Discipleship is a Process: A Testimony about Discipleship
By Sunny Ahn
Discipleship is not a destination or a state of being. It is a process. Disciple-making and growing at Kona United Methodist Church is an intentional process—welcoming, nurturing, and celebrating God's people in the faith of Jesus Christ. Discipleship is happening each time we, God’s people, say or do something in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I have witnessed various stages of disciple-making and growing at Kona United Methodist Church (KUMC). At KUMC, discipleship is not a destination or a state of being. It is an intentional process—welcoming, nurturing, and celebrating God's people in the faith of Jesus Christ. We, the people of KUMC, welcome, nurture, and celebrate ALL people in our "Glocal" community for making and growing disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world through worship, outreach, and living the gospel. We approach disciple-making and growing systematically. We see ourselves as a spiritual home—welcoming, nurturing, and celebrating who we are and whose we are. We have organized God's ministry under our leadership in three sections—welcoming ministry, nurturing ministry, and celebration ministry.
The welcoming ministry is a mission/outreach ministry focusing on love for oneself (John 3:16). This ministry focuses on helping people feel loved by God through us. It's like welcoming guests in the foyer area of a home. We believe that people don't care what good message of God we have unless they know that we love them. So, we take God's message to our "Glocal" community by partnering with other individuals or organizations. We have two types of partnerships with the individuals or organizations in the community. The first type of partnership is a coordinative partnership for individuals and organizations not driven by faith. In this partnership, we do not verbalize God's love but show God's love in action. The second type of partnership is collaborative with faith-based individuals and organizations. In this collaborative partnership, we speak of and do God's love.
We partner with the General Board of Global Ministries for the missions in Cambodia and Ukraine. We pray that the people of Cambodia and Ukraine will feel the love of God through our support. We partner with Habitat for Humanity to build houses for those who need housing. We work with the Hospice of Kona to support people grieving the loss of their loved ones. Once a month, we help Hope Services of Hawaii feed people who are experiencing homelessness. We partner with the Salvation Army to distribute food, and we partner with a local fire department to provide toys to families with young children. We work with a local ministry association to respond to the local community's needs. We cooperate with the Kona HULA team to take God's loving message through HULA. Yes, we, the people of KUMC, begin our disciple-making ministry by making people feel loved by God with our words and actions.
The second step of disciple-making at KUMC is nurturing ministry, focusing on love for neighbors (John 13:34-35). In this ministry, we shift our disciple-making focus to God's love for others. The target audience of our nurturing ministry is people who have already experienced our welcoming ministry and have felt God's love for them through us. This ministry is similar to nurturing houseguests in the living room. It is the disciple-making stage of satisfying people’s physical and spiritual hunger. To meet the physical needs of others, we have a caring ministry led by trained church members who facilitate holy conferencing with others while responding to needs for food, rides, grocery delivery, and so on. The caring ministry team members call members and friends of the church once a week and have holy conferencing while checking on people and responding to their needs.
To respond to spiritual hunger, we have a morning devotion group that meets at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They read the Bible from cover to cover while sharing life. Short-term study groups meet on Mondays, Tuesdays, or other days when people can meet to study. Each group has a leader to lead the study and fellowship. On Thursday, the men's group gets together for breakfast and faith-sharing. These men put their faith into action by beautifying the church after their breakfast meetings. Three women's groups—English, Samoan, and Tongan—nurture the women of the church. The groups sometimes gather together.
The last stage of disciple-making at KUMC is celebration ministry that focuses on love for God (Deuteronomy 6:5). We think of this celebration ministry as being like the kitchen of a home, where people break bread together while sharing life. We put the body of Christ at the center of this celebration ministry, reminding us how much God loves us. Our response to this amazing love of God is to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength. In this ministry, we affirm the call of discipleship, celebrate God's love among us, and express our love for God. The celebration ministry is worship ministry. The core of worship is our encounter with the living God through the risen Christ in us and through us with the power of the Holy Spirit. It starts at the greeting table when we enter the worship place and ends at the fellowship table when we break bread (donuts) together and have a cup of coffee or juice. It is an organic movement of celebration in which we seek to articulate, proclaim, and embody the hope of shalom, the promise of healing and restoration, and the transforming reality of God's saving justice and love. We consider the climax of discipleship to be the worship of our loving God. Discipleship is happening each time we, God’s people, say or do something in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Rev. Dr. Sunny Ahn, Ph.D., is the senior pastor at Kona United Methodist Church in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. She is a follower of Jesus Christ who unshakably believes that God is Love (1 John 4:8); and she takes the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) seriously based on the Great Commandment (Mark 12:30-31).