By Steve Manskar
This is the final installment of a series of articles based on Bible study sessions I lead during the 2011 South Georgia Annual Conference held at Tifton, Georgia in June. This article is in the second of two parts. In part 1 I addressed the problem of "programitis" in which the church has confused study and discussion about discipleship with discipleship itself. The following is my attempt to describe a disciple-making system that will help a congregation become the church Paul describes in Ephesians.
In Ephesians 4:1-16 Paul assumes that the way of Jesus is different than the way of the world: “… lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” First of all he is saying that all Christians are called. Call is not limited to women and men ordained to the work of a pastor. Some are called to be teachers, lawyers, carpenters, plumbers, computer programmers, maids, daycare workers, nurses, physicians, scientists, politicians, etc., etc. Paul is talking about a way of life. He is saying that what we say we believe should shape how we live. He describes the essential character of the way of Jesus:
- Humility-knowing that God is God and you are not. Seeing the image of God in others and in yourself. Knowing you are no better, or worse than others, especially people who are poor, outcast, sick, or prisoners.
- Gentleness—imitate Jesus by generous kindness to others, especially the poor and members of the household of God; prone to forgiveness and placing the needs of others ahead of your own.
- Patience—longsuffering and slow to anger
- Bearing with one another in love
- Unity of the Spirit
Paul is fleshing out Jesus’ commandment to his disciples in John 13:34-35
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The baptized are called to love as Christ loves. In the waters of baptism Christ calls you into his house, his family, his way of life. The church’s job is to be a community centered in the life and mission of Jesus and to help Christians to live out their calling in the world.
A community centered in the life and mission of Jesus, that helps its people to live out the calling of their baptism needs Christ-centered leadership. Paul tells us that leadership is shared between apostles (those sent to serve), prophets (those who speak God’s truth), evangelists (those who proclaim the good news of the reign of God), pastors (those who proclaim the word, administer the sacraments, and order the communities life), and teachers (those who teach Scripture and tradition to all). The mission of leadership is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”
Shared leadership transforms members from consumers of religious goods and services into missionaries—servants with Jesus Christ in the world.
Shared Leadership helps members to become missionaries who live out the baptismal covenant in the workplace and the marketplace.
Christians “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” when congregations develop and support an integrated disciple-making system akin to that developed by John Wesley and the early Methodists:
1. Clear Expectations: The mission of the congregation is directed toward making disciples of Jesus Christ and equipping members to live as his witnesses in the world. Members are expected, according to their ability, to follow Jesus’ teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The congregation’s vision is to become a Christ-centered outpost of the reign of God. To that end, strives to be
- Missional: “A missional church faces outward toward the world, not like a porcupine stands against its enemies, but like water fills every container without losing its content. … The church is measured, not by its seating capacity, but by its sending capacity.”
- Relational: The gospel is all about the formation of community. The individualistic ‘meet my needs’ orientation is seen as antithetical to the ministry of Jesus. The African word ubuntu is used, which means ‘I am because we are.’
- Incarnational: means Christianity does not go through time like water in a straw. It passes through cultural prisms and historical periods, which means that Christianity is organic. And like with any living thing, in order for things to stay the same, they have to change. The church is a living, breathing, moving, changing organism that lives in, with, and for the world.
John Wesley understood the importance of clear expectations in the disciple-making process. This is why he developed a “rule of life” for the Methodist societies. “A rule of life is a pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness. … God calls us to be holy as God is holy, to grow into greater intimacy with the One we are created to resemble (see 1 John 3:2). A rule of life allows us to cultivate and deepen this growing likeness. It fosters gifts of the Spirit in personal life and human community, helping to form us into the persons God intends us to be.” Wesley created his rule of life to set clearly before the people who desired to be Methodists expectations for the life of discipleship. He believed that the evidence for salvation is shown by a new way of life shaped by the teachings of Jesus Christ and summarized by him in the Great Commandment:
… you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these (Mark 12:30-31).
Wesley’s rule of life is “The General Rules.” It is simple and practicable. In it the community finds a common set of expectations and practices that guide its life. The General Rules provide the means by which persons exhibit “evidence of their desire for salvation,”
First: By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind …
Secondly: By doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all [people]. …
Thirdly: By attending upon all the ordinances of God; such are: The public worship of God; The ministry of the Word, either read or expounded; The Supper of the Lord; Family and private prayer; Searching the Scriptures; Fasting or abstinence.
The General Rules provided a framework around which the community was organized. Its goal was to cooperate with the dynamic of grace (prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying) to form persons in holiness of heart and life. Congregations today, therefore, must adopt a simple, coherent rule of life to guide its life and mission. The General Rules provide a good model.
A contemporary adaptation of the General Rules is available in 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.
Disciple-making begins with expectations and trust in Christ and his grace. A congregational rule of life is the historic way congregations set before the people the expectations of discipleship. The rule of life then guides the congregation in organizing to help members live and grow toward holiness of heart and life.
2. The congregation provides an intentional disciple-making system designed to provide the means to live the Baptismal Covenant and grow in holiness of heart and life. This system includes practices and structures through which the congregation cooperates with the dynamic of grace and leads to the formation of “holy tempers” (see Galatians 5:22-23):
- An interconnected, intentional system of small groups for mutual support and accountability for Christian formation. The congregation will provide groups that meet people where they are—seekers, new Christians, growing, and mature Christians—and help them to grow in holiness of heart and life. The small group system of early Methodist societies provides an excellent model. Such a system is how the congregation will cooperate with the dynamic of grace that seeks to draw people to Christ, awaken them to who and whose they are, accept the gift of God’s love through faith, and live and serve as daughters and sons of God who are channels of grace for the world.
- Worship that is sacramental and evangelical in which Christ in all of his offices (prophet, priest, and king) is proclaimed.
- Every member participates in a curriculum for Christian initiation and formation. This is integral to the small group system discussed above. The “entry level” groups will focus on catechesis, similar to the early Methodist class meeting. The leaders for this catechetical process will be seasoned Christians who can be trusted with the care of souls. An essential element of the catechesis will be teaching and encouraging the practice of the means of grace: works of piety and works of mercy.
- Mission and witness in and with the local community, especially with poor and marginalized people.The congregation understands that "the church doesn't have a mission; the Mission has a church." Mission is not primarily something the church does. Mission is the church's identity and purpose.
3. Practice evangelism that is Biblical and invitational. The congregation and its leaders understand that evangelism is the responsibility of the whole people of God. It is not a program that is delegated to “professionals.” Evangelism is witnessing to the good news of God's reign given to the world in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and initiating persons into new life in the kingdom of God. The evangelical task is to share Christ's good news in ways that those who hear it receive it as good news indeed.
In the letter to the Ephesians Paul gives the blueprint for a church that is Christ-centered and missional. The challenge for congregational leaders today is to resist the temptation to quick growth that leads to programitis. The Wesleyan tradition gives powerful compass headings that help us to steer clear of programitis and move toward mission centered in Jesus Christ; mission that removes the blockages to grace and helps the congregation to grow in holiness of heart and life.