Author Archives: Brian Yeich

A Solid Foundation by Brian Yeich

For over a year, we have been renovating my grandparents’ house which was built in 1943. We replaced windows, electrical and plumbing. Progress was visible as the house came into form, yet all the while, lurking underneath, problems were brewing. 

Confession is good for the soul, and mine is that we should have inspected and addressed the foundation first. As we began to uncover the original subfloor of the house, the problems became evident. For those who don’t know, Louisiana has a very humid climate. Humidity is not friendly to pier and beam houses constructed with wood beams and floor joists. Floorboards were rotten, cracked and disintegrating. However, it was even worse than we knew. As we began cutting out the bad subfloor, we discovered that the floor joists were also deteriorated and needed to be replaced. Our carpenter surmised that some of the damage came from above, but in other places the damage started below and then came to the surface. 

This leads me to another confession. I sometimes approach my own spiritual life in the same manner. I address those things I can see – the things on the surface, but I fail to allow the Holy Spirit to plumb the depths and address those foundational issues in my soul. If I am committed to Jesus and committed to a life of missional discipleship, I must keep an eye on the foundation. Just like our house, if there are problems in the foundation, they will eventually come to the surface. When that happens, the stage has been set for struggles, temptations and broken relationships. 

Just like my house, I can’t always see the foundation problems myself. I need to be in community with others who are joining me as we follow Jesus. The early Methodist movement was characterized by these kinds of relationships. People watched over one another in love as they met in class meetings, bands and other small group contexts with the goal of being formed into the likeness of Jesus. From the Holy Club’ to his dying days, John Wesley understood that deep community and spiritual friendships were essential to pursuing the life Jesus calls us to.  

I know many Christians who don’t have such valuable spiritual friendships in their lives and that saddens me. Many of these Christians look like they have it all together. Just like the new windows on our house, it seems things are in great shape until a real challenge comes. Then the weakness in the foundation becomes clear. Things begin to crumble, creak and ultimately, crash. 

I think we can still learn from John Wesley and the people called Methodists who pursued Christian holiness by gathering with spiritual friends.  This model can still help us grow closer to Jesus.

As of today, I belong to four fellowship bands connected with the Inspire Movement. Inspire Fellowship Bands are updated Wesleyan bands of two to four persons meeting together to help each abide deeply with God and live missionally in the world. Each of my bands is unique. One is a local fellowship band with a friend from college. The others, which meet on Zoom, include an Irishman, a missionary to Eastern Europe, a Texan, and guys from Indiana, California and the Carolinas. These are very different groups, yet each gives the others permission to examine the “foundations” of our souls. While our conversation may sometimes drift to the mundane, we try to draw each other back to what is really happening deep in our souls as we follow Jesus. Those foundational questions like, “How is it with your soul?” keep us focused on the underpinnings of our faith and not just what’s on the surface. 

My friend and mentor, Dr. Phil Meadows often laments that the lack of real Christian community in our modern times is a major factor in why people have left.  Along those lines, I recently read a new book, The Great Dechurching. The book seems to make a good effort to understand who is leaving and why they are leaving church. The authors identify several de-churched groups who identify community, friendships, and belonging as the reasons people have left the church, and some of the reasons they might return. It could be argued that these persons found their churches lacking a sense of deep Christian community and thus few calls or opportunities to examine their “foundations.” 

With an unexamined foundation, problems will eventually come to the surface. When they do, people without community often cannot navigate the challenges. As the challenges mount, the very church which could be remodeling their faith gets blamed and left behind.

So, what do we do? 

We all need to examine our own foundations. In order to do that we need trusted spiritual friends to speak into that reflection, help us draw closer to Jesus, and follow the nudges of the Spirit to shore up that foundation. For those of us in leadership, this is especially urgent as people are leaving the church. People around us need not just another face-lift but a deeper examination. This means we have to have our own house in order, from the floor joists through the utilities to the finish. Once we have tended to our own solid foundations, then we can begin helping others find those spiritual friends who can help them walk with Jesus. 


To learn more about the Inspire Movement, visit:

Following Jesus in Mission by Brian Yeich

An epiphany is a moment of realization often experienced as a sudden, and perhaps surprising, insight. Earlier this month, Christians celebrated Epiphany, when the church reflects on God’s revelation through the coming of Jesus; I believe it presents us with an opportunity to reflect on how Jesus is speaking to us today.

As 2023 launches, one of the things I continue to reflect on is how we are called by Jesus to be on mission in our world. I am involved in a ministry called the Inspire Movement, which seeks to help Christians abide deeply with God and live missionally in the world. The goal is that people will become the kind of disciples who live as everyday ordinary missionaries. When we share this vision with people, they are often hesitant to embrace the idea that they are called to be a “missionary” or “evangelist.”

