I recently had the honor of leading a workshop at the 3D Discipleship event held in Williamsport, PA. The event was sponsored by Growing Effective Churches of the Susquehanna Conference of the UMC. Here are some of my notes from the workshop.
Centre Grove’s Story
I shared a little about what God has been doing at Centre Grove, especially in recent years since engaging the Matthew 28 Initiative in 2011 and beyond (see my 2012 post). I talked about what has gone well (outreach) and ironically, our current challenges (shaping a discipleship culture).
There are a lot of pieces to the discipleship puzzle. Thankfully, several of them were discussed at the 3D Discipleship event. What follows here are some pieces I want to focus on (but it’s not the whole puzzle).
Developing a Discipleship Culture
Having a discipleship culture matters. A discipleship culture helps people follow Jesus! A discipleship culture maximizes the quality (and quantity) of disciples of Jesus!
There are several components of a discipleship culture.
Culture is hard to define. Culture is everywhere. It’s all around us! It’s “The way we do things here” (Deal/Kennedy, Corporate Cultures). “Culture is to the church what the soul is to the human body” (Lewis/Cordeiro, Culture Shift). Culture is important because it ultimately determines behavior!
There are no cookie-cutter approaches to making disciples!
Discipleship is about building and growing disciples of Jesus. A disciple is a follower of Jesus, someone who has responded to Jesus’ call, “Come, follow me!” By definition, a disciple is a student, learner, and an apprentice of Jesus. As such, a disciple is teachable and coachable!
Interestingly, the word “discipleship” itself does not appear in the Bible. My favorite word in the Bible for discipleship is “training,” which I’ve written about before (see this post). In one of several uses in Scripture, Jesus told his disciples, “A disciple is not greater than his teacher, but everyone when fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6.40, NET). I love the word training because it conveys that discipleship requires effort and is a process!
Many churches, especially churches that are plateaued or declining, do not have a discipleship culture. Many of these church cultures could perhaps be described as a “membership culture.” While membership isn’t inherently bad, it’s come to mean certain things in today’s culture (i.e., it needs redefining/reenvisioning).
In a Membership Culture, people tend to be self-centered and inward-focused. There is a consumer mentality. There’s apathy. And, “It’s all about me!”
On the other hand, a Discipleship Culture is all about Jesus. Disciples grow to become more and more like Jesus. People experience spiritual transformation. People are growing servant’s hearts and becoming more active as the hands and feet of Jesus in the world!
SHAPING A DISCIPLESHIP CULTURE
Shaping a discipleship is not easy because it involves significant change. Member values and Disciple values clash; they cannot coexist!
The leader’s job is to cultivate the culture as a gardener cultivates the ground. Here are some things to cultivate in order to help shape a discipleship culture …
First and foremost, leaders must model discipleship. If we’re not growing as followers of Jesus ourselves, others will not grow, either. We model discipleship through our attitudes as well as our actions. We must be lifelong learners!
We must talk constantly about discipleship, training, growing in Christlikeness. This is certainly part of our Wesleyan Methodist tradition (sanctification, works of piety and works of mercy). At Centre Grove, we often say, “Stay humble! Stay hungry! Stay in tune with God!”
We must model and teach discipleship, and there must be practical ways for people to grow: Sunday school, small groups, women’s and men’s fellowship groups, etc. Bishop Robert Schnase writes in Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, a book which we’ve spent a lot of time in at Center Grove in the past …
Growing in Christ-likeness is the goal and end of the life of faith. … This growth in Christ spans a lifetime. … Christian faith is not static but dynamic. It requires cultivation (64).
At Centre Grove, we encourage people to prayerfully choose a One Word each year to focus their spiritual growth for the year. We use the Events feature in the Bible App to share sermon notes so people can refer to them throughout the week. Find practical ways to help people grow.
I also believe it’s important for disciples of Jesus to talk to Jesus together. A few core prayers have developed at Centre Grove over the years, including …
- God, give us hearts like yours!
- God, break our hearts for what breaks yours!
- God, do something unpredictable and uncontrollable!
- God, please use us to make your name great!
I think these are some prayers disciples of Jesus should pray, and I think it’s important we spend quality time praying together. Let’s pray for the cultures of our churches, that they will be discipleship cultures where people grow more and more like Jesus, and reach out and engage their community as the hands and feet of Jesus!