RENEWAL & 4 ways to renew your church #ChurchCentral @BobWhitesel

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., article published by Church Central, 3/1/17.

So what is wrong with wanting to create a new church with vibrancy, life, and energy in hopes that it will grow and survive? Well, there is nothing wrong with this aim. But if the aim to become a new organization is your primary focus, you will never become uncommonly new. Let me explain why. Here are four types of new:

1. Church newness 

Often church leaders think that creating a new church organizational structure will revitalize their church. Sometimes they do this by streamlining their hierarchy, simplifying their programs, firing or hiring staff, or merging a church with another congregation. The hope is that some organizational newness will foster a freshness that can revive the church. But if this is your strategy, you will fail at becoming a uncommon church.

Attempting to restructure the organization will not cultivate the supernatural community that God designed his church to be. New programs, staff, and structures will only survive until the next new thing emerges, and then the church will be antiquated (and common) again. Restructuring the church into something new, while laudable, cannot create a long-term uncommon church. This is because God desires that his church’s newness emerge from people, not structures.

2. Newcomer newness and transfer growth 

Still other congregations hope that improving their hospitality and assimilation of newcomers will create a new church. And, many helpful books can assist a church in better connecting newcomers to a congregation.1

But while connecting newcomers with a community of faith is an important task, it will not create the all-encompassing sense of newness that is needed to revive a common church. Newcomers certainly bring a sense of expectation, innovation, and camaraderie. But the fact is that in many churches the newcomers are refugees from other churches, visiting your church in hopes of something they are not getting at their previous congregation. In fact, there is a name for church growth that results from Christians church-shopping: transfer growth.2

While transfer growth is important since it helps ensure that Christians are getting plugged into a congregation, it does not create the kind of newness that an uncommon church needs. Donald McGavran said, “By transfer growth is meant the increase of certain congregations at the expense of others . . . But transfer growth will never extend the church, for unavoidably many are lost along the way.”3

For true newness to spread through a congregation, the supernatural newness that God intended is needed. This sense of newness arises from people in spiritual need being spiritually and physically transformed. Such newness pervades a congregation with a hope and a passion that no other newness can match.

3. Churchgoer newness 

Sometimes leaders pick up this book because deep down they want to see their church attendees changed. Leaders are often tired of the wrangling, petty grudges, and poor attitudes that many churchgoers exhibit. Thus, they say to themselves, “If I could only change the people in the church and make them new, that would then change the organization.”

Changing people’s attitudes is important. But churchgoer newness is not the vital type of newness that God intends to characterize the uncommon church. Another more never-ending newness is at the heart of God’s purpose for his church. There is an eternal newness that springs forth when humans receive supernatural power to change their lives for the good and begin afresh.

4. Newness for those in spiritual need 

This is the true newness that will permeate the uncommon church. It is an expectation and invitation for people to be transformed physically and spiritually by a reunification with their loving heavenly Father (and among a community that embraces such newness). Figure 7.1 gives an overview of why and from where supernatural newness comes.

In the previous articles we saw that the term missio Dei describes God’s quest to be reunited with his wayward offspring. Once this reunion is made, a real newness in personal lives emerges, a newness toward which the uncommon church will be orientated. Though growing O.U.T., S.M.A.L.L., and L.E.A.R.N.ers are part of the process, a church will not become uncommonly supernatural unless it welcomes and expects spiritual and physical transformation.

People today (but probably no more than in any other period) are in search of newness. They want to alleviate bad habits, overcome harmful enticements, curb destructive behavior, and be more loving, kind, and generous. But something deep inside of each of us seems to pull us back toward bad actions. The cure— the real, long-term cure—for uncommonness is a church where supernatural encounter and expectation is woven into the fabric of the congregation. And so, an uncommon church will exhibit many of the characteristics of Figure 7.2.

Excerpted from Cure For The Common Church: God’s Plan to Restore Church Health, by Bob Whitesel (Wesleyan Publishing House 2012). For further online notes: See Chapter 7 Complete Notes.

