What Discipling Communities Can Do...
By Taylor Burton-Edwards
This post is a companion to the previous one -- The 4 Core Competencies of Christian Congregations (Plus 1 More for Methodist/Missional Congregations). It is meant to be read and used as a tool for assessment and planning alongside it. The connecting links between the two are Competency 5 for Methodist/Missional Congregations and Competency 4 here-- as one of the "nodes" discipling communities seek to connect persons with is a local congregation.
Why separate "competency charts" for congregations and Discipling Communities? Because these two different kinds of Christian community are exactly that-- two different kinds of Christian community designed to accomplish different things. And we need them both-- and more besides-- to experience and express the fulness of what it means to "be for the world the body of Christ redeemed by his blood." Congregations provide a platform for discipleship. Discipling communities, such as the Methodist Societies with their class meetings, bands, society meetings and other forms of community action and connection, give people the hands-on experience with discipleship to Jesus that truly helps them grow in holiness of heart and life.
This chart is not a "neat" as the previous one, I admit. I was able to develop color coding and even acronyms for the 4+1 competencies of congregations. So far, at least, I've not been able to come up with pnemonics that work quite that way for Discipling Communities.
But that may not be such a bad thing. What I do have is at least some attempt to clarify what each of the competencies is, and what it means (as well as has meant historically, with early Methodists as a primary guide). My sense is we may have become so unfamiliar with or in some cases suspicious of Discipling Communities as separate from congregations that perhaps the best first work we can do is be clear about what these are, and aren't.
I present neither of these outlines as a final product, but rather as a work in progress to help Methodist and other self-identifying Missional congregations and existing or newly created Discipling communities find each other, claim their own strengths and capacities, and help each other perform them accountably with each other.
Church in the Methodist/Missional way is ultimately network, not hub and spokes. Congregations and Discipling Communities make up the two perhaps most significant hubs of this network, with a whole variety of other kinds of Christian ministry and missional communities also in the wider network.
So... try this set of descriptions on. See how they fit. And where they don't.
And by all means share your suggestions for ways to make these tools more accurate and useful as you seek to embody the fullness of "church as network" where you are.
The 4 Core Competencies of Discipling Communities
1. Discipling All Serious Inquirers in the Way of Jesus
Discipling: The relationships in Discipling Communities involve intimate and "in your business" mutual challenge and support as persons with differing levels of experience listen to one another about what they are doing and learning as they seek to follow Jesus in every area of their lives.
All Serious Inquirers: All are welcome to begin and continue the journey, provided that it is clear they are part of the Discipling Community in order to grow in faithful discipleship to Jesus, or as Wesley put it, to "attain unto that holiness without which no one shall see the Lord"
In the Way of Jesus: The baptismal covenant provides the principles for Christian discipleship and commonlife. Other documents, such as the General Rules, provide practices that help members of Discipling Communities incarnate it.
2. Teaching the Way of Salvation in Word and Deed
Teaching: Discipling Communities have an active teaching ministry.
The Way of Salvation: While congregations teach basic Christian doctrine (the Trinity, the role of Scripture, basic teachings of Jesus, and the like), Discipling Communities place the doctrine of salvation in all its fullness as the focus of everything they teach. For Methodists, this includes specific teaching on prevenient, justifying and sanctifying grace.
In Word: Discipling Communities regularly confess the doctrine of salvation in worship together, help their participants articulate this for themselves, friends and strangers in their own words, and actively evangelize both as groups and as individuals.
And Deed: What Discipling Communities confess with their lips they teach and actively help their members to credible with their lives.
3. Engaging the Mission of God Accountably
Engaging: The purpose and work of Discipling Communities is "to spur one another on to love and good works.
The Mission of God: The mission is God's. Discipling Communities constantly send inquirers and members into God's mission already in progress, sometimes to plant, sometimes, to harvest, sometimes to distribute, and sometimes to wait.
Accountably: Discipling Communities provide regular-- at least weekly-- means for persons to report what they learned as they engaged or failed to engage God's mission and to support, challenge, and encourage each other to become more faithful in their work in God's fields.
4. Connecting People and Social Networks for Mission and Ministry
Connecting People: Discipling Communities, like leaders in Methodist/Missional congregations (see Congregational Competency 5) are constantly "on the lookout" to identify people who are ready for next steps in discipleship and to connect them with appropriate face to face communities of people seeking the same ends-- discipleship to Jesus, holiness of heart and life, and perfection in love in this life.
And Social Networks: Discipling Communities make, sustain and extend the social networks of each participant in each place, helping them cross social boundaires and find ways to connect with people in all social boundaries present.
For Mission and Ministry: Discipling Communities seek to ensure that witness to the good news of God's kingdom is happening and the gospel is being incarnated in action in every social location in their local geographical area and beyond.