1. Center on Christian Formation
As United Methodists, our understanding of Christian formation and
faith development is grounded in Gods grace. We are saved by Gods 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
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.
Center on Christian Formation
Call Forth Covenant Leadership
Empower the Connection for Ministry
Strengthen Our Global Connection and Ecumenical
Encourage Doctrinal and Theological Discourse
Download the final report in Adobe
Acrobat (PDF) format - (208K)