Small church discipleship systems

Back in February, Dan Dick and Taylor Burton-Edwards had a good conversation about disciple-making. I had my own little contribution to the discussion.

Dan and Taylor both pointed to the United Methodist Church’s outline for effective disciple-making. As summarized at the UMC web site, it includes the following pieces:

  • Reach out to people and welcome them into the church
  • Relate people to God and help them deepen their relationship with God
  • Nurture people in Christian living
  • Support people in their ministry

As a part-time local pastor – a bi-vocational one who lives about 45 minutes from his congregation – I’ve been struggling to figure out how to develop these pieces in the life of the congregation I serve. My primary venue for this is Sunday – which is a huge limitation. Regular weekday time with them is just not something I’ve been able to work out in my two years with them.

Given these limitations, I’ve been trying to figure out what incremental steps I can take to help the congregation move that direction. Clearly, with their pastoral leadership distant and limited in contact, it is going to have to be a laity led process. But how to develop and unleash the laity leadership and skill set under these conditions? That is the question I am still striving to answer.

I’d love to hear any insights or experiences of others in these kinds of tasks. It can’t involve hiring staff or spending lots of money. What has worked? What has failed? What can I learn from your hard-won experiences?

2 thoughts on “Small church discipleship systems

  1. This is a tough one. I recently had a discussion with the board of directors of a campus ministry (not mine) about the primary focus for ministry with college students. Several of the board members were articulating the “home away from home” and “Christian environment” ministry-of-presence style that characterized many Wesley Foundations for the last 40 years or so. I pushed back, saying that in our culture which is so rabidly antithetical to authentic Christian faith, just hanging out for an hour or two a week with some Christians isn’t enough to disciple-make and world-transform.

    I say this because I think that your concern about how to best use the limited time in which you are deployed in your mission field (which I echo as a less-than-full-time campus minister) has a lot to do with using your time effectively as the apostolic leader for your church. So I think any shape or curriculum for discipleship has to have a disproportionally larger impact than its time would suggest. Accountability groups, for instance, as a component of study program would be a staple.

    I’m not sure I have any great answers, but you’re providing me much food for thought.

    1. I appreciate sharing the perspectives. I do see the similarities, although college ministry has the greater challenge of rootlessness. The students do not expect to be part of that community in three or four years. In small churches, the opposite mindset prevails. People have been there a long time and expect to continue to be. Neither are bad, but they shape the environment of discipleship in significant ways, I imagine.

      I have thought about trying to establish a covenant discipleship group, but given the numbers, I assume it would have to be something that extends beyond one local church. That could be a good thing in itself, but a challenge as well.

Comments are closed.