They have a great deal on “one size fits all” gloves at the Dollar Store – a host of colors and patterns for the low, low price of $1. What is amazing is that for the majority of the population that promise is true – one size really does fit all. Those gloves contain some sort of flexible material that allows them to stretch and adjust to fit most hand shapes and sizes – truly incredible for only $1.
If you look at all of those $1 gloves in the bin, you would discover a couple of things. First, there is uniformity to all of the gloves. In their “natural” state, they are all about the same shape and size. It isn’t until you pick them up and put them on your hand that their shape and size change to accommodate your needs. A glove that fits my six-year-old neighbor can stretch and change to fit my 22-year-old son and my 70-year-old father.
You also notice that while there are variations in color and pattern, they are all made out of the same material. In some cases the color and pattern is so vibrant that the gloves appear to be of a different texture than the rest, but upon closer examination you discover that the material really is the same.
Do you have a “one size fits all” discipleship program but with an inflexible structure? Do your programs expect every individual to walk through the same steps in the same manner, hear the same message, and respond in the same way with the expectation that this structure will produce identical outcomes?
Or perhaps you are so overwhelmed by the realization that every individual has his or her own unique spiritual “hand” that you are afraid to attempt to offer any sort of structure to discipleship. In fear of not being able to meet individual needs, do you offer no structure or consistent material for your people?
Is there perhaps a way to develop a discipleship strategy that contains uniformity in structure but is flexible enough to meet individual needs? A structure that is uniform in shape and size, but when your people “try it on” it stretches and molds to “fit” their unique needs? What could this “one size fits all” discipleship strategy look like in your context?
Would it include corporate worship, small groups, large groups, and one on one mentoring; a uniform structure that encourages people to engage in worship, fellowship, service, and stewardship; and programs and practices that forge strong relationships between your people, God, and others while being aware of the differences in learning styles, development, generational perspectives, past experiences, and current life phase? Is it truly possible to develop a discipleship strategy like the Dollar Store gloves that would fit my six-year-old neighbor, my twenty-two year old son, and my seventy-year-old father? YES! But it requires flexibility within the structure.
And although this flexible structure should reflect the unique characteristics – colors and patterns – of your ministry context, there must be continuity in “material”. What “material” is your discipleship strategy made of? Is it based on Scripture, immersed in prayer, and led by the Holy Spirit? Is it doctrinally sound and woven together in a way to move your people progressively deeper in their faith?
Within the consistency in material and structure do you make room for small hands and big ones, hands with smooth skin and wrinkled ones, light skinned hands and dark ones, hands that reach up to hold and hands that reach down to guide?
Can one size really fit all? Yes! It requires flexibility within structure and consistency within variation.
Dr. Colleen Derr is Associate Professor of Congregational Formation and Christian Ministries at Wesley Seminary, Indiana Wesleyan University.