, a very fast car, and I would take holidays in very exotic locations as often as possible.

However, following Jesus has led my to be a Salvation Army Officer. It’s a pretty strange deal. I can’t even moonlight as any of those things I really would like to have been. I’m looked after fairly well, but many of the nice things in life are simply out of our reach.

And there’s the problem. I am looked after fairly well. I have a good car to drive, a nice house in which to live, and I get more than enough mnoney to cover the basic necessities of life. It’s not a lot, but I can afford to go out once in a while and buy a DVD or a video game.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that it’s too easy for me to remain a disciple of Christ. There’s a barrier to leaving. If I decided I’d had enough of this caper and wanted to give it away, it would actually be a hard thing to do. It would have a big effect on my family–the way the Salvation Army works means it mightn’t be that easy for Trudy to continue in her role as an officer. We’d have to move out of the house and probably back to South Australia where our families are. We’d have to start paying rent. We’d have to find jobs. We’d have to buy a car. Our standard of living would probably decrease quite substantially.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining! I am very grateful that I am able to enjoy the lifestyle I do. It just seems somehow wrong that it’s easier to be a disciple of Christ than not. I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant!

12 thoughts on “The cost of non-discipleship

  1. People in survival mode generally don’t achieve much in life in terms of helping other people, as they are full time in just surviving themselves.

    If you as an officer was struggling to pay the bills, you wouldn’t be able to put as much effort into your work, so being supplied with a car and a house and many bills paid is a good idea…. to a point …..

    If you compared your house and your car with the corps people, where would you rate .e.g would the quality of your accommodation and transport be higher than 40% or 60% or 70% or 80% of the corps ?

    What figure would make you feel comfortable ?

    I’ve seen some officers live in acccomodation that was better than 90% of the corps people, which IMHO is not acceptable, as the expectation of the church is that the corps people will continue to keep the money rolling in to support the church, for which much of the budget is used to support the high standard of living ( which was out of the reach of most of the church members ), while at the same time other expenditures on important activities such as worship and outreach were struggling on very low budgets.

    I’m sure this is in the minority of corps, and I was just unlucky. The upside of my experience is that my family is supporting many children in 3rd world countries, and have a goal of sponsoring 20 children down the track ,rather than seeing our money going to suport mainly self seeking purposes.

    I’m ok for everyone who receives my money to be accountable for what they do with it. If they refuse to be accountable then they don’t get it.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts

  2. I think there are quite a lot of officers who remain in their positions simply because of the level of comfort and security it provides. I’m not saying that they are paid particularly well, but for someone with limited education and work experience outside of ministry would quite likely find it difficult to find work that pays enough to cover the house, car and wages provided as an officer.

  3. Jack I assume you are not saying that all officers have limited eduction, but that some do. And for those that do have limited education, the army in conjunction with the government centrelink payments, certainly would provide a standard of living way above what would have been achieved in their working career. Do you believe that some people become officers because of this reason ? i.e. They cannot see a way of providing for their family ( or maybe don’t want to ) and a good career choice is officership.

  4. I think you’re making the same point as me, Jack—officership isn’t the best deal in the world, but it’s not that bad. That can create a huge disincentive for people who would otherwise leave. That can be a problem if leaving is the correct moral decision to make.

    John, I have always been a little embarrassed about the comparatively high standard of living we enjoy. We have never been the best off people in our corps, but we are usually in the top twenty percent. It really annoys me when officers complain about how hard things are financially. That can’t look too good for the poor folks who are supporting them.

    Part of the problem lies in the way the Army looks after its officers. We live in a fairly comfortable four bedroom house in a relatively good part of Colac. The Army was very specific about a lot of things when we started to look for a house. It had to be less than ten years old. It had to have a minimum of four bedrooms. It has to have a formal sitting area separate to the family’s normal living area.

    These requirements are fairly pragmatic. The house has to be new er in order to minimise longer term maintenance costs. It has to have four bedrooms, because there are officer family’s with seven or eight children. Also, officers tend to live away from extended family, so having a guest room is a good idea. It needs a separate area for mum and dad to have meetings in while the kids occupy themselves elsewhere. And so on.

