Designing the Path

I can still recall the thrill of listening to Bill Hybels, the Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, describe their mission well over two decades ago.  “Willow Creek exists to turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.”  Harvard Business School had a graduate student do a study of Willow Creek’s discipleship path.  With amazement she reported that it was their intention to take atheists and turn them into missionaries!  At Willow they call them “FDFers” – fully devoted followers.

Here in the Central Texas Conference we describe our mission in similar terms.  The mission of the churches, clergy and lay people of the Conference is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  Both statements of mission grow out of the great commission of the risen Lord Jesus Christ in the closing paragraph of Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 28:16-20).  What stood out for me was not the declaration of purpose or mission; after all, that is given by Christ!  Rather, I was then and still am now deeply impressed by the clarity of their strategy for making disciples (or if you prefer, FDFers).

Clarity is often a forgotten, critical element in the path of discipleship.  Ironically in the United Methodist Church we have been exceptionally clear about the central elements of intentional faith formation (raising up disciples).  Our fivefold vows state the essence:  “prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.”  Another way to think of intentional faith development in making disciples is to compare a biblical model from Acts with the original Methodist Movement, then place the two alongside the “five practices of fruitful congregations and fruitful living.”

Methodist chrt

The challenge for many churches is to get clear about the pathway for making disciples.  This is harder than it looks at first blush.  While we want to set out a “pathway” that is linear, life doesn’t happen in a linear fashion.  Intentional faith development swirls, ebbs and flows.  The context and missional situation can vary greatly from person to person and from congregation to congregation.  Yet, if we haven’t thought and prayed through a clear path of discipleship, we tend to end up with a vague, nice sounding yet inconsequential plan for intentional faith development.  A linear path, however imperfect, is better than no clearly delineated path.

At our upcoming Annual Conference meeting, we hope to look at different models for faith development in making disciples.  Bishop Jones will offer an outline with The Wesleyan Way.  Our other three presenters will share different models with written material for any church (pastor, lay leader, Sunday School teacher, etc.) to pick up and adapt for their own unique setting.

Presenter: Rev. Candace Lewis Resource: A Disciple’s Path by James   A. Harnish
Presenter: Dr. Phil   Maynard Resource: Shift by Phil Maynard
Presenter: Sue   Engle Resource: Charting a Course of   Discipleship by Teresa Gilbert, Patty Johansen, & Jay Regennitter   (revised by Delia Halverson)

We have a tendency to make this all overly complex.  The early Methodists were clear and simple.  Their “method” (hence the name Methodist) could be succinctly communicated.  The challenges of clarity and communication are once again squarely before us.  What is your path of discipleship?  Can you lay it out in 25 words or less in a manner that can readily be understood by a non- or nominal Christian?  Do the members of your congregation understand and share your path of discipleship?

 

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