Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger’s book Simple Church argues that churches need to cut away much of what they do. The authors say the key to vital churches is building everything the church does around an intentional process of creating disciples.
The first step in this process is to define in explicit terms what a disciple looks like.
John Wesley’s pamphlet “The Character of a Methodist” has a historic Methodist definition of a true disciple, which for Wesley was just another way of saying “a Methodist.”
A disciple is one who loves God and neighbor and therefore is
- happy and God and constantly rejoices that his sins are forgiven and he is adopted as a son of God
- thankful for whatever condition he finds himself in – ease or pain, sickness or health, life or death
- always at prayer
- purified from vengeful thoughts, envy, malice, or wrath
- crucified to the world
- obedient to the law of Christ so that everything Christ commands he does and everything Christ forbids he avoids
- serving God with all his strength and in all he does and with all he has
- immune to the customs and pressures of those around him
- doing good to all people at every possible opportunity
This list is longer than Rainer and Geiger suggest, but it appears to be Wesley’s definition of a disciple. It is in fostering people who fit this description that the authors say every aspect of the local church should be geared.
I’m not sure what to make of this list and description. It strikes me as too high a target. It was in Wesley’s day as well. He noted that by his definition of Christian, most of the people in England had never seen – much less been – true Christians.
If the marks of a true Methodist are not within reach of most Christians, except perhaps at the close of life, then what is a good definition of a disciple for the United Methodist Church?
What does a disciple look like? What specific marks does a disciple bear?