Disciple Development 2.0 – Five Shifts of Invigorated Congregations

As we live into the Postmodern context here in North America, church-as-we-have-known-it is transforming into church-as-it-is-becoming. Well, this is true for those congregations who will make the shift, moving through the transition, becoming vibrant faith communities in 2018 and beyond. The following five shifts will contribute to their positive movement.

First, invigorated disciple developing congregations are crystal clear about their purpose.
With so many moving pieces in play and so many changes in our contexts, we can lose our way, if only ever so slightly. The congregations who move through the Postmodern transition, finding new life on the other side, are those who are crystal clear about their purpose. They know the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:34-40) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). These churches recognize that making disciples of ourselves and others is the unique calling of God’s Church. No other organization is tasked so specifically to partner with God toward this end. So they create mission statements to that affect. They use wording like the United Methodist Denomination, “Making Disciples For The Transformation Of The World.” These congregations are determined to partner with God toward shaping human beings into disciples of Jesus Christ.

Second, invigorated disciple developing congregations prioritize disciple development.
How’s your Sunday School doing? As we visit churches of many denominations, it appears clear that the heyday of Sunday School is in the rearview mirror. There are some robust Sunday School classes, yet they are fewer and farther between all the time. Fortunately, disciple development can happen in many ways, with Sunday School as last century’s best effort. So, churches in the near future are prioritizing disciple development when it comes to how they use their time and resources. Perhaps we could get away with tangential Christian Formation or doing Sunday School only for children when many people wanted to be in churches. In the Postmodern world we need disciples caught up in the Way of Jesus.

Third, invigorated disciple developing congregations increase their capacity for developing disciples. As we observe congregations, it’s easy to see what they really value. How their pastor uses time and/or how their staff team is structured clearly communicates priorites. Many pastors and staff people are heavily involved in worship planning, administration, and pastoral care. In fact, many congregations enjoy extensive systems for caring when disciples in the congregation are hurting. While we celebrate this dynamic, it’s also clear that few pastors or staff people have the capacity to invest in disciple developing. Most congregations are not structured for developing Christ-followers in proactive intentional ways.

Fourth, invigorated disciple developing congregations update their language to reflect their purpose and priorities. We used to call it Christian Education. When we ran into the limitations of that phrase, we shifted to Christian Formation. Now we need language with more strength in it, more power. Disciple Development is what we are pursuing.

Fifth, invigorated disciple developing congregations task leaders with cultivating disciples.
Who in your congregation leads your disciple development movement? Who is tasked with guiding and coordinating your disciple development work? Who regularly, consistently, and intentionally invests in disciples, encouraging them to take the next step in their faith journey? Who on your staff has capacity for this? Who sees this as their role and calling? What’s the role of lay leaders in disciple development? You may want to see Disciple Development Coaching, a book Ircel Harrison and myself authored in 2013, which describes how to create a cadre of disciple developers on your congregation. Invigorated and robust churches who will exist beyond the Postmodern transition are actively cultivating themselves and others in the beautiful Way of Jesus.

Invigorated and energized disciples will find rich opportunities for faith-living in the Postmodern world. May we get caught up in the Way of Jesus, prioritizing and structuring for participation.

Mark Tidsworth, President, PLA