More than a metaphor

Nathan D. Stanton


The process of growing and sharing the Christian life 

Living in a post-20th century Christianity, we know that people who risk checking out worship services are looking for something greater and deeper from life. This searching takes many forms — a father who works through the awkwardness of bringing his children to church as their mother pushes in order to connect his children to faith and community — a middle aged couple who is trying to find a place to connect with others as they “re-discover” who they are after their children have moved out of the house. These people, though very different, have something in common. They are craving a connection to something meaningful.
Creating a metaphor for your church to use to show how it disciples others is a powerful first step to connecting with visitors. A common metaphor used by Rick Warren, of the Saddleback Church, is the baseball diamond. Each base on the diamond represents a deeper understanding or commitment to the Christian faith for the individual, as defined by the metaphor the church is using. Perhaps reaching first base means that the searching person has made a commitment to live their life for Jesus Christ and are also baptized as a result. The metaphor of the baseball diamond gives them some understanding of where they are in their development on their personal journey of the Christian faith in a linear way.

Using the bases
What learning opportunities and what experiences can a person expect in order to be on first base? What about second base and third base? What does it mean to make it all the way around the diamond? It is likely this is the church’s vision of a highly committed disciple of Jesus Christ. What does that look like for you and for your church community? If you begin with this end in mind, “What does a highly committed disciple of Jesus Christ look like?” then it is possible to explore building a system backwards from that and decide on a metaphor to take you there. It is a vision for how people can connect, grow and serve in, through and out of your faith community.
What’s your metaphor? Do something fun and relevant for your community of faith and something that would appeal to the greater community that isn’t yet part of your church. Those kinds of emotional connections are important to consider. The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, in Leawood, Kan., has begun using the “Journey for Adults.” Here is a visual and a link to their website for more information about the content of their process.

Saint Mark United Methodist Church in Wichita, Kan., has used a diamond metaphor in developing deeply committed disciples offering progressive faith classes to move people toward maturity in Christ.

The key is to make a decision on how you passionately want to connect people to Christ through a system of classes and experiences. It is a way to empower people in a powerful way.

Choosing a metaphor
What is culturally relevant in your community? It is key to this process to identify what traditions, interests and passions your existing congregation has that might connect to the traditions, interests and passions in the greater community. Next, being on the team means practicing together as a team. This might include classes on spiritual gifts and basic ways of serving in and around the church. Practicing with the team also means serving, or “playing the game,” as a team. Playing the game might mean different things for different churches. It is how you both prepare leaders to lead in your congregation, as well as send out those leaders to be in mission and to evangelize.

Creating a metaphor for discipleship can be your church’s path to an intentional way of reaching out in the community and “going to bat” for God!

For more information on developing discipleship systems, contact the office of Congregational Excellence at 316-684-0266.

For a video on discipleship systems, check out Vital Congregations: Next Steps, session four, at

For more information contact:
Nathan Stanton, coordinator for new church starts