Real needs are often met through felt needs for many in the ‘crowd’ of the contemporary church who, though valuable, may not yet have engaged in a discipleship process. Likewise, offering ‘acceptance’ before ‘belonging’ and then ‘change’ (and not the other way around) gives an ABC priority listing for inducting people to a Christian community. Although the mechanics of any such commitment may be somewhat unique to each church, the process for shaping a disciple-making culture within the overarching culture of acceptance and belonging is vital. Otherwise, genuine Christ-followers will find alternate visions that require a church (and leaders) that can service them, unwittingly pulling in different directions. These need not be wrongly-motivated, but aligned hearts are the determinant of biblical synergy. Shaping a pathway toward a shared culture that honours gifts and ministries in the service of Christ will lay down individual agendas in using some of the following keys that build on those already discussed.
- Charting (The ‘need’ is map and the ‘result’ is viability). Unless people can see a strategy for implementing change, a vision is dead in the water. Viability for individuals may come through a simple determination to enact God-inspired change, but mobilisation of groups needs a clear, simple and measurable roadmap. Leadership teams may identify markers internally (conversion, baptism, serving, membership, leadership, and so on), but people need to be invited on a journey in which they feel Christ, and not leaders, compelling them to embrace what is needed for progress. The road-map brings clarity to what people already own as uniquely-fashioned contributors and is not a blueprint for managing cogs in a leader’s machinery.
- Coaching (The ‘need’ is the means and the ‘result’ is a vehicle). The tools for change can come through mentors, friends or other resources for any one person seeking growth in isolation. For large groups, though, a helpful but simple articulation of next steps needs both flexibility and accountability. General goal categorisations (perhaps using identifiable steps and simple acronyms) can offer breadth of focus across a church, while allowing depth of focus for each person who will be at different stages of spiritual growth. Targeted discipleship that respects unique needs nevertheless prioritises a timely response to what God is saying to an individual rather than forcing cookie-cut achievements and deadlines.
- Confirmation (The ‘need’ is momentum and the ‘result’ is velocity). In Physics, momentum is proportional to velocity. The speed with which an individual or a group will be propelled toward a compelling vision is directional and it is also dependent upon the momentum built by implementing the tools for change. ‘Tweaking the dials’ or ‘tightening the nuts and bolts’ can conjure images of imposed processing, but even though individualisation needs respect of people’s needs – since churches are in the people business – shared ownership of a preferred future warrants redress and adjustment of many aspects of life, some of which are easy to avoid. This needs wise heads and gentle and guiding hands to confirm and coax toward the goal of faith directed by Jesus who is in each person’s boat as they navigate the sometimes-stormy waters of the journey.
- Checking (The ‘need’ is a measure and the result is validation). As a teacher, I used to find false optimism in some schools who validated success via sub-goals at the expense of educational performance. Individuals can validate that their discipleship is on track by measuring their obedience to a godly call to action. In churches, measuring an outcome is not an end in itself, but gives an important indicator of progress, whether through statistics of baptisms, ministry involvement or other database markers. You measure what you treasure but you treasure what you measure. Repeated encouragement, emphasis of goals and reminders of values can all be helpful, but tracking growth will give a reliable guide for actual achievement.
It is important to remember that change takes time. Organisational change often takes years. Opposition or distraction is normal and disenchantment and despair claim too many victims on the road of accomplishment. That’s why vision needs constant redress and clarity at every turn.
Of course, every Christian is faced with the challenge of how their ultimate allegiance to Christ will align with His church from which there is no exemption. Some people will let us down or hamper our progress (and this is true in any church). Also, no church will offer a complete smorgasbord of growth and ministry options.
When we submit to the people and vision of a local church, our best efforts are needed, along with a willingness for others to speak into our lives, even if we don’t always like what we hear. This often needs us to climb back into the discipleship saddle, engage with a shared growth process for our own good. We still need to allow the winds of the Spirit to blow freely upon us, but within the safe parameters God builds through the church family that He led us to and only He can lead us from.