It is not particularly easy to explain what a dilettante is. The Oxford dictionary includes the definition: A person who cultivates an area of interest, such as the arts, without real commitment or knowledge.
A couple of hundred years ago it was generally applied to gentlemen and ladies of financial means who pursued an interest in something, usually enthusiastically, but without the need or desire to have a commitment to it. Over the years, it has mainly fallen into disuse, but when it is applied to someone, it tends to highlight an apparently enthusiastic involvement, which lacks any real depth.
When Jesus began His ministry of healing, exorcism and teaching, large crowds followed Him wherever He went. Their enthusiasm and interest could not be doubted. They were attracted both by the man and what He said and did, and they took delight (the true root meaning of a dilettante) in all the spectacular and miraculous events that were happening. However, as Jesus unpacked the truth of who He was and what would be required of anyone who decided to stick with Him, many of the crowds melted away.
It seemed that there were two aspects of Jesus’ teaching that made Him a far less attractive proposition to the once eager crowds. The first was His insistence that His hearers could only obtain life by eating and drinking his flesh and blood: superficially, an understandably repellent concept, but one which in reality focussed on union with Him as the only source of spiritual life. The second was His equally insistent demand, that anyone who wanted to be his disciple, must first be prepared to lay down and discard their own life.
A dilettante may get very enthusiastic about all that Jesus has done and continues to do, but they will draw back from any real commitment to truth and discipleship.
Many churches have at least some aspect of their activities focussed on an appeal to basic human nature. Some churches actually gear up a substantial amount of what they do in order to attract folk on that basis. The style of music, family events, messy church, aesthetically pleasing ceremonies or whatever, seemingly put together to appeal to the natural man or woman. If they are successful in drawing people in, and they often are, generally they will end up with dilettantes rather than disciples.
There is little wrong with seeking to be pleasing on a natural level. The problem comes when that is the focus of the appeal. Often, such a church will end up being mono-cultural with like coming together with like, gathering those with common interests. However, if a church is founded on sacrificial union with Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection, it will embrace a range of styles and activities that will reflect the variety of people drawn together; but the drawing will not be based on any one or more of those styles and activities, but on Jesus Himself.
At heart, a dilettante will be a fair weather follower, primarily concerned with what they can receive rather than with what they can give. A disciple however will want to serve their master come what may.
St. Ignatius of Loyola summed up the nature of discipleship when he said:
“Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as you deserve, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labour and not to ask for any reward except to know that I am doing your will.”
If we struggle to say an amen to that, perhaps we should consider whether we are mere dilettantes rather than disciples.