Do We Have to Go to Be Truly Faithful to God? Part 1

By Mark D. Roberts

September 9, 2015

Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’”

Genesis 12:1

Photograph of ship's prow at anchor

During most of my young life as a Christian, it seemed like the really faithful disciples always had to go away. They were the missionaries who left the comforts of the United States for the hardships of life on the other side of the world. Or they were the businessmen who heard God’s call to go into the ministry, leaving behind a world of abundance for the austerity of pastoral existence. The best Christians were just like Abram because God told them to go and they went.

This perception of the Christian life was biblically based, not only on the example of Abram, but also on the final words of Jesus himself in the Gospel of Matthew. There, Jesus told his disciples to go and make more disciples from all nations (28:19). If we were to follow Jesus’s imperative, it was said or at least implied, then we too must go somewhere else, as missionaries or ministers. We can’t follow Jesus fully unless we go away.

Of course, this perspective on discipleship led to a hierarchy of faithfulness. The truly faithful were those who went. The rest of us were still saved and could still serve Jesus, but we were second-class Christians. Yet, we could somewhat redeem ourselves if we supported missionaries financially and prayed for them consistently.

Now, I’ll admit that I am exaggerating a bit here, but only a bit. The church I grew up in, a wonderful, Christ-centered church, prided itself most of all on the large number of members who “were called into the ministry” or “went into full-time Christian service.” As I recall, that number was well over 400. We didn’t hear much about those who were faithful bankers, teachers, architects, and mothers. They weren’t openly criticized, but they were rarely held up as heroes of the faith. The “Avengers” of the kingdom were the ones who heard the call to go and went, either overseas or to seminary as a prelude to “the ministry.”

I want to reflect with you on whether this understanding of discipleship is right or not. And, if it turns out that it is not (you can probably guess what I think about this), then I want to consider how those of us who don’t go can be more robust disciples of Jesus in our staying. What does it mean to “go” if we stay put geographically or professionally?


In your Christian experience, has there been a two-tiered (or more) approach to discipleship? If so, how was this communicated?

How have you thought about your own “tier”?

In what ways have you “gone” in your life in response to God’s call?


Gracious God, first of all, I thank you for the church I grew up in, for all I learned and for the examples of discipleship I saw. I thank you for those who taught me and who modeled for me what it means to follow you each day. I thank you also for the ways my church encouraged me to respond to your call to pastoral ministry, for the support I received all along the way.

Yet, Lord, you know that we have had a tendency to put certain kinds of “callings” on a pedestal of discipleship. Those who go are the most faithful disciples. The rest of us just don’t rank quite as highly in the kingdom.

In these days, Lord, your church is discovering more fully what it means to be your disciples. We are hearing your call more distinctly. We are seeing the potential for many to serve you without literally going somewhere else. Help us to learn well and discern wisely. Teach us your ways so that we might serve you with our whole lives, not matter where we might be. Amen.


Image thanks to – CC0 Public Domain.

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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