Last November, church leaders from across Tasmania came together for the Building a Discipleship Culture Workshop in Poatina. Set at the Poatina Lodge, those attending were greeted by the magnificent views of the Western Tiers and surrounds. We were made welcome and immediately felt at home with the 1960s decor and open fireplace. This was no ordinary ‘conference centre’ but this was going to be no ordinary conference. Participants came from the north, south, east and west of Tasmania and ranged in age from young university leaders to those with many years ministry experience. Meal times in themselves were an event as people gathered and shared ideas and stories they were absorbing from the event.
The main speaker was Rich Robinson, leader of the Network Church, Sheffield and 3dmUK; a network of community churches numbering some 2000 in Sheffield, England. Why is this so significant and why have a representative from this community address leaders in Tasmania? Because, as we were to see, the ideas presented and discussed were challenging to those from traditional church backgrounds and yet fundamental to effective church planting.
From the beginning there was no, “Here’s an idea, go away and discuss how you can apply it to your church.” No, this was a workshop and therefore much more interactive; quite refreshing compared to previous similar events and this in itself revealed one of the keys to the success of Building a Discipleship Culture.
We looked first at our own challenges and opportunities in life and ministry. Then Rich drew our attention to the fundamentals of a discipleship culture and how this can sometimes be incongruent with our modern, program-based church models. Disciples become leaders who gather together and consider how they can be missional in their purposes. That may be a poor definition but it shows the fluidity and relational aspect of ‘doing church’.
We looked at other aspects of discipleship. The generational model of teacher and student was familiar in Jewish circles, but the Jewish convert Paul used the picture of a father and son with the Gentiles to whom he preached, who clearly understood the model of a father teaching his son his profession and trade. Just because we’ve been brought up in one tradition, we do not necessarily need to use the same model with the next generation. Imitation and innovation go hand in hand.
And at Poatina, this is what we were all being challenged to do; to not hold on to our traditional ways of thinking church. We also looked practically at how to disciple and its implications not only in the small group, but in the larger community setting. We discussed the way we care for those in the church while simultaneously looking out towards those we call our neighbours.
In fact, we did a lot of discussion along with some great times of worship and prayer and taking time out to absorb these ideas with the Western Tiers as our backdrop. It was great also to glean from those older and be enthused by those younger. Then at the end to make a public commitment to how we might implement what we had received both personally and among those we lead and with whom we do community.
by Oliver Nicholson