Discipleship Reflections: Interview with Gary Chapman of the Christian Leaders Link

This series of blogs, Discipleship Reflections, are a part of an independent study for my Doctor of Ministry studies. Read, enjoy, comment. Thanks for reading.

On Tuesday, February 26, I visited with Dr. Gary Chapman, Director of the Christian Leaders Link (the Link). The Link may be unfamiliar to some, but it is a ministry of the Virginia Baptist Mission Board that began in 2005 and exists to offer leadership training for churches, ministers, and laity. I have come to know Gary well through planning training opportunities, and having served as an instructor with the Link. On a personal note, his ministry through the Link serves as encouragement to a group of young pastors who meet and dream with him regularly.

Gary graduated from Southern Seminary in 1978, and returned there later to complete an Ed.D. Though he began vocational ministry in youth and recreation ministries, Gary found his passion in teaching and education ministries. He served much of his vocational career as a Minister of Education before launching the Link in January of 2005.

The goal of discipleship, Gary said, is the process of “spiritual transformation in an individual.” It is about “becoming more Christ-like, becoming more spirit-filled” and leads to a “genuine transformation in the way you think and speak and act.” In his own work, Gary sees the training of leaders as the natural next step on the continuum of discipleship, and reading the ministry of Jesus to the disciples bears that out. They were disciples who learned, grew and became the Apostles, leaders of the early church.

In terms of what is working well in ministries of discipleship, Gary was adamant that “you don’t disciple people en masse,” and so discipleship is taking on more individualized approaches in the midst of small group ministries. This is nothing new according to Gary. He believes “the model was set by Jesus; that was a small group.” He also sees churches successfully being more intentional about “calling out and developing disciples to become leaders” not just in church life, but also spiritual leaders in the other areas of life such as home and the workplace. The church too, will do well learn the kinds of questions people are asking, and leaders within groups of disciples should become comfortable with asking good questions. Churches should also celebrate the work, growth, and accomplishments of these small groups of disciples.

On the horizon for churches that will do well with discipleship, according to Gary, is the use of technology for furthering community, not in a way that technology manages all of community interaction, but becomes another vehicle for interaction. Community is essential component to discipleship, and whatever ways technology can contribute to fostering community ought to be utilized. As I heard in an earlier interview, Gary also agrees that more attention should be paid to connecting Christians in one on one relationship where spiritual friends can mentor each other.

So, as I reflect on my conversation with Gary and his ministry with the Link, here are some questions I am continuing to ponder:
• How are we equipping leaders to ask good questions?
• How are utilizing technology to encourage discipleship and community?
• How are we celebrating the movement of disciples along their journey?

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