I think part of the hesitancy comes from two similar misperceptions about living lives on mission for Jesus. First, there is the misperception that we are not gifted in evangelism, and therefore cannot or even should not be engaged in sharing the gospel with others. While the gift of evangelism may not show up in our spiritual gifts inventory, Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew make clear that disciples are called to be engaged in the world: “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13–17, ESV)

While being salt and light may not look like preaching on a street corner or traveling to exotic locations around the world to spread the gospel, the potential impact is still significant. We can still share the story of our relationship with Jesus with our neighbor. We can share how Jesus has changed us and invite that person to see how Jesus might work in their life.

Another misperception that prevents us from living a life on mission is the idea that the work of evangelism has to be done on our own. We may think that the work of evangelism and everyday mission is the stuff of superheroes, not ordinary Christians. But for Wesleyan-minded Christians, John Wesley’s teaching on prevenient grace makes clear that it is God who is on mission; we are invited to join God in his work. For Wesley, prevenient grace describes God’s initial work in our salvation, when the Lord is drawing us to himself and toward awakening and repentance. According to Wesley in his sermon, On Working Out Our Own Salvation, prevenient grace includes, “the first wish to please God, the first dawn of light concerning his will, and the first slight transient conviction of having sinned against him.” Wesley is clear that this is the work of God, and not by our own efforts or the efforts of others. We can be confident that God was at work in a person’s life long before we came on the scene.

However, this doesn’t mean we have no role to play. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, we may have different roles as we join God on his mission, but it is God who does the work: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” We are still called to share the gospel with others, but rather than having to be the “Lone Ranger” to invite someone to follow Jesus, we can trust the Holy Spirit to be at work in that person’s life drawing them and awakening them to the reality of the God who loves them.

How is Jesus calling you to join him on mission this year? As you reflect on your life with Jesus during this season of goals, I invite you to consider how Jesus may be calling you into mission in your community, school, or workplace. Take confidence in the fact that the Holy Spirit goes before you and will be with you as you seek to follow Jesus in mission.

Featured image courtesy Erica Nilsson via Unsplash.

Staring at the Sky: Living after the Ascension by Brian Yeich

I have always been fascinated by two particular verses in the first chapter of the book of Acts. In Acts 1:10-11 (NLT) we read, “As they were straining their eyes to see him, two white-robed men suddenly stood there among them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing here staring at the sky? Jesus has been taken away from you into heaven. And someday, just as you saw him go, he will return!’”  I can picture the disciples standing there looking off into space as Jesus ascends and suddenly is gone. I am sure many of us have had similar experiences where we saw something so awe-inspiring that we just couldn’t stop looking – even though the event may have ended. I think that our human desire is to preserve those moments, like when we take a photograph. Perhaps that is why so many today share their life events through pictures on social media. We want to preserve those moments and maybe even cling to them. Unfortunately, if we cling too hard, we can miss the world going on right in front of us. I think this was the temptation that those disciples faced on Ascension Day. 

This wasn’t the only time they had struggled to move past the moment. Craig Keener, in his impressive four-volume commentary on the book of Acts, reminds us that this event in Acts has a strong parallel to Luke’s recounting of the empty tomb in Luke 24:6-7. Keener suggests that the angels ask the disciples why they are standing there staring at the sky because they should have believed what Jesus had already told them – they should have expected it.[1] The disciples at the empty tomb also seemed frozen by the shock of the revelation that, “He is not here, but has risen.”[2] They had heard Jesus say that this is what would happen, but when faced with the reality of the resurrection, it was challenging to get beyond the angel’s revelation. Similarly, at the ascension of Jesus, the disciples were in awe and perhaps shock. Jesus had left them. However, again they forgot the promise of Jesus – that he would send the Holy Spirit to empower the Kingdom work that he had called them to.

Perhaps as disciples today, like those early followers we also struggle to believe Jesus’ promises and to move past staring into the sky. Perhaps we have experienced God’s amazing grace, but rather than moving past that moment of initial salvation, we struggle to press on and work out our salvation in fear and trembling. Maybe we have experienced the transformational work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, but we find ourselves frozen. Perhaps we are staring at the sky, forgetting that while Jesus has promised to return, in the meantime he has promised the Holy Spirit who will propel us into mission in our everyday ordinary lives. Our world needs disciples who move beyond staring at the sky and embrace the promises of Jesus as we walk with him each day.

[1] Keener, Craig S. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary. Volume 1. 2012.

[2] Anon, 2016. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Featured image courtesy Tim Hüfner on Unsplash.

