the shape of leadership

A Heart for Discipleship

A Q&A with Elly C. Marroquin

On Jan. 7, 2019, Rev. Elly C. Marroquin became national director of Christian Education and Discipleship for the Assemblies of God. She previously served as Christian Education director for the Spanish Eastern District. Recently, George P. Wood, executive editor of AG Publications, interviewed Rev. Marroquin about her life, ministry, and vision for the AG’s discipleship efforts.

Tell us about your background. How did you come to Christ? How did you experience a call to ministry?
I was born in the Dominican Republic and immigrated to the United States with my mother and younger siblings at the age of 8. My mother’s friend invited her to visit the local Assemblies of God church. I started attending Sunday School and Girls Ministries, formerly Missionettes. It was during one of the Girls Ministries meetings that I accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior.

I was a part of that church until my husband and I — under the guidance of our pastor, Rev. Jose A. Castillo — went to plant a church in Garfield, New Jersey, where we have been pastoring for the last 19 years.

I have always been involved. I remember getting to church early as a child and helping set up or volunteering for various tasks. When I was 11 years old, our church was having an evangelistic campaign, and they had invited Rev. Pablo David Garcia. On the last night, I felt like God was calling me to dedicate my life to serve Him. Rev. Garcia spoke a word into my life on how God was separating me for service in His kingdom. I had no idea what I was supposed to do, but I knew one thing: I was going to follow where He led and be ready to obey when He called.

Who could have fathomed that one day I would be called to serve the Master and His Church from Springfield, Missouri? Since my childhood, Proverb 3:5-6 has been a guiding principle for my life: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight.”

What is your ministry experience prior to this position?
Prior to coming to the national office, I had the honor of servicing our local church in various areas: pastor’s wife; Christian education coordinator; Girls Ministries coordinator and sponsor for 25 years; and missions coordinator.

On a sectional level, I have served as AIM representative; Youth Alive representative; sectional youth director; and events coordinator.

On a district level, I have served as district youth director, as well as assistant DYD and district treasurer for the Youth Department; part of the Finance Committee; and, most recently, director of Christian Education, which included overseeing Christian education and training for 491 churches in 17 states and overseeing about 80 schools of ministry.

I am currently a board member at the University of Valley Forge and the district liaison for higher education.

You are director of Discipleship and Christian Education for the AG. What does your office do?
Our office has the honor of serving and resourcing the local church. We have the privilege to partner with the local church in accomplishing the vital task of the Great Commission. We are to disciple all nations, as commanded in Matthew 28:19. The vision of the national office is to see a Spirit-empowered Church that is marked by spiritual and numerical growth in every community — i.e., a healthy church in every community.

Discipleship is an essential component of a healthy church. Our office is committed to identifying necessary components of discipleship and assisting in developing resources and training materials to meet those needs. We are serving an intergenerational, multicultural Church across a diverse geographical landscape. Our churches have their own distinct needs due to the diverse demographics they serve, but with the same mandate: to make disciples.

How is your office a resource to districts and local churches?
Our office understands that we exist to serve and resource the districts and local churches, as well as to equip and enrich teachers and pastors, in order for them to engage their communities. It is our desire to partner with our districts and local leaders to facilitate team discussions on discipleship and local implementation of systematic discipleship, and support all efforts that will ultimately benefit the spiritual and numerical growth of the local church.

Discipleship is an essential component of a healthy church.

What are the main goals of discipleship and Christian education?
Discipleship is a lifetime commitment to biblical growth. Most importantly, it is the ability to model to our world what a true disciple of Jesus Christ is by the application of God’s Word in everyday life. Discipleship is personal, because each person must decide for themselves to embark on this lifelong journey of spiritual and biblical growth.

One key element of discipleship is the systematic study of the Bible, supported by mentoring and experiential learning. Moreover, other vital elements and goals are to facilitate and resource effective discipleship from the cradle to the grave. We should be growing continually — not exponentially, but gradually.

We understand that our congregants have various learning styles and are in different stages of their biblical knowledge and spiritual maturity. Therefore, another goal is to provide a biblical measurement tool for evaluating maturity at all age levels. We are committed to come alongside our churches, whether in rural America or in the urban setting, to partner with them and become a resource in order to have Spirit-empowered churches that demonstrate a growing knowledge of God’s Word.

What forms do discipleship and Christian education take?
Discipleship can take various modalities. It can take place during small groups, Sunday School and mid-week Bible study. The key is that during these times of gathering, the objectives are clear to both the teacher and the student.

Secondly, we must be intentionally and systematically engaging Scripture in order to grow and demonstrate our understanding and internalization of the Word in daily living.

In addition, discipleship should be supported by mentoring, relational and experiential learning opportunities.

What are basic things churches can do to improve their discipleship/Christian education efforts?
I would start by having times of prayer with your team to ensure you have the guidance of the Lord in the very essential task ahead. This first step might appear obvious, but we can never have too much prayer. We need to constantly depend on the Holy Spirit to guide us in everything. In addition, ask the Lord to prepare the hearts and minds of the team and unite you in one accord.

Secondly, I would contact your district Christian education director. It’s vital to have the partnership and support of those who are called to serve in this area.

Furthermore, I would encourage you to conduct an internal audit/self-assessment on the biblical literacy of your church in order to be able to devise a plan with clear objectives and measurable goals.

Next, I would schedule training for your teaching staff. Include small group leaders and anyone who teaches. Don’t forget children’s ministries, such as Royal Rangers and Girls Ministries. Also do an evaluation of your curriculum to ensure you are staying true to biblical principles. I would imbed periodical analysis of your Christian education/discipleship with your team to ensure you are meeting the goals and objectives that were established, and measure your effectiveness.

In conclusion, don’t be discouraged if you don’t see things moving as quickly as you’d like. Take your time to set a firm foundation and to ensure a well thought-out plan where all team members are vested in the vision. Worthwhile things take time. Remember, you don’t have to do it alone. Our team is here to serve you.

What encouragement would you give to pastors who are struggling to implement effective discipleship/Christian education ministries in their churches?
First and foremost, congratulations on the value you place on God’s Word, which has the power to transform lives and makes an impact for eternity. Be encouraged! You are investing in something extremely worthwhile. Through your efforts in the area of discipleship, you are ensuring a healthy church and reaching your community.

The following might seem simplistic, but it’s extremely powerful and important. I encourage you to set up times of prayer and provide opportunities for people to give praise reports. Celebrate the growth and transformation Christ is doing in the lives of the people you lead. You are in our prayers. We are in your corner, ready to serve you. Please give us the privilege to partner with you.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of Called to Serve, the Assemblies of God Ministers Letter.

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