Monday, June 05, 2006

John Wesley's communities

John Wesley was quite possibly the leading light of the many gifted leaders of the 18th century (Bishop John Charles Ryle authored a good book on English leaders of that century). He may have been, primarily an evangelist at heart, as he summoned people in England to conversion in Christ. But he was apostolic like in his giftings: organizing communities after the model of the "holy club", he and Charles, his brother, and George Whitefield, along with others, had once been a part of.

These communities demanded discipline in attending the meetings, and in attending to what was expected of each member. In these communities, spiritual growth was not a solo flight. It was a community endeavor, taking with utter seriousness "one another" sayings of the New Testament. And as long as these communities were going, they seemed to flourish: in England, though not in the United States, where they never caught on in the same way, probably due to Francis Asbury not buying into the concept completely, and maybe more to the far flung distances, circuit riders had to travel horseback, between communities of churches.

I have noticed, through observing and through experience on both sides, that often those in leadership (certainly including "lay" people), especially on teams, in which they meet on a regular basis, often seem to show more evident growth in maturity in their Christian lives. As opposed to most of the rest, who simply come and go, and may serve here and there, as a Sunday school teacher, or whatever.

I don't think committees or serving on them is necessarily at all akin to being a part of a community like the ones of John Wesley. But I do think, in the fires of church problems and conflicts such groups work on, as well as even the stone cold rigamarole that can inflict itself on their meetings- there often does seem to be a dynamic going on that is largely missing or lacking from the rest of the church body.

Somehow we need to recover something of this dynamic across the board, to as many as possible of the church community. And hopefully see it become catching to all who are present, over time.

Many pitfalls here, to be sure. But there needs to be the willingness to risk in considering how we can better fulfill Scriptural injunctions to daily encourage or exhort each other. To look out for each other's good. To be accountable, men to men and women to women. In a general sense, all to each other.

Some of this sense has been brought into churches through paragroups such as "Promise Keepers". I see this in our own local church community in a men's class. These guys hear a clip from that organization, then at times "let their hair down" as to where they're really at in their lives. Or some really good, substantive sharing occurs on a subject. God has used, in this case, a less than perfect parachurch organization (what organization is perfect, anyhow?) and used it to get something of this dynamic into our churches.

I for one need more of this. I really get very little of it. But this is true for most of the rest of us as well. I think we need to have more of the sense of the necessity of relationship, not just to God through Christ. But to each other through Jesus, as well.

What are your thoughts, and experience, on this?


Allan R. Bevere said...


I agree completely with your post.

I think it is so difficult for Christians to be accountable in our society because we have so privatized faith and morality. We have a "Lone Ranger mentality" when it comes to discipleship; yet we must remember that even the Lone Ranger needed Tonto.

Ted Gossard said...


ha, good point. And this privatization is a way of life with us. Half the battle is knowing the problem.


Desert Pilgrim said...

Great post. It seems these matters always come back to the question of fervency, and the mystery of why some have it and others don't. Something I seem to be continually pondering.
Desert Pilgrim~

DLW said...

I wish I had a group like that.

I found out recently that my great great great grandfather was an earnest wesleyan lay preacher in England during the late 19th Ctry. His name was William Hawkes and he lived in Kent and died in 1905.


Ted Gossard said...

Desert Pilgrim,

Thanks. And good thoughts.

Susannah Wesley seemed to inculcate a deep sense of earnestness in her family by the discipline she put them through (the first "holy club"?).

Somehow, we know this can be catching, even for us older ones- transmitted by the Spirit of God from person to person. But especially from parents to children.

Not to downplay your sense of mystery as to who catches it and who doesn't. Surely true, as I think about people I've known in same setting/ family.

Ted Gossard said...


Amen. We would all benefit big time to be in a group like that!

Fascinating to hear about your three great grandfather. A blessing to know that. He is (if possible) surely thanking God for you, and praying for you.