Fruitful Discipleship in the Local Church : EK Strawser
As pastors and ministry leaders, how can we truly know that we are effectively developing mature disciples? In this week’s conversation on FrontStage BackStage, host Jason Daye is joined by the Reverend Dr. Eun Strawser, co-vocational lead pastor of Ma Ke Alo o non-denominational missional communities, which are multiplying across the island of O‘ahu in Hawaii. Eun is also the author of the recently released book entitled Centering Discipleship. Together, Eun and Jason look at the importance of ministry leaders taking an honest assessment of our own discipleship. Eun also shares from her experience as a church planter on how we can take discipleship from the periphery and move it to the center of our local church ministries.
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- Audio links to this week’s episode – easily share with the ministry leaders in your church
- Additional resource links from this week’s conversation – so you and your team can easily find what is mentioned or referenced
- Ministry Leaders Growth Guide – key insights and concepts from this week’s conversation as well as engaging questions for you and your team to consider and process
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Additional Resource Links
www.centeringdiscipleship.com – Explore Eun’s enriching website, a treasure trove of invaluable resources, including her compelling book and an array of tools designed to empower your personal and professional growth journey.
Centering Discipleship: A Pathway for Multiplying Spectators into Mature Disciples – Pastor and discipler E. K. Strawser shows that when discipleship becomes central to your leadership and community, then discipleship becomes central to the congregational mission and cultural renewal. Centering Discipleship is a gutsy practice-based guidebook for leaders who are doing the hard work of re-imagining and re-structuring their churches and communities to turn spectators into missional, mature followers of Jesus.
MKAO Community – Ma Ke Alo o (MKAO) means PRESENCE, and we’re a community of people who are out to practice presence by being present with one another and present in the community around us. We believe in the Presence of God, which means that we want to live together in the way of Jesus for the renewal of Hawaii.
Connect with Eun – Instagram
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Ministry Leaders Growth Guide
Key Insights and Concepts
- There have been many understandings of discipleship championed over the years in the greater Church. Therefore a reminder of discipleship from a biblical perspective centered in the life and ministry of Jesus is absolutely key.
- Pastors and ministry leaders have great intentions when it comes to discipleship but are often not being, or haven’t been, truly discipled themselves.
- Moving discipleship from the periphery to the center needs to be intentional because that’s what will impact both the individual and the surrounding community the most.
- Discipleship is the ongoing goal of fully imitating Jesus.
- A metric or markers to help leaders know if there are actual disciples being made in the church is necessary.
- There needs to be spiritual confidence and a solid understanding of theology as well as social competence so that the gospel is not just experienced individually but spread to others through everyday life.
- Life in Christ encompasses every area of our lives, it’s holistic.
- Four markers of discipleship are growth in the maturity of Christ-like character, theology, wisdom, and missional living, and that all four areas are developing.
- Pastors and ministry leaders tend to be the only ones constantly living and breathing the burdens of church growth and discipleship, which can be very lonely.
- As long as there is a true framework in place for discipleship that fits your local community and context well, it doesn’t matter which specific model or pathway is used.
- When transitioning to a discipleship-centered model, the most important question for leaders to ask God is, who have you given me now that is centering on discipleship. Begin there and allow God to multiply it.
- Starting small is healthy… Jesus began with 12 disciples. Notice how the Church grew exponentially from there over time as the emphasis was on growing in Christ-likeness.
Questions for Reflection
- What is my view and definition of discipleship? How has it shaped the way my local church functions?
- Have I, as a pastor or ministry leader, experienced genuine discipleship myself? If not, what steps can I take to seek meaningful discipleship and growth in my own spiritual journey?
- Do we currently have measurable metrics or markers in place to assess the effectiveness of discipleship in my church community? What are they? Do they need to be refined? If not, how can we develop such metrics to track discipleship progress?
- How can we intentionally move discipleship from the periphery to the center of our ministry, recognizing its impact on the surrounding community?
- In what ways am I actively pursuing the ongoing goal of fully imitating Jesus in my life and ministry? How am I encouraging others to do the same?
- Do I view life in Christ as holistic, encompassing every area of my life? How can I integrate my faith into every aspect of my daily living?
- How am I personally growing in the four markers of Christ-likeness: Christ-like character, theology, wisdom, and missional living? Are these areas developing together in harmony?
- Do I see the four markers of Christ-likeness growing in our local church or congregation? If not, what changes need to be made?
- Do I feel the weight of the burdens of church growth and discipleship alone as a pastor or ministry leader? How can I build a support system and foster a sense of community to share these responsibilities?
- Am I open to adopting a discipleship framework that best suits the needs of my local community and context, even if it differs from other churches? How can I discern the most effective approach for my congregation?
- What is my primary focus when leading others in discipleship? How can I shift my perspective to prioritize those whom God has placed in my care now?
