Covenant Discipleship groups are designed to make disciples of Jesus Christ who make disciples. The General Rule of Discipleship and the process of weekly accountability for practicing a balanced, Christ-centered discipleship is aimed toward forming leaders in discipleship who help the congregation to live out its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. In other words, the ultimate, long-term purpose of Covenant Discipleship is to equip and support women and men to serve the congregation in the historic ministry of the class leader.
Class leaders were lay men and women who were the assigned leaders of the weekly small group meetings that were required of all Methodists until the late 19th century. They helped fellow Methodists to live as disciples of Jesus Christ in the world. Class leaders shared in the pastoral work that needed to be done when the appointed clergy “circuit rider” was absent. Class leaders worked as partners with the clergy in the pastoral ministry of the church. They were the disciples who made disciples.
The class meeting and class leaders are needed today. Kevin Watson, author of Blueprint for Discipleship: Wesley’s General Rules as a Guide for Christian Living, is doing important work re-introducing the class meeting to United Methodist leaders today. He has done some excellent writing on the topic at his blog, “Vital Piety.” Before moving to Seattle to teach at Seattle Pacific University, he was a member at Munger Place United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas. He and the pastor worked together to make a contemporary version of the Methodist class meeting a regular part of the ministry of Munger Place UMC (here’s a link to Kevin’s writings on class meetings). They call the groups “Kitchen Groups.” Read about what they are doing here: http://mungerplace.org.
Small groups are one of the marks of vitality listed in the recent “Call to Action” report. The class meeting is the model of small group that has the best track record of making disciples of Jesus Christ. United Methodist congregations would benefit greatly by a concerted effort to re-tradition this powerful and proven small group system.
It won’t take long to realize that mature, well trained lay women and men will be needed to lead the class meeting. Small groups that last and contribute to disciple-making require a partnership between a cadre of lay women and men and the appointed clergy. The historic office of Class Leader tells us that faithful pastoral ministry is always a shared ministry of laity and appointed clergy working together as a team with the common goal of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Covenant Discipleship groups are designed to develop the lay women and men who God will call to serve as class leaders. Certainly we cannot expect that everyone who participates in a CD group will become a class leader. But the weekly process of mutual support and accountability for discipleship will awaken in some the desire to serve as a leader in discipleship. These are the persons who pastors can partner with in the work of disciple-making. Covenant Discipleship groups provide the leaders needed for a disciple-making small group system based on the early Methodist class meeting.
How does your congregation encourage CD group members to serve as leaders in discipleship? How does your congregation form and equip disciples who make disciples? How does the congregation encourage shared pastoral leadership in a system of small groups?