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?
Church of God Ministries is developing a series of discipleship resources called New Life Together, to be introduced next winter. Here’s a sneak preview of what’s coming.
New Life Together grew out of consultations with pastors and other church leaders to discuss the educational needs of the church. In May 2011, we condensed what we heard to 4 goals:
- Emphasize that local church life is the core curriculum for discipleship, and dedicate all of our efforts to making local church life genuinely Christian.
- Build an intergenerational paradigm for learning, so that our ministries integrate families, age groups, and interest groups, rather than dividing them.
- Build an assimilative paradigm for evangelism, so that we become the spiritual “glue” that holds a community together, rather than “righteous remnants” that stand apart from it.
- Build a proactive paradigm for service, so that we come alongside the needy while they are still invisible to the rest of society, rather than simply responding to high-profile crisis events.
With these objectives, New Life Together has to be quite different from the traditional Sunday school. That form of religious instruction has served the church well for generations by giving believers a good foundation of biblical and doctrinal knowledge. But we still have a deep need for Christian formation. Here’s how the two are different. (This table is based on a study done by Israel Galindo and Marty Canaday, entitled Planning Christian Education Faith Formation:)
||School of Faith
||Community of Faith
||Scripture or Doctrine
||The Person of Jesus Christ
||Mastery of Content
||Becoming in Relationship
Christian formation is the shape of New Life Together. We will continue publishing Sunday school curriculum as long as our congregations need it; but the main emphasis of our publishing efforts for the years ahead will be discipleship aimed at Christian formation. More to come…
Marcus Borg’s recent book Speaking Christian (HarperCollins: 2013) challenges us to reconsider the way we talk about our Christian faith, since much of our current Christian terminology is frozen in the eighteenth century. Borg believes our theology, our worship, and our self-understanding would be revolutionized if we allowed Scripture and apostolic Christianity to shape our faith-talk once again.
Here’s an excerpt from his chapter on “Sin,” in which he proposes that we broaden this central metaphor of our church life to encompass the full scope of what the Bible means by sin. His proposal would change the way we typically deal with sin in the process of Christian discipleship:
Christian language and liturgy need to speak not just about sins in the plural and our need for forgiveness. They also need to speak about sin as a power that holds us in bondage. They need to speak about the Pharaohs who rule our lives, the Babylon in which we live as exiles, the self-concern that dominates us, the blindness and limited vision that is the natural product of growing up in a particular time and place. They need to speak about the ways we have wounded and been wounded and our need for transformation and healing.
…In most churches, liturgical and nonliturgical, the issue is sin, understood primarily in the plural as infractions committed against God and our neighbors…It is still clear that sin is the central issue in our live with God. Our sins are the reason Jesus had to die.
Imagine the difference it would make if Christian worship services also highlighted the other biblical images for what ails us. Imagine Christian liturgies and preaching that emphasize that we are Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt and need liberation, that we are exiled in Babylon and need a path to return home, that we are blind and need to see again, that we are sick and wounded and need healing and wholeness. And, yes, that we are sinners who need forgiveness…
Sin matters. But when it and the need for forgiveness become the dominant issue in our life with God, it reduces and impoverishes the wisdom and passion of the Bible and the Christian tradition.–Marcus Borg, “A Modest Proposal,” in Speaking Christian