But was this missional movement (Church Planting Movement) reproducible? Could it be transferred from culture to culture and from one point in history to a different time in history? Were these principles (3 invitations) at play in different movements of God in history? Now please understand it is not my intent to do an exhaustive historical or cultural research to answer these questions! This will only be a very general and surface observation to see if there are indications that this strategy has been at work in different movement of God. I will leave the more exhaustive research of this subject to those who are both more qualified and enjoy that kind of intellectual rigor. So in this post we are going to look at the missional movement of the Methodist and see if these 3 INVITATIONS were at play with what God did through John Wesley.
When I look at the early Methodist's and the strategy that John Wesley implemented three important activities stand out that enabled a strong ministry to be turned it into a powerful movement that swept England and America. These three activities were:
- OPEN AIR PREACHING: At first John Wesley didn't like the idea open air preaching where one shared the gospel outside of a church building where ordinary people gathered. But it was his friend George Whitfield that helped him not only overcome this conception but also help see the value in it so that he could wholeheartedly embrace it. It is said that John had rode over 250,000 miles on horseback to preach at these open air meetings, preached over 40,000 sermons and it is estimated that tens of thousands of people would show up to a single meeting. His primary style of preaching at these open air meetings was evangelistic where he would introduce the ordinary person to the power and presence of Christ that could save their soul. But these, many times, large evangelistic meetings was only the starting point of his strategy. Wesley felt that leaving a newly converted person to their own devices without training them in righteous living was an ungodly thing to do. This conviction was what led him to the second activity that characterized his strategy.
- CLASS MEETINGS: When people made a decision at the open air preaching he would then quickly gather them into small groups called CLASS MEETINGS. These groups were to help people grow in their spiritual faith through discipleship and accountability. They met at least weekly; started the meeting with singing and praying; a time of confession of sin to one another would follow; then they would examine each other through probing questions of their spiritual condition. They would also, as part of their regular meetins, review study material that John Wesley had written to help them grow in their knowledge and understanding of God, scripture and spiritual growth. As vital and important that these first two activities were it wasn't until Wesley initiated the third activity that his powerful ministry became an explosive movement of God that would spread through England and North America.
- ITINERANT HORSEBACK PREACHERS: Because of the vastness of the needed work yet to be done and because of the reluctance of the theologically trained pastors and preachers John began to develop and train scores of lay preachers to go preach the gospel to those who would never enter a church building. They would follow his example of preaching at open air meetings and riding on horseback. John Wesley became the standard and model for all of the new open air preachers to follow. Most of the men selected to be the preachers were ordinary men with no special theological training, much like the description of the Apostle Peter and John when standing before the Jewish Rulers in the book of Acts. The selection of the preachers was based more on grace than education. Grace being that they had a powerful story (testimony) to share with the crowd of people who would gather. These itinerant preachers were sent all over England and especially into the expanding westward America. Like Wesley these lay preachers would form the new converts into CLASS MEETINGS that would allow for their spiritual formation to develop. They would continue the practice passing out religious material that was produced by the Wesley's to help them grow during the weeks that the circuit rider was in other area's. And it was out of these Class Meetings that new potential lay pastors/circuit riders were identified, trained and mentored by a more experienced circuit rider and eventually unleashed to go into his own new and expanding territory. And thus the movement continued to expand and explode.
ARE YOU INTERESTED IN BEING PART OF GOD'S ACTIVITY IN BRING A CHURCH PLANTING MOVEMENT TO NORTH AMERICA? Then I invite to join in with the discussion and preparation by become a fan of the Facebook Page A North American Church Planting Movement Initiative. We need to pray, seek God's wisdom and experiment. Join the fun.
(Thes are weekly devotionals to encourage you to live a missional life
that shine the Light of Christ)