When I was a kid, there was one question that almost every adult wanted me to answer. It seemed to be a universal preoccupation for almost every big person in my life, in fact – teachers, aunts, uncles, and even those nice old ladies at church.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I’m sure I answered something like a baseball commentator. I loved the way they all said, “Aaaaand iiiiit’s OUTTA HERE!” Plus, who didn’t love hearing Vin Scully call games for the Dodgers over a 67-year career?
This question is still something that well-meaning adults ask my own children now, and they have answers at the ready. One daughter wants to be a kindergarten teacher, another a veterinarian, and even my 3-year-old has said she wants to be a “people doctor” to differentiate from the older sister who wants to be an “animal doctor.”
My struggle here, however, is that these questions seem to operate with an implicit understanding of the world. Namely, that what you want to be is synonymous with what you want to do.
Our identities, even from an early age, seem to get wrapped up in what we do, and in many cases, what we do for money.
Even as an adult, a version of this question emerges in the first few minutes I’m making a new acquaintance: “And what do you do?”
And how often do we give a response that wraps our identity in with our jobs?
“I’m a therapist.”
“I’m a ministry worker.”
“I’m a people doctor.”
Somehow we continue to buy the myth that the most important thing about us is what we do on weekdays from 9-5. As if these are the things that matter most about us.
For Christians, however, this is notably a problem because how we pay our bills is not the thing about us that matters the most. The thing that matters most for Christians is nothing more (and nothing less) than Jesus.
So really, the next time someone asks me what I do, perhaps my answer should cut to the chase:
“I follow Jesus, and when I fail, I try again.”
Or, to co-opt the adage about what monks do in a monastery, “I fall down and get up; I fall down and get up.”
This, strictly speaking, is what Christians do.
Everything else about our lives is just the context in which Christians follow Jesus.
The only thing that matters in a Christian’s life is Jesus.
Now I can imagine that you’re saying, “But what about our views on the many social issues that are confronting our kids?”
The only thing that matters is Jesus.
“But what about the secular agenda?”
The only thing. That matters. Is Jesus.
When Jesus calls His apostles, He doesn’t ask them first to fill out a survey about what their take on this or that social issue is before incorporating them into His community of twelve. In fact, let’s briefly consider just two of the twelve He calls: Matthew the Tax Collector and Simon the Zealot (Matt. 10:3-4).
As a tax collector, Matthew was a Jew on the payroll of Rome, the occupying power of the time. And as such, Matthew had the sword of the Roman legion behind him to enforce taxes alongside a hefty fee, which Matthew would pocket as his own income.
Tax collectors were notoriously corrupt, and as such he was considered by the Jews of the day to be on the bottom rung of the moral ladder, both as a thief and a blood traitor. Tax collectors were hated by everyone.
Simon, on the other hand, was a part of the Zealots, an extremist political party that sought Israeli liberation from Rome through violence, often using guerilla-like tactics against Roman forces. Needless to say, Simon would have hated anyone that worked for the Roman Empire, even more so his own countryman who had a hand in Roman oppression.
And yet, here in the inner circle of Jesus, are both of these men.
It would be impossible to communicate the level of animosity that would have existed between these two, and yet here they are, together, fully welcomed at the table of Jesus’ closest friends.
They have political differences, to be sure, but what unites them is more important, and it’s the only thing that matters: Jesus.
Jesus has called both of these men to become members of the core crew that would go on to “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).
When Jesus calls Matthew and Simon, He is not inviting them based on their resumes or work experience. Rather, Jesus is inviting them to enter a new way of life, one that is centered around His very own person.
This, of course, means that Matthew must stop collecting taxes on behalf of Caesar because now he has a new King. This means Simon must stop killing Romans because even they are the image of God. And this means that in this community centered around Jesus, Matthew and Simon have some things to work out, pasts that must be forgiven by one another as they seek to enter into a new way of life, the Way of following Jesus.
And this is the crucial element to this whole point, that it’s a way of life.
Being a Christian is not merely about something we believe, but rather it is about Who we follow.
It is only by following Jesus that we can enter into a new way of being human, of truly knowing who we are, where we belong, and what we were made to do.
But this mode of living in the way of Jesus is only something that we can do through ongoing rhythms of life that are based around being with Jesus, becoming like Jesus, and doing the things that Jesus would do if He were us.
This is why Matthew and Simon are equally welcome in the inner circle because Jesus has invited them both to apprentice under Him, to be His disciples in this new way of life.
A way of life that centers around being with Jesus, becoming like Jesus, and doing the things that Jesus would do if He were us.
But core to this way of life is Jesus Himself.
Because for a Christian, the only thing that matters is Jesus.
If Jesus is removed from any component of the Christian’s life, then it becomes way too easy to let lesser things motivate us, to let lesser things become the guiding light for the kind of people we will become.
So in some sense, those adults who asked me what I wanted to do were onto something. What we do is important.
But far more important is what those things do to us.
What we do shapes the kind of people we will become, and if we are to become people of love, people of Christ, then what we must seek to do is to follow Jesus with every breath we have.
This is why OYM is dedicated to keeping Christ at the center of everything, and it is why we are committed to helping pass on a faith where every young person can encounter Christ, embody Christ’s Church, and engage the world in Christ’s Name.
And this faith is passed on most primarily through Christian practices and disciplines that center around the person of Jesus Christ: being with Him, becoming like Him, and doing the things that He would do if He were us.
This is what you can expect from every single ministry offering that comes from OYM. In many ways, what we’re hoping to offer is nothing more than practical Orthodoxy, a way to be centered around the person of Jesus Christ in everything we do.
We encounter Christ through spiritual disciplines of solitude and silence, through reading the scripture and the lives of the saints. We see Him at work in our lives, in His own life as recorded in the Gospels, and in the lives of His people throughout the ages. In this way, we are with Him.
But as we’ve seen with Matthew and Simon, the call to follow Jesus is simultaneously a call to join His Community: to embody His Church. It is there that we become like Jesus through practices of communal worship and fellowship with one another. At Christ’s table, we remember that we don’t just belong to Jesus, but that we also belong to one another. With our brothers and sisters, we learn to become people of love and forgiveness, people who share one another’s burdens and forgive one another’s shortcomings.
And from this Community, we are sent forth to engage the world by doing the things Jesus would do if He were us. We do this through Christian practices like almsgiving and caring for the poor, through radical acts of Christian hospitality. We welcome the stranger to our table, not just the people who think like us, but perhaps even more especially those who don’t.
There’s no doubt that Matthew and Simon had struggles with one another. How could it have been otherwise? But there was no amount of discussion, debate, or argumentation that could have the power to overcome their division.
Rather, they needed to be united, and the only thing that was powerful enough to do so was the very person of Jesus, in whom all division is overcome. By being with Him, they were able to learn and follow His rhythms of life, of radical dependence on the Father, of radical love for His community, and of radical solidarity with the world around Him.
In other words, by being with Him, they were able to become like Him through the crucible of their relationship with one another, which was ultimately a relationship centered around Jesus. And as they were transformed into His likeness, they became lights in a dark world, people who became incarnations of Christ’s Love to the lost.
This was no humanitarian effort. This was no human agenda.
It was nothing more than simply walking in the way of Jesus, the only One that matters.
By Christian Gonzalez
Christian Gonzalez is the Director of Ministry for OYM. He is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Arizona and draws from his understanding of family systems to explore questions of spiritual formation and the building up of the Church as the Household of God. OYM seeks to bring young people into this Household through Christian spiritual practices that help young people encounter Christ, embody His Church, and engage the world in His Name.