And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 2:4 (NLT)
John Wesley, the 18th century founder of Methodism, had a penchant for “plain preaching”. Though his written sermons were theologically brilliant, logically-organized and academically-powerful, his so-called field preaching was so “user-friendly” to field hands, factory workers and the poorest, uneducated common person. But that was not natural for Wesley; he had to work at learning to put aside the big words!
James Kiefer has a story that survives about Wesley which helps us understand why Wesley’s personal charm and commitment to reaching the least of these turned into a powerful movement for Christ:
The early Methodist meetings were often led by lay preachers with very limited education. On one occasion, such a preacher took as his text Luke 19:21, "Lord, I feared thee, because thou art an austere man." Not knowing the word "austere," he thought that the text spoke of "an oyster man." He spoke about the work of those who retrieve oysters from the sea-bed. The diver plunges down from the surface, cut off from his natural environment, into bone-chilling water. He gropes in the dark, cutting his hands on the sharp edges of the shells. Now he has the oyster, and kicks back up to the surface, up to the warmth and light and air, clutching in his torn and bleeding hands the object of his search. So Christ descended from the glory of heaven into the squalor of earth, into sinful human society, in order to retrieve humans and bring them back up with Him to the glory of heaven, His torn and bleeding hands a sign of the value He has placed on the object of His quest. Twelve men were converted that evening. Afterwards, someone complained to Wesley about the inappropriateness of allowing preachers who were too ignorant to know the meaning of the texts they were preaching on. Wesley, simply said, "Never mind, the Lord got a dozen oysters tonight."
John Wesley obviously understood the nature of priority – putting aside the trivial in favor of getting the job done. That’s usually a matter of pride losing when it would rather win.
In a day when many Methodist established churches go literally years without seeing a single soul come to Christ, the story of an uneducated, but Christ-honoring layman leading a service in which 12 people come to their knees in conversion should either stir us or shame us into getting back to why we are sent in the first place; we are sent to proclaim the saving message of the cross wherever and to whomever we encounter, with the express intention of winning them to the Kingdom.
A good question to ask while facing the mirror today is:
And a second question then becomes unavoidable: