I almost wish I could have written this article 6 weeks from now; because then, I’d have more answers. For now, I’ll try to tell you what our church is doing about discipleship, and how we got here.
I happened to serve on the System Analysis Task Team back in the 2010-ish when we noticed a theme emerging from within our denomination. Wherever we turned – Network Leaders, MEGaP, and especially Regional Gatherings – we found that the theme of discipleship floated to the top. ‘We need to think about discipleship… we need to teach about discipleship… we need to understand discipleship… we need to do discipleship… we need to equip people for discipleship’. The comments were all nuanced in some way, but they all pointed in the same direction – we need to invest in discipleship. Especially profound was that the source of these comments largely came from laypeople.
There has always been, discipleship material ready-to-use from the Christian book store. A 12-week study, a DVD curriculum, a group workbook, or some other configuration of material. These resources have been developed and used with good effect. Indeed, part of our denomination’s response to the SATT was developing our own Wesleyan-perspective material; studies like the 12-week ‘God’s Grace Channels’ or the 5-series 5-week studies of ‘Journey to Wholeness in Jesus’… all of which are professionally produced and free for you to download for use off our FMCiC website.
But, I find myself in a unique situation, and perhaps able to try something a bit different. As I am still a relatively new pastor in my current church, we get to think together about some of the bigger questions… like, what IS discipleship, and how do we accomplish it? One strategy would be for me to grab some pre-made material and find some leaders who could run it for a handful of small groups. I could even preach a sermon series on ‘discipleship’ leading up to the launch in order to entice as many participants as I can.
But, we are taking a different track. Instead of telling the church our discipleship strategy, I am inviting the church to create one… together.
I believe we needed to have three conversations:
1) What IS a disciple?
2) How do we MAKE disciples?
3) How can OUR CHURCH be intentional about making disciples?
There are, of course lots of other questions and follow-up questions; but we have to start somewhere. So, we did.
When we had our first conversation, we invited the whole church to participate; and we had good attendance – about half of our adults. We tackled question #1 – ‘What IS a disciple?’ We assembled attendees at tables in our fellowship hall, we placed flipchart paper and markers on each table, and we broke the conversation into 4 parts: What does a disciple need to KNOW; what does a disciple need to DO; what ATTITUDE does a disciple need to have; what kind of HEART (values) does a disciple need to have?
Within 90 minutes, every table considered all of those 4 questions and we generated quite a bit of data. We have a list of 68, 81, 106, and 60 ideas for each of the 4 questions.
Our conversation #2 is coming up at the end of this month. We will have our table groups look at the data and begin to turn it into ideas of what to do next. The 3rd conversation will be in May, and we will think about how to implement our ideas.
I’m not exactly sure where all this will lead; but I was quite pleased that the first conversation yielded comments like: ‘I think I need to do better at being a disciple myself’, and ‘I need to somehow get involved in building others into disciples’. I love those moments of self-awareness, when light bulbs go on… I believe those epiphanies lead to the kind of church-culture-change that we are really aiming for.
The end goal is not for any particular program as a final solution. I imagine a fully-orbed discipleship strategy is far larger than any 1 type of material; and I can see us running small groups, study groups, men’s, women’s, or couples groups… perhaps even seeing one-on-one mentoring. Discipleship can look like a lot of things. And so, I think we are preparing people to WANT discipleship… wanting to BE a disciple, and wanting to MAKE disciples of Jesus Christ.
I am encouraged at the level of interest these conversations are generating in our church, and I am prayerfully anticipating the ideas that will spring forth from them!
Rev. Daniel Graham.
Pastor, Peterborough FM Church