This is the second blog in a series from Revd Dr David Whiting who is currently on sabbatical
Disciples Together – Discipleship, Formation and Small Groups, Roger L Walton – SCM Press, 2014, £19.99
Roger Walton is currently the President of the Methodist Conference for 2016-2017; he is also Chair of the West Yorkshire Methodist District; before that he has been Director of the Open Learning Centre and Director of the Wesley Study Centre in Durham.
Roger Walton describes the book as ‘primarily about formation: how God shapes, transforms us and reshapes us as we take up the call to follow Jesus’ (p.x)
The book is in two parts. Part 1 is about formation as disciples, whereas part 2 concerns small groups.
In the four chapters that make up part 1, Roger discusses what he considers to be the three primary formative processes to making Christian disciples. These three processes are mission, worship and community; a fourth formative process although a secondary one is Christian Education. The section concludes with some questions and reflections.
In part 2, Roger Walton discusses small groups in relation to discipleship formation. In this section he explores the value of small groups, the expansion of small groups in the twentieth century, and research on small groups that are related to the church. The penultimate chapter begins to draw the two parts of the book together. The point is made that small groups can be of value in a church context but equally in some circumstances they are not necessarily the solution.
‘Disciples are formed as they engage in mission in the life of the world, discerning and responding to God’s kingdom, as they participate in the worshipping life of God’s people, as they live in the Christian community. There is no such thing as discipleship formation separated from these’ (p.123).
If small groups are to be useful in Christian education, then they can only be used in the context of the primary formative processes of mission, worship and community.
The final chapter of the book is a theological reflection of small groups in relation to discipleship formation. Three main lines are considered. The first is the small group as church, the second is ekklesiolae in ekklesia (little churches within the church), the third is small groups as expression of koinonia.
None of these lines of approach fully represents the experience of small groups in the church although each captures some aspect of the experience.
Roger Walton moves on from small groups to consider the nature of companionship and the church as a pilgrim people.
In the final paragraph Roger Walton writes:
‘Companionship in the pilgrim people of God is the essence of what it is to be a Christian disciple. We are called to the journey of faith in God, and we are blessed to have fellow travellers. These are not simply people going the same way, on a parallel path, each following Jesus. We are give to and for each other to be channels of peace and agents of formation for one another’ (p.156).
I commend this book for the way in which our formations as Christian disciples is considered together with the value and problems of small groups in a Church context. The content of the book is worth reflecting upon as we consider the making of disciples.
12th January 2017