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Trainings around the NIC fan the flame of discipleship

Posted: October 4 2019 at 10:04 AM
Author: By Diane Strzelecki, Communications Specialist


Jeff Campbell with Discipleship Ministries leads trainings across the conference.

The week of September 9, approximately 350 clergy and laity attended one of six Discipleship Systems training sessions across the NIC led by Jeff Campbell, Associate General Secretary for Strategic Programming with Discipleship Ministries (UM General Board of Discipleship). Just one of many conference programs supported by NIC church apportionments, the sessions (subtitled #Seeallthepeople) outlined a return to the primary mission of The United Methodist Church: To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. 

“Everything flows out of this mission,” noted Campbell at the September 11 afternoon session at Harmony UMC in Freeport, Ill. “There is a real need for clarity about what is a disciple and how they are formed.” 

The Rev. Martin Lee, NIC Director of Congregational Development and Redevelopment, began organizing the training soon after the NIC’s Annual Conference Shepherding Team finalized their strategic goals, which were presented to and approved at the June Annual Conference. The training aligned perfectly with the first goal—To Grow and Reach New Disciples of Jesus Christ— and Lee was encouraged by the number of registrations. 

“The wind of new possibility is blowing across the Conference,” Lee said. “I was so excited by the number of walk-ins as well as pre-registered participants. Everybody expressed how helpful and practical the teachings were at the end of the training.” 

Lee noted that one of the key points of this training was learning the tools each congregation needed to create a unique discipleship system based on their individual missional context. In addition, after six to seven months of implementing Discipleship Systems, six congregations (one from each district) will become a cohort and will be coached by Discipleship Ministry staff to learn how to help other congregations. 

Some attendees came for new ideas to bring back to their congregation. Some came for renewal of their ministries. All left with the charge to love their congregation and their community with renewed fervor—and a renewed focus on making disciples. 

Mary French, a member at First UMC in Freeport, attended the session at Harmony. “Our church is always looking for ways we can help people in our community,” she said. “We’ve been working on our mission and vision statement and we’re hoping to get new ideas.” 

Local Pastor Jeff Brace knows the challenges of making discipleship a priority for the church. “People are so busy and some regard church as just another thing to do,” he said, adding that he hoped the workshop would help with engaging congregations in discipleship making. “We need to go beyond weekly Bible studies and put faith into action—get the focus back on the meaning of church.” 

The workshop was structured around lectures, with occasional breakouts where attendees discussed such questions as Why did you become a follower of Jesus? How does your church make disciples? 

“When we began researching discipleship in the UMC, we visited congregations all over the country asking the question: ‘What does your church do?’” Campbell remarked. “We heard a long list of wonderful things but not once did a church say ‘our church makes disciples’.” He noted that congregations make disciples by first discovering or returning to their answer to the question of “Why.” 

“When you know your ‘why’ your ‘what’ becomes more impactful because you’re walking into it and through it,” Campbell said who added then you can work on the ‘how’. 

Attendees discussed the refreshed outlook on discipleship and ways to help reframe discipleship in their congregations. Beth Spielman, a lay member from Durand UMC, noted that her bracelet imprinted with the words “Be the Change you want to see” was a good reminder of what she was called to do about making disciples in her church. “I am taking home that I need to be more of a disciple and I want people in our church to realize they are disciples,” she said. 

The Rev. Keri Rainsberger from Lena UMC was pleased that the conference brought a training session to her area. “I’m looking for new ideas to bring back to the congregation – maybe even just different ways of thinking about old ideas,” she said. “I’m grateful this training was nearby.” 

Campbell’s greatest hope is that attendees would leave with a greater sense of their “why”, ideas for developing a discipleship system in their congregation, and a practical plan for putting it into place. 

“We are beginning to hear stories about inspired leaders going back to their congregations and renewing the spark and joy in being a disciple,” Campbell said. “Our hope is that this is not a program, but a movement.” 

Visit to learn more and retrieve resources and downloads to participate in this discipleship movement. 

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