I sit down to write this on the shores of Lake Junaluska, North Carolina. For those who don’t know, this place is an old, old United Methodist Center perched on the shores of a beautiful lake in the Smoky Mountains. I am here to attend a week of training for new District Superintendents. The sessions are powerful, long, challenging, and I am full of information and ideas. It’s such a gift to be here as I prepare for a new ministry of Superintending.
Lake Junaluska just celebrated its 100th anniversary as a place of training for discipleship and being here is to be bathed in our history as a faith community. It’s a powerful thing indeed. One of the things that used to happen here was the training of Class Leaders for the famous and ever present Class Meetings of the Methodist Church.
Class Meetings, Small Groups, Discipleship Groups, Covenant Groups, Spiritual Life Small Groups; they have been known by many names. But whatever they are called, they are at the core of who we are as a Wesleyan faith community. John and Charles Wesley clearly understood that it was in the intimacy and immediacy of a small group setting that people could pursue Christian Discipleship. It is in the closeness and clarity of a small group that people can share their faith and hold one another lovingly accountable for their individual and collective faith journeys. It’s in small groups that people can become vulnerable to one another and to the power of God’s Spirit.
Most of us know that early in our history these groups were inseparable from our larger identity. Indeed, there was a time when admission to Holy Communion depended on regular attendance to one of these groups. Most of us also know that participation in these small groups, over time, pretty much disappeared from our local churches.
It’s time to think and pray about reclaiming this historic model of discipling for our Church communities today. The Small Group isn’t just another program or good idea to deploy. It is a process for making Christian Disciples. It’s a way for people to stay focused on their faith and accountable for the lives they have chosen.
What do these classes look like? They take many shapes. A few things, though, seem to be prevalent as people claim this wonderful process. Small Groups have leaders who have received training. Ask your Pastor, District Superintendent or Conference Superintendents about training. I’ve included some web links below that might prove helpful.
Small Groups are small. They typically don’t have more than a dozen members. If the group grows beyond that, they usually form a new group. Small Groups meet regularly. Meeting weekly for ninety minutes is common. Small groups usually develop a covenant that they use as a centerpiece, holding one another accountable for the maintenance of this covenant.
A small group covenant includes such things as:
- Faithfully attending the Small Group Meetings
- Worshipping every Sunday
- Reading Scripture every day
- Praying every day
- Tithing to your church
- Giving a stated amount of time each week in service to the poor
This is basic, and echoes the groups of yesteryear, but you likely get the point. In Small Groups people find enough safety to explore, enough challenge to grown, and enough power to follow Jesus wherever it is he might be leading.
And so comes the call to faith communities to reclaim this powerful and wonderful community building, disciple-making process. Start a small group and participate in it. Work with your Pastor and the leaders of your Church to grow these groups. Set a vision of having every Church member engaged in a small group. Then, with thanksgiving, sit back and watch the Spirit take over! Then, with inspired hearts, watch disciples make disciples as we all move into the work of transforming our world in Jesus’ name.