is thirty-six years old and holds a
degree in computer science. He is unmarried and lives in the city.
His parents were married in a church. He thinks he was baptized as
an infant, but he's not sure. John rarely goes to church except to
attend the weddings of old college fraternity brothers. He is into
technology, but also admits to being attracted to church
“ceremonies” (especially Lady Di’s funeral, which he saw on TV). He
wants to experience more of "the mystery thing," but he doesn’t know
quite where to begin. John is not hostile to religion, but he's
afraid to make a commitment to any particular way or practice.
Carol is twenty-nine, a married suburban homemaker with a young
child. She has never gone to a church and is not baptized. Carol
never thought much about religion until her daughter came home from
kindergarten one day and asked “What are we?” and Carol didn't have
an answer. She is happy that her husband is open to her “trying out”
a church or enrolling their daughter in a parochial school, as she
thinks the “moral teachings” might be a good thing.
Nathan is twenty-four
and works for an organic grocery store in a small college town.
After graduating, he spent two years in the Peace Corps and
backpacked his way through South America. Although he's not a member
of a church, Nathan has lots of opinions about religion.
He truly admires martyred
Archbishop Oscar Romero but thinks that TV preachers are mostly
“upper-middle-class con artists.” Nathan also believes that churches
should focus more on the poor and on saving the environment for
future generations. He suspects that many churches have “an agenda”
and are trying to “nab people,” but he would like to visit a
Christian community the next time he is in South America.
Many of us church "insiders" know
people outside the church who are similar to the folks above. They
range from being un-churched to anti-church or
under-churched. Some are looking to delve into the mystery that
is life, or they're searching for “values”; some want guidance for
building a just society; others are trying to fill an unnamed void
unfilled by stock portfolios, hobbies, and relationships. Such
people are seekers--those toward whom many churches are striving
mightily to be friendly.
Despite our good intentions, some
of the things we do in the name of “friendliness” inside the church
would baffle Carol (who just wants to help her child), turn off
Nathan (who sees a “scam” behind every pulpit), make commitment-shy
John view with horror the “Desire a pastoral visit?” card sticking
out of the pews.
In his zany and popular
science-fiction novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,
Douglas Adams chronicles the adventures of a ragtag assortment of
interstellar travelers. The two central characters are Arthur Dent
and his companion Ford Prefect. Ford provides direction for their
galactic wanderings by quoting from the Hitchhiker’s Guide. For
those who come to church with little or no Christian background, the
world of Christian faith can seem just as strange and foreign as any
Indeed, the kingdom of God is a
"right side up" galaxy in an upside-down world, a realm where the
first are last, the lowly are raised up, the mighty are cast down,
and where the only way to have life is to lay it down.
Sometimes, in the sincere desire to
be friendly to seekers, the church forgets that Christianity should
come with a warning---that being a Christian calls for a radical
shift in loyalties.
If we truly believe that following
Jesus calls for a reordering of our life, then we should certainly
welcome those who come as seekers into this way of life. But we
should also give them time to explore and discern what entering into
such a life will mean.
Many who wander into the church
begin their journeys as strangers. The fact that Christianity often
seems strange within our post-Christian culture needs to be fully
acknowledged by the church. Then it can focus on helping those who
enter as strangers to become friends of Christ as they learn to
observe all that the Lord has commanded.
We can learn how to welcome
strangers from Scripture and from Jesus’ own way of welcoming those
who would be his disciples.
The next day Jesus decided to go to
Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Follow me." Now Philip
was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found
Nathaniel and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in
the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from
Nazareth.” Nathaniel said to him “Can anything good come out of
Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1:43-46, NRSV)
As he journeyed deeper into his own
mission, Jesus welcomed all would-be hitchhikers in the form of an
invitation. “If you want to follow me," he told them, "then follow
me." In other words, "If you want to know who I am and what I’m up
to in the world, come with me and find out.”
Those who took up Jesus’ invitation
and hitched their futures to his did not do so alone. Instead they
kept company with a small band of fellow travelers who had embarked
upon the same adventure. Their initial following deepened into faith
as they traveled with Jesus and tried their hands at the kinds of
things Jesus did (with many failures and botched assignments along
the way). Needless to say this is a messy approach to discipling--but
you can’t learn to swim from the shore. You have to wade out into
the water and get wet.
This “experiential” pattern, which
helped seekers become disciples in pre-Christian times, is now
proving useful in leading seekers to become disciples in a
post-Christian culture. The early church called this pattern for
discipling the catechumenate, which comes from a Greek
word that means "to sound in the ear," as does the more familiar
(Using this 3rd
century based pattern to welcome postmodern seekers is about as
"ancient-future" as you can get!)
Because the word "catechumenate"
is a Greek language "technical" term (used ecumenically and in
scholarship), congregations using this model can and should give
their own name to the process. Things like "Faith Journey" "Emmaus
Road," "The Path," can work well. Or, if you use Alpha, try "Beta,"
as a name for your catechumenal process! (The skeleton or outline of
the process is what we've inherited from the early church, the flesh
put on it, should be postmodern, and yours!)
The catechumenal approach for
making disciples is based on the model of apprenticeship.
This fits well with the needs of postmodern seekers who don’t want
easy answers. Instead they seek sound guidance and good company as
they embark on what could become a life-altering journey into “the
grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion
of the Holy Spirit.”
The goals for this model of
discipling differ from the goals of past approaches. Although the
following list is too simplistic, it gives an idea of the different
emphases in the once-again "new" apprenticeship model.
Faith as relationship
Public and communal
Members as lay mentors
Faith as knowledge
“6 week” course, or other set time frame
Private and individual
Welcoming seekers into such a
discipling process involves providing
- a time to explore and ask
- a time to study and pray with
- a time to prepare for baptism (or
affirmation of baptism).
- ongoing opportunities for
learning and growth in faith throughout life.
A Time to Inquire and Ask Questions
During this initial time, seekers
come together in an informal setting to ask questions and inquire
into the Christian faith. The idea is, “Come and ask anything you’ve
always wanted to know about the church, but maybe were afraid to
At this point the goal is not for
the church to give answers, but to honor seekers by listening to
their questions and hearing their stories--the stories of their
lives and of what has brought them to inquire into the Christian
faith and life.
During inquiry, participants are
free to come and go as they choose … to attend meetings for as short
or as long a time as they need so that they can decide whether or
not they wish to continue their exploration of the Christian faith.
The seekers profiled earlier in
this article would probably find such inquiry sessions helpful.
Nathan could ask why TV evangelists seem disingenuous without
worrying about a hostile reaction. Carol could ask what the church
could do for her child (and maybe also come to realize what the
church might do for her). John could ask questions about Lady Di’s
funeral and other Christian ceremonies without any pressure to make
a long-term commitment.
A Time to Study and Pray with Others
Whenever they feel ready, seekers
can shift out of inquiry and be formally welcomed by the
congregation in a regular worship service as those who want to
explore the Christian faith in more depth. The congregation is
invited pray for and bless them as they continue their journey
Just prior to the service of
welcome, seekers are paired with a sponsor or companion from the
congregation. This pairing of seekers with companions is modeled on
the relationship between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8,
which describes how Philip got into the chariot alongside the
eunuch, guided him in his encounter with Christ in the Scriptures,
and journeyed with him on the road to baptism.
Companions (mentors or sponsors)
accompany seekers to weekly worship and to weekly small group
sessions where they learn to reflect on Scripture and to pray. The
primary guidebook for the meetings is the Bible (using the
lectionary readings or whatever texts the congregation uses for its
Preparing for Baptism or Affirmation of Baptism
After a period of study and
learning with others, those who are ready begin preparation for
baptism (or affirmation). Those desiring baptism (or affirmation)
are then enrolled for baptism (or affirmation) during a worship
service, where once again the congregation takes on the
responsibility of praying for and blessing them as their journey
intensifies. Often the service of enrollment takes place on
the first or second Sunday in Lent.
The season of Lent is an ideal time
for baptismal preparation, as those getting ready for baptism (or
affirmation) can join the whole community in worship, prayer,
fasting, and works of mercy. Those who prepare during Lent can be
baptized or affirmed at the Easter Vigil or on Easter Sunday.
(Another time in the church year ideal for baptisms and affirmations
is the baptism of Jesus, or Epiphany).
Ongoing Christian Living
Baptism is not the end but the
beginning for new disciples, and indeed for all Christians. As the
Christian walk lasts a lifetime, it calls for ongoing formation and
nurture. Developing a varied and vital small group ministry in the
congregation along with providing opportunities for adult learning
and service are essential to helping both new and experienced
disciples “come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the
Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of
Service of Welcome
This abbreviated service of welcome
is adapted from Welcome to Christ, a series of resources available
from Augsburg Fortress. The code for the collection intended for
worship leaders is 3-142. See
This service of welcome may
be used for those who have begun inquiring into the Christian faith
and life and have been assigned a sponsor whenever they desire to
begin a more public relationship with a Christian congregation. The
context is a regular weekly worship service.
[Inquirers and their mentors may be
invited to stand at their places or before the congregation with the
Dear friends, we are gathered today to meet these persons who have
been called by God’s Spirit to inquire into the Christian faith and
life in this congregation. Together, let us welcome them to this
community of faith in Jesus Christ.
[A sponsor or mentor presents each
I present [name] to be welcomed by this congregation.
[Minister asks each candidate the
following (or similar) questions.]
What do you ask of God’s church?
To hear God’s Word with you.
What do you seek from God’s Word?
Faith and fullness of life
(seekers may give a personal testimony here,
instead of the words given)
(in these or similar words)
Let us pray,
Merciful and most high God,
creator and life-giver of all that
you have called all people from
darkness into light,
from error into truth, from death
We ask you: grant grace to [names]
and bless them.
Raise them by your Spirit.
Revive them by your word.
Form them by your hand.
Bring them to the water of life
and to the bread and cup of
that with all your people
they may bear witness to your grace
and praise you forever
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
May God bring you in peace and joy to fullness of life in Christ and
call you to the waters of baptism.
(North American Association for the
A non-profit organization for
protestant churches using the catechumenal process.
For more information on this
"ancient-future" approach to discipling, see the NAAC website at
Come to the Waters: Baptism and Our
Ministry of Welcoming Seekers and Making Disciples.
Daniel T. Benedict, Jr. Discipleship Resources, 1997; Code: DR179.
160 pp. ISBN 0-88177-179-1.
An invitation to pastors and
congregations to make the transforming power of God in Christ
accessible to all persons, especially adults who have little or no
experience with the life and faith of Christians. Part 1 focuses on
welcoming and walking with persons on the journey of conversion.
Part 2 provides model services and commentary. For ordering
Video: Welcome to Christ: Preparing
Adults for Baptism and Discipleship. How some congregations in the
Pacific Northwest (where almost 80 percent of the population is not
Christian) are using a contemporary version of the catechumenate to
prepare adults for baptism (or reaffirmation of baptism) in a
Also available from TRAVARCA, a
lending library of video resources for ministry (1-800-968-7221
This article was originally printed
(2001) in the Journal Reformed Worship.
Used by permission.
is a Lutheran Pastor residing in Chicago, Illinois. At age 37,
she is Associate Director for Worship for the Evangelical
Lutheran Church in America. She helps provide
resources, networking and counsel to 11,000 congregations on
worship matters. Her personal ministry web site is
Her main focus areas include Christian initiation/ancient future
discipling, worship and culture, postmodern worship and church
life. She is a member of the Gospel and Our Culture Network, the
Network, and the Ooze
community. She is the webmeister for
and is single.