“My personal goal right now is to be all in with going through the materials that are sent. Because it keeps it in front of me, because this is what I do for a living. Also, it’s valuable being able to hear everyone else’s comments. I write phrases and notes and go back and look at them. It helps me in ongoing conversations as I go about the week, using more of the language and more of the concepts, while talking to other leaders; and reading other books, it connects to what I’ve been learning in DiscipleOn.”
Are you all in for discipleship? Season 4 is Feb.-June, 2018
In the weeks and months leading up to Harvey, we were working behind the scenes preparing a new resource for discipleship leaders that is easily accessible, relevant and convenient. We’re always looking for ways to share the information and tools we know will make a real impact on discipleship in churches, and podcasts are a rapidly growing means of communication. Nearly a quarter of internet users in the United States listen to podcasts at least once a week. Our recent audience survey showed that over 53% regularly listen to podcasts. Despite the effects of Harvey, Ascending Leaders released the first two episodes of our new podcast on September 4. In its first five weeks, people downloaded almost 200 episodes!
We’re convinced that a podcast can serve our audience—can serve you—by encouraging and educating in a way that integrates easily into existing daily routines. In Episode 00, you can hear Mike talk about what “discipleship” is. In subsequent episodes, hear conversations with different church leaders who are actively applying a stages of faith approach in their churches.
To further enhance the value the podcast provides church leaders, each episode transcript is available on our website, along with a free downloadable tool or resource related to that episode’s topic. For example, Episode 02: “Defining Discipleship” has a list of ten example definitions from churches of varying contexts and sizes.
God’s perfect timing for me. I listened to the first podcast episode on discipleship. It was what I needed to hear at this time. Thanks for your work!
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.
Hospitality, fellowship and community are inseparably linked and permeate Scripture. Their basis is our common worth as being created in the image of God, beings for whom God Himself died. In fellowship, both parties are giving and receiving in relationship; the over-arching goal is to become more like Christ and in doing so, long for more fellowship with the Father.
The Christ habit of “community” is the habit of opening one’s life and offering friendship and acts of kindness to others, even to strangers and those whom you find most difficult to love. It is precisely in the latter situation, that we need to be most intentional to practice the habit of hospitality and extend the hand of friendship.
A “church of friends” is a church with a culture that expects people to freely open their lives to each other. Members share more than superficial greetings. They share their greatest joys and deepest sorrows; they know their church family will be there for them through thick and thin. They experience community— an honest, selfless sense of caring for one another.
Our challenge to you, disciple, is this:
Grow at actively inviting relationship.
Think of an upcoming lunch, breakfast or other meeting you are having with one other person. Picture yourself being totally present for that other person. What do you expect to potentially distract you? How can you help yourself remain attentive?
Ask God: “Show me how to treat this other person with dignity. Show me how to offer a sense that this person is honored and loved. Show me how to take seriously whatever he or she is struggling with, even if the person doesn’t feel free to talk about it.”