Personalizing the Message: Church leaders create their own devotional guide
Before starting a new small group study, one church wrote its own devotional.
The Ridder Church Renewal team at Heartland Community Church (RCA) in Lafayette, Indiana, had been learning a lot, and they wanted to share that with the entire congregation.
“We’ve trained a lot of people to be good church members, and we wanted to look at what it means to be a good disciple of Jesus,” says pastor Drew Poppleton. “They’re not the same thing.”
This different understanding of what it means to be a disciple was an important learning from Ridder Church Renewal. Ridder is an intensive, multi-year process that includes leadership development for pastors and a team of other leaders from their churches. The process includes retreats, assignments, accountability, and revitalization efforts.
“One of the most important learnings for us in this process is that information doesn’t transform,” says Poppleton. “We’ve just kind of assumed if we can cram enough Bible into people’s heads, they’ll be able to be good disciples of Jesus. And that’s just not true.
“We need to give people an opportunity to practice what they’re learning, and reflect on it. That’s the learning model that Jesus used. It was the experience of living into what he taught that let them come to know it.”
Through Ridder, the team had come to value the process of “information, practice, reflection,” and that learning model was incorporated into the devotions. “Traditional devotionals are usually done by individuals with very little call to action and subsequent accountability,” Poppleton says. But, he adds, with the 40 Days of Discipleship material, participants started with information, went out and practiced something, then came together in small groups to reflect.
The information, practice, reflection process also came into play for the leadership team, which worked together to write the devotions. “It really stretched them,” Poppleton says. For him, their growth was the highlight of creating and studying the devotional.
Kathy Keiser was one of four church leaders who wrote for the booklet, along with pastors Drew and Andrea Poppleton; she created two devotions. “It was really daunting and overwhelming,” she says. “I do the newsletter and things like that, and feel fairly comfortable. But with a devotional that people were going to be studying and using what I wrote to guide them…” In the end, she says, it was a growing experience, and she’s glad she did it.
Three-quarters of the church was involved in a small group during the study, including three new groups that formed to accommodate people who aren’t normally in a small group. There was a kickoff event and a related sermon series.
“We tried to get all the church on the same page,” Poppleton says. Keiser adds that it gave participants common language.
The devotional study, Poppleton says, was one step along the way on the congregation’s transformational journey, and in the personal journeys of its members.
“When I think of the 40 Days of Discipleship, I think of them as a ‘taste and see’ offering. If disciples liked what they tasted in the 40 days, they can jump into something a little more rigorous: Faithwalking.”