What's Christian Perfection got to do with Leadership

By Steve Manskar

The mission of Covenant Discipleship groups is the formation of leaders in discipleship. These women and men contribute to the mission of the local congregation through their witness and service with Christ in the world. They also help the congregation keep its baptismal covenant to increase faith, confirm hope, and perfect in love all professing members. The dynamic of mutual accountability and support for discipleship Covenant Discipleship groups are integral to any congregational disciple-making system.

The same was true of the early Methodist societies. Therefore, it makes good sense that John Wesley asked the men and women who served with him as leaders the historic questions; particularly the question that is the subject of this essay. Going on to perfection is one of Wesley’s expectations of those who worked along side him in his working to “reform the nation, particularly the Church; and to spread Scriptural holiness across the land.” He understood that only those who were moving toward the same goal were equipped to lead others toward that goal: holiness of heart and life.

It is important to remember that the historic questions that today are reserved for candidates for ordained ministry were originally asked of lay men and women. Yes, a defining characteristic of leadership in the Wesleyan tradition is that it is the work primarily of the laity. The people who did nearly all the pastoral ministry in the Methodist societies were lay men and women. They lead the class meetings and societies in prayer, hymn singing, Bible study, and teaching. They visited the sick and the prisoners. They lead the Methodists in the work of feeding the hungry, clothing the ill-clad, and medicine to the sick. Lay preachers proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ to the poor and working people across Britain and America. Lay stewards managed the finances and property of the local societies. John Wesley asked all these “helpers” the question: “Are you going on to perfection.”

Notice that the question is not “Are you perfect?” Rather, Wesley expected that leaders be persons who were cooperating with the work of grace in them by faith in Christ. People who know Jesus and seek to conform their lives to his, are best suited to lead others toward faith in Christ. Those who follow in the way of Jesus are best suited for the work of caring for souls and leading others to the life of salvation. They are suited to the work of Christian leadership because they are going on to perfection.

Wesley defined perfection as “love [seated] upon the throne which is erected in the inmost soul; namely, love of God and [humankind], which fills the whole heart, and reigns without a rival” (Sermon 92: On Zeal). It is the “holy tempers” formed in the soul: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Women and men who have faith in Christ and are going on to perfection are the ones the church looks for and needs as leaders at all levels, clergy and lay.

What does leadership have to do with Christian perfection?

Do you agree that this question, along with the other historic questions, should be asked of all persons, laity and clergy, serving as leaders in The United Methodist Church? Why? or Why not?

What leadership roles do you think the laity should play?

What leadership roles do you think the clergy should play?

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