Coaches strive to bring out the best in the players on his or her team. A good coach helps a person do things he or she never thought possible. They accomplish this by teaching the basics of the game and helping the person practice those basics until they become habits. Good coaches walk alongside the person teaching, correcting, encouraging, and challenging to get the very best out him or her. Coaches also help each person understand that they are part of a team and that they have a responsibility to help their teammates to perform to the best of their ability so that they can accomplish their common mission of winning as many games as possible. This is why good coaches foster a culture of mutual respect, encouragement, and accountability.
Disciples are made by other disciples who coach them into discipleship. Methodism has a long history of developing and deploying “coaches” who help fellow Methodists to become faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. These “coaches” are known as class leaders.
Class Leaders were Methodists who exhibited maturity in discipleship and had a way with people that lent themselves to being trusted with the important work of Christian formation with their peers. John Wesley describes the ministry of the class leader in the General Rules:
That it may the more easily be discerned, whether they are indeed working out their own salvation, each society is divided into smaller companies, called classes, according to their respective places of abode. There are about twelve persons in every class; one of whom is styled the Leader. It is his business, (1.) To see each person in his class once a week at least, in order to inquire how their souls prosper; to advise, reprove, comfort, or exhort, as occasion may require; to receive what they are willing to give toward the relief of the poor. (2.) To meet the Minister and the Stewards of the society once a week; in order to inform the Minister of any that are sick, or of any that walk disorderly, and will not be reproved; to pay to the Stewards what they have received of their several classes in the week preceding; and to show their account of what each person has contributed.
We see in this description that class leaders were like coaches. They meet weekly with the small group of fellow Methodists. During those meetings they taught the class the basic practices of Christian discipleship: prayer, Bible study, generosity, and accountability. The leaders were accountable to supervised by the appointed Minister of the local society. The coaching ministry of the class leaders was the backbone of early Methodism. They provided the care and discipline needed to form people into faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
Congregations striving to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world need coaches like those early class leaders. David Lowes Watson, in his book Forming Christian Disciples: The Role of Covenant Discipleship and Class Leaders in the Congregation, adapts the office of class leader for contemporary American culture. He develops Covenant Discipleship as a system of small groups that form the leaders in discipleship congregations need to make disciples who participate in God’s mission in the world.
In this contemporary model of Christian formation class leaders emerge from Covenant Discipleship groups. They are commissioned by the congregation (see “An Order for the Commissioning of Class Leaders in The United Methodist Book of Worship, #602). Watson summarizes the work of contemporary class leaders in his book, Class Leaders: Recovering a Tradition (page 72):
Class leaders fill this role by accepting basic pastoral responsibility for classes of church members. These classes are not the same as Sunday school classes, nor are they convened as class meetings. They are rather in the nature of pastoral groupings, consisting of fifteen to twenty persons who receive guidance and support from a class leader in living out their discipleship according to 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).
Class leaders are women and men who are regarded by their peers as leaders in discipleship. They are persons of integrity, humility, and compassion who are trusted with the task of helping fellow Christians to grow and mature in discipleship. Class leaders work as partners in ministry with the appointed pastor. In monthly meetings the pastor provides training and encouragement to the class leaders who help him or her to get take the pulse of the congregation.
Class leaders are the coaches congregations need to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Like any good coach they remind the members of their “class” of the basic practices of Christian faith and life described in the General Rule of Discipleship. They help church members to make those basic practices into holy habits that enable them to grow in loving God with all their heart, soul, and mind and love their neighbor as themselves (Matthew 22:34-40; Luke 10:25-37).