One of my favorite activities over the past two years has been to facilitate sessions of the Basic Lay Servant Class for new and mature Methodists in the Metro District of Milwaukee. We call that course Today’s Disciples, and it is a dynamite course, where I see great growth and enthusiasm with each group we share the course. This is a foundational course that lays the framework for leadership in preaching, story telling, stewardship, youth ministries, caring ministries and many more areas. I am the coordinator now in a number of these courses each year, and help teach the curriculum with a team of lay servants and pastors. In January, it was my pleasure to work again with Pastor Rachel Olson, Pastor at Calvary UMC in West Allis, and my frequent team member and friend, Sharon Black, a dynamic speaker who surprises me each time we work together. This is an exciting course, because the dynamics of each group make it fresh every time I participate in the class; it is exciting, invigorating, and we are led to mighty action by the Spirit.
The course targets new members, current members, and all leaders, including lay members to annual conference, lay leaders, council members, committee members, teachers, lay servants and aspiring lay servants, and basically everyone who seeks to learn about our Methodist roots, and some basics of Covenant Groups. The curriculum covers servant and spiritual leadership; caring ministries; basic communication skills; sharing your faith; leading meetings; resources and opportunities. Sometimes we meet over 5 weeks in two-hour sessions. Sometimes we meet on three Saturdays for four hours each of the three weeks. Once I worked with another team in Racine where we did the course as a weekend retreat. Each format has its advantages. For me, I think the three Saturdays in the Summer format is most productive; I snuck a little extra time in with that format! Our text is Lay Speaking Ministries, Participant’s Book: Basic Course, by Sandy Zeigler Jackson & Brian Jackson. This is a wonderful small book. I first used it as a Lenten Devotional in early 2010, as I was starting to plan for developing leadership in the course. In many ways, it has been the best Lenten Devotional I ever explored. It was my pleasure to both participate and lead the course that first time in August 2010. My friend Rex Nelson, much more experienced than I am with this program, sometimes describes the course as a next course after Confirmation and after New Member class. I like that description. I also like to say that it is an ongoing discipleship course that keeps us growing. I recommend the course for almost everyone, whether they want to be a speaker or not, whether they want to be a “leader” or not.
I started working with Rex Nelson, the District Director of Lay Servant Ministries, Metro North, in early 2010, and I led the first five-unit course that I helped lead in August 2010. I had participated in advanced courses before that, but there just didn’t seem to be enough Basic Courses offered in the area. So Rex invited me to organize my own class, and I did! We had 9 participants at West Allis First United Methodist Church that first time. Since then, I helped lead three more series in 2011, and one so far in 2012. I have made a committment to organize two sessions each year in Milwaukee-land. I grow, and I am invigorated each year with small groups in this wonderful class.
I have fond memories of fellow-disciples I met at First Church, and a great group who gathered Wednesday nights at Bay View United Methodist last January and February. I get goose bumps when I recall the fantastic group at New Hope Hmong Church. My friends in Racine challenged me and taught me some new techniques. Pastor Andy Oren and Pastor Rachel Olson have both taught me and excited me with their stories. Jeff Edwards became my friend in one of my first Lay Servant classes, and somehow our paths became entwined in more and more classes and experiences. I believe that Jeff will always be my good friend in discipleship.
As I started a little review in our final class in February, I was struck again by some of the topics we were reviewing. This is good material for all of us–wherever we are in our spiritual walk. After opening devotions, I reviewed the concept of disciple with our class. A disciple is a person dedicated to learning from a master. A volunteer does something because they want to, but a disciple does something because their master wants them to. Rex Nelson uses the example from Karate Kid: “Wax on; wax off.” We have a lot of natural volunteers in our class each session, it seems. Through our discussions and exercises in accountable groups, we recognize more fully that Jesus is our master.
Before showing additional resources and opportunities for disciple formation in that final class (particularly reviewing materials at www.DiscipleConnection.org), we review some important concepts about disciple formation. In this class, we quickly review accountability; I think John Wesley would like this. Disciples answer to Jesus and to their peers for performance and behavior. For many today, this class is a first experience with focus on accountability, and with participating in covenant groups. We review again the concept of Christian stewardship; sometimes this topic did not receive enough time in our third week session. Disciples are stewards. They are accountable for growing God’s gifts to the individual and the community through nurture and exercise. By these activities, we help implement God’s plan to transform the world.
We give added focus to intentionality in this final session. Can we achieve and be accountable for God’s plan for growth and transformation without intentionality? We guide each other toward tools and committment to identifying our individual plans for ministry. We review discernment too. This has been a course about discernment for the entire period. For what gifts and changes are we individually accountable now? We speak here too about staying in contact with our pastors, and maintaining contact and regular conversation with our accountability groups and with mentors.
We remember the importance of equipping; how will we each nurture our gifts? We review engaging in some further discussion before we dig into the resources; how will we exercise our gifts to transform the world? We review our activities from the past weeks and we dig into what is next. We prepare once again to go out into the world.
I have been delighted to be privileged to repeat this experience several times each year. I pray that others will enjoy and grow in this experience each year.