Discipleship Lessons from a Global Perspective
By Junius B. Dotson
The Rev. Junius B. Dotson shares lessons from his recent travels to Bupyeong Methodist Church to lead the Vital Church Immersion conference.
A Global Perspective on Intentional Discipleship
I want to share some lessons on intentional discipleship from a global perspective.
Recently, I had the privilege of participating in the Vital Church Immersion Experience in South Korea with about a dozen clergy members and the Rev. Jongmin Martin Lee, director of Congregational Development and Redevelopment in the Northern Illinois Annual Conference.
Our host was Bupyeong Methodist Church in Incheon, South Korea, which is led by Pastor Eun Pa Hong.
We had the opportunity to visit some of the fastest growing churches in all of Christendom. It was a phenomenal experience, and I learned a lot – especially three takeaways that I believe can bless your ministry and help to advance the disciple-making movement in the body of Christ: the Power of Prayer, Intentional Discipleship and Relationships.
Power of Prayer
You cannot go to South Korea without experiencing the power of prayer because prayer is at the heart of the discipleship movement in South Korea.
If you study the history of spiritual movements, you discover that there has never been a spiritual awakening in any country, at any time, that has not begun with the people of God united in prayer.
I have never witnessed so many people committed to the spiritual discipline of prayer.
Every single day in South Korea, our group participated in prayer at 5 a.m. Can you imagine thousands of people gathered every day at 5 a.m., including Sundays, for fervent prayer? I have never witnessed so many people committed to the spiritual discipline of prayer.
These services were very simple. We began with an up-tempo song, followed by the preached word for about 15 minutes and another up-tempo song. Then there was a chant as people moved into active prayer, physically and verbally.
Although we did not have an interpreter for the prayers being cried out all over the sanctuary, I could feel the passion of the people and their desire to seek the face of God.
Pastor Hong teaches that prayer is the key to transforming leaders who cannot only lead the church but who can also transform the nation.
I believe this takeaway has tremendous implications for the church, particularly here in America.
In his book, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, author Jim Cymbala, pastor of The Brooklyn Tabernacle, tells a story about a pastor from New Zealand who visited his church and said these words: “You can tell how popular a church is by who comes on Sunday morning. You can tell how popular a pastor is by who comes on Sunday night. But you can tell how popular Jesus is by who comes to the prayer meeting.”
People came by thousands to the prayer meetings in South Korea every day.
The Scripture declares in Chronicles II 7:14, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
In South Korea, you are aware of the tensions that are going on in the country. I asked Pastor Hong and other leaders if they were worried about the things that are happening and the threats from North Korea. His response to me was, “We're really not worried about it because we pray every single day for peace, and we pray for the reunification of North and South Korea.”
When he said those words, it gave me a sense of peace, but it also reminded me of the power of prayer.
Here are two helpful questions concerning this takeaway. First, what is the role of corporate prayer in your ministry or church? And second, how is the discipline of prayer taught and practiced in your ministry setting? Much prayer, much power, little prayer, little power, no prayer, no power.
We were visiting churches in South Korea to learn what they are doing effectively to reach so many people for Christ. They all had one thing in common – an intentional process of discipleship. No church had the same process, but each church had an intentional process.
I was impressed by the fact that the lectures we heard from pastors and church leaders always began with these words, “Here is how we disciple people in this church.” There was such clarity about their process and the uniqueness of what each particular congregation does.
Let me tell you about Doonsan First Methodist Church in Seoul. This church began in 1993, and the majority of its 7,000 members are millennials, young adults and college age students. They have a 40-day discipleship training process.
Every person who connects with their church is required to go through this training process, meeting every single day for 40 days.
The pastor shared that every person who connects with their church is required to go through this training process, meeting every single day for 40 days. The church conducts this process three to four times a year, depending on the demand.
The pastor said the first two weeks are in a classroom setting where the people are learning some basic tenets of Christianity – repentance, grace and salvation. The next phase focuses on spiritual disciplines, such as reading the Scripture, prayer, fasting and giving.
When they first began the 40-day program, the pastor said it was done in a classroom setting. Then they noticed that people were getting the head stuff, but it was really not connecting to the heart. So, they made a change.
Now the spiritual practice section of the training is done in rooms with no chairs. The people sit on mats. The purpose is to connect form with function. They want people to pray while they are teaching about prayer. They want them to be in a prayer position while they are reading and studying the Scriptures.
When people graduate from this 40-day process, they then meet regularly in one of over 500 small groups that is offered by this church. One of the responsibilities of group leaders is to ensure that everyone in their groups has gone through the 40-day discipleship process. It is a very intentional way of reaching people.
The pastor told us that every event and activity at his church is planned to intentionally invite people into this 40-day process. The process of discipleship is always a foundation or a key invitation at whatever the church does
Here are questions for this takeaway: Does your church have an intentional plan of discipleship and is everything you do as a church connected to that system?
Relationships, relationships, relationships. I heard that word over and over during my time in South Korea.
In one of his lectures, Pastor Hong talked about the keys to effective leadership. One key was preaching, and he said, “Preach the Holy Spirit. Touch people's hearts, and then preach to move people into next steps.”
In fact, that was Pastor Hong’s literal instruction to me before I preached in one of the Sunday services. He was talking about next steps – not next steps as in something that is mechanically programmed, but next steps that invite people to keep growing in their faith.
He also said this: “Preaching should ignite a desire for people to want others to come to know Jesus.” That is relationships.
I talked to him extensively about this. My questions were: How do you reach people in a city where folk primarily live in high-rise buildings? How do you reach people in a country where so many people have no formal connection with any religious organization?
His response to me was telling. It's not easy, he said, but you have to keep working at it.
At his church, small group ministry is an important way they connect to new people. Every small group is focused on relationship, planting the seeds of the gospel.
Although small groups is the primary method of discipleship, Bupyeong Methodist Church is not a collection of small groups. Rather groups are the basic organizing principle of the church.
Whenever groups come together, they are in the word and are praying, and they are always thinking about how to connect with new people and invite them into an intentional process of discipleship as they develop a relationship.
The church is located in a neighborhood that can be somewhat socially and economically challenged. Pastor Hong said they are intentional about helping their neighbors with utilities and other bills. But he said, “Every contact we have with people is about building relationships. We invite them to church, prayer service, into small groups.”
My conversations with Pastor Hong again confirmed for me and my spirit that relationships are the key to discipleship.
The question for this final takeaway: What seeds are you planting in relationships this week that can give the gospel a chance to take root?
My experience in South Korea was enriching beyond words. It refueled my passion for prayer. It spurred on my energy for making disciples. It unleashed some new creativity in my mind as I think about new initiatives.