MR. WESLEY’S GOOD TO GREAT STRATEGY FOR REVIVAL AND RENEWAL IN THE CHURCH

By Kwesi R. Kamau 

Rev Kwesi Kamau is the pastor of Amos Memorial CME in Los Angeles, CA and the author of A Passion for Christ, a Passion for Souls which can be purchased on Amazon

This fall I was given the privilege of facilitating a session at the Twentieth Annual CME Convocation.  The session, entitled “Dangerous Transformations,” dealt with developing and equipping Christ-centered servant leaders to be effective change agents for the Church.  This subject comes out of the charge from our 2006 Episcopal Address given by Bishop Henry M. Williamson, Sr., and the Quadrennial theme calling our church to move “From Good to Great.”  In preparation for this session, I thought it a good opportunity to explore how John Wesley himself participated in this process in his day.  The following are some insights that I found.

John Wesley’s Strategy 

For the purpose of our session (and this article), I have distilled Wesley’s strategy into four steps.  As I presented them, there are some basic assumptions I am making.  One, John Wesley’s intentions were not to create a “new church” – that is, a Methodist denomination – set apart from the Anglican Church of which he was a part.  Rather, his intention was to see his church revived and impassioned with God’s purpose.  Two, Wesley accomplished his goal to bring revival within the context of his church.  It is true that his contribution was never institutionalized with the Anglican Church, but that the church benefited from the Wesleyan movement is without question.

Step 1: “Christian Perfection” 

The first step in Wesley’s strategy was bonding with leaders who promoted a practical, abiding passion for Christ.  Wesley perpetuated this in the doctrine of “Christian Perfection.”  It was a much disputed teaching and very misunderstood.  Wesley himself struggled with expressing it at times.[1]  The basic premise was that God’s love could be perfected in our hearts at a point to rival the urges of sin.  In essence, being on fire for God rivals the burning of the flesh. 

Christian perfection was not a discipline or dry duty.  It was a driving experience that fueled the Methodist revival.  Let me say it again:  It fueled the revival.  Wesley spoke of benefits including maximizing your potential, experiencing divine and miraculous works, and, most poignantly, an enduring “happiness of the soul” – a peace and enjoyment of life in its fullness.  It was also not an achievement to Wesley.  It was simply keeping the love for God fresh through practicing acts of devotion.  These things included public and private worship, prayer, meditation on God’s Word, taking the sacrament of Holy Communion, fasting and other spiritual disciplines.  In a sense, practice makes perfect.  The practice of these as acts of devotion perfects God’s love in the human heart.  This process of “growing in grace” brought about a fulfilling spiritual experience that set people on fire and drove them to work for the kingdom.

Think of it.  Wesley was able to lead thousands of people into an ardent chase after God and helped them grow, not just in spiritual disciplines, but in spiritual character.  Without the passion of Christian perfection, I believe the Wesleyan revival would have had engines without fuel.

Step 2: Refocusing on Purposeful Ministry 

John Wesley’s second step involved engaging in need-meeting ministries like his open-air preaching.  In 1739, Wesley started preaching to large groups of miners that met outside the church.  At first, when introduced to preaching outside the established pulpits, he called this “almost sin.”  He was against it.  His friend, great revival preacher, George Whitfield, prevailed upon him and he realized the power of this method.  Eventually, he made it a major part of his evangelistic work.  He also targeted those in prison and needy children for significant ministry. 

Wesley, in doing these works, put himself and his reputation in peril.  He had cut across the grain in a church and culture where uniformity was almost as important as the doctrine as the Trinity.  Where he once felt open-air preaching appalling, he came to confront the brutal fact that the Church was failing to truly win souls and disciple people.

It failed to reach the miners who were written off by the status quo as vile and “not like us.”  It likewise failed to reach the disenfranchised and disheartened of society, sometimes even openly supposing them predestined by God to their lot.  As he matured, Wesley disdained the common reasoning.  This second step led Wesley to stop looking to traditionalism and structure and to start asking the right questions.  To quote a mentor and tutor of mine, “When one asks the right questions, the real answers come.”

