The Association of Independent Methodists

Vital Christianity | Methodist Heritage | Local Autonomy

discipleship-500AIM is a network of independent congregations committed to Christ-centered, Bible-based Methodism, which recognizes and appreciates the local autonomy of its member churches.  Our passion is to help equip the local church to reach its community and change the world through passionate love, purposeful direction, and personal ministry.

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DISCIPLESHIP IS A COMMAND, NOT AN OPTION

 

by Gary K. Briden

Executive Director

The Association of Independent Methodists

 

Jesus commanded discipleship when He gave us the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18- 20.

 

Discipleship is the key to long-term success in retaining those won to Christ today as it has been in the past. Evangelist George Whitfield said the difference between the lasting success of John Wesley’s ministry and his was discipleship and Wesley’s class systems (i.e., small groups). Whitefield said: “My brother Wesley acted wisely – the souls that were awakened under his ministry he joined in class, and thus preserved the fruits of his labor. This I neglected, and my people are a rope of sand” (Michael Henderson, A Model for Making Disciples, page 30). When John Wesley was asked why he could not be content with just preaching and letting God take care of the converts without his small groups for discipleship, he replied that, every time he tried that, most fell by the wayside (Henderson, page 106). Whether it is one-on-one mentoring or class training, discipleship is God’s plan for His church (II Timothy 2:2).

 

There are certain basics to cover with every new believer and disciple – basics covered by Jesus and the New Testament. Some basic principles and topics that should be covered are: assurance, how to pray and the importance of prayer, how to study the Bible, how to share the Gospel and the command to do so, the importance of being an active part of a church, stewardship of talents and finances, sanctification and the filling of the Holy Spirit, and progress into study of key Biblical doctrines and truth.

 

I will share Wesley’s system because it still works when applied and is the heart of small group systems used in the church for the past 20-30 years. Some of the methods used by Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, and others can find their roots in Wesley’s system. The heart of Wesley’s system involved small, interactive groups called class meetings, bands, select bands, penitent bands, and societies. They were all designed to follow up those who wanted to trust Christ as Savior or who did trust Christ as Savior at the close of his mass meetings (N.B. with crowds numbering in the thousands) and to provide accountability and a process for discipleship. Wesley noticed that many who professed to trust Christ in those meetings “fell by the wayside”. He was burdened that those who trusted Christ as Savior should be discipled and live godly, holy lives.

  • The Small Group System

    • The Society
      • Was designed to bridge the gap between the mass meetings and godly living

      • Met once per week

      • Offered counsel (by leaders) to questions asked or problems presented

      • Had a season of prayer

      • Had a Bible study

      • Focused on instruction

      • Had accountability, godly living, and growth as its purpose

      • Proclaimed and explained biblical principles and teaching regarding sanctification and heart-purity

    • The Class Meeting

      • Was the heart of the discipleship system

      • Was made up of individuals from societies seeking closer walks with the Lord

      • Sought to implement a quest for a cleansed heart and a godly, holy life

      • Was a mall group of 6 to 8 people

      • Met weekly to give account to each other about their spiritual growth

        • The class leader would see each member weekly.

          • To see how they were doing spiritually

          • To advise, reprove, comfort, or exhort as needed

          • To do what each could to help others

        • It became a training ground for leaders.

        • It provided an environment in which things learned could be experimentally or experientially tested.

        • It became a point of entry to the Church in which new people could be incorporated and assimilated quickly.

        • It provided a way of pooling finances to help people in a practical way.

        • It provided a setting in which people could express and share needs with others who cared and would provide help and encouragement.

        • It provided a place to resolve conflicts (Henderson, page 110 for items a-g)

      • Was primarily purposed to make Christian disciples as commanded in Matthew 28:18-20 and produce change in heart and behavior

      • Had 4 key goals:

        • Personal growth in the context of a small, intimate fellowships (Galatians 6:1-2)

        • Accountability with spiritual disciplines (Galatians 6: 3-5)

        • Bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)

        • Speaking the truth in love (Galatians 6:1; Ephesians 4:2)

    • The Band

      • Taken from the Class Meeting membership

      • Designed for personal, intimate sharing of their experiences with the Lord and challenges facing them

      • Met once a week, at least

      • Involved prayer for each one individually, keeping their needs in mind

      • Was designed for edification, personal growth, and redirection (Romans 12:1-2)

      • Facilitated the cultivation of inner-purity and the changing of attitudes (I John 4: 16-18)

      • Involved each member taking the initiative to speak with the leader, serving to start the process (see A Model for Making Disciples by D. Michael Henderson, pages 120 & 121)

      • Involved the asking of each one probing questions such as:

        • What known sins have you committed since out last meeting?

        • With what temptations have you dealt?

        • How were you delivered from them?

        • What have you thought, said, or done which you might wonder if it is sin or not?

        • Have you nothing you desire to keep secret?

    • The Penitent Band

      • Was a “rehabilitation” program to help those struggling with persistent sins or temptations

      • Was designed to help people find victory and success spiritually and hopefully not lose them through the “back door”

      • Endeavored to reclaim those who fell into willful sin, whether those sins of omission or commission, whether all at once or gradually by giving in to “little” heart sins or skipping prayer, worship, and Bible study

      • Was directed toward the restoration of those who were backslidden

    • The Select Society

      • Was originally designed for those ardently seeking personal holiness

      • Developed planners and leaders

      • Was made up only of the most faithful to ministry and the work of the Church

      • Provided an environment suitable for pursuit of inward and outward holiness, or Christ’s love and character (I Corinthians 13)

      • Followed three [3] basic rules:

        • Everything said should be kept in strict confidence to ensure that members are not exploited by what they may share.

        • In times of disagreement, each would respect the decision or “arbitration” of their leaders.

        • Everyone would share financially as they are able in the work of the ministry.

John Wesley said the purpose of the classes and bands (N.B. and of discipleship in general) was to see that “…they have a clear, full, abiding conviction, that without inward, complete, universal holiness, no man shall see the Lord” (Henderson, page 112).

  • Small Group Application

    • It is not necessary to copy Wesley’s system verbatim.

    • Glean the principles used and apply them to the 21st century.

    • Recognize the basic principles of Wesley’s system:

      • Accountability

      • Encouragement

      • Prayer

      • Interactive Bible study

      • Help for those struggling with “besetting” sins

      • Patterns for helping new believers learn practical skills:

        • How to study the Bible

        • How to pray

        • How to lead someone to Christ

        • How to worship God

        • Other practical things

    • It's influence is found in many small group movements today.

  • Personal One-on-One Discipleship

    • It’s what Jesus did with His 12 disciples and especially the inner 3.

    • He invested 3–3 1/2 years with them.

      • Lived with them

      • Traveled with them

      • Taught them

      • Demonstrated to them

      • Put them in pairs to do practical ministry

      • Sent them out to stand alone with Him…even to the death (Stephen [Acts 7:55-56], Paul, Peter, and the rest of the 12)

      • Took a risk, invested Himself, poured His heart into 12, and only lost one

    • Will you practice discipleship?

      • Dr. Frank Meyers told me long ago: “When you preach, you add; when you teach and train others, you multiply.”

      • Are you willing to add AND multiply?