For over 17 years now, I have taught the new member class at Good Shepherd. The group’s current name is Next Step, as in “helping you take your next step in your living relationship with Jesus Christ.”
In all of its iterations, one session out of the four (or five, or six) has remained constant: What Does It Mean To Be A United Methodist?
It’s always been my favorite session to teach, as I get to pontificate on prevenient grace, free will, and how the itinerant system works at a place like Good Shepherd.
And then, for this session of Next Step, we decided to eliminate that session. OK, I decided to eliminate it.
Instead, our third week of Next Step was called Moving To Maturity. It was preceded by in Week 2 a session called Saved By Grace and will be followed by Week 4 with Serving In Love.
All of those terms — saved by grace, moving to maturity, and serving in love — are pivotal parts of how we know someone actually has a living relationship with Jesus Christ.
So in the Moving To Maturity session, instead of talking about John Wesley, Francis Asbury, Thomas Coke, and how much is your apportionment anyway?, we talked about a process for your progress in your living relationship with Jesus Christ. We broke it down to six habits, including:
- Daily time “away & alone”;
- Scripture Study;
- Corporate Worship with sacraments;
None of it new. None of it earth shattering. None of it event driven; all of it process-centered. All the kinds of personal habits and spiritual disciples that slowly, over time, lead to spiritual maturity.
And mid-way through the session, while teaching on generosity, I realized in an instant: “Oh, this is how Methodism started! Because John Wesley was so methodical in the spiritual disciplines he and his friends (and later his pastors) followed! Methodism itself started as a movement to maturity.
As Week 3 concluded, our group made individual commitments regarding Scripture, generosity, and fasting. Many of them had never considered such a patterned, disciplined approach to spiritual growth before.
So what happened when we stopped teaching a dedicated session on Methodism?
We became more Methodist.