The New Room & Wesleyan Missional Leadership

By Steve Manskar

Historic Question #5: Are you resolved to devote yourself wholly to God and God’s work?

Wesleyan leadership the new room 1 225x300
The New Room, Bristol.

Historic Question #5: Are you resolved to devote yourself wholly to God and God’s work?

Last month (May 11-21) I helped lead a group of 33 United Methodist clergy and lay women and men on a Wesley Pilgrimage in England. My partners in leadership were Dr. Paul W. Chilcote (Professor of Historical Theology and Wesley Studies at Ashland Theological Seminary), Rev. Anita Wood (Director of Professional Ministry Development at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry) and Dr. Tim Macquiban (minister at Wesley Methodist Church in Cambridge, UK). The “pilgrims” came from across the United States, from California to Massachusetts.

The mission of the pilgrimage was to immerse participants in Wesleyan theology and practices. The goal was to equip the pilgrims with a vision for missional leadership in the Wesleyan spirit. We wanted them to go home inspired to lead their congregations and conferences into the Wesleyan mission to “reform the nation, particularly the church; and to spread Scriptural holiness over the land.” As the pilgrims participated in lectures, shared in small groups, walked in the footsteps of John and Charles Wesley, prayed and worshiped together they heard over and over again a key characteristic of missional leadership: the church does not exist for itself or its members, it exists to serve with Christ in the world that God loves.

Wesleyan leadership the new room 2 300x225
The New Room, Bristol.

Historic Question #5: Are you resolved to devote yourself wholly to God and God’s work?

Last month (May 11-21) I helped lead a group of 33 United Methodist clergy and lay women and men on a Wesley Pilgrimage in England. My partners in leadership were Dr. Paul W. Chilcote (Professor of Historical Theology and Wesley Studies at Ashland Theological Seminary), Rev. Anita Wood (Director of Professional Ministry Development at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry) and Dr. Tim Macquiban (minister at Wesley Methodist Church in Cambridge, UK). The “pilgrims” came from across the United States, from California to Massachusetts.

The mission of the pilgrimage was to immerse participants in Wesleyan theology and practices. The goal was to equip the pilgrims with a vision for missional leadership in the Wesleyan spirit. We wanted them to go home inspired to lead their congregations and conferences into the Wesleyan mission to “reform the nation, particularly the church; and to spread Scriptural holiness over the land.” As the pilgrims participated in lectures, shared in small groups, walked in the footsteps of John and Charles Wesley, prayed and worshiped together they heard over and over again a key characteristic of missional leadership: the church does not exist for itself or its members, it exists to serve with Christ in the world that God loves.

One of the places we visited gave the pilgrims insight into the nature of Wesleyan missional leadership. The New Room in Bristol was built in 1739 to accommodate the Methodist societies that were increasing in size as a result of John Wesley’s outdoor preaching. It is the oldest Methodist building in the world. When you visit it today you will see in the middle of the floor a block of stationary pews that were added in the early 20th century. In Wesley’s day the seating was provided by moveable benches. This gave the room great flexibility depending upon the circumstance. The benches would be brought out for the weekly, Sunday evening society meeting. They could be rearranged or removed altogether when the room was needed as a medical clinic or to distribute food and clothing to the poor. Wesley designed the space to be a multipurpose room that enabled the Methodists to be “salt of the earth, and the light of the world” (Matt. 5:13-16). The design of the building helped the people to devote themselves, and their building, wholly to God and God’s work.

The New Room is also where the class meeting and the ministry of class leaders were developed. Most of the pilgrims were seminary graduates and knew that the class meeting was initially devised as a means to collect money from society members in order to pay off the mortgage on the New Room. After the mortgage was paid off, John Wesley realized he and the leaders had discovered an effective means of providing pastoral care and guidance for the society. The class meeting was later introduced to the societies in London and Newcastle and throughout the connexion. The system of small groups that developed became the engine of Methodist mission and ministry. At the heart of the engine were the lay men and women who served as class leaders. They were seasoned, mature disciples of Jesus Christ who were given pastoral responsibility for their class members. It is said by many historians that the class leaders were the “drill sergeants” of Methodism. They were the people who helped the Methodists to become fully the persons God created them to be. One of the qualifications for serving as a class leader was commitment to “to devote yourself wholly to God and God’s work.”

The pilgrims reflected on another characteristic of Wesleyan missional leadership at the New Room: Equipping and organizing lay women and men for pastoral ministry. Missional leaders recognize that pastoral ministry is not the sole responsibility of the ordained and appointed clergy. Rather, it is a shared ministry that is a partnership between laity and clergy. Such shared ministry liberates clergy and laity together “to devote yourself wholly to God and God’s work.”

The Wesley Pilgrimage in England is a powerful, transforming experience for United Methodist leaders. Walking, praying, and worshiping in the places where John and Charles Wesley lived and served helps us to see them as real; rather than dead historic figures found only in the pages of books; which is why it will be offered annually by GBOD. You are invited to be part of the next Wesley Pilgrimage in England, November 8-17, 2011. If you are interested in being a Wesley Pilgrim, please contact me at [email protected]

Questions for Reflection & Discussion

What do you think? Do you agree that lay persons are called by God to pastoral ministry?

What would happen in your congregation if the responsibility for pastoral care were shared between the ordained/appointed pastor and a cadre of trained lay men and women?

How would shared ministry liberate the clergy and the laity to serve as God has intended for them?