Discipleship Triad

By Marc Engelhardt

Allow me to introduce myself since I am new to the blog and I am going to write like I know what I’m talking about. My name is Marc. I am a pastor, and I have been in the field for 9 years (10 if you count the deferred vicarage). I have served both a very large church community and an itsy-bitsy church community (like 7 millennials in worship small). I currently serve a wonderful church community in SoCal. Those palarmes only take into account my post-masters work and not the 10 years I was doing a lot of the same things before I hit the seminary. Put it all together and I have a little bit of experience in a lot of different situations. In those situations, I have been reading and trying out ways to do the very best I can in the discipline of discipleship. I’m a bit of a discipleship nut.

Admittedly, I haven’t read many books about the subject in the last few years, nor have I looked too deeply into the latest programs that can be bought and implemented in the local church. Why, you ask? Shouldn’t a discipleship nut be soaking in all the info possible to do things better? Well, I figured it out. I mean, I don’t have it all figured out, but over time I realized that all the “successful” discipleship books and trends were based on the same ideas, just using different terms. Some emphasized aspects differently than others, but in the end, they are all the same.

So, what’s the insight? What’s behind the discipleship curtain? It’s the triad. No, not Triad the Chinese gang. That’d be really weird. It’s the educational triad. Turns out, good discipleship is based on good, proven educational principles. It’s almost as if God designed the world to work in a certain way…

I encountered the term educational triad long ago. I don’t have the source anymore, but it looks like this: information leads to understanding leads to practice. As I said earlier, the terms aren’t always the same, but they fit into the triad. For example, information could be replaced by: data, facts, basis, foundation, observation, speculation, and so on. Then understanding could be: comprehension, absorption, assimilation, grasp, filter, and so on. Last, practice could be: application, exercise, use, operation, implementation, and so on. Hopefully you get the idea. It’s the same triad using interchangeable terms.

I’ll use the triad terms I use in my context from here on out, which are: Foundation, Worldview, and Practice. In discipleship, Foundation is the Word, Worldview can sort of be associated with theology, and Practice is doing. It really is that simple. I find that the simplicity is what makes it difficult to implement. What you may also find is that different flavors of Christianity emphasize certain parts of the triad, and sometimes that happens at the loss of another part. For example, there is a fantastic saying that Lutherans can be theologically constipated—meaning, a lot of the Word (Foundation) and theology goes in, but nothing (Practice) comes out. We could spend a lot time observing what flavors of Christianity emphasize what aspects of the triad, but that often isn’t fruitful.

When you think about your setting, do you see an equal emphasis on all three parts of the triad? Are the parts connected? Does the Practice flow from an intentional Worldview that was set up by a clear Foundation? I’ve asked myself these questions, and I have tried to purposefully put the triad into as many parts of the congregation’s life as I can, but as I said, I haven’t gotten it all figured out. The best way I can think of having this click for you and think about how to adapt it is to give you an example of how we approach it in our setting. I will write some posts that will walk you through a section of our discipleship class “Christ in Common.” Before that, though, I will write a post about why I think this approach to discipleship should be brought into all youth discipleship, including confirmation.