Shaping a Discipleship Culture

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).

Discipleship Puzzle
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 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 …

Model Discipleship
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!

Teach Discipleship
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!”

Plan Discipleship
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.

Pray Together
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!

Extravagant Generosity

Jesus, consistent with the Old Testament,  speaks unabashedly and repeatedly about wealth, greed and generosity. In Mark 12.41-44, Jesus relates a story comparing the giving of the rich to that of poor widow who gives two very small copper coins. Jesus comments …

They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything–all she had to live on.

There are many things that can distract us from faithful living, and money is one of them. We can become distracted by working too long and too hard, by comparing what we have with what  others have or by desiring earthly recognition for our giving, desiring our reward on earth and by giving with the wrong motivations.

What motivated the generosity of the poor widow that Jesus observed?

It was NOT the religious system; the religious system was corrupt. Prior to this passage, Jesus says, “Watch out for the teachers of the law … They devour widows’ houses …” We cannot base our generosity on the Church, the denomination, or the pastor. Our giving is to God.

The widow did NOT give out of her abundance, but out of her poverty. She gave everything she had to live on. She sacrificially gave all that she had as Jesus in two days would give his life on a cross for us.

The widow did NOT give in a showy manner, as the rich “threw” their money in such a way as to make some noise. The widow “put” her money in. No one needed to know but God. And God did see, just as Jesus saw. No offering goes unnoticed by God.

Her offering was small in value, but big on proportion. Some point to tithing as an Old Testament teaching, not present in the New Testament. Here Jesus lifts up proportional giving as: “all she had to live on.”

The widow was faithful and spiritually mature. She was thankful to God for his provision; she knew it was God who provided and cared for her. Implicit in this passage, she is a joyful giver–her attitude is right.

Questions for Reflection

  1. From whom have you learned your patterns of giving?
  2. Are you continuing to learn? Every aspect of our lives is touched, including our giving, when we grow in Christ.
  3. What proportion of your income do you give? Have you ever figured out the percent of your income that you give? If not, why? Why are you resistant?
  4. In what way does this story speak to you, inspire, touch you? To whom do you relate: the rich, the poor widow, the disciples gathered around Jesus to hear him teach?
  5. Finally, who do you love? In whom do you trust? Have you found your purpose in sharing Christ with others?

Risk-Taking Mission and Service

Are you doing the same things that you were five years ago? Does your ministry (we are all called to ministry as followers of Christ) look the same as it did five years ago? As you discover your God-given giftedness, have those gifts developed beyond what they were five years ago? Have you discovered any additional gifts that you might have?

“As we mature in faith and grow in grace and in the knowledge and love of God” which is our faith development, also our behaviors and actions change and develop, which is our works of mission and service.

Bishop Schnase writes …

Mission and Service refers to the projects, efforts, and work people do to make a positive difference in the lives of others for the purposes of Christ, whether or not they will ever become part of the community of faith.

Risk-taking pushes us out of our comfort zone, stretching us beyond service to people we already know, exposing us to people, situations, and needs that we would never ordinarily encounter apart from our deliberate intention to serve Christ.

Jesus’ ministry was risk-taking as he healed on Sabbath, ate with with sinners, called a tax collector to “follow me,” touched the unclean (lepers), defended the adulteress, was anointed by a woman of questionable character, took time for children, and traveled through Samaria. Finally, he performed the act of a servant, washing the disciples feet, and called his followers to do likewise.

A parishioner shared a story about someone she knew who participated on a mission trip, a work camp to West Virginia and was greeted by the stereotypical hillbilly with a long beard in the morning with cigarette and beer. The mission person thought, “Oh my, what am I doing here?” But as the week concluded with a shared fellowship meal and the children exclaimed, “This was the best day of my life,” he knew why he was there.

Schnase writes …

They measure the impact of their work in lives changed rather than in money sent or buildings constructed. They do mission with people of other cultures, not ministry to them. People come first, and Christ’s love for people binds them to one another and to their task (Cultivating Fruitfulness, 68).

And so we ask ourselves, when do we recall being pushed beyond our comfort zone in ministry? To what is God calling us, individually and as a church?

Intentional Faith Development

Bishop Schnase is clear in his definition that faith development happens outside of weekly worship and that it happens in community. Faith development involves practices by which “we mature in faith; we grow in grace and in the knowledge and love of God” (Cultivating Fruitfulness 43). Our spiritual growth never stops, it is never to become stagnant or regress.

