Discipleship lessons across communities

The clarion call of the Great Commission is simple: make disciples in Jesus’ name. Implementing a discipleship strategy, however, is mainly dependent on context.

I recently moved to a small town as a pastor whose vocation is discipleship. With me came my big-city discipleship experience and mindset. Discipleship and God’s call were no less urgent in my new, smaller community. Yet I was humbled rather quickly when I realized that what worked in one place did not have the same result in another.

I’m convinced that the discipleship principles that apply in any setting include biblically-grounded instruction and regular shared experiences of vulnerability together. Teaching people God’s Word and sharing life as God’s people are the key ingredients to obeying the Great Commission—no matter where ministry happens. As such, the Church and Bible-loving leadership are indispensable. So, shouldn’t they translate seamlessly from a suburban to a rural context?

In a suburban setting, getting people to “do life” together was more complex, but vulnerable sharing came readily. There are more people with less association in more significant population densities. Because they likely didn’t work and live in the same circles, the risk was lower to being vulnerable, while the challenge of the gathering was higher.

The reverse is true in rural settings. If you’ve lived in one, you know. Life together is everywhere because you know half the grocery store when you walk in. That means vulnerability comes with a greater risk because people work, play and live in your circle. Discipleship thrives at the crossroads of God’s Word and vulnerable communities.

Both suburban and rural settings are fertile ground for Great Commission work. To the suburban discipler, put effort into the gathering. Getting people together for discipleship will be your context’s most significant challenge. To the rural discipler, foster vulnerability by building trust. People are already gathering, so your challenge will be to encourage deep dialogue. God’s Word and our tenacity to keep it front and center must remain committed for both.

Dave Mergens is the Pastor of Adult Formation at Alexandria Covenant Church, host of the 2023 Rural Impact Leadership Conference. Dave’s passion for discipleship has been a mainstay value in his 20 years of vocational ministry. He’s an avid outdoorsman who enjoys quality time with his family and friends doing life in adventure settings.

This article was originally published by Transform Minnesota and is reused by permission.