32 minutes | Mar 17, 2020

Episode 51: “Developing a Discipleship Pathway” featuring Kay Kotan

Do you have a discipleship pathway at your congregation? In this episode we discuss discipleship and developing disciples with Kay Kotan, founder of You Unlimited and a credentialed coach, church consultant, speaker, and author. Transcript Announcer: Leading Ideas Talks is brought to you by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. Subscribe free to our weekly newsletter, Leading Ideas, at churchleadership.com/leadingideas. Leading Ideas Talks is also brought to you by A Life Worthy of the Gospel. Presented by noted ethicist Dr. Sondra Wheeler, this six-session video-based adult Christian study is an eloquent, challenging, and inspiring introduction to Christian ethics. Learn more at churchleadership.com/studies. Do you have a discipleship pathway at your congregation? In this episode we discuss discipleship and developing disciples with Kay Kotan. Doug Powe: Welcome to Leading Ideas Talks, a podcast featuring thought leaders and innovative practitioners. I am Douglas Powe, the director of the Lewis Center and your host for this talk. Joining me is Kay Kotan, the Director for the Center for Multiplying Disciples in the Arkansas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. Our focus for this podcast is discipleship and multiplication. Kay is the author of many books, her latest is co-authored with Phil Schroeder and titled Launching Leaders. Kay, thank you for joining us today on the podcast and I’m looking forward to talking with you about discipleship. Kay Kotan: It’s my pleasure. Doug Powe: I want to begin our conversation, because there are many definitions of discipleship, so I would like to hear how would you define discipleship? Kay Kotan: Yeah. You know, Doug, I think sometimes we make this maybe a little more complicated than it really needs to be. So, in its simplest form, I would define it as continuously and intentionally growing more Christ-like and introducing others to Christ. Doug Powe: I like that. It is very simple! Before moving on, I just want to hear, can you speak a little bit more? Because you say continuously growing more Christ-like. So, do you feel for people that continuously growing more Christ-like requires a certain commitment in terms of formation? Because I think that’s the piece that is challenging for many individuals. Kay Kotan: Oh, absolutely. You know, it is working the spiritual disciplines. It’s being in the Word. It’s being in prayer. It’s being in an accountability group. And Christ was the illustrator of all of those things. It’s what he did with his disciples. And if we were in relationship with Christ as he was with his disciples, I think we would be being discipled as well. We have just made it so darn complicated for whatever reason. And in that complication, we’ve gotten to the point that we’re not discipling at all, in many cases. Doug Powe: Yeah, and I think that’s true and very unfortunate. And we’ll talk a little bit more about this in a few minutes. But it seems to me that we’re more focused on creating members, but not really disciples. And that’s a major challenge today for congregations. But I want to ask, why do you think it’s so challenging for congregations to develop a discipleship process? Kay Kotan: That’s a great question. And I just find it so fascinating that we, as churches, that’s our business. We’re in the disciple-making business. But a great majority of the churches, or at least in my experience that I have worked with across our great nation, have no intentional process or system to do disciple making. And I think we relied on our church-centric world, and our curriculum-driven learning, for decades now. And we’re now in a place where we have generations of people who have been sitting in the pews with this kind of discipling, or lack thereof, for 20, 30, maybe even 50 years, who are not disciples. They’ve been attenders, but they haven’t moved in their discipleship. They haven’t been discipled by others. But they wouldn’t even realize this. And probably those around them may not even realize that they’re not disciples. So, when we moved away from the class meetings and bands that held us accountable for growing more Christ-like, for continuing on our journey, true discipling then began to suffer. And I just think we’ve gotten further and further away from the simplest form of, you know, “tell me, how goes it with your soul? And where are you following Christ and where are you falling off it? And how can I help you get back on?” Doug Powe: Yeah. You’ve said a lot of things. I’m going to pick up on a few of the threads because I think that you’re right. And I want to begin in talking about individuals who have been attending for a long time but may not realize that they have never really been discipled. How do you help those individuals to understand that there really is something more that we should be doing as Christians and not simply showing up on Sunday to worship and maybe attending a Bible study or Sunday school? Because I think, like you say, we’ve gotten into a pattern where many people, that’s sort of what they’ve done all of their life. And they believe that’s what it means to be a part of a church. And we’re coming along saying to them “No. No. No. No. There’s more than that.” So how do we help them to understand there should be more to it? Kay Kotan: Right. So, this is a common question or issue, Doug, that we have found in doing consulting with churches across the country. So, in my experience, it’s sometimes kind of difficult to get those folks on a discipleship pathway if they’ve been in church for a long time. In past decades, we led them to believe that they were disciples. We asked them to attend worship, throw a buck in the plate and take care of the building. And they faithfully have done so. So, when we “change the rules” now they feel that they have been mislead since they were faithful to what we had been asking them to do all along. We have led them to believe that that’s what discipleship was all about. Now we didn’t use those words, but we actually said, “If you do these things, then you’re a good Christian.” Pat you on the head and we’re pleased. So, once a church creates a discipleship pathway, we invite those people, encourage those people to come along that have been with us for quite some time. But certainly, requiring those folks to come along, in my experience, has not been helpful. Those that are hungry for it and those that are new to the faith, certainly are more eager to jump onto those discipleship pathways. Now, when you get some excitement growing in a church, then sometimes those that were reluctant earlier on, then choose to jump on later. But to begin with, at least in my experience, it’s sometimes difficult in the beginning to get those folks to come along. So, all we have found is encourage, invite, don’t push, but have them come alongside as much as possible. Doug Powe: And you’ve mentioned a few times a discipleship pathway. And I like that wording. For every congregation, of course, it’s going to be different, but can you describe what you think would be some key characteristics, or elements that congregations should consider when developing a pathway? Kay Kotan: Yeah. So, the definition overall when I’ve worked with congregations, how I would describe it to them is “how do you help a seeker, a new believer, move along in their spiritual journey, to become more Christ-like so that in their development, in their maturity, they become a disciple maker. So, what experiences, what knowledge, what differences in the way that they would go about life and experience life which you want them to have along the way, so that they become a disciple maker? And, Doug, too often we have been around what curriculum do we need to have people encounter? Versus, what are the learnings? What are the experiences? What are the lifestyle changes? And then we bring in contemporary learnings, curriculum, offerings, to help them. And so, we’ve kind of had it backwards for so long. So, the pathway is timeless. And the curriculum, the activities, then can changed as needed. I hope that makes sense. Doug Powe: It does. And just to follow up, so one of the challenges and you’ve talked about this previously, is many of us were brought up in this world where education was primary. Intellect was primary. So you analyzed everything by studying it or finding some curriculum to help you to understand it. But what I hear you saying, for discipleship, we sort of need to reverse that and we need people to almost mentor other individuals initially. And then as they get on that pathway, then there may be learnings or curriculum that might be relevant. But starting with the curriculum isn’t going to be helpful in the long run. Is that sort of correct? Kay Kotan: Well, at least that’s the way that I look at it. And I also think that we have spent so much time in our intellectual learning, that we kind of got stuck there so that we didn’t have experiential learning. And sometimes I believe that it’s the experiential learning that is the greater growth opportunity sometimes when you’re out encountering the world, in missions, you’re out encountering the world in serving, you’re out encountering the world in evangelizing. You know, the Holy Spirit shows up in some pretty profound ways. Not that the Holy Spirit can’t show up in Bible study. But I just find that when you’re doing life as a disciple out in the world, experiencing life, doing life with other people, and growing more Christ-like, it’s more profound. It
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