Lewis Center Director Doug Powe says it’s common for many individuals within a congregation to be responsible for discipleship. But often, no one person is accountable for it. He suggests having a discipleship coordinator who can help define clearly the meaning of discipleship and integrate it into all areas of church life.
Who is accountable for discipleship in your congregation? Is it the pastor? The Christian education leader? Some other person? In many congregations, all these individuals share some of the responsibility along with others. But often with so many people sharing responsibility, no one is really accountable for discipleship. Let me be clear. I’m not suggesting discipleship is or should be one person’s job. But having a coordinator of discipleship efforts is important to create accountability, just as there is usually one identifiable person in a congregation — a treasurer or financial secretary — who is accountable for finances.
Another challenge is that despite pretty standard language of discipleship across Christianity, we struggle with the concrete meaning of discipleship within our congregations. Discipleship ends up being equated with attending a study or doing a particular ministry. These things may be important and even necessary, but they only capture a part of discipleship. To exacerbate the challenge, different ministry areas are probably led by different people who may define discipleship in different ways.
Here are four ideas to start addressing this challenge.
1. Designate a discipleship coordinator
It can be extremely helpful to designate a person who coordinates the discipleship efforts of the congregation. This person can be a resource for discipleship related questions. A discipleship coordinator can create accountability by holding others responsible and making sure the discipleship process is being followed. It is important for the discipleship coordinator to be involved in developing and maintaining the discipleship process.
2. Define discipleship clearly
One of the first steps for a discipleship coordinator is to help the congregation define discipleship. The goal is for all the studies, ministries, stewardship, etc., to line up with how the congregation understands discipleship. For example, if discipleship is, “Helping individuals to live out the teachings and example of Jesus,” congregational studies should help me do this in some way. The ministries of the church should help me to do this in some way. The way we think about stewardship should help me to do this in some way. The goal is to help individuals start integrating all aspects of church life into what it means to be a disciple.
3. Include young people
It is important not to forget children and youth when we think about discipleship. At times we do not set expectations for our children and youth because we figure they will get it later. The reality of fewer young people in their 20s and 30s claiming a religious affiliation means we cannot ignore children and youth when developing discipleship processes. It is important to get the youth involved in the process and not just dictate something to them. The youth will have ideas of how to best integrate what the church is trying to do. We need to take these ideas seriously. The earlier we can help form individuals who understand the importance of discipleship the more likely it is to stick.
4. Stress that discipleship is an ongoing process
We must also avoid the trap of developing a discipleship program and thinking we are done. Discipleship is an ongoing process. Jesus was constantly having to work with the disciples in creative ways to help them see the world differently. We will need to do the same in our congregations to help individuals truly live different lives. Having someone who keeps an eye on discipleship helps to facilitate the necessary accountability for the whole system. The goal is not to dictate what needs to be done or changed. The goal is to engage in helpful dialogue about how we are living into the vision we set.
It is important to have someone responsible for discipleship and not leave it to chance. Leaving it to chance typically means no one is keeping an eye on it. Having a coordinator who can help the congregation clearly define what discipleship means to them and then include everyone — even the children and youth — in discipleship efforts can make a difference for your church.
- Developing an Intentional Discipleship System by Junius B. Dotson
- 7 Steps for Making Disciples Through Relational Mentoring by Ken Carter and Audrey Warren
- What is Your Faith Development Process? by Bob Farr and Kay Kotan