Date of Award
Doctor of Ministry
Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary
Doctor of Ministry DMin
In the Spring of 2012, the High Springs Seventh-day Adventist Church had about 29% of its membership "active in ministry," meaning these members were involved in "ministry activities outside of Sabbath morning" or they served in "leadership responsibilities during Sabbath school and worship time" (i.e. I did not consider mere attendance as "active in ministry"). Approximately 9% of the membership was "missionally engaged," meaning they were participating in activities through "service to others outside of our denominational affiliation" (I considered serving people within our church membership as "active in ministry" not "missionally engaged"). The goal of this project was to increase the number of church members who were "missionally engaged" as a result of pursuing the "life . . . to the full" (John 10:10, NIV) Jesus came to give us.
Using the iFollow Roadmap for Discipleship Assessment (available on the web at http://www.ifollowdiscipleship.org/index.php?id=92) I established a congregational baseline for discipleship maturity, which was used to consider the congregational impact of my intervention on missional thinking and acting after two years. To mark the beginning of the project period, a three-part preaching series was given about living "life . . . to the full" (LTTF) with Jesus through practicing three vital behaviors. These behaviors were promoted through a weekly (or biweekly) nine-month long small group commitment focused on the common pursuit of LTTF in Jesus. I was the group facilitator during each of the two project years. The three vital behaviors of LTTF living that were promoted in my groups, and to the entire church family through my sermons and handouts, were: 1. daily, book by book Bible reading to get God’s word into people’s minds and hearts often; 2. small group participation during the week to encourage people to keep reading their Bibles, to discuss how God intends them to live "life . . . to the full," and to keep praying for and encouraging each other toward fullness as the group practices being Christ’s body on earth between Sabbaths; and 3. asking group members to partner up in same-gender pairs to be missionally engaged in a context of their choosing outside of their denominational associations, using "Christ’s method," as described by White (1905, pp. 143-144).
At the end of the project period 3% more church members were "active in ministry" through their participation in the second year LTTF discipleship group. From the beginning of the second year two non-church-member young adults became active in my LTTF discipleship group in addition to becoming regular attenders in Sabbath school and worship services. A third non-church-member young adult joined our LTTF group as a result of our recruitment cookout. Most participants reported that belonging to our weeknight LTTF discipleship group increased their Bible reading frequency and helped them to be more active in praying for each other, they sought to represent God well in their day to day contexts (which was what LTTF with Jesus meant to them). A comparison of the iFollow Roadmap for Discipleship Assessments that were given at the beginning and the end of the two-year project period revealed the following outcomes. There was at least a 10% increase in the use of people’s free time to help others who have problems or needs; "Often true" (down 9%), "Almost always true" (up 3%), and "Always true" (up 16%). There was more than a 12% increase in people devoting time to Bible reading and study. When asked to respond to, "I seek out opportunities to help me grow spiritually," there was a 6% increase in those indicating "Almost always true" and a 9% increase in those checking "Always true." There was a positive shift across the spectrum in people perceiving themselves to be less critical. There was also a noticeable shift across the spectrum of people becoming more accepting of themselves, with a 14% decrease in the number of people who marked "Always true" to the statement, "I have a hard time accepting myself." In fact, no one checked the "Always true" answer for "I have a hard time accepting myself" in the 2014 survey.
Believing our ability to join God on mission is predicated by our ability to love others as we love ourselves, the congregation’s increased sense of self-acceptance and decreased sense of being critical of others seem to be significant indicators of movement in a missional direction. While there were ups and downs across the spectrum, the iFollow Assessment tool indicated the church as a whole had moved in a positive direction toward missional thinking and activity between 2012 and 2014. I believe the positive iFollow Assessment results were more indicative of individual mission thinking and acting, not group or partnership actions, which it was not designed to distinguish between. Neither of my two LTTF discipleship groups, nor any of our discipleship partners, became regularly engaged in mingling and serving activities in the community during our nine months together, but group members self-reported becoming more regular readers of their Bibles, more committed prayer partners for each other, and felt their lives were enriched by a sense of increased hope and support in their pursuits of a life of fullness in Christ at home and on the job, and in all their relationships. Pursuing LTTF together for my second-year group of men was for us to encourage and pray for each other, in the context of guided Bible reading and dialogue, toward becoming better representatives of God with their families and on their jobs. My learning was that being missional starts in our homes and on our jobs and will move to the community from that starting point. What can be said is that the pursuit of LTTF with Jesus has been a catalyst for thinking and acting in ways that represent Christ well among those who are nearest to us throughout the day.
In future groups I would keep encouraging the three vital behaviors as the foundations of experiencing "life . . . to the full" with Jesus while giving much more attention to mingling and friendship building with the unchurched in third places (Frost, 2006) using "Christ's method alone" (White, 1905, p. 143-144), asking God to reveal to us what he is already doing around us and how we can join him. As a follow-up to deepening the spiritual lives of group members, I plan to move our gathering place from disciples' homes into the community, to assign mini mission challenges for group members which will require mingling, friendship-making, and service-providing. I will challenge them to look for opportunities to "overcome evil with good," (Rom 12:21) and make and execute plans with me to do so. I plan to seek out our "person of peace" (Absalom, 2014) to see how God might use this person to help us set our agenda for joining God on his mission. Bible reading and study will be encouraged in order to resource us for the mission of revealing Christ through what we do, and where we do it, as his body on earth, making "going" on mission together our first priority.
Discipling (Christianity), High Springs Seventh-day Adventist Church (High Springs, Fla.)
Swaisgood, Mark, "Making and Training Disciples of Christ Using the Pursuit of "Life... to the Full" as the Catalyst for Mission in High Springs Seventh-day Adventist Church" (2016). Project Documents. 281.