A journey in community building – Making disciples at BPMC

A recent service at BPMC

Disciple-making in Bukit Panjang Methodist Church (BPMC) started when our two English pastors, Rev Lek Yong Teck and Rev Erick Tan, were posted to the church in 2017. In essence, disciple-making in BPMC is intended to develop and grow a Christian community that contributes to fulfilling the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ.

BPMC strives to become a dynamic disciple-making community described in Hebrews 10:24-25, not as an aggregation of individuals like a bag of marbles but as a congregation like a cluster of grapes. Of course, we’re not fully there yet, but we’re clear about our direction and we exercise patience in depending on God to do the work of spiritual growth in our community.

In a world influenced by western individualism, we want to grow a community that is irreplaceable by any other in our culture – one that is always “meeting together” and touching all aspects of our members’ lives. We would like our community to worship together, pray together, learn together, eat together, cry together, rejoice together and above all, be together. Like all other churches, we hold congregational worship as a large group, but additionally, we also operate mid-size and small groups where the life-on-life touch points for disciple-making and spiritual growth mostly take place.

Nature of the community

Our disciple-making community is one characterised by numerous “one another” activities taking place all across the church. We don’t go to church just to be ministered but also to teach one another, confess our sins to one another, bear the burdens of one another and pray for one another.

Studying the Word with one another

The first foundational principle in our disciple-making is that it must be scriptural. All our disciple-making leaders are actively seeking to help their members ponder and reflect on how they are going to apply the truths of scripture into their lives and learn to live as Jesus lived. We also dig into the Bible to identify and follow Christ’s model, methods and messages on making disciples.

Spur one another

To spur means to point people to answer our Lord’s call to deny ourselves, carry our cross and follow him. Spurring is not so much about running spiritual formation programmes with pre-determined start and end points. Rather it is to recognise that we are all at uniquely different stages in our spiritual journey with Christ, and then structuring the learning opportunities to take us from where we currently are and bring us to the next deeper level of walking with God. Hence, the second foundational principle in our disciple-making is that it must be sequential. For this reason, we structure all our mid-size and small groups according to the 4-Chair discipling system developed by Dann Spader: For the spiritually lost (Come and See), for believers (Follow Me), for workers (Become A Fisher of Men) and for disciple-makers (Go and Bear Fruit). People can then join the appropriate group and grow from there.

Encourage one another

To encourage means to come alongside the people we disciple and help them to deal with the multitude of challenges that come with following Christ. This requires both modelling by the discipler and holding the ones we disciple accountable for their lives. Obviously, this is only possible after we have developed deep relationships with the people we are discipling. Therefore, the third foundational principle in our disciple-making is that it must be relational. To do this, all our leaders are assigned with specially appointed mentors. Additionally, those that enter into our disciple training automatically have a lifelong mentoring relationship with their leaders.

Work with one another

The fourth foundational principle in our disciple-making is that it must be reproducible, not just in reproducing more love and good works in our community but reproducing more and more people who have learned to do this as a lifestyle. Consequently, we are beginning to witness more and more people participating in our 2 ongoing social concerns efforts:

  • “Warm nights” – provision of 2 rooms in our church premises to cater for (homeless) rough sleepers, in conjunction with the Ministry of Culture, Community & Youth
  • “Reach-a-family” – delivering groceries to needy families, in conjunction with Fei Yue Family Service Centre.

The outworking of this principle is that all of those who enter into disciple-making will be helped to continue living as disciples of Christ thereafter, and some will graduate to become disciple-makers.

Challenges to community formation

Once the decision is taken to become a disciple-making church, this effort can no longer be driven by just one department (i.e. Disciple & Nurture Committee). Disciple-making is our church strategy and all the various ministries have to answer themselves this question, How will my ministry contribute towards disciple-making in my church?

The greatest challenge to forming such a community in a Methodist church is that we are not starting from a clean slate. Many of the existing role-based committee systems and leadership structure can still run but need to be realigned to the overall pathway and system of a disciple-making church.

Another challenge is that our church programmes are usually multifarious and developed from the bottom-up. Hence church priorities have to be aligned to strike a balance in winning the lost, building up believers, equipping workers for the harvest and investing in a few to make more disciples.

Yet another challenge is our itinerant pastoral system — what if an incoming pastor does not prioritise disciple-making? Will all the efforts of the previous pastor go down the drain? For this reason, the Chinese Annual Conference (CAC) has decided to become a ‘Disciple-Making Annual Conference’ driven by a Disciple-Making Taskforce personally led by our President to steer the disciple-making efforts of the local churches. At the local church level, the Pastors have to take the lead and mobilise the laity to ensure continuity of the process over time.

The most frequently asked question is, Does becoming a disciple-making church really grow the church significantly? As disciple-making is a long-term investment, it is difficult for BPMC to show definitive results after just four years into this journey. However, we have noticed more workers participating in prayer, evangelism, follow-up and social concerns in our church, and the signs of growth look promising.

Future outlook

We have decided to become a disciple-making church by learning from those that have gone before us, applying the principles to our own local church context and evolving our pathway as we grow and as we understand more of what is involved. The CAC’s guidance and support will surely increase the sustainability of our disciple-making church system, and we look forward with anticipation for God to do a great work in and through BPMC to help fulfil his Great Commission.

Stephen Yeo is the former LCEC chairperson of Bukit Panjang Methodist Church. / Photos courtesy of Bukit Panjang Methodist Church