A Proposal for Making Disciples in the Congregation
By Steve Manskar
Christian Formation as Apprenticeship to Jesus
Discipleship is the human responses to God and his love for the world revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In baptism Christians are “initiated into Christ’s holy church” and “incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation.” They “confess Jesus Christ as Savior, put their whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as Lord, in union with the church.” Baptism marks a person’s entry into the community of disciples in which he or she apprentice themselves to Jesus. The congregation promises to do all in its power to help its members learn and live the way of Jesus so that they participate in his mission to prepare this world for the coming reign of God.
However, most United Methodist congregations have minimal expectation and structures in place to help with this task. The curriculum for Christian formation proposed here will create a system for Christian formation for the congregation that will help to build deeper relationship with Christ and form missional congregations.
A Curriculum for Christian Formation
United Methodist congregations need to develop an intentional process of Christian formation that teaches and equips members to learn and live as apprentices of Jesus. This can be accomplished by immersing people in foundational Christian practices: The sacraments (Baptism, the Lord’s Supper) and Christian spiritual disciplines that focus persons and the congregation in the way, mind, heart, work and spirit of Christ.
I propose a curriculum for disciple-making that uses several existing programs developed by the General Board of Discipleship. The course includes seven sections of 5 – 7 weeks. People may enter the process as their schedule permits, with encouragement to complete all sections.
Leaders must be identified and trained. As people complete the 39 nine week catechetical process, some will be prepared and willing to become leaders for future sessions. If enough teachers are trained, a congregation could run two or more sections simultaneously.
Each session begins with 30 minutes of accountability and support for practicing the General Rule of Discipleship:
To witness to Jesus Christ in the world and to follow his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
This is followed by one hour of instruction, discussion, and theological reflection guided by the program curriculum.
This structure achieves two goals of this project: First, participants will learn about and be encouraged to apply to their daily lives an important part of United Methodist spirituality contained in the General Rule of Discipleship. They will learn that the Rule, which is a contemporary re-statement of the General Rules, is a rule of life that guides them in the way of Jesus, and shapes the congregation’s mission in the world. It is not a “law” intended for judgment or punishment. Rather, it is like a compass that helps us follow Jesus Christ in the world. Second, incorporating accountability for Christian practice assures that the sessions are not simply another study. Too often small groups offered in the church emphasize gaining information and neglect formation, or change in behavior Wesley called “forming holy tempers.” The thirty minutes of accountability and support for practicing the General Rule of Discipleship will help participants put into practice what they learn.
Class size should be limited to 12 students and up to two teachers.
The persons who complete the process should be encouraged to join a Covenant Discipleship group that will provide the ongoing support and accountability needed for continued growth in apprenticeship to Jesus and holiness of heart and life. They also develop leaders in discipleship who help the congregation participate faithfully in Christ’s mission in the world.
The course of learning and practicing the way of Jesus will use existing resources developed for the church by the General Board of Discipleship:
- By Water and the Spirit - 6 sessions (1 section)
- This Holy Mystery - 7 sessions (1 section)
- Companions in Christ - 26 sessions (5 sections)
Total: 39 weeks
Felton, Gayle Carlton. By Water and the Spirit: Making Connections for Identity & Ministry. (Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 1997).
________. This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion. (Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 2005).
Dawson, Garrit Scott, et al. Companions in Christ: A Small-Group Experience in Spiritual Formation Participant’s Book. (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2001).
________. Companions in Christ: A Small-Group Experience in Spiritual Formation Leader’s Guide. (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2001).