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Discipleship takes faith to next level

By Stuart Mann

A few years ago, the Rev. Tim Haughton of St. Paul, Bloor Street, travelled to England to research fresh expressions of church, with the view to starting one in his parish. While he was there, he saw groups of people coming together in new forms of church. But something was troubling him.

“The question that came up time and time again was, ‘Great, you’ve got 30 to 50 people together, but are they becoming disciples? Are they growing in their faith? Are they impacting the community with the Gospel?’ And more often than not, the answer was, ‘Not really.’”

Since then, he has become convinced that making disciples of Jesus Christ is essential to any fresh expression of church—or established church, for that matter. “If you’re just looking for people, buy a keg of beer and a lot of people will show up,” he says. “But if you’re looking for a transformation of the heart, you’ve got to focus people towards Jesus, towards what he has done for us, towards the Gospel.”

He believes that fostering one-to-one discipleship is the most effective way to do that. He’s been doing that at St. Paul’s for the past four years, with surprising results. “God just gets a hold of their hearts and the sky’s the limit,” he says of the people he has worked with.

He disciples about eight people a year. He meets each person twice a month, for about an hour and a half, to read the Bible and discuss how it applies to their lives. The person can choose to read the whole Bible or just part of it, whatever they feel most comfortable with. “Basically, it’s about meeting folks and going through the scriptures and applying it to their lives and seeing how the Gospel transforms them from the inside out.”

He invites people to discipleship who seem to want to take their faith deeper, or who are potential leaders in the church who just need a nudge in the right direction. Most people are keen to take part in the process. “More often than not, people say to me, ‘This is exactly what I want. I’ve been praying about going deeper into my faith and understanding.’”

He says the sessions aren’t structured, and he goes into the process with an open mind. “I go in with the mindset that God is already at work in this person’s life even before we begin the conversation. I ask some questions, trying to figure out what, spiritually, has brought this person to this part of his or her life.”

He lets the person decide what they want to read, but more often than not, they want him to decide. “Because most people are on the cusp of conversion, newly converted or are coming back to church, I start with the Gospel of Matthew, as I know that one the best. We go through each passage and I ask ‘What challenges you? What hits your heart?’ That begins the conversation.”

He says one-to-one discipleship can often be more powerful than group discipleship. “It means you can address their specific needs and questions, foster their specific gifts, and then send them out to put those gifts into practice.”

He has discipled about 34 people over the years, and many of them have gone on to disciple others. One man has discipled 25 people. A woman converted to Christianity and has gone on to become an evangelist.

Although it might seem time-consuming to meet with just eight people a year, he says it is the best part of his job. “It’s so much fun. You get front row seats to watching God transform a person’s life. I can think of no better way to spend my time.”

It’s also an effective way to grow the church, he adds. “It has a multiplying effect. If you take four people in the first year and ask them to do the same with one other person next year, before long you’re discipling a whole community just from working with a few people each year.”