What do you call it in your church?
Christian education, Christian formation, faith formation, spiritual formation?
These titles reflect our evolving understanding of disciple development in faith communities.
At this point in time, I typically use the phrase, “disciple development,” to describe the formational aspect of church.
It seems that our goal is to develop ourselves as people who follow Jesus Christ. People whose lives are shaped by and organized around this beautiful way of living demonstrated and taught by Jesus.
Our goal is to develop ourselves and one another as disciples – an active, ongoing process. So how is that working for us?
There’s an obvious difference between saying we develop disciples and knowing we are developing disciples.
Those familiar with the rather striking self-study by Willow Creek Church of its effectiveness will recognize that disciple development is more easily talked about than actually achieved.
Given this, the following is an assessment statement we might use with our congregations to gain perspective on our progress: As a result of participation with this church, I am more a disciple of Jesus Christ now than I was one year ago, yes or no?
When we are able to affirm that we have progressed in the last year as disciples, then this means we are effectively or successfully being church to one another.
When we are the same or less of a disciple of Jesus now than last year at this time, then we are failing one another as a church.
Two primary insights flow from this assessment statement:
First, we are all familiar with the idea that it takes a village to raise a child.
Some life endeavors are complex and multi-layered, requiring many hands on the plow. Developing disciples too is similar: “It takes a faith community to develop disciples.”
One very practical purpose of the church is to actively contribute to our formation as Jesus-followers. We are called to responsible, intentional, disciple development relationships in this body of Christ.
Second, developing disciples is a primary calling of God’s church.
Who else in this world is focused on this particular task? In this way, the church is unique.
We, as God’s church, are given the task of developing human beings into disciples of Jesus Christ, in collaboration with the Holy Spirit.
How much is our church aware of and focused on this unique and clear calling?
As we approach this New Year 2017, perhaps we should make it a goal for the year to collectively become greater disciples of Jesus Christ in 2017.
I wonder what would rise up in a church who decided to collectively, intentionally pursue this calling for one year?
I’m not sure, but I would be delighted to find out.
Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates. A version of this article first appeared on Pinnacle’s blog and is used with permission. His writings can also be found on his personal blog.