WHAT IS EXPERIENTIAL DISCIPLESHIP?
At Promise Church, we understand that we are followers of Christ Jesus. We expect that God is the one who truly disciples his followers through the work of the Holy Spirit. However, God does not leave us without obvious signs of discipleship, and a clear path to recognize and walk along. The great story of humanity is a story of God revealing Himself to people and bringing them closer to the image they were created to bear.
We believe God takes all Christians through a process of Experiential Discipleship, and our faith is made deeper and stronger through this experience. It is important to outline the experience so we can find ourselves in it, understand where we are, and know how to expect God will cause us to grow through the stage we are in.
All interactions with God are responses to God’s initiation. This idea was cemented into the heart of the Christian church by St. Augustine when he called God the Primary Mover. God is inaccessible, except by His revelation, and His introduction. When we consider that, the first step of our experience with God is in the form of “promise.” God promises to be with Abram in Genesis 12. God promises to remain faithful to his people. God promises to return to make all things right. All these promises are realized in the person of Jesus, and they are also extended to include us today. God makes promises, and his promises are good.
As a stage of our experience in our discipleship, God reveals himself to us by showing us glimpses of his promises.
Our responses to God’s promises are limited to trust, or lack thereof. Do we trust what God is revealing to us? God reveals himself through the Bible, or through the words of others in the church, or through our own direct encounter with Him in prayer, worship or acts of service. Do we trust God’s voice in our lives? This is not a one-time question, but one that reoccurs in our journey of Experiential Discipleship.
When we find ourselves trusting God’s promise and revelation, we choose to follow God in the way He is leading us. This may cause a change in perspective, a change in behavior, or a change in any aspect of our lives. As we commit to following Jesus, we find that He guides us in all things. We have chosen to trust, and so we find our following as a logical conclusion of that trust. However, most discipleship programs end here.
This should not be the end of our experience. Following leads into the next stage of Experiential Discipleship.
Dr. John Kessler once said, “To have an unquestioned faith is to have an immature faith.” In many ways, our growth as a Christian is limited or expanded by what we do with this natural progression of Experiential Discipleship. In this period of time there are two types of questions that arise. One is a question of doubt; the other is a question of exploration. God is inexhaustible, and so questioning Him does not break our faith, but rather gives God the permission to reshape our faith around a larger understanding of Him. St. John of the Cross suggested this process can be like a “dark night of the soul” where nothing we once held to makes sense any more. God, however, is faithful and will reveal himself is greater ways as we pursue Him. To rebuild a foundation, one must deconstruct the house, then build a new house on a larger, stronger foundation.
Many Christians become disheartened or judged while going through a period of questioning. Sometimes we become discouraged and abandon our faith, or worse, we become discouraged in someone else’s experience and push them away from our community.
However, at Promise Church, we see questioning as God’s way of refining us and bringing us to a larger vision of himself. We see that David experienced times of questioning, and God carried him through. We see that Abraham experienced times of questioning, and God carried him through. Ruth, Mary, and Peter all experienced times of questioning. God is always faithful through these times. In Experiential Discipleship, God uses our questions to bring us to a larger view of Himself.
As our view of God increases, so does our view of God’s mission in the world, and we are invited to partner with God as part of his body. We experience a calling to join God in an aspect of his mission in the world. We are always reliant on the Holy Spirit to empower our works and our actions as we extend beyond our own capability into union with God, who works wonderfully through us.
Oftentimes, this is the most exciting element of the Christian experience. Our invitation into the larger mission of God draws our eyes off ourselves, and puts them wholly onto Jesus, who works powerfully among us and through us.
THE CYCLE CONTINUES
As we experience the mission of God in a fresh new way, God starts to reveal a new promise to us, and we find ourselves again faced with the question of trusting Him. This Experiential Discipleship is explicitly outlined throughout the Biblical text through the stories of the fathers of the faith, as well as the disciples. It has also been repeated through the actions of the saints of old, and today we can talk to mature Christians who can trace God’s action through this cycle. Because God has been calling people to himself for centuries, we have the added benefit of seeing what God has been doing, and we can prepare or hearts and minds for our own Experiential Discipleship journey.
Since you have read this far, spend a few minutes and reflect on your experiences of God. Have you been made aware of the Promises of God? Did you, at one point in your life, choose to trust and follow God, only to be discouraged and overcome by questions no one around you could answer? Are you in the process of following God and starting to wonder what more there is to Christianity? Is your faith at a place where you are engaged and experiencing the mission of God in your own life? These are questions that all Christ followers should ask.
At Promise Church, we believe God is walking each of us through the process of Experiential discipleship. We teach it, and walk alongside people as God reveals himself to them.
In order to help you get connected at Promise Church, we have provided you with some helpful links! The first one is a link to our Community Portal. This is what we use to help you engage with our weekly services. From it you can ask questions, read notes and texts related to the messages, give, find out details about upcoming events, and much more! This Community Portal is accessible not only on your phone and computer, but also on every table, at every table in our Sunday Morning services available for you to use!
If you are looking for ways to get involved in our church, please follow the link to our Community Portal and fill out the yellow “Get Connected” section at the top of the page, or talk to one of our pastors directly. This will help us get you plugged in to our growing community.