“Discipleship Is Generational”


Dr. John H. Aukerman is one of that rare breed of seminary professors who’s an active practitioner of what he teaches. Professor of Christian education at Anderson University School of Theology, Dr. Aukerman also leads the Logos intergenerational ministry at his local congregation, Maple Grove Church of God. So his discipleship blog deserves careful attention.

21st Century Discipling” shares advice one might not expect from an academic. Recent posts included:

  • Stop Buying Curriculum
  • Stop Segregating Your Youth
  • Stop Inviting People to Church

Dr. Aukerman’s opinions are worthy of your consideration because they come from the perspective of a small-group leader, teacher, and former pastor–as well as an academic specialist in this field. In a recent post on “A New Definition of Disciple,” he writes:

My reading, my thinking, and my experience lead me to the conclusion that true discipleship is generational. A disciple is someone who disciples someone who disciples someone.

In other words, a true disciple generates more disciples. A Christ follower teaches others to follow Christ. And a disciple who fails to disciple anyone else is…not really a disciple!

This makes intergenerational ministry vital to the work of the church. As Christian educators have said for decades, “Faith is not only taught, it’s caught!” Regular, intentional conversations between older and younger Christians make that a natural outcome. Dr. Aukerman and other practitioners have learned it firsthand.

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Measuring Spiritual Growth

Transformational Groups: Creating a New Scorecard for Groups, by Ed Stetzer and Eric Geiger (Nashville: BH Publishing Group, 2014), pbk. 210 pp., $14.99.

How do we gauge the spiritual growth of a group? We could record attendance at meetings or grade the answers to workbook exercises (public schoolteachers do that every day), but we can’t measure the spiritual growth of a Christian group that way. Why not? Because spiritual growth changes a group’s behavior, just as it changes an individual’s behavior. We know growth is happening in a small group when we see more Christ-like attitudes, priorities, commitments, and relationships there. But try giving any group a grade or score on those things!

This is exactly what LifeWay Research is up to. The research service is an extension of LifeWay Publishing, the Southern Baptist publishing house, and it’s headed by Ed Stetzer, the volunteer pastor of a church in Nashville. LifeWay Research has conducted three major studies in the past decade to understand how Christians are discipled. They have now developed an online questionnaire that assesses the spiritual growth of an individual or group.

“Most scorecards start with purely numerical statistics, often in two categories: butts and baptisms,” Ed Stetzer writes (p. 151). “How many people are attending each week, making a decision for Christ, and choosing to be baptized?…

“These things matter, but they’re not the only things that matter. Once people make a decision for Christ, are they living changed lives and sharing Christ with their friends and neighbors?”

Transformational Groups concludes that Christian discipleship happens most reliably in small, intentional groups. Not too surprising. But it also finds that few pastors nurture or promote small-group ministries in their congregations because it would require a major shift in they way they “do church.”

“Our churches must shift from mere classroom to community, a community that learns and processes God’s Word together and encourages one another to live what they have learned,” Stetzer observes (p. 81). “Learning is not only knowledge gained; it is truth lived out in the context of and under the watch care of a community of Christ followers.”

Transformational Groups explains how the LifeWay researchers went about “creating a new scorecard for groups,” but it does not contain the scorecard itself. That’s at their website (http://tda.lifeway.com) and they charge a small fee to take it. The tool takes about 15 minutes to complete and it scores a group or individual on eight metrics of Christian discipleship. It produces a report with a good deal of practical detail: It reveals where you are spiritually weak, where you are strong, and how you can address your weaknesses in biblically sound ways. Both the book and the scorecard are Highly recommended.

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Helping Children Deal with Violence

The racist shooting of 9 worshipers at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, leaves many church leaders wondering how to help their people cope with living in such a violent society. It’s a special concern for those who lead intergenerational ministries. Presbyterian minister Celeste Lasich is among hundreds of pastors who follow the Narrative Lectionary (NL), a Bible-story-based ministry for intergenerational groups. She writes on the Narrative Lectionary blog:

What are NL folks who do a separate time with children planning for tomorrow? My sermon will center on Emanuel Church and seeking safety and peace in God rather than in hate. At a loss right now about kids, beside talking about grieving together when horrible scary things happen. Others?

