Story and Photos by Effie Gurmeza
Peter and Stephanie host and lead a Discipleship Group in North Tacoma. Discipleship Groups are communities of God's people that gather throughout the week to share life and grow together as disciples of Jesus.
What do you enjoy most about leading a discipleship group?
We enjoy having a consistent group of people that meet to intentionally discuss God's truth and challenge each other. Even in our first 7 months as a group we have had so many personal changes and events: a wedding, family difficulties, surgeries, and more. The two constants we have is God's truth and group accountability.
can you share an example of how someone has discipled another person in the group through one of these challenges?
One example would actually be me and my anxiety I had from a recent surgery. I was really struggling mentally and physically with anxiety and it was affecting my relationship with Stephanie and others around me. The group was awesome at communicating they were praying for me before, during, and after the surgery, and Heather from our group gave me some awesome practical advice concerning how I felt and how to calm down as she has had a major surgery and health problems before. Having the constant community and someone who experienced what I was going through in our group, helped me realize that Christ was present with me in his church (my DG group) through my struggle. And, that’s, overall, what helped me overcome my anxiety!
What was one reservation you had before leading?
Leading was intimidating because of how new we were to the church. We had just moved across the country and had just become members. It was easy to use that as an excuse to stay comfortable.
How has God helped you through that?
God pushed us to realize that Church is about giving and not taking. The Church had a need for discipleship group leaders and hosts, and the simple response was to fill that need and lead.
What encouragement do you have for new leaders?
Leading can be hard, and you are going to have weeks that make you question your ability to lead. And, that's ok. Having a Gospel community is about facilitating a place for Christ to lead you and the group together. So, leading isn't about you and your ability, it's about Christ and his will. So, when you feel inadequate, focus on Christ and his work of grace in the sermon, in the songs of praise, in communion, in your Scripture reading, and pray for his Spirit to lead.
Story & Photos – Kyle English
Frank and Betty DiMarco have been leading a discipleship group out of Tacoma’s west end for the past year. For them, it has been a year marked with joy, growth, and rich blessings; all of which come from faithfully engaging in Christlike fellowship with others. I recently had the opportunity to meet with them and asked them to reflect on their experience as leaders.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT LEADING A DISCIPLESHIP GROUP?
Frank: Watching friendships grow was one of the most enjoyable parts for me. I remember that first night of group when people just sat there and didn't really say much. It was uncomfortable.
We were all Christians, and yet there was this tension in the room. But you know, we’ve come such a long way from there to this past Tuesday night – we had a cookout in our backyard, cherry-spitting contests, laughing, and just having a good time together - I think that that's very enjoyable for me.
Betty: I definitely enjoy seeing the friendships grow, but I also think about our own personal growth and development. As we were preparing for group discussions, we had to be prepared ourselves. If we were talking about spiritual disciplines, to present that, we needed to be growing in all of those disciplines as well. That was an accountability thing for us that really strengthened my walk and my relationship with the Lord. I'm very grateful for that, for us individually and as a couple.
DID YOU HAVE ANY RESERVATIONS ABOUT BECOMING GROUP LEADERS?
Betty: I think that we were concerned about the amount of time that it would take. But you know, God blesses a commitment like this. It's turned into something very enjoyable, something that we want to do, and something that we have prioritized. When you look at the Bible, what does it say in Acts about the fellowship of breaking bread together, and praying together, and how important that is? It has just become a lifestyle for us. It's exciting when you can turn away from some of the worldly things that would pull you away and be more focused on something that helps us, and others, be more like Jesus. It has been a blessing, and it has not turned out to be a problem for us at all.
Frank: Time was something that held me back for a while. But I tell you, I just felt a nudging and a nudging and a nudging from the Lord that we were supposed to do this. We prayed on it, and then just trusted that God was going to work out all the details, which He did. We ended up so blessed with the group that we got. We’ve lost some people along the way - they moved, changed jobs, and those sorts of things - but we've really been blessed by those growing relationships.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES YOU FACED AS LEADERS AND HOW WERE THEY OVERCOME?
Frank: Well, one of the things that I had to watch out for is not giving too much input, in conversations, meetings, or groups. That was a challenge for me - to be thinking about questions and to engage as many people as possible – rather than just trying to give my own input. The other side of the challenge is to promote an understanding that we’re all helping each other to grow. I really liked that in our group there were people bringing things in to add to the study or sending emails with all kinds of resources and references.