The apostle Paul says that he himself continues to strive toward the goal, pressing on, straining forward (Philippians 3.12-14). We do not attain what Wesley called Entire Sanctification in this life, and yet that is the goal toward which we strive.

God intends for the community of faith to support and encourage one another in spiritual growth. This happens best in groups of 8-12 people where intimate relationships are formed. Jesus called twelve disciples around him to mentor, grow and develop. It was this approach that developed the disciples into the leaders we find in the book of Acts.

Questions for Reflection and Comment

Have you ever been part of a small group ministry or home group Bible study? Share that expereience.

How do you intentionally strive toward spiritual growth? Do you have a growth plan? Share it here, wether it is one you have followed for some time or whether you are newly developing one.

Study Group: Radical Hospitality: Be the Change

At West Side, we have just concluded a three-week study of Radical Hospitality, led by Ken Bodle. The class was approached in such a way as to not make Radical Hospitality a program, but to look at who we are at our core. We recognized that it is Christ who first welcomed us when we were strangers. Now we want to offer that same warm, embracing welcome to others: to strangers, acquaintances, and friends.

When asked to share our inhibitions in offering hospitality, some responded that they felt embarrassed, feared how others would respond to hospitality, even fearing rejection. Some were unsure what to say and feared that questions might be asked that they would not know how to answer. Some are shy and it pushes them outside their comfort zones. There was also fear of further involvement.

These fears and inhibitions can be overcome by practicing hospitality, knowing that it will get easier. Also, by practicing hospitality together with another person, perhaps someone who already has experience and can mentor the other. Also, the knowledge that God chooses to use us. It is God working through us to touch the life of another. Also helpful is recalling how the church is a gift to us, a gift that we want others to experience.

In our closing session, the Scriptures revealed that it was in seeing and hearing Jesus that people responded to him. Others may have invited, but it wasn’t up to them to convince; it was Jesus who impacted them.

We have some further discussion at the end of the 15-week study, but we closed with the admonition to “Be the Change.” Let radical hospitality start with me and with the 20 who gathered together in discussion. That’s how a culture of a group begins to change … with one person being willing to “Be the Change.”

So here we go … Be intentional to being invitational, be committed to developing relationships with others, and let’s hold each other accountable to living out Radical Hospitality!

Passionate Worship

I have always thought that worship is something difficult to describe. We can come to worship at a weekend service but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we have worshiped. Worship cannot be done for us. We don’t attend a worship service and passively watch others worship. We all are participants in worship. We all are invited to sing praises, to pray prayers, to offer our attention to God and open our hearts to God.

At it’s heart, worship is an encounter with God. We offer our worship to God and he inhabits the praises of his people. He graces us with his presence. When we get a glimpse of who God is, we do not remain unchanged. In worship, we are transformed.

Questions for Reflection and Comment

Share a time you have sensed God’s presence in worship. What was it like? Where were you? What were you doing? How did you respond? How were you changed?

How do you prepare for the worship service? Do you worship at other times during the week (“Private worship reinforces public worship.” Five Practices, 49). Do you come expecting to encounter God? Do you pray for those who lead in worship?

Radical Hospitality

Schnase defines Christian hospitality as “the active desire to invite, welcome, receive, and care for those who are strangers so that they find a spiritual home and discover for themselves the unending richness of life in Christ.”

It is active: that means we have to do something! It is offered to strangers, those we don’t know, those who may look different from you. Hospitality breaks down cultural barriers and nurtures a sense of equality. Hospitality in inviting, welcoming, receiving and caring: sees a need and meets it, is generous, going the extra mile, goes beyond a simple “Hello” to making someone feel at home. Lastly, we have found a “home” at West Side. We have found love and acceptance and freedom in Jesus Christ. We now offer that same gift to others.

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God (Romans 15.7).

Questions for reflection and comment.

  1. What do you love about West Side? Why have you chosen to make it your spiritual home? If you were not “born into” the congregation, what was it like the very first time you attended?
  2. Have you ever invited someone who is not a part of a congregation to a service, ministry, or activity of West Side? If so, how did it feel? If not, what has restrained you?
  3. What are two or three behaviors that each of us at West Side could practice that would shape the culture of our congregation toward a hospitality that exceeds expectations?

