Marjorie Thompson defines a rule of life as “a pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness. It fosters gifts of the Spirit in personal life and human community, helping to form us into the persons God intends us to be” (Soul Feast). A rule of life is a necessary guide for a congregation’s discipleship pathway.
The General Rule of Discipleship is a succinct rule of life congregations can use to shape their discipleship pathway. It gives practical guidance for how to live in the world as a disciple of Jesus Christ. The practices contained in the General Rule guide Christians in the formation of habits that equip them to grow in holiness of heart and life. As they grow in holiness their eyes, ears, and hearts are opened to see all the people in the world Christ loves and invites his followers to love and serve.
The General Rule of Discipleship is:
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.
When congregations adopt it as their rule of life it helps them do at least three things: (1) keep Christ at the center of the congregation’s mission; (2) names the habits disciples need to live their baptismal vows; (3) guides the congregation in keeping the promises made in the baptismal covenant (The United Methodist Hymnal, page 35):
With God’s help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround one another with a community of love and forgiveness that we may grow in our trust of God and be found faithful in our service to others. We will pray for one another, that we may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life.
The General Rule of Discipleship guides the discipleship pathway because its opening phrase keeps the congregation centered on Jesus Christ and the gospel he proclaimed (Mark 1:14-15):
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’
Congregational leaders and members need to be regularly reminded that the church is called by Christ to be a sign-community that represents and points toward the kingdom of God that is here now, and is coming. An important component of any discipleship pathway is teaching members how to “witness to Jesus Christ in the world.” Have the Committee on Evangelism organize sessions to teach how to recognize where the kingdom of God is present or breaking out in the world. Jesus tells us what to look for in Matthew 11:4-6
‘Go and tell … what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.’
Jesus is describing the reign of God as the places where people who are oppressed in any way are set free to live without fear and to become fully the persons God intends them to be. God’s kingdom is characterized by healing, wholeness, justice, righteousness, peace, beauty, and love. The Apostle Paul tells us citizens of God’s reign are marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23a).
We witness to Jesus Christ in the world when we tell stories and help others to see where God’s reign is breaking out in the neighborhood, city, nation, and the world. Train people to look for stories in local, national, and world news media about people set free from disease, death, abuse, or oppression. Look for stories of liberation, healing, and wholeness in individual lives and communities. Find stories about how people and communities experience forgiveness and reconciliation. Share these stories as signs of God’s reign present and active in the world. They are evidence that Christ is alive and at work in the world he loves. And he calls his body, the church, to join him in God’s mission in the world.
The congregation can help train members witness to Jesus Christ in the world by regularly highlighting kingdom of God stories in the weekly bulletin, the newsletter, web site, and on social media. Encourage members to share the stories with their neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family. Teach them to share the stories as examples of how Christ is active and at work preparing the world for the coming reign of God.
Equipping members of the congregation to see, hear, and then tell others stories about people and places where God’s kingdom is breaking out in the world will help keep Christ and his mission at the center of the congregation.
In the next post we will look at ways the congregation can provide intentional opportunities for members to follow Jesus’ teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion. These spiritual disciplines, which John Wesley called “means of grace,” equip Christians to be able to see all the people and serve as faithful, confident witnesses to Jesus Christ in the world.
Want to learn more about creating an intentional discipleship pathway for your congregation?
Get started at SeeAllThePeople.org.