This is the last post in a series of four posts about church leaders who did not give up in the midst of challenge. While the last three leaders were from the early and medieval periods of the church, this post is about a more modern leader: the visionary behind Methodism. John Wesley did not plan to start a new denomination, but his fervor for evangelism, mixed with his innovative approach to faith, set him up to start one of the most impressive missional movements in church history. What some people don’t know about John Wesley is that he had a disaster in the American colonies prior to starting the Methodist movement.
Without giving an entire backstory of Wesley’s life, it’s helpful to know that he traveled to Georgia with his brother Charles, to serve as a chaplain in the colony. While in Georgia, John fell in love with a woman named Sophia. He ministered to the Europeans in the colony, while also hoping to evangelize the Native people of the colony. His ministry in Georgia is generally regarded as a failure, but I think a large part of that had to do with his romantic troubles. His relationship with Sophia was strange. Unfortunately, she ended up marrying another man. John was so bitter by this that he refused to serve the Eucharist to Sophia and her husband. This led to legal complications and he fled to Europe.
It was actually on his way to the Americas that he encountered the Moravians—a German Pietistic group of missionaries. During a horrific storm, he witnessed the peace they had. He was inspired by their faith. Upon his return to Europe, he spent some time with the Moravians in both England and Germany. While he learned a lot from them, Wesley remained part of the Church of England. Wesley experienced a warming of the heart and a change in his spiritual life—it was significant. He reconnected with his Oxford friend, George Whitefield. Although hesitant at first, Wesley became actively involved in the same kind of evangelistic work of Whitefield. This included open-air preaching, itinerant ministry, and the development of classes, societies, and circuits throughout England.
Wesley brought incredible revival throughout Great Britain. As the United States were struggling with their identity after the American revolution, Anglican and Methodist ministers (who were still Anglican) returned to England. Wesley ordained Thomas Coke as a superintendent of the American missions, and along with Francis Asbury, the two would lead and appoint new ministers to spread the gospel throughout the United States. Francis Asbury would become one of the most influential leaders in church history, as a result of mentorship from John Wesley.
Although Wesley had failed in America, his change of heart, led him to become one of the greatest missional leaders in history. He inspired a movement that would far surpass his failure in America. Sometimes the things we fail at can be redeemed by people that we lead, coach, and inspire. Wesley could have let his failure keep him from following Jesus’ call for his life, but instead he focused on the gospel and led others to spread the good news throughout the world.