Church Central published Bob Whitesel’s latest article on four ways to renew a church. Whitesel, professor of missional leadership at Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University is a respected researcher, author and speaker. As a Fellow with the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, his article describes four things almost any church can do to begin the renewal process. You can find the article on the main page. And, receive more information about Wesley Seminary and Whitesel’s courses on church renewal and growth at

Speaking hashtags: #Kingswood

MULTIPLICATION & 5 Reasons Churches Should Balance Their Internal & External Church Planting

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 2/19/17.

I want leaders to consider “external” and “internal” planting a bit more as they strategize the future of their ministry.  External planting is a somewhat typical semi-autonomous church plant by a mother church.  Internal planting is supporting sub-congregations of different cultural behaviors, ideas and styles within the mother church.

And, we need both. But usually when you hear “church planting’” you think of the former, the autonomous or semi-autonomous church plant: organizationally and locationally removed from the mother church.

But I want leaders to grasp the strategic idea of balancing external plants with internal plants.  We should have both and perhaps even balance them: 50% internal plants and 50% external plants.  To explain why, let me share some questions a student once asked about this.

The student said, “In the Missional Church course we learned that planting a church was one way to rejuvenate a local church’s lifecycle, and promote growth. Your response makes me think you disagree with that. I see how growing an internal sub-congregation will grow the main church, but isn’t the process of loosing members to the daughter church, and the daughter church having to learn to make its own way, what stimulates innovation, change, and growth in both churches? Perhaps I am just being too optimistic. I do not know the actual statistics for church plant survival, but I’ve read that it is anywhere from 50%-80%. People seem to get more excited about planting a church than adding a new service (even though adding the new service may cause more growth?). It may also be the denomination’s mindset. I get the impression that the number of churches (especially new churches) a denomination has is sometimes trumpeted more than the number of members. Which sounds better, ‘We have 100 churches with average attendance of 100 people at each’ or ‘We have 10 churches with an average attendance of 1000 people each.’ 100 churches could mean more communities being reached, while 10 huge churches could mean more work actually being done. When I read the core values and core scores of my denominational department of evangelism it seems more directed at planting new churches than growing existing ones.”

These are important questions. And here are my responses.

1. Yes, I disagree (as does Eddie Gibbs in I Believe in Church Growth, 1981, pp. 282-284) with solely external planting.  As a consultant I see the damage it does on a local level when we create an external plant without regard to fostering an internal plant in a nearby congregation (external plant cannibalizes local churches, while birthing competitive and weak plants).  I think you can see that internal planting is much better for the rationale I outlined.

2. Plus, an internal plant can have the same amount of innovation, change, and growth as does an external plan (look at how innovative youth ministries can be).  The internal plants also create an “economy of scale” as a church grows into a larger church with multiple sub-congregations (creating multi-cultural acceptance too).

3. And, I think you are right that external planting is more popular from a denominational perspective where the number of churches trumps health.  The Church of the Nazarene emphasizes internal planting more than Wesleyans and their churches are on average much larger than ours (creating sustainability and an economy of scale = they can do more).

4. You asked, “Which sounds better.  ‘We have 100 churches with average attendance of 100 people at each’ or ‘We have 10 churches with an average attendance of 1000 people each.’ 100 churches could mean more communities being reached, while 10 huge churches could mean more work actually being done.”  Because in my consultative experience I’ve found that you need on average 175 attendees for a church to have the range of ministries people have come to expect, those 100 churches of 100 people are likely struggling and not healthy. Thus, they are usually not reaching people anyway.

5. It seems to me that in 50% of these situations it might be better for the larger church to have a sub-congregational “venues” in these neighborhoods.  The venue could be a culturally distinct sub-congregation, but would have all of the financial and staff backing of the larger church.  The business world understands the importance of an economy of scale, but the church misses it and creates networks of struggling congregations.

A name for this type of church is The Multicultural Alliance Model.

See all five models here: MULTICULTURAL CHURCHES & 5 Models: A New Paradigm Evaluated and Differentiated #AICR #AcademyForInterculturalChurchResearch

MULTIPLICATION & Instead of planting an independent new church, what about planting a new venue instead? Pros & cons considered.

