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Discipleship Paradigm

The Fellowship’s new Acts 2 Process is designed to jump-start the
spiritual lives of churches and individuals

By John W. Kennedy

The Assemblies of God has embarked on a major initiative designed to revolutionize discipleship methods for both congregations and individuals.

Originators describe the Acts 2 Process that focuses on worship, fellowship, discipleship, evangelism and gift-oriented ministry as a process rather than a program.

“We’re trying to create a template on which a church can flow based on the five basic foundations described in Acts 2:42-47,” says Alton Garrison, Assemblies of God assistant general superintendent. “Our goal is to take people who are far from God, and turn them into fully devoted followers of Christ, equipping them to do ministry and releasing them to fulfill their life’s mission — whether it’s witnessing at the job, mentoring a friend, going overseas or giving to a missionary.”

Garrison is spearheading the new emphasis, which he implemented in the 1990s in the church he pastored, First Assembly of God in North Little Rock, Ark.

“It’s a paradigm, not a program,” Garrison says. “It can be implemented in Sunday School, Wednesday night Bible teaching or small groups.”

Garrison says the Acts 2 Process is a more flexible plan than the Fellowship’s productive We Build People program, which kicked off in 1995. We Build People had a linear configuration similar to a baseball diamond, where constituents went from first to home in a formula with bases dubbed include, instruct, involve and invest. Participants had to follow an outline that precluded, for instance, skipping second base en route from first to third.

The Acts 2 Process motif, on the other hand, is based on five overlapping circles. Worship is the centerpiece that connects the rest, which are labeled connect, grow, serve and go. A person can enter anywhere and move from one circle to another, rather than having to take a step-by-step approach to advance.

“For discipleship to be effective, we must move from a program-oriented focus to a philosophy of ministry where the church and its leadership views everything relationally,” says Wes Bartel, AG Discipleship Ministries Agency national director.

The new design recognizes that not everyone in 21st-century evangelicalism enters a church at the same maturity point. Some know nothing about God; others have transferred from another church background and are ready to jump into ministry.

The concept also marks a strategy shift for the Fellowship, which has, along with most denominations, tended for generations to emphasize salvation as a key for church growth. However, year after year typically fewer than one in 10 people who make a profession of faith ends up staying in church long enough to learn the basics about prayer, Bible reading and other disciplines.

Last year, the Discipleship Ministries Agency commissioned LifeWay Christian Resources to conduct a survey of the state of discipleship in the AG. Leaders expected only 600 pastors to respond, but 2,614 filled out questionnaires, representing more than 20 percent of AG churches.

“The survey showed only 7 percent of Assemblies of God pastors were satisfied with existing discipleship methods,” says Ken Peckett, Discipleship Ministries Agency marketing director. “Pastors want to help people grow, and this gives the tools for that.”

“There is a genuine groundswell toward returning discipleship as a mandate of the church,” Bartel says.

A Spiritual Health Planner, one of the Gospel Publishing House resources in conjunction with the Acts 2 Process, enables participants to choose crawl, walk or run options in developing their relationship with the Lord in the five key areas. For instance, those who rate themselves low on the question of “I find that my relationship with Jesus comes up frequently in my conversations with those who don’t know Him” are urged to write out their personal testimony and share it with a friend as a first step toward growth.

The workbook contains 40 questions in all, geared to help people identify and improve areas of weakness. Sample self-examination statements include: “I daily seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in ways I can best serve God;” “There is nothing in my life that I have not surrendered to God;” and “I regularly pray for those who don’t know Christ.” A close friend also rates the individual to help that Christian gain a different perspective on personal spiritual health. Participants are urged to retake the assessment on an annual basis.

“With the Spiritual Health Planner everybody can go to a next level,” Garrison says. “It’s a never-ending process. People are always growing, and establishing relationships that are redemptive.”

“Part of the problem in the past has been that programs tend to be very constrictive in their methods,” Bartel says. “They have beginnings and ends, and you can only use certain resources.”

Garrison says the Acts 2 Process is adaptable whatever the composition of the congregation or individual.

“Whether traditional or postmodern, urban or rural, ethnic minority or white, this is without prescription regarding methodology because it’s biblically based,” Garrison says. “It can be transferred to any culture or church size.”

“In our culture today, people enter church from many points,” Bartel says. “No matter where they are, they can begin the process of spiritual development.”

The concept is uncomplicated, yet Garrison says partakers will need to be intentional and disciplined to make it work.

“Accountability is a necessary part of the growth process,” Bartel says. “The focus of the curriculum won’t be knowledge; it will be to develop a lifestyle that results in changed lives.”

Acts 2 Process components will be promoted for the next several years as a way to promote General Superintendent George O. Wood’s core value of skillfully resourcing the constituency. GPH will continue to provide new accompanying materials as individuals seek to grow spiritually. In addition to the Spiritual Health Planner, resources currently available include Garrison’s book The 360° Disciple, which includes chapters by Bartel and six others on discipleship ideas for pastors and laypeople; an Acts 2 Church booklet authored by Garrison; and a seven-member speakers bureau that includes Garrison and Bartel to explain the Acts 2 Process to church leadership.

The Acts 2 Process also will have an integral part within the Church Transformation Network (CTN), which will allow congregations to review and assess their effectiveness in the areas of discipleship, spiritual health and vision for the local body.

As the culmination of a year’s development, the Acts 2 Process will be the pathway in which revitalized churches introduce a discipleship ministry model, according to Rick Allen, CTN national facilitator.

“Our goal is to bring plateaued or declining churches onto a common spiritual page to create a renewed vision for future health and growth,” Allen says.

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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