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Embarking Blog

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Synod: The Discipleship Our Call Forum Report 2009


This report was delivered at the 2009 Reformed Church in America General Session, June 7, 2009

The Discipleship Our Call Forum can be summed up in the words of our General Secretary spoken in his report to this General Synod Assembly 2009:

Let us embrace the whole gospel with our whole lives, for the whole world.

Let us commit, from the depths of our hearts, to be disciples of Jesus.

“Discipleship is the practice of following Jesus Christ, becoming more like him in all we think, say, and do, empowered by the Holy Spirit to be the very presence of Christ in a lost and broken world so loved by God.” [RCA Website] According to the Report of the General Synod Council on Discipleship, (GSC Handbook 2009, p. 128)…

Discipleship changes people, communities, and institutions as disciples commit to making disciples and more people become more like Jesus, embodying his teachings in their daily lives.

It is the vision of this church – the Reformed Church in America – that discipleship be both “deep” and “rich.” It will be a discipleship that embraces the whole gospel with our whole lives for the whole world and “The church must be a place where we are challenged, equipped, and empowered to live as disciples.”

This morning, I had the opportunity to be in my own church, and sit next to a young man who is now a friend, an alcoholic who has been dry now for 7 months, who submitted his life to Christ’s Lordship this year and was baptized just after Easter. I’ve been walking with this young man as he begins to understand the Bible. I was reminded of how a week ago he called, excited to tell me that he wanted to be missionary. A new believer who now is heading to be a new missionary.

This is our work. Disciples making disciples. Be one – a disciple. Make one – a disciple. Did you know that a disciple who makes disciples that make disciples multiplies exponentially? If you disciple 2 people a year who in turn pay it forward by discipling 2 others, in 16 years together you will have made 65,636 disciples? Can 2 people make a difference? Can 12 people make a difference in the world? Can 20? You bet. Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”[Matthew 28:19]

The Discipleship Our Call Forum was a time to hear the passions and progress of the RCA’s Coordinator for Discipleship Kirsty DePree, the Discipleship Youth Team from Kendra VanHouten, the Disabilities Team from Martie Bultman, Discipleship Resources from Jane Schuyler, and the Discipleship Team from myself, Tom Elenbaas. We also shared time talking with one another about our experiences, strengths and challenges in discipleship. New resources are being developed daily and utilized throughout the church by these teams and helping churches to deep discipleship throughout our denomination.

The Discipleship Our Call Forum does not come with any official recommendations to this body. However we do come to affirm the call of the General Secretary to a deep and holistic discipleship as the necessary fuel that feeds a fruitful mission. If discipleship is truly becoming like Jesus in all we think, say, and do, then in this sense, discipleship fuels other areas of our call because a deep and rich discipleship will bear the fruit of increasing mission, will lead to new more powerful servant leaders, will revitalize existing churches and result in new churches, and will passionately pursue a multiracial future freed from racism. This Discpleship – becoming like Jesus and leading others to become like Jesus – be one, make one – is properly foundational for this our Reformed Church in America.

We bring, then, 3 observations and challenges to encourage holistic discipleship in our churches in the Reformed Church of America.

The first observation is holistic Discipleship in the RCA will be identified by 6 key characteristics.

The Discipleship Office of the RCA lead by Kirsty Depree has identified 6 primary characteristics of a holistic discipleship:

  • Missional
  • Relational
  • Transformational
  • Incarnational
  • Educational
  • And Foundational.

The deep discipleship to which our General Secretary has pointed will be comprised of these 6 characteristics which should inform how we approach discipleship within our churches. These characteristics reflect both the inward journey with Jesus Christ and the outward journey of participation in the missio Dei, God’s mission.

The Discipleship Team of the RCA has developed and continues to develop a number of tools, resources, and networking to pursue this vision. The first is a Church Discipleship Strengths Assessment, which helps congregations to identify the discipleship strengths and growth areas in a particular church based on the 6 key characteristics. The Discipleship Team is also developing regional resource persons and teams to support churches in these 6 key characteristics. If you are interested in assessing the strengths and growth areas of your church in these 6 characteristics in order to strengthen your holistic discipleship, we encourage you to contact Kirsty DePree.

Our second observation is that in the coming years holistic Discipleship will be increasingly integrated.

Growing as a disciple is something that requires both a focus on the particular needs of particular age groups as well as integration across the age groups. Disciples in their 70’s and 80’s have specific needs as well as often a rich knowledge and experience and giftedness from which to draw while teens, young adults, and children have unique needs and a desire for relationships and spiritual growth. Discipleship in the coming years will require both recognition of the unique needs of particular age groups and an increasing integration between these groups in a holistic community of multiple-generations. Our Youth Discipleship Team, Children in Worship Training, partnership with Faith Alive, and other ongoing initiatives and resources seek to take a holistic look at the community of faith in its diversity of ages.

