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Since that time, many congregations are coming to terms with what it means to disciple “in the nations” and have a deeper sensitivity to how culture and context affect Christian nurture.

In April 2012, five ministers in the Church of the Nazarene met to engage in a conversation on discipleship, hosted by Woodie J. Stevens, director of Sunday School and Discipleship Ministries International (SDMI), and moderated by Larry Morris, who serves as mission strategist for the SDMI office. The panel explored discipleship from various perspectives and contexts. Participants included William Alvarado, Dean Blevins, Susan Carole, Brad Dyrness, and Joseph Knight.

An edited* portion of part of the roundtable discussion appears below. Video of the discussion is available online HERE

chirstlike-disciples-video-pic

 
 
 

Morris: Our denominational statement of mission is “To make Christlike disciples in the nations.” While there’s great support for the succinct nature and simplicity of this statement, there’s also a need to fully understand the meaning—the fuller meaning—of the words “Christlike” and “disciple.” What are some terms or concepts you have used to unpack their meaning?

 

Stevens: A disciple is simply a follower of Jesus—a student, a learner, or even an apprentice of Jesus. That’s good news because all of us can be followers of Jesus. We don’t all need PhDs in theology to be a disciple. Yet, there are also disciplers. A discipler would be one who helps another follow Jesus more closely—often, that happens one conversation at a time.

I see several categories of discipleship: the first is being a disciple. We learn, we study, we grow, and it’s something we do all of our lives. We are being discipled by the Word, by the Spirit, and by the Body [of Christ]—the people of God. The second category is what I call “informal discipleship.” We are all teaching others by the lives we live and the things we say and do. That’s a form of discipleship. A third category is intentional discipleship: intentionally helping others to follow Jesus and become mature in him. The fourth category is helping other disciples become disciplers. This creates the multiplication factor Jesus was explaining when he said, “Go and make disciples.”

 

Morris: Joe, you serve in a multicultural church. How do you articulate the meaning of the words “Christlike” and “disciples” to your congregation?

 

Knight: Christlikeness is going to be shaped by the people we’re addressing. In the church, we know what we mean when we say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” When I talk to a Buddhist, I can’t start there. First, I have to show that Jesus was more than an avatar. We start with John 1:1 and allow the Scriptures to define Jesus. To a Muslim, it is showing that Jesus is more than a prophet. We can share an exciting venture in the Holy Spirit, as we see the Spirit helping to crystallize who Jesus is to a given person, given their background.

 

Carole: Considering Christlikeness as that which characterizes a disciple of Jesus Christ, there are two important aspects that may transcend those different contexts you talked about, Joe. To know how we are to be like Jesus, we look at Jesus as he is with his Father. That puts Jesus in a position of transparency, intimacy, and submission to his Father. This sets for us the fundamental ethos of what being a disciple is, what it is to be like Jesus, what it is that we’re really after and that intimacy with his Father that he invites us to join. We’re inviting others to join that intimacy alongside us. The second thing is we’re in an intimate relationship with Jesus. There is a genuine reciprocity, but this is not a reversible reciprocity because Jesus is Lord. Sometimes, when I hear definitions of what being a disciple of Jesus Christ is, I miss that aspect of “He is Lord and Christ.” There is an element of deep submission to the One who knows best how to submit—this is the core.

 

Morris: The first disciples had the advantage of seeing “Christlikeness” defined by the life and person of Jesus. While we don’t have that advantage, we do have digital tools which expand our ability to communicate. Brad, from your perspective what are the benefits and challenges of using digital media as a discipleship tool? Can it replace the importance of personal presence?

 

Dyrness: It’s a double-edged sword. If I want to talk to my son, I text him. That’s our first step in having a conversation. But if that’s where it stays, if there’s not some kind of deeper connection, then there’s a level of intimacy that never happens.

 

Blevins: All forms of technology are really just extensions of who we are. One type of technology replaces an older one. My daughter, for instance, sends texts. The old jokes about a daughter always being on a phone talking—she doesn’t know what you mean by that. But texting is a new form of technology, a new extension. What’s really important about this is the extension of relationship. Technology never replaces relationship. It provides a new way of making sure those relationships can happen.

 

Dyrness: It (digital media) also includes an element of intentionality, that I’m doing this on purpose. I’m not just posting what I did today, but engaging in a purposeful exercise. Even on Facebook, I’m discipling.

