Leaders say churches must help newcomers dive into ‘waters of faith’

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Leaders say churches must help newcomers dive into ‘waters of faith’
By J.A. Buchholz | Oct. 9, 2009 {1088}
PUNTA GORDA, Fla. — The journey to becoming a mature follower of Christ is like learning to swim in deep water, and it’s up to churches and their members to make sure new Christians become strong at every stage in the process.
That’s according to the Rev. Dan Glover and Claudia Levy, president and vice-president, respectively, of Deepening Your Effectiveness Inc. and co-authors of “Deepening Your Effectiveness: Restructuring the Local Church for Life Transformation.” 

Sherrill Carr (left) and Lisa Milner, members at Trinity United Methodist Church in Sarasota, discuss how their church is helping members become mature disciples. Photo by J.A. Buchholz. Photo #09-1312.

The pair coached Florida Conference clergy and laity on the process of disciple-making, offering a “deep-sea change” from the typical church plan, at a workshop Sept. 12 at First United Methodist Church and the previous day at First United Methodist Church in Port Orange.
It was the second of two discipleship sessions sponsored by the conference’s Office of Congregational Transformation. The first, “The Simple Church Workshop,” was held in July at Grace United Methodist Church in Gainesville and First United Methodist Church in Boca Raton.
Using what they called the “Ocean Diagram,” Glover and Levy shared how congregations can help new believers progress on their Christian journey.

Taking the plunge
During the morning session Glover walked participants through the six stages of Christian formation, from infancy to maturation, and the kind of ministry people need at each stage.
The biblical foundation for the first stage, called “Life on the Beach,” is John 1:43-46, where Philip invited Nathanael to “come and see” Jesus. Glover said this stage is a time when newcomers are just starting to question the relevance and reality of church.
Progressing to the next stage requires the help of people they view as credible or established in their lives; those who will invite them to church to “come and see.” Glover said the church and worship service must be at its best and “worth seeing” for people in this stage.

“Is there a bonfire in your sanctuary?” Glover asked. “The acid test is not whether you and I will come to worship, but whether people will invite other people to come and see.”

Likening the process of Christian formation to learning to swim in deep ocean waters, the Rev. Dan Glover shares the types of ministry people need from churches at each stage of their Christian formation. Photo by J.A. Buchholz. Photo #09-1313.

During “Life on the Shoreline,” people have moved from standing on the beach to testing the water out of curiosity. It is important, Glover said, for people at this stage to meet new acquaintances who are authentic — ushers who look newcomers in the eye when they hand them a bulletin; greeters who tell visitors they are happy to see them at worship. The ministry at this point, Glover said, is high impact hospitality.

“We need to notice people,” Glover said, “but often we are too busy to do that.”

One barrier to growth at this stage, Glover said, is heightened sensitivity. A visitor or newcomer will notice hymnals stacked up in a corner or neglected cobwebs — anything not done well or out of place.

The third stage finds the new or rededicated believer standing in the water. The question this person will ask is not “How can I help?” but “How do I fit in?”

“Often times, people will ask the ‘how can I help?’ question,” Glover said. “We have to take into consideration the underlying questions. If we don’t, we drive a nail into their spiritual coffin.”
It’s a difficult stage, Glover said, because churches have a tendency to slot newcomers into vacant areas of ministry, often indefinitely, causing those who had been full of energy for ministry to “dry up on the spiritual vine.”

Often, he said, people at this stage will find themselves serving in a particular ministry because the church needs to fill a vacant slot. This is not a solution to spiritual development, Glover said.

Ministry at this stage must be relationship driven, not task driven, he said. Spiritual leaders, such as small group leaders, must engage newly forming Christians in relationships that offer “spiritual agitation” and mutual giving and receiving. Churches must have a culture in which trusting relationships grow and flourish, enabling people to address the deeper spiritual issues in their lives.
Glover says the interaction with spiritual leaders at this stage is so important it can prevent the death of congregations.
Complacency is the most common barrier at this point, Glover said. Individuals may begin to “settle into” their spiritual journey, instead of taking steps to move to the next stage.
Biblically, this stage relates to Luke 5:3-6, in which Jesus implored Simon to recast his nets after coming up empty. That challenge enabled Simon to fill his nets to overflowing.

