Methodism began as a way of life rather than as a denominational system. John Wesley’s passion was leading people to follow Jesus, and his genius was developing patterns and support systems to help people walk with Christ. Wesley believed we cooperate with the Holy Spirit in our own spiritual growth through personal practices.
Spiritual practices place us in the most advantageous circumstances to be formed by God’s grace. The Wesleyan way of life included worship, prayer, the sacraments, the searching of scripture, serving others, and tithing. Early Wesleyans participated in groups of mutual spiritual accountability, developed regular patterns of visiting the sick and imprisoned, and gave to the poor. People called us “Methodists” because of our eccentric faithfulness to this way of life and to these patterns of living.
The original organizational structures of Methodism began as “methods” to support this way of life. Wesley developed weekly class meetings to encourage people to pray for one another and support one another in faith. Early Wesleyan Preaching Houses were built to provide gatherings for prayer, worship, and the study of scripture. People signed membership tickets in order to make visible commitments to this way of life. Class leaders kept weekly records of personal giving to hold one another accountable to growth in the grace of giving. Attendance records provided an exercise log of the soul. Circuits were organized to make the sacraments available across larger territories. Conferences were held to reexamine “what to teach” and “how to teach” in order to deepen spiritual life and to renew preachers and laypersons for ministry. The original disciplines of Methodism cultivated people into a way of life, the following of Jesus.
The Holy Spirit uses our practices to form us into disciples who transform communities and nations. Personal transformation precedes the transformation of the world. Those who follow Jesus discover God calling them to ministries of service, witness, and justice.
How do we learn and teach this way of life today? Missouri’s 2010 Annual Conference focused on Deepening the Spiritual Life for Leadership in the Church. I encourage all of us to examine and renew how our churches form disciples.
Reflect upon the following questions, some of them taken from Five Practices of Fruitful Living. Think and pray alone and with others. These questions stimulate memories. They renew us, and they help us remember Christ’s call in our own lives. They remind us of God’s grace, and of our passionate desire to follow Christ.
What experiences most profoundly shaped your entry into the spiritual life? How did you first experience God’s love? How did you begin to let God’s love into your life? What events formed your desire to grow in Christ? How old were you when you began to explore the spiritual life? Was there a special worship experience, service project, prayer, Scripture lesson or hymn that was important?
Who affected your spiritual journey and opened you to Christ: a pastor, a layperson, a relative, a friend, a writer, a youth worker? What place comes to mind as you reminisce?
How did you experience God during that period? When did you first begin to describe yourself as Christian? Who did you talk with about your desire to follow Christ? What did you say, and how did you feel? How did they respond? How did you tell family members? What negative responses did you experience? What was the greatest barrier to becoming a Christian?
What did you believe Christ wanted from you? How has your sense of following Christ changed? How do you view the relationship between what you do with your life and what Jesus Christ did during his life? What makes you feel you are accomplishing the work of Christ?
What do you find most fulfilling about following Christ? How are you a different person today compared to five years ago because of Christ? Following your current trajectory, how might your spiritual life and character be different five years from now?
How would you describe your relationship to God now? What personal practices cultivate it? What draws you away from the spiritual life? How do your present patterns of living invite God in or cause you to avoid the spiritual life?
Who were three influential persons in your formative years of faith? What did each contribute to your understanding of yourself and Christ? What encouragement has most influenced your walk with Christ? What advice would you give someone else?
Who are three persons in your life today who deeply influence your faith? What do you respect about them? Who are your most supportive companions in your spiritual life?
How do you stay in love with God? What worship experiences, prayer habits, personal readings, bible studies, small groups, or serving ministries renew your spirit? What congregational ministries feed you? How do you nourish your spiritual life weekly? Daily? How does your congregation support and teach the way of life in Christ? What’s your congregation’s process for forming disciples? What ministries foster spiritual growth for people in the early stages of faith? How do you make following Christ inviting? What small groups cultivate life in Christ? What are the gaps in your congregation’s formation process?
As a leader, what ministries of intentional faith development are you willing to commit yourself to for your spiritual growth? What are you willing to organize and lead to help others growth in Christ? How will you help your congregation learn and lead in the way of Christ?
Write a prayer that expresses your hopes, concerns, and decisions about a process for forming disciples through your congregation.