 

Morris: “Some people believe that discipleship is better caught than taught. Susan, what is your perspective on that idea?”

 

Carole: In good Wesleyan fashion, I don’t think we can come up with an either/or scenario here. It has to be both caught and taught. The integrity of our claim is that Jesus is real in a transformative way. The integrity of that must be validated by who we are, by our passion for Jesus, by our engagement in his mission. Those are things that seep through in everything we do, that’s the power behind the words we say.

 

Morris: How does a church integrate both modeling and content in the discipleship process?

 

Carole: At the heart of this are the spiritual formation ministries of a church. Modeling the character of Jesus Christ, the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ, the engagement with his vision of reality comes through spiritual formation and discipline and daily development in the faith. The way a local church gets to that point and moves individuals along that trajectory of fellowship with Jesus Christ is by having a strong ministry of spiritual formation.

 

Knight: That’s one of the challenges facing pastors in the United States, where you are under pressure to really hit a homerun on Sunday. We put a lot of time in the sermon and not in spiritual formation in smaller groups. Somebody said, “If you want to impress people, speak to the crowd, but if you want to influence them, get up close.” In front of a crowd, you can make general statements, but they need to be fleshed out.

 

Dyrness: What would happen if instead of saying, “We have a discipleship ministry,” we recognized that our church is engaged in discipling, period? Our worship, our connecting in small groups, our serving, our inviting are all a part of discipleship. Jesus said, “Go make disciples.” If all of church is discipling, it becomes part of who we are.

 

Morris: The concept of intentional discipleship has come to surface in our discussion several times. William, what does intentional discipleship look like in your context?

 

Blevins: Wesley emphasized mutual accountability and the means of grace— those practices that help shape us and form us in following Jesus and give us a clearer vision of holiness in heart and life. Wesley was a big proponent of the small group that created a comprehensive type of discipleship that was deeply connected at every level. The class meeting required disciplined accountability. The bands were deeply relational. Wesley also believed small groups included participation in the formative life of the community of faith through worship. Wesley considered the family a key component as well. It wasn’t just the church or the individual. If there’s a model, it’s holistic and it’s interrelated. We are called to follow Jesus into a life bigger than ourselves and then practice that through every expression we have, intentionally throughout the life of the community. Church and family, as well as small groups, all go together.

Even as the disciples heard Jesus’ invitation, they had a whole history with Israel of being shaped and formed as a people of God. Jesus taught by walking and living with them, but he also preached and taught with great intentionality. It’s moving into the fullness of what God has provided for us. That’s the means of grace.

 

Alvarado: I see two important aspects of discipleship. First, you have to invest time. Second, you have to earn their commitment. They won’t be committed until they see you’re committed. They need to see that you are being discipled. That’s what church is about, discipleship. I’m investing time and being accountable.

 

Carole: We must have a plan and follow it. However, there is another aspect to discipleship that is critical to what we do, and it is this: people, individuals, are loved by God, and that is their worth. Therefore, as we pursue relationships with individuals, it is important for us to grasp that the value of this person is beyond our discipleship program.

 

Blevins: What I hear in everything we’re saying is that everyone is in discipleship, everyone. What I hear from William is, “My life is being shaped and formed by Christ, and then I pour myself out as a part of that.” I often have to remind my students the very people we are working with are a means of grace, not a means to an end. They bear worth because of God’s love for them. Prevenient grace is already there. Understanding where people are and then partnering with them in that journey is crucial. It is amazing that when we release them into their own practice, ministry, and leadership, we become disciples under their leadership as much as they are under ours. Those are powerful moments.

 

Carole: If we want to become like Jesus, you stay close to him. If we want to actually do discipleship, you have to do things like really, genuinely caring about people. Really deep down, we must invest, be willing to get hurt, express and have genuine compassion, get our hands and our feet dirty, wash feet. Do love. Do it in the hard places where people are hurting. That’s how we make disciples.

 

Morris: That’s an excellent point, which leads into the next question. Wesley focused both on the means of grace and acts of piety as part of the church, part of discipleship. Susan, in your understanding of discipleship, how do the means of grace function in the life of the church?

