The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world— but how do we do that? This is the central question that informed the search for a discipleship pathway in the INUMC. 

Intentional Discipleship launched within the INUMC in 2019 under the leadership of R.C. Muhlbaier, Associate Director of Leadership Development – Laity & Discipleship. Intentional Discipleship encourages pastors and churches to orient ministry around the mission of discipleship and “begin with the end in mind.” 

Intentional Discipleship draws on the work of Phil Maynard, a long-time United Methodist pastor from the Florida Conference, who authored the book Shift 2.0: Helping Congregations Back Into the Game of Effective Ministry

Maynard offers a definition of discipleship that is clear and flexible enough for varied contexts. He says, “A disciple is a follower of Jesus Christ who is committed to being part of the body of Christ, becoming more like Jesus, and joining Jesus in ministry.” This definition is then explored through a core curriculum of six dimensions and four phases of maturing in the Christian life.

One of the primary strengths that Intentional Discipleship offers is a shared language and a framework to envision discipleship as it is shaped in real contexts. R.C. shares, “People will live it out differently based on strengths and community. The framework gives practices that are modeled off of the life and teachings of Jesus, and a general idea of what it means to grow into those practices with a community that helps them do that.”

Intentional Discipleship helps churches who don’t have a clear answer to what it means to be a disciple. While some churches have definitions and are living that out, others haven’t formed that vision yet. Intentional Discipleship gives them a way to focus on that as part of their core identity and mission.

For Rev. Sheri Rohrer of Battleground UMC, Intentional Discipleship helped the church find clarity about re-launching a small groups ministry. “I was still in the listening and learning phase and trying to figure out who they were and what they were about. When I had my intake with SPRC I asked What is your mission statement? Everyone looked around at one another saying, I think we had one at one time, I’m not sure, I can’t remember, can you? I knew we needed to first figure out our mission then align our ministries around that.”

Sheri took part in an Intentional Discipleship workshop through the Northwest District. Through it, “we discovered our why, the core values that drive our work, and a plan for moving forward with small groups. We also have a pathway that we can work as we get more folks engaged back into the life of the church.”

There are a few ways to engage the Intentional Discipleship resources. One tool is the Intentional Discipleship workshop. The three week, two-hour workshop meets online during COVID-19 to work through the Intentional Discipleship materials. Another entry point is the Real Discipleship survey which helps a congregation sort through their strengths, growing areas, and next steps for discipleship. Intentional Discipleship also offers coaches who partner with churches to plan and implement a discipleship pathway that suits the congregation’s unique context.

Zionsville UMC utilized these resources in early 2020. Associate Pastor Seth Neckers said, We did an entire series exploring the ideas in Shift 2.0, introduced the real discipleship framework, and had weekly congregational visioning meetings through the winter. It was incredibly well received, and there was energy around it.

Like many churches, Zionsville is re-thinking ministry due to COVID-19 and the tools of Intentional Discipleship are helping them do so. Seth says, This has caused us to focus our time and attention on the things that we know matter the most to helping people grow as disciples, helping people take one more step of faith with Jesus.”

So far, 250 clergy and laity representing 170 churches have participated in the Intentional Discipleship workshop. The next Intentional Discipleship workshop starts on November 30 and will be offered every other month beginning in January 2022.

What does it mean for people to grow as disciples? If you or your church are having a hard time answering that, Intentional Discipleship resources are a good place to start. Contact R.C. Muhlbaier at robert.muhlbaier@inumc.org or check out https://www.inumc.org/ministries/leadership-development/discipleship-ministries/ for more information.