Brad Thie, director of the Thriving Rural Communities program at Duke Divinity School, opened the pre-conference learning session on the evening of June 8 thanking the crowd for showing up.
“You all must be the A-team, because you’re here,” he said. “You could be at a coffee shop downtown, or drinking a craft beer.”
It was fitting that those present were the dedicated bunch, considering the topic was around discipleship. The Core Practices Team has made a tradition of offering a time for people to gather the night before conference starts. This session was billed as Making Disciples in the Wesleyan Way, but before Thie jumped into disciple making, he had the group reflect on their own personal discipleship, exploring questions like why they are a Christian, and how they became disciples. He asked someone from the group to share his or her personal testimony on becoming a disciple.
Charles Hawkins stepped up and told how he came forward and accepted Jesus as his savior at age seven, feeling a tug on his heart at the end of the sermon, after having slept through the first part. A little over a decade later, he found himself in combat in Vietnam, asking himself how he might strengthen his relationship with God. Upon arriving back the U.S. he was at a Fourth of July festival, and when the first fireworks went off, he found himself on the ground, a reaction ingrained in him from dodging mortars in Vietnam. Some college students from the Baptist Student Union helped him up and walked him home, extending God’s grace to him in a real way.
When he got back home to Shelbina, a Methodist minister that he didn’t know knocked on his door and said God had been speaking to him about asking Hawkins to lead music at the church. Hawkins said if God was speaking he wanted to know what he had to say, so he prayed about it, and ended up leading music there 13 years. He’s had challenges with post-traumatic stress from the Vietnam war through the years, but is now glad to be back to the place where he can talk to people about Jesus.
Thie said for a year he and a pastor friend asked each other the 22 questions that members of John Wesley’s Holy Club asked each other when they met for private devotions. Questions like: am I enjoying prayer, when did I last speak to someone about my faith, do I complain and can I be trusted.
“This was very helpful for us, and I would encourage you to do this with a sister or a brother,” Thie said.
The list of 22 questions can be found at https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/ resources/everyday-disciples-johnwesleys-22-questions.
Churches shared ways they are working on their discipleship pathways, which included adding a discipleship component to their food pantry, doing a spiritual gift assessment of their congregation and using it to match members to new visitors, initiating a home based Bible study and starting a day care for adults.