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 2/19/17.

A student once asked, “I am picturing a situation where a large church wants to plant an (independent) daughter church because they have a growing sub-congregation in the church that is mostly Hispanic, or Gen Y.  Is that a better way to help them, by launching them as an independent church plant?  Or can we help them better by offering to share the church with them as a venue or sub-congregation in the mother church?”

I replied …

What we often do when we launch a typical church “plant” is to create an “external” sub-congregation.  And, this is okay. But, I think it is usually not the best way to proceed.  Rather, the “internal planting” of a sub-congregation (fostering the growth of a sub-congregation that remains part of the church) is a better strategy.

This is because external plants have the following PLUSES (strengths) and NEGATIVES (weaknesses):

Short/long-term growth?

Pluses: External plants (in my consulting practice) grow quicker than Internal Plants (developing a sub-congregation and a venue), because they are homogeneous (i.e. largely attracting one culture).

Negatives: External plants (in my consulting practice) die quicker. They are smaller and often don’t reach critical mass for long-term sustainability.


Pluses: External plants have experienced leadership, because the leader has been trained in the mother church.

Negatives: External plants often lack good accountability and thus succumb to leadership/ethical weaknesses.


Pluses: External plants attract people who do not have a church home and/or who are dissatisfied with the church they attend.

Negatives: External plants often attract disgruntled people:

  1. Who don’t like the church they attend
  2. And/ or who do not want to rub shoulders with another culture (generational, ethnic, affinity, etc.). Thus, reconciliation does not take place.

More churches?

Pluses: External plants create more churches, though they may be smaller and not healthy for many years.

Negatives: External plants often kill existing churches, when the people who are attracted to the external plant leave the mother church, and other churches, weakening the churches they left.  This is the main reason pastors of established churches don’t like external plants, it cannibalizes the people they need to survive.


Pluses: External plants cater to a specific cultural market.  This creates a like-minded community that grows because of the things it holds in common.

Negatives: External plants don’t promote inter-cultural understanding.  This would be like the second-generation Koreans wanting their own church. The first-generation Koreans would feel abandoned and disconnected. And the externally planted 2nd-gen congregation might develop distain (due to distance) for the 1st-gen culture.

This illustration highlights the differences between first and second generational cultures.  But it happens in even a more damaging fashion between ethnic cultures.

The result of a good work, like church planting, can be that the cultures are distance organizationally and physically from one another by the planting of a separate congregation.

But it often makes the mother church feel good, because it can say, “We planted another church.” But in reality they often push them away because of their differences.  This creates distance between them and us. In my consulting work, no matter how much churches protest they … “Will stay connected to our daughter church,” they never stay as close as they would if they were sharing the church as fellow sub-congregations.

Thus, if a church is really committed to reconciliation and multi-culturalism (as I am) then Internal Planting is the better choice. Thus, with Internal Planting the church becomes in a community the main avenue for building multi-cultural understanding and tolerance, e.g. unity building and changing biases.

A name for this type of church is The Multicultural Alliance Model.

See all five models here: MULTICULTURAL CHURCHES & 5 Models: A New Paradigm Evaluated and Differentiated #AICR #AcademyForInterculturalChurchResearch

CHANGE THEORY & Toward a Holistic, Postmodernal Theory of Change by @BobWhitesel

Excerpted from The Journal of the American Society for Church Growth (JASCG), Fall 2008, editor Gary McIntosh, DMin, PhD., La Mirada, CA: Biola University.

Toward a Holistic and Postmodernal Theory of Change: The Four-forces Model of Change As Reflected in Church Growth Movement Literature

by Bob Whitesel, D. Min.


Change that permits and even promotes efficacious evangelism would seem to be at the heart of the strategic intentions of the Church Growth Movement. However, in spite of its theoretical centrality, a review of Church Growth Movement literature reveals that change, while persistent in the literature, is far from central and/or holistically addressed. And though the complex interplay of multiple generative mechanisms that drive and channel change is acknowledged in Church Growth literature, due to a narrow focus in many Church Growth tomes, what organization theorist Mary Jo Hatch describes as a more holistic and efficacious “collage” approach to change (Hatch 1997:54) is missing.

