Putting the Method in Methodist: a new Lenten sermon series

March 5, 2010

As John Wesley’s long life neared its end, the Methodist movement, by all statistical measurements, was strong, vibrant, and growing, both in his native England and America. Nevertheless, in spite of these outward signs of success, Wesley wrote the following in 1786:

I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.1

Is Wesley being overly pessimistic? I’m not sure, but it’s easy enough to look into our own hearts and identify many ways in which we need spiritual renewal and growth. I believe strongly that our own Methodist tradition offers guidance for helping us (through the Spirit) be renewed. The term “Methodist,” after all, was originally used as an insult when John and Charles Wesley and some of their Oxford classmates began meeting together daily (and early in the morning) to practice Christian disciplines such as prayer, Bible study, fasting, Holy Communion, and service to the poor and imprisoned. These “methods” of spiritual growth are what John Wesley and the Church refer to as “means of grace.”

The season of Lent is a great time to focus on these means, methods, or channels by which the Holy Spirit transforms us and commit ourselves to practicing them in our lives. We’re probably already doing it to some extent, whether we know it or not. When we talk about “giving up something” for Lent, for example, we are practicing the discipline of fasting (more technically, what Wesley called “abstinence”). Some other means of grace, according to Wesley, include:2

  • public worship
  • ministry of the Word, either read or expounded
  • the Lord’s Supper
  • family and private prayer
  • searching the Scriptures

This is not an exhaustive list, but, along with service and fasting, these are surely the most important. Beginning this Sunday, March 7, and continuing through March 28, we will discuss these means of grace in Vinebranch. This Sunday, we introduce the topic by looking at Jesus’ words in John 16:12-15.

Join us this Sunday! One question I’ll ask you to answer via text-messaging is, “What are you doing during Lent to grow closer to God?”

John Wesley in Kenneth Carder, Living Our Beliefs (Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 2009), 11.

The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 2008), 74.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: