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Discipleship leads to change at center of being

Author directs church leadership workshop in East Iowa Presbytery

November 18, 2010

Headshot of the Rev. Glenn McDonald, speaking.

The Rev. Glenn McDonald

MARION, Iowa

Why would 170 Presbyterians gather on a Saturday morning? A presbytery meeting would seem a likely answer, but in this case, the group attended a workshop. What topic would attract this many people on a game day during football season?

One might think it would be something catchy like “creating an app to put your church on the map.” But the content was so simple that it was simply radical.

The Rev. Glenn McDonald, pastor of Zionsville Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, drove 400 miles to speak about discipleship.

McDonald, author of the book “The Disciple Making Church: From Dry Bones to Spiritual Vitality,” spoke at Echo Hill Presbyterian Church here Nov. 6 for the Leadership Summit sponsored by the Presbytery of East Iowa.

Forty-three congregations in the presbytery sent representatives, and 20 churches were represented by three or more registrants.

For six hours, with no PowerPoint slides, McDonald held the attention of the crowd, weaving stories with Bible text and using an old-fashioned handout with “fill in the blank” questions.  People were so engaged that one person stopped him after the first break to tell him that he had skipped one of the questions.

McDonald told the story of his son who was having trouble with blurred vision. An ophthalmologist discovered that his son was actually seeing double and a corrective lens helped bring his son’s vision into single focus. McDonald posited the need for the right lens to view God’s world.

Although many traditional churches look through what McDonald called the “tri-focal lens of attendance, building and cash,” he challenged the group to concentrate on the singular focus of the “great commission” — to be disciples who make disciples.

Calling Jesus’ method for teaching the great commission “brilliant,” McDonald said every Sunday school teacher knows that leading a class causes the teacher to learn the most. In the same way, McDonald said, Jesus’ instruction to his disciples in Matthew 28 — “Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you” — reinforces the idea that disciples teaching others to become disciples causes the faith of the leader to grow exponentially in the process.

McDonald said the future of the church is only as certain as our willingness to give away what has been given to us. If we choose not to obey, the church dies with us, he said.

McDonald believes transformation takes place through discipling relationships. His formula for a healthy church is: 1 + 1 + 1-on-1. The first “1” is God utilizing large groups, such as worship, for transformation. The second “1” equals God working through small groups and the “1-on-1” represents God using one-on-one “focused friendships” for transformation.

Churches need to teach us how to place Christ at the core of our lives before transformation will occur in our values and behaviors, McDonald said.

McDonald used Romans 12:2 to make his point. The verse states, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

McDonald pointed out that the Greek word for conform comes from the root word for scheme or plan. He said human schemes are superficial and shift as often as minds change.

He added, the Greek word for transformation is metamorphoo (from which metamorphosis is derived) and means change at the center of one’s being. McDonald said we must first have a “heart that beats for God” before we fully engage in the ministry of a church.

Stephen Dunham of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Iowa City participated in the workshop and said, “People in churches need to take their faith off the shelf and pass this living material on to others.”

Marue White is associate for communications for the Presbytery of East Iowa.

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