A Visitors Guide to the DiscipleCenter
Welcome to the DiscipleCenter. We are a private Biblical Community of Faith. That means that as a congregation, we are focused relationally to each other and God, rather than to programs and visitors. This may sound strange at first. After all, you are a visitor here. You may ask yourself if you are really welcome. Our hope is that in this guide, and in discussions with the person or persons who brought you to visit us, you will understand our welcome and our reserve.
The vast majority of Churches and congregations are public and very open to visitors. In fact, almost everything they do is to make visitors comfortable. This has changed many churches from being oriented to discipleship, to focusing on evangelism and member transfers. In other words, the more people who come to the services, the better and more successful the church is considered. So, churches build bigger buildings and add more staff and work very hard to reach people for the Lord and to attract Christians from other churches to join them.
We are different – not better, just different. We are more like a family, who belong to each other and who relate to each other according to Biblical instructions. We meet to (1) worship God, (2) to become more completely discipled in the Word of God, (3) to become closer and more interdependent with each other as a “community of faith”, and (4) to settle relational disputes that arise between us so that we can maintain the unity that God commands between ourselves and other believers. We do this in the context of an extended family approach that uses relationships rather than programs to accomplish our spiritual growth.
This means that, rather than a visitor to a business, who may come and go anytime they please as long as the business is open, you are actually an invited guest. The person who brought you here is responsible for you. In the same way that a visitor to a home is most often another family member or a friend, so we tend to limit visitors to guests who are known by one or more of our members and who can introduce them to us and us to them. And, just like a guest in our home, you will be welcome each time you are invited. But the home is designed for our comfort, not yours. As a result, some of what we do or say may be very strange to you. Your host (the person who invited you) will try to answer your questions, but this guide will introduce you to our furniture and family habits.
The Furniture of the DiscipleCenter
When you enter our facilities, you may feel very out of place. The furniture and layout of the Center is more like a synagogue than the church facilities. This is by design. We hold to a Judeo-Christian Faith. We are both a local church that is connected to the Southern Baptist Convention and a congregation that is associated with the Messianic Jewish movement through the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations. You may understand this better by looking at our doctrinal distinctives and our ministry philosophy documents available at the Center or on our website.
As you enter the Center’s Sanctuary, you will find yourself in the back of the room with a pulpit at your right. This pulpit is facing a large armoire-type piece of Furniture. This is called the Ark. It is related to the Ark of the Covenant that was located in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle and Temple. Actually, this Ark is called, in Judaism, the Ark of Aaron. This reminds us that this Ark is not the same as the Ark that Moses made. In a traditional synagogue, this ark holds the Torah scrolls (the five Books of Moses) which include Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Our Ark contains the Ten Commandments and a Wine Chalice to represent the Older and Newer Covenants. It also includes a small Torah scroll and a codex of the Gospels that represents Yeshua (Jesus) as our Great High Priest who is at the Right Hand of God as our advocate. The pulpit faces the Ark because we are focused on God being with us. The people sit on either side and as a person reads or speaks from the pulpit, they are standing before the presence of God symbolically. Above the Ark is the eternal flame that reminds us of God’s Glory and Presence.
To the left of the Ark is the stand with the seven branch candlestick called a Menorah. This lamp stand was also part of the Temple and Tabernacle. It stood in the Holy Place and was attended by the Priests daily. This symbol is often used to represent Israel as the people of God. In addition, the New Testament Book of the Revelation describes the Churches as Menorahs.
On the right of the Ark is the Table. This table stood opposite the Menorah in the Holy Place. On it were the 12 loaves of unleavened bread (as a reminder of the 12 Tribes of Israel). This table ultimately became the basis of table style altars in Christians Churches because the Lord’s Supper makes use of unleavened bread and represents both the actual body of Christ and the communion of believers.
Directly in front of the Ark is the Prayer Altar. This is related to the altar of incense that stood before the Vail of the Temple separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. On it we have placed a Censer that represents the Biblical notion that our prayers rise to God as incense. Again, all of the furniture is symbolic of Biblical furniture and themes that remind us of the great Biblical Truths that are ours in the Messiah. We do not believe that this furniture is to be worshiped. They are symbols that contain meaning from the Bible that assist us in understanding and expressing our faith. As you will see, our services make use of the furniture to declare the Truth of God’s Word to us.
