There were some issues raised on the evaluation forms that are just too important to leave in the file, and it is my intention to address those through emails, blogs, and the molsm.tableproject.org. Please continue the conversation by replying to the email or at my blog site. In many of your comments, there seemed to be confusion on the task.
Getting to the basics: Why Simple Church and what was our task at School of Lay Ministry?
There are five (maybe six if you count the alternate ending to the Gospel of Mark) commissions in the New Testament (Mt 28:16-20, Mk 16:15, Lk 24:47, Jn 20:21, and Acts 1:8) We are clearly called by Scripture and the doctrine of the United Methodist Church to make disciples. Further is it the theme of the New Testament to bring the Kingdom of God near. We pray it, if not daily, weekly, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.” We are to transform a broken world—changing lives in Jesus Christ—make disciples, transform the world.
Yet we do not. The church is in decline. We are ineffective in making disciples. Some enter and are not formed. Others, who want to be formed, leave our churches because we do not or cannot show them the way. Our churches are sick and ineffective in following the Great Commission. Yet the authors or Simple Church found that “the healthiest churches in America tended to have a simple process for making disciples. They had clarity about the process. They moved Christians intentionally through the process. They focused on the elements of the process. And they aligned their entire congregations to this process.” (Rainer and Geiger, Simple Church, page ix)
Since our churches do not have a clear method of making disciples (Nobody at SOLM stood up and said, “We have an intentional, visible pathway to discipleship.”), our task was to first be clear about our mission, then to develop an intentional discipleship process that we could recommend to our congregations. The reason we wanted to be clear about the mission, is that the mission drives the process. If a disciple is to love God, part of our process is to connect people in a loving way to God. If a disciple is to love others, we need to connect people in a loving way to others. If a disciple is to be in ministry to a world of need, we need our process to connect them to ministry.
Wouldn’t it be great if our mission not only drove the process but was the process? St. Paul’s in Joplin restates Matthew 28:19-20a as “leading people to an active faith in Jesus Christ where we define an active faith as loving God, loving others, serving the world.” Their mission tells them not only what they are to do, but what a disciple looks like to them. (I’ll have another blog on the Scriptural and Wesleyan basis for such a mission and discipleship description.)
The next task would be “How is a disciple formed?” Just in case you want to follow along in the book, Simple Church, you might want to look at the bold headings on pages 236-240.
We can make “How disciples are formed” simple or complex. While drilling down, asking the questions “how?” five times (for example what does loving God look like? Well, we worship Him. What is worship? Well, it is song and prayer, and hearing the Scripture read and proclaimed. It is offering ourselves to him. We can then ask what each of these look like. What is a good song? Now you’ve asked a question that will take pages to resolve, or not.
For now, let’s stay at the top level. Simply put, we learn to love others in great worship and in relationship with others. This weekend, we experienced great worship on Friday night. We heard Bill O’Neal tell us in his awesome sermon that Acts 2.42 was the basis for growing in love of God and others. We heard of programs like “Alpha” that can move people toward an understanding of God, and of other non-threatening small group studies that can both lead people to know and love God and enter into authentic relationship with one another.
Keeping with simplicity, if a disciple is one who loves God, loves others, and serves the world, then the process of forming them is connecting people to God, connecting people to others, and connecting people to ministry. And that seems to be a logical sequence and in order of increasing commitment (We know it’s messier than that, but stay with the program.).
Simple Church’s next task (page 239) was to take a single church-wide program and place it along side each of the steps. It’s obvious to me that worship is the first one, and to the extent it can be so, great worship. We all can do it better. We dwelled on small groups as a means of connecting to others. Most of us have much work to do. We introduced missions as a means of connecting to ministry. Actually, many of you are probably doing pretty well in this step. If not, flesh it out.
We also talked about movement as being essential (Andy Stanley is quoted in Simple Church as saying that “the church must be designed to never leave people alone.” (page 100). For example, it may be just too great a leap to go from worship to small groups. We need to create small achievable steps, like non-threatening larger group environments of short duration like “Alpha” or other starter groups. We must design our church, our process, to move people to greater levels of spiritual maturity.
This is really about as far as we got with our task. We had you begin preparing a presentation to key laity and your pastor and to nail down some first steps to get you moving along the process. In my own church, my recommended first steps are these: Emphasize radical hospitality and great worship (moving people to and then experiencing God). Then begin small group leadership training while our church’s small group style is being refined. Our new pastor needs adopt and roll out our new mission statement, probably in September.
Now there is work left to be done. When the process is understood, the resources of the congregation need to be aligned to it; and here is the hard part, we need to focus. The programs of the church that do not contribute to making disciples need to be eliminated. The process needs to be uncluttered.
I hope this gets your thoughts started for your home church. Our task is to make disciples, changing lives in Jesus Christ. We must accept that and do it!
Other thoughts later. I’ll be posting this on my blog and at molsm.tableproject.org in the SOLM group. I welcome your comments.