Welcome!

This website facilitates conversations about "DiscipleShift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples" by Jim Putman (with Robert Coleman and Bobby Harrington) in Fall 2013 for elders at First Presbyterian Church in Edmond, Oklahoma, as well as others interested in investigating and discussing these important ideas.

While you're here you can:

In the Middle of the NIght

It hit me at 1:30 am…remember how everyone was abuzz with leaving the denomination?  Information came from the pulpit, town halls and small groups met, elders and/or other leaders visited Sunday school classes plus much more.

That is the feeling and atmosphere we need to have, now that it can be focused on “making disciples who make disciples.  I think it would be wonderful to exhibit energy and excitement and have lots and lots of different resources/communication for folks.  The questions and the scorecard mentioned in the book are, of course, helpful and a great way to measure if we are folloing our vision. 

Remember that Mateen said he utimately became a Christian because he “wanted what his friends had”?  I think that is what we would want people to think about us (members of First Pres).

Let’s open our hearts and minds and get the creativity flowing!  Oh yes, and “be vulnerable”. 😉

CHALLENGE!

Mateen has challenged Session to lead with prayer by
1) praying during worship services (rm 2126) and
2) praying in the Renewal Service (3rd Sunday).

How Are We Evaluating Our Programs?

The authors of DiscipleShift argue that as we align our programs with our core focus (discipleship) we need to evaluate our programs and, at times, say ‘no’ to ideas for new ones. In chapter 9 (“Rethinking Our Practices”) they write:

…alignment is one of the hardest things churches grapple with. To say yes to your calling, you must necessarily say no to a lot of good things, and when you say no to a lot of good things, you say no to a lot of good people who don’t understand why you’re saying no. You’re saying no to something they are emotionally invested in.

The authors definitely exhort us to “avoid sweeping change in a church,” but they also say as church leaders regular evaluation of our programs in light of our core focus (discipleship) is mandatory. We need to explain why we are going to do something “…and then do one piece at a time.”

Where are we evaluating our church programs on a regular basis at FPCE? I know we have our annual reports to the congregation, but I don’t think these reflect the kind of program evaluation in terms of the core mission of discipleship that the book’s authors are talking about. This kind of evaluation can and should take place in our committee meetings, but we have a disconnect in many committees between the staff and the elected officers. I’m wondering why we don’t find monthly times for at least some of the elected officers of our church (deacons and elders) to meet with different staff members? I think it’s easy for us to remain in our traditional meeting/committee silos, and we need to find ways to encourage new conversations and communication about different programs and ministries in light of this “core focus” on discipleship.

It also occurs to me that we need to be finding ways to discuss these ideas on Sunday mornings, and at other times we gather for worship. Even a short two minute share time, when one of our elders gets up and talks a little about our study on DiscipleShift and what these ideas can mean for the specific committee that elder serves on would be welcome and beneficial. We ought to list this website in our bulletin as a place where church members can see the conversations and thoughts that our elders are having about DiscipleShift, and encourage them to participate as well. Have we invited our deacons to join in these conversations? We need to do this. We need to find more ways to engage each other in conversations about these ideas outside our “regular” committee meetings, Sunday services, and Wednesday night classes. We need to talk about these ideas within our existing small groups. We need to find ways to amplify the small group opportunities which are available in our church, and regularly talk to people about the importance of connecting within a small group.

Last of all, I’m wondering when we say “no” to a new idea or program of the church because it doesn’t involve the “five key components of discipleship” identified in chapter 9 of DiscipleShift? Can we point to a program or ministry proposal in the last six months that we’ve turned down and not followed because it didn’t align with this purpose? A lot of focus and attention has been given to the current change from one to two services. We need to encourage conversations about discipleship and small group, relational ministries. We also need to talk about and decide how we can intentionally build in “program evaluation” in light of our discipleship focus into our work on staff, on session, and in other church capacities. Otherwise, as the authors note in chapter 9:

…we will end up with a mismatched, disconnected community of people pursuing their own goals and programs that take on a life of their own.

I’d love to hear what others think about these ideas and how we can move forward to reflect the core focus on discipleship that the DiscipleShift authors exhort us to embrace. (The “Jesus model” of discipleship.)

