AVOID FAME & Wesley’s Letter to Asbury re. Cokesbury: “Do Not Seek to be Something”

“O beware, do not seek to be something! Let me be nothing, and ‘Christ be all in all!'” – John Wesley

Letter To Francis Asbury [15]

LONDON, September 20, 1788.

[MY DEAR BROTHER], — There is, indeed, a wide difference between the relation wherein you stand to the Americans and the relation wherein I stand to all the Methodists. You are the elder brother of the American Methodists: I am under God the father of the whole family. Therefore I naturally care for you all in a manner no other persons can do. Therefore I in a measure provide for you all; for the supplies which Dr. Coke provides for you, he could not provide were it not for me, were it not that I not only permit him to collect but also support him in so doing.

But in one point, my dear brother, I am a little afraid both the Doctor and you differ from me. I study to be little: you study to be great. I creep: you strut along. I found a school: you a college! [Cokesbury College, so called after its founders Coke and Asbury, was twice burnt down.] nay, and call it after your own names! O beware, do not seek to be something! Let me be nothing, and ‘Christ be all in all!’

One instance of this, of your greatness, has given me great concern. How can you, how dare you suffer yourself to be called Bishop I shudder, I start at the very thought! Men may call me a knave or a feel, a rascal, a scoundrel, and I am content; but they shall never by my consent call me Bishop! For my sake, for God’s sake, for Christ’s sake put a full end to this! Let the Presbyterians do what they please, but let the Methodists know their calling better.

Thus, my dear Franky, I have told you all that is in my heart. And let this, when I am no more seen, bear witness how sincerely I am

Your affectionate friend and brother.

[15] This is the letter to which Asbury’s diary for March 15, 1789, refers: ‘Here I received a bitter pill from one of my greatest friends. Praise the Lord for my trials also! May they all be sanctified!’ It was the last letter he had from Wesley.

When Wesley directed that a General Conference should be held in 1787 and Whatcoat made Asbury’s colleague, Asbury said that ‘To appoint a joint superintendent with me were stretches of power we did not understand’; and the preachers and people were not willing to accept orders from England now that the Colonies had become independent. Asbury tells his old friend Jasper Winscorn on August 15, 1788: ‘I am a bishop and a beggar; our connection is very poor, our preachers on the frontiers labor the whole year for six or eight pounds. I have opened a house for the education of youth which will cost 4,000 to complete it, and the burden lies chiefly on me; so that I can hardly command my one coat and my yearly allowance.’ See letters of July 17, 1788, and October 31, 1789.

John Telford, ed., The Letters of John Wesley, A.M., 8 vols. (London: Epworth Press, 1931), p. 257 (retrieved from http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-letters-of-john-wesley/wesleys-letters-1788b/)

ARTS & A Leadership Exercise Comparing Excellence vs. Perfectionism

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 3/8/16.

This is a leadership exercise for clients, students and colleagues regarding how to foster more innovation and authenticity in our churches.  Let’s start this exercise with a quote from Rory Noland (1999:106):

“I think the best artist pursue excellence, not perfection.  In fact, I’d like to propose that perfectionism is more or less the evil twin of excellence. While perfectionism is destructive and man-centered, pursuing excellence is constructive and God-honoring.  Instead of pursuing perfection, we need to pursue excellence.”

A Leadership Exercise

Brainstorm regarding how to tell the difference between “excellence” and “perfectionism.” I will begin by suggesting several categories.

  1. Add at least one more category.
  2. Then share an example of “excellence” and of “perfectionism” in at least two categories.

So tell us, what would “excellence” and “perfectionism” look like in various ministry categories.  Copy what others have said to create a mega-list.

Category   > Solo song on Sunday morning (sometimes called “special music”):



Category   >  Call to worship:



Category   >  Ushering



Category   >  _____________



Category   >  _____________



Remember: add at least one (1) category and add at least two (2) examples. Your examples do not need to be under the same category.

Lessons Learned

Compare and comment upon the results. You will find that by looking at many examples you can begin to see even slight differences between “excellence” and “perfectionism.” Then you must decide which you will pursue.

Reference:  Rory Noland, The Heart of the Artist (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999).

EXCELLENCE & The Authenticity Debate: Where do young people who grew up in the church land?

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 12/7/15.

A student stated:

“Perhaps my view on this is still a bit culturally biased. My experience in working with Gen. Y postmoderns involved in worship with me is that they want both (excellence and authenticity). However, I believe that excellence is assumed. For example, none of the ‘secular’ music that they listen to is sub-par in its excellence.  I do see a trend away from highly produced music and that which has a more raw, authentic feel to it. However, despite the less produced genre of music I see emerging, there still is a strong element of arranging and excellence in its (Gen. Y postmodern) musicianship … So I suggest that it isn’t the lack of desire for excellence; it’s just secondary to authenticity,”

I replied:

“I wonder if the younger Gen. Y postmoderns who want more professionalism aren’t young people that grew up in the church? I have found at IWU that the students who prefer excellence in worship, often have adopted the “excellence focus” because they are very loyal to the views of their Boomer parents.  In other words, many times good Christian young people don’t develop some of the cynical nature of secular youth.”

A Leadership Exercise.

Now, I was not of course saying this student was suggesting excellence trumps authenticity (he rightly in my mind said the opposite).  But, I wonder if the young people we often see in our churches (who expect excellence) aren’t more the product of a Christian culture rather than a secular culture which feels authenticity sometimes requires an organic lack of proficiency.

Get together with some of your leaders and discuss what you think about this. Use the following question to stir discussion:

  • Have you seen this happen?
  • Or have you seen the opposite?
  • In other words, do Christian young people sometimes seem to prefer excellence because they are loyal to and influenced by their Christian parents’ emphasis upon excellence?

