Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Disciple (3rd of 6 parts)

The third point I made in my Superintendent's Address (which I continue to make now) has to do with the first part of our mission as United Methodists: "to make disciples of Jesus Christ."

What to do with those we welcome
In last week's blog post, we talked about cultivating a culture of genuine welcome as one of the six priorities I would really want our churches to be serious about. The next questions then is: What do we do with those we welcome?

The United Methodist Book of Discipline (par. 122) outlines the process for carrying out our mission as follows: "We make disciples as we:

  • Proclaim the gospel, seek, welcome and gather persons into the body of Christ;
  • Lead persons to commit their lives to God through baptism by water and the spirit and profession of faith in Jesus Christ;
  • Nurture persons in Christian living through worship, the sacraments, spiritual disciplines, and other means of grace, such as Wesley's Christian conferencing;
  • Send persons into the world to live lovingly and justly as servants of Christ by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for the stranger, freeing the oppressed, being and becoming a compassionate, caring presence, and working to develop social structures that are consistent with the gospel; and
  • Continue the mission of seeking, welcoming and gathering persons into the community of the body of Christ."
There is a lot that needs to happen after welcoming if we are to be true to our mission of disciple-making. After people are initially welcomed, they need to feel that they are continually welcome the next time they come. As they feel more and more welcome and at home in our spaces and among our people, they will start looking for ways to engage. They will look for ways to be involved, to learn, grow and be nurtured. They will seek to answer questions about faith and life; about Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit; about worship and communion; about baptism and giving.

Are our churches ready for them when they get to this stage? Does your church have a system that grows people from first-time visitors to disciples who are transforming the world (as our process above suggests)? Do we have a discipling model in place in our churches? Or are we just living from week to week, Sunday to Sunday, doing business as usual.

Why a system?
I must say that I am not at all impressed by just the sheer number of activities and programs a local church has in a given week or month. I always look for a storyline, a thread that connects these activities as part of a greater purpose or system. A church may be an "Energizer Bunny", having multiple things going on seven days a week but if any of these are not part of a system for making disciples, then the church is just wasting valuable energy, talent, resources and time.

Everything- Bible studies, craft and other interest groups, Sunday Schools, week-night classes, confirmation programs, youth group, children's ministries, auctions, garage sales, bake sales, cake walks, coffee hours, potlucks, choir, praise band, garden group etc.- everything has to play a part in your church's system of making and growing disciples.

Sometimes, all it takes is designing the discipling system and plugging in what we already are doing into the different steps in the system. Many of the programs will fit naturally. Some may need to be tweaked in order to play into the system.  Other times, though, we come to a realization that one or more of our beloved church programs has no role to play whatsoever in our discipling systems and we are just wasting our resources on them for the sake of keeping "traditions". Churches need to ask the question: What part of our disciple-making process does this program/activity play?

To be good stewards of the resources God has entrusted to us, we need to be intentional about what we do as churches and how these programs fit into our system of making disciples that would in turn help us fulfill our mission of transforming the world.

Beyond teaching to discipling
Fr. Richard Rohr said, "You can give people all the pious Christian teaching you want, but without a transformation of consciousness, they don't have the energy or the capacity to carry it out." Jesus modeled this. He went beyond mere teaching/transfer of knowledge, to discipleship- inviting people to apprenticeship, to grow and learn and be transformed through a process or a system. While genuine transformation is something between a person and God, our call is to create a healthy environment where this transformation can happen. 

Our goal in having intentional discipling systems is to grow Christian disciples who will be part of this movement of transforming the world. And every church, given their unique context, will have a discipling system different from the rest.

How are you making disciples in your church? What is your disciple-making system?

I challenge us to live a culture of discipleship. May we be more intentional and systematic about our making disciples. 

Your fellow disciple,

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