 

Carole: Wesley talked about acts of piety and acts of mercy in a sermon called “On Zeal.” He says on the throne of the heart sits love, and then the expressions of love, the dispositions and attitudes of love— kindness and goodness. And then, in an outer sphere, you find your acts of mercy. He puts the acts of piety even farther away. Some of us are really interior people. I would have no problem praying all day, but tell me to go down and volunteer at the rescue mission or something, and I have to be more intentional about it. Others are more doers and less contemplative in personality. So, we have to have ministries and opportunities in our local church to provide both. Then, we obtain a balanced formation of people. We need our prayer groups and our Bible study groups, but we also need opportunities to serve others.

 

Blevins: One of the biggest mistakes we make is seperating service from discipleship. One of the deepest parts of our discipleship is service, those acts of mercy expressed outwardly. The very things that are shaping and forming you can only come as you serve others. We need both if we’re going to be fully formed as disciples.

 

Knight: This past Tuesday, I got a call from some people that I haven’t seen for five years. They said, “We want to take you and your wife out to dinner tonight.” While we were sitting at the restaurant, I said, “This is a wonderful evening, and what has inspired this?” They replied, “This morning as we were listening to God in prayer, the Lord just said, ‘Call Joe and Pam Knight. Take them to dinner.’” This act of piety produced a very creative, healing act of mercy. It’s kind of like prevenient grace except in the life of believers, like there is a prevenient grace that occurs before every good work that we do. Maybe that’s a little bit of what Paul has in mind when he says in Ephesians 2:10, “You are not saved by works. You are saved by grace, but you are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” Listening in prayer was a work of the Lord that inspired them to call us.

 

Dyrness: Every sermon I preach or lesson I teach, whether I say it out loud or quietly in my preparation, I ask myself, “So what?” What value does this have beyond the information? What would happen if in our small groups or worship services we made people wrestle with the question of what they need to do in response to what they’ve heard?

 

Blevins: Acts of service are so powerful with families and children. I ask families, “What have you done together in service? Where have you as a family served together for the sake of someone else?” The energy around that, particularly from parents who see their children in those acts, authentically engaging others and serving and expressing God’s love and mercy, is transformative.

 

Carole: That very term “means of grace” suggests that these are avenues through which God, the Holy Spirit, shows up. All of these ways—cleaning a city park, praying, listening—these are all places where God has promised that he will show up.

 

Alvarado: The church started as community. To me, community is family, and the family of God is different than the regular family. In Acts, if there was a need, they would sell properties and bring the money to the feet of the apostles so they could provide for everybody. The first thing we do when we get together is exalt God through worship and through prayer. Then, talk about how God spoke to us, and how we can help each other apply what we’ve learned.

In family, there will always be problems. We learn to forgive each other, to help each other out, and not to put people down. I like Wesley’s model where the small groups were able to be accountable to each other and to motivate each other.

 

Morris: William, you mentioned before how important family and intergenerational involvement is to your church. What lessons can other churches learn from the Hispanic church?

 

Alvarado: Family is crucial. I read a book that changed my life, by Hal Perkins, If Jesus Was a Parent. It changed my way of thinking about discipleship. I heard a story about a kid who went to the church secretary and said, “I want to make an appointment with the pastor.” And she said, “Why? He’s your dad. Don’t you see him at home?” He replied, “No, he’s always ministering to other people.” I never want that to happen to me. So I invest in discipling my wife, discipling my son.

I want my family to be discipled, to be Christlike, to make it to heaven. I’ve seen a lot of pastor’s kids get lost. I was one of them. At the age of 19, I came back to the Lord, but I was lost for four years. So, I really have a heart for pastors’ kids who are lost. I believe that discipleship starts at home. I believe by the grace of God, if I focus intentionally on discipling my family, they will have a better chance to continue to follow God: not have my faith, but have their own faith, build their own relationship with God, and also be responsible in helping others.

 

Morris: Dean, I know family and intergenerational ministry has been a passion of yours as well and wonder if you would speak briefly to it.

 

Blevins: To me, the church and families have a symbiotic relationship. It’s like the relationship between an expectant mother and her baby in the womb; life is exchanged back and forth. The fullness of family ministry is based on a healthy church, but a healthy church is based on healthy families connected and sharing life. That means there need to be places in churches that are intentionally intergenerational. The standard joke is that the one place the family is together is in the foyer as they go into the church and in the foyer as they leave—that is not a good discipleship model.

