(Content from http://www.umc.org/)
A Theology of Discipleship
Theology is not just about God. It is also about us. We live out of our understanding of who we are in relationship to God, to one another, and to the world. The Christian faith is grounded in the love and grace of God, experienced through Jesus Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Christian life is our response to God’s love and grace.
The church calls our response to God Christian discipleship. Discipleship focuses on actively following in the footsteps of Jesus. As Christian disciples, we are not passive spectators but energetic participants in God’s activity in the world. Because of what God has done for us, we offer our lives back to God. We order our lives in ways that embody Christ’s ministry in our families, workplaces, communities, and the world.
When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, his response was: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment” (Matt. 22:37-38. See Matt. 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; and Luke 10:25-28.)
Discipleship is about loving God….It is more than an acknowledgement of God’s existence or a statement of belief regarding God. It is total devotion, head-over-heals-in-love-with adoration. It is the deep desire to know God, to be one with God, and to worship God.
There are a variety of ways that we can develop our knowledge of and love of God. These include
•Conversation with other Christians
John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, called these practices means of grace. They are means for developing our relationship with God and for experiencing God’s presence in our lives. These practices help us spend time with God, a significant factor in loving God.
Jesus responded to questions about the most important commandment by quoting the Hebrew Scripture’s admonition to love God with our whole being. (See Deut. 6:4-9 as well as gospel passages listed in the above section.) Then immediately he broadened the meaning of this admonition: “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mark 12:31).
These verses about loving God and loving neighbor as ourselves are known as the Great Commandment. Again and again, the Bible teaches us that loving God and loving neighbor are two sides of the same coin. We cannot do one without the other. Check out some of these passages for a glimpse at how prevalent this understanding of Christian discipleship is:
•1 Corinthians 13
•1 John 4:19-21
From these passages and others we can draw several conclusions about what it means to love our neighbors. First of all, loving our neighbors means responding to specific needs—hunger, illness, imprisonment, loneliness, and so forth. Love is more than a feeling; it is behavior. It is practical and concrete.
Secondly, our neighbors include many people. Within the context of the Christian community, our neighbors are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Neighbors may also refer to the contemporary understanding of those who live near us. However, from a biblical perspective, neighbors often include people whom we might not normally consider:
•people who mistreat us (who are our enemies);
•people from other cultural and ethnic backgrounds;
•people from different religious traditions;
•people who irritate us and push the boundaries of our patience.
Therefore, loving our neighbors requires attention and sacrifice. We have to pay attention to what is happening around us in order to see our neighbors and to recognize their needs. We must also consider their needs to be as important as our own in order to live faithfully. Loving neighbor is more than random acts of kindness. It takes time, energy, and commitment. It is a lifestyle carefully cultivated in response to God.
Finally, these passages emphasize that loving our neighbors is not optional; it is mandatory. It is what Christians do and what Christians are. Our lives are a testimony to our love—our love for God and our love for neighbor.
From What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Theology (Discipleship Resources, 2002), pp. 35-38. Used by permission.
Mission and Ministry
We Have a Mission
Why does the church exist? According to Matthew’s Gospel, the risen Christ made it clear: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (28:19-20).
Based on this “Great Commission,” our United Methodist Church has stated its purpose: “The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local churches provide the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs” (From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church—2008, p. 87. Copyright © 2008 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission).
So the mission of our congregation is to make disciples. This is a four-fold task….We could abbreviate our mission as one of welcoming-worshiping-nurturing-sending. (See The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church—2008, p. 88, and Guidelines for Leading Your Congregation, 2005-2008.
We reach out to people and welcome them into the church
We have a direct responsibility for people of the “world” around our church, the community in which we and others study, work, shop, play, and so forth. In this world are people with many hurts, doubts, and questions. There are some who are new in the community and feel a little lost, some who are proudly self-sufficient, and others who are in desperate circumstances. Our mission is to reach out to them, listen to them, accept them, share the gospel in word and deed, invite them into the family of faith, and joyfully receive all who will respond.
