Think about that one thing that you just absolutely love to do. Maybe it’s a sport, maybe it’s hunting or fishing, maybe it’s playing an instrument, or maybe it’s creating works of art.

Now think back to the time when you were just starting out. How much fun were those first few months of guitar lessons? It’s not really that much fun to stretch your fingers all sorts of weird ways. It’s not so cool to have to suffer through the pains of developing callouses. But isn’t it worth it once you finally learn how to play well?

Or what about conditioning for your sports team? Two-a-day football practices in late July/early August in Tennessee were no fun. But when it came time for kick-off under the lights on that first Friday night of the season, all that hard work was just a distant memory. And without putting in that work, there’s no way you could make that touchdown-saving tackle or make that catch for a first down.

Think about all the areas in your life that took effort, training, and discipline. The hard work that you put in on the front end pays off in a lifetime of enjoyment. That doesn’t mean you stop learning and growing in whatever area it is. But it doesn’t require the same amount of determination and perseverance.

And aren’t those things much more enjoyable once you’re good at them? Another thing I like to do is play hacky-sack. I know it sounds weird. You don’t hear many guys in their 20s say that. But I played all the time with my friends in high school. To this day I like to join a circle of high school guys and kick around with them. And let me tell you – it’s way more fun when the people in the circle are actually good. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to play with a bunch of kids that let it drop after one or two kicks.

But all these things take time and practice and training. That’s called discipline.

Discipline has such a negative connotation because we think it’s a synonym for punishment. But that’s just one of many aspects of discipline. There’s hardly an area of our lives that doesn’t require some amount of discipline or training. But good discipline always pays off.

I was having a conversation with some of our teens on a Wednesday night recently and I asked them, “What do you think the church expects from you?” Their answer? To show up to church and not to do bad things.

That’s it. Those are the only expectations placed on our young people by the adults in the church. Is it any wonder that so many young people are leaving? The church has no meaning to them because they aren’t having to go through that initial learning period. They aren’t developing the callouses and the achy muscles, so to speak. They aren’t being trained or disciplined. And without that, then how can we expect them to really understand and appreciate what it means to be a Christian?

We’re teaching them that to be “faithful” is to come to church. Well guess what? Even the demons come to church (Mark 1:21-26). Even the demons believe in Jesus and obey him.

Our teens are learning what it means to “go to church” but not what it means to be the church. They believe in God but they don’t know how to develop a relationship with him.

The speaker in Hebrews has some harsh words to say about spiritual immaturity in the church:

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14)

It’s time to expect more out of our church. It’s time to embrace the disciplines of a spiritual life.

Because it’s always more fun if you’re good at it.