- Do I recognize the value of starting small and nurturing discipleship like Jesus did with His twelve disciples? How can I create a foundation for exponential growth over time? What will this look like? When will I start?
As pastors and ministry leaders, how can we truly know that we are effectively developing mature disciples?
In this episode, I’m joined by the Reverend Dr. Eun Strawser, co-vocational lead pastor of Ma Ke Alo o non-denominational missional communities, which are multiplying across the island of O‘ahu in Hawaii. Eun is also the author of the recently released book entitled Centering Discipleship. Together, Eun and I l look at the importance of ministry leaders taking an honest assessment of our own discipleship. Eun also shares from her experience as a church planter on how we can take discipleship from the periphery and move it to the center of our local church ministries. Are you ready? Let’s go.
Hello, friends, and welcome to another insightful episode of FrontStage BackStage, very excited for today’s guest and excited to be sharing with you once again, as I do every single week, really having the opportunity to sit down with a trusted ministry leader in an effort to help you and pastors and ministry leaders just like you embrace a healthy rhythm in both life and ministry. And we are proud to be a part of the Pastor Serve Network. And every single week, not only do we provide an episode, where we dig deeply into a topic, but our team also creates a downloadable resource for you, a toolkit actually, to help you and the ministry leaders at your local church, learn more and grow more deeply in regard to the topic that we’re discussing. And you can find that at PastorServe.org/network. And there, you’ll find key insights, you’ll find additional resources, and you’ll find a Ministry Leader’s Growth Guide. And again, we encourage you to use this for yourself and for your ministry leaders as you develop in ministry. Now, we also would love to come alongside of you. And we are offering a complimentary coaching session from our experienced coaches here at Pastor Serve. If you’d like to learn more about that complimentary coaching session, please go to PastorServe.org/freesession. There you’ll find all the details. Just an opportunity for us to bless you and bless your ministry. Now if you are joining us on YouTube, please give us a thumbs up and do us a favor and in the comments below, if you will, just drop your name and the name of your church. We absolutely love getting to know our audience better. And our team will be praying for you and for your ministry. Now, whether you’re joining us on YouTube, or your favorite podcast platform, please be sure to subscribe or to follow so you do not miss out on these incredible conversations. And as I said, I’m excited about this week’s guest. At this time, I would like to welcome Dr. Eun Strawser to FrontStage BackStage. Eun, good to have you with us!
Hi, Jason. Thanks for having me.
Yeah, so excited. Now we were talking, we are joining one another, but we’re quite a distance from each other. You are way out in the middle of the Pacific on a beautiful little paradise, we like to call Hawaii. And that’s where you get to live. And I am on the other coast in the Atlantic off the eastern coast of Florida on an island as well, Anastasia islands, so two islanders on opposite sides of the world. And we love technology because we get to hang out together.
Never in a million years could we have done this, for sure.
Exactly. Exactly. But so excited to have you with us here and really looking forward to this conversation. It’s an important conversation, as we’re looking at a ministry in our local churches, and you get to do this week in and week out at your church. And I’m going to let you share the name of your church because I’m working on it and I’ll have it down here eventually. But what is the name of your church there in Hawaii?
That’s a really wise decision, Jason. It’s called Ma Ke Alo o. It’s a specific Hawaiian phrase and we named it specifically that because even when Hawaiian locals hear the name Ma Ke Alo o, it’s an incomplete phrase, it actually means presence or being put in the face of. So a lot of questions are asked like, oh, whose presence? Or who are you being put in front of? So the name was on purpose so that we can talk about being present in a meaningful way.
I love that. It’s an intriguing name for locals who understand the language. It’s very intriguing for us who have no idea of the language, but for locals who actually understand the language, it still solicits a deeper conversation, which is very cool, very wise. Excellent. Now, how long have you been serving there in Hawaii in your present role? And what has that looked like there?
Yeah, this is my second church plant on Oahu. I’ve been involved in church planting for almost 15 years now. I’m originally from Philadelphia. Since we do a backstage combo, I’ve been married to Steve Strawser for 20 years. We have three kids. They used to be really cute. Now, they’re all teenagers. So, you know, we’re in that phase of life. But we moved from Philly, where I actually grew up, I really felt called to Hawaii. And this is our second church plant. Six years into it now.
Wow, that is awesome. Very, very exciting. Now, Eun, you have recently written and published a book called Centering Discipleship. And I’ve got to say, you know, for us in ministry, discipleship is a key phrase, a keyword, right? It’s something we know is vital, is important. There’s been lots of conversations about discipleship over the years and a lot of different books written on discipleship. Eun, why specifically, did you feel God was leading you to tackle this topic of discipleship?