    It just so happens that houses that fit those criteria (and others) trend to be very comfortable. I could get very used to it. The problem is, I have. I’ve happily lived in some pretty ordinary lodgings in my time. I like what I’m in much better.

    Similar things can be said for the other perks—car, allowance and so on. (Incidentally, if an officer ever complains about the amount of money they don’t get, just ignore them. It’s comparatively low, but more than most of us need.) The Army has done a fairly wise thing here recently—some of the perks have been taken away and replaced with more or less equal raises to the allowance. This allows officers to take a bit more control over their finances. I think it’s been great.

    I would love to serve in another country one day. I have officer friends in territories where the Army just can’t afford to pay them. Yet they don’t complain—they signed up to service, not a job. With the current economic downturn maybe I won’t have to go too far…!

  5. No John, I’m not saying that not all officers have limited education, but many do. However even for those with qualifications and work experience gained before entering officership, I would think that after having been officers for 10, 15, 20 years or more they would even have difficulty re-entering the workforce in areas for which they are qualified and/or experienced. So for some it would be very difficult to give up the level of financial security enjoyed as an officer. I think there are at least a few officers that should not be officers, but they hang in there mostly for that security.

    I don’t believe that there would be many who go into training college because of the perks of the job – I think the vast majority do it for the right reasons (whatever they are). But once they are in appointments, have supposedly made a lifetime commitment to be and stay as officers, it would become increasingly difficult to leave.

  6. I’ve heard a few officers complain that they only get paid $5 per hour. I don’t know exactly what officers are paid in cash, but if the comments are correct Its about $200 per week each officer, and I have a rough idea of the benefits.

    There is also centrelink benefits if children are involved. Have you ever worked out what family income you would need to maintain the same level of lifestyle… i.e. the same car, renting the same house, same education, same energy expenses, same communication expenses, same holidays, same everything ?

    Note : all of these expenses are paid after tax.

    It would be interesting to see that it equates to. I am guessing, repeat guessing, that the family income would need to be about $80,000 per year, which is not easily achieved by any family when average incomes are about $50,000 per year.

    On a related subject, I also believe that the average income for a Christian is less than a non Christian, I won’t go into the details unless its of interest to anyone reading this.

  7. Officers have got a very easy way to increase the amount they earn per hour: work less hours!

    Seriously, I don’t know too many officers who complain about the amount they get. ‘Earning’ is certainly the wrong word, and if officers use it frequently they are completely misunderstanding what they are paid for. There is no guaranteed allowance for officers. We are paid a subsistence allowance in order to release us from the need to get outside employment. If the low allowance is causing problems for officers, well, I’m not sure what they’re doing. (I do realise there are officers genuinely doing it tough through no fault of their own. Did you like my straw man?!!?)

    The $80,000 is probably correct for married couples with two or three children who live in the city. Our house is fairly standard as quarters go, but would attract less than half the rent an equivalent house might bring if it were within 10km of Melbourne CBD.

    Location affects a lot of other things in that figure, too. For example, in Colac we have overall lower travelling costs (covered by the corps, but offset by higher petrol costs) and higher grocery costs (which we pay ourselves.) All I can say is, who’d be an actuary?

    Your comment about the income of Christian vs non-Christians is interesting—do could you get the details for me?

  8. Regarding income of christian vs non-christian I am sure my comments are going to cause someone to disagree , however that is the norm 🙂

    I believe that the average non-christian earns more than the average christian, because

    1) I believe that the average IQ of a non Christian is higher than a Chrisitan, and IQ is related to earnings ( IQ is dragged down by the fundies ! )

    2) Church puts emphasis on the fact that God will supply all our needs. Which then encourages some Christians to take it easy / not focus on earning income as it doesn’t matter what they do, God is going to supply everyone on a plate. And if God doesn’t deliver then thats ok too, as God has determined that they person doesn’t need too much and you can’t do anything about that

    And to finish, some people get centrelink and God mixed up.

  9. I would have thought otherwise, although we both run the risk of generalising.

    To begin with there is a tendency for poorer people to ‘improve’ themselves upon conversion. There are two related reasons for this. First, if the person had any bad habits that is money saved. Second, church culture has (over the last two centuries) had a ‘middle-classing’ effect. New Christians aspire to more middle class jobs and lifestyles for themselves and their children.