Betty: I think one of the things that we were a little bit unsure of at first was how we were going to minister to the needs of everybody and pray for everybody. I think that having prayer partners on a weekly basis helped us a lot because you knew that you couldn't be responsible for everybody during the week. Trying to reconnect with everyone during the week can be a challenge when you’ve got a group of 12 or more. But in having prayer partners, we knew that people were communicating with each other, especially if there were special needs, crises, or struggles that they were going through; and that somebody else was there to reach out and help. That was encouraging.
WHAT ARE SOME WAYS YOU'VE SEEN GOD AT WORK IN THE PEOPLE IN THE GROUP?
Frank: For me, the biggest one was a guy that had been disconnected from everything for a while when he came into our group. He was pretty withdrawn at first. But we got to watch him grow, and to watch him become more open; especially when the guys would break out into smaller groups. We would do some sharing and some good accountability, and he really grew a lot.
Betty: I think too that we're seeing people step up in ownership of things because they value the group. It’s really been a joy to see other people step in and do things. It's not just Frank and me leading now. It's taken time, and I think that it takes time to build trust and relationships. This is not something that has happened overnight, and I'm excited to see continued growth in the fall as we come back together.
I think spiritually I’ve seen people have more of a conviction and a heart for some of the spiritual disciplines, as we went through that; especially with our women's group. We were able to encourage each other with different tips and ideas as to how to be in the Word every day, how to excite and encourage our prayer life; and the material was so rich and so good that I think people grew in the spiritual disciplines; through the Word and through each other.
DO YOU HAVE ANY WORDS OF WISDOM FOR ANYONE INTERESTED IN BECOMING A DISCIPLESHIP GROUP LEADER?
Frank: If you are someone who feels that God is drawing you into a DG leader position, pray deeply on that. And then I would say if you have the sense to move forward, go for it. We have such a great set up in our church for leadership and discipleship training. There's a whole system of coaches who are there to support you, to facilitate monthly meetings to help iron things out and to help you to grow. It’s just a blessing to be in the kind of church that we have, one that's all in for discipleship, all in for solid Biblical teaching, and being part of the effort of moving our church forward; which means reaching people for Christ. Go for it!
Betty: We serve such a relational God, and we were not meant to do life alone. It’s just such a blessing to be part of a group of people that encourages one other to see their value as children of God; to love them well, and to help them meet their needs. There were so many times where we were able to meet the actual needs of people here - even simple things like taking somebody to the airport or bringing them food if they were sick or in the hospital - and those are the kinds of support things that make you a family. I just think it's such an important aspect of our faith that we can all live out our faith together as a group. It's empowering, it's exciting, and it's fun. I would say go for it too. It's been a great journey, and we're excited to continue!
Story & Photo - Kyle English
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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. ~Matthew 28:19-20
AJ grew up in an active Catholic family, but never fully felt like he understood the Gospel. His life began to change when a Christian girl came into his life. “She started taking me to a Christian Church,” he recalls, “and taught me how to read the Bible, and was just a great example of what it meant to walk with Jesus.” As the relationship progressed a few months, he began to undergo a major shift in perspective and heart attitude. “God opened up my eyes and my heart to see the depth of my sin, and His endless love and grace over my life.” Soon thereafter, he began serving in his community, and volunteering at the Tacoma Rescue mission. It was there that he met a new friend who attended Resurrection Church and kept insisting that he come check it out; which he eventually did. “I have now been attending Resurrection Church for the past year and a half and am very blessed to be a part of it,” he states.
In the Fall of 2016, AJ had the opportunity to attend an immersive discipleship experience at Resurrection Church. The training, then called Disciple, lasted ten weeks, and looked at what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. It provided the tools and learning environment for participants to grow in discipleship and disciple-making; while learning about the church’s five core values: Jesus, Love, Truth, Transformation, and Legacy. If this all sounds familiar to you, it’s because Disciple eventually refined into our church's ten-week Disciple Maker series; laying the foundation for our current Disciple Maker Equip and setting the direction for Discipleship Groups.
AJ is up front when asked about his initial reason for wanting to take part, stating “I initially enrolled because I was told it was needed to become a member (it’s not any longer).” However, he took to the learning experience very quickly, and found himself enjoying the discipleship and new community he plugged in with. He adds, “just after the first class, I ended up really loving it, and got to know some really great people!”
A big part of growing in discipleship, in addition to gaining a better understanding of what it means to be a disciple, is learning to disciple one another. This is practiced, in part, by participating in small discipleship groups. The purpose of these groups, is to continually engage each other in discussion, prayer, fellowship, and accountability. AJ says of his group, “from the very start, God was really moving among us. Meeting a group of complete strangers… and yet at the end of the first day, we had all felt like we’d known each other for a long time. As time went on, we got to really know each other and grow as brothers in Christ.”
