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.