This document is part of the Festschrift in Honor of Charles Speel, edited by Thomas J. Sienkewicz and James E. Betts and published by Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois in 1997. The Table of Contents for this volume can be accessed here. If you have any questions, you may contact Tom Sienkewicz at

Two Agendas for Discipleship

Rev. Richard W. Anderson

As I conduct my ministry at the First Presbyterian Church of Aurora, I am working with two calendars--one is where I am presently, and the other is ten years from now. Why two calendars? Because I believe we as a church are becoming what we "envision" ourselves to be. The same is true of myself--I am in the process of becoming what I envision myself to be.

Consider what could be

My task as pastor should be one of helping our church gain a picture of what it could become. That causes me to consider five questions that have helped me inventory my ministry:

1.) If I knew I couldn't fail, what kind of person would I like to deploy into the world?

2.) What kind of church would make that kind of person possible?

3.) What kind of leadership team would make possible that kind of a church?

4.) What kind of pastor would make possible that kind of leadership team?

5.) What kind of fellowship of pastors would set that kind of pastor free?

Those five questions have helped me keep clear about what I ought to be doing.

My ultimate goal

My first question really relates to what my ultimate goal is. For me, it's to put into the world an articulate, contagious, relevant, involved, alive kind of laity.

When I picture the kind of people I want to deploy into the world, it helps me, because then I can say, "What kind of program is going to make this possible? What will help the laity share their faith in a way that others can sense what the Christian style of life is all about for our time in history? What will give them a verbal witness that is authenticated by the kind of involvement they have in the problems of our time? What will contribute to their growth experience so that others will see that the Christian life is dynamic and relational, not conceptual and boring?"

I like to think of my work as basically helping agnostic Presbyterians come alive to a vital kind of contagious faith. I feel that the danger of institutional Christianity is that it has raised up a hybrid--a kind of conceptual, culturalized Christian who is not alive in relationship to Christ. If our faith has not set us free, as people who have been healed in the areas of our own deepest personal needs, we will not be concerned about the frustration and sickness of our world.

Focusing our ministry

Thinking of our local parish as an "equipping center" brings our whole ministry into focus. We are not a holding action, we are a dynamic center where people can dare to be themselves, face their own needs, and, in honest, open fellowship, grow as people. Then, when they move out into their own offices or their shops or their neighborhoods, they have a kind of faith which is alive from their most recent discoveries and are ready to share it.

In other words, I feel the raw material of our own discoveries becomes the basis of our evangelism. What Christ is doing in our personal lives--with our money, in our families, with our kids, with our problems of image, our hopes and dreams and disappointments and fears--that is where people are living. We need to put people into the world who have had fresh experiences in these gutsy issues of life. Then what they say to other people will be more than just, "Believe in Jesus. He'll change your life." Their message will be, "Let me tell you what Christ has done in my life and the difference it has made with my problems."

People hearing this will be able to identify with that kind of witness, and the sharing of our faith will no longer be drab and negative, but alive and vital communication.

A starting place

If our church is to be this kind of free, open, relaxed, authentic quality of life, we have got to start someplace. I believe that the starting place for institutions to be renewed is in the discovery of a new quality of life in the microcosm in order to affect the institution as a whole.

In Psalm 103 it says, "The Lord made known His ways to Moses, and His acts to the people of God." Here He gave us the secret of renewal of our institutions. God got next to Moses and gave Moses his dream and then Moses could communicate that dream.

Until it happens to you

One place for that renewal to begin is among the church officers. They ought to be a central microcosm of koinonia in the life of our church. They should personally experience what they eventually legislate for the rest of the body. That is based on a very essential administrative principle for me--that people can support only those things they share in developing, and that nothing can happen through you until it happens to you.

Most of us pastors find on our church boards a lot of tired, good, dutiful and often dead people who are there because it is the thing to do or because it is the office of recognition in a community. They may have very little sense of the sweep of God's movement in history and what He wants to do with the institutional church in our time. Very often, we get frustrated with the church and are about to give up on it, simply because we do not recognize that the local parish is one of the sickest institutions of our time.

We always expect the Church to be the Church (it never is), and we get disappointed. My wife, Jan, often says to me, "Richard, I'm surprised you're surprised. What did you expect? They are human beings. They are as much in need of grace as you are."

But that is where the secret is. If this small band of men and women who lead a church can dare to open with each other and share their evolving faith and begin to experience the Church in depth together, then the usual response is, "This has got to happen to the whole church."

A core of discipling

The other route of renewal is through small discipling groups, where leaders are in place who are both called and qualified, and where members are committed to growth in their personal lives and to reaching out to others. This cannot happen by trying to mobilize an entire congregation. As with the church board, the concept is to visualize this as a core of discipling, to become the "leaven" that will ultimately "leaven the whole loaf."

This has happened to me in several different churches. Instead of trying to introduce a great new program, I started with one Elder, then two, then three, and then a dozen. Instead of trying to disciple the entire membership, I established several Discovery Classes and Growth Groups to model discipling and to broaden our base of qualified leadership. As we met, I, too, dared to be open about what Christ was or was not doing in my life--not only the hopes, but the hurts. Then they were free to share with me, and eventually the quality of life in Christ experienced by those involved caused them to say, "What has happened to us as we have moved from being agnostics to an alive and vital faith must also happen to every member of our church."

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