by John S. Boggs, WNC Conference, Director of Vital Discipleship
Dr. Zan Holmes, known to many through Disciple Bible Study, preached an evangelistic sermon at Annual Conference many years ago reminding us that “shepherds don’t beget sheep; sheep beget sheep.” In other words, it’s not the pastor’s job to make disciples as much as it’s ministry of the laity to do so. The role of clergy is to preach and teach in ways that nurture disciples who make disciples of Jesus Christ. Clergy shape the congregational culture by casting vision and laying out expectations. They encourage their members to be more assertive in sharing the gospel of God’s grace and telling their own stories of coming to faith, both with an invitational stance. Mike Breen’s, Building a Discipling Culture could help a church embrace this “sheep beget sheep” idea that laity are the primary disciple makers.
Churches are vital only when made up of clergy and laity who are alive in faith. Our focus on vital congregations may miss the point that the degree of vitality in a congregation is dependent upon the degree to which the individual members are becoming vital disciples themselves. If you’re wondering how to make your congregation more vital, why not just start with yourself, and ask, “How’s my life with God?” Then, in a small circle, find ways to ask the classic Wesleyan question of one another, “How doth thy soul prosper?” Personal daily devotional practices and small group participation with gracious accountability are both needed for a believer to become vital.
Making strong disciples requires investing in good relationships. Thus, in today’s church world, a friendship is more important than a program. A small group or micro community is more helpful in the disciple formation journey, than a large assembly of believers gathered for worship or teaching. All groups can nurture trusting relationships, the best medium for growing disciples. Yet, while some are more for study, fellowship, shared interests, support, or prayer, the ones that ask the soul question, will take you deeper in the ways of Jesus.
To grow a vital congregation with vital disciples, investigate some of the modern day options grounded in our Wesleyan heritage, like Covenant Discipleship Groups www.umcdiscipleship.org, class or band meetings (see Kevin Watson’s The Class Meeting), or Seedbed’s New Room Bands newroombands.com. Seedbed is a recent movement of four years whose mission is “to gather, connect, and resource the people of God to sow for a great awakening.” They are known for publishing and developing a new class of disciple making resources that emphasize both justification and sanctification.
I’m looking forward to the trilogy coming this summer from Discipleship Ministries in Nashville. One book for adults, one for youth and one for children will all explore the concepts of Covenant Discipleship. Disciples Making Disciples by Steve Manskar is a fresh challenge following in the recent tradition of David Lowes Watson and the movement of Covenant Discipleship. Everyday Disciples by Chris Wilterdink shapes the concepts for youth ministry. And for leaders of children’s ministry, Melanie Gordan, Susan Groseclose, and our own WNCC Deacon, Gayle Quay have written Growing Everyday Disciples. These publications could be perused together for a comprehensive age-level approach by a local church or missional network.
In Weird Church, Beth Estock and Paul Nixon write about “the end of the church as you know it.” Included are snapshots of 21st century faith communities where people are finding God life in fresh and weird ways. Read this and put on your imagination hat. The title of this book describes something different to come in comparison to what we’ve recently become through the 20th century church. Actually, Jesus would probably think that what we’ve become is weird….that many of our churches lack community, that congregations lack compassion, that our conversations lack Christ.
All right then, let’s get to work and beget some sheep for the Kingdom!