15 July 2021

Are we making disciple-making disciples?

Abi Jarvis, Discipleship and Faith Formation Officer,  argues that  developing a culture in which people can thrive is central to life long, transformative discipleship.

Two fish meet, swimming in opposite directions. “How’s the water today?” one fish asks the other, who responds, “what’s water?”.

Just as water is so inherent to the fish’s environment that it doesn’t recognise its existence, we can be completely unaware of some of the things that make up the culture around us. It’s just life! But management consultant and writer Peter Drucker cautions that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. The most exciting vision and the most well-drawn project plans are virtually useless if we don’t have the culture in which people can thrive in bringing them to life.

In the recent discipleship session of the Evangelism for Leaders course, I asked two questions:

  • Does the culture of discipleship in my community encourage evangelism? and
  • Does the culture of evangelism in my community encourage life-long discipleship?

Sharing our faith is part of our discipleship – it’s the calling of the Great Commission, and we are formed as disciples even as we play a role in forming others. But we also need to consider what we're evangelising people to. As Andrew Root asks, "do we evangelise people to church membership or to transcendent faith in Christ?"

How do we do this? Research shows that one of the core practices of growing churches is that they offer clear discipleship pathways. A pathway helps you to think intentionally about the culture you currently live in, and the one you might wish to create. It ensures that we are deepening discipleship, and growing disciples who are disciple-makers, in every part of our church activities. Discipleship doesn’t happen in isolation so it’s important for a church community to consider this together.

In the Evangelism & Growth team, we’ve developed a discipleship pathway supported by colleagues and churches across the Connexion. This pathway isn’t a nice clear linear 4-step plan, because reality isn’t like that!

Instead, it is four areas of activity that all churches can engage with, with opportunities for discipleship, mission and evangelism at every stage. Though they are listed in an ‘order’ below, individuals can journey through these stages in different orders and at different paces.

  • We invite people to an experience of God's love in Jesus and into the fellowship of the church. This might be a community BBQ, or an Alpha course.
  • We connect people with others in the church, helping them to feel like part of the community. They may start volunteering or join a small group.
  • We encourage the formation of Christian character, a deepening of understanding and practice of their faith. We recommend books to read, conferences to attend, or courses for small groups.
  • We equip, encourage and ‘send’ people, in specific roles such as evangelists, missionaries and pastors, but also with an understanding of whole-life calling as taxi drivers, farmers, lawyers, and parents.

There are opportunities for evangelism at every stage of this discipleship journey. Evangelism is one of the four areas of A Methodist Way of Life, a way to live out the calling of the Methodist Church in worship and mission, but these areas are not distinct, they overlap.

We don't have to be mega-star preachers, or famous writers to be evangelists. Often, it’s just asking God, "what is my role, right now, with the people around me, to serve you and share the good news of you with others?" And then we have to listen to the answer and act upon it.

As leaders, it’s important that we model to others what we are encouraging them to do and be as disciples, and that we are intentional in helping them to do so as well. So I leave you with the two questions I asked at the start and encourage you to take a look at your own community:

  • Does the culture of discipleship in my community encourage evangelism? and
  • Does the culture of evangelism in my community encourage life-long discipleship?

We’d love you to join the next Evangelism for Leaders course in October and discuss this and much more with other leaders from across the Connexion.

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