Cómo es la Providencia by Brian Yeich

A veces parece que las personas que provienen de orígenes metodistas wesleyanos tienen una relación “a distancia” con la idea de la providencia. En su nivel más básico, la providencia es la actividad de Dios que lleva a cabo los planes redentores de Dios para su creación. Es Dios elaborando un plan de rescate para la creación, y la idea de que Dios está trabajando detrás de escena sin nuestra participación o cooperación es un poco desconcertante para la sensibilidad wesleyana. Porque después de todo, ¿no somos nosotros las personas que creemos en la gracia cooperante (es decir, que hay un grado de cooperación en el que participamos cuando se trata de la obra salvadora de Dios)? Somos el movimiento que enfatiza el libre albedrío humano y nuestra capacidad para elegir o rechazar el don de la gracia que Dios ofrece. “Providencia” simplemente suena demasiado a esa gente reformada o calvinista, pensamos. Pero si miramos más de cerca, vemos que el fundador de nuestro movimiento, John Wesley, tenía una comprensión muy sólida de la providencia divina. Entonces, ¿qué debemos pensar sobre la providencia como wesleyanos?

Describamos lo que no es la providencia. La providencia no significa que no tengamos libre albedrío. La providencia de Dios no descarta la libertad humana. La Providencia no se opone a la cooperación con Dios. La providencia no significa que estemos “fuera del apuro” o que no tengamos sentido de responsabilidad cuando se trata de crecimiento espiritual. Más bien, cooperamos con Dios a medida que crecemos en nuestra fe al practicar disciplinas espirituales, o los “medios de la gracia.”

Entonces, ¿qué es la providencia?

La Providencia está en el corazón de la teología cristiana. Los cristianos a lo largo de los siglos, aunque ha habido excepciones, han afirmado que Dios no es simplemente un relojero que puso el universo en movimiento y desde entonces lo ha dejado desatendido para sus propios fines. Más bien, la providencia afirma que Dios está obrando detrás de escena, a veces de manera imperceptible, pero obrando de todos modos. Basándose en siglos de comprensión cristiana, el difunto teólogo Thomas Oden definió la providencia como “la expresión de la voluntad, el poder y la bondad divinos a través de los cuales el Creador conserva a las criaturas, coopera con lo que sucederá a través de sus acciones y las guía en sus propósitos a largo plazo.” [1] La Providencia es tanto evidencia del amor de Dios por su creación como de su soberanía.

John Wesley tenía fuertes convicciones con respecto a la providencia de Dios. Con su enfoque de ambos / y, Wesley compartió una gran comprensión de la naturaleza de Dios y de la vida del discípulo cristiano a través del lente de la providencia. En su sermón, Sobre la Providencia, Wesley instó: “No hay casi ninguna doctrina en todo el ámbito de la revelación, que sea de mayor importancia que esta. Y, al mismo tiempo, hay pocos que sean tan poco considerados, y quizás tan poco comprendidos.” [2]

Mientras que los pensadores cristianos durante siglos afirmaron la omnisciencia y omnipresencia de Dios, Wesley reconoció que nuestro limitado entendimiento humano tiene problemas para comprender el concepto de la naturaleza providencial de Dios. Wesley enfatizó que deberíamos sentirnos humildes por el hecho de que Dios, infinito en sabiduría y poder, aún se preocupa por el bienestar de su creación. Wesley señaló que mientras que para Dios todas las cosas son posibles, “El que puede hacer todas las cosas no puede negarse a sí mismo.” [3] Aunque está dentro del poder de Dios destruir todo pecado y maldad en el mundo, por ejemplo, esto contradeciría La naturaleza de Dios. En particular, esto contradiría el hecho de que la humanidad fue creada a la imagen de Dios. Sin embargo, Wesley aclaró, aquí es donde la providencia de Dios entra en la ecuación. Si bien Dios permite que los seres humanos elijan entre el bien y el mal, la providencia de Dios es una obra, “para ayudar al hombre [sic] a alcanzar el fin de su ser, a obrar su propia salvación, en la medida en que se pueda hacer sin coacción, sin anular su libertad.” Wesley visualiza la providencia de Dios operando en un “círculo triple” dentro de la creación. [4]

Primero, observó Wesley, todo el universo está gobernado por Dios, incluidos los movimientos del sol, la luna y las estrellas, así como la vida animal. Más allá de este gobierno, Wesley describe tres círculos de la providencia de Dios. El primero de los tres círculos abarca a toda la humanidad. Dentro de este círculo, la providencia de Dios obra en el mundo … El segundo círculo incluye “todos los que profesan creer en Cristo.” [5] Dentro de este círculo, Dios está obrando … El círculo final y más íntimo, abarca, “verdaderos cristianos, aquellos que adoran a Dios, no sólo en forma, sino en espíritu y en verdad. Aquí están incluidos todos los que aman a Dios, o, al menos, verdaderamente temen a Dios y obran justicia; todos en los cuales está la mente que estaba en Cristo, y que caminan como Cristo también caminó.” [6] (Es interesante que Wesley argumentó que es dentro de este círculo que se realiza Lucas 12: 7: “Lo mismo pasa con ustedes, pues hasta los cabellos de su cabeza están todos contados. Así que no teman, pues ustedes valen más que muchos pajarillos.” [7] Él comentó: “Nada relativo a estos es demasiado grande, nada demasiado pequeño, para su atención.” [8] Mientras que Dios está preocupado por todos en su creación, Wesley creía que el Señor presta especial atención a aquellos que son seguidores totalmente devotos de Jesús).

