Unit 7.4 Stages in Wesley’s Methodist discipleship system


A person grew up through the Methodist discipleship system in the following stages:

1. To join the society a person had to seek out a sponsor who was a practicing Methodist. This demonstrates the relational characteristic of the discipleship system from the beginning. It would be useful to know if being the sponsor also involved aspects of serving as a mentor. From the very beginning of a pilgrim=s journey, Methodism involved linking to a sponsor already in the network. The pilgrim would grant the sponsor influence over their life, probably due to respect, and the sponsor=s influence would be a means of prevenient grace to draw the pilgrim into faith. The sponsor would show Christ=s love through acts of caring that would develop a relationship. They would have conversations about what is important in life; questions would be asked and answered. When the sponsor stopped to listen to the Methodist preacher on the way to work, the pilgrim would stand with the sponsor. To the degree the sponsor remains involved in the pilgrim=s life afterward, that relationship is also a means of sanctifying grace. Methodism is a network base design church which is connectional in nature.

2. The pilgrim joined a trial bandof 4-6 people. This Aspeed bump@ protected the faith community from the entrance of persons who were not ready for this level of commitment to holiness. The trial band tests the new member=s commitment to live a changed life and supports them in the turmoil of reorganization for holiness. This protects the class meetings from the instability of Aextra grace required@ people and furthers smooth operations at the next level. There seems to be a pattern of turning inward (trial band, band, penitent band) during times in a believer=s life that involve significant personal change; elements that interact with outsiders (class meeting, select society) would seem to be made up of people who are in a more stable phase of spiritual growth.

3. Class meeting: Wesley=s primary goal was to change the behavior of individual people toward holiness; the class meeting was an expedient innovation that began as a tool to raise funds but soon became Wesley=s tool for individual supervision in holiness.[1] Unlike the cells of a modern cell church, class meetings did not select their own members, select their own leaders, develop apprentice leaders or multiply into two class meetings. Like Yoido Church, they were geographical in nature. While they were filled out of involvement in the society – class meetings did not allow visitors – one suspects that, like Yoido, it is the networking influence of neighbors that brings persons to the society. Class meetings included both sexes, all ages, married and single, and remained together indefinitely as small communities of faith. With the practice of the General Rules, the second rule ensured that the class meeting was involved in Adoing good@ within their neighborhoods and they remained in contact with lost people. All class meetings met weekly; they emerged in February, 1742.

4. Band Society: the bands reintroduced turmoil for those who wanted Amore@ by a searching weekly examination of behavior regarding holiness. Holiness was an acceptable goal for an Anglican small group and Wesley=s writings reflect this single minded purpose. Moving away from the General Rules to the Band rules, however, seems to imply a focus only upon interior holiness. The stated goal of the bands is this: THE design of our meeting is, to obey the command of God, AConfess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.@ This is an interior focus upon personal holiness; it is hard to perceive a purpose of evangelism or community service within the rules of the Bands.[2] In order to allow frank and full confession, the bands were organized into groups of people in common states: male and female, married and single, so that all attending would be in the same circumstances. The leader would also be of the same type. Bands were not geographically oriented and therefore provided a cross section of the society; bands, therefore, functionally created multiple network connections across the society between class meetings as single men gathered with single men, married men gathered with married men, single women gathered with single women and married women gathered with married women. Band meetings normally took place in the Society house as a central meeting place. In my terminology, bands are for spiritual teenagers; it surprises me that the spiritual energy of band members does not seem to be directed toward projects and community service. According to Albin, band members do not participate in weekly class meetings, but relationships in their home neighborhoods would continue. Wesley also had separate band meetings for girls and for boys as young as eight years old. All bands met weekly. Bands were the original disciple making structure and were in place by December, 1738.

5. Select Society/Band: The select society was made up of the leaders of the Society. It included class leaders, band leaders and others involved in ministries. All ages and genders meet together in a group that could range in size from 6-60. The select society normally met on days when the traveling preacher or AMr. Wesley=s helper@ was present; this might be once a month. There is no hierarchy in the select society; all are equal, even the Wesleys or the assigned preachers. Within the select society, some might also meet as select bands. The select society is the healthy core group of leaders for the Methodist Society.

If I understand Albin correctly, participation in the select society was open to all, but the intense commitment and honest confrontation within the select society would cause people to self-select their participation in various stages of the discipleship system. When a person is ready, there are no barriers for advancement.

6. Penitent band: Early Methodism was hard to enter and easy to exit. People who would not continue in holy behavior were removed by the simple practice of not issuing them a new ticket for the following quarter. The ticket was necessary to participate in the activities of the Society. A penitent band of 3-4 people led by a person who had previously gone through the penitent band provided an opportunity for a person to demonstrate stability in their faith and holiness prior to reentry to the Society.       

[1]John Wesley, AA Plain Account of the People Called Methodists,@ The Works of John Wesley, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1979), 8:252-255. There was a problem in Bristol with raising funds for the debt on the New Room. Captain Foy proposed that the Bristol society be subdivided and that each member give one penny. He asked to be assigned eleven of the poorest individuals whom he would visit each week; he would pay the penny for any unable to make a contribution. Each week class leaders met each person in their class, reviewed the behavior and spiritual condition of each individual, reported that condition to the stewards, and turned in an offering from each person. Eventually the decision was made for the class to meet as a group so that those who would seek to deceive the leader about their behavior could be immediately be confronted with the truth by their neighbors. The class meeting was never educational in purpose or focused on bible study, but always on the modification of behavior toward holiness. Roy Hattersley, The Life of John Wesley: A Brand from the Burning (New York: Doubleday, 2003), 200-201.

[2]The complete Rules of the Bands are printed below in the next section.

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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