|Discipleship University to train church leaders|
"Discipleship University, a groundbreaking new initiative, will directly address the leadership needs of today’s changing church," says the Rev. Karen Greenwaldt. UMNS photos by Linda Green.
By Linda Green*
March 22, 2007 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)
The discipleship agency of The United Methodist Church will open a "Discipleship University" this fall to instruct teams of pastors and lay members on ways to revitalize their local congregations.
Carol Krau reads about God appearing to Moses in a burning bush, which serves as the basis for the university's focus.
A part-time, two-year learning experience, the school will launch in October in the board’s Nashville headquarters as part of the agency’s efforts to renew existing churches and help leaders of those congregations be more effective in their ministries, said the Rev. Karen Greenwaldt, the agency’s top executive.
"Discipleship University, a groundbreaking new initiative, will directly address the leadership needs of today’s changing church," Greenwaldt said in her "state of the board" address.
The initiative was announced during a March 14-17 meeting in Nashville of the governing members of the Board of Discipleship, whose primary purpose is to help annual conferences, districts and local churches to win disciples to Jesus Christ and to help those new Christians grow in their own discipleship.
Greenwaldt said the board continuously searches for "ways to engage the peoples of the world with deep resources of Christian faith and practice. Our work continues to deepen and to change" and "our initiatives focus on the clarion call in the church for effective leaders who will lead vital and vibrant churches."
Bettering the community, growing the church
The Rev. Vance P. Ross, a staff executive who will be dean of the university, told United Methodist New Service he envisions the university as a place for people to "learn how to become a disciple-making congregation for the betterment of their community and growth of their church."
Just as college and university students study and learn in a higher education setting, enrollees in Discipleship University will come to Nashville to study discipleship in an academic setting at the board’s headquarters and at nearby Scarritt-Bennett Center.
Ross said formational experiences will help teams of pastors and lay members examine identity, mission, vision, values and implementation.
Helping teams determine their local church identity is an important part, he said, because people often mistake "the church as being the place you go rather than the thing you live" or a "club where people are exclusive members rather than the body of Christ where we are including members."
Ross said leaders of each church must have a sense of who they are in the body of Christ and their distinct vision for ministry in that community.
Curriculum and learning
Pastor and laity teams will commit for two-year periods of accountability to learn, study, practice, worship, pray and build ministry plans.
Agency staff members, with assistance from consultants, will serve as faculty to instruct about:
- Worship as central to the life of the body of Christ
- Mentoring of young people
- Small groups and Sunday School as the binding agent of faith formation, practice and accountability
- Spiritual leadership development of clergy and laity
- Stewardship of life, call and gifts
"Interwoven through each of these tracks will be the practice of the Wesleyan means of grace and the understanding of the church’s basic evangelistic task of reaching out to engage the peoples of the world," Greenwaldt said.
"God’s church can change this world... and Discipleship University will be critical and pivotal to that change."
–The Rev. Vance P. Ross
Ross said the common thread running throughout all Discipleship University curricula is "that we are called to make disciples of Jesus to change the world … to help people become change agents in spirit, in home, in community, in their state, nation and the world. We want love to take over."
The board is doing a "new thing to make a new and different church," Ross said. "God’s church can change this world … and Discipleship University will be critical and pivotal to that change."
In a presentation to the board’s governing members, Carol Krau, an agency staff member and university department chairwoman, defined the university as an "organized system" to help local church teams experience "the use of specific practices for producing followers of Jesus."
The school will combine theory and Wesleyan heritage with an emphasis on practical application in today’s context using Exodus 3 – the story of Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush – as the centerpiece.
The burning bush is an opportunity "to see where God is active in the world and where we can pay attention and be a part of God’s work in the world," said Krau. Just as the burning bush was on fire but not consumed, this initiative "wants people to be on fire but not be burned out" while making disciples for the transformation of the world.
Bishop D. Max Whitfield, of the Northwest Texas and New Mexico annual conferences, expressed excitement about Discipleship University. "This is something that is vital," he said. "It has all the elements that are needed. … It has the elements of spiritual formation, peace and justice, the ongoing biblical foundations, the various aspects of disciple-making."
Criteria for enrollment
Classes of up to 150 students will come from churches with an average worship attendance of 100-250 people. Church teams of three to five members, both pastors and lay, will spend three to five days in academy module settings five times in two years in Nashville, and a new semester will begin every six months for team-based learning. During sessions, the students will perform assignments on site and also will engage in practical applications at home. Tuition costs are still being analyzed by the agency.
The Rev. Vance P. Ross (right) talks with the Rev. Stephen Bryant, editor and publisher of Upper Room Ministries. Ross will serve as dean of Discipleship University.
Many students will be nominated from the annual conferences, from agency solicitation and from the agency’s Roman’s 12 project, a year-long research endeavor to discover best practices in local congregations to mine ideas, concepts, practices and principles that help form vital churches. Those best practices will be incorporated into the curriculum of Discipleship University.
Ross said the university will help churches learn "what are their possibilities" rather than focusing on their deficiencies.
"There are congregations where people go to church but do not necessarily understand themselves to be the church," he said. The university seeks to "deepen your sense and understanding of what the church is so that it becomes more than a place where you go. It becomes a lifestyle that you live."
For more information, contact Jeanette Pinkston, director of media relations for the Board of Discipleship, by e-mailing email@example.com or by calling (877) 899-2780, ext. 7017.
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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