In the church I serve, one of the last parts of the late worship service is called the "Invitation to Christian Discipleship". What we usually mean by that is "Invitation to Church Membership". As we sing the last hymn we invite anyone who wants to join the church forward. It's a pseudo-alter call, I guess.
I can't help but wondering if we're accidentally doing something of a disservice to people by calling the invitation to church membership the "Invitation to Christian Discipleship". I certainly believe that participation in the life of a community of faith is part of being a disciple. Furthermore I believe that the act of formalizing one's covenant with such a community, symbolized in the act of formally becoming a member, is an important part of being a disciple. But I wonder if we unintentionally imply that discipleship and membership are the same thing by doing it this way in worship.
This is the same basic argument I have with my evangelical friends. I think that too often evangelicals get caught up in trying to get as many converts as possible that they stop there and don't follow through. Just like a call to church membership, invitations to one defining moment of conversion seem way too focused on beefing up our numbers. Creating believers or members is an easy process. Creating disciples is something else altogether.
Discipleship involves relationships. A relationship with God and relationships with other people. Discipleship involves a lot of trial and error. Disciples take two steps forward and one step back because they path they are trying to follow is no less than the trail blazed by Jesus, which is incredibly difficult to follow. It's not like a normal road, with one definite path. There are many paths Jesus leads disciples down, and the path that works for one person is entirely wrong for another.
Making disciples is not glamorous. It doesn't yield impressive statistics and its measure of success is not easily measured. It takes hard work, patience, and a bit of faith. Being a disciple and helping others to be disciples is messy, and it's not for everybody.
When we invite people forward to "become disciples" in worship, maybe we should include a disclaimer that people should not undertake this journey lightly. Becoming a member of the church means signing on the dotted line and making a nominal commitment. Becoming a disciple of Jesus means throwing your whole life into chaos, clinging to the hope that all of this mess is one day going to make sense.
When you become a member you hear, "Welcome to the club."
When you become a disciple you hear, "Welcome to the journey..."