Cultivating Fruitfulness

The theme this Lent at West Side UMC is based on Bishop Robert Schnase’s Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations: Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-Taking Mission and Service, Extravagant Generosity.

The purpose of this study is to move toward greater fruitfulness for the glory of God. Schnase points out these five practices “are rooted in the formation of the church in the second chapter of Acts and in the reforming of the church in the days of John and Charles Wesley.” May this be a time of “focused reflection and learning” … leading “to greater clarity and commitment to the ministry of Christ.”

We are using Schnase’s daily devotional, Cultivating Fruitfulness, for personal devotion and Thursday morning devotion. And we are doing a 3-week study of each of the five practices on Sunday evenings, February 21 through June 6. It was suggested that we provide an online forum for discussion of each of the five practices during Lent, so this will provide a place to do that.

Each of the next five weeks, I will give a summary of the practice, offer some discussion questions, and you may post responses to the questions. You may also post helpful, supportive comments in response to others, generating a healthy online discussion. I will monitor and join in the conversation as well. The first summary on Radical Hospitality will appear shortly.

Intentional Faith Development 3.0

A year ago, Centre Grove’s church council began reading Bishop Robert Schnase‘s Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. I’m blogging the journey and have written several posts tagged Five Practices.

It’s been a while since I’ve written about our experience with the Five Practices, partly because we’ve been slowly making our way through Intentional Faith Development (the second practice we’re tackling). Last June, I wrote Intentional Faith Development 1.0 and Intentional Faith Development 2.0.

Sunday school is an ongoing part of our discipleship process, but we added a few small groups last fall and they’ll continue into the new year. We’re taking another big step this year in the development of some sort of short-term class structure, perhaps something like Saddleback’s C.L.A.S.S. system involving four levels of classes, 101, 201, 301, and 401, designed to help people become more fully devoted followers of Jesus. Of course, we’ll need to adapt the material for our context.

It will take some time to get all the (short-term) classes, which will be offered periodically, going, but we’ll start with Class 101 and add the others as we feel we’re ready to do so. We don’t know what kind of response we’ll get to the new discipleship opportunities, but we expect them to be an important part of our discipleship process moving forward. In fact, Class 101 will be a required class for new members. That way, we expect to get new members started off on the right foot.

While we’ve reached the point of developing this new structure for intentional faith development, we are moving on to the next practice. So far, our reading and discussion of the Five Practices has brought about some new, important developments. I continue to look forward to what new developments await as we move on to Passionate Worship, Risk-Taking Mission and Service, and Extravagant Generosity. Passionate Worship is up next.

Bishop Schnase Visits Pennsylvania

Last week, Bishop Robert Schnase (Bishop in Residence of the Missouri Area of The United Methodist Church) came to teach on the Five Practices in our conference.

Since we’re working our way through the Five Practices at Centre Grove, the event was partly review for me, but it was also good to hear Bishop Schnase teach on the practices live and in person.

Bishop Schnase divided the day into three sections: (1) discussion of the five practices, (2) congregational systems, and (3) personal systems.

Bishop Schnase began with a summary/overview of the practices, then discussed how systems within the church are conducive (or not) to fruitfulness. The day concluded with a discussion on individual responsibility, from leaders modeling the practices to the members living as authentic followers of Jesus in the world.

I won’t say much about the summary/overview since I’m blogging the five practices elsewhere, but here are a few statements (which may or may not be exact quotes) that especially challenged me:

Mission happens at the margin. Where does my life intersect with people at the margins?

Imagine if one-fourth of your congregation had a spiritual conversation once a month. We can’t make those conversations happen; we just have to be receptive. When we become attentive to God’s calling (what God wants us to do), doors open.

Doing these things doesn’t guarantee that growth will happen, but it won’t happen without them!

Good stuff. Bishop Schnase noted that the Five Practices are not a church growth strategy. Rather, it’s about living out our theology. It’s who we’re called to become.

Centre Grove began discussing the Five Practices in January 2009, and it’ll probably take us most of 2010 to get through all the practices. In 2010, I plan to devote an entire sermon series to the Five Practices. By then, a lot of the practices will actually already be in place or well under way, and the series will (hopefully) help to shape the spiritual/missional DNA of the congregation.