February 2008 - Vol. 16

Choice and Pressure 

Helping young men choose for radical discipleship

by John Hughes

Blessings and challenges of growing up in Christian community
As one who grew up in the Sword of the Spirit and now considers himself “on board” as a disciple of Christ, I offer a perspective in the hope that it will be of help to parents, youth workers, and pastoral leaders as they guide young men and women in choosing for radical discipleship. My conviction is that it is difficult for those of us who were born into community (especially young men) to choose for it in a radical way. The reasons surrounding why this is the case might, in themselves, make for an interesting article, but here I mainly want to offer a thought on one of the common parental (and fraternal) responses to a young man’s hesitations about community life and discipleship in general: pressure.  

As oblivious as we young men may often be, pressure is one thing we sense very keenly. The choice to be a disciple of Christ and to remain in community, particularly for young men, is often reduced to a choice between yielding to pressures from parents and “blazing one’s own trail.”  

Growing up in Christian community has it blessings and its challenges. I grew up in a family where prayer, reading the Bible, going to church, and participating in community life were the expected norm.  I knew that my parents and those around me wanted the best for me as they challenged me to choose for what God might want for me and for the call he had on my life.  

When faced with the decision of where to attend college, I remember how my father waited until I came to him seeking advice before he gave me any direction on the matter – having this room to choose was important for me, and the Lord used it to lead me to a good environment.  

When the Lord took hold of my life in my early college years, I knew that the way of life in the community I had grown up with was a good one. However, even if the best possible option was set before me, and I still had to understand that it was within the realm of possibility to choose another option. I knew I had to choose for something, and deep down I yearned to be decisive, but choosing for that which was already set before me somehow didn’t seem like a choice at all.  

Freely choosing for discipleship
Thankfully my parents and those around me recognized this need for my personal choice in the matter and gave me some room – free from pressure – so I could make it freely. What I needed to know was this: despite everyone around me having already made up their minds about my living in Christian community as a disciple of Christ (or so it seemed), the decision to commit was entirely up to me – It had to be. I didn’t want to simply be a malleable guy, or a “yes-man”. 

It would have taken me longer to mature and become autonomous, I think, if I had experienced the decision-making process as a mere weighing of opposing pressures put on me by those around me.  Naturally, the call of Christ to “come, follow me” involved a response of faith and obedience, but a life of faith and obedience has to be chosen for, not be pressured into. We want men who, with the Apostle Paul, can say, “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a servant to everyone” (1 Corinthians 9:19).  

The only true way to freedom and abundant life
As I begin to take on responsibility for serving young men as a mission leader for our Kairos outreach in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Lord has been confirming this conviction in me: our task as laborers in this work is to show young people that a life of discipleship is not only a good option but the only true way to freedom and abundant life in Christ. Yet the invitation to follow Christ and to obey the gospel must be freely accepted, without coercion or undue pressure. If we give young men a choice, some – hopefully many – will choose for discipleship. Others will choose another way, like the rich young man in the gospels who went away sad because he thought the cost was too much for him. But we have to let them choose. The Lord wants his sons to choose freely. Ultimately he will be the one who leads them to himself.

   “Do not be afraid, for I am with you; 
       I will bring your children from the east 
       and gather you from the west. 
   I will say to the north, 'Give them up!' 
       and to the south, 'Do not hold them back.' 
       Bring my sons from afar 
       and my daughters from the ends of the earth- 
   everyone who is called by my name, 
       whom I created for my glory, 
       whom I formed and made.”  
             - Isaiah 43:5-8

[John Hughes is a mission leader for Kairos outreach to university students in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA and a member of the Word of Life community.] 

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