We relate people to God and help them deepen their relationship with God
The second task in making disciples is to offer people opportunities for growing closer to God. Whether they are visitors or old-time members, just beginning the journey of faith or well along the road—all are in need of God’s love in Christ. Through worship, prayer, study, and honest sharing, we help one another discover that the Holy Spirit is not far off but present with us, wanting an open and loving friendship with each of us—not only friendship but commitment as well. Through our congregation’s various ministries we encourage one another to give our selves to Christ, to ground our lives in the living God.
We nurture people in Christian living
Third, our congregation’s mission is to nurture people of all ages in the Christian faith and to help them practice the disciplines of discipleship. The church exists not to serve itself but to serve the world. We come to church not only for our own personal enrichment but also to prepare ourselves to do the work of love and to get ready to be Christ’s disciples in the community. Through worship, baptism, Communion, Bible study, prayer, and other means of grace, we’re strengthened for ministry.
We support people in their ministry
As members of the congregation, we’re sent into the community to serve those in need and to make our community more loving and just. We believe that the Holy Spirit empowers and guides us in these ministries and that wherever there’s need and suffering, we meet Christ, already at work. But still, we cannot be effective in ministry on our own. So the congregation exists, in part, to surround and support each member in his or her ministry. We do not always succeed in our efforts to be faithful disciples in the world. But with the loving support of the community of faith, we can continue to grow.
Excerpt from The United Methodist Member’s Handbook by George Koehler (Discipleship Resources, Rev. 2006), p. 10-11. Used by permission.
Methodists in Mission
The United Methodist faith is deeply rooted in the Scripture and in the basic beliefs of all Christians. Out of that theology and the faith have grown some specific actions that mark United Methodists as Christians engaged in ministry to the world. The early members of the groups that eventually became The United Methodist Church
•took strong stands on issues such as slavery, smuggling, and humane treatment of prisoners;
•established institutions for higher learning;
•started hospitals and shelters for children and the elderly;
•founded Goodwill Industries in 1902;
•became actively involved in efforts for world peace;
•adopted a Social Creed and Social Principles to guide them as they relate to God’s world and God’s people;
•participated with other religious groups in ecumenical efforts to be in mission.
Excerpt from What Every Teacher Needs to Know About The United Methodist Church, p.20-23, Discipleship Resources © 2002. Used by permission.
The Ministry of All Christians
All Christians are called by God, through their baptism, to be in ministry in the world. Therefore, the term minister is appropriately used to describe any Christian who responds to God’s call to reach out to the world and its people through loving acts of service. The ministers of the church are called to serve in a variety of ways.
As Laity—From its earliest days, Methodism has been a lay movement. The term laity comes from laos, which means of the people. The laity are the whole people of God, who serve as ministers witnessing to the work of God in individual lives and in the world.
As Clergy—Within the body of all Christian ministers, though, some are called to fulfill a specific ministry through the church.
•Deacons—ordained ministers appointed to focus on servanthood. A deacon models the relationship between worship in the community of faith and service to God in the world. Deacons serve in a variety of ministry settings, both in the church and in the world.
•Elders—ordained ministers appointed to lead congregations oc Christians in the celebration of the sacraments and to guide and care for the life of the community. Some elders may also serve in extension ministries beyond the local church.
•Local pastors—licensed ministers appointed to perform the duties of a pastor in a specific church or charge.
Excerpt from What Every Teacher Needs to Know About The United Methodist Church, p.38-39, Discipleship Resources © 2002. Used by permission.
We Are All Called to Minister
Though our gifts vary widely, we’re all called to and engaged in the one ministry of Jesus Christ. Some aspects of our ministry are easy and come naturally. Some are difficult, involving long hours, tough work, perhaps with conflict, perhaps with disappointing results. What drives us? What keeps us going? The list includes at least these three things:
•the memory of Jesus’ life of service to others, which inspires us to follow him in ministry;
•the assurance of God’s gracious love for us, which empowers us to love others;
•the promise of God’s coming reign on earth, which draws us into action directed toward this vision.
Let’s be more specific. Where does ministry happen?