A lo largo de sus escritos, incluyendo su diario y cartas, Wesley notó en muchas ocasiones el “tren de providencias” que Dios obró en situaciones particulares. A menudo atribuye palabras descriptivas adicionales como, “poco común,” “varios,” “maravilloso,” y “completo” para describir con más detalle estos casos en los que Wesley observó la mano de Dios obrando en la vida de los cristianos. Enfatizó que si bien Dios ha establecido leyes generales que gobiernan el universo, Dios es libre de “hacer excepciones a ellas, cuando le plazca.” [9] Para Wesley, el cuidado de Dios por la creación y especialmente por los seres humanos no se ve obstaculizado por las leyes del universo.

En la conclusión de su sermón, Wesley anima a los cristianos a poner toda su confianza en el Señor y no temer. La providencia de Dios significa que podemos confiar en él incluso cuando parece que nuestro mundo o el mundo entero se está desmoronando. Él no niega que enfrentaremos desafíos y dolores, sino que debemos caminar humildemente ante Dios y confiar en que “Para los que aman a Dios todas las cosas les ayudan a bien, a los que conforme a su propósito son llamados.” [10] La esperanza del cristiano es en el Señor que no solo gobierna el universo, sino que también se preocupa especialmente por los que siguen a Dios. Dios conoce la cantidad de cabellos que tienen en la cabeza. Ningún detalle escapa a su atención. La providencia de Dios nos da esperanza tanto para nuestro presente como para nuestro futuro. No se trata simplemente de decir que “todo sucede por una razón,” porque Dios no es la fuente del mal o el caos. Sin embargo, podemos confiar en que detrás de todo, Dios está obrando. No significa que todo nos irá bien, pero sí significa que Dios está con nosotros en cada paso del camino. Quizás esa fue la motivación de John Wesley en su lecho de muerte cuando pronunció las palabras: “Lo mejor de todo, es que Dios está con nosotros”. [11]


[1] Oden, Thomas C. Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

[2] John Wesley, “On Divine Providence” (1786), in The Works of John Wesley, ed. Thomas Jackson, 14 vols.,(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007), 6:315; hereafter cited as Works (Jackson).

[3] Ibid, p. 317

[4] This idea is from Thomas Crane in A Prospect of Divine Providence, which Wesley included in his Christian Library.

[5] Ibid, p. 319

[6] Ibid.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016).

[8] Ibid., p. 320

[9] Ibid, p. 322

[10] Romans 8:28. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016).

[11] Ken Collins, John Wesley: A Theological Journey, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2003), p. 268.

Featured image courtesy Goh Rhy Yan on Unsplash.

La traducción por Rev. Dr. Edgar Bazan

Vicarious Faith in Community by Brian Yeich

A few years ago, I ran into a friend who was going through some tough family times. I asked him if there was anything I could do; his response caught me off-guard. He said, “I am struggling to have faith, and I just need other people to have faith for me.” I confess that before this, I didn’t really consider “having faith” for someone else. Of course I prayed for people and situations; but to have faith for someone – that seemed a bit strange to me. But I have come to believe that having faith for others – what you might call vicarious faith – is one of the most powerful, Christian things we can do as followers of Jesus.

How do you define faith? The writer of Hebrews defines it this way In Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (ESV) So faith might be defined as “trust” or “belief.” One of my favorite definitions is that faith is “leaning our full weight upon” someone or something. I think many times we tend to think of faith as something we have (or dont have).

It wasn’t until I ran across a chapter in a book called Humanity and God by Samuel Chadwick that my thinking was challenged. He introduced the idea of vicarious faith.

Chadwick says that vicarious faith is a “faith that is exercised on behalf of another and is accepted for another,”* and he points to the Gospel of Mark for the prime example.

In the second chapter of Mark, we read a story in which Jesus has powerfully launched into his ministry and at the end of chapter one just healed a leper. He has now returned to the town of Capernaum, Jesus’ “home base” on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. A crowd has gathered, as it often does around Jesus. And then something dramatic happens. Four friends, determined to get their friend into the presence of Jesus, lower a paralyzed man through a roof. Mark then reports something that may surprise us: “Jesus saw their faith.” In other words, he saw the faith of the mans friends – he then pronounces forgiveness to the paralyzed man. There is a very interesting interchange with the scribes about whether Jesus has the authority to forgive sins, which we don’t have time for today, but then Jesus goes further and heals the man’s body. Jesus sees the faith of the friends and then turns to the man and says, your sins are forgiven. And then he said, Rise, pick up your bed and go home.

