Saturday, September 15, 2012

Doing discipleship in the small church

In recent blogs I've pointed out that discipleship is more than learning facts.  Over the years many of our churches have determined that education=discipleship, and that simply isn't the case.  If it was we would not have many of the problems in our churches that we have.  Many of our churches offer Sunday school classes for all age groups, a morning worship service, a Sunday evening worship service/Bible study, and a mid-week Bible study.  In addition there are often a morning Bible study group for women and perhaps a Saturday morning group for men.  Other churches also offer small groups that meet for fellowship and more Bible study.  John Maxwell once said in a conference I attended, "The average Christian is educated far beyond his or her level of obedience."  I have to agree.

Education is only one component of discipleship with the other component being the opportunity to put into practice what one is learning.  In other words, discipleship comes by doing the Word as well as learning the Word.  Still another way to put it is that discipleship is as much caught as it is taught.  If we want to develop disciples we have to provide them with opportunities to use their gifts and their knowledge in serving other people.

This is not a problem in larger churches that may have numerous ministry opportunities each week in which people can participate, but it can be a problem for smaller churches that have fewer such opportunities.  In these smaller churches, what can be done to help our members grow as disciples?
  1. We can challenge people to identify ministries for which they have some gifts and passion to do and work with them to begin such ministries.  For example, your church may not have a ministry to a local nursing home, but if two or three people identified that as a ministry they would like to do encourage them to develop that ministry and do it.  Your church can come alongside with resources and support.
  2. Work with other churches in your association/district to do ministry together.  One of my associations is made up entirely of smaller, bivocational churches.  A number of these churches work together in a variety of ministries both in their local community as well as in another state.  Men, women, and young people from these different churches work side-by-side, and not only do they accomplish good ministry they are also growing as disciples.
  3. Work with churches of other denominations in your community.  When I was pastoring my church we had a few people involved with the local Habitat for Humanity.  Every Saturday they were building homes for people alongside others from various denominational backgrounds.  Doctrine and polity took a backseat to ministry, and many families in our small community have benefited from this ministry.
  4. Talk to your judicatory or denominational leaders about possible mission opportunities.  Every year at least one or two of our larger churches in our Region plan mission trips outside the country, and most of the time they have available seats for persons from other churches.  Several years ago I went with such a group to Haiti, and that week not only changed my life but had a very positive impact on our church as well.
  5. Find small projects your church can do on its own.  I remember once when a widow in our church needed a new roof.  She could afford the materials but not the labor.  We had a couple of men who had worked construction and knew how to install a roof, so a group of us spent two Saturdays removing her old roof and installing the new one.  It was a growing opportunity for us and a blessing to her.  Your church can find projects that your resources can handle as well.
Don't let the size of your church or limited resources be an excuse to not do discipleship well in your church.  As you teach your people the truth of God's Word you must also challenge them to put that Word into practice if they want to grow as disciples.  There are many ways even a smaller church can make such opportunities available.

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