Before church planting was a part of my life, discipleship pathway was not in my vocabulary. But now, 18 months in, I’m thoroughly convinced that discipleship pathway is the way forward, and the very thing that God will use to take our church to the next level of growth. Here are three reasons why I think this.
A Clear Direction
Most people like to know exactly where they are going. When my wife and I so much as hint at leaving the house as a family, the kids yell, “Where are we going?” It’s built into us to want to know. And it’s no different in the church. When people join New City Church, we want them to know that we, and they, are going somewhere together. There is a beginning and a goal to their journey at New City Church.
Discipleship pathway provides this kind of clarity. It forces church leaders to put in the hard work of discovering where people are in their faith journey so that a plan can be implemented that, by God’s grace, gets from point A to point B, then point C and D and so forth. For a brand-new believer, it’s quite easy. They are just babies in their faith. They don’t know how to pray, or who the trinity is, or where to begin reading the Bible or even why to read the Bible for that matter. They need clear vision to see that in just a matter of time we expect that they will know these things, and that their church and leaders, by the power of the Holy Spirit who indwells the Church, will do what it takes to get them there.
Assessment is Healthy
To lay out a clear pathway, you need to figure out where people are on their journey. Where do they struggle? What are their hang-ups and inconsistencies in growth? Do they have a lot of disciplines in place that will help them grow, or none at all? Assessments help reveal a lot about a person that is beneficial to both that person, and the one who will be discipling him or her. Having a system in place that tells a person where they are right now takes guessing off the table.
For instance, when a believer wants to grow but they struggle with believing that God is a good provider, or how to forgive evil people, or they lack knowledge in basic doctrines of the Christian faith, you know exactly what to tackle next with them to help them down their pathway. Assessment is good no matter the stage a person is at. From the curious person who has yet to believe, to the one who’s ready to make disciples, assessment is key. Even Jesus Himself used the assessment process when He asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” and “Do you love me?” We can and should do the same.
Commissioned for Intentionality
When you read the great commission of Matthew 28, you see a command that involves making, teaching, observing, living and trusting. To do this well, we, as the local church, need to be intentional. Having a discipleship pathway is one way to ensure that you are intentionally keeping the commission front and center. It’s more than evangelism alone or teaching alone. It’s all of the above. It’s training the body and its leaders so that every person who names the name of Christ is responsible and joyfully obligated to share with others the life and knowledge that Christ gave to them, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
I want to encourage those churches that are still young like we are, or are just about to launch in the next year or so, to strongly consider making discipleship pathway a major thrust in the life of your church. It will take time, passion and commitment to the work. But the fruits of it should outweigh all of that. We have not arrived. In fact, we greatly desire all of your prayers as we embark on this journey with intentionality in 2019.
There are many tools and resources available to help you make this a reality. We have chosen not to reinvent the wheel, but to use a system already created called STAGES. Whatever you choose, be intentional this year!
Joel Littlefield is the lead pastor at New City Church in Bath, Maine (http://bathnewcity.church) and a church planter with the North American Mission Board. He blogs regularly at http://madetomakedisciples.com. You can follow him on Instagram @joellittlefield and on facebook @JLwriterpage.