Re-Igniting Discipleship in United Methodism

on October 15, 2015

Paul Lawler is the Lead-Pastor of Christ Church UMC in Birmingham, Alabama.  He and his wife, MJ, have four children and one daughter-in-law.  In addition to serving as a pastor, Paul and his brother, Dallas area businessman, Patrick Lawler, founded the Patricia B. Hammonds Girl’s Home for 60 orphans at high risk for human trafficking in Thailand. The home is operated through the international ministry of the Compassionate Hope Foundation.  Paul also serves on the North Alabama Conference Discipleship Team. You can follow him on Twitter @plawler111


Re-Igniting Discipleship in United Methodism

A Local Church Creates a Discipleship School


Methodism was once a great Christian movement because Methodism was once a great discipleship movement.  The rhythms of the class, band, and society meetings reverberated with the originating impulses of the gospel.  Lives were transformed on multiple continents.  At one time, the patterns of discipleship expressed through Methodism so impacted the masses that academics labeled it a movement of historical proportions.

Today, many are deeply alarmed about the state of discipleship within the United Methodist Church.  Some have written about this concern. Many are beginning to give greater voice to this issue.  As these alarm bells are sounding, Christ Church UMC in Birmingham, which has seen over 14,000 professions of faith in the last seven years, decided to create a venue for equipping the greater church in effective patterns of discipleship.  This venue, known as The Immersion School, is designed for clergy, church staffs, and lay-people.

Here are four of the “key immersions” associated with this new expression of equipping the saints for the work of the ministry of disciple making.


Immersion #1:  Altering our Spiritual DNA

We use the term Immersion because we believe the church needs something more than another seminar, conference, or curriculum on the subject of discipleship.  We need a deeply immersive experience that has the potential of altering our spiritual DNA.  This was the genius of the early Methodist movement via the immersive experience found in rhythms of classes, bands and society gatherings.

It is foolish to think we could develop people who are going to “transform the world” without providing immersive pathways of experiencing deep transformation.  The Immersion School is designed to immerse Christ-followers with the Person of Christ and the tools for intentional discipleship and disciple making.


Immersion #2:  Aiming at Intentional Discipleship

Many speak these days of hoping for a turnaround in the United Methodist Church, but we must bear in mind that the patterns that got us where we are will not be the patterns that will take us where we need to go.  We must take fresh aim, and what we aim at matters greatly.

As the United Methodist Church our stated aim is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Therefore, we must make this our specific aim.

For a number of years I have asked numerous seminary graduates the following question:

“If you were given twelve people to begin meeting with who are open to God, has your seminary experience taught you how to effectively disciple them?”

While I am confident of exceptions, I have never had anyone answer “Yes.”  This is particularly disturbing in light of our primary task as the church to make disciples. The reality we are living in is as follows:  Many of our clergy do not know how to go about making disciples. This is a tragedy.  And this tragedy has devastating ripple effects for the church. Clergy, who are responsible for “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry,” cannot possibly train others to do what they themselves do not know how to do.  Millions upon millions of our laity do not know how to go about making disciples for the transformation of the world.  This betrays our stated aim as the church and it betrays the originating impulses of the Wesleyan movement. If we do not know how to make disciples, all our references to hopes of “transformation of the world” are rendered anemic.

The Immersion School takes specific aim at equipping everybody, lay and clergy, in effective patterns of intentional disciple-making for the transformation of the world.


Immersion #3:  Depth that Fuels Breadth

The genius of the early Wesleyan movement helped people tap into Jesus’ command to “make disciples” by “teaching all that (He) commanded . . .” As the early Methodists were faithful to instruct the church in Jesus’ commands through the class, bands, and societies, they were fruitful to reproduce.  Out of depth came breadth.  The church experienced life and surrounding cultures were transformed.

The Immersion School seeks to foster “living environments” whereby students have the opportunity of becoming immersed in the depth of the Person of Christ; and then engage in the breadth of the expression of His mission.


Immersion #4:  A Different Kind of Learning Matrix

The majority approach in today’s ministry training/seminary environment is primarily didactic (lecture) in nature; essentially the same approach as earning a professional degree.

While this approach may be effective for many professionalized careers, this is not the primary method Jesus utilized in equipping persons for a life of impact in the surrounding culture.  With a heart for the launch of a more primal expression of Christianity needed in Western contexts and beyond, The Immersion School seeks a more full-orbed approach to learning and equipping for ministry.


The Immersion School employs a different technique in the process of equipping.  Utilizing a high degree of praxis wed with theological training, The Immersion School blends teaching (Theology & Methodology), mentoring (Spiritual Fathers & Mothers), incarnational disciplines (Experiential Word and Worship Based Prayer), and applied ministry (Challenging praxis in disciple-making) as a means to equip people in launching and multiplying movements for the glory of God.

With Immersion Training, you have the opportunity of staying in your ministry context.  Other than one’s participation in monthly cohorts, The Immersion School training does not take an individual out of one’s community or city.  Instead, the training moves you into your community or city.  You grow as you go.


The next semester of The Immersion School begins in January 2016.  If you would like more information you may contact Paul Lawler at [email protected]

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