Four approaches to Discipleship Pathways

Four approaches to Discipleship Pathways

November 14, 2017

By: Jaymee Glenn-Burns
There is an influx of roundabouts in my town requiring many of us to learn some new driving skills. Iowa United Methodists are learning some new skills around designing discipleship pathways for their churches. There are many ways to begin. Here are four possibilities.

  1. Begin with a template. One of the most straightforward models comes from Jorge Acevedo in his book, Vital: Churches Changing Communities and the World. He identifies four key steps in growing disciples of Jesus Christ–reach, connect, form, and send. We must initially reach people and find some way to establish a relationship. We provide opportunities for them to connect with God and with a community of believers. We help form them through modeling, mentoring, teaching, preaching, and practicing the way of Jesus. We send them out to share God’s love, witness to their faith, and transform the world through generosity and service. 

    Human beings have a way of sneaking in the back door or cutting across the yard, so this pathway is not usually as neat and sequential as it may seem. It does, however, provide an excellent structure on which to build a customized pathway for your church. 
  2. Follow a rule of life. In the monastic tradition, community members commit to a shared set of practices for living faithfully together. While United Methodists seldom live in monasteries, we do share a common commitment to our membership vows. A discipleship process based on this approach might use those vows as a rule of life and identify ways that people could begin and grow in each area—prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. Some questions to ask: what do we expect from people in each area? How does our church help people learn to pray? What does presence mean in this congregation? How do we help people identify and share their gifts? What opportunities for service are available? How do people learn and practice appropriate ways to witness to their faith?
  3. Start with what you know. If you have confirmation classes, you already have a foundation. Look carefully at your classes and identify the knowledge areas, practices or behaviors, and attitudes your church teaches. How can you expand these to include people of all ages? In addition to classroom teaching, where and how might people in your church learn? Don’t overlook the informal opportunities as well as scheduled classes or planned events. How can you bring the intention to cultivate disciples into everything you do?
  4. We make the road by walking. There’s an old proverb, “Caminante, no hay camino. Hacemos el camino al andar,” which translated to English, means, “Walker, there is no road. We make the road by walking.” You just read three possible roads.  However, there are many more possibilities. Some congregations will choose to forge their own trail. They will study the scriptures, explore what it means to be United Methodist, pay attention to their communities, consider the unique priorities of their church, and design their own unique pathway.  
The good news in this hard work: you already know how to drive. This is just learning to navigate in some new ways. 

More good news: we don’t do it alone. God is already calling and growing disciples. If you’d like some human help, your Field Outreach Ministers would be delighted to assist you.