It happens in our daily activity
For those who are alert to the needs of others, each day abounds with opportunities to serve. We minister with our families as we inquire about one another’s lives, as we listen and respond with care, as we touch, as we smile and offer a kind word, and as we decide questions and reconcile conflicts. We take time to listen to a friend in need and we respond; this is often the greatest gift we can offer. We minister at work, to both co-workers and those we serve. We minister in the neighborhood or the shops as we go about the day’s work.
It happens through new initiatives
We also go out of our way to minister. We hear of a need, read of a crisis, or see an opportunity to share God’s love. It may be with someone across town, someone of another racial or economic group, a person with a disability, or a person of another nation or culture. We take time to call, to visit, to write, and to ask how we can help. We also take the time to respond.
It happens through groups and institutions
Many needs are best met by joining forces with others. We take part in community groups that are trying to serve human need or trying to change social forces that cause suffering. We give our time, our energy, and our money. Though others in these organizations may not think of it this way, for us it’s Christ’s ministry.
It happens through the church
Through our support and our contributions, we participate in the far-flung ministries of The United Methodist Church—in our district and annual conference, across the nation, and around the world. Here in our congregation we take part in service groups, we sign up for special action projects, we visit, we telephone, we lead, and we teach. And we minister face-to-face in all kinds of ways, both when we gather and in our informal contacts.
Inspired by the example of Jesus and empowered by God’s love for us, we all carry out our ministry, both individually and together with others.
Excerpt from The United Methodist Member’s Handbook by George Koehler (Discipleship Resources, Rev. 2006), p. 18-19. Used by permission.
History: Our Story
On April 23, 1968, The United Methodist Church was created when Bishop Reuben H. Mueller, representing The Evangelical United Brethren Church, and Bishop Lloyd C. Wicke of The Methodist Church joined hands at the constituting General Conference in Dallas, Texas. With the words, “Lord of the Church, we are united in Thee, in Thy Church and now in The United Methodist Church,” the new denomination was given birth by two churches that had distinguished histories and influential ministries in various parts of the world.
Theological traditions steeped in the Protestant Reformation and Wesleyanism, similar ecclesiastical structures, and relationships that dated back almost two hundred years facilitated the union. In the Evangelical United Brethren heritage, for example, Philip William Otterbein, the principal founder of the United Brethren in Christ, assisted in the ordination of Francis Asbury to the superintendency of American Methodist work. Jacob Albright, through whose religious experience and leadership the Evangelical Association was begun, was nurtured in a Methodist class meeting following his conversion.
Read more about the history of The United Methodist Church by year:
The United Methodist Church shares a common history and heritage with other Methodist and Wesleyan bodies. The lives and ministries of John Wesley (1703–1791) and of his brother, Charles (1707–1788), mark the origin of their common roots.
The Churches Grow, 1817–1843
The Second Great Awakening was the dominant religious development among Protestants in America in the first half of the nineteenth century. Through revivals and camp meetings sinners were brought to an experience of conversion. Circuit riding preachers and lay pastors knit them into a connection.
The Slavery Question and Civil War, 1844–1865
John Wesley was an ardent opponent of slavery. Many of the leaders of early American Methodism shared his hatred for this form of human bondage. The United Brethren in Christ took a strong stand against slavery, as church members could not sell a slave, and by 1837 ruled that slave owners could not continue as members. As the nineteenth century progressed, it became apparent that tensions were deepening in Methodism over the slavery question.
Reconstruction, Prosperity, and New Issues, 1866–1913
The Civil War dealt an especially harsh blow to The Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Its membership fell to two-thirds its pre-war strength. Many of its churches lay in ruins or were seriously damaged.
World War and More Change, 1914–1939
In the years immediately prior to World War I, there was much sympathy in the churches for negotiation and arbitration as visible alternatives to international armed conflict. Many church members and clergy openly professed pacifism.
Movement Toward Union, 1940–1967
Although Methodists, Evangelicals, and United Brethren each had published strong statements condemning war and advocating peaceful reconciliation among the nations, the strength of their positions was largely lost with American involvement in the hostilities of World War II.
Developments and Changes Since 1968
When The United Methodist Church was created in 1968, it had approximately 11 million members, making it one of the largest Protestant churches in the world.
From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church – 2008. Copyright 2008 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.