Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Discussion on Chapter One: Hunter's Recovery of a Contagious Methodist Movement

George G. Hunter III
The Recovery of a Contagious Methodist Movement
Abingdon Press, 2011

Chapter One – Christianity According to the Wesleys

This chapter begins with a discussion of Harry Denman who headed the Board of Evangelism for 26 years. During that time he guided the church’s evangelism efforts with strategies and techniques that were effective for their time.

Hunter points out that early Methodism had a missional identity and priority which the established churches of the day lacked. Part of the weakness of the established church mentality was that they existed in a Christian culture where everybody was a Christian. As he quotes Kierkegaard, “When everybody is a Christian, nobody is a Christian” (p. 6). If this assumption was false in Wesley’s day, it is certainly all the more false today.

Denman suggests that if we are to recapture that same vitality of the early methodist movement, we need to consider four important themes in Wesleyan thought.

First, we must recapture the Wesleyan theological perspective. Our Wesleyan theological tradition offers a welcome alternative to so many other expressions of the Gospel. This is why tools such as the Wesley Study Bible and Disciple Bible Study are so important to us. They help us recapture the supreme importance of Scriptures in Wesleyan Theology. This is not to say that we are to be fundamentalists. (Wesley was never a fundamentalist!). But we are to be a people who live and breathe the scriptures as the living Word of God. We should be so steeped in the scriptures that its phrases become a part of our own speech patterns. We are able to tell the biblical story, weaving our own experiences into its narrative.

Hunter mentions that the 1984 General Conference identified three essential themes of Wesleyan theology: original sin, grace, and sanctification (p. 8). I personally love the way you can identify those themes in what Paul wrote to the Ephesians...
You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It's not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. 10 Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives. (Ephesians 2:8-10, Common English Bible).
Hunter points out that just a recovery of Wesleyan theology alone will not be enough (p. 11). We need to capture the overall strategy of the early Methodist movement which includes more.

Second, the importance of Lay Ministries. If the Holy Spirit fueled the early Methodist movement, the tires that made contact with the road was the empowerment of the laity in the leadership and ministry of the church. The lay preachers, class leaders, band leaders, were all a vital part of driving the growth and expansion of the early Methodist movement.

While the Protestant Reformation gave us the doctrine of the Priesthood of all Believers, it failed to implement the doctrine in the life of the church. Wesley rejected the notion that ministry was simply for the ordained. Wesley took the doctrine of the Priesthood of all Believers and put it to work in the life and ministry of the church (pp. 13-14).

Third: the importance of Small Groups. Hunter points out that the purpose of small groups must extend beyond the simple objective of study. He describes three objectives...
1. a desire to live a new life (evident in the Rules);
2. an engagement in ministry to each other;
3. outreach and witness to others with an invitation to the new life and fellowship. (p. 16)
In our Incubator group, we have been talking about the importance of adapting our existing groups to a disciple-making paradigm. We must teach people to see God and work around them and help them to give witness to that experience. We take time to pray and care for one another in the group. Our fellowship becomes a means of building a family of God.

Ideally, every regular gathering of people would take on these characteristics: Bible study groups, Sunday School classes, committee meetings, choir rehearsals. We should never become so “business-like” that we forget that our main business is to be about making disciples.

Finally, we need to remember our missional emphasis – ours is to be a Missional Christianity. Every day we encounter people who lack a living relationship with Christ. They may be deists (people who believe in God). They may be pre-Christian (they believe Jesus is the Savior of the world, but don’t live their lives accordingly). They may even be hostile to any religious expression, especially Christianity. How are we able to make connections with people that go beyond the polite public exchange? How are we to involve them in what Hunter understands to be Wesley’s Ordo Salutis (Order of Salvation)? I am rephrasing these steps for our own purposes.
1. People are awakened to their need for a new life in Christ by the grace of God.
2. Awakened people are enrolled in a group of faithful people who help guide them to an understanding of God’s grace. They are prepared to make a decision to accept God’s gift in Christ.
3. Continuing in the group, they are able to experience justification (by accepting it) and articulate the experience. They are taught to see God at work and they learn the needed vocabulary to witness to it.
4. Again, continuing with the group (and other groups) they learn to experience a holiness of heart and life (sanctification). (pp. 18-19).
Hunter continues this chapter by providing insights into three common understandings and practices of evangelism from the last generation (pp. 20-21).
1. Evangelism isn’t instant, it tends to be a process.
2. The old order of proclamation, invitation, and assimilation that was effective to an earlier generation must give way to a generation that desires to belong before believing. (see the sequence on p. 21).
3. We have a need to focus on those who may be most receptive to the Holy Spirit in their lives.
Hunter closes the chapter with a summary of what could be considered a game plan for the church (p. 22):
1. Initiate conversation and ministry with pre-Christian people in the community.
2. Invest the most time with the people who are the most receptive.
3. Invite them into the life of Christian community.
4. Support their quest until they discover, in God’s good time, the gift of faith.
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Questions... Share your thoughts and reflections in the comment section below.

