September 14, 2016 | by: Matt Ryman | 0 comments
On Sunday I had the privilege of sharing the vision the Elders & Deacons of UPC believe God has given to us. In short, we believe God wants us to take the next few years (as we get closer and closer to the year 2020) and focus on equipping one another to engage in personal disciple-making. I want to say a few more things about this vision here because I know you might have some questions. Although Sunday was the first time we talked openly about our personal disciple-making vision, we have talked about it with our Life Group and ministry leaders. So, we already know some of the FAQs. I’ll address them briefly here.
1. Are we going to do away with programs?
The short answer is: No.
On Sunday I talked about how most of our current disciple-making efforts happen through programs (Children’s Ministry, Youth Ministry, Young Adults Ministry, Women’s Ministry, Men’s Ministry, JOY Group, Life Groups, etc.). A program is a ministry where one person leads/teaches many people. And by the year 2020, we want to have made a significant shift to personal disciple-making. In personal disciple-making, one person leads/teaches one person (or sometimes two or three people) until they reach a certain level of Christian maturity and fruitfulness. The key is that the ministry is personal and relational.
We do not intend to eliminate all of our programs, but we do intend to reduce the number of programs we run. We currently have nearly 30. Programs take time, money, energy, organization, space, leadership, and scheduling. Meanwhile, given the cultural climate, including the way our society deems church irrelevant, program centered disciple-making has become less and less effective. It’s not easy to invite people to church programs anymore. People don’t want to be affiliated with a church (because if their friends find out, they might be seen as fraternizing with "old-fashioned bigots"). This trend will not improve; at least not any time soon. If we depend on inviting our lost friends/neighbors to programs, we will not reach many people. We will not make many more disciples. But that’s our mission. So we must trust the Lord, and shift how we think and operate. It’s time for personal disciple-making to make a comeback.
We will dissolve some of our programs. But, they'll be dissolved over time and with care. Lord willing, as we discuss how & why we should dissolve a program, nearly everyone involved in the program will agree it should be dissolved. At the same time, several of our programs will not be dissolved; they’ll be adapted. We will work to ensure our programs result in the formation of relationships where personal disciple-making can take place. Also, some of our mercy/justice programs (ESL, Manna, SRC, etc.), which are focused on caring for people in need, do not need to result in disciples being made (not necessarily, anyway). If such programs can result in personal disciple-making, great! Remember, the most effective way to teach someone how to know Christ, grow in faith, and go and make disciples is through personal disciple-making. And, remember that every (reproducing) disciple we make changes the world – exponentially!
2. Does everyone have to engage in personal disciple-making?
The short answer is: No. But let me explain.
We’re not saying that we think every single person at UPC needs to be ready, willing, and able to personally disciple others. For a variety of reasons, some of us may never be able to engage in personal disciple-making. When it is clear God has not called a person to make disciples in this way, we will gladly show them ways they can be involved in other forms of disciple-making (perhaps through programs; and perhaps simply through prayer).
We believe every believer is called to help advance the gospel in whatever ways they are able. We do not believe every believer is called and equipped to do so in the same ways. But, here’s the thing: we believe it is very likely that significantly more of us are called to personal disciple-making than are currently engaged in it. We do not believe it is for some elite class of Christians. Rather, we believe most of us can and should learn how to personally disciple others – and then do so.
We intend to involve assessment tools to help us determine whom God may be calling to other forms of disciple-making. And we fully intend to avoid pressuring people into doing anything. The first article of our Book of Church Order states that “God alone is Lord of the conscience.” This means that it is our job to teach people what to do; but it is not our place to tell them what to do. The telling must come from God. Besides, we don’t want people to engage in any kind of ministry reluctantly. We want our people to feel called and equipped before they launch into personal disciple-making. And we want this, not only because we believe God alone is Lord of the conscience, but because we believe personal disciple-making is hard. And it’s easier to do something hard when you believe God has called you to it.
3. What if I’ve never engaged in personal disciple-making?
If you’ve never personally discipled someone else, you are in the majority. And I want to make one thing very, very clear: we will not ask people to do for others what has not been done for them. By this, I mean that we’re not going to simply tell people to go personally make disciples (remember, our job is to teach, not tell).
We intend to involve those who have been taught (and have a habit of discipling others) and teach a small group of future personal disciple-makers through personal disciple-making. To do this right, it will take time (years). But remember, we’re working toward multiplication, not addition. So, while this will start small and slow, eventually we’ll be reaching many non-Christians, and making many disciple-making disciples. What we believe is that God wants each of us to be willing to be taught.
Each of us should, at least, come to understand what personal disciple-making is and how it is done. Most of us should, in turn, choose to be personally discipled (if we haven’t been already). And those who are personally discipled should seek to, in turn, personally disciple others – if God calls and equips them to do so.
Most of us can do this. In fact, any of us who are parents must do this. One of the reasons the church has lost relevance in the U.S. is because, for decades, many Christian parents have delegated to the church their responsibility to personally disciple their children. If the majority of Christian parents prioritized personally discipling their children, the U.S. would be a very different place in 20 years. But that’s another story.
For now, just be willing to learn. Be willing to consider the possibility God may indeed call and equip you for personal disciple-making. And imagine the impact you could have on the world. Remember, if you disciple one person each year who will, in turn, disciple another person each year; in ten years, you’d be involved in 1,024 disciple-making disciples being made. All things are possible with God. Most importantly, remember that the goal is to learn how to personally make disciples. If called and equipped, the goal becomes to personally train others to follow Jesus and to make disciples.
The goal is not to make a certain number of disciples. It is simply to engage in activities that, if God wills and works, will lead to disciples being made. In other words, success is being involved in the process and leaving the product up to God. After all, even Jesus had disciples give up and walk away (John 6:66). Did He fail? No; Jesus never failed at anything. And this serves as a reminder of what success in ministry is really all about: faithfully involving ourselves in things that generally lead to fruitfulness.
4. Are there some books I can read to get a better understanding of what this is all about?
Insourcing, by Randy Pope (210 pgs)
4 Chair Discipling, by Dann Spader (134 pgs)
Discipling, by Mark Dever (113 pgs)
The Master Plan of Evangelism, by Robert Coleman (109 pgs)
If you'd like to read any/all of these and cannot afford to purchase them, let us know. We'd be happy to get them for you (providing we are financially able).
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