When asked what discipleship means to him, AJ responds that it “means actively walking with Jesus. Spending time with the Lord through prayer, scripture reading, and fellowship to where we are continually learning and growing in His likeness.”
He goes on to talk about his greatest takeaways from the experience: “Overall, there were many great practical tools I acquired that I can honestly say will be used throughout the rest of my life. The number one thing I personally have taken away is that discipleship is meant to be done in community; and through it all, God has not only blessed me and equipped me in that aspect, but in all areas to live a life devoted to Him.”
As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. ~John 17:18
Disciple Maker Equip and Discipleship Groups continue to be important parts of Resurrection Church. If you are not yet part of either, you can connect by texting the numbers below or by visiting the Connect Desk on Sunday.
“10/10. The date’s a special day…”
Frank smiles, as he recalls something that took place seven years ago, to the day: “I had the privilege of leading a guy to Christ. Things were not going well for this man, in his marriage. He had come into my office at church, on a Sunday, just to get some clarity about the Gospel. We talked for an hour and a half. It was a wonderful time. And he accepted Jesus that day!”
He then goes on to talk about sending this man a short text message earlier in the day, just to wish him a spiritual “happy birthday:” “You know, today’s a special day… And he really appreciated it.”
For those that know Frank DiMarco, it should come as no surprise to hear him talk about his passion for sharing Jesus; nor should it come as any surprise to hear about his heart for the spiritual welfare of others. We recently had the opportunity to share a meal with Frank and his wife Betty, while asking him some questions about his approach to sharing his faith with others.
Why is sharing your faith important to you?
Frank: What’s important to me are people’s eternal lives. When I came to understand that I could have a role in that, to be a conduit for the Lord, helping people gain an understanding of the Gospel, and what’s at stake, it just became irresistible to me. I knew what the Lord had done my life, and in Betty’s. I had a vision like Bill Fay’s [author of Share Jesus Without Fear]. Bill Fay had this vision, when he got saved. It was like he was on a sinking ship, just getting smashed against a rocky coast. He was able to get out and climb ashore. Others were trying to climb ashore too. Rather than remaining in a safe place, he just kept going back to help the people who were still being battered in the water.
I really saw that as what I was being called to do. The Lord just used me with people. When I would be talking to them, people tended to trust me, and to share things. So, there were opportunities within that; to talk to them about Jesus, and to really talk them through key scriptures; to tell them what the Bible says about us, and about eternal life. It’s a passion that the Lord gave me.
What do you think prevents people from sharing their faith?
Frank: That’s a really complex question, and there are lots of reasons; reasons that are not valid, but people are still hampered by them because they think they’re valid. Sometimes it’s a belief that they don’t know the Bible well enough. Maybe it’s fear… fear of rejection, or fear of losing a friend. It’s like they think: “I don’t want to lose a friend. I would rather say nothing at all, even knowing what’s at stake, than risk them rejecting me as a friend.”
I think that it comes down to that if you really believe what the Bible says is true… I don’t see how you can not share it. But as I say that, you know, I’ve been hampered too, many a time. Times where my mind just wasn’t in the right place at that moment, to see what was going on. Times where I didn’t take the opportunity to ask questions that built on whatever was going on; to open a door.
But anyway, I think there’s also a fear of having a lack of knowledge; being afraid you might say the wrong thing; being afraid that if you start to open a conversation, you might be asked a question that you can’t answer. I love Pastor Bubba’s response to that, which is like “Hey, you know what? I don’t have the answer right now to that. But let’s open up the Bible together.” And to use that, saying let’s just read the Bible, and see what it says,” to initiate meeting with someone on a regular basis.
Tell us about a time when you felt a conviction to share your faith
Frank: I was on a men’s weekend through my church, and I heard this message about us all being called to be an influence in our environments. I worked in a very tough, secular, environment. I zoned in on that, asking “How Lord, how? How am I going to share my faith in this School?” – I was the principal of a school at that time – “How am I going to do that?” My hands were starting to sweat, literally, when I was hearing that message. That was the thing that launched me, that message. I understood from that, that that’s the call for us; to be disciple makers. I’m so type A… my mind was spinning during that session. The Lord put on my heart then, “Frank, don’t get ahead of me! I will show you, and you will move forward. Otherwise, you will wait.” So that was in my mind, and the key for me was to be prayed up all the time; to be prepared in every way.