More Strawmen

Next up in the village stocks is the attractional model. Okay, we agree that grabbing eyeballs on the screen, getting eardrums throbbing to the beat and delivering more rumps in the pews is way short of an adequate mission for the church. But Putman would be off course to suggest that reaching numbers means nothing and has no biblical basis. I think he overlooks the fact that the active work of the Spirit in worship has attracted crowds of seekers since the church’s birthday. The early church expected to draw crowds. The question for them was what do we do to bring in the harvest. The early disciples’ numbers were insufficient to maintain the small group study ratios Putman decrees. They asked for the power of the Spirit and welcomed all seekers to follow and learn. We need to be as wise as serpents in using attractional means that appeal to the seekers’ needs as fallen humanity. But we also must be training good mentoring disciples and finding better ways to engage seekers and gain the promised harvest.
Next to attract the rotten tomatoes is the missional model. Putman’s term may be confusing to those of us who spent time learning “missional church” with John Gruel. If anything that latter term might come closest to Putman’s fourth model. So let’s call Putman’s third model “mission-focused”. After describing this model noted for producing committed and life-changed believers, Putman’s critique is that all of that useful service leaves no time for renewal, and refreshment. But I suggest an effective mission-focused church does celebrate its work and does raise up new leaders to sustain its mission. We could learn more from those who have mastered this challenging style. We could do worse than have a missions committee who sees success in how many of our disciples have made commitments to engage in mission that goes beyond sending their money for others to do the work.
The lone remaining strawman is now the home church approach. With little understanding of this style I am poorly equipped to defend it. I’m sure the best of these examples build such strong faith bonds that they are able to bravely venture out to attract the next cadre of disciples in a cycle of inward and outward focus that could in time grow an especially strong witness. Putman points out the danger that the intimate home church is never really open to newcomers, who for sure don’t fit in at first. In a phrase from the business world, this model doesn’t scale very well. But the same dangers of intimacy in the home church can also lead to contented discipleship groups which retard the growth that I believe the Spirit calls us to.
So before we discard the four “traditional” models we’d better learn their virtues and their weaknesses and make sure to incorporate what we have learned into our new strategy.

Can These Strawmen Be Redeemed?

The author sets up four examples of church styles, which he proceeds to demolish before moving on to explain the discipleship approach. It’s a tried and true rhetorical method. But before we dismiss these four let’s first see if they have any value to a living church in our day. Can they be redeemed?
The educational style is first in the dunk tank. I heartily agree with Putman’s critique of lecture as education in the church. One problem he doesn’t mention is that lecture in the church is likely to prove less than effective because it offers no way to evaluate its effectiveness. After all, we give no tests, and if there is no more than perfunctory discussion then the leader has no way to judge his or her effectiveness. Then there is the critique that lecture can offer little engagement with the learners to encourage them to use their biblical knowledge to grow up into true discipleship with all the behavior change that entails. But we know and often practice much better study approaches than lecture. The best teaching has always been life-changing. And even the most “charismatic” teacher could be a hindrance to effective discipleship if he is poorly grounded in scripture and doctrine or if she leads out of pride rather than from an authentic calling. I think Putman is too dismissive of the need for the type of deep theological and scriptural grounding we Presbyterians have called for in our study leaders. And the Spirit does raise up strong lay leaders to supplement the teaching ministry of our pastors. An educational model can be redeemed to serve the discipleship mission.
To be continued Ken Rees

A Look Ahead; A Look Back

Sometimes my mind wanders. I always find it interesting to discover where its been after it wanders back to me. Most recently, it did a little time-traveling.

What if we, the family of First Presbyterian, really catch the spark in intentional relational discipleship? What does this look like (in our fictional future now) looking back to today?

For me, it has echoes of an earlier group. In my case, a team of co-workers in corporate America and not a church team. But this group bonded closely over many years into something closer than family. We weren’t just working together, we were doing life with one another and ministering to one another. It was a work environment unlike any I experienced before or since.

As all man-made creations do – the company we were a part of ended, and the people moved to new jobs, new homes, and new towns. But the relationships chosen and nurtured among those team members survives.

The only down-side to this type of discipleship is the hunger for more.

So, looking “back” at what our church family did to build these same types of relational bonds among ourselves, it looks like surviving and overcoming the pitfalls of team building was our first, big accomplishment.

Looking at the DiscipleShift book, the author said first agree on the definition of discipleship and make certain everyone understood that definition. That type of clear communication served as a model to the discipling teams as they came together.

The teams worked together to set their goals, and made certain everyone understood those goals and agreed with them – even if it took compromises to get there. A common goal with everyone working together toward that goal made sure we were with one another and not against ourselves.

As mentors found their students and students adopted their mentors, the trust that grew between them was enabled by open, honest, and respectful communication. And that trust built an environment where we could take certain risks in the relationship – advocating positions that might not be considered safe to explore, or taking actions that seemed out of character.

That type of environment helped build a sense of belonging, not exclusion. As new team members find their way into the group, they are welcomed like new family members, not excluded from a clique.

And that welcoming spirit allowed the teams to work at full capacity, with a variety of strengths, experiences, talents, and points-of-view focused on any problems or opportunities it faced.

Finally, the teams checked themselves regularly, to make sure certain they were making decisions and taking actions that reflect Jesus. Some teams worked on diagnosing their procedures and conflicts, others asked for participative leadership to help assess and gauge progress.

In all, the discipling teams are well on the road to selflessness, dedication, collaboration, and flexibility as they love one another.