1. What was one of Harry Denman’s programs of evangelism that was quite effective in its day? Why would this same strategy not be as effective today?

2. What are some of the ways Wesleyan theology contrasts with Calvinist/Reformed theology or with the Word-Faith (Name it and Claim it) theologies so prevalent today?

3. On page 14, Hunter asks the rhetorical question, “Does American Methodism stand a fair chance of experiencing renaissance without recovering the ministry and mission of the laity.” How well are we equipping and enabling laity for ministry today? Do we still have the tendency to view ministry as something we pay others to do?

4. Think about the small groups, classes, and/or committees you are a part of in the church. How are they at making self-replicating disciples? (disciples who make disciples?) What specific changes can be implemented in these gatherings to make them more intentional in the disciple-making process?

5. Thinking about the groups you are a part of: how are they doing at reaching out and witnessing to others? How are they doing at connecting others to Jesus Christ?

6. What is the role of the laity in developing and leading small groups? What is their responsibility for preparing for this type of ministry?

7. How can we best bring deists and pre-Christians into small groups that they may learn about and experience God’s grace for themselves?

8. How might you engage someone who is hostile to the Christian faith?

9. What groups are you a part of that provides the type of Christian community helpful for inviting pre-Christian people?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Back to Zero - Gil Rendle - Chapters 1 to 3

This thin book introduces us to the idea that the church needs leaders willing to make adaptive change rather than technical change for the sake of the church’s mission. Technical change is the ability to make change within our current understanding, structure, and resources. Adaptive change requires us to move beyond that. Adaptive change requires us to focus solidly on our mission and to ask the hard questions about how what we are doing is connected to the mission and how we might have to even break some rules to be faithful to the mission. Technical change can be handled by managers who ask, “Are we doing things right?” Adaptive change requires leaders who as the question, “Are we doing the right things?”

As we look at our rich history, we recognize that we have been entrusted with something wonderful to be passed on. We have a ministry of reconciliation. We are ambassadors, pleading on behalf of God to invite people into a healing relationship through Christ. But, our methods no longer seem to be working. Why?

One helpful distinction may be to consider the difference between strategy and tactics. As much as it may be comforting to take refuge in the tactics of the past (e.g., revivals, altar-calls, etc.) they cannot be helpful for the future. For example, the tactics of the Revolutionary War (e.g., knowing how to load a musket) or Civil War are useless for the modern warfare, but the basic battle strategies are still useful. Part of our tactics have been to build a structure whereby we offer opportunities for people to join us as members of our church to come to know our God. But this structure is failing us.

Think of structure as if it were a chalice used to offer the sacramental wine. It is too easy to get hung up on the type of chalice we use (precious metal or pottery; ornate or plain) when what is really essential is not the chalice, but what it contains. What are we really offering to people? a chalice? or Christ?

Below I am going to provide what I consider the big ‘takeaways’ from the first three chapters. The first two chapter are introductory, but the real meat begins with chapter three. This is not meant to be a substitute for reading the book. Please feel free to add your own notes or reflections in the comment section. Next week we will begin with chapter 4.

1. We’ve All Got Skin in the Game
Takeaway: We recognize that the church will not be able to continue as it has been if we are to be faithful to our mission. Our structure is complex and rigid and will require us to be able to navigate change that will sometimes require us to purposefully and thoughtfully break rules that hinder us in our mission. We need to recapture the nimbleness of a movement (such as the early followers of Jesus and the early Methodist movement). The Gospel of Mark gives us an example of how Jesus builds a community of faith, often redefining the way we understand family and community, breaking rules when necessary for his mission.

2. What Holds Us Together
Takeaway: Our culture has changed and is ever changing. Rather than looking behind at who we were we need to focus more on who God wants us to be. Our society has changed faster than our institutions have been able to adapt. Recognizing factors such as increasing diversity, globalization, and transiency (mobility) we need to adopt a new center around a shared identity, being able to identify the latitude and limits that help us to define that center. Such changes will not be comfortable and cannot be done with technical changes. The ability to made adaptive change is required.

