We invited 7 teachers of children to Warner Press recently to assess the curriculum materials offered by various publishers. One of them shared a moment from her own experience that vividly illustrates the importance of discipleship groups. She was presenting the week’s lesson in her usual way when one of the preschool boys raised his hand. “Who’s this Jesus you keep talking about?” he said. “I never heard of him.”
Before she could frame a response, another boy leaned into the circle and exclaimed, “WHAT?!? You don’t know who Jesus is?”
This little fellow was a street urchin, unwashed and ill-mannered, who came to the class every week. Without a moment’s hesitation, he said, “Jesus is the one who loves you when nobody else does. Why, Jesus loves you even if you have dirty diapers!”
The teacher’s mind flashed back to another week when she told the class about Jesus’ disciples’ trying to prevent children from crowding around him. “Let them come,” Jesus said, “for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
She had pointed out that Jesus laid no minimum requirements on that invitation. She imagined that many of the children had dirty diapers in that day before disposables; yet he invited them to sit on his lap. She supposed many children had head lice, but he didn’t keep them at arm’s length. They must have been dirty and smelly, but he held them close and taught them about the love of God. That story had burned itself into the mind of the street boy. So he knew immediately who Jesus was: The one who loves you when nobody else does!
That exchange between two early-elementary boys in Sunday school has a lot of vital insights for anyone who leads groups in the church, but be sure to note this one: We best learn the Christian life with others who are learning. Discipleship is not a solitary pursuit.
New Life Christian Fellowship in Fortville, Indiana, is a pioneer of intergenerational ministry in the Church of God (Anderson, IN). Children and youth of the congregation are intentionally engaged in activities of the church as part of an emphasis called, “Interwoven.” Pastor Mark Adcock summarizes it well in this recent video clip from Vimeo. “We have a profound problem in the church today, that our children and our youth are…walking away from the faith primarily because they have been segmented from the ministry of the church,” Pastor Adcock told the congregation. “They don’t have relationships with you, the men and women of the church. Therefore, there’s [nothing to] draw them back to the church when that time comes.
“I have been praying and asking God to send the youth back into the heart of our worship so that we can join them and help them realize that they are loved.” So this emphasis seeks to integrate all age groups into the vital worship and service experiences of the church. The theme of Interwoven is, “One Body: Moving. Speaking. Doing.”
Pastor Adcock is an emerging voice for intergenerational ministry, author of A Call to Grandparenting (Warner Press: 2013), which describes how elderly Christians can disciple children in Christian faith. This first volume of Warner Press’ “New Life Together” discipleship series. (Free sample chapter available here.)
An ecumenical resource for small discipleship groups, thethoughtfulchristian.com provides brief studies on a wide variety of subjects, from Bible study to current events. Unlike traditional Sunday School electives, which are designed to impart information, these studies prod users to reflect on their own belief and practice.
This approach can be unsettling for teachers who are used to a pattern of lecture/discussion, but it is more likely to help believers understand and articulate what they believe. According to the website, The Thoughtful Christian is “dedicated to helping Christians and seekers understand, share, practice, and be challenged in their faith.”
All of the studies can be downloaded electronically from the Thoughtful Christian website. They are inexpensive (sometimes free), and can be used in a variety of settings, not just a formal classroom. These flexible, provocative resources are highly recommended for individuals and small groups who are ready to wrestle with difficult spiritual questions.
Church of God Ministries, Inc. (CGM), is delaying the full release of its new generation of discipleship resources known as “New Life Together” to allow the new CGM General Director and his team to assess the ministry needs of the church. Details about that strategy will be announced in the coming months. However, two core books of the “New Life Together” program are being released in November.
Every-Member Ministry, by Dr. Kevin Earley of Metropolitan Church of God in Detroit, shows how to engage an entire congregation in active ministry. Dr. Earley explains that all spiritual gifts are given for the good of the community. The challenge is for every congregation to learn how to develop and use those gifts in “the priesthood of all believers” (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). To order this book, click here.
A Call to Grandparenting, by Pastor Mark Adcock of New Life Christian Fellowship in Fortville, Indiana, summons older Christians to disciple their grandchildren. This kind of spiritual mentoring is needed more than ever, and grandparents are ideally positioned to provide it. A series of stories from Mark’s own childhood show how powerful the influence of a godly grandparent can be. To order this book, click here.
