What are the characteristics of missional disciples? What do followers of Jesus, who are transforming the world, look like?
John Wesley, the 18th century founder of the Methodist renewal movement in the Church of England, considered just this question in the year 1742, and he wrote about it in a pamphlet called The Character of a Methodist. Here’s what he said, summarised in contemporary language.
In essence a missional disciple, said Wesley, is someone who’s heart has been filled with the love of Christ, by the power of the Spirit. For Wesley such a person (citing Romans 5:5) ‘is one who has “the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Spirit give unto him.”’
But Wesley goes on and identifies ten characteristics of Spirit-filled, missional people.
1) They are happy
They have a deep contentment that is not dependent on circumstances. They know they’ve been forgiven by Christ, made new and adopted into God’s family and are secure as his sons and daughters. Wesley says they are ‘therefore happy in God, yea, always happy.’
2) They are thankful
They know God orders everything for good, whatever they go through. They cast all their anxieties onto the Lord, knowing he cares. They trust him and are always giving thanks, knowing this is God’s will in Christ.
3) They are prayerful
They keep praying. That doesn’t mean they’re always in church, or kneeling down, or crying out in intercession – although they often do those things. It’s more that their heart is constantly lifted up to God, with God in their thinking, as they prayerfully walk with God through the day.
4) They are loving
They love their neighbour as themselves. They love people. They even love their enemies, doing good to those who don’t like them.
5) They are humble
They don’t want to be arrogant or proud or haughty but instead are kind, meek and long-suffering. Their desires are for God and to honour his name.
6) They seek God’s will
They want to do God’s will, not their own. They want to please God. That’s their single passion.
7) They are obedient
They do what God says. They obediently follow his commands, knowing they are the way of life. Like the angels in heaven they want to do what God says.
8) They glorify God
They serve God with everything they have, wanting all the glory to go to him. In every aspect of life – at home or work – and whatever they’re doing, they want the praise to go to the Lord.
9) They are not worldly
They don’t get caught up in the latest fad or fashion. Knowing they will have to give an account for their life, they don’t get enticed in gossip, negative talking or unkind words. In fact Wesley says that a missional disciple ‘cannot do’ such things (presumably because they stop being a missional disciple if they do such things!) Rather they speak words of life, hope and truth.
10) They care for the poor
They do good to all they can, especially to those who are hungry, naked, sick or in prison. They spend their resources on such things, responding to the grace of God in love and good works.
Wow! How powerful and prophetic are they? Although penned nearly 300 years ago, they’re so relevant today. The call to discipleship is no different. It’s a lifelong adventure of obediently following Jesus, impacting the world with his love and goodness. This is what our world needs. It’s what we’re called to.
Wesley was right. It starts with our hearts being filled with the love of Christ. But that love mustn’t stay inside. It demands out. It has to overflow.
So come Holy Spirit of Jesus. Pour in your love. And overflow. So the world is transformed. And all the glory goes to our good Father in heaven. Amen, and amen!