Practical Divinity


July 28, 2017

Before Bishop Bob Farr was Bishop, part of his job as director of Congregational Excellence involved consulting with churches on revitalization. Often when he asked the people of a church about their discipleship pathway, they replied that they didn’t know what a disciple looked like.

During his Monday morning learning time at Annual Conference Session, Bishop Farr explained that being a disciple, and the very heart of Methodism, is all about practices.

“We are called Methodists because of our adherence to practices. It was not our methodical ways of having meetings,” Bishop Farr said. 

John Wesley called the practices that put people on the path of becoming a disciple practical divinity. The last time the Methodist church grew as a percentage of the population in America was 1860. At this time class meetings, when centered around adhering to practices and holding each other accountable, were exchanged for Sunday school, a time devoted more to the study of scripture, which was popular in the Baptist church. In 1860 about 37 percent of the United States population was Methodist. Today it is 1 – 2 percent.  

Wesley’s class meetings were focused around four areas: 

  1. Bible Study
  2. Prayer
  3. Promote good works
  4. Holding each other accountable with the life you’re living 
Bishop Farr said he has been reading the Book of Discipline for the first time in his career, and he highly recommends reading the first 39 pages. “You’ll sit there in awe and wonder, and say, ‘Where did that go?’” he said. 

The Book of Discipline also contains Wesley’s three rules, sometimes referred to as Three Simple Rules, but Bishop Farr said they are not so simple to live by. He broke them down by providing tips, and what it means for living. 

#1: Do no harm

Tips: Do nothing to tear down, remember “It’s not about me”, don’t be blinded by your own opinions, no more gossiping, if it’s negative, don’t do it or say it. 
What it means for daily living: Examine every practice of life and faith, live like Jesus, be a positive influences.

#2: Do Good

Tips: Not limited to those I already love, universal, proactive, self-denial (needs to hurt a little)
What it means for daily living: Put yourself in places that stretch you, find the least of these, look for everyday acts of kindness. 

#3: Stay in Love with God

Tips: These are the Methodist practices: Prayer, worship, small groups, Holy Communion, scripture reading, fasting, holy conferencing. 
What it means for daily living: Pick a place and time and pray daily, attend worship, join a small group, read a scripture chapter daily (start with John), go to learning events, get a spiritual coach for Holy conversations. 

Wesley said to practice these practices, and you will be heading toward sanctification. Bishop Farr asked those gathered to consider what they could do, if practiced over and over and over, that would change their experience with Jesus. The name Methodist comes from how practices were put together to help form people’s spiritual lives. 

“We need disciples, and I think we need to go back to go forward,” Bishop Farr said. “We need to go back to our roots.”