Yeah, I was asking myself the same question because when InterVarsity press was saying, Hey, we feel really excited about this. And I had to answer that question, what is something either fresh or new or more defined, that I could offer from my unique local context? Because I mean, if there are oceans up between us, Jason Daye, there is an ocean’s worth of information around discipleship. But I just felt that discipleship had to be specified and defined a little bit more clearly so that it wouldn’t become this catch-all phrase in the church. People would be using it as a noun or a verb in leadership settings in lay pastor settings. And I’m just like, Do you know what that means? And then it helped me to start asking myself questions. Do I, as a leader in the church as an ordained pastor, do I understand what it means when I see and use the word, discipleship? And so it was really a way to first define it more clearly. I think the second part was actually knowing how to tie it to not just counseling, or mentoring, or accountability, as it has, I think, become a little bit filtered away to becoming. So I think that those kinds of things helped me to be like, how is discipleship being used in the church today? How ought it to be used in the church to actually have more meaningful ways for Jesus’ followers to be disciples?
Yeah, I love that, Eun. And one of the things that I’d really like to just dive into initially in this conversation, is, when we think of the importance of discipleship, I don’t think you’re going to bump into a single pastor who would say, It’s not a big deal, right? All of us know this is integral, and we would love to present discipleship and engage in discipleship in the most meaningful way possible. And there have been lots of conversations, and we’ll get into this a little later about the effectiveness of past models, etc, etc. But before we can even get there, we have to look at ourselves, as pastors, as ministry leaders. We have to take a real long, hard look at how am I being formed in Christ’s likeness. How am I living and existing as a disciple of Jesus? And so to begin this conversation, I’d like us to go backstage and think about our lives as pastors and ministry leaders. Speak to us a little bit about maybe some of the challenges that we have as pastors and ministry leaders when it comes to our own personal discipleship.
Sure, I think that’s a great question. I took about a year prior to the second launch to have that kind of conversation with many of the leaders on the island here. And you know, there was a really common theme that was going on. Because one of the questions I asked was that very direct clear question. Have you been discipled? You know, and how do you know? And have you discipled others? And how do you know that you’ve discipled them? Not just taught them, preach to them, lead them, right? And again, asking that question really clearly, it made a lot of people feel uncomfortable, quite frankly. There were some questions about, you know, oh, I’ve just known him all my life, or, you know, I gave my life to Jesus, I was baptized at this age, or those kinds of things. But it was really clear that there was a big gap between my identity as a follower of Jesus and my identity as a disciple of Jesus. It was really, really unclear how to navigate that. The other thing I was thinking was that, you know, in my own life, coming on to become a pastor, I’m co-vocational, so I’m also a physician, a community physician. And so my life as a professional minister came later. So a lot of these, I think, senior pastors now today have been in the vocation of ministry for a lot longer, right, since they were younger. And it really made me think about what could have been their discipleship life, like, were they more trained to be a pastor, than they were to be a discipler? Were they being poured into and invested in because of, let’s say, so-and-so leadership skills, or communication skills, and yet, all the ways that they are able to disciple others are kind of glossed over. So it kind of made me think about that, you know, discipleship from a lay person’s non-vocational viewpoint can be you take one person and pour into them, or mentor them, or do accountability with them, maybe do some counseling. And so I think that discipleship probably stayed in that realm for such a long time. But I feel like pastors in general have missed out on it apart from their own, like skill set or vocational training. So it’s been, I think, sometimes it’s been really painful for a lot of senior level pastors to be able to admit, I don’t think anyone’s ever discipled me. You know, and I don’t really know if I’ve discipled other people. I could maybe use that as a way that I’ve led or taught or counseled people, but I don’t know if I could concretely say that I myself have been discipled and I’ve discipled other people.
Yeah. And I think it’s very telling and I think that probably most watching this and listening along are going to kind of resonate with that to some degree. I know I do, right? Because it’s true in ministry, oftentimes, there are a lot of different skills and competencies that we train in, and we grow in, and what we’re excited about serving in those ways, and God’s called us into those. But the idea of disciple-making, being discipled, discipling others. That can sometimes be almost an assumed, right? It’s like that comes along with everything else. So, Eun, help us out. Talk to us a little bit about how you differentiate out this idea of being discipled or making disciples, from everything else that we just kind of think of as, hey, we’re doing ministry, right?
