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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...



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 discipleship begins.

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 that process?

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.

Visit AGTV to view an extended version of this interview.

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