The North American Division's long-awaited interactive discipleship resource, iFollow, has finally been launched. Spectrum asked iFollow's General Editor Monte Sahlin how the resource works and why it was created.
RD: What is iFollow?
MS: iFollow is a new resource for pastors and congregational leaders that provides appropriate material for all levels of spiritual growth. It focuses on the basic theme of following Jesus and it is published electronically, not on paper (hence the name "iFollow"). It is rooted in the fundamental concept that Christians are followers of Jesus or “disciples,” to use a New Testament word, in contrast to the Constantinian definition of a Christian as someone who is part of an organization or institution.
RD: Why did your team decide to produce iFollow when there are already so many good discipleship resources available in the larger Christian world?
MS: The original request came from a survey of pastors and church board members. Discipleship resources rated as the top need. When the Center for Creative Ministry was commissioned to work on this need, we looked at hundreds of the best available resources and found that all of them suffered from two limitations. First, they dictated a linear logic to the user; there was a Lesson One that had to be studied before a Lesson Two, etc. Second, they each focused on a small portion of the lifelong journey of spiritual development. The vast majority of the published curriculum materials on discipleship focus on things that a new Christian should learn right after making the decision to follow Jesus and his way—the basics of being a Christian—and ignore both the more mature aspects of the journey and pre-Christian spiritual development. There are large bodies of material specifically about Christian leadership development and how to development ministry skills, but these are usually unrelated to the concept of discipleship or spiritual growth and disconnected from the more basic discipleship materials.
Aware of these realities, we had a “summit” session that included almost all of the Adventists who have written published materials in the field of discipleship, and after several days of discussion we agreed that there was a need for a comprehensive curriculum resource. We needed something that was non-linear, that used technology so that users could self-select topics and build a series of subjects unique to the their own needs.
RD: What is behind the need for discipleship resources expressed by pastors and lay leaders? MS: Our research shows that there are two kinds of local situations involved. (1) There are Adventist congregations that have had success with conventional public evangelism and have a significant percentage of members who now need to learn more than the basic doctrines. They need to develop a disciplined Christian life and grow toward a mature faith. (2) There are Adventist congregations where conventional evangelism has become less productive than in the past and they have moved toward a model where people start by attending church or a small group, experiencing “belonging before believing.” These local churches need tools to teach Adventist faith to people who are already participating in the fellowship. iFollow is a new approach to evangelism and church growth that is developing parallel to the long-established approach.
In addition, we found that almost all pastors and congregational leaders in the Adventist Church in North America feel deeply that the denomination has placed emphasis on teaching the doctrines of the Adventist movement while ignoring the fact that people also need to learn the practical, relational aspects of being a follower of Jesus. A strong element of the Adventist heritage, evident throughout the writings of Ellen White, is an embodied faith—a faith that is active in spiritual disciplines, in dynamic fellowship, in ethics, in sharing faith and in social action. True faith is more than head knowledge. It is also about a visibly loving community of believers (John 17:20-24) that demonstrates active compassion for the poor, the suffering, the prisoner and the alien (Matthew 25:31-46). Healthy, vital, growing congregations require more than just correct doctrine.
RD: So what makes iFollow specifically Adventist? MS: This project was commissioned by the North American Division Church Resource Center and developed under contract by the Center for Creative Ministry. The mandate was to develop a tool for Adventist pastors and local churches in the United States, Canada and Bermuda. All of the writers are people who have much experience with spiritual growth as it occurs among people who participate in Adventist congregations. The theology of every presentation is congruent with the Twenty-eight Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and rooted in Adventist heritage. We did look at other Christian sources related to each topic and we made use of good ideas that were Bible-based and not in conflict with Adventist theology.
RD: Who have been your key writers and helpers in the editorial process? MS: A pastoral advisory committee made up of Adventist pastors across North America gave oversight to the creative process, selecting the topics and giving suggestions as to the approach that was needed for each topic and materials that should be included in the research. They include pastors from large and small churches and various ethnic and immigrant groups, men and women, as well as a range of views on the best approaches to teaching the message of the Adventist movement. The list of committee members is published in the introduction.
The list of writers is too long to mention here. It is published in the materials and you will recognize a number of the names. We have deliberately not identified any writer with specific sections of material in large part because there have been several layers of editing and because specialists wrote certain functional segments for all topics.
