Wesley's lessons

May 25th, 2015

“To reach people that no one is reaching you have to do things that no one is doing.” — Craig Groeschel

Love makes you do crazy things. When my wife and I were dating, we decided to celebrate her December birthday at a fancy restaurant. On her big day, temperatures dropped to minus ten degrees Fahrenheit, before wind chill. That might not have been so bad if we weren’t living ninety miles apart. We waver back and forth on the phone, until I said, “Honey, it’s your birthday. I want to be with you.” I jumped in the car, drove an hour and half to see her, dined at a sparsely populated restaurant, and drove an hour and half back. While at dinner, we both said, “This is crazy on a night like tonight!” But it didn’t matter. We were in love.

Love is a motivating force. It gets us out of ourselves and thinking in ways we have never considered. Some time ago, God came up with a crazy, never-been-tried idea to be with people who are hurting, alone, and adrift in life. Jesus describes it this way: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life” (John 3:16 CEB). Implementing this idea was costly beyond measure, but going to the people who had turned away was the only way to connect with them. It’s what love does.

A young John Wesley was captured by this kind of love. The church of his day in eighteenth-century England was lifeless and irrelevant to its culture. When the love of Jesus Christ warmed Wesley’s heart, he found he couldn’t keep it to himself. He felt compelled to reach the masses of people who would never darken the door of a church.

This compulsion led to an inner conflict. As a priest of the Church of England, Wesley was convinced the gospel could only be proclaimed behind the stained-glass bounds of a church building. But hardly anyone attended church services in those days. It didn’t connect with the real lives of everyday people. After a long struggle, Wesley took the advice of his friend George Whitefield and began preaching out of doors. On April 2, 1739, at age thirty-six, he wrote in his journal:

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. (1)

That was the tipping point of the eighteenth-century revival. If Wesley had waited for those three thousand people to come to church, he would have died standing at the altar. Instead of making them come to him, Wesley went to them.

Are you willing to “be more vile”? Who are the people you know who could die before they ever darken the door of a church? How will the forgiving love and leadership of Jesus Christ be extended to them?

Jesus’s final charge to his disciples was to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19 CEB). To follow Jesus is to go to the “nations,” the people groups in your neighborhood, school, community, and beyond that don’t know him yet. It’s to take the initiative. What might it look like to be more vile these days?

A guy in our church likes hanging out at Panera. He’ll walk in, get some coffee, open his Bible at a table, and put up a card that says, “I’m available to pray, talk, or listen.”

A new church in Iowa was all fired up about reaching their community. They didn’t want to take people out of existing churches, so they bought shot glasses and distributed them to all the bars in town. Each glass read: Cross Point United Methodist Church. Give us a shot.

That got them in trouble with a few church people. (Makes you wonder how they knew.)

Craig Groeschel, senior pastor of LifeChurch.tv, one of the largest and most missionally creative churches in the United States, brainstormed with his team about the best advertising spots to attract nonchurched people. They came up with a risky idea: place their church advertisement on a high-traffic porn website.


Times have changed in America. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was expected that people would go to church. Those of us in church back then didn’t have to do anything. We simply published the service times, opened the doors, and welcomed people in. The world came to us. But the world is not coming on its own anymore. Our time is now more like Wesley’s day. We must go to them. We must creatively think of ways to meet them on their turf and their terms. Edgy new approaches may seem crazy, even vile, from where we stand waiting. But when someone is far from God, it’s what love does.

1. John Wesley, The Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley, eds. Richard P. Heitzenrater and Frank Baker, vol. 19, Journal and Diaries II (1789–1743), eds. W. Reginald Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater (Nashville: Abingdon, 1990), 46.

This article has been adapted from Roger’s forthcoming book Meet the Goodpeople: Wesley’s 7 Ways to Share Faith (Abingdon Press, 2015).

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