A Contemporary model: Covenant Discipleship
Today we have a contemporary model of the class meeting in Covenant Discipleship groups. A group consists of 5-7 people who are willing to be accountable for their discipleship. They agree to meet weekly for one hour. The group’s life is shaped by the General Rule of Discipleship:
To witness to Jesus Christ in the world, and to follow his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The process of weekly accountability and support for balanced discipleship forms members as leaders in discipleship who, in turn, disciple others. Some group members will be commissioned by the congregation to serve as Class Leaders.
Class Leaders partner with the appointed pastor in the work of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Each class leader is assigned up to 20 members of the congregation. Their task is to meet regularly with each member of his or her “class” to help them be more intentional about their discipleship. The General Rule of Discipleship serves as their rule of life.
The importance and power of Covenant Discipleship groups and class leaders is that people are equipped to join Christ in his mission in the world through relationships of mutual accountability and support for the disciplined practice of loving God and those whom God loves, leading to growth in holiness of heart and life and the development of a congregational culture of holiness.
Covenant Discipleship groups, and other small groups that foster mutual accountability and support for growth in holiness of heart and life, help the congregation to keep its baptismal covenant: “to provide a community of love and forgiveness and prayer that members may become faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. … and to do all in your power to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.”
The Wesleyan way of Christian formation provides a simple and practical way to respond to God’s love revealed in the death of his Son. It provides the means to form relationships of mutual support and accountability people need to deny themselves, take up their cross daily and follow Jesus. The call to discipleship is a call to live with the cross. It is a call to relationship with the Triune God. The Wesleyan way helps us know and love God by joining with others like us. God comes to us and we grow in knowledge and love of God through relationships with others who seek to “deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow Jesus” (Luke 9:23). This reality tells me that Christian faith and life is necessarily relational. Christ comes to me through the lives, witness and love of other people.
Jesus shows us that his way is the relational way. He shows us how to love:
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
His way is the way of love that is eternal life; life with God here and now and in God’s coming reign on earth as it is in heaven. When we follow Jesus he gives us the grace we need to love as he loves. As we learn and practice the disciplines of self-denial, bearing our cross in daily obedience to the way of Jesus, and walking with him in the world we will grow in holiness of heart and life and become more and more like him. We will become fully the person God created us to be, in Christ. We will also realize that the most precious things in this life are not what the world tells us are important (power, wealth, things, and fame); the most important thing in life is love and the relationships that are gifts from God.
Let us join (’tis God commands),
Let us join our hearts and hands;
Help to gain our calling’s hope,
Build we each the other up.
God his blessing shall dispense,
God shall crown his ordinance,
Meet in his appointed ways,
Nourish us with social grace.
Let us then as brethren love,
Faithfully his gifts improve,
Carry on the earnest strife,
Walk in holiness of life.
Still forget the things behind,
Follow Christ in heart and mind;
Toward the mark unwearied press,
Seize the crown of righteousness!
Plead we thus for faith alone,
Faith which by our works is shown;
God it is who justifies,
Only faith the grace applies,
Active faith that lives within,
Conquers earth, and hell, and sin,
Sanctifies, and makes us whole,
Forms the Saviour in the soul.
Let us for this faith contend,
Sure salvation is its end;
Heaven already is begun,
Everlasting life is won.
Only let us persevere
Till we see our Lord appear;
Never from the rock remove,
Saved by faith which works by love.
(Charles Wesley, #507 in A Collection of Hymns for the Use of The People Called Methodists, 1780).