By Max Wilkins-
One of the great joys of leading TMS Global has been to witness local congregations come alive as they grasp the reality that mission is the reason the church exists and get serious about mobilizing for that mission. It usually happens when our ministry coaches a local church through a Global Impact Celebration about the imperative of mission mobilization. As our denomination finds itself at a crossroads, mobilizing our congregations for mission is a major component for restarting the Wesleyan movement that has had such a historic impact on our world.
If the Methodist movement was seeded in the hearts of John and Charles Wesley, and germinated in the Oxford Holy Club, it was undeniably born in The New Room. It was in Bristol, England in 1739 that a couple of disparate, small “societies” merged under the organization and leadership of John Wesley, constructed a building to house their ministry, and began to grow exponentially into the Wesleyan revival that would sweep England and the world.
Although New Room was often called a “chapel” during the early days of the Wesleyan revival, it was not a church. John Wesley intended that the people called Methodist would continue to worship in established Anglican churches and cathedrals. Indeed, he forbade the scheduling of any activities at New Room during the hours of scheduled Anglican worship services. Further, early Methodists were encouraged to regularly receive the sacraments, but were required to visit the established churches and cathedrals to do so.
Although New Room hosted a lot of preaching and Bible teaching and hymn singing, it was not primarily a place of worship. In fact there were only a few moveable benches for seating for the large crowds who gathered there. This was because New Room was principally a mission center. Most of each day, seven days a week, the space was used as a medical dispensary, a school room, and a feeding place for the desperately poor people of Bristol.
When teaching and prayer did take place at New Room it was primarily about encouraging and empowering the believers to engage in mission with the people of Bristol and the surrounding communities. Most of the evangelism was occurring at the open air preaching missions that the Wesleys conducted daily at the prisons, the mines, and the docks. These first Methodists were encouraged and expected to visit Newgate Prison daily. They were taught to minister to the sick, the destitute, and the uneducated, providing both spiritual nourishment through prayer and the word, and physical aid through food, clothing, medical care, and education. In short, New Room was not a church – it was the Church, a mission center and a missionary sending agency.
The idea of Methodist “band” meetings (specialized small groups) was also born at New Room. Ironically, the band meeting idea was taken from the Moravians, who had already been practicing it for years. Yet the Moravians during this time were struggling to grow, while the Methodists flourished. The difference was that the Moravians were not interested in engaging the world in mission. They were highly critical of Wesley’s insistence that his people engage in works of mercy and piety and they opposed his open air preaching.
Wesley took the church to the streets, both in word and deed, and the result was a changed world. He understood that mission is the reason the church exists, and at The New Room, he demonstrated the importance of that truth to the world.
E. Stanley Jones, the great Methodist missionary to India, is reported to have said, “When the tide of mission rolls in, all the ships in the harbor will rise.” John Wesley certainly found that to be true, when the personal piety of those early Methodist band members was channeled by The New Room into mission engagement. And we at TMS Global are finding this truth still valid today as we see churches mobilized to join Jesus in his mission. Perhaps once again reengaging with the mission will be the key that relaunches the movement and facilitates revival. That is my prayer.
Max Wilkins is the president of TMS Global (tms-global.org).