FAQ: What's the deal with non-linear discipleship?
We have 2 basic goals at NCC: plug into a small group and plug into a ministry. We had over 75 groups during the Fall 2006 semester that allowed NCCers opportunities to get plugged into disciple-making relationships. Our small groups are great for helping people take the next step in their faith.
But last year, we began to talk about the need for a discipleship map of some sort. We felt like we needed to give people a little more guidance than just "get involved in a small group." A brand new believer in Christ doesn't necessarily need to be in a year-long inductive study on the book of Romans. And someone who has been following Christ for 30 years may not be challenged the most by reading Purpose Driven Life.I had to answer 2 questions:
- What do NCCers need to know and do?
- What environments, processes and programs do we need to create to facilitate that learning and growing process?
I went into this process with 2 basic parameters. Number one, I did not want to develop a linear approach to discipleship. A lot of churches have discipleship strategies that are built on linear systems. You go to a Christianity 101 class. Then Discipleship 201. Then Leadership 301. I didn’t want a linear system like that because we don't feel that’s how most people grow. Most people do not grow in a systematic, linear way; rather, they learn what they need to learn when God connects them with the right people at the right time in the right place in the right circumstances. On a related note, I did not want to intentionally or unintentionally suggest that there was an “ending point.” All linear systems have some sort of endpoint, whether it is stated or not. And I did not want to indicate in any way that there was any sort of endpoint.
The second criteria is that I did not want a one-size-fits-all system. A lot of church discipleship programs that I participated in try to cram everyone into one type of system. I was told that I would grow if I did (fill in your own blank here). But I didn't always grow in those environments. Everyone is different. Some people grow best in one-on-one discipleship mentor relationships. Others grow best in community with a larger group. One way people grow is through experiences. A worship experience or a missions trip or a service project or a retreat may be a more powerful discipleship experience for some people. Personally, I like academic lecture/lab style discipleship. Give me a textbook and an assignment and I start growing—it’s not just an intellectual activity, it is discipleship for me. But the academic style is not the best discipleship environment for others. So I wanted to prayerfully develop a strategy that was built on a variety of discipleship methods. Our "free-market" approach to small groups already facilitated a wide variety of groups.
So what we have is a map. Not a set of step-by-step directions. But a guide and an invitation to exploration.
American poet William Stafford writes of people who “want a wilderness with a map.” I think that describes a lot of us. There is a yearning for the mystery, excitement, and adventure of stepping into the unknown. At the same time, that yearning for adventure is held in tension by a strong desire for a map to show us where to go. There is something in us that wants to see the destination. While the unknown is exciting, it is also unsettling.
This map does not have all the answers. It does not include everything we need to do or learn to be a disciple. And it doesn’t lay out all of the unexpected things that certainly lie in the path. But it does give NCCers a general idea of some ways they can go to take the next step in their spiritual journeys.
We don’t want to give people boxes to check off. Rather, we want to expose them to experiences that ignite their passion for God and then get out of their way. Finishing a process is not the goal. Being in the process of growing closer and closer to Christ is the goal. We want to give people opportunities to become fully devoted followers of Christ.
And with our map, there is terra incognita-- places of growth that we haven't yet discovered. That means more experimentation and exploration.