In 1979, I was sent to Kenya in East Africa as a missionary of the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC). It was an incredible adventure for my wife Denise and me. We had the good fortune to witness the beginning of Christianity's rapid growth in sub-Saharan Africa. It was no doubt providential that I was welcomed to Kenya by three missionaries who were about to return to the States for retirement. These pastors all had a lifetime of experience as Lutheran missionaries. Quite frankly, I welcomed their mentoring because I had not a clue as to what to do! So, these kind pastors, whose lives were dedicated to Christ's mission, took me under their wings. Most importantly, they steered me away from making ministry to the congregation the focus. Instead, they taught me to make Christ's mission to the world the congregation's primary focus. These pastors taught me that discipleship training was the critical way for believers to experience a relationship with Christ in their daily lives. They taught me how a congregation, through discipleship training, can turn away from an inward, self-serving focus, toward an outward focus on Christ's reconciling world-wide mission. Thank you Pastors Jim Dretke, Paul Volz, and Bob Ward! These pastors taught me that being a disciple of Christ cannot be limited to activity within the institutional church.
The Seven Habits of Jesus teach us how to be disciples both in the church and in our daily lives. The purpose of The Seven Habits of Jesus is to provide a practical way for us to learn and re-learn faith formation from Jesus and to grow in our openness to his presence, power, and promises in our daily lives.
There is no way to sugar-coat it; Protestant congregations are now experiencing very serious difficulties. The model of congregational ministry that so successfully evolved after World War II seemed invincible. This model of ministry, that many now refer to as the membership model, produced unprecedented growth in Protestant congregations for more than half a century. For a variety of reasons, this model is no longer working and many pastors and lay leaders now seek ways to grow healthy congregations. Sadly, a record number of pastors and dedicated lay leaders are becoming burned out and leaving their congregations.
Congregations are looking for innovative ways to be faithful to God that will energize their ministry. Those congregations that seem to be weathering the storm have engaged in a discipleship model of ministry. A discipleship model of ministry is focused on Christ's mission of reconciliation to unite all people to God and to one another. Without discipleship training Christ's mission is too often limited to the confines of the congregation and does not relate sufficiently to one's daily life, let alone to one's encounter with the world. The Seven Habits of Jesus serves as a discipleship training resource through which the followers of Jesus may experience the benefits of living each day with him. When discipleship training occurs within a congregation, the mission and ministry of that congregation are given new impetus toward Christ's mission of reconciliation, that it may be experienced around the world today in an unprecedented manner!