Tag Archives: discipleship matters

Forward Today: Creating a culture of discipleship

Dear friends in Christ,

I’m sending this from Charlotte, where people from across the church have gathered for the fifth annual Discipleship Matters conference hosted by Forward Movement. Our reason for gathering is to help lay and clergy leaders create a culture of discipleship in their congregations.

It’s important work. Too many of our churches are barely-living museums or societies of preservation. The highest values in such places include surviving as an institution, avoiding conflict, continuing familiar customs, and providing positive feelings. While they don’t sound bad, when you take them together the picture is antithetical to the Gospel.

The Gospel demands sacrifice and risk. The Gospel privileges the call of Jesus Christ over our own personal preferences or even safety. The Gospel is about bold action, not vague feelings.

So what does this look like in a church? Churches that prioritize discipleship – making followers of Jesus Christ – are places where worship, prayer, and study are prized. This is not to avoid the world’s needs, but rather to anchor us and to remind us of our calling as Christians. Churches that value discipleship teach generosity, humility, and listening for God’s still, small voice.

Discipleship is not a church growth program, but it turns out that churches where discipleship matters are places that tend to be thriving and growing in measurable ways.

Intrigued? Visit the Forward Movement Facebook page for news and video highlights of the conference. It may take us a day or two to get them uploaded. Ask around, and find a nearby church were discipleship is the thing. Visit, learn, and see what might work in your church.

If you are blessed to be in a church where there’s already a culture of discipleship, thank your lay and clergy leaders for making this a priority. Consider sharing what you love about the journey of following Jesus with friends and even folks at other churches. Let’s create a wave of discipleship.

Making disciples is, without doubt, the most important thing our church does. Let’s keep at it, shall we?

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

Today’s Flash Sale: Hour by Hour

Hour by HourPray without ceasing with this compact edition of the Daily Office complete with prayers and psalms for one week. This beautiful little book, excerpted from The Book of Common Prayer, will enable anyone to say the hours every day: Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline. Perfect for prayer and worship at all times and in all places. Hour by Hour is a thoughtful gift – the cover is deluxe soft leather, and it’s packaged in a small white gift box.

Regular: $20
Today Only: $15*

*Discount is valid until 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time




Groundbreaking Research on Episcopal Spiritual Vitality

Episcopalians want to grow spiritually. Research from over 200 congregations and 12,000 Episcopalians conducted by Forward Movement is summarized in a recently published paper rooted in extensive work on spiritual growth and vitality.

The RenewalWorks ministry, which is focused on spiritual vitality and fostering a culture of discipleship, has revealed much about the spiritual life of the Episcopal Church.

“We have learned that there is great spiritual hunger among Episcopalians,” says the Rev. Jay Sidebotham, director of RenewalWorks. “And we are discovering catalysts that can address that hunger. Basic spiritual practices such as daily prayer, scripture study, worship attendance, and serving the poor will lead to transformation.”

The research paper is available for free download at www.renewalworks.org/researchsummary. There is also a graphic with some of the key findings on that download page.

The research summary outlines what we are learning about the spiritual life of the Episcopal Church, including the stages of spiritual growth and practices that lead to transformation.

Among key findings:

  • Exploring Christians include 18% of Episcopalians. This stage includes seekers and new Christians. But in the Episcopal Church, some people who have attended church for decades are also at this stage.
  • Growing Christians is a stage where people have committed to their spiritual growth. 55% of Episcopalians fit in this stage.
  • Deepening Christians are those who articulate a personal relationship with God and whose life bears significant marks of their faith. This is 23% of Episcopalians.
  • Christ-Centered represents just 4% of Episcopalians. For this small group, a personal relationship with God in Christ is the most important relationship in their lives.


“Our research also shows specific catalysts that are likely to move people from one stage to the next,” says the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Movement. “So if we want our congregations to be places where spiritual growth is happening, we need to teach and to nurture spiritual practices such as prayer, worship, study, and service.”

