One of the most common questions we’ve gotten since we started the Vineyard back in 1999 is how discipleship works/happens here. Most of the time as we dig into the question a bit more, what we find is that the person is asking about a class system where younger followers of Jesus are taught by older, more mature ones. Generally this is in a classroom setting & the focus is on learning good solid beliefs.
Now personally, I am all for good solid beliefs & good biblical theology! However, I there is a reason we do not utilize this type of model at the Ithaca Vineyard. Sadly, it seems that for many, discipleship never moves out of the classroom, and into their daily lives. That said, we do offer various classes here at the Vineyard, including one modeled after the Alpha Course that focuses on having a good solid foundation for faith. But the classes are always designed, with the focus not on what you need to know about faith, but rather, how to live it out.
So what is our plan?
How does discipleship happen @ the Vineyard? Our goal is to see everyone who is part of the Vineyard engaging their faith in 3 areas.
First we encourage everyone to Connect w/ God. And we want to see people connecting with God on Sunday morning, by joining in with the whole church in worship, and engaging with the messages that take place. We also want to see people connect with God throughout the week in their daily time of prayer, reading or studying the bible, and putting the next steps that we talk about on Sunday into action. (For those of you who’ve never been here, Next Steps are action items we go over at the end of every Sunday Morning. They are simply practical ways that we can live out what we have just learned.)
Secondly, we encourage everyone to Connect w/ Others. The main way that this happens is through our weekly kinship groups. In addition to really growing in my faith as a member of a campus ministry, I also spent my first 10 years of full-time ministry leading campus fellowships (SUNY Albany & Cornell). So, although I skew way over to the introvert side, I have always recognized the need to be a part of a small group, as a key aspect of spiritual development. That is a big part of the reason we don’t have a lot of ministries that most churches tend to have…men’s group, women’s group, etc., because we don’t want people to have to make a choice between a kinship and something else…we really believe being part of a small group is a crucial part of spiritual growth. (On a regular basis we have between 70 % 90 % of our regular adult attenders in a weekly small group! And a large part of the rest are students who are involved in small groups on their campus.)
Thirdly, we encourage everyone to Contribute. We ask everyone, members, regular attenders & even irregular attenders to contribute their time, talent and treasure to the ministry of the Vineyard. We believe strongly that Jesus was a servant and that He calls us to serve…to serve God, to serve our church, and to serve our community. We believe that generosity and servanthood are at the heart of who Jesus was. And to neglect them is to cut ourselves off from spiritual development.
Now if you were go over and look at our church calendar, I think you’d notice that besides Sunday morning worship, small groups, and outreach, our calendar is pretty empty. That is by design. Because, as a church, we don’t simply want to get people to say a prayer, or sign on the line that they are a follower of Christ. We want to see transformation happen…really, that’s what discipleship is…we are growing into the image of Christ.
And so we desire that everyone who is part of the Ithaca Vineyard is in process of becoming more like Christ. And based on what we’ve seen over the life of our church, having people Connect with God, Connect with others, and contribute their Time, Talents & Treasures, seems to be good soil in which discipleship happens. If you are committed to these things, we believe you are in a position to grow in your relationship with God.
And like anything, this process is in process. We are always looking for ways to fill in some of the areas where we can do better.