This semester I’m taking a course in United Methodist Doctrine and United Methodist History. Since most of our theory and practice comes from the mind of one man, I’m getting a lot of John Wesley. I’m slowly becoming enamored with this guy. (These notes are from my professor’s book – Wesley: A Guide for the Perplexed.)
“I design plain truth for plain people.”
At one point, John Wesley was plagued with so much doubt and fear about his faith, that he planned to stop preaching. But a Moravian priest told him, “Preach faith till you have it, and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.” Wesley went on to preach so enthusiastically that he was barred from a number of churches.
In England, pastors were expected to teach or settle into a parish. Wesley and others continued to preach on the streets and wherever people would listen. He responded to criticism with his famous line, “I look upon all the world as my parish.”
We’re strong believers in small groups. From the beginning, Wesley was very aware that people could blend into large crowds and lose accountability. Wesley worked hard to create groups of 5-6 people for mutual confession and prayer.
I love systems and Wesley was a genius in this. The movement was exploding and there weren’t enough preachers to go around. So Wesley trained lay preachers and that still wasn’t enough. So he divided the groups into smaller groups and pastors would travel between groups. It may seem a simple decision. But if Wesley didn’t make this move, the Methodist movement might not have taken off.
The Church of England charged Wesley several times for having too much enthusiasm.
In 1743, to further organize the groups, Wesley drew up the famous list of rules: (1) avoid doing harm (2) do as much good as possible and (3) stay in love with God.
Back in 1744, Wesley decided we should have annual meetings. They started to keep the connection going between all the small groups (societies) and to standardize teaching. Still today, every United Methodist conference has an Annual Meeting.
The groups continued to explode with growth. Wesley couldn’t train preachers fast enough. So he divided the groups into seven preaching circuits. Each group was promised a preacher at various times. That’s how we became an itinerant system that moves pastors around.
Wesley spent the last 15 years of his life strategizing and implementing structures so the movement would continue after his death. Wesley selected a pastor to be his successor but he died 5 years before Wesley. He outlived most of his harshest critics. Instead of appointing another successor, Wesley designated 100 people to lead the conference.
I think Wesley had one of the first multi-site churches! While he oversaw the societies in Europe, he also had an eye on the American Methodist groups. Both had different contexts, preachers and people. Methodism had to adapt.
The sacraments were very important to Wesley. He heard news that people in America weren’t getting baptized and receiving communion because there weren’t enough pastors. His heart broke. So Wesley made a very controversial move. He ordained Thomas Coke a superintendent (a bishop in Greek). Coke could now ordain others in America to give the sacraments.
Chapter One done. More to come. 🙂
This guy rocks.