NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) - The discipleship agency of The United Methodist Church will open a "Discipleship University" this fall to instruct teams of pastors and lay members on ways to revitalize their congregations.

A part-time, two-year learning experience, the school will launch in October in the board's Nashville headquarters as part of the agency's efforts to renew existing churches and help leaders of those congregations be more effective in their ministries, said the Rev. Karen Greenwaldt, the agency's top executive.

"Discipleship University, a groundbreaking new initiative, will directly address the leadership needs of today's changing church," Greenwaldt said in her "state of the board" address.

The initiative was announced during a March 14-17 meeting in Nashville of the governing members of the General Board of Discipleship, whose primary purpose is to help annual conferences, districts and local churches to win disciples to Jesus Christ and to help those new Christians grow in their own discipleship. Bishop Mike Coyner is president of the board.

Greenwaldt said the board continuously searches for "ways to engage the peoples of the world with deep resources of Christian faith and practice. Our work continues to deepen and to change" and "our initiatives focus on the clarion call in the church for effective leaders who will lead vital and vibrant churches."

Curriculum and learning

Pastor and laity teams will commit for two-year periods of accountability to learn, study, practice, worship, pray and build ministry plans.

Agency staff members, with assistance from consultants, will serve as faculty to instruct about:

  • Worship as central to the life of the body of Christ,

  • Evangelism,

  • Mentoring of young people,

  • Small groups and Sunday School as the binding agent of faith formation, practice and accountability,

  • Spiritual leadership development of clergy and laity,

  • Stewardship of life, call and gifts.

Interwoven through each of these tracks will be the practice of the Wesleyan means of grace and the understanding of the church's basic evangelistic task of reaching out to engage the peoples of the world," Greenwaldt said.

Criteria for enrollment

Classes of up to 150 students will come from churches with an average worship attendance of 100-250 people. Church teams of three to five members, both pastors and lay, will spend three to five days in academy module settings five times in two years in Nashville, and a new semester will begin every six months for team-based learning.

During sessions, the students will perform assignments on site and also will engage in practical applications at home. Tuition costs are still being analyzed by the agency.

Many students will be nominated from the annual conferences, from agency solicitation and from the agency's Roman's 12 project, a year-long research endeavor to discover best practices in local congregations to mine ideas, concepts, practices and principles that help form vital churches. Those best practices will be incorporated into the curriculum of Discipleship University.

For more information, contact Jeanette Pinkston, director of media relations for the Board of Discipleship, by e-mailing or by calling 877-899-2780, ext. 7017.