Thursday, August 05, 2004

Discipleship and assimilation

I have in my library, or did have before I moved from Ohio to Arizona, a number of books on the process of assimilation. In fact, I had a rather large notebook that outlined the steps churches could take with new members. The structure looked different but the philosophy was the same as that of Saddleback Church in California. Rick Warren describes assimilation as moving people from the outer circle of the community to the innermost circle he calls the core. The idea is that assimilation takes place in a series of steps as individuals move from attenders, to membership, to involvement in a small or mid-size group, to service, then finally into leadership. It is a good model and usually works well when it is worked properly.

Warren structured four seminars to help move people from the outside in. His second seminar emphasizes maturity and/or spiritual growth. This seminar encourages new Christians and new members to establish a daily quiet time with Bible reading and prayer, time for Bible study, and practice the tithe. It is a start and should help people grow as disciples. His third seminar focuses on service encouraging new believers to get active in some avenue of Christian service. Again, this is a good start. Without accountability structures, however, these may become easily attended seminars with little practical results. One can hear they ought to read the Bible and even receive a Bible-reading plan and never read the Bible.

Church leaders often think that because someone has attended a seminar or accepted a task they are assimilated. The leaders in the church I served in Ohio looked at two things: (1) Did new members attend a Bible class? (2) Did new members take a task assignment?

All of that reflects a good start in assimilation. Do we really think, however, that someone who attends a seminar or takes a task is really growing in their faith? In my opinion, assimilation and discipleship may work at cross purposes. If someone is satisfied with their spiritual understanding and growth because they have "jumped through the hoops" and do something in the church, are they really growing in their relationship to Christ? I don't suppose we can ever know for sure!

Randy Frazee and the Pantego Bible Church devised a Christian life inventory geared to help measure individual spiritual growth. Do a search on "The Connecting Church" or go to and you will find out about this instrument. Maybe it is time to stop assuming that spiritual growth and deeper discipleship is occurring and it is time to do some measurement. If the church does not expect and encourage spiritual growth in its members, it won't happen. In addition to assimilating members it is important to emphasize an expectation of spiritual growth. Without it we will continue to get the results we've always gotten.

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