[John 13:35] “Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples—if you have love for one another.”

David Richard

More Random Thoughts

In Mateen’s original post he commented on the various categories of churches as described in the book, and asked how we would classify our church. We struggled over this in the Session meeting, and it seemed that we were unable to come to an agreed upon answer. Jim Putnam answers this question on page 30 with his statement that “All four functions are important components of a church, but none should be the main focus of a church.” He goes on to say that the correct “Focus” for a church should be “biblical discipleship”. I don’t think we need to be concerned if we can’t agree that FPCE falls into one of the four models, because FPCE should be utilizing aspects of all four in an attempt to work toward the correct focus of making biblical disciples. We do need to be concerned if evaluation indicates to us that we are not in fact making (bibliical) disciples.

In discussing the “educational model” on page 29 Putnam makes a statement that I found pretty startling: “lecturing is the least effective way to teach anyhing.” At first glance it seemed to me that our whole system of learning is based on lecturing. At least that was the main emphasis of my college experience, as well as many, many classroom type experiences since then. Are not Mateen’s sermons on Sunday mornings a form of lecturing, and I believe he is certainly hoping to be teaching at the same time.

Putnam’s statement would make more sense to me if he had said that lecturing is the least effective way to make disciples. But that becomes a scary statement, because if Mateen isn’t making disciples on Sunday mornings, when is it going to happen. Of course, that’s the whole point of the book. Jesus made disciples by his one on one contact with them over a period of time, and that should be our example. I guess he infers that “disciples” are not made in church. That church is where Christians at all differen points in their personal discipleship get together to worship and praise God. For centuries the best way to learn a trade or a skill was to apprentice with someone experienced. In my own life as I think back on it some of the more effective steps toward my becoming a “disciple of Christ” (still a work in progress) happened as a result of one-on-one experiences with more mature Christians. Some of those experiences were over a few hours, some over a few days, and others were long term relationships.

So the super scary question then becomes; “Who am I discipling today?”

Jim Cahalan

Some Random Thoughts on Chapter 1

This first chapter reminded me of something I read fifteen years ago in Dallas Willard’s “The Divine Conspiracy.” He said that every system is perfectly designed to create whatever it produces. If you don’t like what the system produces, you can’t blame the product. The system is to blame. If you want a different product, you must engineer a different system. The same is true with the Church. Our Western churches by and large are producing “Christians” who are almost indistinguishable from the rest of culture. If we are not happy with this result, we can’t blame those who’ve come through the system. We have to change the system.

So on p. 22, Jim Putnam says, “…we need to make a fundamental shift in the way we do church.”

Given the fact that we declare the purpose of FPCE is to make disciples who make disciples, how would you evaluate the effectiveness of our system in producing this result?

Putnam lists four categories of churches: educational, attractional, missional, organic (home). Thinking in terms of a major with a minor emphasis, how would you characterize our church? What category would primarily define FPCE? What secondary emphasis, if any, would you select to add better nuancing to the definition of who we are?

Each of these models has good features, but also is defective in some points. Putnam argues that if our goal is to produce mature disciples, we cannot do better than to emulate both Jesus’ teachings and his his methods. On p.33 he declares that Jesus’ “…fundamental methodology in making disciples is relationships grounded in truth and love.”

Where does this happen best in the life of FPCE? Where does this happen poorly? How can we invest our time and energy more effectively in “intentional relational discipleship” (see p. 34)? These are questions that we will no doubt address repeatedly over the coming months as God gives us greater clarity.

Let us pray for openness to the Holy Spirit to move us intentionally in the direction of effectively reshaping the “system” of our church so that we will see the large percentage of our congregation moving into fruitful and mature discipleship, reflecting in greater depth the character and ministries of Jesus Christ.

Guilty!

“Far too many of us assume that discipleship is merely the transfer of information leading to behavior modification…” Yep, I’m guilty of assuming that. Of course I know discipleship is more than that, but I often think and act as though this statement is true.

Mateen has done a better job of explaining the contrasting truth through the kingdom of God summer sermon series, but here it is briefly, from the book: “Discipleship… involves transformation at the deepest levels of our understanding, affection, and will by the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God and in relationship with the people of God.”

So I can’t just behave myself into this one!

What Issues Plague Our Church?

In the introductory chapter to DiscipleShift, the authors exhort us to not “jump right in and apply a solution” to fix our church. They assert that chances are, the issues plaguing a church go far deeper than just music.

My question is, what challenging issues do you think we are facing together as a church which go beyond music in the worship service? Certainly we have strong differences of preference when it comes to worship music and even worship styles, but what are the deeper issues? In fact, what do you see as the #1 issue or challenge we need to confront and address as a church, and specifically as a session?

FPC Edmond
Learn more about First Presbyterian Church of Edmond by visiting our official church website.