Newcomers to Mandarin-speaking Glory Lutheran Church in Chula Vista, California, may be encountering Christianity for the first time.
To guide them, disciples lead basic, small-group discussions that focus on simple songs, stories and concepts.
Welcome, worship, word is the format of the meetings, each of which have about 10 members and meet weekly in homes. A short worship follows a warm-up game, song, or story, and then the leader and assistant leader help the group explore a basic Bible theme using questions that relate faith and life.
"We want people to talk, not just have them sit and listen," says the Rev. Betty Chen. "Both the materials and the questions are simple, because some groups have invited non-Christians to participate."
Monthly, the small groups get together to share their learning in a meeting led by one group. Every three months, the leaders meet with Pastor Chen. "We share our experiences, look at resources, and put our problems on the table."
Small-group ministry has proved effective for Glory, which ministers to about 70 families in two languages. Following 15 minutes of worship and praise together, the congregation divides into two: an English-language worship for the young second generation, and a Mandarin-language service for first-generation worshipers. After worship, Glory continues with lunch, fellowship and Bible study.
Pastor Chen has offered one-on-one training that focuses on Bible literacy as well as how to connect with others in a caring way.
"I encourage members to invite and reach out to others," she says. "Church is not just a get-together for our members. To spread the gospel to your neighbor, you need to invite people every week."
DiscipleshipThere are many definitions of discipleship, but the one developed by the Evangelical Outreach and Congregational Mission Unit of the ELCA is; “Discipleship is being called to walk with Christ, equipped to live like Christ, and sent by Christ to love and serve others in the world.” I would imagine that for most of us, living out this definition in reality is a life long journey. So how do we become the disciples that we are called to be?
The word disciple means learner or follower. I think most of us can handle that definition of what a disciple is. We would agree that we certainly want to learn as much as we can about our faith and we want to certainly follow the teachings of Jesus, but what can we do to strengthen our discipleship as we live each day striving to grow in faith, love and obedience to God’s will?
The ELCA has identified seven Faith Practices that enhance our ability to be learners of the faith and followers of Jesus Christ. These seven Faith Practices are Pray; Study; Worship; Invite; Encourage; Serve and Give. As we as individuals grow in our discipleship through the Faith Practices, we create a climate in our congregations that reflects what Jesus Christ has called us to be about and Christ has called us to be about prayer, study of the scriptures, worship, inviting others to know him, encouraging others in the faith, serving others and giving of our time, our talent and our financial resources to the glory of God.
So what are some simple things you can begin to do right now to grow in your discipleship? Here are some suggestions:
Pray: Find a devotional prayer book that has prayers for each day of the year. Make a covenant with yourself to read that devotional book each day. Creating a climate of prayer in a congregation can begin by having the congregation devotional books on hand for members of the congregation to use. Many of these devotional booklets are at a nominal cost and the benefit of having a resource for members to strengthen their prayer lives is certainly beneficial.
Study: The ELCA has a “Book of Faith Initiative” that is encouraging us to “dig deeper” into the scriptures so that we can have a better understanding of what is written in the scriptures. A first step might be to go to the Book of Faith website at www.bookoffaith.org, and complete the individual assessment of your current study of scripture. The congregation can assess its practice of studying scripture by completing the group assessment. After reviewing the assessment, reflect on what changes you might like to implement to increase your literacy and fluency of the Bible either as an individual or as a congregation.
Worship: If your attendance at worship is infrequent, perhaps setting a goal to increase worship attendance might be a way to begin for you. If you are a regular attendee, perhaps your goal might be to take notes on the sermon and spend time reflecting during the week on the message of the preacher. The congregation might strive to grow in its discipleship by reflecting on its worship practices and assessing if there are changes that need to be implemented to enhance worship for everyone.
Invite: Begin by asking yourself, "When was the last time I invited someone to worship with me?" If your answer is "never" or "it has been years" then you know what you are challenged to do. As a congregation you might examine, “Are we really a welcoming church?"
Encourage: Encourage involves mentoring someone in the faith or teaching someone in the faith. Have you thought about helping out with Sunday School, even if it is just as a "helper" so that you can spend time with the youth and they can learn about the faith not only by your teaching, but by who you are as a person? The congregation might consider having a mentoring program for the confirmation class so that from the beginning of confirmation there is a person that they are assigned who they can talk over what they are learning in confirmation with.
Serve: If you worship regularly in a congregation and you are not on any committee in the congregation or you do not participate in any outreach ministry the congregation does, would you please consider serving in some capacity? The tagline for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is "God's work-Our Hands". Those hands include yours. As a congregation, how about having a "Servant Fair" where the ministries of the congregation are highlighted so everyone knows what service possibilities there are?Give: Give includes not only giving financial resources, but time and talent as well. How about making a covenant with yourself on New Year’s Eve that you will increase the amount of time and/or talent and/or financial resources to your congregation in the coming year? For example, if you are giving 10% of your income, why not try 11% for the new year? And as a congregation, why not commit to increase your mission support for the coming year? Below are foundational scripture for each of the Faith Practices. Perhaps you might want to begin here. Read these scriptures and begin a journal on how you might want to grow in your discipleship. As you continue to incorporate the faith practices into your life, this journal can be an instrument for you to measure your strengths and your "growing edges". No matter what you decide to do, know that God is giving you the strength and guidance to be the disciple you have been called to be.