Yeah, a lot of the book helps us to really think about it very practically. Right? I think that all of us, like you said, Jason, we can all talk about discipleship as pastors forever in a day. We all love it. Right? Different nuances of it, you know, how did Jesus call his disciples, all those kinds of things, right? But at the end of the day, just like we would look for outcomes or metrics from the first-century church, right? We do that, scholars do that, we do it in our studies, and our sermon preps, all those kinds of things, right? Because we’re looking for, essentially, what are markers about a human being, or I would actually recommend an entire community, what are markers within the community that tells us that people are discipled? You know, and if we were to, you know, Neil Cole says that your church is as good as its disciples, and it doesn’t matter, all the other parts and aspects and successes about your church. If at the end of the day, your disciples are X Y and Z, then your church is just as good as those disciples. And if you don’t have any disciples, it’s probably not that good. You know? So discipleship is a really different way of measuring our own metrics around the church. Listen, we’re all in leadership. We’re all pastors. I don’t care if people are like, no, no, no, we don’t really care about and all those kinds of things. We do in our hearts, it helps us to know are we actually doing a really, really good job or not. Or a faithful job, right? So I think that, you know, knowing how to put some sort of metric or outcomes or practice-based learning around discipleship helps us to know, are disciples being made in my church? You know, are there actual real-life disciples actively working and living and doing and ministering within the context of my local community? So I think helping us to think through discipleship as a metric in leadership is really, really helpful. And then you have to kind of think about what are those metrics. You know, most of the time, and I hate to admit it, but most of the time, you know, no matter how much we wanted to buck against the trend, we do know that there is an importance in what is it… budgets, building, and butts, right? Those are real-life things that pastors and senior pastors and church leaders have to think about. Right? And so most of the time in our current culture, those are our three metrics. How was giving, how many people attended this week’s service? You know, and because all those things are tied to the building that we get to serve in and gather together in. And I think how culture has changed and shifted what a professional church life looks like today. I think it’s actually made us drift away as senior leaders in our church contexts to know how to disciple other people, but also to figure out what are markers of discipleship in my own church. So it’s been really, I think, actually a pain point. We can all laugh about it, but it’s actually a real real issue and tension point in the life of a pastor.
Yeah, yeah. And because at the end of the day, all of us. I mean, everyone who’s faithfully serving, feels called, is faithfully serving, we all want to know that we have been effective, that we are producing fruit, that we’re being faithful to the call that God’s placed on our lives. That’s why we’ve given our lives to this. So this idea of effectiveness, are we effectively discipling others? Are we in deed in our ministries and what we’re doing, are we making disciples? And I think, church is messy, and it needs to be messy, because we don’t want a church that’s filled with just all saints, you know, all people that have got it all figured out, right? So we want some messiness, we want some people that aren’t discipled, we want some people who are trying to figure it out, we want some people who are hungry, who are broken, who are experiencing these things, because that’s part of disciple-making, right? But that messiness, sometimes I think we in leadership, can almost excuse that for not focusing in on some of these metrics, some of these effectiveness or fruitfulness metrics, right? And so, talk to us a bit about what some of these other metrics, or maybe you use another term for those, but when it comes to actually understanding these milestones for disciple-making. And so we can step back and say, okay, yes, we do see some of the fruit. And not just anecdotally, because we can all sit back and say, Oh, well, you know, we always have these one or two stories that they’re encouraging, but how can we do that, you know, in a more effective way across our ministries so we can sense, okay, we are being effective, or maybe we need to improve in these areas, or increase some focus or concentration in some of these areas that we can be as fruitful as possible.
Now, that’s a great question. I like how you are describing how do we imagine who is in our congregations. Right? And you’re right, that the reality is that we don’t have all saints within our pews, right? But I actually think that discipleship has a lot to do with what we can imagine, as senior leaders, what kind of people do we actually want sitting in our congregations, doing community life together? And part of it is actually defining what does it look like, if one day, our congregation and our church is filled with all saints? You know what I mean? Like, if you’re kind of thinking about that, we have to describe what does a saintly community look like? Are we saying that because we’re saying, Oh, the messiness of church is that the reality is that saints are morally perfect people who move away from all vices in the world, who are perfect attenders, you know, have perfect attendance in the church, right? Those kinds of things. I like that imagination. because it makes us as leaders have to consider what we should want one day to have our congregations filled with saints, because we’re trying to say that these communities