Wesley’s Focus on Fruit: Senior Staff Retreat (1 of 4)

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The conversation around the  Call to Action: Reordering the Life of the UMC and the subsequent UMC Leadership Summit, as well as the conversation in Kansas and Nebraska about Great Plans for the Great Plains: A Vision (PDF Link), I have been reflecting on the time that I spent on the spring senior staff retreat at Resurrection in which we read together, Bearing Fruit: Ministry with Real Results.

John Wesley focused on outcomes and fruitfulness in ministry. He initiated practices in his ministry and among Methodists which he saw bearing fruit in God’s kingdom, despite the fact that some of these practices did not make sense to him. Wesley writes in his journal in 1739:

“Saturday, [March] 31. In the evening I reached Bristol, and met Mr. Whitefield there. I could scare reconcile myself at first to this strange way of preaching in the fields, of which he set me an example on Sunday; having been all my life (till very lately) so tenacious of every point relating to decency and order, that I should have thought the savings of souls almost a sin, if it had not been done in a church.

Mon [April] 2. – At four in the afternoon, I submitted to be more vile, and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation, speaking from a little eminence in a ground adjoining to the city, to about three thousand people.”

Will you please share your thoughts, feelings or opinions about practices that bear fruit despite not making sense to you?

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7 thoughts on “Wesley’s Focus on Fruit: Senior Staff Retreat (1 of 4)

  1. First, thanks for posting this. Second, as a UM working in a Presbyterian Church it is both amusing and challenging to see an actual time when Wesley let go of “decency and order” to try preaching beyond the walls of the church. It is even more interesting since the Presbyterian pastor I work with has been asked by his Presbyter to spend one day a week “in the field” developing relationships. His experience in that transition is similar to Wesley’s. I think all mainline denominations need to reclaim that vision of where some of the work must be done. After all, Jesus preached or taught in homes far more often than in the synagogue.

  2. Andrew, I’m not sure field preaching “did not make sense” to Wesley. It was more that it was distasteful to his Oxford ways. Maybe that’s what you mean, but the distinction is important.

    I was just reading in Wesley’s journals the other day. The entry was from 1756 or so. He had preached in the open air and wrote in his journal his continuing amazement that such preaching was the more effective tool for reaching people. It made sense because it worked.

  3. I struggle with all of this from two perspectives. First, I am frustrated by the response of Clergy to the CTA, particularly their pushback against measurement of numerical outcomes. Somewhere we forgot that it was the earliest Methodists who instituted the systematic data collection we still employ today, and they did so precisely out of a theological conviction that fruitfullness (as defined in at least large part by numerical growth), was an important aspect of accountability.

    On the other had, I worry that the CTA puts the burden and onus of responsibilty totally on senior pastors, without adressing the 800 pound Gorilla in the room, an almost complete lack of shared values at AC and GC level. Abscent such shared values, in an itenerate system with regular pastoral changes, momentum is difficult to sustain.

    I have much more say about all this, but unfortunately I have a 20 page paper (much of which relates directly to this discussion) due tommorow!

    • Chuck, I’m pretty sure we measure all these things now. Indeed, the CTA came to conclusions based on things that are already measured and had stored in files.

      The push back comes from reducing the meaning of vitality to bald numbers. Willow Creek went through this recently when it concluded that rising attendance and small group participation did not translate into discipleship. If we are interested in discipleship that is a fairly important discussion that the CTA ignores because discipleship is not easy to measure.

      That is my sense of the push back.

  4. Why might the willow creek thing be completely different? I am convinced you can see that these are not even close to the same discussions….

  5. One more note, some aspects of discipleship actually turn out to be measurable. Professions of faith stands out as one. A church full of disciples will, without a doubt, lead people to faith in Christ. Bringing people to faith in Christ is the defining mission of the church, clearly we can agree that this should be measured and pastors who consistently fail to lead even a single person to faith either personally or through the fruit of their congregation are, perhaps, in the wrong field.

    Also – yes we have collected data for years, that is true, but we haven’t used that data (The way that the early Methodists did), to discipline and direct the clergy in their work.

    • Bringing people to faith in Christ is the defining mission of the church, clearly we can agree that this should be measured and pastors who consistently fail to lead even a single person to faith either personally or through the fruit of their congregation are, perhaps, in the wrong field.

      Absolutely.

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