However, diversity in age is only one issue in holistic integrational discipleship. The Belhar Confession has and will continue to inform a holistic discipleship that unifies rather than divides us. Our discipleship must be holistic and integrational as we consider race and culture. It must be holistic and integrational as we consider disabilities and special needs. It must be holistic as we consider men and women. It must be holistic as we consider the poor and those who are rich. A holistic discipleship which seeks to make disciples of all nations and be the very presence of Jesus in a world so loved by God must be a discipleship which unifies us in the cross of Jesus Christ for the mission of God so that the world may know that Jesus is Lord. This holistic discipleship will seek to participate in God’s reconciling work of the world to God and human beings to one another. Again in the words of our General Secretary…

The more we are truly connected to Christ, the more we will go where his love leads – to the pain, suffering, and injustice that plague our world. If we follow Jesus, we will find ourselves with the poor, the broken, and the marginalized. Congregations will be challenged to set aside shallow self-preoccupations and embrace a life together where participation in God’s mission is central. This outward journey can and must engage each and every individual who has tasted the love of God in Christ, so that all are joined in the movement of God’s kingdom…

--Wes Granberg-Michaelson, General Synod 2009

Our third observation is that holistic Discipleship will seek to be both evangelical in the sense of seeing people converted by the saving grace of Jesus to his Lordship and socially active in terms of seeing God’s Kingdom come and will be done in areas of justice, reconciliation, and unity.

As our General Secretary said so well,

“…for far too long the RCA has tolerated a division between social activists who encourage our work for justice and evangelicals who stress the priority of converting people to Jesus Christ. We’ve learned to live with one another, and drink coffee together at General Synod. But that’s no longer enough.”

The whole Gospel of Jesus Christ requires an acknowledgement that Jesus is both Savior and Jesus is Lord. God is calling our denomination to an ongoing journey together of a deep discipleship that seeks both justice and salvation, feeding the physically poor and spiritual impoverished, calling for personal conversion to Jesus and systemic change in cultures, institutions, cities, and countries, praying for souls saved for eternity and the alleviation of subjugation to oppressive powers, reconciliation to God and reconciliation to our fellow human beings. The whole gospel with our whole lives for the whole world.

As we seek together in the Reformed Church in America a deep, rich, and holistic discipleship in our churches, allow me momentarily to share with you some exciting developments:

  • · The Disabilities Team continues to seek to see an inclusive and safe environment in every church for those with disabilities.
  • · The Discipleship Youth Team continues to seek to provide vision and resources to churches, to support existing youth pastors who report to be increasingly isolated, and to provide and support avenues like Project Timothy and others for the development of emerging leaders among our youth.
  • · Jane Schuyler continues to provide resources for churches and the expansion of Children in Worship, including translation into Spanish and conversations about additional translations into Japanese, Hungarian, and more.
  • · The Commission on Discipleship continues in prayer and visioning for a Season of Discipleship for our denomination.
  • · The Discipleship Team is working towards the development of resource persons and teams in each region of the RCA and is providing training in some best practices for discipleship including Discipleship Coaches Training, a Discipleship Journal, discipleship Triads, and small groups.

Lastly, in the General Secretary’s report, you heard briefly about the Discipleship Team’s experience with Gordon Cosby of the Church of the Savior in Washington, DC. This experience – originally envisioned as a team meeting – became a transformational community experience with God in which we rediscovered our calls to ministry, the heart of discipleship, the call to minister to those on the lowest rungs of society, the combination of the inward and outward journey, and the evangelical and missional heart of God.

Out of that experience of our team, God birthed an idea to create a retreat experience for pastors and leaders to help rekindle a vision for holistic discipleship in local churches. Our vision is to invite you to participate in The Discipleship Experience designed to help you not only rethink biblical discipleship after the pattern and mission of Jesus but also to help you evaluate your current ministry and implement a simple, biblical discipleship model in your church. Our hope is to infuse the local church with a passion for holistic discipleship after the way of Jesus that is relational, incarnational, missional, transformational, educational, and foundational. You will be hearing more about this in the coming year as this vision unfolds into a reality.

Whether you join us for the Discipleship Experience or not, whether you participate in the RCA prepared resources or not, whether you even know what the Discipleship arm of the RCA is doing or not, will you pursue with us in your local context, a deep, rich, and holistic discipleship after the pattern of Jesus to be the very presence of Jesus to a lost and broken world so loved by God?

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