Family discipleship is also about strengthening and empowering families in understanding who they are in their own journey. Leslie Leyland Fields wrote an article called “The Myth of the Perfect Parent.” You tell parents, “You’re the primary point of discipleship,” and they often give you this deer-in-the-headlights look because suddenly they think there’s a new perfection they’re going to have to achieve. It is a shift of perspective, and parents need help understanding their role. The relationship between the church and the family is crucial; you can’t have healthy, spiritually-strong families without healthy churches, but you also cannot have healthy churches apart from empowering families as they work together.

 

Dyrness: I believe it shouldn’t be one or the other in the church. We need both because there’s great value in speaking the heart language of a child so that they understand and also see their mom and dad truly worship.

 

Morris: How does the size of the congregation impact discipleship?

 

Dyrness: I don’t think you should let yourself be limited by size. There are some things that we’re going to do on purpose, whether 12 or 1,200 show up. All the same, you have more leaders when you have a larger group, and so your investment may shift to, “I’m investing in the leaders,” rather than, “I’m investing in the participants.”

Large churches sometimes have so much going on, they miss out on some of the most important things. We need to ask ourselves, “Are these things helping us accomplish our goals in discipleship?” If it fits, then it stays. If it doesn’t, then we need to make some adjustments and do something that has more value.

 

Carole: Everything we do in church should be about discipleship. We should be able to go down the list and measure what we’re doing. Is this (ministry) nurturing the relationship we have with Jesus Christ? Is this creating space in which people who do not know him can encounter him? Does this draw us closer to him?

 

Alvarado: I believe every church, no matter the size, should be involved in discipleship because God called us to make disciples, not to build a big church with numbers. But I also believe that with time, as we are faithful to the ministry of discipleship, we will multiply. In some churches, the draw to multiplication becomes the focus and ends up distorting the goal of discipleship.

 

Morris: Joe, the issue of bringing people to a different culture into an existing congregation has to be a challenge. What are some of the lessons you've learned along the way?

 

Knight: We’re learning a lot of lessons. As an all-white church for 92 years, we couldn’t help but wonder, “How do you get non-whites through our front door?” We wanted to know, “Who needs us?” The Good Samaritan question is, “Who is our neighbor?”

Our neighbor is the one who needs us, and we must go and be a neighbor to them. So, we sent out 35 teams on two Sunday mornings to knock on doors and answer a simple questionnaire about church, about needs in the community. These teams went out within a five-mile radius of our church.

Even though Grand Rapids is very Dutch, very Anglo, over the last 25 years, a number of people from other cultures have moved into the neighborhood. So, the first big need was for English classes! We started English classes on Wednesday night and advertised them and started inviting people. First, six people showed up, then eight, then it jumped up to 20, and now it’s running from about 60 to 80 every Wednesday night. So, we start where they are. On Wednesday nights, we’ll have Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims all come together because they know we’re not going to be preaching at them, and we respect their culture. We have learned that people belong before they believe. It is social belonging before it is spiritual belonging. The first level is social belonging—we belong to the same human family, we’re all created in God’s image, and we respect and honor one another.

The second level is ethnicity. The book of Genesis was a real mind-opener for me in terms of anthropology. In Genesis 10, we have this marvelous table of nations—70 nations, the number of completion. Each one had their own culture, their own nation, and this is what God expected. God’s command to the sons of Noah was a duplication of his command to Adam and Eve: fill the earth, replenish, and go. The multiple cultures were an expression of God’s creativity. To me, that’s phenomenal.

The third level is when they come to Christ: spiritual belonging. The next level is the rooted group, where they learn. They move from the unity of the Spirit, Ephesians 4, to the unity of the faith, which is the doctrine. The group is developing depth in the Christian faith. When you’re around truth, culture doesn’t really matter. It’s the same expectations for all of us.

The last area is giving back. It’s reproducing, and that is when we are serving and contributing. This area has given us new insight into the meaning of conversion. In conversion, God doesn’t trash culture. God renews and transforms what has been broken, distorted, lost.

 

Carole: We must approach the “other” as family. And what do we do with a family member? We enjoy doing things for them, giving them gifts, loving on them, and we want nothing back. That’s how we treat family. We look past the outward, the form, to the person who has intrinsic worth because he or she is loved by God.