The purpose of this present study is to form a background from Church Growth Movement literature against which might emerge a contemporary epistemology and model for theories of change and changing. And, since the cultural predilections of postmodernity heavily influence future strategizing, postmodern theoretical understandings will be sought.

As such, a holistic collage approach becomes requisite. Hatch’s analysis of postmodern organization theories leads her to believe they rely heavily upon a collage approach. She describes a collage as “an art form in which objects and pieces of objects (often including reproductions of other works of art…) are arranged together to form something new – an art object in its own right. When you use collage as a metaphor for organization theory you are recognized the value of holding multiple perspectives and using parts of theories to form a new work… they (postmodern leaders) use bits of old theories along with the knowledge and experience they have collected in their lifetimes to create a new theory worthy of use in particular circumstances” (ibid.).

41tso1esgl-_sy344_bo1204203200_            This author has elsewhere described his ethnographic study of 12 postmodernal ecclesial organizations, and how this leadership collage is evident in many, if not most, of their scenarios (Whitesel 2006:124-134). Therefore, for the present discussion it will be assumed that healthy and effective emerging postmodernal congregations are utilizing holistic and multifaceted approaches to managing change.

But this elicits the question, is this collage approach, born out of innovative reactions to indigenous cultures, reflected in church Growth literature? And if so, to what degree? If it is, then in Church Growth Movement literature there lies helpful and even strategic understandings that can help postmodernal theorists and/or ecclesial leaders manage change. If it is not found, then additional research and publication is required on this important topic. Such questions, that can elicit grounded theory research, are what this article seeks to uncover and evaluate

Four Forces Approach To Change

Theories of Change and Theories of Changing

We begin with a brief review of pertinent aspects of organization theory of change and changing. Within organization theory there is an innovative and influential perspective that change arises and is controlled by one or more generative mechanisms or forces. These mechanisms control the development and evolution of change processes, and as such require varying mechanisms and strategies for their management.

A brief discussion of organization theory’s delineations between theories of change and theories of changing (Bennis 1996) will assist the reader in comprehending the nuances of this author’s analysis. Theories of change, are those theoretical and practical constructs that explain how organizations change and factors that bring about that change. Theories of changing deal with how change can be manipulated and managed to elicit ultimate organizational performance.

The author’s current research is in grounded theory development that can elicit theories of change in postmodernal ecclesial organizations. As such, the exploration of the mechanics and generative mechanisms of change will dominate this discussion. In addition, since the purpose of this study is to encourage my graduate students at Indiana Wesleyan University to develop theories of changing (i.e. how change can be managed), I will also discuss (though because of space constraints to a lesser degree) how Church Growth Movement literature employs prescriptive mechanisms to elicit the management of changing.

A Collage of Four Forces

Organization change theorists Van de Ven and Poole have posited an influential model for change that considers the interplay of four types of change forces, with resultant yet varying prescriptive mechanisms for controlling and managing each (Van de Ven and Poole 1995). These four types or “forces” involve different generative mechanisms or motors, proceed through different process models and are managed by varying prescriptive strategies.

Though some change may involve just one of these typologies, many more change processes will involve two or more of these underlying forces (Van de Ven and Poole 1995:8). Therefore, the key for developing theories of ecclesial changing among future researchers and students, will be to understand and identify the interplay of these change forces, with a resultant indigenous collage from a grounded theory of change.

To begin our quest, an understanding of the four forces involved in this interplay will be required.

The Life Cycle Model

Theories of Change. This model views change as progressing through a lock-step process “that is prescribed and regulated by an institutional, natural, or logical program prefigured at the beginning of the cycle” (Van de Ven and Poole 1995:7). In the ecclesial realm this might be a church that was founded to reach a certain generational, social and/or ethic culture. The manner in which this organization develops has been embedded into the organization’s DNA at conception and/or renewal. Change is thus an outgrowth of the organizational life-cycle and its inauguration. Change will usually not be introduced from the outside as much as it will emerge from a developing cycle, that has been apriori programmed into the organization’s inception. In this view, a church is not GCRscannedcover.jpgin the empiricist metaphor tabula rasa, but rather prescribed and regulated by apriori forces that elicit certain responses.

