I’d like to tell you the illustrative story of two people who are new to church and new to Christ, but their experiences at each of their churches is very different. Why? Because one goes to a church that offers a lot of programs and events and the other goes to a church that walks every believer down a clear discipleship pathway. A discipleship pathway (see below) is a series of next steps “intended to help people move from where they are to where God wants them to be.” (Tony Morgan)
Jill – Program Church
Jill’s friend Helen recently introduced her to Christianity and the Bible and she is excited to learn more. Helen brings Jill to her church, Program Church, one weekend and she walks away feeling welcomed by the people and intrigued by the sermon. She keeps coming back and is full of all sorts of questions. The third week she comes Helen introduces her to some of the ministry leaders and Pastor who to Jill’s surprise ask her if she’d like to start volunteering in one of their ministries. Jill is flattered and willing to jump in she signs up to help with the nursery, greet newcomers at the door, and within a month she’s even joined the church choir.
Over the next six months she gives her time and energy to her new church community. She thinks she believes in Jesus but she still has a lot of questions about God and the Bible. She’d like to sign up for a community group to ask questions but she just doesn’t have the time. She signs up for a discipleship class, but only attends the weeks she’s serving, which pretty soon are the only weeks she is attending. She feels overwhelmed and she knows the solution is to cut down on her busyness. So she comes to church even less and keeps calling out of her ministry commitments. Eventually Jill stops attending.
Greg – Pathway Church
Greg has a growing interest in Jesus and the Bible. His friend Larry has shared his faith in Jesus with him and praying for him when he went through a hard time. Larry recently asked Greg to attend a class at his church with him designed for people who don’t know much about the Bible or Christianity. Greg is intrigued and agrees to go with Larry. Greg and Larry attend all 8 sessions of the class together and Larry and Greg talk a lot about what he’s learning. Greg get’s that Christianity is about a relationship with God, which he can begin through repenting of his sins and putting his faith in Jesus. Greg isn’t ready to sign up just yet but begins going to the church that hosted the class, which is also Larry’s church, Pathway Church.
At Pathway Church Greg feels welcomed by the people and enjoys learning more about the Bible from the sermon. Over the next couple weeks he begins to hear that the church has what it calls a “Discipleship Pathway,” which is a series of steps the church people all seem to be walking through. He’s happy that he’s already completed the first one, attend Christianity Explored and is onto step 2, attending the weekly worship service. He learns how important it is to be in worship every week and commits to coming regularly.
Greg has lots more questions about the Bible and Christianity so he signs up for a Discipleship Class where they’re reading and studying another book of the Bible together. He’s familiar with the concept from Christianity Explored and feels comfortable jumping right in. The class so excites him about studying the Bible that he begins to pray and read through the Bible a little bit every day on his own to prepare for each week’s study.
As he continues to come to Pathway Church the Pastor and worship team communicate the Biblical importance of baptism and church membership. He sees those are highlighted on the church’s discipleship pathway so he decides to check them out. He goes to the baptism class and is reminded of the call to give his life to Christ Jesus. After more searching and learning he commits his life to Jesus and is baptized. The church celebrates this wonderful moment.
When the Discipleship Class ends for Christmas break Greg decides to sign up for a Community Group in January. He finds warm fellowship and prayer in this new setting, and appreciates how people genuinely seem to care about getting to know him more. He begins to pray for those in his group each night before going to sleep. Because of this group he realizes that he really does want to be a member of this community, and so he takes the membership class and makes an even deeper commitment to walk with them and the Lord.
At the membership class he’s reminded that God has uniquely gifted and called him to love and serve in the church body. He asks some of his friends from the discipleship class and community group where they think he might fit and since he has some musical gifting he signs up for the worship team. With the weekly worship practice he feels his schedule getting a bit heavier but if he only volunteers in one ministry it gives him enough time to prioritize either a community group or a discipleship class too.
As Greg continues to grow in his faith at Pathway Church he keeps hearing about frontline ministry and how he is uniquely called by God to share Jesus with his friends, family, and coworkers. He begins to think and pray about who he can share Jesus with. The Holy Spirit puts his friend Jake on his mind. He shares with Jake how much he loves his new church and invites Jake to the next Christianity Explored class they have coming up. Jake says yes.
Both churches care deeply about reaching the unchurched and growing people in their faith, but Pathway Church has “thought through how they could best help people along in their journey following Christ and offered them a series of next steps.” Pathway Church has a shared purpose and mission and the whole church is unified around it instead of the program of the month. This allows them to emphasize evangelism and discipleship above the tyranny of the urgent. Although both stories are imagined and exaggerated they illustrate how a discipleship pathway can help a church do what it really wants to do, help people follow Jesus.
- Morgan, Tony. Programs, Paths and Healthy Church Growth. Staff Meetings Unstuck. Published June 19, 2016. https://tonymorganlive.com/2016/06/19/staff-meetings-unstuck-eliminating-program-clutter-discipleship-path/
- Morgan, Tony. Complexity: What Ministry Programs Do We Stop? Published July 18, 2016. https://tonymorganlive.com/2016/07/18/complexity-what-ministry-programs-stop/
Pastor Jonathan Romig wrote this illustration for Cornerstone Congregational Church’s January 2019 volunteer training. More info at CornerstoneWestford.com