would be the ones that actually will be serving in the community around us or with the community around us, right? I think the messiness around discipleship, you know, I say this a lot, it’s called Centering Discipleship on purpose, right? How do we move discipleship from the periphery to the center? I think doing that has to involve asking that question, what do we want our future community to look like? You know, what’s the messiness that we’re willing and anticipating, but what kind of messiness do we actually want to figure out together as a community, as are all growing to be more whole, you know, a priesthood, right, as Peter calls us, right? What would it look like if your entire church was full of saints? And I think that actually helps us to begin thinking about, I just call them markers of maturity. How do we know that our disciples are growing or maturing into more Christ-likeness? You know, if at the end of the day, if we’re just defining discipleship, as imitating Jesus, at the end of the day, that’s really what it is, right? Discipleship is a life invested and working out all these things faithfully, joyfully, messily, all of that in the hopes that we’re going to one day imitate Jesus fully. Right? If that’s the case, then okay, what are we going to imitate Jesus in? You know, while I think that there are so many ways of doing discipleship frameworks, all that kind of stuff in the life of the church, and it should be because we all live in such unique contexts. We both are living on an island, Jason, but both of our discipleship ought to look different because of the place that we live in, right? But I think that, you know, if the commonality across the board and all church communities is that we’re all trying to imitate Jesus together then what does that look like? Does it mean that we’re going to be morally perfect people? I don’t think so. Is it going to be that we’re going to be successful? You know, materialistically or resources, I don’t really think so. You know, Jesus was seen as someone who looked like, he broke the rules a lot and contended with that with culture, right? And he wasn’t really, really well off, he was relying on so many others, on the community, right? And so if we kind of sit down, this is probably going to be the arguing point for the rest of my life. You know, you write a book, and that’s gonna be the thing, but I love it. I love wrestling with this. I think at the end of the day, if we’re going to boil down imitation of Jesus, that’s what discipleship is, then I think there’s two categories of it. Our work, our good, fun, awesome work as leaders is that, are we in the work of increasing both the spiritual confidence of an imitator of Jesus that’s tethered to their social competence. We’re not just raising a group of people, investing in them, pouring into them, teaching them, equipping them, loving them, because we just want their spiritual competence game to be up and we want to go to Bible trivia games together. No, right? I want all of their work that they’re doing together, right, and they’re learning and growing, and knowing about God and knowing more of who God is to be tied to how are they going to actually live like God in the neighborhood and community around them? Right. It’s really great if people understand scriptures and biblical truth, all that’s really, really important. But if it’s not connected to how they’re going to be as human beings in the world, I don’t think that we’re actually discipling people, we’re just teaching them, but we’re not really discipling them, right? How many people in our churches actually have non-Christian friends? Or on the flip side, how many people with lots of non-Christian friends actually know how to communicate and lovingly share the full gospel with them? You need both, you know? I think after that, then you can begin to look at what are some common marks of maturity in a disciple that we would all be looking for.
Yeah, and, Eun, I absolutely loved, I love that because oftentimes, it’s true that when we look at discipleship, we’re focusing more on the spiritual confidence as you put it, right? We’re focusing on Hey, man, you need to get to know, you need to know scripture, you need to know this, you need to know that, you need to understand it. It becomes this very, almost, and we’re guilty of this in many ways, an individualized piety, right, and this faith that we lean into, and it’s kind of for this one person, you know, it’s between them and God type of a thing. And then we can kind of falsely feel good because, hey, we have people under our leadership who really know scripture well, you know what I mean? And yet if we leave out that social competency piece, that’s leaving out the entire mission. I mean, Jesus did not die for us to just know a lot of facts about God and Jesus, right? I mean, that wasn’t why He gave His life. He gave His life to transform us in community and in interaction and engagement with one another. And so I love the fact that you’ve pulled that out in this idea in Centering Discipleship, and really focusing in on these two pieces, those together, because it’s a holistic, I mean, Jesus made it clear that our life in Christ is holistic. It’s not just some mental thing. But it’s the totality of our lives. Love the Lord with all of what you are, right? Every ounce of your being, heart, soul, mind, and strength. So these two pieces together, I think can even help us just talking about that. Help us as pastors and ministry leaders, reassess how we’re approaching disciple-making and discipleship in our churches, right? So talk to us a little bit, you talk about these marks of maturity. I love that phrase. I think that’s very, very helpful. So talk to us a little bit about these marks of maturity and how we might begin to look at, okay, we see some fruitfulness here, we see, like, maybe we need to lean in a little more over here.
