- 9:30am: Prayer for our Church
- 9:45am: Sunday School
- 10:55am: Worship
- 3:00pm: After-School Tutoring
- 5:30pm: Wednesday Night Dinner
- 6:15pm: Wednesday Night Program
- 7:00pm: Choir Practice
Last night Anna and I traveled down to the Brentwood United Methodist Church for a special worship service in celebration of the appointment of our interim bishop, Ben Chamness. During his sermon to the annual conference, Bishop Chamness challenged congregations take seriously the mission of our denomination to be engaged in “…making disciples for the transformation of the world.” He suggested that we haven’t always been engaged faithfully in disciple-making. “We’ve focused more on getting people to be good church members,” he said, “rather than being faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Chamness is right, and it us unfortunately the fault of pastors, D.S.’s, and bishops who far too often equated church membership with being a disciple. In the desire to make our statistics look good, we’ve been guilty of not expecting much of church goers. “Just come to church,” we said, “that’s all that’s required of you.”
It’s no wonder that our kids have drifted away from the church. A recent survey of teens and young adults in the church discovered that very few understood the radical call of Christ on their lives. The researchers found in fact that these kids actually practiced what the researchers called “moralistic therapeutic deism,” a religion which suggests that faith is about being a good person, feeling good about yourself, and having a general sense of a creator who loves you. While that may sound well and good, in fact that really isn’t what Christianity is all about.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famous German pastor and theologian, begins his opus on discipleship with these words: “When Christ calls a man he bids him to come and die.” What Bonhoeffer is saying is that discipleship is not something to be taken lightly. The gospel is not simply about feeling good, but rather knowing that God’s love compels us to a new way of life, one in which we are called to “take up our crosses” to follow Jesus daily.
So what DOES it mean to be a disciple?
One definition that I have been living with recently is that disciples of Jesus Christ are people who witness to the love and grace of Jesus in the world, and who follow his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Disciples are people who take Christ’s great commandment to love God with all heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves seriously. Disciples do this through engaging in the various “means of grace” (prayer, study, accountability, worship, sacraments, etc.) and participating in ministries of mercy and justice. In the United Methodist tradition, disciples gather together to hold one another accountability to a commonly held “rule of life,” which guides our faith and practice together. This rule may be the vows we make when we join the church (the call to support our church through prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness) or it may be John Wesley’s “General Rules” (avoid evil, do good, and attend to the ordinances of God), but in any case it involves participation in some form of small group in which we can mutually hold each other accountable in love.
Bishop Chamness shared the story last night of Clarence Jordan, author of the Cotton Patch Bible and the founder of the Koinonia Farms community in Georgia. At one point in his ministry of racial reconciliation in the 1950’s he asked his brother, a lawyer who was considering running for office, for his assistance. His brother was reluctant to offer it believing that it would negatively affect his political career. “Hmmm…” said Jordan, “I remember when you and I walked an aisle in our church at the same time and said that we want to follow Jesus.” “It sounds to me now,” he went on that you are more of an admirer of Jesus, wanting to look from afar at him on the cross, but not wanting to be a true disciple and follow in his footsteps.”
Are you an admirer of Jesus, or are you on the road toward becoming his disciple.
Our mission as a denomination and as a church is to be in the business of disciple forming.
Will we truly be involved in carrying out that mission?
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