BY TODD BARLOW, CHAIR OF THE ADULT DISCIPLESHIP VISION TEAM
Your path to a balanced, revitalized Christian life through learning, discerning and sharing.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10
In 2014, we launched a church-wide vision that included refining ministries of our church. Over the past year, the adult formation and education discipleship team has reviewed our extensive class offerings and ministries and is now excited to launch this renewal of our adult ministry area.
Our first goal was to revisit our deep Methodist roots. Our founder, John Wesley, discussed his spiritual practice via what he termed the means of grace. As Christians, we believe in God’s unconditional love and grace; grace is a free gift from God without strings attached. However, there are spiritual practices that we can follow to deepen our relationship with our Creator. Becoming a disciple of Christ within this tradition is not a single moment, but a journey that will sustain us on our path. These means or ways of allowing grace into our lives includes worship, prayer, abstinence (fasting), searching the scriptures and acts of mercy – being in service to others. At FUMC, we have recently launched two areas of mission – Revive225 and HYPE (our afterschool program) – where you can experience this means.
While we offer opportunities for all of the means at First Methodist, we would like to encourage all adult to more intentionally balance these areas. If you are in a weekly Bible study and attend worship, you are regularly participating in two of the means of grace. What about the others? Do you make time to love God and serve others, to pray and open your heart to your Creator, to practice abstinence on a weekly basis? As part of our adult discipleship plan, we aim to make these means of grace our focus, along with a special emphasis on one particular means – that of Christian Conferencing.
When John Wesley founded the Methodist movement, he was part of a general revival in England. One of his contemporaries was a preacher by the name of George Whitfield. While Wesley and Whitfield were both well-known outdoor evangelists, the followers of Wesley evolved into a denomination, while many of Whitfield’s converts quickly returned to their pre-revival lives without significant change. At the end of his life, Whitfield is even said to have commented, “My brother Wesley acted wisely; the souls that were awakened under his ministry he joined in class, and thus preserved the fruits of his labor. This I neglected, and my people are a rope of sand.” So, what is Whitfield talking about when he says a “class?”
Wesley was intentional in his ministry of not only converting souls, but of putting these new or renewed Christians into covenantal and transformational groups. These were not Sunday School classes. The purpose of the meeting was not studying the Bible or enjoying a time of fellowship. Meetings were help once a week and were mandatory for membership in the society of the Methodists. During these weekly meetings, the group of eight to twelve would answer the same questions – How is your life in God? How have you felt God’s presence in the past week? Where are you seeing guidance from God?
These meetings were so important in the Methodist societies in English and the denomination in America, that many have seen their decline as the beginning of the decline in attendance and health of churches in the United Methodist denomination.
Beginning this August, you will be asked to partner with our congregation in a renewal of the means of grace and covenantal small groups. If you are leading a class or study within our church, please join us in the Conference Center on August 15th 2015, from 10 am to 12 pm to partner with us in this journey. If you feel called to lead a small group in the style of Wesley’s class meetings, we invite you to join us on the 15th, and additional training will follow. We hope that everyone will hold this ministry in your prayers, but we also need volunteers to teach, lead small groups, and provide navigation for new church members.
In addition to clarifying our existing discipleship path for adults, we hope that this renewal will help us to witness to others in the community and extend a clearer invitation for new members. Over the past year, we have created a course on the Essentials of the Christian faith, led by Rev. Brady Whitton. Many of our groups are going to be using these materials in the fall, and we will be encouraging all new members of the church to start with this class before joining a small group within our community.
So our preparation is nearly complete and our launch date is set. We have a discipleship model that is tested and true—one that truly can lead to a less complicated, balanced and revitalized Christian life. I cannot overstate the gift that awaits those who re-commit to learning, discerning and practicing the essentials of our faith. It is this same blessing that energizes and enables us to share with others who are searching in a world that needs Christ. I encourage each member of this great congregation to commit to this process. Let’s get started.