The research also shows the importance of the leader’s heart. “The spiritual health of the leader in the congregation is key,” Sidebotham says. “Too often clergy lose touch with their first love, with the reasons that they were drawn to ordained ministry. These challenges can have a negative effect on a church’s vitality.”

The data for the report come from the congregations who have taken part in the RenewalWorks process. This process

  • Invites congregants to take an extensive online survey of their beliefs, attitudes, and practices
  • Leads a team through four workshops to understand the findings and to implement a plan in response
  • Empowers leaders to create a culture of discipleship in their congregations


“What’s brilliant about RenewalWorks is that it is diagnostic, not prescriptive,” Gunn says. “There’s no gimmick here. The process tells leaders where people are, and then lay and clergy leaders can work together to offer opportunities for growth and depth.”

RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement, which is a ministry of the Episcopal Church. Known widely for its flagship devotional, Forward Day by Day, Forward Movement inspires disciples and empowers evangelists through digital resources, websites, printed materials, and conferences. Learn more about RenewalWorks at www.renewalworks.org or Forward Movement at www.forwardmovement.org.

Evangelism Matters: Early Bird Registration extended to February 1st!

Did you miss out on the sold-out Evangelism Matters Conference of 2016? Join Episcopalians from across the United States at the 2018 Evangelism Matters Conference this March. Share in three days of workshops, panels, worship, and a keynote from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

The conference will develop tools required to spread the Good Word and foster techniques for growing the community of faith. Speakers include Michael Curry, Gay Clark Jennings, Stephanie Spellers, Carrie Borne Headington, Mary Foster Parmer, Scott Gunn, Frank Logue, and others. Select plenary sessions will be live-streamed and available online.

Learn more and register here: http://www.evangelismmatters.org/

Download the conference flyer with full details here: EvangelismMatters2018-flyer

When: March 15–17

Where: St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights, OH

Hosted by: Episcopal Church’s Evangelism Initiatives Team and Forward Movement


Forward Today: Discipleship Matters

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott considers what real discipleship entails—and why it’s so essential.

Dear friends in Christ,


Sometimes in our churches, I think we forget our marching orders, the ones given to us by Jesus. It’s easy to become a Preservation Society or a Museum of Maintenance or a Social Club of those we love. No one wants this, it just happens over decades. But our directions from Jesus couldn’t be more clear:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20)

These verses often show up as a sound bite around the edge of baptismal fonts, but we shouldn’t stop with the exhortation to baptize. Jesus instructed his followers (that’s us!) not only to baptize, but to teach. And we are not just meant to teach, but to teach people obedience to Jesus’ commandments. Commandments are not very chic these days, but we Christians are bound to obey and to teach them. And what are these commandments? Jesus told us to love God with our whole being, and to love our neighbors as our selves. Jesus told us to love others as he loves us.

Practicing this kind of love is impossible on our own. We need God, and we need to be steeped in the life of discipleship – hearing, learning, and practicing this radical, loving way of life. Churches should be places where we explore what it means to love God fully and to love our neighbors fully as well. If church is going to move from being a place of comfort and familiarity into being a place of transformation, challenge, and sacrifice, we’ll need to work hard at creating a culture of discipleship.

This discipleship is not navel-gazing or internal focus or vapid spiritualized faith. No, the first clue something else is happening is that Jesus’ exhortation starts with “Go!” We are meant to leave our easy places and go into the whole world bearing Christ’s love and his message of hope and redemption. Discipleship means not only daily prayer and weekly worship, but regular service and great generosity. Discipleship is how our church might address many of the challenges of our time.
Forward Movement, along with our RenewalWorks ministry, is offering the Discipleship Matters conference next month. It’s an entire conference focused on discipleship. I hope you will consider coming to St. Thomas’ Church, Whitemarsh, near Philadelphia, October 16-18. Send your congregation’s lay and clergy leaders or anyone who wants to learn more about discipleship and how to make it the main thing in your church. You can learn more online, and you can register here.
Yours faithfully, 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director


To get future reflections from Scott in your inbox, subscribe to Forward Today.

