Thoughts on Wesleyan Leadership

By Steve Manskar

“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).

This quotation reveals John Wesley’s thoughts on the essence of what it means to live as a Christian committed to the doctrine, spirit, and discipline of the Methodist movement. He was convinced that the goal of Christian discipleship is holiness of heart and life. By “holiness” he means active love—of God (‘inward holiness) and of those whom God loves (‘outward holiness’). Charles Wesley describes this holiness of heart and life as:

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 is the way of life that is dedicated to witnessing to Jesus Christ in the world by obeying his teachings. For Methodists 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 strives to a missional culture that supplies the doctrine, discipline, and spirit people need to grow in holiness of heart (loving God) and life (loving those whom God loves). It fosters a culture of holiness that equips Christians to join Jesus Christ and his mission for the world.

Wesleyan Leadership is missional. It is centered in the life and mission of Jesus Christ who is working to redeem the world and prepare it for the coming reign of God. Wesleyan leadership keeps the church centered upon 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 model his way of life that leads to holiness of heart and life. Relationships centered in Jesus Christ are best formed in small groups whose life is shaped by obedience to Jesus’ teachings summarized by him in Matthew 22:37-40 and John 13:34-35. Their life is shaped by a rule of life. The General Rules are the Wesleyan rule of life:

… to evidence their desire of salvation by…

Doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced …

Doing good; by being in every way merciful as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all people. …

Practicing the spiritual disciplines that open our hearts to God:

  • The public worship of God
  • The ministry of the Word, either read or expounded
  • The Lord’s Supper
  • Family and private prayer
  • Searching the Scriptures
  • Fasting or abstinence

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 who loves all people. Christians are baptized and called to serve as Christ’s representatives in the world. This means we are to be agents of Christ’s love for all people, their bodies and their souls. Jesus teaches his followers that the physical needs of people must be the concern of his followers (see Matthew 25:31-46 and Luke 4:18-19; 10:25-37). 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 and justice.

Wesleyan leadership operates out of obedience to Jesus’ commission to:

Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20, The Message).

Jesus's commission to the church and its leaders is that they are to focus on the work of disciple formation. He is equally clear that he will build the church:

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18, NRSV).

Jesus builds the church on the foundation (rock) of disciples and discipleship. When the focus of leadership is the church, its growth and success, 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. One of the essential roles of leadership is to keep the church’s focus where it belongs: Jesus Christ and the mission of God. 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) 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.