Try to start a program in your church and I bet some of these ideas will be in the conversation:
- Tell people it will be fun.
- Let them know it won’t be too demanding — we’re busy people.
- Make sure they see it is going to make their lives happier.
- Emphasize that they will meet friends, and deepen relationships.
In short, high on our list of goals is pleasing people. In a consumer culture we offer things people will want to consume.
It would, of course, be silly to make our goal to DISplease people.
But what if, instead, we started by aiming at a target worth reaching, chose a path that would reach the target, and just didn’t consider self-interest, enlightened or otherwise?
That is what John Wesley’s small group ministry looks like to me. (I’ve been posting on John Wesley’s distinctive approach to Christian community for a while. Click here to see all the posts. I also did a series on the very different model of Christian community in medieval monasticism. Click here for those.) He did not try to lure people in with promises of high rewards for low commitment. He started out by asking some hard questions.
He asked each prospective member whether they had experiential knowledge of (1) forgiveness, (2) peace with God, (3) adoption as God’s child, (4) a heart steeped in God’s love, and (5) a genuine freedom from sin.
These groups were not seeker sensitive. They were simply not about evangelism at all. You had to be a Christian to start.
But then, once he knew you were a Christian, the questioning went on. He wanted them to know what would happen in their small group meetings — no point in joining a group if you don’t like what the group does.
6. Do you desire to be told of your faults?
Well, that’s bracing. Frankly no. What else do you do together Mr. Wesley?
7. Do you desire to be told all your faults, and that plain and home?
Hmm… Actually I’m looking for a group that will show me a little support and affirmation.
8. Do you desire that every one of us should tell you, from time to time, whatsoever is in his heart concerning you?
I guess it depends on what’s in your heart, eh? Kind of pushing the boundaries of trust here. No seriously, what kinds of stuff do you dredge up?
9. Consider! Do you desire we should tell you whatsoever we fear, whosoever we hear, concerning you?
No, no, no. Please, no. What happened to “unconditional love”? But I hear your groups are great. Just how personal do you really get with this?
10. Do you desire that, in doing this, we should come as close as possible; that we should cut to the quick, and search your heart to the bottom?
Those five questions were asked of every prospective member. You really had to want a process that brought about holiness of heart and life.
There was just one more question, and it provides the counter-balance to the process. Every member had to commit to the same process of openness and accountability toward the rest of the group.
They were watching over one another in love. This was mutual oversight, not authoritarian scrutiny by those higher on the ladder. That is what gave these groups their potential as a model of community.
Wesley could never have sold this program the 21st century way. But it did sell. People joined by the thousands. Tens of thousands, really. Okay, hundreds of thousands.
He set the bar high. People knew what they were getting into. They were choosing accountable discipleship. Together they became thorough-going followers of Jesus. And that turned them into a movement that took the Gospel to the world.
What might a process for accountable discipleship look like in our era?
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