I have access to a Methodist Hymnal that is dated 1939. One of the items included in this book are detailed orders of worship. It is interesting to see how our worship has changed and evolved in the past 90 years or so. One of the aspects that especially stands out is after the sermon there is an “Invitation to Christian Discipleship.” The Invitation to Christian discipleship is actually part of the Methodist order of worship that has been there since the beginning and it was part of the order of worship that John Wesley himself used with the Methodist societies.
In its original iteration, the invitation to Christian discipleship was an open time for people to respond. The thought process was that through the proclamation of the scripture, or its explanation in the sermon, the Spirit would stir in the hearts of some of the congregants. This stirring would be some way that the person felt led to act on their faith in a tangible way. During the Invitation to Christian discipleship, people would proclaim aloud before the congregation and God how they were feeling led to repent from harm, do good, or more deeply keep the ordinance of God.
How the invitation to Christian discipleship was included in Methodist church services changed and evolved over time. Yet this original idea of commitment to specific actions is still recommended in the book of worship as a way to include the invitation to Christian discipleship. While the invitation to Christian discipleship is part of the Methodist tradition and it is still commended in the book of worship, it has been my experience that by and large this is an aspect of tradition that the United Methodist Church has moved away from. Yet, I think there could be some value to reclaiming it.
As a preacher I have to confess I love the idea of someone standing up after a sermon and proclaiming how they have been moved to put the message proclaimed into action in their own lives. My love of that idea is more than just hubris though, because I equally love the idea that hearing a scripture read or a hymn sung could have that same effect. I like the idea because this is how it should work. Our faith is not meant to be something that exists only in our heads and hearts. Our faith is meant to be carried out by our hands and feet as well. John Wesley once preached, “It is incumbent on all that are justified to be zealous of good works.”
We gather as a community of faith to worship God and glorify God. However, our corporate worship should also have an impact on our faith as well, and that impact should have real results. How we live out our faith, how we serve others, how we reach out to the vulnerable, and how we love others should in part flow from how the Spirit touches our hearts and souls when we worship.
This church season of Lent is a good time for us to consider how we respond to the invitation to Christian discipleship. We should be zealous in seeking to live out our faith by serving and meeting the needs of others. We should draw the motivation and inspiration for that zeal out of our Christian worship. As we continue in Lent, I invite you to consider your Christian discipleship and I pray that we will still be open to that stirring of the Spirit.