As we travel along in our automobiles and come upon a gas station, we make a decision about whether to stop and refuel or pass by. In a similar way, we also make daily decisions about when and how to refuel ourselves spiritually. God’s Word provides us with opportunities to refuel daily.
At Trinity Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa, adults have a variety of spiritual fueling stations to choose from to be nurtured in their faith journey. Adult discipleship opportunities are offered in both classic and innovative ways, and the size of discipleship groups ranges from large to small. As Jesus assures us in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (English Standard Version).
Faith nurturing involves education, and Scripture provides the basis for faith-filled conversations. John Piper stated, “. . . education is helping people (young or old) learn how to get an understanding that they didn’t already have. Education is cultivating the life of the mind so that it knows how to grow in true understanding. That impulse was unleashed by God’s inspiring a book with complex demanding paragraphs in it” (Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry, Updated and Expanded Edition, B&H Publishing Group, 2013, p. 116).
At Trinity, congregational members are encouraged to spend time individually in God’s Word each day. Daily devotionals, The Upper Room (Nashville, TN) and Words of Hope (Grand Rapids, MI), are made available to congregational members. Two online daily devotionals that provide nourishment for the soul, John Piper’s desiring God (http://www.desiringgod.org/) and Proverbs 31 Ministries (http://www.proverbs31.org), are also promoted. Throughout the past two years, congregational members have also participated in a Bible reading plan written by Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour (Zondervan, 2002).
On Sunday mornings from 9:45–10:30 a.m., September through May, adult Christian education takes place during Discovery Time (Sunday School) between our two morning worship services. Adult Sunday School is alive and well at Trinity. Each year a variety of adult Discovery Time electives are offered. Recently they’ve included BASIC ( Brothers and Sisters in Christ–college aged students), HC450 (a study of the Heidelberg Catechism celebrating its 450th anniversary), men’s studies, parenting studies, The Sunday School Guide (Zeeland, MI), topical studies, weekly sermon discussion, women’s studies, and young marrieds studies.
Everyone in our congregation is encouraged to participate in a LIFE (Living Intentionally, Faithfully, and Expectantly) Bible study group. LIFE groups take many forms, and the longevity of a LIFE group is determined by the group members themselves. Some LIFE groups meet only during a six-week sermon series and then disband. One women’s LIFE group has been meeting together for 35 years! Intergenerational LIFE groups provide group members with the opportunity to gain new perspectives on God’s work in their lives.
LIFE group members are encouraged to apply their biblical studies in practical ways by participating in mission service projects to be Jesus’ hands and feet. One LIFE group has developed a SOS (Service on Saturday) ministry which helps people move their household furniture and belongings from one location to another. Each December, another LIFE group takes middle school children from low-income homes on a local shopping trip to purchase Christmas items for their family members. Our church provides funding for this special ministry.
Sunday morning sermon series are sometimes springboards for beginning new LIFE groups. For example, several years ago, John Ortberg’s When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box (Zondervan, 2009) resulted in the formation of 22 LIFE groups at Trinity. This study also created a new local ministry called Free Market, an annual garage sale event where people in our congregation donate new and gently used items. On a Saturday morning in June we open the doors of our church, and those in need help themselves to free items found piled high on tables in our Fellowship Hall.
The format used to study the Bible varies among LIFE groups. Some groups prefer Bible studies using a printed resource, others prefer studying a book of the Bible passage by passage, and still others prefer a DVD format. When groups study a book of the Bible, supplementary resources are provided for them. One resource, The Serendipity Bible for Groups, New International Version (Zondervan/Serendipity House, 2002), provides thought-provoking questions in the margin next to the Scripture as a catalyst for discussion.
Men’s and women’s LIFE groups meet at various times and places. Each Wednesday morning from 6:00–7:00 a.m. a men’s group gathers at our church for Hump Day Happy Hour to study God’s Word. Each Saturday morning another men’s group, Battle Zone, cooks a hot breakfast in the church kitchen beginning at 6:00 a.m. and from 7:00–8:00 a.m. they meet and eat during their Bible study. A third men’s group meets once a month on Fridays from 6:30–7:30 a.m. Women’s LIFE groups meet at church, in women’s homes, and at a local residence for seasoned citizens. Early morning, afternoon, and evening weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly women’s groups study topics of interest to their group.
Participation in Christian conferences such as Women of Faith and Promise Keepers is encouraged at Trinity. Adults are also encouraged to attend discipleship events at our church, such as women’s day conferences and marriage conferences. Technology continues to change the landscape of adult discipleship. Webcasts, simulcasts, and online Bible studies offer individuals and groups new opportunities to study God’s Word. On Valentine’s weekend in 2014, several couples participated in a two-day marriage enrichment video seminar, The Art of Marriage (FamilyLife), held at our church. In 2014, on Good Friday, from 5:45 p.m.–1:00 a.m. our church hosted a Secret Church simulcast led by Rev. David Platt.
From 6:30–8:00 p.m. during the school year on Wednesday evenings, our church offers discipleship opportunities for children, youth, and adults. A parenting elective is offered during this time, as is Fit For Life. This women’s group begins their evening with exercising their bodies to become physically fit. The second half of their evening is spent studying God’s Word for spiritual fitness.
As Christian educators, is there more we can do to help fill the spiritual fuel tanks of adults in our congregations? The next time you pick up the nozzle at the gas pump to fuel your vehicle, say a prayer asking God to fill you with discipleship ideas and new enthusiasm for fueling the souls in your congregation.
Pamela S. Vande Voort has served as Director of Discipleship Ministries at Trinity Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa, since 1995. She also substitute teaches at Pella Christian High School and has been an adjunct instructor at Central College. Pamela recently completed her doctorate in Education with a specialization in curriculum and instruction. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.