Wednesday, February 18, 2009

One Hundred Preachers

John Wesley's letter to Alexander Mather on August 6, 1777 (Letters, 6:272):


“No, Aleck, no! The danger of ruin to Methodism does not lie here. It springs from quite a different quarter. Our preachers, many of them, are fallen. They are not spiritual. They are not alive to God. They are soft, enervated, fearful of shame, toil, hardship. They have not the spirit which God gave to Thomas Lee at Pateley Bridge or to you at Boston.
Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen, such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven upon earth.”

One hundred preachers.

It’s an intriguing thought, isn’t it? One hundred people who aren’t afraid of anything, completely centered on God, connected together in order to bring heaven to earth… wow!

And how often does the phrase “shake the gates of hell” enter our conversations these days? How would that work in a congregational mission statement?

One hundred preachers – clergy, laity, whatever – whose only passion is the Reign of God and whose only mission is making God’s Reign on Earth a reality. How would things be different with a group like that in operation? How many of us would qualify for that kind of a group?

Wesley’s observation that many preachers in his day were not alive to God, fearful, and what he calls “fallen” is convicting. I don’t want to be that kind of preacher. I try not to be. But I have to confess that I have at times been there. We all have, at some point or another. There are times I am motivated by fear of shame. There are times I take an easier path in order to avoid hard work. There are times I feel myself slipping away from the spiritual and toward more worldly expectations.

It’s important to read what Wesley did not write. It’s not, “Give me one hundred preachers, and I’ll …” “…have a neat-o praise band.” “…have the biggest choir in town.” “…write a pithy catch phrase and call it a mission.” “…color-coordinate the church’s logo with the stained glass windows.” “…make sure we don’t have any coffee in the sanctuary so that the carpet stays looking nice for a long, long time.” And so forth. No, it is much, much more than that. It is harder, it is messier, and it is profoundly more dangerous.

But with that said, I’d like to think that my ideal, the paradigm preacher to which I aspire, would make Wesley’s list. I would like to be one of the one hundred preachers, fearing only sin, motivated by nothing but God, eager to bring heaven to earth in powerful and transformative ways. A preacher who would bring it strong, week in and week out. A preacher that would allow the living Word of God to shape everything I say and do. A preacher who desires for my own identity the very identity of Christ, laying myself aside so that only Christ would live.

And it’s not just about Sunday morning sermons, is it? A preacher is anyone who speaks the Gospel, whether in a formal setting like a worship service or just in day to day ordinary life, using words if necessary. A preacher understands the difference between forming a relationship with a brother or sister in Christ and beating someone up with the Bible. A preacher is someone who will take the time to truly connect with someone who is hurting, sharing their time and God’s love with them freely and without reserve. A preacher is someone who is comfortable with the unconditional inclusivity and love that Jesus proclaimed in his life, and lives that kind of openness and love in her or his own life.

Would there be one hundred such preachers, given fully to proclamation of the Gospel, placing God’s priority utmost over congregation, conference, or denomination, unafraid of earthly consequence, and grabbing hold of Hell’s gates and rattling them back and forth for God’s sake, bringing God’s justice, God’s peace, God’s grace, and God’s love to the world … imagine what might happen!

Give me one hundred preachers … wow.

5 comments:

John said...

Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen, such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven upon earth.

Is there a good pension plan?

Seriously, it's a wonder that Wesley was never lynched by his fellow Anglican clergy for saying radical stuff like this. And that I do mean literally. I think that the last thing that a lot of institutional churches want is the gates of hell shaken and the kingdom of God set up on earth.

Brad said...

I'm afraid of snakes. Guess I'm out.

Putting the Reign of God realized on earth above self, congregation, career, conference, denomination...Amen, my brother.

By God's grace, let us all aspire to be counted in Wesley's Hundred.

Kansas Bob said...

"A preacher understands the difference between forming a relationship with a brother or sister in Christ and beating someone up with the Bible."

Amen Andy! The charge is to make disciples not converts.. and you do that through love not hell-fire fear.

bridger said...

A preacher is someone who will take the time to truly connect with someone who is hurting, sharing their time and God’s love with them freely and without reserve. A preacher is someone who is comfortable with the unconditional inclusivity and love that Jesus proclaimed in his life, and lives that kind of openness and love in her or his own life.

What a profoundly simple way to change the world. I've seen it over and over, a church that finally realizes that the world is thirsting for Jesus' love and decides to give everyone a drink. No charge, no expectations, no hoops, you don't even need a cup. Just come on in and drink from the fountain. Hands open, hearts open, helping because we are the hands of Jesus reaching out to everyone else. Preach on, Andy!

Kyle B.

Dale Shotts said...


I think many preachers will agree with you, Andy, but when it comes to going through the fire of opposition by congregants who disagree, we back off and adjust.

I believe that many laity also agree, yet when it comes to going through the fire with the pastor, we remain silent.

All that is needed for the great Opposer to win is for me to be silent.
Dale Shotts