 

Blevins: One of the strengths of our tradition has been our ability to see things globally, and that’s done two things for us: one, it’s helped us to see the strengths of other cultures. It helps us to think about the fullness of the gospel in unique and powerful ways. The gospel is not limited to just one ethnicity, one culture. The other thing it does is remind us how much our own approach is shaped by culture and context. When you really begin to see the fullness of how God is at work through various ethnicities, the real expression of what that looks like, you begin to tap into both the strengths and the limits of your own cultural background.

 

Alvarado: When the church went to South America, Central America, and even Mexico, they brought the gospel and their own culture. When the missionaries left, the culture in those churches had changed as well. The church is more effective when they work with the culture, not against it. It’s important to respect and honor the cultures of others.

Ethnicity isn’t the only cultural difference the church struggles against. For instance, there’s the youth culture. We’re losing our youth because they have their own culture, their own language, their philosophy, and we don’t always understand them. Within the church, we also need to get along better and put aside our differences and accept each other.

 

Dyrness: Let’s be honest--it takes more energy to communicate and participate if you have a service or even a small group where there are cultural differences. It takes a sacrificial investment.

 

Blevins: And that’s why this is a part of discipleship. Discipleship is being shaped and formed, through worship, through different forms, through acts of piety. It’s also about being engaged with others doing service, this Word being a transforming presence in the world, and being discipled through that. Take the Bible. We want people to understand and listen and take the Word on its own authority. Yet in some sense, we bring that same disposition to the way we engage other human beings, how we understand other cultures, accept them on their own terms. True authentic discipleship is about learning to respect and study deeply God’s Word as well as learning to respect and study deeply God’s people.

 

Alvarado: We have to learn like Peter had to learn, that he wasn’t taking Jewish Christianity to the Gentiles. He had to learn to understand Gentiles, and they needed to become Christlike within their culture. We’re called to make Christlike disciples, not Jewish or American or other culture disciples, but Christlike disciples.

 

Knight: Samuel Wilson, a missiologist, says, “The world didn’t have to change in order to receive the gospel. It was the church that had to change in order to give the gospel.” And Peter had to experience a cultural conversion before Cornelius could get a spiritual conversion.

 

Alvarado: Sometimes we begin the process wrongly. We say, “Be like me,” instead of, “Be like Christ.” When I visit a family, and I see that they have a statue of Mary in their home with a little altar and candles, I don’t say, “That’s inappropriate.” If I do, they’ll never invite me back. Instead, I do like Paul. “You have this god, but that unknown God, that’s the one I want to talk to you about.” You allow the Holy Spirit to transform them. We must focus on making Christlike disciples, and allow God to do the rest. Whatever’s good in their culture, God will use to his advantage.

 

Morris: Given your experience, how should a pastor measure success or progress in discipleship?

 

Blevins: The goal of discipleship is a deepening and maturing faith. It’s not so much, “What do we know?” but, “How are we living?” That’s the first measure of true discipleship; we know that discipleship is at work when we begin to look at people and ask, “How are they living?” A change of character, a change of disposition, openness to people, and openness to God—those are hard to quantify. Discipleship becomes everyone’s vocation.

“Vocation” is a word we don’t understand here in the United States. We think of it as just a job, but it’s far more than that. It’s how we live out our lives in our jobs, in our families, in addition to within the life of the church. It’s how we’re being shaped and formed in Christ. That’s not easy to measure. It requires a very ancient pastoral practice called “visitation”—we have to be present with our people.

 

Dyrness: One of the measures I watch for in a small group is a willingness to be vulnerable. For instance, when one of the members of the group said harsh things about another person outside the group, a person in the group said, “I think that attitude could be holding you back.” The reply, “That’s something I need to consider.” At that point, I knew we had grown to a new phase of discipleship together. That’s a depth that you can’t put on a report to the district superintendent.

 

Carole: On our district, our D.S. asks pastors to report the story, to talk about transformation, redemption. One way I hold myself accountable as a disciple of Jesus Christ is to ask myself, how am I doing in terms of the investment of my strength, time, and money? In fruit-bearing, in serving the other, in doing something for nothing, as opposed to my own personal gratification.

 

Alvarado: The church’s job and the pastor’s job are to work in developing people of God. If they aren’t growing, something’s wrong. A pastor should be able to see that fruit and nourish it. Other signs of maturity in discipleship are faithfulness, teaching others, helping others, discipling others.

