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    The Upper New York Conference of The United Methodist Church

    news article

    Intentional Discipleship Development

    January 4, 2021 / By Ellen Mall-John, Albany District Lay Leader and District Associate

    Editor’s Note: In 2019, the Rev. Dr. Aaron Bowens, the UNY Director of Vital Congregations wrote an article on what it means to have an intentional discipleship system. Click here to read it. But, how do we create disciples in the midst of a pandemic? In the article below, Ellen Mall John, Albany District Associate offers excellent ways to develop disciples at this difficult time. Her advice can prove helpful now and even beyond the pandemic.

    With CoVid-19 continuing to limit our in-person gatherings, we must remember that perseverance is vital to spiritual growth. God wants the people of God to persevere through obstacles, difficulties, trials, and tribulation to experience victory in Christ. Let us not abandon this hope in such times as the present. Let us embrace this storm as an opportunity to become pioneers in this paradigm shift! A paradigm shift will move us from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset with willingness to be adaptable to experience change with perseverance in hope for transformed lives.  

    As disciples of Christ with an intentional attitude of compassion and love, it is incumbent upon us to understand the gap between where people are and where they hope to be in their worship with God. This unprecedented time has forced us to consider thinking outside the box and discover with a child - like faith and mindset of possibilities for “Church without Walls."Church without walls, endorsed with logic such as:

    • Multiplication Thinking
    • Permission Giving; 3. Disciple Multiplying
    • Gift Activating
    • Kingdom Building

    This logic carves, with clarity, a foundational structure for spiritual formation pathway for disciple making movement; aligned with the mission of a church. (Hero Maker, 2018).

    Church without walls opens an opportunity to entertain a hybrid model of worship for spiritual formation. Many churches are using Zoom, Google Meet, Facebook & etc. Be mindful to offer simple plans to engage people in adaptive change.

    Below are just a few general examples of how churches are modeling adaptive changes to their time of worship gatherings.

    1.  Weekly Worship / Biblical Engagement

    Through Weekly Worship and biblical study, the focus becomes God’s grace and love as we grow closer to God. We become aware of just how broken our lives can be when separated from God.

    Hybrid Format (in-person and virtual).

    • Supplemented with group discussion through: Hangouts, Slack, GroupMe, WeChat, WhatsApp, Microsoft Teams, Discussion Board
    • Allow for safe space for people to have discussions around life application of the engaged study.
    • Prayer Groups / Faith Circles: Prayers can lift others to God with thanksgiving. Prayers shared within faith circles help the church to grow spiritually and strengthen the church mission to the world. Without spiritual growth within the church, the church will eventually die, spiritually.
    • Weekly check-in with prayer partner(s) or faith circle groups builds strong relationships of caring for one another. A sustained routine schedule will allow for spiritual growth formation to continue.
    • Develop connectional ministries via Zoom or Google Meet platform by joining neighboring church ministries.
      1. Helps to build community relationships with each other
      2. Get to hear/experience different ministries of a different church
      3. Form meetings to encourage one another spiritually through prayer / biblical scripture
      4.  Invite a colleague, friend or family member as a guest speaker to a prayer group or faith circle to share testimonies
    1. Accountable relationship (mindfulness)

    In the letters of Apostle Paul, deep commitment to relationships is made prominent by him. His love for God and God’s people is reflected in his letters to churches. Even in his business, Paul made time for people to build long lasting relationships with them through his gratitude for their presence in his life.

    • Create an environment that allows for the Holy Spirit to flourish within the body of the church. Loving, Learning, and Leading framework engages the church body, first to grow in faithfulness and then fruitfulness for God.
    • Be mindful to build health and unity within the Body of Christ. A healthy church has strong relationships within the body which serve as a backbone for healthy spiritual and numerical growth of a church. Honest, safe, and lasting relationships produce trust and a collaborative environment for accountable continual improvement. Set up a Spiritual Mentoring – Apprenticeship – Residency platform to intentionally invite other people to stand on it for Kingdom Building (Hero Maker, 2018).
    • Card Ministry Team. Gratitude through simple card writing is a neglected virtue. People appreciate getting simple messages that they are thought of and being prayed for. Research indicates that “gratitude” is important to people and gratitude appears to be a highly valued trait (Gallup, 1998).
    1.  Missional Life

    We are foremost called to: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

    Our spiritual growth leverages us to become more selfless, having greater passion for sharing Christ’s love with others. A movement from an inward focus to an outward focus will take courage and urgency to cast a compelling vision to act on what Christ has called us to do. Equipping and empowering others to come follow Jesus requires us to apply these five practices: model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act, and encourage the heart (The Leadership Challenge, 1987).

    Celebrate all victories through the spirit of community!





     [SH1]Maybe we should do an editor’s note leading back to Aaron’s original article.

    With more than 134,000 members, the Upper New York Annual (Regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church comprises 865 local churches and 85 new faith communities in 12 districts, covering 48,000 square miles in 49 of the 62 counties in New York state. Our mission is to “live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be God’s love with our neighbors in all places."