I do want to give specific acknowledgement to Paul Richardson, the executive director of the Center for Creative Ministry, who carried major responsibility for managing this project, and to Dave Gemmell, the associate director of the NAD Church Resource Center, who directed the publishing of this monumental project. Much of the detailed work on the content was done by my two assistant editors, Debbonnaire Kovacs and Norma Sahlin (my wife). There are about 4,000 pages of manuscript involved and those two have been over them time and time again, checking references, looking for additional resources, and writing missing elements. I also want to thank the pastoral advisory group and my office in the Ohio Conference; they have helped with both the writing and reviewing of materials.
RD: What central themes and specific topics are covered in iFollow? MS: There are three major sections. (1) “Meeting Jesus” includes materials for people who have not yet made a decision to be a follower of Christ. There are really two types of topics within this category: those for seekers who are interested in spirituality but not specifically Christianity, and those for seekers who are leaning toward Christianity. (2) “Walking with Jesus” includes a unit on “Accepting Christ” which very simply covers how to become a follower of Jesus. There are also many units on developing a strong spiritual life, understanding the basic teachings of the Bible and basic Christian ethics. (3) “Working with Jesus” includes curriculum for developing skills in various kinds of ministries and leadership abilities. There are about 130 topics all together.
RD: There are two main components to iFollow: the Pastor’s DVD (the contents of which are also available on the iFollow website) and the printed books. How should these two different resources be used and by whom? MS: The DVD provides the comprehensive curriculum resource for presenters. For each topic there is background material for the presenter, specific learning objectives, handouts, discussion questions, group activities and a specific bibliography of resource materials. There is also a PowerPoint file for each topic. The learning objectives suggest what it is that a growing Adventist should know about each topic and the other materials provide several different approaches to presenting the material appropriate to several different learning styles. The presentations can be made informally one-on-one or in a small group, in a seminar or class setting, or in a large-group speaking context. Because all of the materials are in electronic form, it is easy for each presenter to modify them to include their own concepts and methods of teaching.
The series of books, which will be published over the next several years, provide study guides for small groups. They can also be used by special Sabbath school classes for new members or seekers or other types of learners who need specific focus. A different editor—not me—is overseeing the books.
RD: Given the sheer volume of iFollow’s resources, how can one know where to begin when choosing a topic?
MS: Because iFollow is published electronically, a search engine can be used to look for specific topics that a pastor or presenter is thinking about. Also, there is a personal assessment instrument that can be used by individuals or groups. There is an index connected to the assessment instrument that suggests those topics that relate to areas which might be revealed as “undeveloped” by the assessment. The instrument has been published on the iFollow website and there it automatically links you to suggested topics based on your answers. There is also a one-page “curriculum map” that allows you to see all of the topics organized alphabetically under the three main segments. In addition, you can always get personal assistance from the Center for Creative Ministry hotline—(800) 272-4664.
In addition to this, I am going to be teaching a series of Webinars starting next year for the Center for Creative Ministry on “How to present …” each of the topics. I will discuss learning objectives, review the materials related to each topic, and suggest specific applications for various learning contexts and types of learners. There will also be time for Q&A in order to assist participants in accessing and using iFollow for the best results in their unique situations. (If you would like to be sent announcements about upcoming Webinars, send an email request to email@example.com.)
RD: Are there discounts available for small churches wanting to order iFollow resrouces? MS: Most conferences get the Pastor’s DVD in bulk and distribute it for free to all of their pastors. The basic DVD contains everything you need to print handouts and materials, including PowerPoint files to use during your presentation. The material will also be published and available on the dedicated website. That is about as inexpensive as it gets.
The books are more colorful and have everything for six sessions of a small group—readings, discussion questions, etc. You can get bulk discounts down to $6.95 per copy, which is about as inexpensive as books get these days. There is more information on the book series available here.
All materials will be for sale through AdventSource, the leadership resources supplier for the North American Division. You can order online at www.adventsource.org or by phone at (800) 328-0525.
Be sure to check out the iFollow website, where the iFollow assessment and all topics can be accessed electronically: www.ifollowdiscipleship.org ______________________________
Monte Sahlin is a man of many hats. He has been a pastor, community organizer, church administrator, and author. Currently he serves as director of research and special projects for the Ohio Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. He is also an adjunct professor at Andrews University and the Campolo School for Social Change, Eastern University. In 1994 Monte was awarded the Outstanding Public Service Award by the United States government.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2721