NEWTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) — For the past seven years, Mennonite Mission Network's Missional Discipleship Initiative (MDI) has provided online trainings that are primed to be especially important during these social-distancing times.
As the spread of COVID-19 creates distance between people out in public, MDI continues to connect people online by spreading God's good news in Christ through its training of missional leaders, said Marvin Lorenzana, Mission Network's MDI director. These leaders form other missional leaders by creating small discipling groups within congregations and partnering with the Holy Spirit to share the gospel beyond an established church family.
In the past several years, Lorenzana has been training and coaching leaders such as Karla Minter, a Mission Network Church Relations representative, to lead others in multiplying the movement through its online courses.
"Because of our training, leaders throughout our Anabaptist community and other denominations are contracting the positive 'virus' of the MDI movement and are spreading it to others," Lorenzana said. "This kind of movement takes time, and it was a slow process at the beginning, but it is catching fire."
The fire will continue to spread by seeing through the new lens that the Holy Spirit is providing, he said. "Church is a movement with an apostolic mindset, not a static group that ministers only to its own," Lorenzana explained. "To be healthy, congregations must prioritize the making of new disciples. If we don't get that right, we will get everything else wrong."
Minter began a coaching huddle last fall in which she is coaching three pastors and a lay leader to multiply disciples by forming missional discipleship groups (MDGs) in their congregations. MDGs meet each week to connect longtime believers with seekers so that they can grow together through accountability, sharing life, scripture reading, and prayer.
"This is a whole different way of being the Body of Christ," Minter said. "Instead of communities that nurture only their own, we learn to become disciples who make disciples. This is the New Testament model — it catalyzes a rapid growth."
Basic formula produces beautiful fruit
Since Rachel Yoder, a Fairhaven Mennonite Church lay leader from Fort Wayne, Indiana, joined Minter's huddle, she has formed an MDG in her own congregation. It includes women whose life experiences range from non-churched backgrounds to longtime Christian commitment.
Yoder sought out MDI coaching to help her better minister to Fairhaven's 30-member congregation that has been without a pastor for the last several years. She sought good modeling for leading others, and she said she has found that in MDI, which has given her confidence to trust God in the ministry.
"I'm learning that discipling others is not that difficult," Yoder said. "Group time is simply getting together to share where we have seen God at work in our lives this past week, and sharing scripture reading and prayer time."
Yoder said this basic "formula" creates the beautiful fruit of growing from being discipled to becoming disciple makers. This is true of two participants who come from no, or nominal, church backgrounds.
"One single mother of five children works in a factory, where she now sometimes prays with women, and other women are coming to her, wanting her advice," Yoder said. "Another woman has volunteered for our education committee and helps in children's Sunday school."
MDI reaches beyond Anabaptist communities of faith
According to Lorenzana and Minter, MDI is not just for Mennonites. Minter, for example, is coaching two leaders within the First Congregational Church in St. Johns, Michigan. They are Rachael Short, director of music, and Matt Olson, senior pastor. Short, who grew up Mennonite, is leading two MDGs in their congregation. Olson is leading three.
The congregation's strategic planning process evoked their interest in MDI, the two leaders said, and what they have learned and are passing on to their cohorts is dovetailing with their process.
"We have an aging and dying congregation, and we are trying to become a more effective witness to people who need Christ in coming generations," Olson said. "The key to the [MDI] program is about … growing in your faith as you reach out. … it is not about having holy huddles in the hallowed halls."
In one example, Short shares how she is experiencing the transformative effects of MDI. Trained in the complexities of classical piano, she is now creating simple chorus chants in response to her group's reading of the Psalms. This basic exercise, coupled with authentic sharing, is freeing, she said.
"The groups are simply about being human and being exactly who you are," Short said. "You can stop working so hard to say the right answer or use the right words or do the right things or be the right leader. Instead, we are listening to God speaking to our hearts."