Often times, people will ask the ‘how can I help?’ question. We have to take into consideration the underlying questions. If we don’t, we drive a nail into their spiritual coffin.”

Rev. Dan Glover

In the fourth stage, called “Life When Your Feet Come Off the Bottom,” Glover said seasoned, but restless, believers are asking, “Is there anything else?” Feeling they have no direction from leaders, they are afraid of moving on. They begin to feel disenchanted, frustrated and alienated from church leadership.
People in this stage need a relationship with an emerging discipler, someone who will walk with them step-by-step, offering guidance instead of telling them what to do, Glover said. They need someone who will help them overcome their fears so they can move into deeper water. It’s a relationship that provides the opportunity to “go and see” what God is doing.
In the final stages, the growing Christian begins to ask, “Where has this been all my life?”
In the “Life Beyond the Breakers” stage, disciplers are now encouraging followers to seek out the Holy Spirit for guidance, fostering a more intimate relationship.
Barriers here are misinterpretation of suffering and the lack of focus and discipline. “These are two most deadly barriers to mature discipleship,” Glover said. “They take out more believers than any other.”

It’s a time, Glover said, when even a snide remark can prevent growth or return the most mature Christian to the shore to relearn steps already taken.
Christians in this stage are urged to become models for others, as the Thessalonians were praised for doing by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 1:4-7 and 8b.           
Stage six finds the mature follower living “Life in the Deep.” This fully committed Christian asks, “What do you want me to do Lord?” The primary relationships here are with the Holy Spirit and an authentic spiritual community.
The Christian at this stage is not immune to the pitfalls of being a follower, however, and must learn to resist the barrier of isolation, Glover said, by living by the diver’s code: “never dive alone.” Glover suggested using a buddy system to “steer clear of harmful objects in the water.”
The ministry to this person is one-on-one discipling, in which the discipler is honest when changes must occur, as in Proverbs 20:5: “The purposes of a person’s heart are like deep waters, but someone of understanding draws them out.”
Testing the waters

During the afternoon session Levy guided attendees in assessing their church’s ministries to determine if they are meeting members’ needs.
Levy began by asking people to imagine they live in a town that has a brand new shoe factory. It uses state-of-the-art equipment, and its employees rush busily from task to task, but when the manager steps onto the floor and asks how many shoes have been produced, the resounding answer is none.

Claudia Levy takes lay and clergy leaders through a workbook of more than 30 pages to help them assess their church’s effectiveness in meeting people’s needs and ways they can improve their disciple-making efforts. Photo by J.A. Buchholz. Photo #09-1314.

The church is often like that shoe factory, Levy said, because it has not been in the business of making disciples. For example, in 2004, 42.1 percent of United Methodist churches reported no professions of faith, Levy said. That statistic, she said, shows something is wrong, not with the people, but with the process.
Participants then combed through a workbook of more than 30 pages at their tables to assess their church’s effectiveness in meeting people’s needs and ways they can improve their disciple-making efforts.
Plotting a course

After the workshop, Glover said he hoped people left knowing they must have a clear understanding of what they need to do to guide people through the stages. He said he believes the Ocean Diagram removes the fog from the spiritual journey.
“We are wired by God to take certain steps,” he said. “The barriers … can cause us to slumber or stay in the same spot.”
Lynette Edwards, lay leader at Rogers Community United Methodist Church in Bradenton, was hopeful the Ocean Diagram could transform her church.
“What I heard today clarified some things for me,” she said. “I’m the kind of person who likes for things to be clear, and this definitely was. I’m so excited to have a real document to take home with me.”
Jasmine Rogers, a member at Temple Terrace United Methodist Church, attended the workshop with members of her church’s discipleship team. She said seeing the different stages labeled and explained made sense and she appreciates having ideas and resources she can share at her church.
The Rev. Joe Wallace, a retired member of the North Central New York Annual Conference, said the workshop opened his eyes to his own spiritual journey.
“This is interesting and powerful,” he said. “This is showing people real direction for their spiritual lives. I love it, and I appreciate it.”
Glover and Levy’s company, Deepening Your Effectiveness Inc., provides consulting, training and coaching services designed to equip mission-minded pastors and church leaders to transform their congregations.
Related story

Leader says key to disciple-making is simplicity

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011, tparham@flumc.org, Orlando
*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a freelance writer based in Seffner, Fla.

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