Defining Discipleship: Involving the Church

We’ve been on vacation. Back now, and ready to continue writing. Traveling in the van, I thought about the ways we, as pastors and church leaders, attempt to help our churches define discipleship and what a disciple looks like. In my own setting, I led a small group of people through the New Testament…. Actually, I did a lot of legwork and brought my findings to this group and allowed them to edit them. We made two lists: characteristics of a disciple and actions of a disciple.

Looking back, I wonder how we could have done this differently. People need to process, from Scripture at minimum (and ideally from tradition as well), how the Bible describes a person who is undergoing Christian spiritual formation in Christ. Having a pastor tell them what he or she has found isn’t good enough. I look back at my own experience with mixed emotions. On one hand, I feel like our team came up with some great work. On the other, I feel like I put too much time into the effort behind the scenes, alone, and left others out of much of the process. In retrospect, spending more time together in Scripture would have been more beneficial.

What would it look like for a church going through a revisioning process to, corporately, define discipleship and begin to plot out how the various ministries work together to make disciples? I wonder if it could look something like this:

A. The church and pastor commit to taking a full year to go through Scripture together.

B. The pastor spends time listing 40 or so passages (2-3 chapters of Scripture, even) that he or she feels are the most important ones for a church to look at. OT and NT. These passages become the basis for a church-wide conversation/Bible study one night a week. Perhaps the church would even cancel other Bible studies for the year in order to make sure as many as possible could attend this one. This group is not a decision-making group, but is vital to the process.

C. Each week, the pastor leads the study group through the passage for the week. While the pastor may have some exegesis prepared in advance, the goal is not to download information, but to let people see insights in the text together. They seek to answer these questions exegetically:

  • What does this passage say about the characteristics of a disciple? A disciple is _________.
  • What does this passage say about the actions of a disciple? A disciple does ____________.
  • What is God’s role in the spiritual formation of a disciple?
  • What is a disciple’s role?
  • What is the church’s role?

D. From these studies, the pastor then distills the most important parts and preaches from them the following Sunday. The whole church gets to hear and pray about the process, and it communicates that this affects everyone, whether they attend a weekly study or not. No one is off the hook or has an excuse about not hearing about the pulse of the conversations. No one can claim they weren’t included. And Sundays then become chances to create excitement about the process.

E. Monthly, the pastor meets with a select group of leaders (the board? a task force?) to review how the congregation has responded and answered the above questions from Scripture. The goal of this group is to begin connecting dots where Scripture emphasizes the same things over and over, to synthesize things into a manageable list.

F. Only after this year of Scripture soaking does the pastor and leadership group begin to figure out how their local church needs to contextualize discipleship.

What do you think? What is missing? Could this work? Have churches done this type of thing too many times that many leaders are tired of it?

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Posted on May 13, 2014, in spiritual formation and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. This is what you were talking about yesterday. I like it 🙂 You know me…I would like to add teaching people along with this, how to be in the presence of God and listen to Him through a a variety of disciplines. “This week, go home and …” then, show them a how-to on the prayer of examen, for instance, or meditative prayer on a passage of the scripture they were taught that week. Blessings!

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  2. Yes, Chris, I know you, and I also would naturally see those incorporated. Eventually. During the first year of reflection on Scripture we would, as best as possible, hold ideas of practice at arm's length.

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