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The Future with John Wesley

Today, June 28, is John Wesley’s birthday. With all the brouhaha among United Methodists lately, I’ve been thinking about what makes Methodists. We know the term was first used in derision: “those method-ists, who always have a method for everything!” But what is the spirit that John Wesley tapped into, that continues to ignite and inspire (literally “breathe into”) us, at least in our together-with-Christ times?

The writer of a devotion I read this week used an apt metaphor for looking forward instead of dwelling on the past. Cars have always had small side mirrors and rear-view mirrors, he said, compared to large front windshields, so drivers can focus on the road ahead. In the same way, we need to focus on looking forward, with only periodic glances behind us to the past. With that understanding, I want to reflect on what gifts Wesley’s initial movement might help us as we look toward the future.

The greatest legacy from Wesley is not the movement’s structure, brilliant as it was for its day, or how it was adapted for institutional churches. Rather, it’s the process of how people relate. They anchored themselves in spiritual formation for the laity – the people, not just the clergy – and how their interior lives could transform their daily living. To support, challenge and encourage one another, they covenanted with each other in small groups for spiritual accountability.

No one knows now what structures will be best for fruitful faith communities in the years ahead. But we can learn from the early Wesleyan movement to look through a much wider front windshield for ways to empower people’s personal spiritual formation and ways of living. The emergent church communities, each unique to its local context, can help us occasionally in those side mirrors, as well. But the essential thing is to look ahead to where we are now, and where the Spirit can lead us in the future.

Your partner in ministry,
Betsy Schwarzentraub