Just between the Ark and the Prayer Altar is small Book Stand. This is a special pulpit which holds the Torah Scroll or the Gospel Codex depending on the Text of the Sermon for that service. This is the place of judgment, instruction, and discernment. The first pulpit of this type was built in the time of Ezra.
Directly behind the Main Pulpit and opposite the Ark is the Offering Box. This comes from the Temple period and was part of the area of the women’s court. Jesus stood and watched as people placed their offerings in the box. He taught His disciples about giving and this is where the story of the Widow’s Mite took place. We use this for receiving First Fruits and Benevolence Tithes as well as offerings for the participation in Missions. Above it is a Cross as a reminder that Jesus is the Ultimate fulfillment of all offerings and sacrifices.
Our worship services follow a liturgy (order) that is borrowed from the structure of the Tabernacle and Temple and includes elements from traditional Jewish and Christian prayers and worship. Each section of the service includes Scripture reading, prayer, and music combining each of these to express the theme of that section of the liturgy.
The service involves the members of the congregation in Scripture readings, prayers, offerings, and singing so that each person actually participates in worship rather than watching others and singing along. Most of the congregation participate by leading in these readings, prayers, and songs as they learn to approach God in worship.
The service starts with the Call to Worship. This involves a Scripture reading about who God is. It is followed by a Prayer of Adoration and Acknowledgment of God and then ends with a hymn or song that reflects the Scripture that was read.
The second part of the service is the Presentation of Selves and Offerings. We open the Ark during this time as a reminder of the access to God given to us through Jesus the Messiah. This is our invitation. Many congregations have the invitation at the end of the service where it represents a decision that has been made as a result of the service. We come prepared to commit ourselves, our vows and our offerings to the Lord. It also includes a Scripture reading, a statement of faith, a committal prayer and appropriate singing.
The third section of the service is the Prayertime. After a Scripture reading as the call to prayer, the members pray silently for our needs, and those of others. Members may move to other locations in the room to pray together or to pray with someone. A person gives our collective prayer after the silent prayer period and we sing an appropriate response to close out the time of prayer.
The fourth section is Praise and Adoration. We have entered His presence, committed ourselves to our God, and unburdened our hearts through prayer. What better time to praise Him with thanksgiving. A Scripture of Praise is read. We give testimonies of God’s goodness in our life. Than we sing a hymns of praise in thanksgiving.
The final section is when we listen to the Teaching of the Word of God. The sermon is for disciples. This is not a presentation of the Gospel. The people in this service are believers and are here to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord. They hope to learn the Word and leave to become doers of that Word. The messages are based on the Bible and are usually expository examinations of the Biblical texts book by book.
The service ends with the Closing of the Ark, and the singing of God’s Blessing on the congregation. The family has met with the Father. We have come to Him through His Son and worshiped Him in Spirit and Truth. We are at peace with God and each other.
The Fellowship Meal
After the worship service, the whole congregation interacts and relates to each other through a fellowship meal. This involves going to one or more restaurants and grouping up with other members of the congregation to find out what is going on in their life and to get to know each other better. We cannot develop relationships through worship. We must be in each others lives. The fellowship meal gives us an opportunity to know each other better so that we can enter into other parts of each other’s lives. The fellowship meal is a beginning, not an end. The intent is to get to know each other and then later to develop the friendships that allow us to obey the one-another commands of the Bible.
On some occasions, we will bring our own food to one of the member’s home and have an Agape (love meal) that reminds us that we are extended family as believers. Being involved in life to life relationships is a large part of being a member of the DiscipleCenter. We are not interested in people coming to the service and then going off to remain a stranger.
During the week, those who wish to participate may come to the mid-week service. This is an informal discussion of Bible and discipleship questions. The purpose is to work through the application of the Bible to our lives so that we actually do become doers of the Word and grow to maturity in our faith and life before God. These discussions are the heart of our discipleship and many people are there every week.
The DiscipleCenter Congregation observes the Biblical Holy Days and includes with them the Advent season as a celebration of the incarnation of the Messiah. The Biblical Holy days are presented in a manner that explains the meaning of these observances to Israel and the Church. These include the Sabbath (observed in homes), Passover and Holy Week, Pentecost (Shavuot) and the High Holy Days and Tabernacles (Succoth).
Personal Life-Cycle Celebrations
The Bible addresses, and both Judaism and Christianity have developed, personal rituals and celebrations related to life-cycle events. The DiscipleCenter also attempts to draw from both of these rich traditions and express the Biblical faith in these life-cycle events.
