I am feeling a new kinship and appreciation for John Wesley. Surprising for a Methodist, I know, but hear me out. I’ve been reading about his ministry in England and how innovative he was. At the time, the church was for the highbrow, the proper, the educated, the elite. Wesley reached out instead to the working class. He deliberately crafted his sermons to eliminate the language of his Oxford training, and instead used the language of everyday conversation. He called it “plain truth for plain people.”
Taking the charge from James 2:1-7 seriously, he refused to reserve seats for the wealthy, nor give special privilege to those who had standing in the community. Rather he put everyone attending a Methodist Society or Class Meeting on equal footing. Further, he appointed and trained leaders from all walks of life and gave everyone equal time to speak at the Class Meetings and Bands. Some secular scholars credit Wesley’s Methodist movement in England for the breaking of class barriers and gaining rights for workers in the 18th century.
Wesley did this because his ministry was about one thing – and that one thing was not building a church. Wesley was about building people. Everything he did provided people the opportunity and tools to grow in their faith. He abhorred evangelists who came to town to give a rousing salvation message then moved on to the next town, leaving those who responded to the message with no means of follow through. The Societies, Class Meetings, and Bands were a means by which people could continue in their journey of faith.
I am excited to be studying this so that I can lead our congregation to recover Wesley’s model in a 21st century way.
May we, the church, get away from building churches, protecting institutions, and complaining about what’s wrong with the world, the church, the government, whatever. Let’s get back into the business of developing people, offering the tools that will help one another grow in relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s how Wesley did it, and he changed England. That’s how Jesus did it, and he changed history. Maybe we can make a dent in what is happening in our communities if we get back to doing what we have always been called to do – build people.