Sunday, January 15, 2012

John Wesley's Leadership Lessons

I doubt that John Wesley would have hit the motivational speaker circuit to tout his newest leadership learnings. I've been intrigued by Wesley, not just in his role as theologian and evangelist, but also as a leader in an enduring movement of spiritual renewal.

Few leaders have led better, over so many years. And few leaders have written more extensively both in treatises and in personal correspondence than John Wesley. However, Wesley did this without ever explicitly articulating a leadership philosophy.

The modern research fascination with all things leadership would certainly have caught his attention were he alive today. He was always learning and alert to the discussions of the day. He engaged most contemporary topics from medical breakthroughs to political developments.

Wesley's first leadership experience, outside of his home, is in Christ College, Oxford University, where he takes the initiative in forming the Holy Club, later to be derisively labeled "the Methodists." He helps to formulate the purpose and guidelines for this fellowship which become very much what would be described today as a missional community. They were equally concerned about their mutual spiritual formation and about fulfilling the external obligations of social holiness in caring for the poor and imprisoned.

Wesley's leadership experiences in the Holy Club merit additional research.

The next phase of his ministry occurs in the context of mission work in the colony of Georgia. Though entrusted with positional leadership by the governor, Wesley struggles both in fulfilling his mission to the native Americans and in serving his parishioners among the colonist. His own sense of spiritual emptiness and inexperienced leadership concludes with him fleeing back to England with a keen awareness of his failure.

He returns to England and, almost desperately, searches for personal spiritual transformation. Wesley's future leadership success will flow from this renewed heart (Aldersgate Street) and a clear sense of calling to the mission of God among the people of England.

Fetter Lane Society. Leading through his teaching gift. Organizing to preserve the harvest in Kingswood. Laying the groundwork for future leaders.

Small group ministry is equal parts pastoral care and leadership development. While the first priority is often the nurture and discipleship of believers, the effectiveness of these groups is predicated on the effectiveness in mobilizing, motivating, mentoring and monitoring the individuals leading those groups.

This is where Wesley's leadership gifting becomes most clearly evident. He is gifted in both identifying potential leaders (character first) and in providing the structure in which they can not only develop, but flourish.

Entrusting cobblers and miners with the spiritual care of a dozen or more new believers was not the common practice of the Church of England. Wesley's fruitful ministry was yielding a harvest that the established churches and appointed clergy had no experience in serving. Discipling these rough hewn converts was not a task for the faint of heart.

Wesley deployed laborers from the harvest to labor in the harvest. He assembled a corps of journeyman lay pastors who tended the new lambs and held the wolves at bay.

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