Chadwick comments on this scene, “This man received both the forgiveness of his sins and the healing of his body, through the faith of the men who brought him.” It is very interesting that out of more than 20 miracles recorded in the Gospels, at least seven of those were healed through the faith of others.

In Matthew 8:5-13 we read about the Centurion with a sick servant.

“When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, ‘Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.’ And he said to him, ‘I will come and heal him.’ But the centurion replied, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, “Go,” and he goes, and to another, “Come,” and he comes, and to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it.’ When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, ‘Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.’ And the servant was healed at that very moment.” (ESV)

Not a word is said about the faith of the man who was healed. It is attributed entirely to vicarious faith – faith exercised for him.

In John 4:46-54 we read about the healing of an official’s child:

“So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.’ The official said to him, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, ‘Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.’ The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ And he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.” (ESV)

Whose faith had resulted in Jesus saving the official’s child? That son was healed entirely through the faith of the father vicariously exercised 25 miles away.

In Mark 9:14-29, we read about the healing of a boy with an unclean spirit. The disciples had not been able to heal the boy. Here the boy’s father is struggling with faith, but he says, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (ESV)

Whose faith moved Jesus to free the boy? Not the boy’s own faith, not the disciples’, but rather his father’s.

We find a final example in Matthew 15:21-28 where a Canaanite woman approaches Jesus and begs him to heal her daughter:

“And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.’ But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ And he answered, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.” (ESV)

Whose faith brought her healing through Jesus? It came, not through any faith of her own, but in response to the mighty faith of her mother.

This takes me back to my friend’s statement,  “I just need other people to have faith for me.” He was asking me to have vicarious faith for him and for his family, that Jesus might move in their lives in a powerful way. At the time, he didn’t have faith for himself or his family – he needed others.

Is there someone you know, for whom you might be called to have vicarious faith? Or maybe today you are the one who needs someone else to have faith for you.

Chadwick closes his chapter on vicarious faith with this: “Personal faith brings personal salvation, but vicarious faith brings salvation to others; and in this also it is more blessed to give than to receive. The supreme test of faith is not its personal benefit but its vicarious power.”

This is what the community of faith is about. It’s about having faith in Jesus, but it is also about having faith in Jesus for one another. Lord, may we have faith for one another and remember that it is Christ who saves and heals.

* Chadwick, S., 1904. Vicarious Faith. Humanity and God. London: Hodder and Stoughton, p. 295.

Featured image by James Tissot: “Man with Palsy Lowered to Christ” located in the Brooklyn Museum, New York City. Public domain.

Where Is Your Zeal Focused? Lessons from Francis Asbury by Brian Yeich

On my office shelf is a 200-year-old brick from Bethel Academy, the first Methodist school in the United States west of the Appalachian Mountains, established by circuit riding Methodist preacher Francis Asbury in 1790. From those roots sprang Asbury College in 1890 and Asbury Theological Seminary in 1923.

You might look at that brick on my shelf and think it’s just an old brick. But to me, that brick is a reminder of the faithfulness and zeal of Francis Asbury as he worked to, “spread scriptural holiness across the land.” It’s also a reminder of the subsequent faithfulness of John Wesley Hughes as he founded Asbury College and Henry Clay Morrison as he founded Asbury Theological Seminary.

A brick from the original Bethel Academy. Photo courtesy Dr. Brian Yeich.

In 2 Timothy 4 Paul implores Timothy to preach the word…”I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” – (2 Timothy 4:1–2, ESV)

Paul regards Timothy as being in a crisis in which he must make positive action. He must preach the word in which he has been nurtured as never before. The verb behind the words, “be prepared in season and out of season” (ephistēmi) means “to stand by, be at hand.”

In our Methodist history, Francis Asbury is one of the great examples we have of what it looks like to follow Paul’s advice to Timothy. Asbury’s zeal for God and commitment to preach and teach the gospel are now legendary, but they were never meant to be extraordinary – it was meant to be the ordinary work of everyday Methodists.

According to John Wigger, the author of American Saint, Francis Asbury communicated the vision of the Methodist movement in America in four important ways.

1. First and foremost, his personal piety and perseverance were rooted in his own conversion. In other words, Asbury was a disciple of Jesus.

He was moved by the zeal of Methodist preachers and found forgiveness and assurance in Christ in his mid-teens; by the age of 17 he had started preaching. He understood that his conversion was only the beginning of his life in Christ and began earnestly seeking sanctification by joining a Wesley band (small, intentional discipleship group). His faith was tested as he and other Methodist preachers were assaulted with dead cats (!), beaten, and otherwise harassed for their zeal.