Read more by downloading the article here: article-whitesel-gcrn-toward-a-holistic-and-postmodernal-theory-of-change-in-cg-literature-gcrn

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WALKING w/ WESLEY & Do You Have Fair-weather Faith or Faith of a Son

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 2/7/16. Excerpted from the upcoming 40-day devlotional guide: Walking w/ Wesley: A 40-day METHOD for Turning Trials into Triumphs (2018).

Day 4………………………………………………………….. Fair-weather Faith or Faith of a Son?

Imagine how Wesley felt on his voyage back to England: uncertain about ministry, uncertain about relationships and most distressingly, uncertain about death. He wrote, “Is he uneasy at the apprehension of death? Then he believeth not that ‘to die is gain’.”[1]

Stormy relationships and more storms at sea reminded him he was not prepared to die. What began with such promise now ended in disgrace, a lawsuit and broken relationships. Describing his feelings about the mission’s promise and it’s failure he reflected, “I went to America to convert the Indians; but Oh! who shall convert me? Who, what is he that will deliver me from this evil heart of unbelief? I have a fair summer religion. I can talk well; nay, and believe myself, while no danger is near: but let death look me in the face, and my spirit is troubled. Nor can I say ‘to die is gain’.”[2]

Have you ever felt the same way? That squandered opportunities and the pull of sin make you fearful of meeting God? What happened to Wesley reminds us of what God wants to do for you.

Back in England Peter Bohler, a Moravian, cautioned John that good works and methods were no substitute for a saving faith that converts a person’s passions and happiness. Such faith saves a person not just eternally, but also from undue worry and debased passions. Wesley would later recall that in Georgia he had the faith of a “servant,” seeking to please God because of obligation and duty. But later he would experience the faith of a “son,” seeking to please God because of their relationship.

At this time Charles Wesley, who had also returned from Georgia, became ill and was attended by a saintly matron. Impressed by her faith Charles asked, “Then are you willing to die?” To which the matron replied, “I am, and would be glad to die in a moment.” After she left, Charles said he felt “a strange palpitation of heart” and declared, “I believe, I believe.”[3]

Though we are sometimes weak in faith and lack assurance, God promises that he can grow a “new heart” within us, as Ezekiel reminded the similarly downtrodden Israelites:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be cleansed of all your pollution. I will cleanse you of all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove your stony heart from your body and replace it with a living one.” (Ezekiel 36:25-26)

A few days later, John attended evensong, an early evening service of prayers and psalms at stately St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The choir sang Purcell’s profoundly stirring anthem, “Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord” in which Wesley saw his own “godly yearning, mingled with heartfelt anguish.”[4]

After evensong Wesley ambled down the adjacent Aldersgate Street toward a Moravian Bible study. They were reading Martin Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans, where Luther reminds the reader that living out faith in the midst of persecution and judgment is key to our faith. When the following passage from the book was read, John’s life was forever changed: “Faith, however, is a divine work in us. It changes us and makes us to be born anew of God, John 1(12-13). It kills the old Adam and makes altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers; and brings with it the Holy Spirit.”[5]

In Wesley’s own words here is what happened next: “About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”[6]

From this moment a conversion to a new assurance took hold of Wesley’s life. No longer was his focus upon a successful career or cultivating friends and family. Rather the faith of a “son” characterized by assurance grew so that he would be ready to stand before God’s throne at any moment an be welcomed with the words, “Well done! You are a good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23).

The lesson for today is: How is your assurance? And, how is your sonship? Do you have fair-weather assurance, where you are confident in your fate when death is absent? Do you have faith of a servant, simply obeying the Father out of obligation or fear. Or do you have faith of a son, who obeys God because of your relationship?

Lesson: Assurance of a Son Overcomes Fair-weather Faith

For personal devotion, read the questions and meditate upon each and write down your responses. For group discussion, share as appropriate your answers with your group and then discuss the application.

