“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.