KANSAS CITY (Mennonite Mission Network) – Several years into her role as pastor at the 178-year-old Salem Mennonite Church in rural Elida, Ohio, Paula Snyder Belousek felt a growing dissatisfaction.
Something was missing.
Even though the congregation had faithfully followed Jesus for the long haul, older generations – rooted in traditional understandings of the Anabaptist faith – were passing away. And new people – often without roots in any church – were showing up, she said. People with significant brokenness were searching for healing, and the church needed to respond.
"The former ways of putting newcomers into a six-week baptism class before baptizing them and saying, 'Now you are a Christian,' felt woefully inadequate for the situation in our day," Snyder Belousek said during the Missional Disciple Initiative (MDI) gathering July 4 during MennoCon19.
"I felt we needed a deeper sense of community, a deeper kind of discipleship that walked with people as they developed and grew, and, yes, sometimes slipped backward, or fell away."
In seeking resources to transition into something new, Ohio Mennonite Conference – of which Salem is a member – reached out to Marvin Lorenzana, Mennonite Mission Network's discipleship initiatives director. As leader of MDI, Lorenzana serves as a coach to pastors, congregations and ministries seeking intentional, authentic and relational discipleship-making. Within this three-level movement, Level 1 involves pastors joining Lorenzana or other MDI leaders in an every-other-week group called a Huddle. That's when pastors discuss how to best nurture the growth of their missional discipleship groups (MDGs).
An MDG is formed when a pastor invites a facilitator to lead a triad that meets regularly for relationship-building, prayer, Bible study and accountability. The facilitator chooses a second person, and together they seek to engage a third person to complete their group.
At the end of eight months, pastors are invited to consider moving into Levels 2 and 3 to grow their capacities to multiply other discipleship initiatives.
MDI was birthed about six years ago when Mission Network Racial/Ethnic congregations throughout Mennonite Church USA called for resources to help them to grow and to train church leaders through intentional discipling in their home communities, Lorenzana said. As MDI developed, many other kinds of congregations, such as the historic Salem, began seeking help, too. The number of congregations that are nurturing MDGs has grown from five the first year to 64 today.
What happened after Salem Mennonite formed MDGs was nothing short of miraculous transformation, Snyder Belousek said. But these "miracles," while Holy Spirit induced, do not fall from the sky. They are the fruit of dogged patience required in helping people break lifetime patterns that hinder their formation in Christ.
Synder Belousek shared an example. A couple of years ago, Salem Mennonite required newcomers who wanted to develop more Christian commitment to be part of an MDG. One such member went on a heroin bender. Another member confessed that his girlfriend had become pregnant. "But because they were part of these small groups of close relationships, their fellow MDG members were able to help these guys pick themselves up and get back on the path with Jesus," she said. She added that the heroin addict became clean again. And the other young man was mentored in how to be a father.
"Every time I turn around, there is one person in one of these groups who is bringing in someone new from our community," she said. "We are a small congregation that has a small capacity to create new groups. And yet, it is all very life-giving. It emphasizes the importance of relationships in following Jesus, and is invitational rather than promotional."
Lorenzana said the overall purpose of MDGs are not for preaching, but for authentically sharing one's victories and struggles, encouraging holistic spiritual maturity in one's life, and building capacity to help others grow as disciples. "It's all about growing people and multiplying disciples," he said. "Discipleship-making is about a person-to-person movement, not a program." Currently, new MDI enrollees are being recruited. For more information about how to enroll or to seek resources and coaching from Lorenzana, log on to the Mission Network website at https://www.mennonitemission.net/resources/church-vitality/discipleship/What-is-the-missional-discipleship-initiative. You may also directly e-mail or call Lorenzana at MarvinL@MennoniteMission.net; 1-866-866-2872 (toll-free).