Being Vulnerable in a Way Needed for Growth in Grace and Love of God, Neighbor, and Self – Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A number of people asked me at our recent Virginia Annual Conference about how to have local church conversations around human sexuality.  There were clergy who shared that they were hesitant to bring up the topic, and some who said they would not, because they did not want more conflict in the church. There were lay people on every part of the spectrum who shared similar sentiments.  Then there were those, both clergy and lay, who said we must have further conversation but in a way that is focused on spiritual growth and formation.

Since Annual Conference, I’ve received a multitude of questions about small group leadership and resources.  To you pastors who may be reading this, honestly a few of those questions have come from laity who say they are unsure about how to approach you to offer their leadership. They are the ones who want to guide and direct times of open, honest dialogue and relationship building. Yet, there is fear: fear that you will not support them, fear that they do not have the skills needed, and yes, fear that if we don’t start talking to each other in different ways, the sugar will continue to leak from the sugar packets (going back to the presentation on Sunday morning at Annual Conference). For those of you not at Annual Conference, the loss of sugar from the packets was an image used by Rev. Tom Berlin to describe loss of members from our churches.

You can find Tom’s slides and narrative of the presentation on his blog at:

The presentation at Annual Conference (without the slides being shown) is at:

In my reflections on General Conference to the Laity Session last Friday, I shared my feeling that to truly become the church together in this time and place, we are each going to have to take our role as disciples of Jesus Christ in this United Methodist Church more seriously. We are going to have to wrestle with God and learn to listen for God’s voice, not answer the questions for ourselves.  Each of us will have to decide if we are willing to make ourselves vulnerable, place our own individual brokenness on the table, be honest in our conversations, and make a way forward together – in the general church and in our local churches.  We’re also going to have to begin “doing church” differently: parliamentary procedure and our overly structured leadership model just aren’t working anymore when the challenges we’re facing don’t have easy answers.

Historically as Methodists, we know that the question class leaders asked the members of the early class meeting was, “Well, sister or brother, how do you find the state of your soul this evening?”  Relationships formed between the class leader and members as well as among members of the classes.  The class members came to watch over one another in love.  The class meeting provided an environment in which people could trust and be trusted, love and be loved, and be vulnerable in a way that is needed for true growth in grace and love of God, neighbor, and self.

I don’t usually use this blog to share resources, but I am today.  This list includes some of the books and tools that I have found helpful in understanding our United Methodist heritage and in leading small groups.  In fact, I just googled “facilitating small groups” and got about 1,180,000 results.  It’s interesting that if you make the search “facilitating small group bible study” you get only 309,000 results.  Add in “United Methodist” and the number drops to 157,000. What’s that say?

There are many tools for facilitating small groups.  Here are a few United Methodist resources I have found helpful.

  • Blueprint for Discipleship: Wesley’s General Rules as a Guide for Christian Livingby Kevin M. Watson (Discipleship Resources, 2009)
  • Companions in Christ: A Small Group Experience in Spiritual Formationseries available through The Upper Room (Upper Room Books, 2006)
  • Covenant Discipleship: Christian Formation Through Mutual Accountabilityby David Lowes Watson (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2002)
  • Disciples Making Disciples: A Guide for Covenant Discipleship Groups and Class Leaders by Steven Manskar (Discipleship Resources, 2016)
  • Forming Christian Disciples: The Role of Covenant Discipleship and Class Leaders in the Congregationby David Lowes Watson (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2002)
  • Guide for Covenant Discipleship Groupsby Gayle Turner Watson (Discipleship Resources, 2000)
  • The Christian Small-Group Leaderby Thomas R. Hawkins (Discipleship Resources, 2004)
  • The Early Methodist Class Meeting: Its Origins and Significanceby David Lowes Watson (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2002)
  • Resources from outside our denomination:
  • Building a Church of Small Groups: A Place Where Nobody Stands Aloneby Bill Donahue & Russ Robinson (Zondervan, 2005)
  • Making Small Groups Work: What Every Small Group Leader Needs to Knowby Henry Cloud & John Townsend (Zondervan, 2010).  Full kit (book, leader’s guide, participant’s guide, and DVD) for group leadership training available in revised edition by Henry Cloud, Bill Donahue, and John Townsend.
  • Missional Small Groups: Becoming a Community That Makes a Difference in the Worldby M. Scott Boren (Baker Books, 2010)
  • The Relational Way: From Small Groups Structures to Holistic Life Connectionsby  Scott Boren (TOUCH Publications, 2007)
  • United Methodist Lay Servant MinistriesIf you’re ready to explore becoming a small group leader or want to expand your skills, there are a couple of advanced courses you should consider.
  • Accountable Discipleship:  This course focuses on the concept of the household of God, Scripture as divine revelation, Wesleyan understandings of grace, and the importance of the class leader in the development of the Methodist movement.  Leaders Guide:  Becoming Accountable Disciples(Revised) by Steven Manskar.  Text:  Accountable Discipleship: Living in God’s Household by Steven Manskar.
  • Class Leaders:This course explores the office of class leader in the Wesleyan Methodist tradition. It examines the need for recovering the lay pastoral ministry of the class leader for the twenty-first century church. Text:  Class Leaders by Steven Manskar and Class Leaders: Recovering a Tradition by David Lowes Watson
  • United Methodist Women: The spiritual growth study for 2016 is on human sexuality and would be a great resource for small group conversations in the local church beyond the scope of the UMW:
  • The Bible and Human Sexuality: Claiming God’s Good Giftby Ellen Brubaker
  • Young People’s Ministries: I have been honored to be a member of the board of directors for Discipleship Ministries as the Division of Young People’s Ministries produced the “Hope and Self-Acceptance” module of the series, SEX:  A Christian Perspective on Our Bodies, Decisions, and Relationships. All of these resources connect sexuality with who we are as Christians. They are intended to strengthen relationships between youth and their adult leaders, to foster deep conversation during this experience and to provide the beginnings of conversations that go beyond this experience.

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