How does someone in your church go from being new to being an authentic follower of Jesus Christ? Many churches provide really fuzzy answers to this question. We often hear people say, “That is what Sunday school is for, right?” We have come to believe that if we come to worship, attend Sunday school, serve on a couple of committees, and participate in Vacation Bible School, somehow we become disciples. We have come to believe this happens by osmosis — if you come to the church and hang around a bit, you will develop into an authentic follower of Jesus Christ.
We have people who have been with us for a very long time, but their faith isn’t necessarily any deeper than when they were confirmed.
Many churches we encounter have at best an unintentional faith development process that leads people to church membership rather than discipleship. This unintentional approach produces people who worked really hard operating the church. It added a lot of busyness to a lot of already busy lives. And we have mistaken busyness as discipleship.
Because many have not thought this through, there may not be a set of character traits, beliefs, daily rituals, behaviors, or expectations outlined or taught in many of our local churches. In fact, we may not even be sure that we should be describing an outcome. Consequently, we have a shortage of discipleship. We have people who have been with us for a very long time, but their faith isn’t necessarily any deeper than when they were confirmed. They are good, moral, nice people, but not necessarily disciples of Jesus Christ.
What Does an Authentic Follower of Jesus Look Like?
The very first myth we must debunk is that an intentional faith development process is creating a required curriculum. The journey of faith development is not curriculum identification. Rather it is how to grow more Christlike. What are the traits, beliefs, and experiences that the church desires people to have in order to grow in their faith and live it out daily? What would you want people to know and experience so that their daily lives are changed to walk closer to Christ?
Your pastor and leaders must work through for themselves what they think an authentic follower of Jesus Christ would look like. It may not be perfect, and it may change over time. But if you haven’t designed a target to hit, you won’t hit anything. Bishop Robert Schnase’s book Five Practices of Fruitful Living is an attempt to help us set a target by giving some markers for an authentic follower of Jesus Christ.
A Way of Life
We will never fully finish our spiritual work, thus the spiritual growth pathway will have no ending point either. We sometimes must rediscover a spiritual discipline, go deeper, or see in a new context where we are in our own spiritual journey. This isn’t a checklist but a pathway for spiritual growth and maturity. It is a map or guide that allows us to grow deeper in our faith. The Christian life is a way of life. It is not an exact science, but it is a life of practices. Therefore, you need to know the practices in order to live that way of life.
Creating a Pathway
There is no one, perfect, clear-cut discipleship path. We recommend that congregations assemble a discipleship or faith development team to create a pathway or process. One church developed a process known as The Quest, which provides for four different ways that adults can connect to small groups, Sunday school, service projects, and so on. Those four ways are Explore, Connect, Grow, and Unleash. All of their existing small-group ministries were redefined according to these components, and every new small group, whether through Christian education or service, is created with this intentional faith development classification in mind. It is best to roll out new opportunities to engage in intentional faith development at least twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. Some may be resistant to doing things differently, but new people will come in under this process, and that is most important.
This article is condensed from Bob and Kay’s book Ten Prescriptions for a Healthy Church (Abingdon Press, 2015), a self-guided church transformation process with a workbook to be used with a coach. It can be purchased through Amazon or Cokesbury
- Five Practices of Fruitful Living a Conversation with Robert Schnase
- Four Doors that Lead to Faith Development by Cary S. Miller
- Tips for Strengthening Adult Education by Ann A. Michel
- A Keystone Habit for Our Time by Jim Pledger