HARRISONBURG, Va. — Mennonite Mission Network leaders are considering the next steps to promote disciple-making within racial-ethnic congregations of Mennonite Church USA.
After a year of working in a pilot program for the Missional Discipleship and Leadership Mentoring Initiative, representatives of MMN and the initiative gathered May 16-17 in Harrisonburg to assess the program’s results.
The initiative, developed by MMN and Virginia Mennonite Missions’ Mennonite Hispanic Initiative, was formed last year to foster a “culture of disciple-making” that could also produce mission-minded leaders from racial-ethnic congregations.
In the program, three people decide to become a “relational discipleship” group. This group is formed by one person who is very involved in the church, one who is a regular attender and one who is just starting. These three meet weekly to check in about their week, their faith and to discuss the weekly Scripture reading.
Through these groups, people grow deeper in their faith because the weekly meetings prompt people to study their Bible and talk about it regularly.
The pilot program was created by Christian Service director Del Hershberger and MMN staff and Mennonite Hispanic Initiative director Marvin Lorenzana, along with congregational leaders from racial-ethnic churches.
“The goal is for each person to become more like Jesus every day,” Lorenzana said. Eventually, the group will decide to multiply and form new three-person groups.
Daniel Guillet organized the discipleship groups at Unity Pentecostal Church of God in Miami. He noticed one young woman who was active in the church, but shy. After about a year of participating in a discipleship group, Guillet saw that she was sharing with others in the group and asking for prayer. Even people outside of the group noticed her change.
“Everyone is reading the Bible more and learning and understanding more,” he said.
The yearlong pilot program grew out of a desire for stronger partnerships with immigrant and racial-ethnic congregations.
Six churches — three in Miami, two in New York and one in Harrisonburg — implemented the program. Twenty-two leaders from these churches reported back to MMN what they had learned.
Lorenzana provided regular support for the congregational leaders as they encouraged their groups to keep energized for the initiative. In congregations, it was easy for groups to stop meeting after the excitement of the new program wore off and the daily busyness of people’s lives took over.
At New Song Anabaptist Fellowship, there are people from diverse faith backgrounds. Pastor Basil Marin said the congregation worked hard to come to a common understanding of what it meant to be a disciple and meet in discipleship groups.
“We also had to work against the world’s understanding of immediate benefits, compared to God’s kingdom perspective, which takes time,” he said.
Lorenzana said all church leaders were enthusiastic about continuing the initiative even after the year ends.
“Many churches believe that being missional means to find outlets outside the church where they can plug in their disciples for meaningful service,” he said. “Even when this might be necessary, the reality is that a church becomes missional when the true mission of the church, that is, disciple-making, is at the center of who they are.”
Hershberger expressed excitement over hearing stories of spiritual growth.
“People are energized in their walk with Jesus,” Hershberger said. “We also see predominantly white, middle-class congregations searching for a path to a deeper relationship with Jesus and to walk in discipleship with others in an incarnational and relational way.”
He anticipates the initiative being expanded.