Among the fellowships relating together here in Virginia, we’re seeing a deep hunger for mature discipleship, in-depth training and sound doctrine.
That hunger was reinforced earlier this year, when Miguel Labrador visited several of those fellowships. Miguel, with his wife Claudia, has been a catalyst for the rapid spread of the gospel in Ecuador – where they’ve helped birth many generations of new believers and fellowships over a relatively short time.
Like us, they have a “go and sow” approach – where we go and sow the gospel in existing communities, thus allowing local fellowships, believers and leadership to emerge indigenously within those communities.
This stands in stark contrast to the more common “come and gather” approach, which urges people to organize around a single church with its central building, programs and pastor.
While he was here, Miguel and I had good private discussions – because we are seeing similar results while facing similar challenges.
Simply put, where there is a rapid spread of the gospel, there often are not enough mature brothers and sisters – with the godly perspectives and inherent discipleship dynamics they bring – for the number of new believers and fellowships that emerge.
One the one hand, we both are seeing very vibrant, relational fellowships develop – which are composed mainly of new believers who are enthusiastic, actively bringing others to the Lord, and encouraging and ministering to each other.
On the other hand, those new believers and fellowships are crying out for input from mature brothers and sisters who can provide wise counsel, stability, balance and foundational teaching.
They don’t want this in lieu of what God is already doing among them, but rather to strengthen and encourage it.
Over the last year, this has been a huge struggle for us, as our more mature believers increasingly are being stretched thin.
In Ecuador, when faced with similar challenges, Miguel and Claudia ended up developing a more intentional approach to reproducing mature discipleship, leadership development, sound doctrine and training. As he discussed what they were doing, it resonated with us here.
As a result, three local leaders – who are gifted teachers and proven mentors – started laying the groundwork to address the same needs here.
On Sunday evenings, those efforts are finally coming to fruition as Marianne and I host a cross-fellowship discipleship class at our house – where folks can come and be mentored in leadership essentials and the foundational doctrines of the faith.
That class is not a substitute for any local fellowship, nor for relational mentoring or hands-on discipleship. Rather, it makes some much needed additional resources available across a number of fellowships.
On Sunday evenings, for an hour and a half, our house is packed with folks representing, I guess, at least eight (frankly, I can’t keep count) distinct fellowships near us.
Unfortunately, not all of the fellowships are represented. Some otherwise meet on Sunday evenings, some are too far way, and some are indigenous in various jails and prisons.
Nonetheless, many folks are coming together Sunday evenings for a time of intentional discipleship and teaching – so they in turn can help others.
That class is being taught by several experienced elders from among those fellowships – who are proven and respected mentors among us, have actually helped plant new churches here and elsewhere, have applied themselves over many years to studying and teaching scripture, and whose lives are testaments to the truths found there.
Those who gather on Sunday evening are some of the most attentive folks I’ve ever had the privilege of teaching.
This has been part of our ongoing evolution as a group of fellowships that are very participatory – with folks sharing and ministering to each other as they relate together as communities of believers.
However, most of those fellowships are filled with entirely with new believers – who have lots to offer each other as they relationally allow their experience of Christ in them to be expressed among them and through them.
What we have learned, however, is if we stop only with relationships and the existential aspects of our walk with the Lord, and don’t lay additional foundational elements like sound doctrine, their growth in the Lord will be stunted.
This seems to have been a need even among the churches in the New Testament.
Although the church in Jerusalem met from house to house, they also gathered at Solomon’s Portico at the Temple for larger meetings – where they were taught sound doctrine.
Likewise, Paul established a class at Tyrannus Hall in Ephesus, where he taught every afternoon – in addition to meetings in various houses throughout the week for primary fellowship.
Our fellowships are not bogged down with scripted meetings, buildings, overhead, staff, hierarchical “leadership” and programs.
Instead, we focus on community. In our local gatherings, everyone participates, shares and ministers – as the Holy Spirit leads – to each other.
For us, these indigenous, participatory fellowships and the community they foster are the main expression of the “church”. Sometimes, however, more is needed.
So we are now trying to develop supplemental cross-fellowship resources – like foundational teachings on sound doctrine, leadership training and intentional discipleship.
We also have three of us teaching a cross-fellowship class on Wednesday evenings, where we are training folks to do effective pastoral counseling.
Those cross-fellowship resources are coming from those who have emerged as legitimate elders in our county – without regard to “titles”. They have earned the respect of each fellowship – and lead by example and persuasion, rather than command and control.
They also have proven themselves to be “God’s stewards”, are “above reproach”, and “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that [they] may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” Titus 1:7-9.
We don’t have it all figured out, and even if we did, our “solutions” may not be what God intends for others.
Nonetheless, I think these are exciting times we live in!