Asbury was tried and tested in the American frontier as well, but even his opponents noted his deep, abiding faith. Even James O’Kelly, leader of the first Methodist split, remarked that Asbury possessed, “cogent zeal and unwearied diligence in spite of every disappointment.” Asbury was grounded in a deep faith that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, was unshakable.

2.  He had the ability to connect to ordinary people: he wasn’t actually a strong preacher. Wigger notes that Francis Asbury was not known as a great preacher, but nonetheless that he connected with people one-on-one and in small groups.

In an era before modern photography or Instagram, it is said that he was more visibly recognizable in his day than either George Washington or Thomas Jefferson. As Wigger notes, “People found Asbury approachable and willing to listen to their concerns, more than they found him full of inspiring ideas.”[1] Asbury was intensely relational in his approach to ministry.

3. He understood and leveraged popular culture – but failing to confront it haunted him.

While never compromising on preaching the Gospel, Asbury didn’t try to fit English Methodism into the American frontier, but rather found ways to make the good news relevant in the wild, untamed new country, whether through camp meetings or emotional expressions of worship. He also worked within the tension between the dominant culture around him and the Gospel.

However, his cultural relevancy exacted a price as Asbury did not confront Southern slavery – a decision that haunted him.

4. He helped organize the Methodist movement in America. The keystone to the Wesleyan revivals was found in practicing Christian disciplines. Each Methodist was expected to, “live out their salvation with fear and trembling,” by attending to the means of grace and living in intentional, accountable community.

“Methodists succeeded where other religious groups failed largely because they were more disciplined.”[2] The early American Methodists lived in expectant hope that God could do more in their lives than they could ever imagine. Asbury was able to leverage Wesley’s organizational method that enabled the Methodists to continue to be a movement.

Perhaps most importantly, Asbury lived out Wesley’s admonition regarding the “order” of zeal. In Wesley’s Sermon On Zeal he proposed that our zeal should follow a particular order:

12. Take then the whole of religion together, just as God has revealed it in his word; and be uniformly zealous for every part of it, according to its degree of excellence. Grounding all your zeal on the one foundation, “Jesus Christ and him crucified;” holding fast this one principle, “The life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved ME, and gave himself for ME;” proportion your zeal to the value of its object. Be calmly zealous, therefore, first, for the Church; “the whole state of Christ’s Church militant here on earth:” and in particular for that branch thereof with which you are more immediately connected. Be more zealous for all those ordinances which our blessed Lord hath appointed, to continue therein to the end of the world. Be more zealous for those works of mercy, those “sacrifices wherewith God is well pleased,” those marks whereby the Shepherd of Israel will know his sheep at the last day. Be more zealous still for holy tempers, for long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, lowliness, and resignation; but be most zealous of all for love, the queen of all graces, the highest perfection in earth or heaven, the very image of the invisible God, as in men below, so in angels above. For “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.”[3]

How did Wesley “order” zeal?

1. Love of God – Lived through our own conversion and call in response to God’s love for us through Christ

2. Character – The fruit of the Spirit

3. The Means of Grace – The disciplined Christian life expressed in living out works of mercy and works of piety

4. The Church – The community of believers in general and the particular branch with which you connect

Francis Asbury knew that to get this order of zeal turned upside down would spell doom for his own soul as well as the movement. As my mentor Phil Meadows says, “You can’t give away what you don’t have.” Wesley and Asbury both knew that the love of God in their own hearts was first priority. We cannot give away what we don’t have.

Asbury lived in a time of uncertainty – the American Revolution had left the Methodists with a lack of leaders and a less than stellar reputation. Yet, by the grace and power of God, this group of pioneers led by Asbury “spread scriptural holiness across the land.” Perhaps we might say, “well, Asbury was just extraordinary.” However, I don’t think his zeal was meant to be extraordinary – it was meant to be the ordinary work of everyday Methodists. Perhaps now, more than ever, is a time for us to examine our own “order of zeal.”

[1] American Saint, p. 7.

[2] American Saint, p. 10.

[3] On Zeal, John Wesley

Brian Yeich ~ What Providence Looks Like

At times it seems that people who come from Wesleyan Methodist backgrounds have an “arm’s length” relationship with the idea of providence. At its most basic level, providence is the activity of God working out God’s redemptive plans for his creation. It’s God working out a rescue plan for creation, and the idea that God is working behind the scenes without our involvement or cooperation is a bit unnerving to Wesleyan sensibilities. For after all, aren’t we the people who believe in cooperating grace (that is, that there is a degree of cooperation we engage in when it comes to God’s saving work)? We are the movement that emphasizes human free will and our ability to choose or reject the gift of grace that God offers. “Providence” just sounds too much like those Reformed or Calvinist folks, we think. But if we take a closer look, we see that the founder of our movement, John Wesley, had a very robust understanding of divine providence. So, what are we to think about providence as Wesleyans?

