Steps toward discipleship renewal
At every church in which I have served pastorally, I have been fortunate enough to see tangible discipleship growth and impacting renewal. Whilst the breadth of that has varied, the process looks much the same.
When it comes to experiencing credible spiritual renewal, size is not the issue. My own situations have varied from 120 to 3000 in attendance. Denominational labels were no constraint either, nor was location or demographic. That said, the underlying culture of the church plays a huge part in spiritual health and experience.
Here then are the primary way points on the church’s path to renewed spiritual vitality:
A leader who embodies the values
A common axiom states that “the speed of the leader determines the speed of the team“. New levels of faith and zeal are caught more than taught, even though good teaching is a prerequisite to sustained growth.
Usually, those who take a journey of renewal & depth are in close proximity with someone who is on that same journey and is possibly a step ahead. They need to see how it looks and be inspired by a present example. They need questions answered and to find strength from the demonstration of one they trust who is committed to the same path.
The initial champion doesn’t need to be particularly gifted in leadership. They just need to be a genuine and transparent example of someone who is committed to pursuing God, is constantly learning, and embraces others on the journey. If the journey is ultimately to be taken by the whole church – the senior leader must also be one who is prepared to promote and participate in the journey.
A small movement
In almost every local church there is number of people prepared to step into something new in their experience of discipleship. I normally start with a small group who delve weekly into a challenging curriculum, then go away for a weekend retreat. There we disengage from our normal routine, dig deeper into the material, and pray for each other.
When you do this, invariably God works in people’s lives, challenging and changing them. Pretty soon the word gets out that if you want to see God work in your life, join those who are on the journey. We then calendar a course/retreat sequence for at least twice a year, and let the word spread organically.
For this early season of the journey, it is all about grass-roots development of a group of people. Seldom have I needed to promote or coerce people to join us in whatever shape our adventure was morphing into. People who had a hunger would seek us out.
There is a real benefit to doing it this way rather than trying to coerce a whole church into attending a specific course or program. To build a sustainable movement, you need to build a core from those who want it. They come with expectancy, and readiness to commit deeply to whatever God is about. Later, these become your leaders who set an example and won’t be watered down by those who may attend out of curiosity or even a spouse’s coercion.
For some situations, this is how renewal continues – low and slow. It may stay in the peripherals of the church for some time. And that can be ok, so long as the broader church doesn’t see it as some form of elitist group, and there is a general sense of embracing in the fellowship.
A switch from evolution to revolution
Eventually, especially if the senior and most influential leaders are committed to renewal, there is a tipping point. When the most respected and trusted members of the body participate, give testimony of change, or endorse what is happening then a movement from impossibility to inevitability occurs.
Now the process can become a formalised part of the church calendar. Leadership pathways can take shape, and ministry structures established. Now it switches from being a program or segment of the church, to becoming the primary culture.
A consolidation of praxis.
This is all very exciting but must be managed well for the sake of those for whom this is all new and unsought after. It can feel as if the church has changed direction under them, leaving them devalued and isolated.
A church-split should never be the result of God doing a work in people’s lives. The Spirit doesn’t split churches, people do. Divisions are too easily formed, and judgments too commonly tolerated when issues remain unexplained or changes are poorly executed.
With any new or innovative shift in culture, there needs to be a season of consolidation and explanation. Questions need to be addressed, theology clarified, language kept non-polarising, and practices need to be made safe and encompassing.
Much talk and work must go in to embracing and valuing people at every stage of their personal journey. A mature fellowship can do this, and when a leader shows grace and sensitivity, then a healthy and vibrant church culture can be formed.
Comprehensive movement towards vitality and discipleship depth is more than possible in a local church. In fact, I believe it is necessary. It does cost however. Whenever the status-quo is threatened, even for the right reasons, tensions rise, and relationships are strained.
In my opinion, the price is far out-weighed by the fruit. We should never allow the spiritual temperature of the church to be set at the lowest factor of apathy. Only a vibrant and transformed people will transform our world.
The only question that matters is: are you wanting to be on the journey of spiritual renewal yourself?