Come as you are...(Brenda Woods, MPH, 2004, 978-185852240-1)

Come as you are... explores Christian discipleship and church membership. It was written specifically for use in Methodist churches but could be adapted easily to work in other denominations. The course is well connected with clear links between each part. It is very easy to use. There is a welcome and strong emphasis on prayer and spirituality. It feels like an up to date church membership course.

What is it?

Come as you are... is a ten part course:

  • God of surprises. What is God like?
  • For better, for worse. What sort of relationship is God offering?
  • Do I really want this man in my life? A look at Jesus through the eyes of Mark.
  • A matter of life and death. Exploring the death of Jesus.
  • So the darkness shall be light. What are the implications of Jesus' resurrection?
  • From fear to fearlessness. How the Holy Spirit enables people.
  • Carpenter needs joiners. What does Jesus expect of his disciples?
  • Tools for the trade. Keeping in touch through prayer and Bible study.
  • A heart strangely warmed. What makes a Methodist a Methodist?
  • Food for the journey. Commitment and communion.

The course material is presented in a spiral bound book. The book contains summary sheets that can be photocopied and given to participants.

Each session includes:

  • a welcome time – this is usually an opportunity to reflect on what participants have experienced in, and since, the previous session.
  • prayer – a particular highlight of this course.
  • teaching input which includes biblical material.
  • reflection.
  • discussion.
  • closing prayers.
  • further food for thought – reading or reflection material, to be done at home.

A particular strength of the course is the way in which it uses the welcome times and the food for further thought to link the sessions, giving a strong sense of progression and journeying. The food for further thought also encourages the development of good devotional/reflective habits.

Who has produced it?

Come as you are... is written by Brenda Woods, a Methodist Minister (retired) from Oxfordshire. The course was developed in the cauldron of circuit ministry which means that it was well tried and tested before publication. This, in part, explains why it is so easy to use. The author explains in the introduction the sense of joy she finds when faith is shared and this joy comes across in the course material itself. Brenda's passions include prayer, spirituality and discipleship. She is a leader within the Methodist Retreat and Spirituality Network

What does it claim to do?

Come as you are... is very modest in its self publicity:

This 10-session course is intended for those who are already familiar with the basics of Christianity and would welcome the opportunity to think more about it and deepen their own faith.

The course is suitable for those who have been going to church for years and are already members, as well as those newer to the faith.

Come as you are... can be used as a 'membership course'.

Making disciples is the underlying intention. The course aims to get people thinking about their faith and what it means in their day-to day life to be a follower of Christ.

Does it do what it says on the cover?

Yes it does. In fact it could even do a little more. The first eight sessions, at least, could be used with those who are not familiar with the basics of Christianity. The first session clearly has no preconceptions as to where participants are in their relationship with God.

Is it very Methodist?

Only in distinct parts that could be replaced by material suitable for use in another denomination. Session 9 is entirely Methodist. Session 10 looks at the Methodist confirmation and communion services. These could be replaced with liturgies from other traditions. The Methodist emphasis on covenant relationship is also present in session 2, but this is one of Methodism's significant contributions to the church catholic and would be helpful in any tradition.

What's missing?

As with any course there are areas of faith and discipleship that are not as fully covered as others. There is not much teaching, discussion or reflection on sin and repentance – either personal or corporate.

Session 4 makes a very helpful link between the death of Jesus and the question of suffering. It rightly states that there are no easy answers to the question. It would be good, however, to at least explore some of the ways of responding to the question.

In session 9 more input on the church catholic would be helpful, as would a little more teaching on evangelism.

A little more variety in the suggested music would be welcome. For Taizé fans the list is fine, but others may be glad of some alternatives.

How simple is it to use?

Come as you are... is extremely well produced and very simple to use. The guidelines are thorough. Each session is superbly laid out with clear timings given. The resource list is presented extremely well and the materials included should be accessible for most people. Having the music already available on a companion CD would be useful.

The evaluation sheets included will help leaders refine and develop their use of the course.

Would it work in a fresh expression context?

Yes it would, or certainly sessions 1-8 would. Session 9 would need to be adapted for non-Methodists. In Methodist contexts session 9 would need less history and more about what God is doing now as he reshapes his church.

Session 10 could be a challenge as fresh expressions grapple with what church membership means in an emerging church context.

In conclusion

Come as you are... does what it says on the cover. It is a discipleship/church membership course immersed in prayer and spirituality that allows people to start from where they are and then journey towards a point of decision about Christian commitment, having plenty of room for reflection en route. The course embraces different learning styles. It is more exploratory than dogmatic and encourages disciples to assume responsibility for their own growth and development.

It is an introductory course and for those committed to going on in their discipleship, follow up strategies will be needed.

An alternative view

From Paul Booth, a Methodist Minister in Stourport:

Come as you are... is a useful first introduction to church membership. The many ideas allowed even long term committed Christians "to see things from a different viewpoint". This included a different perspective on reading the Bible which has helped participants move closer to God.

The variety of input makes this course stand out as it does not rely on one person or one method to provide information.

My conclusion about Come as you are... is that it is a good starter, but it needs a reasonable sized group to help the discussion.  It needs to be followed up with something more substantial.

How to obtain the material

Come as you are... is published by the Methodist Publishing House but may now be difficult to get hold of. All course materials can be photocopied, making this resource superb value for money.