loren Eric Swanson: Changing the Trajectory of the Church, Part 4

Monday, March 13, 2006

Changing the Trajectory of the Church, Part 4

The church needs to evangelize and develop leaders

A tough job of the church is preserving the fruit while continually going after the lost. A tougher job is identifying and training leaders while continuing to have an evangelistic thrust. One of the sorriest conditions for people, Jesus seems to say, is to be like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36)—to be converts with no one to care for them. It would be a cliché if it were not so true and prevalent that there is such a lack of leaders in the church today. Somehow the church has to do a better job of identifying, investing in and empowering young leaders. This week (October 2006) I’ve been in Athens for a meeting of the European Evangelical Alliance. From what I have seen and heard, it is a group of overworked aging men who have too many jobs to be really effective at any one of them. They need to train leaders.

What difference is there between evangelism and evangelism with leadership development? In the early 1700’s, the twenty-three year old preacher, George Whitefield could gather a crowd in excess of 20,000. Erudite and eloquent beyond his years Whitefield would hold the unchurched spellbound through his “field preaching” and hundreds would come to Christ at each of his open-air services. His contemporary John Wesley was a ready pupil of Whitefield but he broke from his mentor in respect to multiplication.

Whitefield had initiated and popularized mass evangelism to the unchurched, but Wesley organized the movement and brought it under systematic management. Whitefield hoped that those who had been ‘awakened’ would follow through on their own initiative; Wesley left nothing to chance. He made sure that those who were serious about leading a new life were channeled into small groups for growth in discipleship. These little meetings were later called ‘classes’ and formed the backbone of the Methodist reformation for the next century.[1]

Wesley’s classes were really modest church plants that formed the embryonic structures of the Methodist Church. Many years after Wesley and Whitefield parted company, Whitefield confessed to one of Wesley’s followers, “My brother Wesley acted wisely—the souls that were awakened under his ministry he joined in class, and thus preserved the fruits of his labor. This I neglected, and my people are a rope of sand.”[2]

Questions for reflection
What do you do to identify and develop leaders?
What could you learn from John Wesley about leadership development?
[1] Michael D. Henderson, John Wesley’s Class Meeting (Nappanee, IN: Evangel Publishing House), 1997, p. 28
[2] Henderson, p. 30


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