Thursday, May 20, 2010

Systematic Discipleship and the Small Membership Church

The U's Assistant Director of Discipleship, Michael Andres and I took at trip to Weimer, Texas yesterday to lead a module of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference Local Pastor Licensing School. This is a two week intensive retreat required for people who have been licensed by their District Committees to serve as licensed local pastors. Most of the people in this category have not started seminary or course of study yet so the school serves as a sort of "boot camp" to give the pastor everything she will need (hopefully) to get started in local church ministry.

As I understand it (and someone will certainly correct me if I am wrong) the majority of these new local pastors will serve, at first, in small, often rural congregations. Some could potentially be associates at larger churches and any of them may eventually move on to larger churches but most will start in fairly small membership churches. This made for an interesting transition and translation for Michael and I. We were invited to speak about systematic discipleship and discipleship pathways. We were invited by Rev. Bill Johnson after he saw us present at the Large Church Initiative. Although churches of all sizes were represented at that event (thanks to the Living Congregations Institute which made it easier for churches from the Southwest Texas Conference to attend) the focus was on large membership churches (around 250 in worship and up.)

So switching gears from sharing the material with large multi-pastor, multi-staff and even multi-location churches to sharing it with pastors of mostly small membership churches led us to think a lot about how what we are doing translates. We really think it does translate. While trying to overlay University's Pathway to Discipleship on a small membership church model would be overwhelming and overkill, the principles of focus and accountability are translatable from 5000 to 500 to 50 to 5.

It really comes down to the question, "do you have an intentional plan in place to help people grow as disciples of Jesus Christ?" If the answer is yes, it leads to other questions like,

Is the plan clear?
Can people understand it?
Does it account for phases or stages of spiritual growth?
Do you have a way of keeping track of people and holding them accountable?
Do you have ways to see if it is working?

If the answer if no, it leads to questions like.

What are we currently doing that helps people grow?
What have we done well in the past?
What unique gifts for disciple making has God given us as a congregation and how can we use them?

I am looking forward to working with more of the smaller churches in our conference over the next year. I am sure with a little focus on the process of discipleship, they will do some miraculous things.



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