Yeah, no, that’s great. Yeah, I think that in this part, I just want to preface that whatever we’re going to use, I’m going to suggest that you’re going to use a discipleship pathway, right? That’s how I think about it as a framework, right? But for me, I’m like, as long as discipleship is happening, I don’t really care. You know what I mean, as a practitioner, you know, all those kinds of things. But every context is going to be so different, right? But I do care that every leader, in whatever context we live in, is asking the question, How do I know that discipleship is happening? How do I know that, that there are followers of Christ who are maturing and more and more into the likeness of Christ? So my offering is that, if we’re looking at marks of maturity, we’re actually looking at it based on what does a mature Christ-like person look like? You know, that ultimately, everything goes towards, Are there ways that we are addressing Christ-like maturity and Christ-like character, maturity in Christ-like theology, maturity in Christ-like wisdom, and maturity in Christ-like centeredness or missional living? I argue for all four of these points because I think one, each one is directly impacted by imitating Jesus, which means that each one can actually be directly impacted by imitating something else. I am a firm believer that if we are not in the active life of imitating Jesus, then we are in the active life of imitating something or someone else. So if we’re not actively imitating Jesus in all four categories then we’re actually probably imitating something, or someone else. You know, in Matthew 6, Jesus talks about how you can’t serve two masters, right? He’s really, really addressing this head-on because he knows the reality of it, right? We’re going to serve, follow, have faith around, worship something or someone. We’re just built this way. You know, and discipleship is saying, and really, really challenging are you worshiping, orienting your life around, following and putting your faith around Jesus? Are you doing that? I think another thing is that I like it because you can’t actually tease one apart from the other. You can’t just say, Oh, my gosh, I know I’m a disciple because I’m growing in maturity in Christ-like character. I’m more patient today than I was before, right? That I’m more joyful today than I was, great. But if those things aren’t tied to the complexities of navigating life and you’re not growing and maturing in Christ-like wisdom, then it’s just really a self-help thing that’s happening in you, right? If the character building isn’t growing in a way where your knowledge and knowing about God and the way you think isn’t changing, then it’s just gonna be a really a morality story, right? And if your Christ-like character isn’t spilling over into Oh my goodness, my being more patient today isn’t just meant for me and my family. My being more patient today actually means how I’m going to work in the workplace, with my neighbors that are really difficult to be with, you know, in a really polarized society. How am I actually going to navigate being a community member? If your Christ-like character isn’t spilling over into how you’re thinking about living missionally, then you’re using discipleship really, really compartmentalized. And that’s why I like all four of these kinds of markers.
Yeah, I love that. That’s very helpful, you know, to help us really process and think, and that leans into this idea of are we being effective as ministry leaders, as pastors in raising our people up. Because we can look across these four different areas and see, is there impact being made in these four different aspects of that holistic nature of the followers, a believer’s life? Eun, I would love to hear just a little bit. This is all very, very helpful, but a little bit about the, I guess, practicality of making this happen, right? I mean, I imagined as pastors and ministry leaders watching along, it’s like this is helpful. This is good. But then it comes down to kind of that implementation execution piece. How do we get our leaders on board for it? How do we get this idea of centering discipleship within our local church? So, what are some ways we can think about that would be helpful for a pastor, or ministry leaders of a local church saying, I believe this is important. But how do I really make it come together? Right?
Yeah, I think that that is probably the number one question, right? It’s really great to read about it or hear about it on a podcast, right? And all those kinds of things. But I love when leaders are asking that question. If that’s immediately the next thing then I love it, but I love to also pump the brake. If that’s your immediate next question, then you’re going to have that question for a while. Right? It’s going to burden you a little bit, right? And, you know, all lead pastors know, we’re probably the one and only person sleeping, eating, breathing this constantly, right? The loneliness of leadership in the church world is probably because we’re one of the few people in our local context that’s doing that. Repeat, day in and day out, right? And so I love it, I know that that burning question is going to be there, I like to put a pause on it because if we don’t actually understand a framework around how to implement discipleship effectively in our churches, I think that we’re probably going to do the same things over and over again, but maybe with just a different skin. Right? Whenever people, leaders, ask me, how do we do this? What kind of materials do you use, blah, blah, blah, all that kind of stuff, you know, and ultimately act like you’re using a discipleship pathway in your local context, like, can you just send it? And I’m like, I guess if you know how to pronounce Ma Ke Alo o and can read Hawaiian terms and understand, but because we, on purpose, made our discipleship pathway unique to the culture we live in. Because the culture we live in really matters how we’re going to have discipleship actually happen centered in the life of our church. So it’s really important to me, while the practitioner side, and I’m at the practitioner side, so I want to do do do do do, multiply, multiply, right? That’s in me. But I’ve also learned that if you’re going to actually do this work, as lead pastors, especially in established Church settings, you have to know how to invite your church with you to it. It’s incredibly painful to try to do something that feels so pioneering and different and new to your congregants if you don’t do it in a loving, patient, compassionate way, right? And so that’s the first thing I asked leaders to do. You first ask, who has God given me now? If you don’t ask that question, then I guarantee you, you will grow in resentment, because then you’re going to blame your church, and you’re going to blame your people that discipleship isn’t happening. And that, frankly, is just not true. You know, if you’re in an established church setting, you ask that question, who has got already given me? And then you consider how do I begin to do that hard work of inviting my church with me on this journey for discipleship because everyone will want to do it. Just like every leader will be like, Yeah discipleship’s awesome. Of course, we all want to do it, right? But actually, it’s going to be the work of the leader, leaders, and the people that they are leading, loving together. That’s the journey of how do we actually transition to a practice-based, real-life discipleship happening in the life of our church. I think that’s for an established church leader. I think for church planters, it also really matters, who are the first people whom you are inviting into this. Otherwise, most of the time, what do church plants want to do? They’re not really wanting to do and start something new. Maybe, maybe they are. But what do they really want to do? Most church planters, and having come from established church setting and a church planting setting, you know, most church planters want to one day grow their Sunday worship services, and have the same thing as an established church setting, except there’s different people on stage, a different person giving the sermon, right? So it’s really the same, it’s just, it’s going to be different about who you’re going to start with.