 

Blevins: I try to listen to how the Spirit of God is working in their lives. The early church had another set of categories that might be helpful to appropriate. We’ve all heard of the “seven deadly sins,” but we don’t hear about the seven virtues, and three of them come right out of Scripture: faith, hope, and love. The other four are “temperance,” or self-control, which is a fruit of the spirit; “prudence,” or wisdom; “courage,” or trusting God; and “justice,” working for the sake of others. So, one way to evaluate growth is to ask how we are doing in terms of the seven virtues.

 

Alvarado: Sometimes we begin the process wrongly. We say, “Be like me,” instead of, “Be like Christ.” When I visit a family, and I see that they have a statue of Mary in their home with a little altar and candles, I don’t say, “That’s inappropriate.” If I do, they’ll never invite me back. Instead, I do like Paul. “You have this god, but that unknown God, that’s the one I want to talk to you about.” You allow the Holy Spirit to transform them. We must focus on making Christlike disciples, and allow God to do the rest. Whatever’s good in their culture, God will use to his advantage.

 

Morris: Let’s think about that pastor who has heard our discussion and says, “I want a church like that. I want to head in that direction.”

 

Dyrness: Start with people who are like-minded. You’re not going to get the whole group to join you in the beginning. If you’ve got one person, start there.

 

Stevens: It begins with you and your relationship, meeting with Jesus every day, listening to him, learning from him, soaking in his presence, experiencing what he’s teaching you. That way you have something to give away to those you serve. Be truly Christlike—that’s your goal. Don’t get caught up in the numbers. Be about investing your life in others as Christ has invested himself in you.

 

Morris: From your perspective, do small groups or Sunday School classes provide a better environment for discipleship?

 

Dyrness: I remember being told you can’t have both a thriving small group ministry and a thriving Sunday school ministry; you have to pick one or the other. I disagree with that. You can utilize both. A pastor needs to meet people where they are, and you work with what you’ve got.

 

Carole: The purpose of Sunday school is very explicit; it is Christian education. When we’re moving to a small group, we want to make sure that we’re transferring the Christian education component into that small group context.

 

Alvarado: We need to teach content, because some people aren’t getting Christian education: they don’t know the first five books of the Bible. They don’t know what the gospels are. They need to be taught the Word of God. We can’t lose our purpose, whether we do it at Sunday school or in a small group outside the church walls.

 

Carole: The leaders of either group need to be mature disciples in order to teach the Word of God and to shepherd the group. This is consistent with the Wesleyan model of the class meetings, the band meetings, and so forth. This is how you can get small groups and Sunday school to come together in purpose.

 

Stevens: I would suggest something you’ve probably not done in a long time, and that is read Manual paragraph 145.2. There’s a wonderful paragraph in the Manual that talks about the purposes of SDMI: our purpose is to reach the largest number of unchurched people, bringing them into the church. This requires that we teach the Word of God effectively, encompassing their salvation, bringing them into the fellowship so that we can build up the Christian home, teaching them the parameters of Christian membership, and equipping them from appropriate Christian ministries.

 

Blevins: There are different types of groups that serve different types of functions. We don’t have to have just one type of group. We can tailor groups to different functions, different purposes, as long as discipleship works across those functions and purposes. Sunday school has an intentional public character. Outreach and inclusion is an intentional part of its purpose and structure. If you are a church visitor on a Sunday morning and there is a Sunday school, then you automatically have a place to land. In contrast, small groups offer a higher degree of intimacy, but as a result also a greater degree of threat for anyone who joins that group. Wesley understood that sometimes you need larger groups for teaching and instruction, and then people choose to become part of the tighter, closer-knit groups. There are unique strengths within every type of small group and strengths within Sunday school.

 

Stevens: It’s not an issue of what we call it. Call it “Bible study” or “Bible classes” or “adult fellowship.” The title “Sunday school” may carry baggage that makes folks uncomfortable, but the reality is it’s a door that God uses to open up the church to community, to those looking for truth. Today, God has many doors that he’s opened through which we can invite people to become a part of the body, and we need to take advantage of all of them.

 

Blevins: Sunday school classes may someday fill a new function. Historically, one reason we had Sunday school classes was for age-level learning, to teach the Bible at the level of the learner. Today, some Sunday school classes could model intergenerational learning.

