Word #8 is a tough one – “Discipline”. It’s also a very important one for our personal lives and leadership effectiveness.

“Discipline” reminds me of training for a marathon. As a runner, in order to accomplish my goal for a big event, whether it be a fast time or just finishing, I’ve got to prepare. For several weeks, I’ve got to discipline myself to get up early and train, putting in the time for long runs and speed work that’s required. Eating and sleeping habits must be better too. Really, all of life becomes more focused. If I don’t maintain the disciplined practices, I’ll come up short of doing my best and may not accomplish my goal. Watching my wife Kim train for her first marathon this past year reminded me how important this is. The way she focused and trained with discipline was exemplary – and she’s now a marathoner!

As we begin the new year of 2012, a lot of people will resolve to develop better habits in their lives. These New Year’s resolutions require discipline, but often they don’t last more than a few weeks. So it’s appropriate at this time to consider this word for lay leadership.

I think the word “Discipline” has at least 3 meanings for us as leaders in the church:

1. Characteristic of an ordered life;

2. Order imposed by an authority;

3. A system of order in the church (i.e. as laid out in the Book of Discipline).

Let’s focus primarily upon the first.

An ordered life with better habits is what New Year’s resolutions are about. The Bible calls us to develop those habits – for example, the book of Proverbs is useful “for attaining wisdom and discipline . . . for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair” (Prov. 1:2-3 NIV). Of course, Paul and other New Testament writers provide many examples and instructions to develop better habits.

Early Methodists, beginning with the Wesleys, were extremely disciplined in all aspects of their lives. The habits of many early leaders, particularly John Wesley and Francis Asbury, show models of discipline that many of us today find very difficult to emulate. When I read about Wesley’s habits of getting up at 4:00 am every morning for a couple of hours of prayer and study, the rigorous travel, regular fasting, journaling, exercise and eating habits, I’m in awe. While I don’t have to do everything as Wesley did, I should seek to order my life as led by scripture and God’s nudging, developing habits that help me to be a better leader and follower of Jesus Christ.

Spiritual disciplines are practices that help us develop qualities and habits in our lives that are more Christ-like, closer to God. We also call them “means of grace”, and they include worship, prayer, study of scripture, and the Lord’s Supper (Communion). How well do we as leaders practice these to become more spiritually disciplined in our personal lives, closer to God?

One key to maintaining discipline is having a group of like-minded Christians who can help remind us of our goals and encourage us. The early Methodists called these groups “Classes” or “Bands”, and today the terms “Covenant Groups” or simply “Small Groups” are used. Whatever we call them, the people in these groups meet regularly for prayer, fellowship, sharing their lives, and encouraging each other. Hebrews 10:24-25 provides good instruction to “consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another . . . .”

How does the word “Discipline” apply to you now? In what way is God nudging you to develop better habits? How can “Discipline” help you to be more effective as a leader in the coming year? In the next few days I’ll be prayerfully pondering these questions for my own life and leadership, and I invite you to join in doing that too.

May God inspire, assure, and strengthen each of us in “Discipline” with the power of the Spirit for the challenges and opportunities of the year ahead.

Thanks again for your leadership!

Brian Hammons, Lay Leader Mo. Conference of the UMC