Passing It On
A pastor is now leading others through a discipleship process that was transformative in his own life.
Tim Sluiter was first introduced to the Journey in 2003 when, as a freshly minted Central College graduate, he went through the process with Third Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa. At that time, the process was known as Leaders for the Heartland.
“It was significant for me in getting a little bit of direction and in feeling a call to seminary,” he says.
When he began serving First Reformed Church in Baldwin, Wisconsin, five years ago, Sluiter knew that he wanted to introduce the congregation to the Journey when the time was right. This fall, he felt God telling him that it was time.
“I felt like the Lord had been doing some other works at First Reformed to prepare some people to go through the Journey,” he says. “I felt a need for a jump start on a deeper level spiritually for some individuals.”
This past fall, 18 people from First Reformed embarked on a spiritual journey designed to deepen their relationship with God and bring them into more authentic relationship with one another. The Journey is the first year of a discipleship and leadership development process developed by nonprofit VantagePoint3.
“I thought this might be a catalyst for a deeper spiritual movement among the congregation as well. Ultimately my hope is that the Journey would be used to change the ethos of this church—that there’s a longing to seek God, to discern his calling, and to live that out both individually and as a faith community.”
Sluiter extended an open invitation to anyone in the congregation interested in joining in the Journey process, as long as they were willing and able to make the time commitment the program requires.
The Journey is a six- to eight-month process, with weekly group meetings that last about two hours. (First Reformed’s groups are taking eight months.) In addition, participants are expected to do two to four hours of homework between sessions, including Bible study, reading, and reflection. They’re also encouraged to find a spiritual mentor in the congregation—someone with whom they can process and talk through their thoughts and reflections a few times per month. “It’s a high-bar kind of invitation,” says Sluiter.
“The people who respond [to the invitation] are people who are responding to the Spirit’s prompting to go deeper. These are people who are ready to ask some harder, deeper questions about life and God and who they are.”
At the beginning of each weekly meeting, the small group prays together and then each person shares what God has been revealing to him or her.
“One of the key phrases, one that I remind my group of every week, is to just pay attention,” Sluiter says. “Pay attention to what God is up to in your life, pay attention to what the Spirit is prompting you to, pay attention to the people he puts around you and the situations he puts you in.”
He says that the Journey asks three key questions: Who is God? Who am I? What does God want to do through me?
“A key component is having people share their faith story or testimony with the group. That can be a really transformational and powerful experience for the individual, sharing where God has worked in their lives and even realizing God was working in places they didn’t see it before, and experiencing some healing in painful places.
“It’s fostering a community where deep, intimate sharing is something that is not just valued but sought after.”
“The Journey has opened my eyes to allow others into my world,” says Colleen Kimberly, a member of First Reformed who is participating in the Journey. “I have become a bit more open to who I am and I’m okay with people getting to know all of me, not just the parts I want them to see. I’m more attentive to listening to God on a regular basis. I look at each day and try to determine the ‘God moments’ I have experienced daily.”
Sluiter says that for some people, the Journey reinforces their sense of calling; they receive affirmation that they are doing what God wants them to do, increasing their joy and passion as they do it. For others, he says, the Journey can lead to life transitions. “Their transformation will be ‘I know God has wanted me to do something. The Journey has helped me discern what that is.’ For some, that will be a calling to new job or a new ministry.”
“The guided process that the Journey is taking us through has helped me to clearly understand God’s specific calling on my life to put him first, and to evangelize kids,” says Patty Kabus, another First Reformed participant. “I don’t think I even understood that before we started, although I’ve been doing it for years.
“I am very glad that my husband is going through the Journey with me, as we’ve both grown in our faith and in our marriage tremendously as a result. If you are married, I strongly recommend that you go on the Journey with your spouse if at all possible, as this will change you in ways you cannot imagine at the beginning.”
“There’s nothing magical about the Journey,” says Sluiter. “It’s not a new, ‘we’ve finally figured out the way to disciple people’ kind of thing. It’s an intentional, seeking God together process that invites people to go deeper. Out of that process people grow in their relationship with God and with the group.”
“I recommend that anyone who has a deep, unmet longing to take the next step in their faith walk, to understand better who God is and who he wants them to be, should go through this process,” says Kabus.
“It is a lot of work but is intensely rewarding and so worth it!”
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