    I would also disagree that Christians have historically sat back and waited for God to provide. In fact, Christians (specifically Protestants) are famous for making labour a virtue—Max Weber called it the ‘Protestant work ethic.’ This isn’t specifically about producing an income—rather, it’s about seeing work as an important end in itself that will naturally result in God’s providence.

  10. Maybe my observations are based upon my most recent church. Maybe I need to visit a variety of churches.

  11. The following is a review of several studies of IQ and religiosity, paraphrased and summarized from Burnham Beckwith’s article, “The Effect of Intelligence on Religious Faith,” Free Inquiry, Spring 1986: (1)


    1. Thomas Howells, 1927
    Study of 461 students showed religiously conservative students “are, in general, relatively inferior in intellectual ability.”

    2. Hilding Carlsojn, 1933
    Study of 215 students showed that “there is a tendency for the more intelligent undergraduate to be sympathetic toward… atheism.”

    3. Abraham Franzblau, 1934
    Confirming Howells and Carlson, tested 354 Jewish children, aged 10-16. Found a negative correlation between religiosity and IQ as measured by the Terman intelligence test.

    4. Thomas Symington, 1935
    Tested 400 young people in colleges and church groups. He reported, “There is a constant positive relation in all the groups between liberal religious thinking and mental ability… There is also a constant positive relation between liberal scores and intelligence…”

    5. Vernon Jones, 1938
    Tested 381 students, concluding “a slight tendency for intelligence and liberal attitudes to go together.”

    6. A. R. Gilliland, 1940
    At variance with all other studies, found “little or no relationship between intelligence and attitude toward god.”

    7. Donald Gragg, 1942
    Reported an inverse correlation between 100 ACE freshman test scores and Thurstone “reality of god” scores.

    8. Brown and Love, 1951
    At the University of Denver, tested 613 male and female students. The mean test scores of non-believers was 119 points, and for believers it was 100. The non-believers ranked in the 80th percentile, and believers in the 50th. Their findings “strongly corroborate those of Howells.”

    9. Michael Argyle, 1958
    Concluded that “although intelligent children grasp religious concepts earlier, they are also the first to doubt the truth of religion, and intelligent students are much less likely to accept orthodox beliefs.”

    10. Jeffrey Hadden, 1963
    Found no correlation between intelligence and grades. This was an anomalous finding, since GPA corresponds closely with intelligence. Other factors may have influenced the results at the University of Wisconsin.

    11. Young, Dustin and Holtzman, 1966
    Average religiosity decreased as GPA rose.

    12. James Trent, 1967
    Polled 1400 college seniors. Found little difference, but high-ability students in his sample group were over-represented.

    13. C. Plant and E. Minium, 1967
    The more intelligent students were less religious, both before entering college and after 2 years of college.

    14. Robert Wuthnow, 1978
    Of 532 students, 37 percent of Christians, 58 percent of apostates, and 53 percent of non-religious scored above average on SATs.

    15. Hastings and Hoge, 1967, 1974
    Polled 200 college students and found no significant correlations.

    16. Norman Poythress, 1975
    Mean SATs for strongly antireligious (1148), moderately anti-religious (1119), slightly antireligious (1108), and religious (1022).

    17. Wiebe and Fleck, 1980
    Studied 158 male and female Canadian university students. They reported “nonreligious S’s tended to be strongly intelligent” and “more intelligent than religious S’s.”

  12. @ John Duthie:

    The article you reference cites “tendencies” of non-religious people to be smarter than religious people. Might I humbly suggest that much of academic pursuit and intellectualism boils down to one more path of rebellion against God. It’s in man’s entire being to rebel against God. (“The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” Romans 8:7)

    Please don’t read that as me saying that the pursuit of knowledge is in itself an act of rebellion. No, what I mean to say is that perhaps many who reject God seek to find their meaning in learning, hence those statistics.

    (Ravi Zacharias – a BRILLIANT philosopher, theologian and Christian apologist – has much to say on this topic.)

    Faith in an unseen God is an affront to reason (at least on the surface) – depth of insight and true wisdom begins the moment we acknowledge God’s existence and begin giving Him the proper reverence He is due. (“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Proverbs 1:7 AND “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’.”

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