Some thoughts on Wesleyan Leadership

By Steve Manskar

“By Methodists I mean, a people who profess to pursue (in whatsoever measure

Wesleyan leadership aldersgate day 247x300
John Wesley

“By Methodists I mean, a people who profess to pursue (in whatsoever measure

they have attained) holiness of heart and life, inward and outward conformity in all things to the revealed will of God; who place religion in an uniform resemblance of the great object of it; in a steady imitation of Him they worship, in all his imitable perfections; more particularly, in justice, mercy, and truth, or universal love filling the heart, and governing the life.

“You, to whom I now speak, believe this love of human kind cannot spring but from the love of God. You think there can be no instance of one whose tender affection embraces every child of man, (though not endeared to him either by ties of blood, or by any natural or civil relation,) unless that affection flow from a grateful, filial love to the common Father of all; to God, considered not only as his Father, but as "the Father of the spirits of all flesh;" yea, as the general Parent and Friend of all the families both of heaven and earth”

(John Wesley, Advice to the People Called Methodists (1745), ¶ 2 & 3, in The Methodist Societies: History, Nature, and Design, Vol. 9 of The Bicentennial Works of John Wesley, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989), 123-124).

The quotation here reveals John Wesley’s thoughts on the essence of Methodism. He was convinced that the goal of Christian discipleship is holiness of heart and life. By “holiness” he means active love—to God (‘inward holiness) and to neighbor (‘outward holiness’). Holiness for Wesley is ,

Active faith that lives within,
Conquers earth, and hell, and sin,
Sanctifies, and makes us whole,
Forms the Savior in the soul.

Holiness of heart and life describe the character of life that is dedicated to following Jesus Christ in the world and obeying his teachings. Methodist doctrine, spirit, and discipline are focused on forming people who reflect the love of Christ in the world. We can, therefore, say that a Methodist is a person who is training to love God with all his or her heart, soul, and mind and to love those whom God loves.

Wesleyan Leadership provides the teaching, discipline, and spirit people need to grow in holiness of heart (loving God) and life (loving those whom God loves).

Wesleyan Leadership is missional. It is centered in the life and mission of Jesus Christ who is preparing the world for the coming reign of God. Wesleyan leadership keeps the church focused on following Christ and God’s mission in the world.

Wesleyan Leadership is relational. Disciples are made when Christians care enough about their neighbors to introduce them to Jesus Christ and teach them his way of life that leads to holiness of heart and life. Relationships centered in discipleship are best formed in small groups whose life is shaped by a rule of life. The Wesleyan rule of life is the General Rules.

Wesleyan Leadership is incarnational. “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message). Wesleyan leadership forms a culture in the church that is centered in Jesus Christ and his mission for the world he loves (holiness of heart and life). As members grow in holiness of heart and life they live as witnesses to Jesus Christ in the world and follow his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit..

Too much of what I am reading and seeing about leadership in the church today is focused on church growth. When the focus of leadership is the church and increasing membership, we end up emulated consumerist standards. If we look to Scripture and tradition we see that leadership is centered on Christ and his mission in the world. They teach that one of the essential roles of leadership is to keep the church’s focus where it belongs: Jesus Christ and his mission in the world. When we focus on what God loves (people, justice, righteousness, and the world) then church growth will take care of itself.

The Wesleyan tradition of leadership (missional, relational, and incarnational) that leads to people and communities characterized by holiness of heart and life gives us a healthy compass heading for these times of change and uncertainty for the church. We need to stop focusing so much on the church and turn our attention back to what Scripture and tradition tell us really matter: Jesus Christ crucified and risen and his mission to prepare this world for the reign of God that is coming.