Forming Mission-shaped Disciples
By Steve Manskar
The United Methodist Church’s mission is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local churches provide the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs” (¶ 120, The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church-2012). This mission requires each local congregation to put it into practice.
Mission describes the congregation’s identity. It is the “who” of the local church. It is the reason for church’s existence. Mission is more than what the church does. It is more than a program or activity. It sets the church apart from other institutions and organizations. Mission “is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God. God is a missionary God. ‘It is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill in the world; it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church.’ Mission is thereby seen as a movement from God to the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission. There is church because there is mission, not vice versa. To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people, since God is a fountain of sending love” (David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, page 390).
A rule of life is how the church participates in mission. Marjorie Thompson, in her wonderful book, Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life, writes “A rule of life is a pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness. … It fosters gifts of the Spirit in personal life and human community, helping to form us into the persons God intends us to be.” This means a rule of life gives Christians the basic practices that help them to live the missional lives. In the process they form holy habits that equips them to join Christ and his mission in the world.
You become what you love more than what you believe. Your love is shaped by your habits. A rule of life provides a set of practices taught by Jesus to shape the habits and hearts of his disciples. The goal is to move Christians towards maturity in love, what John Wesley called “holiness of heart and life.” As they habitually practice works of piety (loving God) and works of mercy (loving who God loves) holy habits are formed (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; Galatians 5:22-23), resulting in love filling the heart and governing the life.
The General Rules are the United Methodist rule of life. If your congregation has Covenant Discipleship groups in the foundation of your disciple-making process, then I strongly recommend the adoption of the General Rule of Discipleship as the congregation’s rule of life: 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. It is a contemporary adaptation of the General Rules that describes the balanced discipleship needed to form leaders in discipleship the church needs for its disciple-making mission.
The General Rule of Discipleship describes the balanced and varied practices of discipleship that are needed to effectively help members live the baptismal covenant and live and serve as mission-shaped disciples of Jesus Christ. It is easily memorized and shared with others. When members of the covenant discipleship groups are commissioned to serve as class leaders they will serve as discipleship coaches for fellow members of the congregation, helping them to apply the rule of life in their daily lives. Thus helping more members live as mission-shaped disciples of Jesus Christ.
In summary, congregations seeking to participate in God’s mission in the world by forming mission-shaped disciples of Jesus Christ need a rule of life. The Wesleyan United Methodist tradition provides us with a proven and effective rule of life for the 21st century. The General Rule of Discipleship concisely describes the habits required of mission-shaped disciples.