A young Jim Candy begged his poor parents to skip church, especially once our family discovered bacon, egg and cheese biscuits from McDonalds.
Each trip to McDonalds probably subtracted one month from my life span, but it was worth it to avoid church. McDonalds became the "let's do that instead of church" request, health ramifications notwithstanding. As an adult, I’m much more in tune with overall health – In-N-Out Burger will undoubtedly allow me to live longer.
Skipping church produced some fear. Isn’t God, clipboard in hand, evaluating us on items like church attendance? “Attend church and be nice” was my perception of Christianity.
But Jesus' aim was never superficial checkpoints like church attendance. He is more concerned about us becoming his disciples. If “disciple” is a blurry term, just insert learner, student or apprentice.
While church attendance and being nice may be elements of becoming an apprentice, I had made those sub-set issues the primary objective.
Years ago, I tried to determine the concrete attributes of a disciple in the student ministry I was serving. We developed “Seven Faith Checkpoints” but I never used them. I feared the list would be weaponized as a tool to judgmentally evaluate others. Lists like this can be dangerous in the wrong hands.
I offer these Seven Checkpoints up now as a way to promote self-awareness remembering Jesus’ admonition to be sure to remove the plank from your own eye before helping others with the splinter in theirs.
Which of these checkpoints are you strong? Where could you grow?
These SEVEN CHECKPOINTS are not in any order of importance with the exception of Trait #1:
1. A Genuine Love for Jesus and People
This is first. If a person loves Jesus, other traits follow. Without this trait, nothing matters. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind,” Jesus said (Luke 10:27). This trait should be continually nurtured. You never master Trait #1 then “move on.”
If you find yourself in a passionless, obligatory relationship with God, stop reading. Focus yourself on this trait because all else fails without a passionate love for Jesus and the people He made.
2. Connects with God Through Spiritual Practices
Following Jesus doesn’t happen magically any more than running a marathon without training.
Followers of Jesus do what Jesus did: they connect with God through practices – prayer, study, silence, solitude, service and more.
These practices don’t win us “God points.” Practices put us in His presence, and we change when that happens.
3. Understands and Can Articulate Spiritual Concepts
We don’t follow a ‘vague spirituality.’ Jesus claimed to be the “Truth.” (John 14:6) The church, in turn, is described as “the pillar and foundation of the truth.” (1 Tim. 3:15)
So what is the truth?
Can we describe and articulate who Jesus was? The Trinity? Sin? Why Jesus died on a cross? What is the Church and why is it important? Why did God give us this life? Who is the Holy Spirit? What is the Bible? How can we trust it?
If this list makes you feel inadequate, remember, this is a shame-free zone. See this as a frontier where you can grow.
4. Has Wrestled with Doubt
In 20+ years of pastoring, the people I’ve known who “never doubt” tend to implode when crisis hits, or they become deeply judgmental of those who wrestle with their faith.
An apprentice of Jesus lives differently – they’ve lived with doubt enough to have developed a conviction, albeit a humble one.
5. Has developed self-awareness about themselves, their giftedness and is serving.
An apprentice of Jesus knows both how God has gifted them and, just as importantly, how God has not. There is a calm and settled nature to a mature believer – I know I need help is the anthem of the self-aware.
A mature disciple knows these things and is actively engaged in working to see God’s will on earth be done.
6. Connects to others in family-like relationships
Discipleship is not a solo-sport. The more we engage with Jesus, the healthier our relationships with others become. God is a relational God. There is a reason for the Trinity beyond mere functional roles. Love always requires an “other.”
Heaven is a highly relational place - cultivating healthy relationships now will make you feel right at home.
7. Trusts God's with Decisions and Life
Ethics matter. We live in an odd era in which many Christians believe we just need Trait #3 and allow God’s grace to justify living however we want. That life would have been unthinkable to Jesus and his early disciples because it harms people.
It also portrays to the non-believing world a dangerous, selfish brand of Christianity. Ignoring ethics, justice and right living is thoroughly denounced throughout the Scripture.
Disciples connect the dots between what the know and what they do.
Which of these most resonate with you?
Which of these do you have the most room for growth? (I’m personally focusing on #s 2&6)
What would you add to this list?
Note: I have book and Scripture suggestions for each of these – let me know if you are interested! Appreciate you sharing with someone you know, liking the post and emailing me at email@example.com.