Yeah, you know what, that’s so helpful. And I so appreciate, Eun, that you pump the brakes on that. Because what you share is very vital to really the overall effectiveness of this, because, as you said, if we just jump into really executing, trying to execute something, you know, yeah, okay, it’s a great vision, let’s make this what we’re doing in the fall of 2023. Let’s run with this, right? And that can, as you said, just end up being the same efforts that we’ve made time and time again, you know, we’re just putting a little bit of a different spin on it. But it’s actually stepping back and focusing on this idea of centering discipleship, not just for your congregation, but for your leadership, right? And in allowing that concentric circle to expand a little bit, as you said, prayerfully seeking, Okay, God, who have you entrusted to me, who have you given to me that is capturing the same heart and vision, and then we build from there, and we can build from there. Because it’s not a silver bullet quick fix, this isn’t a microwavable solution, right? This is something that’s gonna be slow-cooked. And, you know, it’s gonna take a little bit of time. But if we’re investing that time and energy, Eun, I believe I hear you saying, in that, then it will become more effective, and it will permeate our culture if we’re willing to slow down and let it be what it needs to be from the very beginning. Is that correct?
Yeah, absolutely. I think that if we’re even considering the ministry of Jesus, and you know, everyone, everyone, every pastor, every leader has really wanted to dive in and study it, but in three years, he left with 12 disciples, minus one plus one, and the 120 people, right? That’s it. That’s a small church, right? You think in the ministry of Jesus Christ, He poured into 12 people, and left 120 is the largest, you know, Pew count that he left with and this multiplied, right? I think that part of it is, yes, there is a powerful work of the Holy Spirit. But I actually think that discipleship is not just connecting the church to the community, it’s actually intentionally inviting the Holy Spirit. What work are you doing in these people? Because I love them and you called me to lead them. And what work then are you going to do through these people, for the community that our church is residing in, because I love them, too, right? If love is the thing that Jesus is saying, I want to leave this with my community, because that’s the thing that is going to, I’m going to bank on for an outside world to know about me, if that’s the big charge that he gave, right? Then discipleship has to have to do with not just implementing and doing these programmatic things, right? It has a lot to do with how do you actually, how do I, as a leader, love my people, and not complain about them, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer really wisely warned all of us to not do, right? And then, therefore, how do we really invest in people, know how to love one another, and then love their neighbors? Right? Love God, love people. I know that’s the ultimate mission statement for every single church, right? And it’s nuanced or made more specific, but I really believe in it, right? Therefore, what are we doing effectively in our discipleship framework or pathways so that we are growing a group of people, a community of people who love God and love people? How do we know that that’s happening, right? You know, in my first church context, it was an established church model Sunday worship centric, right? We probably started with 20 people, we grew to 450 people, and in five years’ time, we were like the “it kids” on Oahu. It was amazing, right? But mid-point I really wrestled with, are we just growing an audience of people that want to come and hear a trendy talk, or listen to some good music once a week, are we doing that? It doesn’t matter how much more locally rooted we made the music or more local context we made the sermons. At the end of the day, I didn’t know if we had disciples maturing, you know, and one thing I knew for sure was people were not moving out into mission in their own neighborhoods, they were waiting for the church to plan an event that they can come to. Or they were waiting for the church to plan a wonderful TED talk that they can invite their friends to. And I’m like, I don’t think that that’s discipleship. So the second time around, you know what centering discipleship is hard work, because it feels like those first three years of Jesus’s ministry, when it’s small, you move small. Yeah, it’s really fun to pivot and all those kinds of things, but you’re really left with small, and then you start multiplying, right? That first year, 90% of my time, as a senior pastor of this church, was to just focus on these first 15 people. We were doing community dinners, you know, engaging with our neighbors, all those kinds of things. But for me, those are all being used as a practice field for these 15 disciples, that they could practice week in and week out, not learning to listen to a sermon, or singing some songs, they’re learning to know how to live out their faith. Do they actually love the people that they’re inviting to these community dinners? So 90% was I only took these 15 people twice a month to just go through a unique localized discipleship pathway for one year. I actually thought that this was the little framework, the structure that we’re going to live with for the next three to five years. And my heart was Jesus, I’m good with this. I had to tell myself that a lot. Jesus, I’m good with this, you know, and the thing happened from year one to year two that I did not anticipate. It multiplied, it multiplied into three different what we call missional communities, where there is a set of 12 to 15 disciples and that’s all they’re doing twice a month, being poured into using a discipleship pathway, connected to a larger community where people come in and out. So from what from year one to year two, average weekly attendance was about 50 guests. Year two was 150, multiplied because of three different places. Fast forward, we’re in year six now, we’ve multiplied to nine different missional