Step 3:  The Good to Great Process: The Engine 

Organizations that want to move “from good to great,” must do as Wesley did thus far, developing a pool of passionate people and then confronting the brutal facts about their organization.  This process is outlined in Jim Collin’s book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, and is worth all our studying it.  For businesses, the next thing is to develop a concept that will make them extremely competitive, necessary and profitable.  Wesley developed a means to compete with the world and profit thekingdom of
God with new, maturing disciples of Jesus Christ.  Along with his need-meeting ministries, he and his brother developed new hymns based on popular tunes and musical styles.  They practiced something like quartet singing on street corners to hook a crowd for a message of hope.  John Wesley produced pamphlets on Christian doctrine in what was then “plain English,” making the truths of the faith more accessible to more people.  But the major concept Wesley perfected was the use of small groups to help people find strength in fellowship and encouragement for growth.  If the passion of Christian perfection was the fuel of his movement, the small group “class meeting” was the primary engine.

I find it amazing that Wesley was able to galvanize hundreds of groups that met regularly and effectively for long periods.  This warrants more study.  There is much we can learn from his methods (how the groups were started; how long they were held; what was done; what was the life span) and his struggles (what worked and what did not).  I am encouraged by the fact he did not “reinvent the wheel.”  His model came from a proto-Pentecostal group called the Moravians, who met in “bands” to spur one another on in holiness.  He joined them and did as they until he realized their method would not work with those he served.  Like many small group methods today, their bands were too intense and became more like “little churches” themselves than parts of the church ministry.   The class meeting differed by focusing more on encouraging the brethren than examining them and more on mentoring than teaching.  I am encouraged Wesley did not reinvent the wheel because it says, first, that he was not afraid to look at the models around him that work.  Second, it says he could discern reasonably how far a partnership with other groups should go.  What partnerships can we make, I wonder, with those having effective models that we can we learn and improve on? 

Step 4:  Wesley’s Lay Ministry 

Wesley’s fourth step dealt with how to sustain the growth of the movement.  It also corresponds with Collins’ good to great model.  The fourth step is about developing a “culture of discipline.”  From the mechanics of Wesley’s class meetings, many servant leaders were produced capable of driving the revival forward.  At first, he would look to the established clergy in his Church to lead in expanding the passion for Christ and his Kingdom.  When he would wait for them no longer, he yet again broke with established practice and did what was then unthinkable: he equipped lay persons to preach and teach.

Lay preachers met a leadership need in the Church.  With so few trained clergymen to minister to the burgeoning Methodist masses, he examined, educated and equipped men and women for pastoral ministry.  Lay preachers were examined through the mentoring process in the class meetings.  They were further examined by Wesley or his assistant both before and after they received their assignment to serve.  The great tradition of “passing character” for Methodist ministers comes out of this process.

Wesley trained local preachers, providing the largely untutored class with basic educational support and the rules of public speaking.  He met in annual conferences with these preachers and painstakingly went over issues, whether doctrinal or otherwise, point by point.  In training the lay preachers, he was not simply preparing them for their ministry, he was setting a “culture of discipline” for the movement to thrive.  A summary of Collins book states that creating a culture of discipline involves finding self-disciplined people who are willing to go the extra mile and giving them freedom within certain guidelines to accomplish exceptional things.  Through examination and education, he accomplished this and, then, licensed them to do the work.

Catching Up 

United Methodist clergyman and general officer, Charles Yrigoyen, incisively notes, “The challenge of the twenty-first century church is not to get back to Wesley.  We must catch up to Wesley.”  As we continue seriously in the process of moving from good to great in theCME
Church, it is important to me to see within our heritage a paradigm for this kind of change.  We must be careful that our conversation about change does get stuck in the mire.  The good to great conversation is not about whether we are efficient in our practices or effective at being CME – whatever you think this means.  You may need to change the way you see ministry.  Wesley shows us that true change is about meting and measuring our success based on reaching souls wherever they may be found and discipling hearts to maturity, where God’s grace and power can be seen in fullness. 

What about the passion for Christ?  What about putting aside the minor issues and solving problems by asking the right questions – even if this means cutting across the grain?  Some just want to talk about change.  Wesley shows us they are just distractions.  Will you simply talk and complain, or be one moved by a great love for God to meet the need and carry out the mission?  Wesley gives us a model of how to be radical and still be faithful to the Church we all love so much.  It is time to catch up.

Kwesi R. Kamau is pastor of the
Amos
Memorial
CME
Church (amoscme.org) in
Los Angeles, California.  He is the author of A Passion for Christ, A Passion for Souls: Encouragements for the Day (Xulon Press: 2003) available on Amazon.com.


[1] See his account of the development of his thought in his pamphlet, “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection” last revised in 1777.

 

Rev. Kwesis Kamau is the pastor of Amos Memorial CME and  the author of A Passion for Christ, a Passion for Souls   which can be purchased on Amazon

Advertisements