John Wesley’s work with George Whitefield was coming to a new juncture. Whitefield was to leave for a preaching campaign in America and was turning over his part of the work of evangelism in Bristol to Wesley. He knew Wesley could continue the field preaching and would work to disciple those awakened by the field preaching.
Wesley had a keen sense that people who had been awakened and brought to salvation through faith in Christ needed to grow in this faith. This keen sense prompted Wesley to employ a methodical approach to Christian growth. This approach was so methodical and laid out in particular ways that the adherents to these methods became known by others as methodists. Part of the methodical approach Wesley employed was the gathering into groups to mutually encourage those awakened and practice means of grace.
Wesley was clear to declare that there were “means of grace” that assisted awakened and converted people in their growth as christians. By “means of grace”
Wesley meant the study of Scripture, prayer, meeting with other Christians, fasting, and taking the Lord’s Supper. These means were surely practiced in private and corporate ways in group life. He also understood the “means of grace” to be visiting those in prison, caring for the poor, and other ways of assisting others.
These means off grace employed in systematic ways enabled people to grown in their new found faith. And although Wesley employed systematic and methodical means he knew that the means were never the end. The end of these means of grace and methodical practices was to encounter the living God.
The method of joining those awakened into groups by Wesley was not unique nor new. England had long had societies that sought to bring people together for mission or christian growth that was often unavailable to those in the Church of England(**Heitzenrater, 21ff). These groups/societies provided nurture and discipleship for living out the faith one had embraced, and supporting charitable causes. In some ways it has been asserted that Wesley’s preaching with organizing people into groups for nurture and discipleship is why there is a Methodist Church to this day and the work of Whitefield mostly ended when he died.
Are you involved in any way with a group that is designed to nurture your spiritual growth?
Is your approach to Christian nurture methodical or “hit and miss?”
**Wesley and The People Called Methodist, Richard P. Heitzenrater