BOOMERS & Do They Prefer Excellence? Good, Bad or Does It Matter? #LeadershipExercise

DUELING QUOTES: (mega-church pastor) “Excellence attracts excellence” or (fast-growing youthful church pastor) “Authentic worship attracts those seeking authentic worship.”

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.,D., 12/6/15.

One of my former students, commenting on the “Authenticity verses Excellence” debate, interviewed a pastor of a large church in the area.  Here is the student’s research and my response. The result is a leadership exercise on “excellence vs. authenticity” in ministry.


I just visited 1st Church. One of our larger denominational churches. I interviewed the pastor about his leadership. I came away with some great quotes and lessons. One of them was this: “Excellence attracts Excellence”. Quite honestly the idea that the organic church is more interested in authenticity than performance is new to me…I’m a boomer! I like it…I’m not sure that I get it!

My response:

I am glad you are conducting primary research with interviews.  Good for you!

And, I know you are struggling with understanding the cultural differences of the younger generation.  You see, learning about Postmodern Gen. X is really learning about another culture.

Because younger generations are a different culture, they might take your phrase and re-state it.  From my interviews (Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations, Abingdon Press) I would say that might respond:

“Authentic worship attracts those seeking authentic worship.”

A Leadership Exercise:

My observation is that excellence attracts other churchgoers (what we call in Church Growth Movement “transfer growth”, see Thom Rainer’s excellent analysis of transfer growth). Usually, these are people looking for a church that offers better music, Children’s Ministry or Youth Ministry than their church offers.

I would say from my research (Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations, Abingdon Press) that authenticity attracts God-seekers.

A church should do both, but in my mind the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19ff) emphasizes the later (reaching God-seekers) over the former (transfer growth).

Now, what are your thoughts?  Agree?  Disagree?

Either option if fine if it gets your leaders thinking about how to be missionaries to today’s cultures.

VISION & The Abuse of Vision: What Did Bonhoeffer Mean?

by Bob Whitesel Ph.D., 6/18/15.

A student once brought up a very interesting quote by Bonhoeffer. I thought the quote and a brief look at the hyper-visionary culture amid which Bonhoeffer wrote (Nazi Germany) could throw some light on the power and potential for degradation of vision.

The student wrote: “I just was reading through Bonhoeffer’s Life Together and he talks about visionaries. He says, “God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own laws, and judges that brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself” (2009 ed., p. 27).

The student continued. “At first, this seemed a bit shocking to me and goes against what I believe to be true about dreaming, creativity, innovation, and being on the cutting edge. Bonhoeffer is one of the most brilliant Christian minds of the last century so I had to take that into account as well. I read a few articles and Northwest Church had this to say about it: “When we add fluff, entertainment, programs, and all kinds of things to ‘enhance’ Christian community we are often just providing superfluous distractions from what God intended. When somebody steps forward with some grand new vision of what the church should look like and be like they are often either watering down the community God intended or adding something unnecessary and perhaps even harmful.” (http://nwbible.wordpress.com/2012/10/23/1-thessalonians-2-god-hates-visionary-dreaming/)

The student concluded, “So I can get on board with that to a certain extent but then I had to take into account everything I just read in Growth by Accident. I think the first thing we need to start with is admitting that “We don’t know.” Socrates said that that admission was true wisdom. Several times throughout the chapter, Dr. Whitesel makes the point that we cannot compromise theologically. That’s incredibly important. And, also, we need to be culturally relevant or we won’t have any sort of impact on anyone. But there is a line between being “superfluous” and watering down the message of the gospel and being innovative to reach the un/dechurched. Christian pastor and author, Chip Ingram says in his blog, “So often we mistakenly believe that the power is in the messenger. But the Bible says the power is in the message and not in the messenger.” (http://livingontheedge.org/read-blog/blog/2012/12/24/why-we-don-t-share-our-faith-with-others).  Being creative, innovative, and dreaming big dreams have to come out of a place of true humility and prayer. We were created with great minds and the ability to be amazingly creative and I think it is true what Dr. Whitesel says in Growth by Accident, “Creativity is a reflection of a Creator who glories in the originality of his handiwork.” (Kindle Edition) But when it becomes about “us” and what we can do, that’s when it’s necessary to take a step back and make sure that the goal is still honoring and bringing glory to God.

Here is how I replied.

Hello ___student_name___.  You certainly are right about Bonhoeffer. If you read his writings it becomes evident that he is speaking to a church that was bought into a vision that was opposite that of Christ. When I attended the German Church Days (Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag) in 1982 there were many posters that were plastered around the conference. The posters depicted a photo of a Lutheran Church with a large swastika that had replaced the cross above the altar. The caption said “We are headed this way again!”

The point that the Germans were reminding the conference attendees was that entertainment, attraction and drama do not replace what Rudolph Otto called the “experience of the numinous” (1950, p. 3-5). This means encountering God is why we come to church, not to encounter a movement or anything human derived … be it preaching, music or something else

Vision is important for helping people see what God is calling the church to be. But the way vision was used in Nazi Germany to direct churchgoing people to support a human movement shows vision can be corrupted. Thus popularity is not a good indicator of anointing. So when a vision is corrupt you will see it through pride, status and autocratic behavior … exactly the things Bonhoeffer warned about. This is I think the important lesson we take today from Bonhoeffer.

Now ask yourself, what do you think about this tension between vision and Christ-like authenticity?  And how do you think you can tell if someone is acting with vain, egocentric vision like Bonhoeffer described?  Maybe write down one or two revealing characteristics that might indicate a leader is casting a vision for personal rationale and not a missional one.

Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy, trans John W. Harvey, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1950).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, trans. John W. Doberstein (New York: Harper and Row, 1954), p. 27.