The leadership at McDougal Chapel in Sundre, Alberta, recognized they needed a second pastor but before they began their search, Covid arrived, and with it, a change in direction. With the uncertainty swirling through the early months of the pandemic, the leadership wasn’t sure the congregation would be able to provide for an additional pastoral family. As they prayed and pondered, a previously considered idea resurfaced. This marked the beginning of McDougal Chapel’s shift to an intern program that has so far resulted in two paid interns meeting ministry needs at the church while being intentionally discipled. 

“We asked ourselves, What would it look like if we invested in our own people? How would it happen?’” says Pastor Kent Janz. That was the starting point. And in terms of succession, he says, “If we are doing our job, our disciples will eventually take over our spots.”

“We’ve used the pandemic to actively begin the shift from a church that likes the idea of discipleship to becoming one that has a discipleship culture,” says Kent. They had already done the advance work, creating a hybrid from 3DM Community Learning and Way of Jesus training. Kent himself had travelled to Phoenix for the 3DM training and attended a five-day intensive Way of Jesus training in Kitchener. He spent one and a half years learning to be a disciple himself and then spent a year discipling the church elders and governing board. “This was foundational,” he says. “The discipleship model was already visible in the church two or three years before we launched our intern program.” 

Before they began searching for interns to disciple and train, they defined the requirements. First and foremost, they wanted people with a desire to be following Jesus and growing in their faith walk. They didn’t need to be polished Jesus followers, but had to be local, commit to being discipled for an agreed-upon length of time, have an agreed-upon role or ministry in the church, and be willing to set goals and then be accountable for accepting help to reach those goals. It was also a given that the intern/disciple would make another disciple so the chain would be unbroken. 

“We were looking for character first, competence second. We knew it would be messy, but we would assume the messiness,” says Kent. “It is essential, at the outset, to very clearly define the disciples’ roles. Then build a discipleship experience tailored to their gifting and agreed-upon time commitment. We crafted an application, stepped out with the opportunity, and the response was there. We ended up with two intern/disciples.” 

Discipleship huddles, two hours a week of mentoring over the better part of a year, have deepened relationships as they’ve talked about where God has brought their attention since the previous week and what they are doing about it. 

Kent is helping one learn to preach and provides input to both as they learn by doing in various ministries. One has enrolled in Rocky Mountain College’s Realize Program, which offers a Bachelor’s degree, entirely online. “I love these guys,” says Kent. “We are doing life together.”

“This is a pattern we will continue to practice,” says Kent. “We can see God’s hand in it. Three interns are now set to begin the process of growing and learning and serving. Two are new, and one is returning from last year. Before we began the intern program, we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if we came out of the pandemic stronger than when we came in?’ Throughout Covid, our focus has remained on following Jesus and disciple-making. We’ve seen growth, baptisms, new people, and the church’s ministry needs being met.

The article is featured in the Fall 2021 edition of The EMCC Together newsletter.

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