I’ve been asked by Bishop Bill McAlilly of the Memphis and Tennessee Annual Conferences to teach a session on “Equipping” at the upcoming sessions of those annual conferences in Paducah, KY, and Brentwood, TN. My contribution will fit into a larger theme of “Discover—Equip—Connect—Send” that will guide the workshop portions on engaged discipleship.
I wanted to offer a preview for those who are interested in the session on Equipping who will be attending either of the annual conference sessions. This material might also be helpful for others who are thinking about what it means to be nurture, formed, and prepared for engaged discipleship generally.
Breaking out the movement of the call to faith and formation of discipleship into these four categories is a very helpful way to think about what it means to live into the fullness of the Christian life. Within the area of Equipping, I think a number of important practical and spiritual themes must emerge:
- First, the conviction that all baptized Christians are called into ministry. Indeed, I believe this is the very heart of discipleship when we practice it in our lives. Those who follow Jesus do so in order to know him—which means both to be in communion with him and to go forth in his name to do what he calls us to do.
- Second, the recognition that God calls us into the particular types of ministry for which we have nascent spiritual gifts. When Jesus says that God the Father will send the Holy Spirit in his name, he says that the Spirit will teach us and will remind us of all that Jesus has said (John 14:26). The Spirit’s ‘teaching’ is akin to gardening in the sense that it nurtures wonderful things within us that grow up and can then be used for their intended purposes.
- Third, the understanding that spiritual gifts must be cultivated in order to reach their full potential within us. This is the movement from having the capacity for some good thing to having that thing as an active part of who we are; in other words, it is the move from potential to actualization. The best reference here is probably the cultivation of holy virtues, which are excellences of character that come from grace-infused habituation.
- Fourth, the realization that spiritual gifts are meant to be used for building up the church. We are given gifts for the upbuilding of the body of Christ. That is as much a core part of the Apostle Paul’s moral teaching about the life of discipleship as anything. It’s implications are great indeed: if we want to be counted as faithful, then we will constantly be engaged in the work of discerning, cultivating, and applying our gifts for ministry as a way to extend the mission of Jesus Christ through his holy church.
The key text for the Equipping session will be Ephesians 4:10-16. There’s a wonderful rhythm to this passage, which speaks about gifts given by Jesus Christ to appointed leaders in the church, who then help to equip all Christian believers, who then engage in the work of ministry, so that all of us would come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God. It starts and ends with Jesus, in other words. But in the process every single one of us has an important role to play. When we come to understand how central that calling is upon our lives, then I believe it can become revolutionary to our understanding of what the Christian faith is really all about.
The Memphis Annual Conference will be held June 1-4, 2014, in Paducah, KY. My teaching session on Equipping will take place at 10:25 a.m. on Tuesday, June 3rd. I’ll do about 40 minutes of presentation, and then we’ll have time for around 20 minutes of small group discussion about some of the Wesleyan spiritual framework for equipping discipleship.
The Tennessee Annual Conference will be held June 8-11, 2014, in Brentwood, TN. My session there will take place on Tuesday, June 10th beginning at 10:35 a.m., in a format similar to what we’ll do in Paducah the week prior.
For anyone attending either conference session, I’ll look forward to being with you in a few days. If you have any questions or comments you’d like to offer in advance, feel free to do so in the comments section below!