communities, and we serve over 650 people. But the more important thing for me is that there are about 100 people being effectively discipled using a discipleship pathway that’s connected to a local place. You know, every single disciple knows how to articulate the full gospel, whether you’re eight years old or you’re 97, who is the oldest person in our community, right? Every disciple knows what it means to have a heart for the one, they have a list of people that they pray regularly for every single day that they will come to know Jesus and they also ask, Lord, Would you just let me partner with you in this that I get a chance to have that relationship with this friend, or neighbor, or coworker, or family member, right? Every disciple in our church understands what it means to live in thick community, and thick community means we know how to do conflict resolution well, and messy, but well together. Because if Jesus is banking His entire ministry on how we love one another, then we also need to know how to do conflict well with one another. Every disciple knows what it means to have a personal connection to Jesus, that our outside missional life doesn’t really hold that much weight if our own personal inward life isn’t deeply connected to how Jesus is working and doing good work in us. And lastly, every disciple understands how they’re partnered in the kingdom of God. And the kingdom of God is in your house. As soon as you open your door and walk out, the path you take to go to your local coffee place, when you’re stuck in traffic, how is that all actually being lived out? How’s your faith being lived out in your regular day-to-day life, right? So every disciple in our communities can know and pinpoint, Oh, these are like the five things within our discipleship pathway. I know that it’s unique to a life, with a language and vocabulary, that’s unique to Hawaii, that I’m working on in partnering with God, that I’m going to actually be, one day, a saint. Feeling the life of my community with other saints moving and living amongst community members.
Yeah, I love that. That’s absolutely beautiful. and it’s just the kind of that vision like you said, it’s something that all of us want to experience and see. And that’s why we’re giving our lives to this work. And just this idea and concept of centering discipleship and the difference that it makes, because it does really relate all the way back to what Jesus did, as you said, in his three years of His earthly ministry. I mean, this is what he was doing in and out. Eun, it’s been an absolute pleasure having you on FrontStage BackStage with us, I’d love to give you an opportunity to kind of as we’re closing down, if people want to connect with you, or learn more about your ministry, and even learn more about the book, what are the best ways that they can do that?
Yeah, it’s right on InterVarsity’s page, so if you just do IVP and centering discipleship, you can get that. It’s also everywhere where books are sold. Amazon, I think Walmart sells it, Barnes and Noble. I would love it, if you do get a chance to read it, to do a review on Goodreads or Amazon, that always helps every author. My publicist would really hate me if I didn’t say that. But if you want to connect to me, you can actually go to www.centeringdiscipleship.com. And you can connect with me that way.
That’s awesome. And for those of you watching or listening along, we will have links to the book, and links to Centering Discipleship and everything in the toolkit for this episode, which you can find it PastorServe.org/network and a lot of other resources and again, questions for reflection for you and for your ministry team to work through and dig a little bit more deeply into this conversation around centering discipleship that Eun and I have had today. So, sister, it has been an absolute blessing to have you, thank you for your heart for Christ and your heart for His church and His Kingdom. All that you are doing there in Hawaii, and for how you’re contributing to the kingdom, and into the capital C church, as well through Centering Discipleship.
Thanks for having me, Jason.
Yes, thank you so much. God bless you.
Now, before you go, I want to remind you of an incredible free resource that our team puts together every single week to help you and your team dig more deeply and maximize the conversation that we just had. This is the weekly toolkit that we provide. And we understand that it’s one thing to listen or watch an episode, but it’s something entirely different to actually take what you’ve heard, what you’ve watched, what you’ve seen, and apply it to your life and to your ministry. You see, FrontStage BackStage is more than just a podcast or YouTube show about ministry leadership, we are a complete resource to help train you and your entire ministry team as you seek to grow and develop in life in ministry. Every single week, we provide a weekly toolkit which has all types of tools in it to help you do just that. Now you can find this at PastorServe.org/network. That’s PastorServe.org/network. And there you will find all of our shows, all of our episodes and all of our weekly toolkits. Now inside the toolkit are several tools including video links and audio links for you to share with your team. There are resource links to different resources and tools that were mentioned in the conversation, and several other tools, but the greatest thing is the ministry leaders growth guide. Our team pulls key insights and concepts from every conversation with our amazing guests. And then we also create engaging questions for you and your team to consider and process, providing space for you to reflect on how that episode’s topic relates to your unique context, at your local church, in your ministry and in your life. Now you can use these questions in your regular staff meetings to guide your conversation as you invest in the growth of your ministry leaders. You can find the weekly toolkit at PastorServe.org/network We encourage you to check out that free resource. Until next time, I’m Jason Daye encouraging you to love well, live well, and lead well. God bless.
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