Urban Village: Inbound and Outbound Discipleship

by New Church Starts

by Emily Jones Student Pastor for Discipleship at Urban Village Church

For those not from Chicagoland, the above is our mash-up of the city's famous CTA maps, redrawn as a way to conceptualize the Discipleship journey, designed by the wonderful Anne Williamson, the previous Pastor of Discipleship at Urban Village.

More than just a cute logo, the graphic above offers a guide for Christian living in a simple, local and accessible form.  While the visual may be new, the practices have roots that go quite deep.  The inbound journey focuses on Love of God, with “stops” (discipleship practices) along the way including Bible Study, Spiritual Practices, Worship, Healthy Living, and Community.  The outbound journey, in turn, focuses on Love of Neighbor, with stops at Service, Seeking Justice, Stewardship, Invitation and Vocation.  At Urban Village, we believe that all of us need to engage in both “inbound” and “outbound” practices to keep balance in our lives.  Moreover, a mature Christian faith, while it may have favorite stops, will at some point at least “get out and look around” at all inbound and outbound stops, including both those that are our natural go-to's, and those that are a bit more of a personal stretch.  The Discipleship map serves not only as a teaching tool for those new to Christianity but also as a helpful nudge for those of us who might be a little bit stuck in a rut. I may love my job and abhor the gym, but that doesn't make it a good idea for “vocation” to lead me into a lifetime free-pass on “healthy living.”  Discipleship invites both depth and breadth. 

Last week, we launched sign-ups for a new round of Spring|Summer Discipleship small groups.  Some will focus on just one “stop,” and others will delve into the whole journey.  There are groups that will focus on what we eat and on how we pray, on the call to justice and the need for service, among other areas.  Groups will be happening six days of the week; most will meet weeknight evenings, but a few will meet on an alternative schedule; and, for the first time, two will meet online. 

There is a lot going on, and, admittedly, it can get pretty chaotic – even messy.  But, the holy mess here at Urban Village is our way of recognizing that the life of faith is not a Sunday-only endeavor and there really is no separable “spiritual part” of a whole self.  The call of Jesus on our lives just won't stay boxed into one day of the week, one spot in the city or one corner of our lives. 


All that having been said, we haven't quite gone on to perfection with this Discipleship model, either.  Like lots of church plants, we sometimes trip over our own language, forgetting that our definitions are by no means universally shared.  An example: last month, I was talking with the leader of one of this season's small groups, Exploring Spiritual Gifts.  His is a “vocation” group, according to our  Discipleship model: the curriculum is focused primarily on helping people to discern and discover their own spiritual gifts and think about ways that knowledge might influence their work in the world, at all levels.  Makes sense to me. Yet, as we were walking down the sunny Andersonville street, the leader shared that he had recently had several conversations where folks had initially objected to being involved in a small group on vocation: “But I don't want to be a nun!” “But I'm not going to be ordained!” He clarified what we meant by vocation, but he also pushed me a bit: “vocation,” while clear language to me, was apparently not-so-clear language to many others.  If we are going to truly meet folks where they are, we must continually work on developing language that is more and more accessible and understandable, but do so without compromising depth and nuance.  It is a tricky balance. 

The temptation to “insider language” is strong, but it has costs.  While the Discipleship Map is a giant step in the right direction, we still have a ways to go, as a local church and as a denomination, searching out ways to speak about faith in a language that can be heard.  Even “Discipleship,” itself, may not always be clear, based on our experience with website “click rates,” where the Discipleship tab falls below the theologically-bland but easily-understood “Events” tab. (Approximately, 1.6% of visitors to the homepage clicked on Discipleship vs. about 5.5% on Events). 

The challenge remains: how do we speak clearly, preserving the textured and useful language of our theological heritage, while presenting ideas in culturally relevant ways easily understood by folks with no (or little) church background? 

Check our our small groups and retreats here and, if you're in the Chicago-area, consider joining us for a Discipleship season – you would be more than welcome in this place!