3. Breaking Rules
Takeaway: Institutions cannot break their own rules. As such, institutions become increasingly regulatory rather than missional. When we focus on fulfilling our mission we often consider how we can regulate or legislate the change needed. What is really needed is for leaders who can focus on the mission and break the rules when necessary. But if we are to break the rules we must honor and respect them and never do so lightly or for the sake of breaking rules. There should be a thoughtful purposefulness to breaking rules. Consider these three questions. (1) What is the purpose of the rule? (2) Is this rule still appropriate? (3) Does the rule serve or prevent the mission? “If rules are to be broken, there must be a reason, and the reason must be missional.” (p. 29). Breaking rules must not be done unilaterally but in the context of community, collegiality, and conversation. Part of this is the act of ‘publicing’ or announcing why there is a missional need to break a rule and how and when that is to be done. The ability to do this in a movement is to recognize that we are needed as citizens rather that consumers. Consumers are self-focused, looking for “what can I get out of this.” Citizens are focused on the good of the community and its mission, willing to make sacrifices when needed. It is a willingness to be devoted to, and “accountable to ... the mission of the church rather than to the institution of the church.” (p. 33).

What are your takeaways? Again, feel free to add your own notes and thoughts in the comment section below. Be sure to have read the entire book for this Sunday evening.

Get a copy of Gil Rendle, Back to Zero, from Cokesbury or Amazon.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

First Look at the District Lay Training Event - April 20/21, 2013

I am working with a team of people preparing for our district's Lay Training Event coming up on April 20th (1pm at Mt. Olivet UMC in Manteo) and April 21st (3pm at Edenton UMC in Edenton). I am publishing this first draft here for your review and for the opportunity for you to share your comments.


That laity be introduced to a basic understanding of the disciple making process that they may be persons ready to support their pastors in transforming local church cultures into disciple making cultures.


1. to be introduced to the overall process (cycle) of a disciple making culture, the environment in which this takes place, and the method of equipping disciples to live out the working of the process.

2. to provide a basic introduction of the place of the small group (personal space) in implementing a disciple making culture.

3. for participants to experience a small group disciple making session.

Basic Concepts

Disciple Making Environment

The disciple making environment is carefully planned to allow for...
Adoration: a place where God is worshiped and where we are observant of the divine at work.
Communion: a place that allows for fellowship and the building of relationships.
Teaching: a place of learning and growth.
Serving: a place that provides for ways of outreach.

Disciple Making Process

The process (cycle) by which we move people from step to step that they become disciples who make disciples. While the steps may be expressed in different terms, it involves...
Reaching others and building relationships with them...
so that they may be connected to God and to a worshiping fellowship of disciples...
so that they may be equipped as disciples of Jesus Christ through the development of holy habits...
so that they may be sent to serve others in a way that reaches others to build meaningful relationships with them, etc.

Method of Equipping

There is a three-fold method of equipping people to be disciples of Jesus Christ. In the 3DM model it is expressed as Teaching, Apprenticeship, and Immersion. Basically, it involves these three steps...
1. We teach. This is the process of conveying the necessary information of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and what that looks like.
2. We model discipleship and encourage others to imitate what we do. This is the apprenticeship. We work side by side with others as they grow in their practice of discipleship.
3. We send them into the practice of their discipleship. This is what 3DM calls immersion. We send others to begin the process of replication, but with some supervision and advice.

Spaces for Disciple Making

While there has been considerable focus on the “huddles” of the 3DM model, it represents just one of the various spaces necessary to the disciple making process. Wesley organized Methodists into bands, classes, and societies, while still assuming individual Methodists continued to be involved in the public worship of their local congregations (at the very least, to receive Holy Communion). There are four specific spaces understood in terms of size. The size determines the function of each sized space.

Intimate Space: the smallest, most intimate sized group. This includes one on one mentoring, Triads/Quads, the Wesleyan Band, etc. This sized group allows for the highest level of accountability and spontaneity. Emmaus Reunion groups work best at this size.

Personal Space: this is the small group of about 6 to 10 people. This group is variously known as an Incubator, a Huddle, the Wesleyan Class, etc. Emmaus Reunion groups often work at this size, but not as effectively as at the Intimate Space size.

Social Space: this is a group that can comfortably consist of up to 50 people. This is the size of the Wesleyan Society and of the Missional Community. Think about the size of a family reunion gathering. This sized space is ideal for informal worship, fellowship, and teaching.

Public Space: this is a group that is generally larger than 70 people. This is where we gather for public worship. This sized group allows for the lowest levels of spontaneity and accountability.