One time, and this was really crazy, involved a first-year teacher in the school where I was principal. We were probably three weeks into the school year. I was awakened at three o’clock in the morning. Awakened with a thought in my head, that I was supposed to share the Gospel with her; this new teacher. I couldn’t even go back to sleep. This was the first time that something like this would directly happen in the school. I prayed about it, asking the Lord to show me my approach; and even though I had been taught how to share the Gospel, I ended up going out the “chicken door” in my mind. I went to work that day, saw her, but didn’t say anything. I just felt… “maybe I didn’t have this right.” I don’t know. So, I finished out the day and went home. That night, again, second night in a row, I was awakened at three o’clock in the morning.
And I said “Alright Lord… I’ll do this.”
“…And I’m trusting you, because I can’t figure out how I’m supposed to do this.”
That next morning, I was in school early. I’m in my office, and hear some noise coming from the front office area. So, I’m thinking it’s a custodian coming in - I would usually catch up with them in the morning, and see what’s going on; or see if there’s anything I needed to know about the building. So, I went out there to say hello to the custodian… but it wasn’t the custodian. It was the teacher. After saying good morning, and asking her why she was in so early, she said “I don’t know. I just woke up. I couldn’t sleep. And I just felt like I was supposed to come in.” I asked her if she had any time that day, like during her scheduled planning period, when we could have a chat. To which she said, “What did I do wrong?” So, she came to my office, during her planning period, scared to death – she had gone around to talk to all the other new teachers, just to see if I had met with any of them too; so, she was convinced that something was wrong.
She came into my office, and I said “What I’m going to tell you right now is crazy. I believe – and God has awakened me two nights in a row, at three o’clock in the morning – I believe, that God wants me to share some Bible passages with you.” And then I said, “You know, right now, I feel like I have accomplished everything I was supposed to do; because I’ve asked you if you would like to look at those passages. But you can say no. In fact, I think I would be pretty anxious if I were you. You know… brand new teacher, first-year, and now being asked this by this religious weirdo; maybe thinking if you don’t say yes, your job’s going to be in jeopardy.”
After I expressed all of that, I told her sincerely, “It is absolutely fine… if you’re not comfortable with this… because it’s so crazy. Honestly, if you want to go to the superintendent and express a concern about this, that’s fine with me. This is just that crazy.”
And then she said, “So you really believe that God wants me to look at some passages in the Bible.”
“With ALL my heart. Because this has never happened to me before.”
And she said, “Okay. I’d like to do that.”
I opened up my “Share Jesus” Bible, and began to have her look at each key verse; reading them aloud, and saying what she thought they meant. We got to about the third or fourth verse, and she started to cry. I asked her what was wrong, and sobbing, she shared this story with me. A while back, she was in another part of the country, living a really “way off the mark,” life of sin. She felt this man was stalking her, on this one particular night, and ran to get away. She ran up to a random house, that was in a residential area, and just pounded away on the door for help. A woman who was home answered the door, and asked what was wrong. She told her she thought someone was going to kill her, and that she was really scared. The woman invited her into her home, assuring her that nobody was going to harm her; and that she was going to be okay. After giving her a cup of tea, the two began to talk.
At this point in telling me her story, she was sobbing uncontrollably, and couldn’t even get the words out: “This is the verse that the woman showed me. She talked to me about Jesus, and I turned it down. I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. But now I know… I know that God is working today.”
And out of that, she gave her heart to Jesus.
There’s more. As it turned out, she had a forty-minute planning period, followed by a forty-minute team time. It was a double block that was set up for the teachers. So we went through the whole forty minutes, straight through to the next forty. My secretary, who was brand new to this school, was a strong Christian. When I finally finished up talking to the teacher, she came to my door, looking petrified and anxious. She said, “I tried to call you on the phone a few times, but you wouldn’t answer.” I told her, “I couldn’t answer the phone, because I was sharing Jesus with someone!” She then told me that I had forgotten about the 8th grade meeting that I scheduled! There were 350 kids, and all their teachers, in the auditorium, waiting for me to come and do a presentation that I had been doing with all the grade levels. They waited about 20 minutes and left. And the president of the union, who was an aggressive guy, was one of the teachers in that meeting; and she [my secretary] said that he had come down to my office, and really wanted to talk to me! So, I said “Alright, I’ll meet with him. But I’ll tell you this. Nothing is going to happen. God has got this so covered, that nothing is going to happen.”
He never did come back. And it all just drifted away. Nobody even talked about it. God had us protected. Plus, it gave me an opportunity to show my new secretary my heart; and also for her to see how the Lord was moving in that school.
Do you have any advice for fellow Christians sharing their faith?
