Dreaming of a Different kind of Church - Whole Life Discipleship

As a 45 year old, empty-nester, mildly working through a midlife crisis, Christian man, and campus minister, I wonder if God has anything to teach me at this specific stage of life as a man, husband, father, pastor, and disciple?  I strongly suspect he does.  But, how do I find out what that is?

Lot’s of churches are doing a lot of interesting forms of Christian education and discipleship – book studies, prayer groups, confirmation, Sunday School classes, small groups, new member classes, Bible studies, youth ministry, new believer classes, etc.  But, my observation is that it is often a bit random – kind of hit or miss.

I’m no expert at human development, or even spiritual development for that matter.  But, I am increasingly convinced that there must be a way to develop a substantive discipleship process for a church, with a specific and intentional plan for each life stage, from birth to the grave.

What if we thoughtfully and intentionally researched and developed a plan of discipleship for…

·      Infants (mainly focusing on the nursery environment and care for the infants)

·      Pre-schoolers

·      Elementary age children

·      Pre-teens

·      Middle Schoolers

·      High Schoolers

·      College Students and young adults

·      Singles and singleness

·      Young professionals, young marrieds, young parents

·      Mid-life issues and concerns

·      Retirees

·      End of life issues

·      Etc., etc.

What if at each stage of life there was a thoughtful, well developed plan and process in place for how the Church can help individuals address the breadth of spiritual issues appropriate to their age, stage of development, and life circumstances? 

And, what if we were committed to a greater degree of substance?  What if we really taught children and youth to read their Bibles – maybe even memorizing some of it? – as well as how to understand important theological concepts? What if more Christians were reading and discussing substantive theology?  What if we were addressing all kinds of real life issues – finances, parenting, marriage, aging, life transitions, illness, social and political issues, death and dying – from a deeply biblical and theological perspective.   What if we taught people how to pray, how to meditate, how to discover and use their spiritual gifts, how to lead, how to think and live from a Christian worldview?

What if worship, fellowship, service, and discipleship were like 4 legs on a stool – all equally important – but discipleship being the place that we learn to feed ourselves spiritually (preparing us to engage worship more deeply), to reflect on a broad array of life matters, to become informed about issues of justice, etc., etc.?  What if worship, fellowship and service became richer and more substantive as a result?

What if churches really were places where people could grow in wisdom, knowledge, and understanding at every stage of human development?  What if there were natural transitions – not just from Children’s ministry to Youth Group to Campus Ministry, etc. – but from one life stage to another, each bringing new challenges and opportunities to be stimulated to learn and grow?  What if we had clear expectations of what a person should know, understand, and comprehend biblically, theologically, experientially at every phase of life?

I really don’t have answers to these questions – but I believe that answers could be developed.  I believe that greater fruitfulness would result from more intentional, whole life discipleship.  I believe we settle for too little – often filling up another hour of Sunday School, or another week of VBS, or another prayer meeting without substantive, life-changing content.

Ultimately it is about a commitment to lead an individual, throughout every moment of their lives, into an ever-deepening knowledge of and relationship with Christ, resulting in an ever-deepening faith and spiritual depth.  There are no limits to our ability to deepen our knowledge and understanding of God and our ability to grow and become disciples. 

There is always more to learn, to know, to wrestle with, and to become.  The church’s job is to facilitate opportunities for that to happen.