Who in your community is living unseen? What opportunities have you missed to bring someone closer to Christ? Are you really too busy, or has that grown into a comfortable excuse?

We cannot carry out the mission of being and cultivating disciples for the Kingdom if we are not making the time to connect with the people around us, regardless of lack of time or the environment we meet potential disciples. In particular, we cannot afford to neglect neighbors who may not live, or have the privileges, as the people we have grown accustomed to seeing each day. Initiated at this year’s annual conference gathering in June, it’s been the focus of the Indiana Conference to encourage lay and clergy to be intentional about seeing all the people in our midst, as we progress in our mission of being fully missional by 2020.

Indiana United Methodist clergy were joined by Rev. Junius B. Dotson of Discipleship Ministries, during Learning Day, to explore the ways we can improve our discipleship-making practices, answer hard questions we may be unknowingly avoiding, as well as how to build community and new connections in the most unlikely of places.

“There comes a point when a group needs to stop meeting about what they are going to plan to do and start getting that plan done,” Dotson says during an open Q&A session, as he sits casually on the steps of the podium in the chapel at Zionsville United Methodist Church.

Dotson’s teachings are inundated with stories, and his stories are a testament to his broad travel record. As a longtime minister, teacher, and influential speaker, his stories are weaved by one obvious theme — they are told from different lenses, offer different viewpoints, and are often stories about the lives of the plethora of people he’s encountered throughout his journey in life, faith, and ministry. Moreover, the stories encapsulate a certain discipleship practice Dotson preaches to crowds around the world — creating ministries that address the needs of the whole person; mind, body, and spirit.

But this requires intentionality. Dotson stresses that it’s not enough for ministry leaders to build a schedule filled with activities and events without having a mindset for effectively creating disciples to join in our mission of transforming the world.

He challenged participants,

“What does the phrase “Discipleship begins with a relationship,” mean? And what is the difference between approaching the activities and events that we do at church with discipleship in mind, as opposed to simply creating a program that keeps people busy?”

Dotson received thoughtful nods from his audience members; clergy, new and seasoned, who’ve realized that their ministries are only as strong as the bonds they build in the communities that surround their respective churches, as well as the communities they live, drive, and work in on a daily basis.

“Somewhere along the way we lost sight of the ‘why,’ and business and activity became the goal, and that’s what we celebrate,” Dotson said while gazing into the crowd in front of him.

He continued,

“Why do we have a family life center? Who told us to build one? We build one because we wanted to connect with people. Where? In the community.”

Building community is predicated on being invitational. But discipleship goes beyond sending out an invitation.

“Engagement is more than a church invite,” Dotson stated. “You may have great teams and great activities in the church, but they don’t connect to making disciples.”

He paused. “I’m sure you’ve thought about a couple ministries in your church that have no connection to intentional discipleship. See how it changes the nature of that planning experience.”

But do these changes come with ease? Not usually.

Dotson digs deeper, “I’m talking about an intimacy required for evangelism that is more personal, and ultimately, more effective. But also infinitely more difficult. It requires much more of us. It will frustrate those of us who want fast results. Requires reservoirs of spiritual stamina.”

But it’s our calling. It’s what God has commissioned us to do, Dotson says. “We cannot forget that it was in this context that Jesus reminds us, through prayer, our call to be engaged is in our community.”

What is Learning Day? (From the Leadership Development Team)
The Learning Day for large membership congregations provides informational resources to assist clergy and congregations, by inviting an outside leader, with proven fruitfulness, to lead as a practitioner, who will share their experiences, modes, and models around the areas of reaching people, building systems, and making disciples. The hope for the learning days is to offer participants an opportunity to engage in an environment for continuous learning with others who are on the journey to make disciples in a significant way.