20 07 2011

Reaching the Rough and Tumble of Society: An Historical Example

From the blog THE INTERNET MONK July 19 by Chaplain Mike

By Chaplain Mike

OK, so you have a heart to reach men for Christ—working class men, work with your hands and bring home the bacon kind of men, hard working and sometimes hard living “men’s” men, men who are not afraid to break a sweat and get dirty.

These are not the kind of men that grace church pews. You’ll find them in the pubs after work, downing a pint or two and using indelicate language. In their rare free time, you might find them playing sports with such a competitive fire that it leads to a brawl now and then. You’ll find them placing bets on the ponies. You’ll find them out in the woods hunting or on the lake fishing. At home, they are likely to be chopping firewood or wielding a hammer to mend some flaw on the roof.

You want to reach these men for Christ. You want to see them humble themselves and repent and go to the Cross and trust in Jesus. You long that they will become disciples. You hope to see them in church among the congregation, praising God in song, becoming hearers and doers of the Word, partaking of Christ’s body and blood at the Lord’s Table. You want to teach them to love their families, to do their work to God’s glory, to love their neighbors, to be generous, kind, and hospitable people. Perhaps some will find opportunities to improve their lot in life and they will do great good through their charitable works on behalf of the less fortunate. Perhaps some will become leaders in their communities, peacemakers, promoters of good order and all that is good and right.

What is your strategy for reaching these men, the rough and tumble of society?

What kind of a person would you choose to speak to them?

If you had fifty years to try and impact this working class culture dramatically with the Gospel, who would you pick as your leader as the face of that movement?

I’ll tell you who God chose.

God chose…

  • A man of aristocratic background, not a working class man.
  • The youngest child in a large family, whose greatest influence in life was his mother.
  • A man who was frail and diminutive, about 5′ 4″ tall, not an imposing figure.
  • A man who was undramatic, not one who overpowered you with his presence and speaking ability.
  • An academic, who had spent most of his life in school surroundings, who had mastered six languages.
  • A serious and pious man, who had lived a strict personal life of following religious rules and abstaining from fleshly pleasures.
  • A man who was very conservative about the church, who practiced liturgical worship, who did not believe in religious innovation.

In other words, a man who did not relate to the people in that rough and tumble working class by any natural ties whatsoever.

God chose John Wesley.

One day God dragged John Wesley out into a field in Bristol, England, where he hesitantly preached to a large group of tough coal miners, and he was hooked. For the next fifty years, he and his band of “methodists” worked tirelessly among the working classes throughout the British Isles, winning those on the rough edges of society and equipping them to follow Christ in their world. Though it ultimately did not work out that way, Wesley had no intention of starting a new church or denomination. He was a staunch Church of England proponent his entire life, and the Book of Common Prayer was his liturgy. He hoped methodism would become a missional force within the Church of England that would help the church recover and maintain her spiritual vitality. He was an organizational genius, however, and the overwhelming response to his preaching required that he provide for the ongoing spiritual sustenance of those the Church would not welcome. And thus the Methodist church came to be. However, Wesley’s innovations were targeted toward the church’s mission, not her gathered life and order.

He did not think that one had to change the Great Tradition of the church to reach lost working class people.

He did not think that one had to change the church’s worship or traditional ministries to reach lost working class people.

He did not think that he had to radically identify with the culture of his audience by dressing like them, speaking like them, or altering his message in any way in order to reach working class people.

He did not try to change the church or its fundamental ethos.

He did not change the pastor’s ministry.

What did he do?

He took the Gospel out of the church and into the world.

He trusted in the power of the Holy Spirit to empower the preaching of the Gospel and the good works of his people as they lived and moved and preached and ministered in the fields, villages, towns, and cities of England.

And that’s how you reach men, women, and children for Christ. You don’t have to identify with them, dress like them, speak like them, attract them by playing their music or making them think you’re cool.

You just have to be yourself, radically identified with Christ, and living in relationship with your neighbors in their world. Let the church be the church. Let the mission be done in the world by the John Wesleys of our day, who rely not on church growth principles and missional strategies, but on the power of God to bring revival.