The first of these for believers is Baptism. This ritual is a rite of passage for those outside the people of God to demonstrate that they have become one of us and one with us. For more information on the meaning and ritual of Baptism, you may obtain a recording of the meaning of Baptism from the DiscipleCenter or though the website.
The rest of the rituals and ceremonies relate to various passages in one’s life. These express are life from birth to death. Some of these rituals are completed in the home. Others are done in community with the congregation. They are briefly listed here but further information can be obtained through the DiscipleCenter.
Ceremonies of Childhood
Naming of a Child – The naming of a child takes place in the home of the parents. This brief but meaningful ceremony is to the circumcision of boys in Judaism and Naming for both boys and girls. The ceremony usually takes place on the eight day for boys and the fifteenth day for girls as stated in the Biblical text.
Dedication of a Child – Following the same Temple related texts of the Torah and borrowing from Jewish and Christian traditions, the child may be dedicated to the Lord in the congregational setting. This is usually done after the fortieth day for boys and the eightieth day for girls. This is a time for the parents to commit their parenting and raising of the child to be in the admonition and nurture of the Lord. The congregation also commits to assist the parents in the raising of the child.
Confirmation / Bar Mitzvah / Baptism – Assuming the child grows up in a believing family, the move from childhood to greater personal accountability is expressed in these ceremonies. At the DiscipleCenter, Messianic Jewish believers are encouraged to become Bar Mitzvah at the appropriate time to establish this accountability and maintain their identity as Jews. Gentile believers are given the opportunity to establish this greater accountability through a confirmation ceremony (beginning the transference of accountability in spiritual matters to the young man or women). In many cases, this becomes the time when the believing child makes a committed profession of faith and is baptized.
Ceremonies of Marriage
Betrothal – Couples who are seriously intending marriage may participate in a Betrothal ceremony. This involves a period of at least a year in which they begin the process of martial counseling and adjustment under the guidance of a pastoral counselor.
Christian Marriage – Serious religious Christian couples may have their marriage preformed through a religious ceremony. This ceremony is distinctive from the typical American wedding.
Ceremonies of Sickness, Mourning and Death
Sickness - In the event of serious sickness or accidents, a believer may ask the elders to anoint them in the name of the Lord. This ceremony may take place at the normal prayertime during a service or at a sickbed while members of the congregation gather at the center to pray simultaneously for the person.
Mourning – Persons who have lost immediate family members or persons very close to them may participate in appropriate congregational ceremonies designed to express and work through their grief. In addition, they will be assisted through pastoral counseling during the first year of mourning.
Funerals and Memorials – The DiscipleCenter assists in the planning and scheduling of funeral and memorial services for congregants and their immediate families.
Membership in various churches differs as the understanding and responsibilies of membership are established. It is often confusing for people who want to join a church to understand these differences. Membership in the congregation (local church) is often confused with membership in the Spiritual or Universal Church. To address some of these issues, the DiscipleCenter has a multi-level membership structure.
Membership at the DiscipleCenter is based on levels of participation and maturity in the Christian faith. Four basic levels exist.
CONGREGATIONAL MEMBER: Persons who regularly attend the DiscipleCenter as their primary congregation for worship and discipleship are members of the congregation. These persons may be new believers who have not been baptized or, more often, young children or spouses of believers who have not yet made a profession of faith as a believer.
CHURCH MEMBER: A congregational member over the age of 12 who has been baptized as a believer, and who is struggling to grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord and our common faith is a member of the church. The term church here is used in the Biblical sense. The DiscipleCenter is not the church but the believing members of the DiscipleCenter are part of the Biblical Church of God.
ASSOCIATE MEMBER: Persons who are active members in other congregations but attend the DiscipleCenter supplemental to their regular participation and membership in another congregation are considered as associate members. These people most often live out of the area and participate with us through our wed site and for Holy Days or during seasonal visits to this area.
CORPORATE MEMBER: A believing member who has been baptized and is at least 18 years old (but usually is 30 or over), and has reached a maturity in the faith and in participation in the congregation to demonstrate an intention and ability to serve as a steward of the DiscipleCenter Ministry. (This level of membership meets the legal requirements for voting and participating in the corporation of The DiscipleCenter, INC.)
There is much more to the DiscipleCenter. This guide is an overview. Feel free to ask your host at the center any questions you have. He or she will be happy to answer directly or get that information from one of the other members.