Ask yourself, “Do I have a fair-weather faith, confident in my Christianity when everything is going well? For instance do you attend to spiritual matters (like Bible study, prayer and Christian fellowship) when things are going well? Do you find it difficult to have peace and calmness when facing temptation or death?

Then ask yourself, “Is my relationship to God more like a servant or a son? Do I follow God as a servant might, because of obligation and duty? Or do I seek to follow and please God because of a relationship, because I am his child?

And can you say, “I am ready to stand before God’s judgment this very hour?” Can you say, “I have the assurance that if I were to die this instant, I would hear God say ‘’Well done! You are a good and faithful servant’.” (Matt. 25:23)

Read these verses about assurance and sonship. Then write down three things you have learned.

God sent his Son, born through a woman, and born under the Law. This was so he could redeem those under the Law so that we could be adopted. Because you are sons and daughters, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” Therefore, you are no longer a slave but a son or daughter, and if you are his child, then you are also an heir through God. (Galatians 4:4-7)

God chose us in Christ to be holy and blameless in God’s presence before the creation of the world. God destined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ because of his love. This was according to his goodwill and plan and to honor his glorious grace that he has given to us freely through the Son whom he loves. (Ephesians 1:4-6)

All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters. You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:14-15).

And this is the testimony: God gave eternal life to us, and this life is in his Son. The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have God’s Son does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of God’s Son so that you can know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:11-13)

You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Galatians 3:26-27)

Finally, compose a one-paragraph prayer to God describing your assurance as His child.


[1] Reginald Ward and Richard P. Hietzenrater, ed.s The Works of John Wesley, Bicentennial ed., vol. 18, Journals and Diaries (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press), p. 207.

[2] ibid., 18:211

[3] Thomas Jackson, ed., The Journals of Rev. Charles Wesley (1838). Reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1980), 1:91-92

[4] Kenneth Collins, John Wesley: A Theological Journey (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2003), p. 87.

[5] E. Theodore Bachmann, ed., Luther’s Works: Word and Sacrament I (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1960), 35:369.

[6] Reginald Ward and Richard P. Hietzenrater, ed.s The Works of John Wesley, Bicentennial ed., vol. 18, Journals and Diaries (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press), pp. 249-250.

Speaking hashtags: #TheologicalReflectionSeminar

WALKING w/ WESLEY & Disgrace of a Famous Church Planter – Lessons Wesley Learned

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 2/7/16. Excerpted from the upcoming 40-day devlotional guide: Walking w/ Wesley: The 40-day METHOD for Turning Trials into Triumphs (2018).

Week 2, Day 3………………………………………………………. Disgrace of a Famous Pastor

To this day in Savannah, Georgia stately moss-covered trees surround Johnson Square. Many such parks were laid out by James Oglethorpe to provide green space for residents. And though this was the most visible and public space in Savannah, in shame and humiliation John Wesley nailed his pastoral resignation to one of the trees. What began as a celebrated church new ministry had deteriorated to this.

What had happened in a short 16 months?

John Wesley’s disgrace sprung from a unbalanced adherence to rules and methods. Grace in the form of love and forgiveness, had been lacking in John’s early methods. Though his methods would eventually guide an entire movement known as Methodism, an early over emphasis and reliance upon methods without corresponding grace, had led to his shame. How did this happen so quickly?

One writer called John Wesley a romantic[1] and for good reason. His close relationship with his mother led him to appreciate the intellectual dialogue and encouragement of a close female friend. At the same time he sought to strengthen his resolve against undue affection. Thus he set up rules and regulations to guard his relationship with Sophy, which more than likely contributed to her feeling she was secondary to his career.

Once Sophy had eloped with the irreligious William Williamson, John began to reprove her as insincere and even ungrateful.[2] John’s strict adherence to rules and methods caused him to fixate on Mrs. Williamson’s spiritual faults. On one occasion when she did not receive communion, he took her aside to list her increasingly inexcusable behavior.[3] Sophy’s guardian, a local magistrate, warned that legal action could ensue if Wesley refused her communion.[4] One month later, Wesley barred her from receiving communion.