Frank: 1 Corinthians 16:14 – Let all that you do be done in love. That is a very powerful verse that I am always mindful of. And this is what is so beautiful about our Disciple Maker series, and Discipleship Groups. It is not viewed as a “one-off” kind of thing, or “learn these skills and let the next group in;” but rather it is really a lifestyle. That’s what’s so important about what this church is doing. It’s teaching people what it means to be a disciple who makes disciples. It’s incredible, when you think about how the Lord actually allows us to be used; to be a conduit; to help somebody move from time into eternity; to change everything; because eternity for that person begins the moment they say yes to Jesus.
Let all you do be done in Love, and just keep your eyes open for where God’s moving. The truth is, He is moving everywhere; all the time. We don’t see it, because we’re not looking. God is moving all the time, and we get to be a part of that!
How have you seen God working in your life lately?
"Well I got in a pretty bad car accident recently and God has really been showing and teaching me some stuff in that.
When I got in the accident, all I could think about was that my life is awful, that this is the worst thing that could happen me in this exact moment.
I had just taken off my jacket while sitting in traffic and hadn’t put might seatbelt back on yet when we started moving again.
The fact that i wasn’t wearing my my seatbelt at the time of my accident and ended up ok is really crazy.
Everyone that was in my Community Group was reminding me, “You should be thankful to be alive!”
I didn’t want to hear that.
But Jesus was pouring into my life through these friends and helping me to stop thinking about how my car was totaled and think about how God had grace on my life.
You could say, "it was just a car accident”, but I’ve been more appreciative and thankful this week, realizing how good Jesus is.
God showed me through the accident that I do not deserve anything, but he's given me everything with a single breath of life.
A verse that has wrecked me is Hebrews 12:3-5. It reminds me that no matter what tragedy or bloodshed occurs to me, I'm saved by grace to enter the gates of heaven, and that pain and bloodshed still will never equate to the crucifixion of Jesus."
How has God been changing you and working in your life this year?
"For one, we just recently got married in December and that has been an experience that I was completely unprepared for that God uses to grow you in ways you didn’t know you needed to be grown or could grow. My friend who got married a couple years before us would say, “marriage is the hardest and most fulfilling thing that I’ve ever done,” and I didn’t know how to comprehend that until I got married. In the last year that’s what stands out the most; the way that God uses someone that you love so much to reveal to you ways that you need to grow. Every single day I know that there’s an opportunity for me to show the love of Christ to Devon and also to receive grace. There are a lot of growing pains and a lot of grace needed to figure out what it looks like for us to be married and to have Christ at the center of our relationship."
"When we got engaged I was living in Arizona with my family, and so when God clearly gave us this direction, it became a matter of me walking in obedience quickly to the Lord. In that journey of learning to trust the Lord, it was different from how my relationship had been with God in the past, and I wanted to trust him so much but it was also very hard not to just plan everything very well.
But walking in faith and obedience and seeing how rewarding that can be and how that was way more comforting to me than holding onto everything more tightly. Moving away from my family to Washington because that’s where He’d called my husband to be and a community that he was flourishing in and clearly that God’s hand was a part of, having courage and relying on Him for that strength which throughout my faith has been a difficult thing.
The tale of my story was that I really struggled with trusting in God even when I really wanted to and at the end of the day I would always rely on my own strength. God gave me a really beautiful opportunity and it’s come with a lot of blessings and rewards and more things to work through, through marriage and learn about myself and about how to love other people.
As frustrating as it can be sometimes, marriage is the best place to see how ugly you can be and then to really feel sorrow for that. When it’s the person you love the most and you see those things in yourself and how you can love them better and it’s a really beautiful relationship to grow because God is so faithful to it."
What Has God been teaching you lately?
"That God is enough. That I don’t have to do things in order to earn his love, his approval. That really just trusting in him is enough.
It’s a lesson that I always have to keep relearning, as somebody who likes to plan and know what’s going on all the time and be in control.
That has probably been one of the hardest things, learning that God’s just going to do it and he’s going to be there for me and no matter how much planning and doing he has a plan. I kind of need to be just like, okay, and surrender and realize his way is going to be the best and he’s what I need to lean on instead of all the things that I’m trying to busy myself with.
If I’m so busy trying to be in control of everything you miss out on what God’s really doing. So I think that I’ve really learned to start to step back and that finally see that there’s joy, comfort, peace, all of those things that you can be so busy trying to do on your own; because God’s will and his way is going to be perfect for me.
If I look at my life, where it’s gone, I would never have scripted any of it, but even though a lot of things were really hard, it’s where I'm at and that I have a life with Jesus is like way amazing."