Jesus' Disciple and the American Dream
“Can you have the American Dream and be a disciple of Jesus Christ?” This question was presented at a church-planting conference I attended last month. I circled those words on my paper and figured I’d have to think about it for a bit. So, I have been pondering this question.
First, I need to be sure of the terms. A disciple is an active follower or learner. Jesus Christ calls us to follow Him as His disciples, committed to learning from Him and becoming like Him as we intentionally apply to our lives what He teaches us through His Word and what He allows into our lives. As a Christ-follower for a number of years, I somewhat understand what this means.
What is the American Dream? Historian James Truslow Adams popularized the phrase "American Dream" in his 1931 book Epic of America, defining it this way: "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement" regardless of social class or circumstances of birth. Wikipedia says it’s “the opportunity for prosperity and success and an upward social mobility achieved through hard work.” The idea of the American Dream is rooted in our Declaration of Independence, which proclaims that "all men are created equal" and that they are "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights" including "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
So, how does this affect us as Jesus’ disciples? Jesus warned his followers about being choked by the cares and riches of this world in the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:18-19). He called for His disciples to be willing to sacrifice their own pursuits in order to put Him first (Matthew 6:33; Luke 9:57-62). Yet, New Testament writers encouraged Jesus’ disciples to work hard not only to provide their own needs but also to be able to generously share with others (2 Corinthians 8-9; Ephesians 4:28). That requires sacrifice. Is the concept of sacrifice missing in American “disciples” today because of the American Dream?
I’m thinking it’s the “pursuit of happiness” being addressed by the question, “Can you have the American Dream and be Jesus’ disciple?” The conference speaker continued by saying, “We have a master who demands radical obedience with a radical mission for us, and we don’t have time to waste on the American Dream. We are plan A. There is no plan B.” That mission is to share Christ and make disciples everywhere. Does the American Dream distract us into consumerism and away from pursuing Christ and His mission for us first and foremost? Are we wasting time on the American Dream?
Can you have the American Dream and still be Jesus’ disciple? I am still pondering.