 

Morris: We have three questions submitted by pastors that they would like answered. Dean, how can we help congregations move from viewing discipleship from a modern to a postmodern perspective?

 

Blevins: Rather than asking, “What do you know?” we need to ask, “How are you living?” When you raise that question, it’s no longer knowledge for the sake of knowledge; it’s knowledge for the sake of life. And when you make that shift, the things you do in daily life become as important as the knowledge you possess. It also requires community, community in the shape of a family, a group, the church. Now you’re looking for those who will help you in how you live.

 

Morris: Second question. I just became pastor of a church of less than 10 people. Where do I start?

 

Alvarado: I’d say you’re lucky. A lot of times it’s easier to start small than going to a church with tradition, lots of customs you have to work around to get the church to where it needs to be. It’s not about the numbers. If you pour your time into those three or four people who are effective, they’ll turn around and multiply and be effective. I’m a bi-vocational pastor, so I’m limited in the number of people I can invest in. I have to focus on smaller groups to be able to disciple most effectively. In turn, they’ll be stronger, more mature, and they’ll do the same thing with others.

 

Dyrness: The same principles are at work with 10 as with a thousand. I would ask this pastor, “Tell me more about those 10 people.” Maybe they are on fire and ready to go. Maybe they are so worn out that they need somebody to just care for them to begin with. If they’ve been carrying that church for 40 years, I’d take a whole different approach than if they’re 10 brand-new folks who are ready to roll.

 

Morris: So you would say, “Know your people, know your context, and adapt accordingly.”

 

Alvarado: And don’t rush. A lot of times we want to rush, we’ve got numbers we want to report—but don’t rush.

 

Stevens: Thank you, Larry, and thank you panelists for sharing your heart and your life. I rejoice that we’ve had this chance to talk about what it is to make Christlike disciples. Keep up the good work and may the Lord be glorified through your lives.

 

*Editor’s Note: Transcripts of conversations can be especially difficult to edit, especially for smooth readability. This transcript was edited and, in places, was condensed or re-worked for clarity’s sake, while trying to ensure that the spirit of what was said remained.


ABOUT THE PANELISTS:

DEAN BLEVINS serves as the professor of practical theology and Christian discipleship at Nazarene Theological Seminary

BRAD DYRNESS is the lead pastor of Sparks (NV) Church of the Nazarene

JOSEPH KNIGHT is the senior pastor of Grand Rapids (MI) International Fellowship Church of the Nazarene

WILLIAM ALVARADO is currently planting a church on the Western Latin American District, the Buena Park Family of God Church of the Nazarene

SUSAN CAROLE and her husband, Georges, lead culturally-diverse ministries on the Michigan District

LARRY MORRIS (moderator) serves as the mission strategist for the SDMI office

WOODIE J. STEVENS is the global director for Sunday School and Discipleship Ministries International


Books Recommended by the Panel on Discipleship

1. Blevins, Dean and Mark A. Maddix. Discovering Discipleship: The Dynamics of Christian Education (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2010).

2. Chilcotte, Paul. Recapturing the Wesleys’ Vision (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004).

3. Henderson, D. Michael. A Model for Making Disciples: John Wesley’s Class Meeting (Nappanee, Indiana: Evangel Publishing House/Francis Asbury Press, 2005).

4. ----. Making Disciples One Conversation at a Time (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2006).

5. Lanier, Sarah A. Foreign to Familiar (Hagerstown, Maryland: McDougal Publishing Company, 2000).

6. Leclerc, Diane and Mark A. Maddix. Spiritual Formation: A Wesleyan Paradigm (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2011).

7. Ogden, Greg. Discipleship Essentials: A Guide to Building Your Life in Christ (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Connect, 2007).

8. Palmer, Parker J. The Courage to Teach (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2007).

9. Perkins, Hal. If Jesus Was a Parent: Coaching Your Child to Follow Jesus (Self- Published: Hal Perkins, 2006).

10. ----. Walk with Me: A Biblical Journey in Making Christlike Disciples (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2008).

11. Putman, Jim. Real-Life Discipleship: Building Churches That Make Disciples (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2010).

12. Rench, Craig Wesley. The Master’s Plan: A Strategy for Making Disciples (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2011).

13. Sorrentino, Paul V. A Transforming Vision: Multiethnic Fellowship in College and in the Church (South Hadley, MA: Doorlight Publications, 2011).

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