Sermon Summary (9/15/19) “Living Our Beliefs: Life Together” (Acts 2:41-42; 46-47)
I realized how far I had to go in my Christian walk when I opened a Maxie Dunnam workbook and it said our goal was to become “Little Christs.” It seemed like a road too far. It would have been one of those things that Jesus would have said, “It is impossible for humankind, by nothing is impossible with God.” Of course, he said too, “Enter by the narrow gate...for the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few that take it.” It seems that few in our society even find the gate!
Yet in centuries past, our Methodist forefathers “renewed the nations, particularly the church, and spread scriptural holiness across the land. What was the “method in Methodism”? Scholars agree that it was small groups, “Societies, Classes, and bands,” groups that followed the General Rules of “First, do no harm; then Do good; and then Follow the ordinances of God. The later were means of grace, Private devotions, prayers and fasting; Public worship and the sacraments; and People, ie. Community and service.
It was community where people learned, were mentored, and held themselves accountable, all essential elements of transformation. Grace moves us from where we are to where God wants us to be. It is God through grace that moves us toward becoming “Little Christs.” What is impossible for us is possible with God. Wesley found that without Societies, that all the preaching like apostles did little. He chose never to strike a stroke without being able follow the blow with small groups.
It is “Life together” that forms us. Wesleyan small groups were mandatory in England and later in America. Attending small groups in America gave participants a ticket to attend Sunday worship. In 1850, the church chose to no longer make them mandatory. The acceleration of church building slowed and then began a slow decline. The blow was no longer being struck.
Yet others will say that the most successful churches in America are employing Wesleyan small groups while Methodists have abandoned them. Saddleback in California, Willow Creek in Chicago, North Point in Atlanta all emphasize Wesleyan small groups. I sat with a pastor from Las Vegas this past week., a church that attends 7000 weekly. He was responsible for training and sustaining 350 small groups of about 4500 participants. Their “Life Groups” are the heart of the church, the families of the participants. As their name implies, they give life to the church.
When Rosemary and I moved to Connecticut, there was one historic building, the Methodist Meeting House (1811), not a church, a meeting house. It was meeting as a society, a community, that was the heart of the church. If we want to once again spread scriptural holiness, the method will be Wesleyan small groups once again. So may it be with us.