6 elements of a powerful discipleship framework (2)
Discipleship programs have been treated with a degree of scepticism in recent years. Partly because so many churches have exchanged an attempt at true discipleship for what is effectively a pathway of integration into their local church.
However, a well-designed program that targets growth blockages, or has clear and meaningful outcomes can be a game-changer for the spiritual health of Christians. Few would argue the impact that courses like Alpha have had globally.
Courses can be so catalytic because they provide an intensive experience over a short time. When people are stalled in their journey of faith, they can be stretched for a short time (30-60 days) beyond their normal capacity in a specific area, so that when this period ends they can retreat back into a less-intensive but nonetheless new norm for their life.
For programs to be as effective we need them to be, there are a few perquisites needed:
- They must target a specific and known need in the life of the disciple.
Alpha helps people overcome barriers to faith; re:FORM overcomes barriers of transformation; re:FOCUS overcomes the stalling and dissatisfaction people experience after years in the church world. And there are other great courses which target areas like relationships; finance; parenting etc.
- They must be highly accessible and easy to run.
People are generally highly mobile and very distracted. Many struggle to read books, and prefer any content to be delivered in small, focused doses that can be accessed anytime. They also need opportunity to privately process the implications, and also work it through with others. Much of the popularity of re:FORM & re:FOCUS can be attributed to the availability of audio formats and daily content options.
- They should utilise all four dynamics of transformation.
Content alone is not sufficient to change our life. We need to be stretched in our experience, have the support of others to keep us strong, and experience the transformative power of God personally.
The one downfall of highly impacting programs occurs if the church culture is lacking depth, and congruence with the participants experience. I have found that courses create an emotional and spiritual cliff from which people fall, if they cannot readily be embraced by those who understand and can encourage their journey. The messages they clung to in the course need to be heard from the pulpit, and the mouths of their mentors. Do all you can to not merely “bolt-on” a new program if it not able to be integrated into the fabric of your language and culture.
Not every setting is conducive to every element of the transformational journey – and yet each plays a powerful part. There are four environments we use intentionally that each meet vastly different needs:
- Large gathering (100-1000): Great for providing human connection, energetic corporate worship; and an environment of faith. Not an effective relational space.
- Medium space (30-100): Incredibly useful for combining training, hands-on prayer ministry; and practising of spiritual gifts. Best size for a weekend retreat.
- Small group (5-15): Great for relationship building and work-shopping of teaching.
- Intimate (2-4): Best for true accountability and discipleship/mentoring.
All four of these spaces can be put to focused use in the discipleship journey. But obviously, don’t try to accomplish all things in any one space.
Pneuma, the Greek word used for Spirit or breath, is last on the list. Not because of priority, but because I want it to be remembered most. As Francis Chan famously espoused, the Spirit is the Forgotten God.
For decades now, I have only ever grown in my conviction that the church at large has placed far too little emphasis on partnering with God in a powerful and transformative way. Indeed, I believe we have little grasp on what healing and growth the Lord is able to do in the depths of our being if we were to work with Him intentionally.
The incredible transformations we have seen year after year through re:FORM and re:FOCUS are entirely the result of God working deeply to restore love, passion, gifts and power to His people. By creating environments for Him to do what only He can, we see Him faithfully and powerfully move consistently.
The Spirit Himself is the One who transforms and sanctifies us (2 Thes. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2). There is simply no legitimate way to do discipleship without working with God in the process. I will dedicate separate posts to detail ways for you to do this.