By Rev. Ron Bartlow
Go and make disciples… baptizing them… and teaching them to obey…
We all know the Great Commission, but in changing times and circumstances, sometimes we wonder how to take people deeper into discipleship.
Rev. Curtis Brown, Director of Faith Community Development in the Pacific Northwest Conference, recently shared that in our heritage discipleship growth was deeply rooted in a back and forth movement between three focal points. Drawing from the strong start of our Methodist movement, he named the three nodes as sacramental worship, class meeting, and camp meeting. For this summary, I’ll describe the three points as Experiential Worship, Intentional Community, and Creative Dislocation.
Experiential Worship is the experience of being both in the presence of divine mystery and within a community greater than oneself. For the early Methodists, this was experienced through worship in their local parish. Through liturgy and sacrament, they experienced the transcending presence of God and the communion of saints.
Today, many churches excel in providing inspiring, experiential worship. Some invite people into God’s larger story and community through traditional liturgies and music. Others incorporate modern rituals and varied communal practices to help provide a place for people to experience God’s presence and express their gratitude.
The second node, which in the days of our earliest movement was done through societies, classes, and bands, is that of Intentional Community. Today many churches incorporate this important focal point in their ministries, developing Sunday School classes, small groups, Bible studies, covenant accountability groups, or other gatherings of people with an intentional focus on their growth as followers of Jesus.
Years of evaluative study and training have taught us that personal discipleship grows best in the context of an intentional community that lovingly balances acceptance and truth-telling, encouragement and challenge. We know the importance of smaller, intentional communities where we hold one another accountable. We may vary on how successfully we lead in this node, but we are aware that resources abound.
But there is a third node that we perhaps neglect. In the Methodist movement, it was the experience of field preaching and/or the camp meeting (times outside of the norm of parish life or Methodist society). These were experiences where growing disciples were removed from their normal routine and could see and hear a bit differently. For this node I steal a term that others have used, Creative Dislocation.
Experiences of Creative Dislocation invite us outside of our normal routine and experience, and somehow, through the change in geographic location, religious ritual, or daily rhythm, we find ourselves open to the divine in a different way. Our perception expands and, when nurtured, informs and sustains us as we re-enter our regular rhythms of life.
Today we can experience Creative Dislocation in a number of ways. There are amazing experiences that are available in our Conference. The Walk to Emmaus and Chrysalis are weekend retreats that bless adults and youth, respectively. I personally find the experience of the Upper Room’s Academy for Spiritual Formation to be deeply meaningful. Conference, District, and multi-church camps and retreats bless many.
Local churches can help provide experiences of Creative Dislocation by hosting inspirational experiences dislocated from our day to day, such as retreats off-site (be it at a retreat center or a church in another community) or prayerful walks in local wilderness settings. The local church can also draw on the resources of our Conference and other providers of Christian camps and retreats.
Through these three nodes, we move deeper into our commitment to knowing and following Jesus Christ. As we progress, our Lord inspires and, perhaps, compels us toward greater personal and social holiness and calls us to new patterns of personal and social behavior aligned with Jesus himself.
The pastures of the wilderness drip, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy. (Psalm 65:12-13)
To find information about summer camps and retreats visit www.dsccamps.org.