The patterns for the one-hour group meeting should continue as you have established them.
- Brief, informal time of gathering (10 minutes) with snacks to share.
- Formal gathering and prayer— Group members are seated in a circle in chairs or around a table— with requests for prayer for the coming week (10 minutes) and prayer led by the group leader or unison in the group.
- Teaching and testimony— (35 minutes)— For this week, there are four verbs to focus upon: proclaim, live, surround, and pray. Together, these four kinds of actions compose what we mean by Christian nurture. Plan to take about eight to nine minutes for each verb. Plan to spend no more than two minutes teaching about each one (see below), and the remaining time for sharing how each is working on each one, how each has exercised each one during the past week or recent past, what has happened because because each did, and how each seeks to improve.
- Blessing and sending —Gather in a circle or huddle, lay hands on one another, one by one, and pray over each in unison: “X, may you continue to grow in Christ in the days ahead” (5 minutes). Thank all for coming, and send the group out to continue to grow.
TEACHING 1: PROCLAIM the Good News
The good news we proclaim is the good news Jesus proclaimed: The kingdom of God has drawn near. As God’s kingdom draws near, the powers and forces that keep people oppressed, harmed, or otherwise enslaved are overcome, and people are set free. Some are set free from disease. Others are set free from political oppression and injustice. Still others, as the man in this story, are now able to see.
Part of the good news we see in this story involves exposing the lies of oppressive powers for what they are. The assumption the disciples had about people born blind was such people or their parents must have been particularly sinful to cause such a condition. No, Jesus says. He was born this way not because of anyone’s sin, but to enable God’s glory to shine, whether in his blindness or in overcoming it.
There is great good news just here. Congenital blindness had been understood to be the result of sin and was therefore used culturally as a reason to dismiss people as “less than” or even “tainted” or “unclean.” Jesus rejected that reasoning entirely.
So part of proclaiming the good news today is not only to declare the news that God’s kingdom has drawn near, but to contradict every bit of news that some people are to be withdrawn from. Instead, those targeted by culture as “unclean” are the very people Christ draws near to, near enough to touch them on the eyes with love, care, and actions that bring the marginalized back into community as much as possible.
How are you proclaiming the good news? How are you also contradicting the many kinds of bad news this world tells others? How might you do these two things better? How can we help you do so?
TEACHING 2: LIVE according to the Example of Christ
“The example of Christ” comprises everything we see Jesus do across all four gospels. That’s way too much to handle for one session. This is an agenda for lifelong learning and growth. That’s important to remember. It points us to the lifelong commitment we make to Christ and to one another in the church. We will keep learning from Jesus, keep working on living it out, and keep teaching others by living what we learn.
So for this session, focus on those core practices of learning to live out the way of Jesus people already have built into their lives, and those they can build in better and help one another do likewise. What are your patterns of prayer? How do you read and study the Bible, especially the gospels? What groups are you part of that actively help you live the way of Jesus more fully (including this one). What processes do you use to put in practice what you learn from prayer and study?
TEACHING 3: SURROUND These People with a Community of Love and Forgiveness
Surrounding people can seem like an aggressive move. When the intent of the surrounding is to prevent an escape or to seek to force compliance, then it may be more harmful than helpful.
But we pledge to surround people with a community of love and forgiveness. A community of love allows for freedom. There is no compulsion in love. And a community of forgiveness allows for much mercy, learning, and growth. The community of love and forgiveness we pledge to form together as a congregation, and perhaps in more concrete ways as a formation group, is a band of sisters and brothers who commit to watch over one another in love.
Surrounding remains a key tactic. We want there to be no place you go that you cannot rely on others offering you encouragement, support, and, where needed, direction and restorative correction.
To be a community of love and forgiveness requires each of us to participate in such acts of surrounding one another, with love and forgiveness at our core. What are you doing right now to participate actively in such community with others, and especially with those who are newly baptized or new members, or those who may be baptized or become professing members in the near future? What might you do more or better? How can others in the group help you do that?
TEACHING 4: PRAY for Them, That They May Be True Disciples
Each week, our closing act of blessing is already a form of prayer we offer to God and for one another that we each may be true disciples of Jesus who walk in the way that leads to life. This is one small, brief, weekly action we already take in this group.
But the call here is for the whole church to continue this, not just once a week, but constantly, especially (though not exclusively) for the newcomers among us. How are you praying for the spiritual life and growth of others in this congregation, and other Christians generally? How often and how intentionally are you doing so? How might you do this better than you are now? How might we help you do that?
Courageous Conversations Events
by Scott Hughes
Lent is a forty-day period of self-reflection, contemplation, and reconciliation. Lent is also traditionally a season connected with preparing for baptism or reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant. The following Lenten Courageous Conversations materials are is an attempt to relate the vows made in baptism with people who are or could be feeling estranged.
The Courageous Conversations event each week should not be seen as displacing or replacing the work of other formation groups, but rather as supplementing and underscoring what it means for us to live “in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.” Given the persistence of deep divisions in our nation, divisions that are replicated within our churches and communities as United Methodists, we believe these weekly Courageous Conversation events offer an opportunity for mutual listening, care, and healing that are critical for our future as a denomination, yes, but more importantly critical for the future of Christian witness wherever our churches are across this country.
This series of lessons will focus on homeless people who often suffer in isolation due to stigma, despite the various causes of their homelessness.
The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church invites us to consider: “As people of faith and religious commitment, we are called to stand with and seek justice for people who are poor. Central to our religious traditions, sacred texts, and teachings is a divine mandate to side with and protect the poor...We share a conviction, therefore, that welfare reform must not focus on eliminating programs but on eliminating poverty and the damage it inflicts on children (who are two thirds of all welfare recipients), on their parents, and on the rest of society.”
This series of lessons will focus on immigrants (documented and undocumented) who often suffer in isolation due to language, culture, and even fear.
The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church invites us to consider: “Reflecting upon the Scriptures, we are reminded that United Methodists are a global church. In the United States, we may be descendants of economic immigrants or forced migrants, or we may have recently arrived in the US. We may have formal documents proving US citizenship, or we may be undocumented. Regardless of legal status or nationality, we are connected through Christ to one another.”
Prisoners live isolated from loved ones. Former prisoners carry stigmas that last long past their terms of incarceration. Without overlooking ministry to the victims, the church is also called to ministry with those in prison and those still carrying the baggage of being imprisoned.
The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church invites us to consider: “While acknowledging that the biblical concept of justice focuses on the victim, the offender, and the community in the hope of restoring all to a sense of God’s wholeness, it is also important to understand that our Methodist heritage is rich with examples of ministries carried out in jails and prisons. John Wesley...had a passion for those in prison. As early as 1778, the Methodist Conference adopted action making it the duty of every Methodist preacher to minister to those who were incarcerated. United Methodists have reaffirmed and expanded the mandate for prison ministry and reform in many different chapters of our denominational history. This is a part of our identity and call.”
This series of lessons will focus on soldiers returning from war and/or from active duty who often struggle with physical and/or emotional injuries and have the difficult task of reentry into civilian life.
The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church invites us to consider: “that the Church commits itself to extend its pastoral ministry to members of the armed forces and their families during their time of service and after their return; and...that we call upon our churches to extend a welcome home to persons who return from service in their armed forces, to respect their stories and interpretations of their experiences, and to value and encourage expression of their contributions to the ministry of our churches...”