Once in a while, I ring up a customer at the cafe where I work and wince at the cost. I almost feel apologetic when I tell them their large mocha will cost $3.65. Interestingly, the cashier at the cafe I’m hanging out at today (another cafe in the same neighborhood which shall remain nameless) just had the same reaction when I bought a snack that cost $1.98. She even said, “I’m sorry. I thought it would be like eighty-five cents.”
Similarly, in church this past Sunday, I found myself worrying about how people perceived the service. Were the songs too unfamiliar and difficult? The sermon too intellectual? The call for tithes and offerings too direct? Just as I apologetically ring up the register for a large mocha, I wince when I tell people how much it will cost them to follow Jesus. But, put simply, the church in a post-Christendom culture can’t afford to apologize for the costs of following Jesus.
I think the fact we do apologize, though, is symptomatic of two things: First, we don’t really believe that what we have is worth that much. At the cafe, I’m happy to sell our coffee beans at full price, despite the sticker-shock it may give some customers. The reason is that I believe it’s worth it to pay that much for high-quality organic fair-trade coffee. But when it comes to products whose value I doubt, I feel insecure. How often do we in the church shy away from sharing the cost of discipleship because we ourselves don’t trust that’s worth it?
Second, I think our apologies do indicate a genuine concern for others, though it expresses itself in a way that backfires. Example: I want people to know how good the smoothies are at our cafe. They’re expensive, but they’re worth it. I want people to know how good they are, so when people wince at $3.95 for a smoothie made with freshly-squeezed juice, I instinctively wish I could lower the price to make it accessible. But, that’s not within my power to do, and to lower the price fairly would require poorer ingredients or smaller quantities. In the same way, many Christians want to make following Jesus accessible, so they minimize the cost. Accessibility is good. Clear communication is good. But dishonesty about the costs of following Jesus results in anemic churches and weak disciples.