Creating a Discipleship Pathway: A Series of Next Steps

Date Posted: 5/15/2017

Guest columnist Marilyn Wadkins, an ordained deacon and certified executive coach, consults with churches on ways to help individuals deepen their spiritual journeys.
The importance of growing as a disciple, and facilitating discipleship in a church setting, has become more and more confusing because of the growing number of choices, resources, opinions and distractions. In our search for significance, the lure of the internet, 24-hour TV with hundreds of channels, and social media can create a time famine. Although everyone still has the same amount of time in a day – the increasing number of disruptions seem to impact our personal growth in a negative way. 
Creating a Discipleship Pathway so people will know the “next steps” in their spiritual growth has become a critical concern for churches that seek to grow their congregations and facilitate spiritual growth at the individual level. Some of the challenges being faced:
* Each church must decide and define what a “disciple” looks like in their setting (location and make-up of their membership).
* Churches are discovering that a “one-size fits all” doesn’t fit everyone’s learning styles or temperaments (their “God language”).
* Participation in church activities does not predict or drive long-term spiritual growth.   
Then there are missed opportunities in mapping and casting the vision for an individual’s spiritual journey due to:
* Lack of advanced planning
* Lack of leadership
* Lack of resources (budget)
* Life crisis (death, divorce)
* Knowledge of available opportunities, and
* Spiritual burnout.
A friend of mine who is a certified spiritual director believes discipleship is mostly a relationship issue. With the churches I work with through VCI, the struggle I see most often is that people are looking for a program or a process instead of focusing on their relationship to God. This relationship is a choice, not so much about behavior or even about learning more. It is a choice that is related to the source of all love – a loving God. It is a choice about knowing you are loved and loving others. We need a passionate love for our Creator, the One in Whom we "live and move and have our very being” (Acts 17:28a). Only then does our desire to live in love with Him create a path and a discipline for our lives -- of living as a beloved child who never wants to break their creator’s heart.
So, where do we go from here? Several suggestions are made in Get Their Name: Grow Your Church by Building New Relationships (by Farr, Anderson, and Kotan):

  • Meet people where THEY are, not where WE are.
  • Since a discipleship pathway often begins by attending church as step one, churches can facilitate success by creating a culture of invitation. That might involve encouragement from the pulpit that members bring a friend to church, or it might be to provide a small invitation card members can hand out to friends, neighbors and coworkers.
  • Why God? Why church? And why my church? Share God-stories with each other on a regular basis -- not just your personal conversion story. Get comfortable with this by sharing the stories of your experience with God on an everyday basis and at every age level.
  • Additionally, it helps to realize that a crisis, spiritual boredom and/or a deep longing for more in life can be a positive driver by leading individuals to fill that need for spiritual growth.
While there is no formula for spiritual growth, churches can define the concept of a disciple in their individual context by providing next steps that move people along a journey to deeper and stronger faith. We are likely to grow most when our hearts are overflowing with the reality of God’s love to the point we want to please him in all that we say and do.