Legacy Fund aids Tri-Lakes UMC in discipling process

February 22, 2016

Please note: The deadline to apply for a Legacy Fund grant is March 15. Learn more on the Legacy Fund page online.

Submitted by the Rev. Bob Kaylor
Tri-Lakes United Methodist Church, Monument, Colorado

In 2013, Tri-Lakes United Methodist Church engaged in a process to discern the church’s vision for the next three years and beyond. The mission of Tri-Lakes is “to build followers of Jesus Christ who love and serve God and neighbor.” This is a combination of the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, which John Wesley also saw as two of the key pillars of the Methodist movement. It is an intentional focus on building people into followers of Jesus, rather than placing the primary emphasis on building the institution of the church. The basic rationale, evidenced by the growth of the early Christian church and the early Methodist movement, is this: If you build the church, you rarely get disciples. If you build disciples, you always get the church.

The desired outcome of our mission and values is a group of people who individually and collectively reflect the character and competencies of a follower of Jesus Christ. The Tri-Lakes discipleship “target” is thus aimed at developing people in four key areas of character and competency that reflect the love and service of God and neighbor. A disciple of Jesus Christ will engage in acts of piety and acts of mercy in both the public and private dimensions of his or her life:
  • Worship: People show their love for God through active, regular, and joyful participation in Sunday worship.
  • Devotion: People build their relationship with God daily through personal spiritual disciplines and through regular participation in a group for mutual support, learning, prayer, and accountability.
  • Service: People use their spiritual gifts of time, talent, and treasure to serve in ways that benefit others both inside and outside the church, and work to make our neighborhoods look more like God’s kingdom.
  • Compassion: People do all the good they can for the bodies and souls of their neighbors.
We began to look for people who could help us launch this emphasis effectively and continue to coach us through the process. It was at this point we discovered 3DM.

3DM is a discipling movement birthed in Sheffield, UK, by Mike Breen, an Anglican who realized that the established church needed to get outside its walls if it was going to reach people with the good news of Jesus Christ and form them into followers of Jesus. Breen developed a process that struck us as looking very much like the early Methodist movement. “Missional Communities” are the modern equivalent of the society meeting, where people gathered for worship, fellowship, and spiritual conversation. “Huddle Groups” function like the class meeting, where people are being trained in discipleship and are coached by someone who imitates Jesus with his or her own life.”

What Breen developed was not another church program for which we might invite people to sign up, but rather a means by which to build a discipling culture within the church that creates followers of Jesus who, in turn, build other followers of Jesus by modeling the life of discipleship and by inviting people to “do life” together.
The Huddle Groups focus on the discipling process through the use of “Life Shapes” or shorthand tools for learning the way of discipleship in patterns of prayer, relationship development, abiding and fruitfulness, reading and understanding Scripture, and developing discipling leaders. The book Building a Discipling Culture by Mike Breen outlines these Life Shapes in detail.
The 3DM process involves a two-year commitment that includes four “Learning Community” retreats of four days each as well as weekly coaching for the senior leader and one other person from the church. It is an expensive process ($13,200 for six people from the church for the two years), but we felt the training and coaching was precisely what we needed. We applied for and received a grant from the Rocky Mountain Conference Legacy Fund in 2014 and, as we come to the end of the two-year process, the results for Tri-Lakes have already been amazing.
There is a real difference being made in the culture of the congregation. Family systems theory tells us that when the leader makes a significant internal shift, the system tends to shift with it. As I have been changing my focus from building the church to building people as followers of Jesus, along with our staff and some key lay leaders, the congregation has been shifting as well.
People were, understandably, used to a church that excelled in delivering good information and the religious goods and services they expected. Inviting and challenging them to be formed as disciples who then form other disciples was beyond the scope of what most of them had ever experienced. Most churches focus on building the institution rather than on building people, thus people grow to expect the church to make them feel good and support their worldview rather than to alter their lives and align them around the kingdom of God.
But patience is, indeed, a virtue and our leaders were convinced that moving toward a discipling culture was not only going to be the best course for the future of the church; it was also the commandment of Jesus to “go and make disciples.”
We are ready to share what we learned and experienced with the whole conference. We shared this with the clergy at our October Orders Retreat at Steamboat Springs. We talk about wanting to make disciples, but few churches actually have an intentional process to do so. I believe we can be a model for how to do this. We are seeing the transformation of Tri-Lakes as people are investing their energy in being discipled and thus wanting to disciple others.
I would love to see more churches involved in a similar process and at Tri-Lakes we are willing to help in any way we can.
We are grateful for the Legacy Fund and for the grant we received. The Bishop regularly asks: “What difference did this grant make in the life of a church?” I can answer a profound difference: Tri-Lakes is becoming a discipling church and the ripples are expanding. We have committed to organizing more community events and we are expanding our online campus to reach our neighbors through our member’s online social networks. This process has changed our church’s language, focus, and mission in profound ways. We are deeply thankful for this marvelous opportunity and are ready to share what we learned with others! Send me a note!
For further reading and information:
3DM website
Breen, Mike: Building a Discipling Culture, 3DM Publishing, 2nd Edition, 2014.