4 Ways Clergy Can Partner with Laity to Create a Sustainable Discipleship Pathway
By T.J. Mount
Have you ever wondered how to implement a sustainable intentional discipleship pathway within your local church? The key is clergy and laity partnership and developing laity ownership of the pathway. Here are four ways clergy can partner with laity to work toward that goal.
1. Be intentional about including laity in the development process.
I failed the first time I tried to implement an intentional discipleship pathway in a small rural congregation. My attempt failed when I was appointed to another church. Why? I tried to do it all myself. I taught the congregation my discipleship framework. I invited them into my discipleship process. While God used it, it was not sustainable. The laity had no ownership or understanding of the pathway.
In my second appointment, another small rural congregation, I did things differently. I used my knowledge and experience of intentional discipleship pathways to engage the congregation. I asked what discipleship means to them and how they experience – God's Spirit at work in their lives. I shifted from, “This is how discipleship has to be done” to, “This is a framework for thinking about discipleship and helping the congregation build their intentional discipleship pathway using this as a guide.”
2. Be clear about your role in the process.
Paul writes in Ephesians 4:11-13, NRSV: “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”
As clergy, our primary role is "to equip the saints for the work of ministry." An important task is to equip them to make disciples of Jesus Christ. This is an important shift from doing to equipping. My responsibility is to equip those I serve, not to do everything for them. This leads me to the third point.
3. Let go.
One of the hardest things I had to learn is letting go of control. Whenever I go on a car trip, I want to drive. I don’t necessarily enjoy driving, but I want the feeling of being in control. The reality is that even while driving the car, I am only in control of the car I am driving and, even then, not really in control. My point is this: do not fool yourself into believing you are in control of those you serve.
For me, letting go of control required two things. The first was having a clear understanding of where my responsibility ends, and God's responsibility begins. The second was realizing that letting go of control is an opportunity to trust God more fully. I also experienced how holding on to control actually worked against my ability to equip others for ministry. Instead of empowering them, I created a co-dependency, where they needed me instead of God.
4. You don't have to know it all.
As a clergyperson, I used to feel ashamed to say that I had little direct experience of discipleship before I went to seminary. Even after I was appointed to my first church during my second semester in seminary, I had not actually experienced intentional discipleship. I had heard about intentional discipleship. Although it made sense to me that every church needs an intentional discipleship pathway, I had never seen or experienced one personally.
I had a lot to learn. I read books about discipleship and talked to others, both clergy and laity, about discipleship. I tried to learn what worked and what didn't and why. This required that I take an experimental approach to ministry. I told those I serve that I don't have all the answers but that if we place our trust in God and try new things with the goal of loving God and our neighbor while learning from our mistakes, we will progress as we move through the wilderness together.
I encourage you to form community with other clergy and laity who are implementing intentional discipleship pathways in their congregations so that you can support and learn from each other. You don't have to know it all. You simply have to be one step ahead of those you serve and be willing to learn and adjust along the way. As Jesus said, "Go and make disciples of Jesus Christ."
Pastor T.J. Mount is a United Methodist local licensed pastor serving the Baltimore-Washington Conference. He works with laity and clergy to establish intentional discipleship pathways in their context. He also provides coaching in discipleship and leadership. You can contact T.J. at [email protected].