Many in the congregation, and certainly Sophey’s guardian, felt the motive was revenge. A grand jury convened and posted ten indictments against John. In reply, John nailed his resignation letter to a tree in Johnson Square.

There is a lesson from this story of a famous pastor’s fall so early in his career. And that is that there is an insidious power in rules and methods, that must be balanced with grace and mercy. Followers of John Wesley’s methods, from his time until today, have sometimes been criticized for focusing on outward methods, in lieu of the inward character.

We see here a warning to all that would desire to embrace a structure to enhance their spiritual growth. The warning is this: that though we may embrace spiritual structures to foster spiritual growth, those very methods, without equal grace and mercy, those methods might not mirror our Lord’s conduct. We see Jesus address this with the Pharisees:

While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to share a meal with him, so Jesus went and took his place at the table. When the Pharisee saw that Jesus didn’t ritually purify his hands by washing before the meal, he was astonished.

The Lord said to him, “Now, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and platter, but your insides are stuffed with greed and wickedness. Foolish people! Didn’t the one who made the outside also make the inside? Therefore, give to those in need from the core of who you are and you will be clean all over. (Luke 11:37-41)

And Paul wrestled with rules and methods that overshadowed the grace and mercy of Christ:

If you died with Christ to the way the world thinks and acts, why do you submit to rules and regulations as though you were living in the world? “Don’t handle!” “Don’t taste!” “Don’t touch!” All these things cease to exist when they are used. Such rules are human commandments and teachings. They look like they are wise with this self-made religion and their self-denial by the harsh treatment of the body, but they are no help against indulging in selfish immoral behavior. (Colossians 2:20-23).


For personal devotion, read the questions and meditate upon each and write down your responses. For group discussion, share as appropriate your answers with your group and then discuss the application.

Recall a time when you judged someone because of the way they looked or behaved. Write in your journal the power that rules and expectations played in this. Then ask yourself, “How would Jesus have me respond differently?”

Search the scriptures for a biblical story that can guide you in such future situations. In one paragraph, summarize that story in your own words.

Then, the next time you are tempted to impose your personal methods and structures upon others, read these two paragraphs again and let them guide you into a more Christ-like response.


[1] H. Newton Malony, The Amazing John Wesley: An Unusual Look at an Uncommon Life (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2010), pp. 117-131.

[2] Reginald Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater, ed.s The Works of John Wesley, Bicentennial ed., vol. 18, Journals and Dairies (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1988), p. 490.

[3] See Kenneth A Real Christian: The Life of John Wesley (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1999), p. 49.

[4] Reginald Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater, ed.s op. cit., p. 184

Speaking hashtags: #TheologicalReflectionSeminar

WALKING w/ WESLEY & Lessons He Learned from Falling in Love With a Woman & With Ministry

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 2/7/16. Excerpted from the upcoming 40-day devlotional guide: Walking w/ Wesley: The 40-day METHOD for Turning Trials into Triumphs.

Week 2, Day 2…………………………….. Falling in Love With a Woman & With Ministry

Life was hard in Savannah, Georgia in 1736. Disease, death and the harsh wilderness weather affected many. Not surprisingly both John and Charles Wesley suffered bouts of serious illness. During one such bout, John recalled how a young church member, Sophia Hopke (known as Sophy), “Sat by my bed, read several prayers, and prepared whatever I wanted with the diligence, care, and tenderness not to be expressed.” Governor Oglethorpe encouraged the relationship thinking that a wife might do Wesley good. Though Wesley wrote in his journal regarding his tender feelings for Sophy, she made clear her intention was to remain single.[1] But, she was engaged to a reportedly mean and violent man. When John asked Sophy about this, she replied, “I am every way unhappy. I won’t have Tommy, for he is a bad man. And I can have none else.”[2] Facing such a marital and spiritual predicament, Sophy asked John to tutor her in spirituality. An affectionate relationship began to take shape.

