So you've heard the theory, and you understand the concept. If you like the idea (and you have to agree - it's a great idea) go for it! Wherever you are in your personal spiritual journey, LIFEdevelopment can help you to grow in your own life, and empower you to help others to move on in theirs. And the same applies to your church. Your church may be one of the many congregations which have been implementing Ldi principles and practices for years. But however good and effective it is at the moment in meeting the challenges of post-modern society, it can develop and grow still further.
1. Discipleship and Community
You already know that LIFEdevelopment.info sees evangelism as a growth process, which begins long before baptism and continues for as long as life lasts afterwards. The New Testament word for this process is discipleship. In the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20, disciples are told to make disciples. The term disciple means apprentice. So those who give the invitation and those who receive it are both involved in the discipleship process.
Without a doubt, the single most important element in the discipleship process is community. Jesus-followers do not grow well in isolation. God has designed that we grow together. When we are baptised into Christ, we are also baptised into His body, the Church. And "from Him the whole body …grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." (I Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 1:23; 4:16). In order to grow - individually and together - we need to be connected with each other, hence the Great Commandment to love one another (John 15:12). We grow best in community. And authentic Christian community - the oneness for which Jesus prayed - is convincing evidence to the world that the Christian message is true (John 17:23). Discipleship and community go together. That's why the building of LIFEdevelopment communities is so important to the LIFEdevelopment process, especially in today's post-modern environment.
2. Identity and Belonging
Just as the Church has been given two main tasks - to make disciples and to build community - so post-modern people (that's most non-Christians and Christians around us here in the Western world at least, and that probably includes most of our fellow Seventh-day Adventists) have two basic needs: the need for identity, and the need for belonging. Post-modern thinking has many interesting characteristics, but most if not all can be understood as reflections of those two principal needs.
Now see how the two main tasks of the Church and the two main needs of post-modern society go together: -
Make disciples << >> Need for identity
Build community << >> Need for belonging
Christian discipleship is a lifelong adventure of discovery that is really all about understanding where we have come from, why we are here, and where we are going, not just as individuals but as members of Christ's new kingdom community. Our unique, personal identity is found only through our relationships with God and with each other. So our search for identity leads to participation in community, and our experience of belonging in community confirms our unique identity.
Interesting isn't it! The need for identity and need for belonging go together, so one need cannot be met without the other. That's because both needs have the same root cause - disconnectedness. We've become separated from God and from each other. And that explains why there's only one real solution - getting re-connected, with God and with each other. Discipleship and community really do go together.
Making disciples and building community takes time: certainly more time than it used to take. Most people know little or nothing about the Bible or what it means to be a Christian, and are very sceptical of the claims of religious institutions, so very few will respond positively to an invitation to "go to church." We therefore need to build bridges between where we (the church) are, and where our non-Christian friends are. Hence the need for LIFEdevelopment communities.
3. The LIFEdevelopment Community
A LIFEdevelopment community can take one of two forms: a LIFEdevelopment group, or a LIFEdevelopment centre. LIFEdevelopment communities provide the central link in creating connections between the local church (which may be either an established church or a new church plant) and the friends, or seekers, we are endeavouring to reach.
A LIFEdevelopment community is a group of people who, through the LIFEdevelopment process, can become part of Christ's new kingdom community by:
Building lasting friendships with each other through sharing common interests
Ultimately recognising Jesus as the only Source and Centre of all real community
Understanding and embracing the principles and practice of Christ's teaching and lifestyle
Basic to starting a LIFEdevelopment community is the understanding that such communities are designed for, and therefore made up of Christians and non-Christians, Seventh-day Adventists and others who do not share Adventist beliefs or lifestyle. Everyone belongs equally to the group - there are no "insiders" or "outsiders." This is what is meant by "belonging before believing.":
"If people can belong long enough to observe how God is alive among us, if people can belong long enough to see authentic love among us, if they can belong long enough to see whatever good exists in our lives as individuals and as a community, they can come to believe." (Brian Mclaren, More Ready than You Realize, 85)
The process of leading post-modern "pre-Christians" into discipleship and community will probably consist of up to four stages:
Stage One: Making friends
Stage Two: Connecting new friends with a church or group activity
Stage Three: Involvement in a LIFEdevelopment group or centre
Stage Four: Attendance and membership at a local church
Before we look at these four stages in more detail, consider this helpful statement:
"Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow me.’" (Ellen White, Ministry of Healing, page 143).
Jesus Himself understood the need for process or method. Before He invited people to follow Him, He developed a relationship of trust, or "won their confidence." To do that, He "showed His sympathy for them and ministered to their needs." But notice that even before He served them in this way, He usually mixed with them first. And He didn't just mix: He mixed with a purpose, "as one who desired their good," looking for the needy ones, anxious to understand them, seeking to identify with them, becoming a familiar figure among them, and winning their friendship. If Jesus did it this way, and if this is the only way to achieve "true success in reaching the people," we can expect His blessing as we take the
steps outlined in the next few pages.
>> STAGE ONE >>