Unit 7.1 The Early Methodist Faith Community


Unit 7: Methodist Historical DNA and Modern Cell Churches: Is There A Match?

Lecture: The Early Methodist Faith Community

I was not disappointed in my choice to spend a week learning from Dr. Tom Albin. His expertise derives from an exhaustive study of the journals of early British Methodists and the records of the societies while at Cambridge University in England. We cannot discern the evangelistic operations of a movement by examining the leaders; the shape of the equipping track and the management system that keeps the whole running smoothly can only be understood by examining the behavior of the common people. Their behavior reveals the operating system of disciple making.


Early Methodism is a movement. As such it fits very neatly into our two winged format of the church. The Anglican church is the Worship System which provides the basic, traditional experience of church in every parish. The Methodist Movement is the Discipleship System which provides an equipping track process for personal spiritual growth in definite stages. For Anglicans, the faith community lies definitely with the parish church; for the Methodists, largely excluded from power in the parish (one assumes) for socioeconomic reasons, the place that they find power is in the faith community of the discipleship system.

Learning how to exert power and influence within the faith community of early Methodism taught important lessons to poor people. They learned how to support one another such that they could overcome problems in their own lives and rise to middle class within three generations, a miraculous achievement in a repressive, ogliarchic society. Besides creating Aecclesiolae in ecclesia@ – little churches within the big church – they created little communities within communities, and learned how to use influence in those communities which later gave them influence within the large community. Wesley modeled the means to address and confront the problems of the day and it is certain that the early Methodists followed his example locally, albeit on a much smaller scale. David Lowes Watson, for example, credits the leadership skills and personal self discipline learned in the class meetings as providing the leaders of Labor with the means to form labor unions and rise to power in British politics. I expect that one would also find multiple examples of the principles of community organization as defined by Saul Alinsky within the early Methodist movement, as well as Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam=s work on building social capital.[1]

If these principles of social functioning are universal, they can only be observed and verified through an examination of the lives of the common Methodist people. How did they socially interact outside of class and band? How did they support each other and unify against the threat from outsiders? How early did the Methodist community become involved in the politics of rural villages and eventually in cities in England? These lessons in personal maturity and self-discipline once provided the solution to extreme poverty and political repression; it=s likely that a similar networking structure for personal social change would repeat the historical success in overcoming poverty if utilized by those tasked with addressing world poverty by the upcoming General Conference.

[1]Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000). Putnam=s work is online at The Saguaro Seminar, Civic Engagement in America, http://www.bowlingalone.com/ ( accessed June 15, 2007).

NOTE (my response)



The quote is from Major League Disciple Making: An Overview of the Best Research on the Cell Church, an online course developed for the Institute for Discipleship at www.BeADisciple.com in 2009. Course materials, including these lectures, can be downloaded here: http://www.disciplewalk.com/IFD_MLD_Class_Links.html

All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please review the page How and Why We Use Quotes.

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