The Goals of the Personal Sized Space Group

1. Disciples learn to recognize how God is at work in their lives and in the lives of others around them. They are able to express this in concrete, specific ways.

2. Disciples learn the importance of allowing themselves to be held accountable in specific areas of their growth and learn to hold others accountable in loving, nurturing, and supportive ways.

3. Disciples commit to praying for each other and provide visible, concrete means of support to others in their group. The Personal Space allows for disciples to actively pray for each other in the group.

4. Disciples commit to building relationships with those in the group. They are encouraged to find means of connecting beyond the group meeting.

5. Disciples learn and develop holy habits that they may grow in their love of God and neighbor.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Are You the Last Christian?

Christ, the Good ShepherdAre Christians relevant in the 21st century? I don’t think so; at least, not Christians defined the way we usually define them. Let the last Christian please turn off the lights of the church on the way out.

Relevant Magazine has a link to an article discussing Japan’s last ninja. Jinichi Kawakami is referred to in the Agence France-Press article as a man who is likely the last ninja. And he has no apprentices. The Relevant Magazine title refers to his as “Normal. Too Normal.” That is telling. There really isn’t much to distinguish him from others around him.

If we understand normal in terms of conformity to the world we have to ask “What’s the point?” What is the point in being something if it isn’t distinguishable from what the world around us sees as normal. Kawakami believes that the ninja is no longer relevant to the 21st century and I am sure he is right. If you are no longer relevant you no longer need apprentices. There is nothing of significance to pass on. A question we should ask ourselves is this: are Christians relevant anymore?

If being a Christian makes no difference in the way we live, then the answer is no, we are no longer relevant. For too many people who identify as Christians, faith has little or no impact on the way they go about their daily lives. They are good people who live good lives. When they go to church they choose to go to one that provides for their needs in programming and in worship style. At the same time they prefer a church that will provide these things without demanding too much from them. They want to find the “best buy” for their church-giving buck. As Mike Slaughter says, joining a “church without any expectations is much like joining community club with offering envelopes.” We don’t have churches as much as we have places of business offering services. The places with the best services or the most affordable services or the most desirable services will the places that remain in business.

Wesley addresses this in his sermon, The Almost Christian, where he says that “almost Christians” are good people who often have the outer form of godliness. They contribute to society, seeking to ease the ills of society. They may attend church, contribute to the ministries of the church and even pray. But all of this falls short of the life God desires for us. I know of so many who will do good for the sake of doing good – to be a good neighbor – but lack the impulse of acting from a profound sense of love and gratitude for what God has done for us. The praise of people becomes a greater motivator than the smiling pleasure of our heavenly Father.

Wesley says that to be altogether a Christian requires, first, that we love God. This is a love that is biblically defined as being a love that is expressed with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and with all our strength (Mark 12:30). It is a love we find in Christ. It is the life we discover when we realize we are crucified in Christ and we live in Christ. All our desire is of God and of what God desires. Like John the Baptist we realize that there must be less of us and more of him in us (John 3:30).

Wesley says that the second thing is the love of neighbor (Mark 12:31). It is a love that is described by the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians...
4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)
But, there is a third thing needed. As church goers – people brought up in the faith – we know all about the two great commandments and may even to seek to live them out in our lives. But to be able to do this in an ongoing, significant manner requires that we are born of God. Wesley sums it up this way...
The great question of all, then, still remains. Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart? Can you cry out, “My God, and my All”? Do you desire nothing but him? Are you happy in God? Is he your glory, your delight, your crown of rejoicing? And is this commandment written in your heart, “That he who loveth God love his brother also”? Do you then love your neighbour as yourself? Do you love every man, even your enemies, even the enemies of God, as your own soul? as Christ loved you? Yea, dost thou believe that Christ loved thee, and gave himself for thee? Hast thou faith in his blood? Believest thou the Lamb of God hath taken away thy sins, and cast them as a stone into the depth of the sea? that he hath blotted out the handwriting that was against thee, taking it out of the way, nailing it to his cross? Hast thou indeed redemption through his blood, even the remission of thy sins? And doth his Spirit bear witness with thy spirit, that thou art a child of God? (The Almost Christian, Part 2, Paragraph 10).
Bill Hull says that disciples are born to be made (See Hull, page 92f). We must be born in the Spirit – children of God – and then we are able to accept the call of Jesus in our lives, to take up our cross daily and to follow him (Luke 9:23). We are born children of God to be made disciples of Jesus Christ. It springs forth from the love of God. A love that is persistent and transformative. It is a love that will ultimately win.