Let’s describe what providence is not. Providence does not mean that we have no free will. God’s providence does not rule out human freedom. Providence is not opposed to cooperation with God. Providence does not mean we are “off the hook” or that we have no sense of responsibility when it comes to spiritual growth. Rather, we cooperate with God as we grow in our faith by practicing spiritual disciplines, or the “means of grace.”

So, what is providence?

Providence is at the heart of Christian theology. Christians throughout the ages, although there have been exceptions, have affirmed that God is not simply a clockmaker who put the universe into motion and has since left it unattended to its own ends. Rather, providence affirms that God is working behind the scenes, sometimes imperceptibly, but working nevertheless. Drawing on centuries of Christian understanding, the late theologian Thomas Oden defined providence as, “the expression of the divine will, power, and goodness through which the Creator preserves creatures, cooperates with what is coming to pass through their actions, and guides creatures in their long-range purposes.”[1] Providence is both evidence of God’s love for his creation as well as his sovereignty.

John Wesley had strong convictions regarding God’s providence. With his both/and approach, Wesley shared great insights into the nature of God and into the life of the Christian disciple through the lens of providence. In his sermon, On Providence, Wesley urged, “There is scarce any doctrine in the whole compass of revelation, which is of deeper importance than this. And, at the same time, there is scarce any that is so little regarded, and perhaps so little understood.”[2]

While Christian thinkers for centuries affirmed God’s omniscience and omnipresence, Wesley acknowledged that our limited human understanding has trouble grasping the concept of God’s providential nature. Wesley emphasized that we should be humbled by the fact that God, infinite in wisdom and power, is yet concerned with his creation’s wellbeing. Wesley pointed out that while with God all things are possible, “He that can do all things else cannot deny himself.”[3] While it is within God’s power to destroy all sin and evil in the world, for instance, this would contradict God’s nature. Particularly, this would contradict the fact that humanity was created in God’s own image. However, Wesley clarified, this is where the providence of God enters into the equation. While God allows human beings to choose between good and evil, God’s providence is a work, “to assist man [sic] in attaining the end of his being, in working out his own salvation, so far as it can be done without compulsion, without over-ruling his liberty.”  Wesley envisions God’s providence operating in a “three-fold circle” within creation.[4]

First, Wesley observed, the whole universe is governed by God, including the movements of the sun, moon and stars as well as animal life. Beyond this governance, Wesley describes three circles of God’s providence. The first of the three circles encompasses all of humanity. Within this circle, God’s providence works in the world… The second circle includes “all that profess to believe in Christ.”[5] Within this circle, God is at work… The final and innermost circle, encompasses, “real Christians, those that worship God, not in form only, but in spirit and in truth. Herein are comprised all that love God, or, at least, truly fear God and work righteousness; all in whom is the mind which was in Christ, and who walk as Christ also walked.”[6] (Interestingly, Wesley argued that it is within this circle that Luke 12:7 is realized: “Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”[7] He commented, “Nothing relative to these is too great, nothing too little, for his attention.”[8] While God is concerned for all of his creation, Wesley believed that the Lord gives special attention to those who are fully devoted followers of Jesus.)

Throughout his writings including his journal and letters, Wesley noted on many occasions the “train of providences” that God worked in particular situations. He often ascribes additional descriptive words like, “uncommon,” “various,” “wonderful,” and “whole” to further describe these instances in which Wesley observed the hand of God at work in the lives of Christians. He emphasized that while God has established general laws that govern the universe, God is free to, “make exceptions to them, whensoever he pleases.” [9] For Wesley, God’s care for creation and especially for human beings is not hindered by the laws of the universe.

In the conclusion of his sermon, Wesley encourages Christians to put their full trust in the Lord and to not fear. God’s providence means that we can trust him even when it seems that our world or the whole world is falling apart. He does not deny that we will face challenges and sorrows, but that we should walk humbly before God and trust that “God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”[10] The Christian’s hope is in the Lord who not only governs the universe but also cares particularly for those who follow God. He knows the number of hairs on our heads. No detail escapes his attention. God’s providence gives us hope for both our present and our future. It’s not a matter of just saying that “everything happens for a reason,” for God is not the source of evil or chaos. However, we can trust that behind it all, God is at work. It does not mean that everything will go well for us, but it does mean that God is with us every step of the way. Perhaps that was the motivation of John Wesley on his deathbed when he uttered the words, “The best of all, God is with us.”[11]

[1] Oden, Thomas C. Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

[2] John Wesley, “On Divine Providence” (1786), in The Works of John Wesley, ed. Thomas Jackson, 14 vols.,(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007), 6:315; hereafter cited as Works (Jackson).

