Connections: Wes Bartel
Church and Discipleship
Wes Bartel serves as director of the Assemblies of God’s
Discipleship Ministries Agency. He spoke recently with Editor Ken Horn.
evangel: Talk about your own discipleship journey.
BARTEL: I was born and raised on a cattle ranch in western
Montana. My mother had been a pastor, a minister and a church planter. My
father had been in the military, and that’s where he found Christ. But neither
of my parents at that time was involved in active full-time ministry, and I had
planned to spend my years on a cattle ranch. But God called me into pastoral
ministry, and I followed that calling for 30 years before coming to
Springfield. I’ve spent the last 12 years at our headquarters ministering with
Sunday School, Christian Education and Discipleship Ministries.
evangel: Sunday School was your first emphasis. Why is
Sunday School important today?
BARTEL: Sunday School is perhaps the most important
discipleship ministry. The problem is, we define it in historic terms. Whatever
contemporary forms we give to Sunday School, its primary focus is simply the
study of the Word of God. The study of God’s Word is the primary context where
evangel: Sunday School is a part of the whole discipleship
emphasis. Talk about what you’re doing now.
BARTEL: We are involved in a broader context. Discipleship,
of course, does include the study of God’s Word. It has to. But people are not
transformed only by the study of God’s Word.
Discipleship Ministries includes almost all the ministries
of the church, but specifically addresses five important areas: Sunday School,
Christian education, small groups, volunteer ministries and family ministries.
We want to create new educational resources for the church to take the Bible
actively to the members of our church. But, before we do that, we need to
communicate a template of ministry.
We’ve gone back to Acts 2 and taken a look at the formative
stages of the New Testament church and applied those concepts to today’s
church. We’re building our entire discipleship model around what we call the
Acts 2 Process.
evangel: What might a church look like that is going through
BARTEL: A church has to embrace it as a philosophy, not a
program. The Acts 2 Process is basically an ongoing and evolving model where we
add and build upon the structure that is already there. Ideally, that church
would assess both strengths and weaknesses of their congregation based upon the
issues that have been pinpointed. Locating the weakness of the church, I think,
is probably the most important step back towards spiritual health, because the
lowest common denominator of any concept is usually where we lose out. As a
church moves towards the Acts 2 model, it will become more people-focused.
evangel: A lot of times small churches are concerned that
they won’t be able to implement a program like this. Talk to the small church
pastor out there.
BARTEL: This concept of ministry and discipleship is ideal
for the small church because we’re talking about a return to a focus on the
individual. That’s an important aspect. My heart is specifically for our small
churches. More than 80 percent of our churches are under 200 individuals. Yet,
we often assume that the small church is an unhealthy church. Surveys prove
just the opposite. I think the small church is a church that needs to step back
for just a moment and say, “This is something that God can use effectively.”
evangel: How would you outline discipleship in the church?
BARTEL: I believe there are four necessary components in
effective discipleship regardless of church size: the large group, or
congregation, that offers worship and celebration; the midsize group where
perhaps Sunday School operates and we study and learn the Word of God; the
small group, where we focus upon connecting; and then the mentoring
relationship. Effective discipleship moves people into an ever-smaller context
where accountability takes place.
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