John fell in love with Sophy, writing in his journal how he was charmed by “her words, her eyes, her air, her every motion and gesture.”[3] But, such emotions seemed to draw him away from his singular fixation on ministry. He felt his affection for Sophy was dividing his attention for ministry and in addition, she was betrothed to another. Thus, began John’s struggle. John sketched out reasons not to marry: a) she was already engaged, b) he was absorbed in a demanding ministry to Native Americans and c) she had declared her desire never to marry, but serve Christ alone. In response, John’s methodological mind devised rules, resolutions and reasons that built a wall between him and the woman he loved.

John told Sophy that he had decided not to make any decision until he had established a ministry to the Native Americans. Her response was cool, to say the least. Shortly after, she ended the tutoring. Then Sophy informed John that she had consented to a marriage proposal from a ham-fisted and irreligious Mr. Williamson, “unless you (John) have anything to object.”[4] John wrote, “to see her no more, that thought was as the piercings of a sword”[5] but he felt he must choose ministry over marriage.

Since his first encounter with her, when she nursed him back to health, John sensed that Sophy’s spirituality and tenderness were part of the support he needed to pursue ministry in the New World. Yet, by seeing these foundations as competitive, rather than complementary Wesley made a ministry error common among young leaders. Focusing solely on the needs of others clouded his need for a supportive soul mate.

First, it is important to see ministry and family as not competitive forces, but complementary ones. John’s task was so daunting that he rarely took time away from his work, which created strain, ill health and led to poor choices. The first lesson is that God provides friends and spouses as a support network for ministry. Trying to do ministry without the assistance of others, regardless of how important the ministry may be, will lead to impaired results.

Secondly, it is important to understand that rules and regulations (e.g. the “methods” he learned from his mother) can become a cage if a sensitive heart does not temper them. When he found himself thinking of Sophy too often, he set up rules, resolutions and lists of reasons not to take a wife. His heart was divided and it destroyed his sense of peace, which eventually affected his judgment. You will learn more about his errors in judgment tomorrow.

Lessons 1 & 2

For personal devotion, read the questions and meditate upon each and write down your responses. For group discussion, share as appropriate your answers with your group and then discuss the application.

(Lesson 1) Ask yourself, who do you look to as a support network for your ministry? Name them and write down the last time you were with them. Did you seek their prayers, encouragement and a listening ear? After his vision of the dry bones, God reminded Ezekiel that God would unite a nation that hitherto had been estranged, saying, (37:15-22).

The Lord’s word came to me: You, human one, take a stick, and write on it, “Belonging to Judah and to the Israelites associated with him.” Take another stick and write on it, “Stick of Ephraim belonging to Joseph and everyone of the house of Israel associated with him.” Join them to each other to make a single stick so that they become one stick in your hand. When your people ask you, “Why won’t you tell us what these sticks mean to you?” say to them, The Lord God proclaims: I’m taking Joseph’s stick, which has been in Ephraim’s hand, and the tribes of Israel associated with him, and I’m putting it with Judah’s stick, and I’m making them into a single stick so that they will be one stick in my hand. When the two sticks that you’ve written on are in your hand in their sight, speak to them, This is what the Lord God says: I will take the Israelites from among the nations where they’ve gone, I will gather them from all around, and I will bring them to their fertile land. I will make them into a single nation in the land on Israel’s highlands. There will be just one king for all of them. They will no longer be two nations, and they will no longer be divided into two kingdoms.

God can unite even estranged nations like Israel and Judah. Draw up a plan for regular times of prayer, Bible study and encouragement with a support network. Create one from scratch if you must. Add to this plan an ongoing schedule to ensure that you do not neglect those that support you.

(Lesson 2) Ask yourself, “Do I depend on rules and regulations to keep me focused? What part does my love of God and the love I receive from others play in this? Do these requirements I put upon myself sometimes steal my time away from accountability by family and friends?”

Accountability should be more than methods, it should be people too. What part of your support network is also your accountability network? Again write down a schedule to ensure that you are held accountable.


[1] Reginald Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater, ed.s The Works of John Wesley, Bicentennial ed., vol. 18, Journals and Dairies (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1988), p. 435-436.

[2] Ibid. p. 438.

[3] Ibid., p. 477-478.

[4] Ibid., p. 485.

[5] Ibid.

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