This is the sixth post in a series on the contemporary relevance and practical application of the Methodist class meeting. Here is a brief outline of what has been discussed so far:
1. A brief history of the origin and development of the class meeting in early Methodism.
2. Discussion of the potential contributions the class meeting can make for 21st century Methodism and compared and contrasted the class meeting to Sunday school classes, small groups and accountability groups.
3. Discussion of the target audience for the 21st century class meeting.
4. Top Ten ways to guarantee that your class meeting will fail.
5. Addressed the concern that classes would be judgmental and exclusive.
In early Methodism, the class leader was a crucial position. The class leader was seen as the spiritual leader of the people in his or her class meeting. They kept track of attendance and visited people who missed the weekly meeting. They also provided support and encouragement as needed. Because the focus of this series is on the contemporary relevance and application of the class meeting, I am going to skip an elaborate fleshing out of the details of the history of the early Methodist class leader, and move directly to a discussion of what this role might look like in contemporary practice. (The “General Rules” and other available sources can be consulted for more information on the function of the class leader in early Methodism. Of course, if you have specific questions, feel free to raise them and I will do my best to address them.)
I believe that the class leader and the ability of churches to identify gifted class leaders will be the single most important factor in the success or failure of a class meeting.
As I currently understand it, the imagery of the class leader as shepherd is helpful for fleshing out the function of the class leader for the contemporary church. The class leader is the shepherd of his or her flock, and as such there are two key things that a class leader should do: 1) go after lost sheep; 2) keep the rest of the sheep moving in the right direction. By lost sheep, I mean someone who stops coming to the class meeting. When this happens, the class leader should be the first person to go after them, expressing that they have been missed, asking if they are doing ok, and asking the person if they are willing to come back to the class meeting.
Second, by keeping the rest of the sheep moving in the right direction, I mean that the class leader is the person who is responsible for making sure everyone has a chance to answer the question, “How is your life in God?” They are also responsible for making sure that something else does not take over the class meeting. For example, that it does not become a curriculum driven group, rather than a place where people watch over one another in love and discuss the current state of their souls. And most boldly, as the shepherd of the flock, the class leader, by the grace of God, seeks to move the class away from sin and closer and closer to mature discipleship.
Finally, at a very practical level, the class leader is the one who runs the meeting. The most important part of this dynamic is that the class leader should begin and end the meeting with a prayer (or ask someone else, in advance, if they would be willing to pray) and then the class leader should begin the meeting by being the first one to answer the question, “How is your life in God?” This is important because it gives an example of how the question can be answered for any new visitors and it eases the anxiety and uncertainty in the group about who is going to go first. After the leader is done, she should ask the next person the question.
At this stage, several things come to mind that the class leader should not do:
The class leader is not a teacher. It is not the class leaders job to come with all of the answers. And it is absolutely not their job to come with a lesson to teach or a topic to study. Class leaders should see themselves as facilitators, not teachers.
The class leader should not allow the weekly meetings to last more than an hour and a half, and a successful class meeting can occur in one hour. Of course there should be freedom for the Spirit to move, and there will be weeks when it is obvious to everyone that the group is not done yet. However, this should be the exception and not the rule. People will stop coming to the class if it becomes a weekly marathon meeting.
The class leader should not allow the class to grow beyond twelve members. As the group grows, the class leader should seek to discern who God may be calling to lead a new class. The class leader should talk to that person outside of the class and express their feeling that they believe this person would be an excellent class leader, and then ask them to prayerfully consider leading a new class. Once a new leader has been identified, the group should divide.
The class leader should not feel the need to respond to every person at every meeting. Often there will be no need for any response to someone’s revelation of how things are going in their life with God. Other times someone besides the class leader will have exactly the right thing to say.
There is much more that could be said, but I am going to stop here (I need to get back to reading). What are your thoughts? What have I missed? What do you think would be crucial for a class leader to do? What would be essential for a class leader to avoid?