Blaze A Discipleship Trail

This article is the first in a series.

The anticipation of adventure had adrenaline pumping through us as the van full of my friends slowly made its way up the hill to a monument of General Douglas MacArthur overlooking Lake Sentani on the island of New Guinea. We had begged to be dropped off and ‘blaze a trail’ down the 1,000-foot-high hill. Our preteen minds thought everything about it would be fun and the supervising adults allowed the attraction of a few moments without rambunctious kids to overtake good sense. Over the crest of the hill we went without caution or concern. As the mid-day tropical heat and humidity rose to sweltering, hints of the challenge we faced began to appear. What looked like an easy descent soon turned into a demoralizing fight against nature. Beads of sweat ran down our arms and into paper cuts from the shoulder-high elephant grass. Loose rock resulted in spectacular falls resulting in bruised body parts and egos. Soon it dawned on us that we didn’t really know where we were or how to get to our pick up point. Lost, bruised and stinging from sweat-filled cuts, we realized that the idea of blazing a trail is way more fun than actually blazing a trail. 

A clearly defined and well-trodden path is far superior than hacking your way through untamed nature. Likewise, a Discipleship Pathway is far superior to cutting a new trail to Christlikeness. Your church needs a clearly marked path of discipleship. This short series of articles is intended to help you build a pathway to make disciples of Jesus. Less blueprint that addresses every issue, which would take a book, these articles are meant to give you bite-sized things to consider as you build a Discipleship Pathway for your church. Let’s start with defining what it is and drawing out some practical implications. 

What is a Discipleship Pathway?

Discipleship Pathway is the foundation to the GCC Partnership Plan.

It defines a Discipleship Pathway as “a well-organized process available to the church, designed to equip believers in each phase of their spiritual formation in view of their missional calling.” Simply put, it is a clearly marked route that leads to a destination. 

We live in a unique age where it is easy to get lost in the jungle of information. So many books, studies, podcasts and free online courses are available that we can substitute binge consuming material for actual discipleship. We can find ourselves walking in circles, lost in the jungle of content, never arriving at the destination. Scripture warns that the last days will be marked by people who are “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). Paul goes on to instruct Timothy to follow his example (2 Timothy 3:10) and the example of those “whom you learned it…from childhood” (2 Timothy 3:14-15). Timothy is to walk down the well-worn path that his mentor had previously trod and his mother and grandmother had mapped out for him from childhood.  

As Great Commission Christians, we know that Jesus left us with a mission with a clear method: make disciples.  

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.   Matthew 28:19-20

Notice that Jesus did not leave us without specifics about how to obey his command to make disciples. He says we are to evangelize (go), establish (baptize), and equip (teach them to observe) them as disciples.  

3 Practical Considerations: 

First, and most important, each local body of believers needs to have a Discipleship Pathway. There must be a clearly defined route that leads to disciples of Jesus being made. They must not be left to blaze their own trail, or they will be battered, bruised, and many will give up. This requires mapping out clear starting points, mile markers, signs that give direction to the next way point and a final objective (the next articles in this series will help you form this). 

This requires mapping out clear starting points, mile markers, signs that give direction to the next way point and a final objective.

Second, a Discipleship Pathway must be purposeful and Spirit-led. The tension between purposeful and Spirit-led must be maintained. Have a plan to make disciples. Mark out a clear pathway to belief in Jesus, baptism into his family and binding to his teaching. Make it obvious to everyone in your church. Communicate clear mile-markers and invite them to take the next step regularly. Have a plan, be intentional and keep leading your members down the pathway. But always hold the intentionality of a clear pathway in tension with the One who is transforming the heart of the disciple. Keep this in tension…Jesus wants you to make disciples, but trust His Spirit to do the work, not your pathway.

Keep this in tension...Jesus wants you to make disciples, but trust His Spirit to dot he work, not your pathway.

Third, cut out the Discipleship Pathway according to age-appropriate learning. Most of the time we think of children and youth when this well-worn warning is given, but we often forget to teach adults in age-appropriate ways to the detriment of achieving maturity in disciples. The dignity of adult education must be considered in at least two ways. First, respect what adults bring to the disciple-making process. Cognitive ability, life experience and emotional skill should be relied upon. Second, invite adults into the learning process. Discovery is more powerful than didactic teaching. Practically this means round tables, peer discussion, and dedicated time for reflection. Every adult-level learning moment is most potent when they capture what the Spirit is teaching them and record next steps to take as a result. 

Your church needs a Discipleship Pathway. Someone needs to take the lead to blaze a discipleship trail so individuals don’t have to blaze their own way forward. We need to lead many people down the trail so that it becomes a well-worn, clearly marked, trusted path that leads to disciples of Jesus being made. Will you begin the foundational work of defining a Discipleship Pathway for your church?

If you would like to know more about planting churches with GCC, click here.

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