A Journey Towards Clear DisciplePaths: Prairie City, IA
Matthew McClure, the pastor of Prairie City Christian Reformed Church (PCCRC), was eager to move his congregation forward in discipleship. So in 2013, he began Charting Your CHURCH Course coaching with Ascending Leaders. “We as a church reflected on the past and started looking toward the future,” he said.
At the same time, Matthew was experimenting with accountability groups using discipleship resources from a church in Atlanta. But this turned out to be too big of a step for most of the congregation. While having small and intimate accountability groups was an excellent idea, not enough people were willing to commit to that level of discipleship. All but one of the accountability groups fizzled out in a year. That’s when Matthew realized they needed more than just a resource; they needed ongoing guidance for improving discipleship.
“We had to back up a bit in discipleship,” Matthew said. The next step he took was to attend Ascending Leaders’ discipleship seminars led by Mike Johnson. “I went to five of those sessions,” he said, “and I also encouraged the leaders who could not come with me to watch the sessions on YouTube.” The sessions covered the whole gamut of discipleship from forming a definition of discipleship to laying out the four stages of discipleship, and they even looked at how “the wall” factored into this journey of discipleship.
Matthew recognized that much of his church was stuck at “the wall”—the obstacle between Stages 2 and 3. He wanted more people to be able to move forward. In 2016, Pastor McClure and the church moved ahead with more coaching from Ascending Leaders through participating with eight other churches in the Congregational Learning Network, in which Mike was providing DisciplePath coaching. This church launched a project focused on helping people over “the wall” so that they could continue the journey into Stage 3 of discipleship.
Matthew’s church began this journey by developing a definition of discipleship that captured what they wanted to move toward as a church: “Discipleship is following after Christ in a lifelong process to grow closer to God, love others more deeply, and intentionally participate in the Great Commission.” (Listen to Matthew talk about this in Episode 01 of the podcast.) They also tested the quality of this definition using from Ascending Leaders the acronym C.O.R.E.—Continual, Ours, Rooted, Encompassing. To make the stages more meaningful for the congregation, they created their own visuals for the four stages of discipleship: an Acorn (First Stage), a Sprout (Second Stage), a Sapling (Third Stage), and an oak (Fourth Stage). Matthew then preached a sermon series on the four stages, to introduce the concepts to the congregation.
The church’s discipleship planning team met monthly by Zoom for coaching from Mike, which provided “new perspective and energy to keep moving toward Jesus and helping others move toward Jesus.” During their time together, all of the team members wrote and shared their own stories of being at “The Wall.” By relating his own personal experiences to his mission, Matthew was able to even more effectively guide more church members past “The Wall” and into becoming closer friends of Jesus.
Matthew also extended the DisciplePath concepts to the high school Sunday School class and led them through Ascending Leaders’ small group study, Your Pathways, connecting the spiritual revelations of each student’s faith story to the everyday practice of their faith.
This summer, Matthew began using REVEAL Survey Coaching to help ensure long-term progress and further effective discipleship. “We have taken the Reveal Survey and will wrestle with the results in the fall as a congregation.” Now Matthew is wanting to serve as an Adjunct Coach himself so that he can help other churches the same way he was helped by Ascending Leaders.
Spiritual Guides: Experts at Listening
Spiritual guides are not experts at talking and giving opinions; they are experts at listening.
1 Samuel 3:1-18 illustrates the role of a spiritual guide in a disciple’s life. In this passage, the young Samuel hears a voice call his name three times, and each time, he runs to Eli – but the voice is not Eli’s. Although his eyesight is failing, Eli sees what Samuel does not; he understands that God is trying to speak and instructs the boy to listen.
Eli provides excellent spiritual guidance; as a priest who has studied God’s word longer than Samuel, he recognizes that the voice could be from God. He does not make assumptions about what God wants to tell Samuel, but rather he instructs Samuel to simply listen and obey. He also encourages Samuel to be honest and report exactly what God has told him, even though it is difficult. And finally, he confirms spiritual truth to Samuel, telling him, “He is the Lord. He will do what He thinks is good” (3:18).
Samuel, for his part, persistently comes to Eli and shows eagerness to listen. The Bible says that “the boy Samuel served the Lord in Eli’s presence” (3:1); his whole spiritual life lies before Eli, and he remains open to correction, unlike Eli’s notorious sons.
Ask yourself, how would you have responded to Samuel’s persistence? Identify the “Eli’s” in your life who have listened to you with patience and helped you name your experience of God.
A spiritual guide will not replace God’s voice in your life but will help you to better discern His voice in your daily life.