Q: As a local church Sunday School and Discipleship Ministries International (SDMI) superintendent, how can I transition our local church from a Sunday School model to a discipleship model that includes spiritual formation, intentional discipleship, and Christian Education?
A: Remember, "Methods are many, principles few; methods change, but principles never do."
Let me offer these definitions:
Discipleship includes the follow-up of new believers, the training of mature Christians in the deep things of the Word, and the relational web that keeps believers from slipping out the back door. But primarily, discipleship is about you knowing Jesus intimately and helping someone else know and follow him as well. Discipleship happens best in close conversations with just a few.
Spiritual formation is an expression I always qualify as "Christian" because it is possible to be formed in the spirit of someone other than Jesus. To see people become like Jesus in thoughts, words, and actions is the goal.
Disciples are not mass produced - they are formed one at a time.
Christian Education includes the process of systematically training all ages in Bible knowledge and equipping them for a life of faith and holiness.
Don't change just for the sake of change. If it works, don't fix it. However, as the circumstances in your church change, you are free to adapt the times, places, and models for intentional disciple-making.
First, begin with prayer. Don't make changes without bathing everything in prayer. Go slowly and pray a lot. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead.
Establish the expectation that every believer needs to be involved in a class (or small group) of some kind. John Wesley said, "After all our preaching, many of our people are almost as ignorant as if they had never heard the gospel...I found by experience that one of these (brothers of mine) has learned more from one hour's close discourse, than from ten years' public preaching." Small group interaction is essential. Preaching is not enough.
Use the Bible as the foundational curriculum for every group you serve. It is always relevant to the needs of the people.
Expect each class (small group) to reproduce to keep evangelism and discipleship working together. Always be focused on reaching others.
Ask your people often, "Who is discipling you? Who are you discipling?" Teaching every participant in a small group to intentionally invest spiritually into the life of someone else will result in new believers for the kingdom.
It is not important what we call it. Sunday School, small groups, adult Bible fellowships, affinity groups, and life groups are methods that continually need adjustments in order to pursue the task of making Christlike disciples.
Woodie J. Stevens is global director of Sunday School and Discipleship Ministries International.