By Steve Manskar
Living as a witness to Jesus Christ in the world requires a balanced discipleship that is empowered in Christian community shaped by a rule of life that is centered in Christ’s teachings and mission. The General Rule of Discipleship helps ground congregations in the life and mission of Jesus Christ because it encourages a balanced 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.
The General Rule of Discipleship helps us to be mindful that Jesus calls his followers to obey all his teachings, and not only those we are temperamentally inclined to practice. He knew that some are drawn to the first commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). They are drawn to fervent worship, prayer, and other works of piety. Some of these people are introverts who are attracted to the inward life with God. For example, as an introvert, I am more comfortable with devotional practices of personal prayer, reflection, study, and writing. I need the support and accountability provided by my Covenant Discipleship group be more balanced in my discipleship. Our covenant and weekly meetings help me to be conscious of my need to look for opportunities God gives each week to be a channel of grace in the world through acts of compassion and justice.
When I was a pastor in Duluth, Minnesota I started a Covenant Discipleship group with members of the congregation. Our covenant included a clause that said we would give four hours of service with poor and homeless people each month. After several weeks of listening to me tell how I did not fulfill this clause of our covenant, one of the group members informed me that I could expect a telephone call from the executive director of Churches United in Ministry (CHUM) inviting me to serve on the board. The group had heard that CHUM was looking for a clergy person to serve on their board. They recognized that I needed help with our covenant clause to be in service with poor and homeless people, and nominated me for the board position. My group strongly encouraged me to accept the invitation. When the call came, I said “yes.”
At my first meeting of the CHUM board I was assigned to be responsible for the Drop-in Center. Located in the heart of Duluth, “The Drop” serves as a living room for the poor. It is a safe place for people to spend the day, store their belongings, receive mail, do laundry, and bathe. Social workers are available to help guests navigate the social service systems of St. Louis County and the State of Minnesota. I made several visits to “The Drop” to meet staff and guests. During those visits I found much good work meeting the physical and material needs of the people. The only thing missing, given that it was run by a Christian organization, was pastoral ministry with the people. In conversation with guests I learned they needed someone to listen to them, to pray with them, visit them in the hospital and jail.
When I brought my report to the board, I also brought a recommendation to develop a weekly pastoral presence at “The Drop.” The board’s response was positive. They unanimously recommended that I be responsible for developing the weekly pastoral presence.
This led to me working with the Drop-in Center director to lead a Bible study every Friday morning. For the next four years he and I led a lectionary Bible study with Drop-in Center guests every Friday morning. I told the people of the congregation I served that if they needed me on Friday mornings they could find me at the CHUM Drop-in Center. Depending upon the week, we had 6-26 people show up for Bible study. We read and discussed the Gospel Lesson for the week. In addition to the conversation centered in the Gospel we sang favorite hymns and praise songs. I found that many of the homeless women and men knew their Bible and had plenty to say. We always closed our time with sharing prayer concerns and then a rich time of prayer.
The weekly Bible study led to relationships and building trust with the people. Most weeks one, or more, persons would ask me to stay to pray with them. I was asked to preside at an annual memorial service for guests who died during the year. I soon found myself looking forward to Friday mornings and to what God had in store for us each week.
I’m telling this story to illustrate how the balanced discipleship presented in the General Rule of Discipleship and reflected in the group covenant produces growth in holiness of heart and life. My experience at the Drop-in Center taught me that when I am helped to get outside of my comfort zone I am more vulnerable to the power of grace to form me into the person God created me to be. I received much more from the people at the Drop-in Center than I ever gave to them. They taught me more about the nature of discipleship and grace in their lives and friendship than I could ever learn from a book. I will always be thankful to the people of that Covenant Discipleship group in Duluth for lovingly pushing me out the door of the church. They helped this introvert to grow in holiness of heart and life.