ATN Moving Forward: Discipleship
Today I will begin casting a vision for a new area of ministry for All Things New: Discipleship. If you have followed us recently then you know that we have a heart for this new ministry and you know why we believe it is important. In fact, I wrote a blog a few months ago called “The Biggest Spiritual Need” where I pinpointed discipleship as the greatest need for Christians in our area of Haiti and I continue to stand behind that claim. Haiti, and especially our community in Haiti, has been evangelized many times over. I do not want to make it sound like evangelism is not needed because wherever there are people who do not know Christ as their Savior, evangelism has to be a priority! I do, however, believe that many people from visiting teams to local churches to the many missions organizations that exist all throughout the country are doing evangelism in Haiti extraordinarily well. I have said this before, and please do not take this as a theological statement but rather a tongue-in-cheek exaggeration, but there are many people in our community that have accepted Christ 20-30 times! Basically whenever a team comes down and shares the Gospel people are ready to listen. The biggest question is…
After a person becomes a Christian, what is their next step? The term “discipleship” is one that has really come into focus in American Christianity recently and for good reason. That is not to say that I know of very many churches in America who get this right and the truth is that discipleship is probably America’s greatest spiritual need as well. However, the discussion of making discipleship a priority is happening and many church leaders at least understand the need for a strong push toward making disciples even if we do not quite understand how to make it happen effectively yet. In our Haitian community, at least in my experience, that same push is not there yet. There is a strong push toward worship and singing, a wonderful focus on evangelistic outreach, and a great importance put on church attendance and outward appearance, but not much in the way of true discipleship.
Before I cast the vision for what we hope to see happen in the next couple of years in this area of ministry let me explain just a little about what discipleship is and why it is important in the church. Webster’s Dictionary gives a great definition of the word “disciple” as “a pupil or follower of any teacher or religion.” To simplify it even more, a “Christian disciple follows Jesus.” Since that is what a “disciple is, then “discipleship” is the process of becoming a follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus gave us a great example of what discipleship looks like in the way that He taught and interacted with His disciples and it is vitally important that we have people in our lives who help lead us to be disciples. Preaching helps the process, singing and worship are important aspects of the process, and church attendance is vital when we desire to be disciples. None of these things, however, will teach us how to follow Christ. It is up to us to study the Word of GOD, to find mentors and small groups that can help us become disciples, and most importantly we need people who have been discipled that can in turn disciple us so that we can then begin to disciple others! In theory discipleship should be this circular process whereby we learn from those who are more mature than us so that we can teach others.
Many Haitians are at a disadvantage at this point. There are so many false doctrines (just like there are in America), pastors who do not teach the Word of GOD (just like in America), and churches with little to no leadership that it can be difficult to know where to begin. At the same time, because Haiti does not have free public education, a greater percentage of Haitians cannot study the Bible on their own. Because Bibles cost money and the economic situation in Haiti is dire, many Haitians do not have a Bible to study. On top of that, Christian books and commentaries that have been translated into Haitian Creole are few and far between and expensive. To even add to that, many of the churches we have seen are not led by pastors who have been to seminary or have much theological training and almost every pastor in Haiti has to be bi-vocational so that their families can eat and attend school. There are many reasons that discipleship in Haiti is challenging and within some churches and some Christian communities almost non-existent. At the same time, discipleship is one of the most important aspects of a Christian’s life so something has to give. As Christians we are saying that we are Christ followers, but how can we follow Christ if we have never been taught what that means? It is one thing to accept the Gospel and begin a relationship with Christ, it is quite another thing to put in the time and effort of knowing who Jesus is and what it means to follow Him.
With some of these challenges, coming up with a vision for this ministry is quite difficult. In fact, we do not yet have a clear vision of what we hope this ministry looks like 5 years down the road. Our vision as of today is that 2017 will be a year of prayer, relationship building, and spiritual preparedness to start this ministry. We have a team coming in April who will begin this prayer ministry by doing prayer walks throughout the community and talking to people about the importance of discipleship and how it could work. I hope to spend some time this year talking to church leaders in the community to get a feel for what they think would help and how the ministry might proceed. My hope is that by 2018 we will know how to move forward into this new area of ministry for All Things New. It may be a time of training and discipling pastors so that they can in turn disciple leaders within their church. It may be getting involved in a couple of local churches and getting discipleship ministries started there. We may try and get together with some of the local church associations and see how we could help with discipleship on a larger scale. The truth is we want to listen to local Haitian leaders and see what they think will work and how to implement this type of ministry practically. I wish we could be clearer on our long-term vision, but the short-term vision is crystal clear…PRAY, PRAY, PRAY! If you have any wisdom or experience starting discipleship ministries within the local church and especially if you have international experience in this please contact us and help to guide us in this. If your church has a desire to help and pray for us, please let us know that as well. The bottom line is that right now we know it is a need and we are praying for GOD to continue to develop our vision moving forward.