Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Path to Discipleship?

    I recently had a conversation in which someone said that many churches lack a “clear path to discipleship.”  This seems strange in a church where the official (United Methodist) mission statement says, "The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."  But although we often speak of discipleship, and “making disciples” we often do not give much thought to how that is supposed to happen.  Oh sure, we offer Sunday school classes, Bible studies, the pastor’s weekly sermon, and occasionally we have “new member” classes or confirmation classes, but beyond that, what else is there?

    Think of it this way, if our plan was to educate children, what course of instruction would be design?  Would we offer Kindergarten where we taught basic reading and writing, an occasional class on math or history, a class on how to be a good citizen, but beyond that everything was self-paced, independent study?  That seems ridiculous, but if you think about it, that is how many of our churches offer religious education.  We have a new member class, a few Bible studies, a Sunday school class, and beyond that, everyone just assumes that you can figure things out by yourself.  But what if you can’t? Sure there are a few self-motivated go-getters who can dig into whatever interests them.  These few can build a solid understanding without much help, but most people can’t.  Most people need a little more structure to get from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’. 

    How do we get from curiosity, to exploration, to faith?  And then once we commit and become a “new Christian,” how do we make the journey to “disciple” and then to “mature disciple?”  While there is no need to point fingers at anyone, most of us can probably think of someone we’ve met who never really matured much after they came to faith.

    As I’ve been thinking, it occurs to me that laying out a map, or a more well-defined “path,” to discipleship might just be a reasonable goal.  Making and maturing disciples isn’t something that just happens naturally or accidentally.  We already have several pieces in place, but we’ve never knit them together into a plan.  At Trinity we’ve taught the ALPHA course (which is sort of a Basic Christianity class), and we’ve offered Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (because honestly, how we handle money is an important part of our spiritual life as well as our physical life) and of course we’ve taught new member classes and confirmation classes (and we will do so again).  But this is where we need to put some thought into our “pathway to discipleship”:  What else is needed to give our members (and non-members) a solid foundation and a mature faith so that they are prepared and equipped to be effective ambassadors for Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God?

    I can think of all sorts of things that we could teach.  We can offer courses on church history, basic theology, and how to witness to others (people worry about this, but it really isn’t that hard).  But rather than making a list full of my ideas, I would really like to hear from you.

What things should every good, mature disciple know?

What do you wish someone would have taught you along the way?

What do you wish that the church would teach now?

I think having some sort of plan or “pathway” is a good idea and I really want to hear your ideas.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Who Are Our Neighbors and What Do They Need?

    Some time ago I held a planning meeting to discuss where we were and where we wanted to go as a church.  At the end of our time together we had discussed our strengths and our resources as well as our desire to reach out to our community in the name of Jesus Christ.  What we were less sure of was who lives in our community.  It isn’t that we don’t know anything.  We know that people in our community are hurting.  On average, more people are coming to us for help through Perry Helping Perry and the food pantry every month.  We know that there is a need, but before we get too far down the road planning new things to help them, perhaps it would be better to understand what sorts of people live in our community, what they need, and what sorts of help they want.

    Certainly, some of you grew up here and went to school here, but Perry is changing and is different from the place you grew up.   One of you told me of the Perry where you grew up being mostly farms and open land.  That Perry is gone.  Even more telling is the conversation I had with Ruth Hubbard, a long time member and teacher for many years at Whipple Heights Elementary.  As we were discussing Perry Helping Perry, the food pantry, and how many families were coming for food and for the fall backpack campaign, she marveled that during all her years as a teacher there had never been that kind of need.  Perry today is a different place than it once was.

    That isn’t to say that Perry is bad, or worse, than it once was, Perry was, and is today, a wonderful place, but this reminds us that Perry is different than it once was, its people are different, and its needs are different than they once were.  Trinity and her people want to make a difference and we can make a difference.   But again, before we jump into any new projects it might be wise to learn more about today’s Perry, who lives here and what they need.

    Thankfully, much of that information is available to us.  Through the larger United Methodist connection, we have access to an enormous database of information called Mission Insite.  This demographic (demography is the study of human populations) database is the same one that is used by major corporations to decide where to build new branches and franchises, and in which magazines to advertise to reach their targeted audiences.  All of this information is free to us.

    What is needed are a handful of volunteers who can help us to sift through the piles of information and boil it down to the facts that we really need.  We need a few people who know and understand Trinity and her people, as well as having a good familiarity with our community.  This group of volunteers will meet a few times over the course of two or three months (I think) and sort through the available information and then make a report to Church Council, the Program/Planning Committee, and to SPR.  Then, armed with this new information, we can have a better discussion about who lives here, what they need, and how Trinity can help.

    To be fair, what I am asking is not very exciting but neither does it require a strong back.  What it requires is a little patience, and the ability to discern useful information from tables and graphs full of facts.  My hope is that this small group of people will then become our “demographic experts” or “Insite experts” who will, from time to time, help up answer other questions because they know where and how to find the answers.

Will you help us learn more about our neighbors and our community?

[Note: As of 2/25/14 I have two volunteers to help us dig through the data that is available to us.  We really could use two or three more. - Thanks!]