By: Sherri Gragg
Making disciples has been a part of the UMC since the days of John and Charles Wesley. In fact, it is even in the TAC mission statement: to equip congregations to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world to the glory of God. The Rev. Bob Johnson, Executive Pastor of Discipleship, Chapelwood UMC, is helping his people in his community to become, and grow, as disciples of Christ through a program called discipleship pathways.
“For a long time, churches have operated under the belief that the way to disciple people is to get them involved. Studies show that isn’t true,” said Johnson. Instead, he insists, discipleship is about helping the people in the pews, no matter where they are in their faith, to move toward spiritual maturity.
It is a concept strongly rooted in Wesleyan theology. John Wesley once said, “Every one, though born of God in an instant, yea and sanctified in an instant, yet undoubtedly grows by slow degrees…” (June, 1760). Wesley called the journey from salvation to sanctification “perfection.” But Johnson is quick to point out that this journey of spiritual formation, although it has an end goal in mind, is far from a linear process. “Sometimes, it is two steps forward, one back. Sometimes, we hit a wall. Nevertheless, our discipleship has a direction- increasing love for God and others.”
The Church’s Role
Discipleship pathways are individual to each member of the Body of Christ. According to Johnson, the church’s role is to structure faith environments in ways that help individuals move along their own journey to spiritual maturity.
Under Johnson’s direction, the church has tapped into clear research and powerful assessment tools to develop a four-stage model designed to help each member of the church, no matter where he or she is on her personal faith journey, to move forward in spiritual formation by offering clear “next steps.”
In this stage, the disciple is on the journey, but has yet to commit. Jesus invites him or her to simply, “come and see.”
This stage of discipleship is marked by action. It offers the disciple the opportunity to make a deeper commitment. The disciple is “busy doing,” according to Johnson.
In the third stage, the disciple moves from “doing” to “being.” It is more about relationship with Christ. Although the disciple is still joining Jesus in ministry, his or her motivation has shifted to the value of relationship.
Sacrifice is a hallmark of the fourth stage of discipleship. As in the third stage, relationship is still key, but now the disciple is willing to sacrifice more within the context of relationship.
Pulling Out All the Stops
Johnson believes that in order for a church to create an environment in which personal discipleship thrives, it is essential that the church first understand where their people are on the journey and then…pull out all of the stops to help them take the next steps.
“The beauty of this approach,” said Johnson, “is that it is based on data, not opinions. Programing is then tailored to what the assessment uncovers. Before we took the Reveal survey, I asked the staff to predict what they thought we would learn about ourselves. Every one of us was wrong. Pastors and staff tend to think they know their people. We did and we were wrong. If we had programmed according to what we thought, we would have missed the mark.”
To find out more, visit Chapelwood’s Next Steps page.