Over the next several weeks we will hear from various pastors who have taken part or are currently in the Replicate Cohort. We will hear stories from these pastors about how a disciplemaking strategy started and took root in their churches. For more information about the Replicate Cohort click here: ( https://replicate.org/cohort2019/) – Tim
After celebrating over 60 years of serving our community, South Seminole Baptist Church could not be more excited about the future God has for us! From investing in young leaders, to discipling families, to helping to meet the needs of this community, our vision is to leave a legacy of faith that transcends generations and passes on the hope of the gospel. We endeavor with passion, to love our city and follow our Savior who invites us into a relationship filled with joy and hope and purpose. That’s why we’re so passionate about following Jesus and loving people. To find out more, please visit southseminole.com
“We should have been doing that 30 years ago.” These were the words the 85-year-old member of the pastoral search committee said to me right after I shared the vision for discipleship at South Seminole. I have to be honest, nothing about church revitalization was appealing to me initially. As a matter of fact, when they first contacted me, my first response was, “I’m not your guy.”
That night as I drove home from that meeting, my wife gently reminded me of all the prayers we had prayed asking God to give us an opportunity to implement all the things He had been teaching us the last year in the wilderness as we waited for Him to reassign us. She said to me, “After praying all these months for God to give us influence, shame on us if we refuse it just because it doesn’t look like what we thought it would.”
After more prayers, we knew exactly what God was calling us to do. So, after a painful year of evaluating ministry philosophy, learning difficult personal lessons, and waiting not so patiently on God, we found ourselves starting over. What we didn’t know at the time was that that same old man would be one of the biggest supporters of the work God was about to do. But how? How did God move a struggling sixty-five-year-old traditional church from being inherently busy to actively growing? While every church is different, and we sure don’t have all the answers, there are a few lessons God has taught us.
Start with yourself
When I walked into my first discipleship cohort, I had no idea what God was going to do. I wasn’t even pastoring at the time. However, one thing was clear to me; I had to start somewhere. That day I began praying about two or three men to disciple. Your ability to implement discipleship corporately must grow from your aptitude as a disciplemaker personally. You cannot expect from others what you don’t emulate yourself. Let it change your life, and then it will change others.
I remember coming back from the first discipleship blueprint I ever attended wanting to implement everything in the first week. I’m thankful for the advice I received as I left to “find one thing you can do right now and do that.” Discipleship is a slow growth strategy. Our church was struggling, but deep roots take time. Plants that grow fast have shallow root systems.
Build a team
There’s an African Proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” When I arrived, I quickly found that every leader I interviewed had the same concern. The fear was that if the church didn’t get younger, it would die.
Having an older church, I knew it would be difficult for me as a thirty-six year old pastor to cast the vision of discipleship alone. Some of our members have been saved longer than I’ve been alive. So we assembled some key influencers within the church. I asked them to meet with me weekly for six months.
We walked through the books of Acts and Ephesians journaling about the passage we were reading and then we gathered to discuss what we had learned. We focused on the rhythms of the early church and how they applied to us. I cannot begin to describe to you the unity with which God began to knit that group of leaders together by reading and discussing God’s word. After much prayer and discussion, God began to clarify our vision and values based on what we had learned in that room.
When we got ready to cast that vision six months later, it wasn’t just me sounding the call for change, it was a groundswell of lay leaders who had walked through the process of developing that vision and who were excited to embrace that vision personally. They were the champions of the vision.
Celebrate the vision consistently
Casting vision is best shared through the lens of story. One such story is of a little girl named Grantlee. Grantlee’s story is just one of dozens of stories we have used to celebrate what discipleship can do in a church. Grantlee’s mom and dad were both on the original search committee. Both mom and dad were in two of our first discipleship groups. One day as mom was journaling, Grantlee asked if she would help her with her own journal; a Foundations for Kids that her parents had just purchased. That journal was on forgiveness. To make a long story short, that day Grantlee received forgiveness as her mom and dad led her to saving faith in Jesus Christ. This is what discipleship does. When we baptized Grantlee, we shared her story and the whole church erupted in applause. These are the moments that propel the vision and what gets rewarded, gets repeated.
A year later, we’ve nearly doubled in size. The dream of that 85-year-old saint came true. We’ve gone from life support to thriving. The median age of our church has come down about 20 years. We’re seeing four to five times as many children in our kids’ environment than we did at this time last year. But what’s most exciting is that we went from two discipleship groups with six people in them to twelve discipleship groups with over fifty people in them and two more starting in the next month.
We’re doing more wrong than we are right most days, but we’re still learning, and maybe that’s the whole point. As Robby has said “You’ll never learn anything as long as you know everything.” Discipleship is about learning and growing and walking more like Jesus today than we did yesterday. Start where you can, go slow, build a team, and celebrate the vision that God has given you for His glory.
This article is dedicated to Jack Hughes.