Pastors & Class Leaders: Partners in Christian Formation

By Steve Manskar

In the Wesleyan tradition lay men and women who were mature and faithful disciples of Jesus Christ were the people called upon to lead the mandatory small groups known as “classes.” Wesley described the classes and the work of the class leader in the preface to the General Rules:

That it may the more easily be discerned whether they are indeed working out their own salvation, each society is divided into smaller companies, called classes, according to their respective places of abode. There are about twelve persons in a class, one of whom is styled the leader. It is his duty:

  1. To see each person in his class once a week at least, in order: to inquire how their souls prosper; to advise, reprove, comfort or exhort, as occasion may require; to receive what they are willing to give toward the relief of the preachers, church, and poor.
  2. To meet the ministers and the stewards of the society once a week, in order: to inform the minister of any that are sick, or of any that walk disorderly and will not be reproved; to pay the stewards what they have received of their several classes in the week preceding.

We see from this job description that the class leaders worked as partners with the minister in the work of Christian formation and pastoral ministry. Their responsibility was to help the women and men of their class to become and to live in the world as followers of Jesus and his way of life. In many ways, class leaders functioned like coaches.

Good coaches are experienced practitioners of their craft. They love the game and those who play it. Over the years, through their experiences with coaches, they learned how to encourage, challenge, push, admonish, correct, and form people into players who deny themselves and help the team to accomplish its goal of winning games, and even a championship. The process of coaching, practice, and playing the game the players are drawn closer to one another and become more fully the persons God created them to be.

I am a baseball fan. It is no surprise to people who know me that I think a baseball team is a helpful metaphor for understanding the Wesleyan way of being a congregation. If you are not a baseball fan, please stay with me here. This is where the importance sharing pastoral power is realized.

Pastors ideally function in many ways like the manager of a baseball team. He or she is responsible for leading and organizing the congregation so that it accomplishes its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The pastor is responsible for teaching the basic practices and beliefs of discipleship to the members of the congregation. Through preaching, teaching, and administering the sacraments pastors inspire and help congregation members to follow Jesus in the world. Like a baseball manager, the pastor is an essential leader whose job is to organize the congregation to live out its mission in the world.

However, like a manager, pastors cannot do this work alone. He or she needs help. That’s why a manager counts on his coaches. The coaches work closely with position players and pitchers. They help them to perfect the basics of their position and the game. One of the coach’s essential jobs is to regularly remind the players to practice and be mindful of the basics. For when they attend to the basics everything else follows. A team that attends to the basics of the game is likely to win games.

In the Wesleyan Methodist tradition Class Leaders have historically filled the “coaching” role in the congregation. They are lay women and men who are seasoned disciples of Jesus Christ who are given pastoral responsibility for 12-15 members of the congregation. In the early days of Methodism the “class” of 12-15 people met weekly with their leader. Today, the “class” does not need to meet. Rather, it serves as a pastoral division of the congregation for which a class leader is responsible. He or she is in regular contact through personal visits, phone calls, social media, and e-mail. The purpose of the regular contact is to help the “class” members practice the General Rule of Discipleship in their daily lives.

The class leaders, each of whom is a member of a Covenant Discipleship group, serve as discipleship coaches for the members of their class. They extend the General Rule of Discipleship into the congregation. Class leaders meet monthly with the pastor. The purpose of these meetings is for the pastor to give support, encouragement and training to the class leaders and for the class leaders to inform the pastor on what is happening in the congregation. This process of mutual support and accountability forms Christ-centered congregations that become outposts of God’s reign in the world.

Pastors and class leaders working as partners in Christian formation lead to vital congregations that are equipped to participate in Christ’s mission in the world.

To learn more about the role of Covenant Discipleship and Class Leaders in the congregation read and discuss, Forming Christian Disciples: The Role of Covenant Discipleship and Class Leaders in the Congregation by David Lowes Watson. Participate in the Wesleyan Leadership Conference at the GBOD in Nashville, Tennessee November 1-3.