Discipleship is a word that has permanently entered into the Seventh-day Adventist vocabulary. In the language of non-Adventist churches similar in nature to us, the word “evangelism” is often replaced by “church growth,” and “discipleship” refers to active involvement in church life, sometimes termed “responsible church membership.”
Originally applied within Adventist ranks, mostly to the work of Jesus’ disciples, it has taken on a contemporary meaning that broadens the common connotation of the word “evangelism,” which is often restricted to public meetings in the Adventist mindset.
What Is Discipleship?
In its broadest sense discipleship refers today to Christian experience, sanctification, faithful Christian living, and so on. In a more specific sense it refers to training new members and to general outreach strategies. In this sense it becomes a verb, the action phrase “to disciple”—to turn into an active, dedicated church member.
Discipleship engenders all kinds of creative ideas and methodologies. Here’s one about targeting nonattending Adventists and getting them back to church. This all happened many years ago, but the idea is still as workable as it was then.
Judy Prosser, the originator of the idea, writes: “As recent academy graduates, my friends and I felt a need to have active young adult groups in our churches. We finally decided to do something to reach the inactive youth and young adults around us. One of the members graciously invited us to her home for a Friday night vespers and planning session. As a result, we formed His Witness, a group consisting of young adults aged 18 to 28 from the local area.”
The idea. The group discussed many different spiritual outreach and extracurricular activities and finally selected an outdoor Sabbath School and church program at a local park. “We chose this,” Judy explains, “because we wanted to emphasize that Sabbath is a unique day for young adults to worship, and because we wanted to bring church into a more casual and intimate atmosphere. We hoped this worship would motivate some of the young adults to attend church more regularly. It also gave us the opportunity to lead out and participate in the program and discussions.”
Planning. Judy says, “We first picked a few speakers. For Sabbath School the pastor, himself a young adult, led a discussion on morals. Another speaker inspired us with a powerful talk on ethics.”
Advertising. After organizing the program, the group set out to advertise. They inserted announcements in the bulletins of surrounding churches a few weeks before the event. They also had announcements made during the church service. They found that the best way to generate a successful turnout was to invite friends and acquaintances.
“A tingle of nervousness and excitement raced up and down my spine when I awoke on the Sabbath morning our first activity was to take place,” Judy says. Would anyone come? Would all the work and planning be for nothing? “I was surprised and thankful that when I arrived a group had already spread out blankets and lawn chairs on the grass,” Judy continues. “After Sabbath School and church we ate a scrumptious lunch. Shortly after that we headed off for a hike and some rock climbing. About 30 young adults were there that day, excited about Christ and wanting to share with others.”
The pastor later observed that at the beginning of the day there had been two distinct groups. One group consisted of those just beginning college; the other was made up of a few married couples and those already out of college. As the day progressed, however, the two groups intermingled successfully.
“What we learned,” Judy concludes, “is that it is the responsibility of each of us to find a way to make a difference in and around our churches. It is time for us to stand up for God and answer His call. We are His witnesses! We are approaching Christ’s second coming, and so many people do not know about Him or just have not accepted Him. God can use each of us if we allow Him to.”
Here are some discussion points that might be used in this kind of activity:
- Are you ever worried that God’s plans will interfere with your personal pleasure? Explain.
- What are some provisions God has made to ensure that we have good times as well as serious moments?
- How do we overcome the fear that doing God’s will might make us look foolish to our peers?
- Do you think God would ever call us to do something that we simply could not succeed in?
- Have you ever avoided or run away from something you knew you should do, only to find yourself facing the same situation later?
- Is it difficult to comprehend the fact that God loves your enemies just as much as He loves you?
- What can we learn from God’s love?
—Adapted in part from Sabbath School Leadership, May 1997.
IN A NUTSHELL
- The word “discipleship” describes both Christian lifestyle and active involvement in church life.
- Discipleship generates all kinds of creative ideas.
- Working with currently nonattending members is a great idea.
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists