“Go and make disciples… baptizing them… and teaching them to obey…” Matthew 28:19
We all know the Great Commission; the exhortation from our Lord to help form one another in discipleship, to initiate one another into the fellowship of the church, to inspire one another into transformed lives characterized by world-changing behaviors of piety and mercy after His example. But in changing times and circumstances, sometimes we wonder how to take people deeper into discipleship.
In 2015, Rev. Curtis Brown (Director of Faith Community Development in the Pacific Northwest Conference) shared to a group of Camp and Retreat leaders that in our Methodist 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, Rev. Brown named the three nodes as “sacramental worship,” “class meeting,” and “camp meeting.” I would 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. In baptism, we are initiated into the fellowship of the church and the mystery of grace; in holy communion we are renewed and reconnected with the grace that welcomes, heals, challenges, and sustains us.
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 worship.
The second node, which in the days of our earliest movement was done through Methodist societies, classes, and bands, is that of Intentional Community. Today many churches incorporate this important focal point as a key part of 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: from the multitude out of Willow Creek to the work of our Discipleship Ministries’ Steven Manskar, from the discipleship plans of 3DM to the Wesleyan revival moment of England’s Inspire Network.
But there is a third node that we perhaps neglect, to our detriment. In the Methodist movement this was experienced through field preaching and/or the camp meeting; times outside of the norm of parish life or community life of Society, Class, and Band. These were experiences where growing disciples stepped away from their normal routine, and as a result saw and heard the divine a bit differently; a bit more clearly. For this node I borrow a term that others have used, “Creative Dislocation.” (I believe I first encountered this concept in writings of Brian McLaren.)
Experiences of Creative Dislocation invite us outside of our normal routine and experience, and somehow, through changes in geographic location, religious ritual, or daily rhythm, we find ourselves open to the divine in a different way. It’s not that God is suddenly more present. Rather, like the experience of the disciples at the Mount of Transfiguration, we suddenly glimpse more clearly the divine that is always present; the God who is always with us. 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. The Walk to Emmaus and Chrysalis are weekend retreats hosted by church leaders that bless adults and youth, respectively. I personally find the experience of the Upper Room’s Academy for Spiritual Formation deeply meaningful. Camps and retreats may be hosted by camping centers, annual conferences, districts, or local churches; and the experience therein blesses many with a renewed spiritual awareness of God.
Like a three-legged stool, I believe these three “nodes” of discipleship combine together to support the overall mission. And I believe that as we intentionally engage 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; calling us to new patterns of personal and social behavior aligned with Jesus himself:
- Experiential Worship, in its best expressions, gives us a glimpse of heaven on earth, compelling us to do what we can to truly fulfill the prayer “Thy will be done on earth…”
Intentional Community fosters our growth as agents of change, both within ourselves and for our world, by nurturing and challenging us after Christ’s example.
Creative Dislocation removes us from the standard pressures and rhythms of life, allowing us greater space to reflect on our lives, our roles, and the impact we might have toward achieving peace and justice in this world.
In re-sharing this with our Camp and Retreat Ministry network, I am keenly aware how our varied UMCRM sites and ministries serve an important role in the spiritual formation of children, youth, and adults. Indeed, several of the 7 Foundations of Camp and Retreat Ministry speak to our role in providing “creative dislocation” as an integral part of a holistic approach to spiritual formation! As we Partner with United Methodist Churches and Agencies with our commitment to Provide Sacred Places Apart, Extend Christian Hospitality and Community, and Nurture Christian Faith and Discipleship, our sites’ unique missions, objectives, and ministries serve the greater good of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Rev. Ron Bartlow is a member of the Desert Southwest Annual Conference, where he serves as co-pastor of Trinity Heights United Methodist Church in Flagstaff, Arizona, and as the conference Director for Camp and Retreat Ministries. While he has yet to find a TARDIS, Ron is currently traveling through time, just slowly and in one direction.
This reflection was originally written for the Desert Southwest Conference and helps inform the “Mountain Pathways” Discipleship Plan at Trinity Heights UMC.