Today’s Wednesday sale item is Table Graces and Family Graces—just $11.57 for both!

ICYMI: Week of 12/16

Welcome back to In Case You Missed It, a.k.a. ICYMI, our weekly blog roundup of the latest stories around the @fwd_mvt and #Episcopal world.

For a few months now, we’ve been posting a ‘Question of the Week’ on our social channels every Monday. Sometimes the questions are pretty major (‘When did you hear the call to ordination?’) Other times, they’re a little lighter (‘What ornament do you put on the Christmas tree first?’) Often, they’re somewhere in between.

Judging by responses, this week’s Question of the Week was our most popular yet…

Check out some of the many responses, and tell us: What’s yours?

What have you been doing to celebrate Advent? Are you overwhelmed by Christmas shopping or travel plans, or have you found some time for reflection? In this week’s Forward Today, Scott Gunn wrote about the value of taking time for silence—and his own (successful!) experience trying silence during the service as a parish priest.

Judging by the comments and likes on this one, it was a welcome sentiment! Have you found the time for silence this season? There’s still time!

It’s been a month since Episcopalians gathered to talk Evangelism in Dallas, and we’re thrilled to see that the evangelism buzz has continued. Here on the blog, we were excited to share a guest post by the Rev. Emily Schnabl, a priest in Oklahoma who attended the conference and took home the ‘cardboard evangelism’ exercise to her parish. Here’s what happened. Cool photos, too!

And of course, we’re thrilled when we see tweets like this:

If you’ve been reading this space, you know we’ve been sharing stories of the Church’s response to Standing Rock. And we wrap up this week with a powerful one: this tale of seminarians from Texas who headed to North Dakota: ‘What Sustains the Peacemaker?’

Inspiring stuff. Have a great weekend.

Forward Today: Discipleship Matters

In this week’s edition of our weekly newsletter, Scott writes from the Claggett Center in Maryland–where RenewalWorks is hosting the Discipleship Matters conference–and reflects on why real, difficult discipleship is so critical in our faith.

Dear friends in Christ,


I am writing this as the Discipleship Matters conference comes to a close. Hosted by the Rev. Jay Sidebotham and the RenewalWorks ministry of Forward Movement, we have gathered to focus on how to create a culture of discipleship in our congregations. In other words, how can we get past maintenance and instead foster spiritual growth and commitment to following Jesus in our churches?

There is much good news here. In congregations small and large, people have shared ways in which their efforts have worked. People have found ways to get people reading and engaging with scripture. Others have changed the focus of adult formation to make room for transformation. Preachers have gotten more serious about their craft. Lay leaders have found it rewarding to consider vocation in their ministry both outside and inside the church. Where congregations have been willing to make the commitment to discipleship, there has been much fruit.


So what keeps us from getting serious about Jesus in our churches? One speaker contrasted the forces of life in Christ with the forces of death that resist growth and transformation. I think there’s something to this. At a less cosmic level, being a disciple of Jesus is costly and uncertain, whereas many come to church seeking comfort and constancy.
Is it worth it? Absolutely! Jesus is the only source of an abundant life that has nothing to do with material goods or external measure. In Jesus Christ, we find our true joy. When the church is about Jesus Christ and not mere comfort, we find that we have a precious gift to share with the world. Look around, and you’ll see people everywhere who are longing for hope, meaning, and purpose. We Christians have something to offer, especially when we get serious about the hard work of following Jesus.
Check out the tweets at hashtag #Discipleship16 for some insights from the conference. I don’t think we’re ever done learning how to follow Jesus. Our prayer book talks about growing into the full stature of Christ, and we never quite get there in this life. What is next for you? What does discipleship look like in your life?


Yours faithfully, 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director


To get future reflections from Scott in your inbox, subscribe to Forward Today.