WPAUMC,GBOD Developing Discipleship Strategy



“What is a Disciple, and how will I know it when I see it?”
That question has been asked several times recently as Western Pennsylvania Conference staff and leaders work with the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Discipleship (GBOD) and Discipleship Ministries to develop strategies to meet the needs of local churches in creating vital congregations
GBOD members, including Rev. Eric Park, pastor of First Butler UMC, and staff held their October meeting in Pittsburgh and invited key Conference staff and leaders, as well as clergy and members of local congregations to join them for an evening of conversation on Oct. 8.  Dr. Tim Bias, the chief executive of Discipleship Ministries, offered a vision of how the agency, based in Nashville, Tennessee can collaborate with Conference leaders in the effort.
“We worked together at understanding how our stories connect with each other, said “A simple question was asked: What is a disciple and is there a good definition for it?  From that point, the conversation moved beyond trying to quantify how and what we do, to the change that is exhibited in a life when a relationship with Jesus becomes something that connects to the Kingdom that God has set before us. 
“The working definition of a disciple -- “Grace-filled Christ followers who put faith into action” -- has propelled us to develop strategies to help local congregations take their discipleship deeper as they understand their unique context for mission and ministry and offer hope,” said the Rev. Greg Cox, WPAUMC’s director of connectional ministries.
Discipleship Ministries uses the acronym H.O.P.E. --  Hospitality, Offering Christ, Purpose and Participation, and Engaging the World -- to propel the conversation. It is based on this:

  • As we are receptive to the relationships around us, Hospitality is a key to bringing people into our lives.
  • Offering Christ and inviting people into relationship is at the heart of our evangelical witness;
  •  Finding our Purpose and growing in faith through Participation in the means of grace causes disciples to go beyond where they are, to where God is calling them; and
  • As we Engage the world, opportunities to transform lives of those surrounding us in community cause the witness of Christ to be seen and realized.
Cox said Western Pennsylvania staff is currently working on models and strategies to help churches become vital through discipleship. “We’re looking at using a more focused engagement model we’re calling Vital Congregation Consultations,” he said. “Short term needs are being met with a more focused approach, but we believe facilitated conversations bringing people together for engaged learning will help them realize that they are on the right track and have something to offer others in their ministry models.”
Chris Kindle, director of Discipleship and Spiritual Formation for the Conference, has developed a simple roadmap available for churches seeking to take their discipleship further.  The Road to Discipleship offers local churches a way of moving through intentional stops that make a plan more deliberate. He and other Conference staffers have discussed developing a similar maps designed specifically for youth and children.
Kindle said that during the evening of conversation, he was able to explore possibilities and make “wonderful connections with Discipleship Ministries that will be a continued help in Western PA.
“What I most appreciated about the time together was learning how passionate they were about making disciples for Jesus Christ and how willing they were to help,” he added.
Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, who preached at the board’s opening worship and joined the evening conversation, noted, “One of the blessings provided by our Church is the potential for collaboration on all levels.  Our general agencies can do things that cannot be done on an Annual Conference or local level.
“The reverse is also true.  Ministry in local settings cannot be replicated on a general church level.  This makes collaboration and team work essential.  We are better together than any of us are by ourselves!”