Methods employed by John Wesley for Evangelism and Disciple-making in early Methodism (Part One)

Methods employed by John Wesley for Evangelism and Disciple-making in early Methodism (Part One)

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus says:

“Go into the world and preach the Good News to every creature – (Mark 16:15). Also in John, He says: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that the fruit should remain.”

Jesus gave us the command, the resources, and the knowledge. As a logical Theologian, John Wesley set out his methods to accomplish the command with the resources given by Jesus Christ. Wesley’s methodology emerged by borrowing ideas from a wide range of diverse models, and the final product was a refined Synthesis of proven techniques. Wesley’s awareness of the assurance of God’s favor became the cornerstone of his methods. Lorrie Sanny, the Chairman of the Board of the Navigators, defines Evangelism as “taking a good look at Jesus Christ and then telling someone what you saw” this John Wesley did in his evangelical approach by:

  1. Making people recognize their need for Jesus Christ and
  2. Understand how to Receive Jesus into their lives.

Evangelism, to John Wesley, was both an act and a process. He did not just make converts but trained and mobilized them to share the good news effectively. Wesley’s revolution in Evangelism illustrates that long-lasting Spiritual transformation is not the product of dynamic preaching or correct Doctrine but comes only through serious disciple-building in keeping with Christ’s Great Commission. Wesley used three distinct modes for Evangelism and Disciple-making in early Methodism.

The Modes are:

  1. The Society Meetings that aimed at cognitive instruction
  2. The class meetings that provided an environment for behavioral changes
  3. The Band that facilitated effective redirection.

“Metaphorically, the Society Meetings aimed for the head, the Class meeting for the hands and the band for the heart.” (Quote from D. Michael Henderson as written on page 112 of John Wesley’s Class meeting).

The three modes were built into the early Methodism and complemented each other. Wesley used them as tools for Evangelism and disciple-making. Field preaching was also not neglected; it was used for effective Evangelism to increase the numbers of participants in the modes and to spread Scriptural holiness throughout the land. Wesley directed the poor and the oppressed people in the community to the Scriptures. He pointed them to Biblical examples of people who had experienced a powerful, loving, and personal God at work. These are the People who believed in the ‘living faith.’

The trustworthy source of Wesley’s Methodism was the conviction flashed upon him at Aldergate Street, London. So Wesleyan Methodism became a “heartfelt religion.” The Moravians provided him with the conceptual basis for organizational renewal termed “ecclesiology in ecclesia.” Wesley used the Fetter Lane Society to attain a new plateau in his comprehension of group dynamics for disciple-making. The Fetter Lane Society was formatted to bring the process of personal struggle under the formal umbrella of group order and provide a protective environment where the struggle could produce maximum growth.

The Society consisted of separate bands of five to ten people of the same sexes. The bands were assigned to meet twice weekly, in addition to Wednesday’s Society session. Intimate interaction was fostered amongst them, and the Lay Leaders appointed directed the flow of conversation. In December 1739, Wesley established the Foundery Society as a pivot of his instructional system. The method selected for the Wesley on societies were lecture, preaching, public reading, hymn singing, and exhortation, with an audience of fifty or more people listening to a prepared talk by a speaker. There was no provision for personal response or feedback. Wesley preferred practical application and coached his preachers on content, style, phrases, and illustrations. Hymns used were also geared to encourage discipline and work habits.

The most significant contribution of Wesley to the teaching of group experience was the Class Meeting. Class Meeting was initially designed for a fundraising scheme in the Bristol Society and metamorphosed into a disciple-making unit. The Class was an intimate group of ten or twelve people that met weekly for personal supervision of their Spiritual growth. In April 1742, the plan was applied to the foundry Society of London.

“Whereas the Society was an instrument for cognitive acquisition, almost to the exclusion of any interpersonal dynamics, the Class Meeting was a tool for the attraction of behavior, to the virtual exclusion of any data–gathering function.” – (Pg. 96 – A model for making Disciples – John Wesley’s Class Meetings, by D. Michael Henderson).

The Class Meeting was a coeducational experience in small group development, and women participated as leaders and preachers. The subject matter of a class meeting was a personal experience, not doctrinal ideology or biblical information, but it demanded faithfulness, honesty, and concern for people.

The Band was a homogenous grouping not only by sex but also by age and marital status. The bands were voluntary cells of people who professed a clear Christian commitment and desired to grow in love, holiness, and purity of intention. The Band was the favorite of Wesley and the original mode of Methodism from which the others sprang.

The Societies proclaimed and explained the Doctrine; the Class Meeting implemented the behavioral quest for a holy lifestyle, and the bands facilitated the cultivation of inner purity and the purging of attitudes. Wesley created the Select Society as the training mode and the Penitent Bands as the rehabilitation mode.

The purpose of the handpicked faithful that formed the Select Society was to model/exemplify Methodism. They were to perfect the human SpiritSpirit and provided a training experience in the Doctrine and methods of Methodism. Those were people who had worked their way through the ranks of the leadership of Class Meetings, Society, and Band and were highly Favoured as Standard Bearers of the Movement. The Final group in Wesley’s System, the Penitent Bands, was specially designed for those who lacked the willpower or personal discipline to live up to the behavioral demands of the Class Meeting but had the desire to overcome their problems.

Their primary goal was to restore the members to their mainstream of Society and its regular channel of growth. Wesley lived and died preaching. His motto was “earn all you can, save all you can and give all you can.” In summary, Wesley’s major methodological components were:

  • A hierarchy of interlocking groups.
  • The point of entry into the system is behavioral change, followed by
  • Affective aspiration and rehabilitative functions.
  • Constitutional authority.
  • Groups graded by the readiness of participants.
  • Total participation and mobilization.
  • Instrumented group and activities.
  • Exclusion (by ticket) for non-compliance.
  • Individualized care.
  • Multiple Accountability.
  • Separation of cognitive, affective, and behavioral functions.

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