“We have developed leaders’ guides, video discussion starters, and other tools to help congregations experience ‘New Life Together’ to its fullest,” says Joe Allison, CGM Coordinator of Publishing. “Their release will depend on strategic decisions that our General Director is preparing to make. In the meantime, we hope many churches will use Pastor Earley’s and Pastor Adcock’s books.”
Anderson University’s Covenant Productions has completed 7 videos that will be part of the “New Life Together” discipleship series coming from Warner Press in December. The multi-media Resource Packages containing study books, leader’s guides, video DVD’s, and other materials can be ordered from Warner Press in November.
Appearing in a video segment for Every-Member Ministry are (l. to r.): Dr. Kevin W. Earley, Rev. Ann E. Brandon, and Rev. Johnny L. Newton.
The first two modules of “New Life Together” are based upon new books by Kevin W. Earley and Mark R. Adcock. Dr. Earley’s Every-Member Ministry explains how laypersons can discover their spiritual gifts and begin to use them for ministry. Rev. Adcock’s A Call to Grandparenting shows older believers how to lead their grandchildren to Christ and disciple them as new Christians.
Covenant’s videos provide additional background information and discussion starters for each book. They help a small group to delve into these resources and apply them to their daily lives.
Covenant Productions was won numerous awards for its work, including a 2010 Emmy for “A Ripple of Hope,” a documentary concerning Robert Kennedy.
By Joe Allison
Some years ago, a leading American auto maker built its marketing efforts around this simple message: “Quality is Job 1.” That message appealed to consumers who wondered about the safety and durability of imports that flooded the U.S. market from Europe and Asia. As a result, the company sold a lot of cars—and trucks.
From time to time, a similar effort sweeps through the church. Well-intentioned people try to identify the center of the church’s mission with a new catch phrase or slogan, in hopes of attracting others to their ranks. Greg Austin compiled a fascinating list of them for his Emerging Church blog, and you’ll find a fresh crop every week on Interstate billboards and Internet banner ads. Judging by these “pitches,” the church’s purpose could be:
- Evangelism (“We’re Saving Cincinnati”)
- Mission (“Going in Jesus’ Name”)
- Assimilation (“Where Everybody Belongs”)
- Spiritual Formation (“Let’s Be Like Jesus”)
I see nothing wrong with these efforts to catch a fresh vision of the church’s purpose, so long as we don’t use them to redraw the boundaries of faithfulness. We need not be surprised if God gives me a passion for spiritual formation while you’re on fire for evangelism. That way, he is more likely to have all of his Kingdom work done.
But it would be wrong for you to insist that your assignment ought to be my assignment, too. It would be just as wrong for me to discount you as someone who “just doesn’t get it” because your passion is different from mine.
Did God raise up the church to be evangelistic, missional, assimilative, or transformational? Yes. So let’s not dissipate our energies trying to convince each other to abandon the ministry to which God has called us. As an old hymn put it, “There is plenty of work we may do.”
The Internet is a rich universe of resources for any area of ministry, including discipleship work, but the sheer number and variety of sites can bewilder a casual surfer, even with the aid of a great search engine. So here are a few select sites that you may want to visit:
- Discipleship Journal was a pioneering Christian discipleship magazine published by NavPress for 28 years (1981-2009). You can now find an access any of its articles from the DJ online archives if you click HERE. You can now subscribe to Nav’s free monthly newsletter, “Discipleship Inside Out” (Click HERE.) or sign up for Nav’s wide-ranging discipleship blog, the Discipleship Network (Click HERE.)
- The Thoughtful Christian is one of our favorite sites for adult Christian education and discipleship resources. Hosted by Westminster/John Knox, the Thoughtful Christian offers scores of downloadable small-group studies on Christian growth topics and Bible studies (cheap or free), plus deep discounts on Westminster book titles. Here is their link.
- Group Magazine is the best-known discipleship magazine for youth workers. You may not know that, in addition to digital downloads and print subs, the magazine is also available as a full-featured iPad app, with a widget to search the riches of their archives. To access Group, click HERE.
We’ll be sharing more discipleship links from time to time. How about sharing YOUR favorites with the rest of us?