During the summer, the Narrative Lectionary turns to selected passages from the Psalms and the Epistles. The one for June 21 (immediately following the shooting) is Psalm 27:1-6:

1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers assail me
    to devour my flesh—
my adversaries and foes—
    they shall stumble and fall.

Though an army encamp against me,
    my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
    yet I will be confident.

One thing I asked of the Lord,
    that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
    and to inquire in his temple.

For he will hide me in his shelter
    in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
    he will set me high on a rock.

Now my head is lifted up
    above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
    sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

Blog responses to Celeste’s question show how creative, Spirit-led teachers can apply scripture to turn even a tragic moment like this into a faith-building experience for children. Here are a few:

I am talking about different kinds of shelter with pictures…including the Temple in Jerusalem and our churches…

This week, I’m bringing in blueprints to talk about shelter and how God protects us. (In light of the tragedy, it will take some finesse.)

It occurs to me that the best child-friendly thing we could do might be to offer a few pieces of advice to parents for talking through this (talking points, a prayer, and scripture passage).

We may think children are unaware of such terrifying events, but in the Information Age they see and hear what’s happening in our world. Our task is to help them deal with it in biblically sound, family-centered ways.

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A Place to Talk about God in a Grown-Up Way

By Joe Allison

Last week, the Pew Research Center released the results of a poll of 35,000 people throughout the United States concerning their religious affiliation. They found that the number of people who describe themselves as “Christian” declined by 8 percent since 2007, while those who see themselves as “atheist” or devotees of “nothing in particular” rose by more than 7 percent.

Christian leaders have been wrestling with these numbers, trying to find some good news among the bad. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention thinks the study does not signal a real decline in Christianity but rather greater freedom among atheists and “nones” to admit where they really stand. “We don’t have more atheists in America,” he blogged. “We have more honest atheists in America.”

That sounds plausible, and we’re all in favor of greater honesty when it comes to people’s faith convictions; but other commentators believe the study reflects an important shift in the public’s perception of the church.

Gary Hall, dean of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., believes the study reveals “the church’s declining credibility as a place for people to pursue their spiritual questions.” In an interview with National Public Radio, he says:

One of the things that the survey says pretty strongly is that the people who are religious continue to have very strong desires to pray, to do important social justice work and community work with people, but they don’t see the church as the place to do that.

Hall’s entire interview is worth a listen. He says the American church needs to make significant change to fulfill its mission as Christ’s Body in this world. We need to encourage candid discussion of faith, build communities of mutual support, and engage people in meaningful community service.

I think one of the things the Pew study suggests to us is that if the church can get over its anxiety about talking about God in a grown-up way, we would actually reach out to and speak to more people than we do right now.

A discipling congregation encourages people “to pursue their spiritual questions” and “talk about God in a grown-up way” because honest talk can lead to genuine change.

A former missionary to Papua New Guinea has this motto hanging on the wall of his office:

Jisas he tok tru.

Indeed He does. So must we. Otherwise people will seek the truth elsewhere.

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A Season of Preparation

Easter consummates a season of spiritual preparation.

Lent has given us six weeks for self-examination, confession, and renewed devotion before we meet our resurrected Lord. It has invited us to break up the fallow ground of religious routine, and interrupted our rituals of worship so we could see the One we worship.

Now we hear the searching question that Christ asked Peter: “Do you love Me?” And, as with Peter, the Lord will not be satisfied with a casual word of assent. In the shadow of the Cross, we dare not be perfunctory in what we say or do. In the radiant light of Easter morning, we do not live as if this were just another day. We shout:

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Yet words cannot express our joy at His appearing; only consecrated lives can. So that’s what we’ve been preparing since Ash Wednesday. —  J.D.A.

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The Gospel of Dirty Diapers

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.

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Intergenerational Ministry in Fortville, IN

A Glimpse of Interwoven on Vimeo-1New 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.)

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