Yes, perhaps Christians, as the term is commonly understood and live out, are no longer relevant in the 21st century. No, what is needed now are more disciples.

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Relevant Magazine article: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/slices/japans-last-ninja-seems-normal-too-normal

Agence France-Presse article: http://www.afp.com/en/news/topstories/63-year-old-engineer-japans-last-ninja

Bill Hull, The Disciple-Making Pastor: Leading Others on the Journey of Faith, Baker Books; Revised edition (October 1, 2007) ISBN-13: 978-0801066221

Friday, February 22, 2013

Our Mission

The mission of the United Methodist Church (and all congregations of the UMC) is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Let’s break this down to better understand it.

First, we are making disciples. The word disciples suggests that there is a discipline involved. We are to follow a particular set of habits to live in this disciplined pattern of living. The one we follow is Jesus Christ – that is, Jesus, the one one who is anointed by God as the Messiah. To put it simply, a disciple of Jesus Christ is one who follows Jesus Christ. Jesus said that if we are to be his disciples we are to take up our cross daily and to follow him.

We believe that following Jesus requires us to take up holy habits. Holy habits reflect our living out of the two great commandments we have been given in Jesus Christ: (1) to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength; and (2) to love our neighbors as ourselves. These holy habits are expressed in works of piety (our love of God) and in works of mercy (our love of neighbor).

We believe that as we are disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ. It is in this replicating outreach that we can bring about the transformation of the world.

I invite you to be a part of God’s plan for the transformation of the world. Join me in the making of disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

So That

Bishop Ward has been meeting with clergy, district by district, to talking about the disciple-making process and how that might look in particular congregations. Bishop Ward said she was not so much concerned that every congregation follow the exact same disciple-making process, but that every congregation have a well-defined process in place. Clergy will be able to describe the plan, describe its implementation and report the results of the process on a periodic basis.

The basic plan must include ways...
1. To Reach people – to build relationships with the people in our neighborhoods and communities.
2. To Connect people to a relationship with our Lord and our community of faith.
3. To Equip people as disciples of Jesus Christ.
4. To Send disciples in serving ministries and missions to continually build up the body of Christ.

Bishop Ward said that two of the most important words in our vocabulary should be “so that.” We describe the things we do as the church with a “so that” connecting them directly to the mission of the church (to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world). So, we Reach people, building relationships with them so that we may Connect them to living and loving relationships with our Lord and our community of faith. We seek to Connect people with Christ and his church so that they may be Equipped to live as disciples of Jesus Christ. We Equip people as disciples of Jesus Christ so that they may be Sent to serve the church and community in ways that build of the body of Christ and transform the world.

The various ministries, missions, and activities of the church must be directly tied to this process. Each ministry, mission, and activity should be evaluated on its effectiveness in helping us fulfill that mission.

The biggest part of our ongoing work as the church is involved in the equipping of people to serve and live as disciples of Jesus Christ. This is not an easy thing to do. It is a time consuming process that is a necessary part of who we are and what we do. One danger is that the equipping process can become an end of itself. In other words, it is easy to forget why we do the equipping. We can forget the so that!

The equipping process works best when people are involved in different sized groups that serve different purposes in the equipping process. To use sociological terms, people meet in different spaces for different purposes. From largest to smallest these are the public, social, personal, and intimate spaces. Our public spaces are our public worship services. The social spaces are those groups that meet to build better and stronger bonds in our relationship with God and with each other (Sunday School classes often serve this purpose). Personal spaces are small groups that offer opportunities for accountability and discernment (e.g., Reunion groups, Covenant Discipleship groups) . The intimate spaces include one on one mentoring and triads (groups of three) that provide for a safe place to explore issues of spiritual growth, impediments to that growth, and discerning God’s call in our lives. Each of these spaces have important and vital roles in helping us to grow as disciples and to form disciples.

In the year ahead, our Spiritual Leadership Incubator will be learning about this process in depth. It will be a time of prayer, study, reflection, evaluation, and response to God’s call. Please pray for those who will be involved in the Spiritual Leadership Incubator and prayerfully consider how you, and what you do, fits into the overall plan Christ has given us for making disciples.

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Alan

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Our First Book: Gil Rendle, Back to Zero

Our first book is...
Back to Zero: the Search to Rediscover the Methodist Movement 
Gil Rendle, Abingdon Press, 2011

Book: http://www.amazon.com/Back-Zero-Rediscover-Leadership-ebook/dp/B005I4S94W

Review: http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/article/entry/2259/review-back-to-zero

 Let me know if you plan to get your own copy or if you would like me to order one for you.