TRANSFORMATIONAL DIRECTIONS

1. Center on Christian Formation

As United Methodists, our understanding of Christian formation and faith development is grounded in God’s grace. We are saved by God’s grace and justified through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Empowered by God's Grace, we participate in God's transforming acts and in the ongoing process of sanctification. The moment when we surrender our lives to Christ and are redeemed does not, however, complete our journey of faith or God's gracious activity in our lives. God's grace continues to work in us to make us fit and able disciples of Jesus Christ.

It is the church's responsibility to assist disciples of Jesus Christ to grow in their Christian formation by helping them to discern the movement of God's Spirit in their lives and respond to God's sanctifying grace. Through Christian formation, persons develop and nurture the practices that shape them into the image of Christ. The church must help persons individually and in covenant relationships to practice the spiritual disciplines that have sustained Christians throughout the ages.

This ongoing process includes seeking personal and social holiness in our daily lives. The word "Methodist" was applied to our forebears because of the methodical practices that helped to shape their lives. John Wesley called his followers to regular disciplines. Some of these were personal and private: acts of devotion (prayer, Bible reading, inward examination) and acts of compassion (the simple things we do out of kindness to our neighbor). Some were public and social: acts of worship (the ministries of word and sacrament that we exercise together) and acts of justice (ministries that implement God's righteousness and denounce injustice).

A transformed church must help persons individually and in covenant relationships to develop and nurture the practices that help to form them in the image of Christ. Placing Christian formation at the center of our life will help us become a people who love and serve God and neighbor and who, through our witness, bring others to Christian faith. All of the other transformational directions and all of our recommendations flow from this transcendent direction.

In order to place Christian formation at the center of our life, we recommend the following:

  • Emphasize Christian formation in local churches

A changed heart that comes from accepting Christ as Savior marks Christian identity. Having proclaimed the saving love of Christ, the local church must then prepare disciples of Jesus Christ by providing a nurturing, supportive environment for Christian formation or faith development. Christian formation is not only for the sake of the individual nor only for the sake of the local church, but also for the sake of the world. The witness and service that flow from Christian formation are a visible sign of God's reign in the world.

United Methodist local churches provide opportunities for persons to participate in private and public worship, prayer groups, and Bible study groups. We affirm these fundamental aspects of our ministry, but call upon every local church to an even deeper commitment to the task of directing the spiritual pilgrimage of every member and constituent. Continuous growth in Christian formation enables Christian discipleship. We call upon all local churches to organize cluster groups, and classes that provide mutual support and accountability in ministry. Like the members of John Wesley's class meetings, participants must diligently inquire about the well being of each other's souls and bodies, asking and responding to such questions as "Is it well with your soul?" "Are you engaged in fasting and prayer?" "What are you doing to reach out to others?" "How are you witnessing in your home and workplace?" "Are you well economically?" "Are you without work?" "Are you hungry?" "Are you facing a crisis?" Our response and concern for each other in our needs will also strengthen us for ministry.

  • Form Covenant Communities of churches and covenant groups of laity and clergy within districts

Strong relationships between and among United Methodist churches can be an important arena for Christian formation. We encourage the formation of Covenant Communities, a loose affiliation of churches that fall within geographic boundaries and have other common concerns as they carry out the core task of making disciples for the sake of the world. This may also include churches from other denominations. Within these Covenant Communities, we encourage covenant groups of laity and clergy. Some groups might consist of both laity and clergy and form around common interests. Others might be covenant groups of pastors or laity for mutual care and support. If a congregation should not have an ordained pastor, these covenant groups may help to prepare the lay leadership of local churches to provide vital spiritual leadership.

All of these groups will provide opportunities for Christian formation, spiritual growth, and mutual support. They are the points at which local churches and clergy will join together to explore common concerns, needs, program initiatives, and other possibilities. The sharing of programmatic endeavors, leadership, and financial responsibility can derive from those shared experiences.

  • Develop a network of covenant leaders

In order to coordinate the activities between the churches in the Covenant Communities, a person drawn from one of the participating churches will provide leadership. We recommend including both clergy and laity in this network of covenant leaders. The covenant leader will be designated by the district superintendent and will work with him/her in developing a climate within the Covenant Communities that encourages the growth of the participants. Leadership will normally rotate on a periodic basis.

  • Support and enrich Elders, Deacons, and others in pastoral leadership

The Book of Discipline indicates that there shall be an Order of Deacons and an Order of Elders in each annual conference. All clergy who are full members of the annual conference are members of and participate in an order. These orders "seek to respond to the spiritual hunger among clergy for a fulfilling sense of vocation, for support among peers during this stressful time of change in the Church, and for a deepening relationship with God" (1996 Book of Discipline). In a United Methodist Church being transformed these gatherings can play a vital role in ongoing clergy formation, especially as clergy seek to understand and live out their role as spiritual servant leaders. Participating in common Bible study and prayer, sharing both good and difficult experiences, responding to current challenges, and exercising mutual accountability may be useful tools for the life of persons in these orders. We encourage similar fellowships among local pastors and others in ministry for the church.

Report Index

Center on Christian Formation

Call Forth Covenant Leadership

Empower the Connection for Ministry

Strengthen Our Global Connection and Ecumenical Relationships

Encourage Doctrinal and Theological Discourse

Conclusion

Appendix


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