In the Upper New York Conference, intentional discipleship systems have been identified as one of the components for Vital Congregations. To that end, multiple approaches are being used to come alongside congregations to help develop discipleship systems. A concerted effort has been underway to communicate the value of an intentional discipleship system, and the importance of a system for the mission and ministry of the local congregation. This has been done in presentations from Episcopal leadership, District Superintendents, and multiple staff members. Additionally, publications have included stories and information about intentional discipleship systems.
As the value and importance is communicated, programmatic opportunities have been employed at the conference level. The goal of the programs has not been to give a congregation a system to follow, rather it has been to teach the components of an effective discipleship system. Also, care has been given to remain consistent with Wesleyan theology and tradition. Workshops have been given on a district level as well as through conference-wide trainings. During the course of the revitalization process called Hand to Plow, congregations are given an opportunity to take a deeper look at what it will take to develop a discipleship system, as well as how to go about creating a system for their congregation.
Congregations are invited to become familiar with discipleship systems by reading various books where systems are outlined. Part of the learning is discovering key components to be included in an effective system. The components are tied to the place people might be in their development as followers of Jesus Christ. Congregations need to have growth opportunities for those who are exploring Christ, whether they know it or not. Second, congregations need growth opportunities for those who are deciding to follow Christ, or are new to being followers. Third, opportunities need to be available for people who are growing deeper in their life with Christ, as well as those who have been along the journey for longer. Those who have been journeying in growth longer are often those who are leading others in their journey. These components match the wave of grace seen in Wesleyan theology: prevenient, justifying, sanctifying, and those moving more deeply toward perfection.
Details of programs and approaches are often not taught, as it is important for the local congregation to adapt the components to fit their context. Suggestions might be made available, yet great effort is given to inviting local congregations to develop a discipleship system which is consistent with their congregation and community. The accompanying image is used to give a visual reference point to congregations as they develop their system. It is hoped the simple visual will remind the people working on the system of the components, as well as the Wesleyan waves of grace.
Rev. Dr. Aaron M. Bouwens
Director of Vital Congregations