[3] Ibid. p. 317.

[4] This idea is from Thomas Crane, A Prospect of Divine Providence which Wesley included in his Christian Library.

[5] Ibid., p. 319

[6] Ibid., p. 319

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016).

[8] Ibid., p. 320

[9] Ibid., p. 322.

[10] Romans 8:28. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016).

[11] Ken Collins, John Wesley: A Theological Journey, (Nashville, TN: Abindgon Press, 2003), p, 268.

Brian Yeich ~The Lost Metric of Testimony

The church seems to be obsessed with numbers. We account for professions of faith, baptisms, membership and worship attendance, and these statistics for church health point to a crisis in the present and increasingly dismal view of the future. We seem to count everything. Even the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, made sure that every Methodist could be counted. However, it is my conviction that we have lost a “metric” that the church has relied upon for centuries, not only to demonstrate the health of the community, but to paint a vision of what the Christian life should be. We have lost the metric of testimony.

In his book, Narrative of Many Surprising Conversions, Jonathan Edwards observes, “There is no one thing that I know of that God has made such a means of promoting his work amongst us, as the news of others’ conversion…”1 On the cusp of the Great Awakening, Edwards observed how God was using the stories of people’s conversions to inspire and cast a vision for new life among those where were not yet awakened. As powerful as the Gospel is, the stories of those who have encountered the living God revealed in the Gospel story are also used by the Holy Spirit to encourage, enlighten and inspire people to a living faith in Jesus.

Not only do the stories of people’s conversions inspire, as Edwards suggests, but also the stories of overcoming struggle, of the ups and downs of life. When new believers or even non-believers can see how God is working through the lives of disciples, they catch a vision for what God might do in their own lives.

Why does testimony seem to be ignored as a valid metric in our day? Have we lost the metric because God is not at work? Have we lost the metric because we are not pursuing the least, last and lost in our communities?

Metrics Today

Most denominations today rely on metrics such as professions of faith, baptisms, attendance, and membership to gauge the health of their congregations. It is likely that these metrics are favored because they are relatively easy to collect and they do provide some indication of how a congregation is doing. However, these numbers can be far from encouraging. Worship attendance across denominations, according to most sources, indicates that fewer people are gathering in our places of worship each week than in years past. Professions of faith are down in many denominations including those that would identify as evangelical. In my denomination, it has become standard practice for conferences to require churches to enter data on a regular basis in a “dashboard” that tracks these metrics and others. While these numbers can provide some insights into what is happening in the life of a local church, they can also have a negative impact. Focusing on “getting people in the pews” can be an unhealthy focus for pastors and congregations. 

Several years ago I was engaged in leading a church re-start. In the first year of our efforts, I was approached by a former denominational leader and encouraged to “poach” from another, struggling congregation so that we could more quickly achieve the critical mass needed to sustain the church. I have been tempted in my ministry to play the numbers game and have many times succumbed to that temptation. However, the words of this leader shocked me into a realization about metrics. A focus on numbers may tempt us to simply rearrange the deck chairs on a sinking ship rather than seeking to reach people who have not heard or had the opportunity to respond to the Gospel.

Even though we say, each of those numbers represents a person,” I believe it is difficult to keep our focus when the numbers are the metric. Metrics like professions of faith or conversions, baptisms, or membership tell us something about the state of the congregation. In fact, if the church is alive and healthy, those numbers should reflect that reality. But while these numbers tell us something and they do represent people, we don’t hear the stories through the numbers. The fact is that numbers cannot tell the story of transformation in the lives of human beings. Yes, baptisms and professions of faith are significant moments in that transformation, but those numbers are only a waypoint on the person’s journey.

So, why does testimony seem to be ignored as a valid metric in our day? It may be because of the ease of counting worship attendance and baptisms as compared to collecting the stories of transformation among a congregation. And while the value of such stories may be recognized, that is not the data that is being most sought by denominational leaders. This is an unfortunate break from those who have gone before us.

Metrics in Early Methodism

As the founders of the Methodist movement, John and Charles Wesley knew the power of people’s stories. In fact, they solicited the conversion stories of Methodists, many of which were published. Bruce Hindmarsh notes that these written narratives were expressed in a person’s own words soon after their experience of conversion and typically shared with others in a band meeting.2  The Wesleys saw the same value of testimony and narrative that Edwards observed on his side of the Atlantic. When people read the story of ordinary people encountering an extraordinary God, a hunger and thirst were stirred up and many of those hearers of the story came to saving faith in Jesus Christ. These were not cute, sentimental Facebook posts but were raw stories filled with the challenges and obstacles to faith as well as the triumphs.

Hannah Hancock wrote to Charles Wesley about hearing John preach on Romans 6:23 (the wages of sin is death). She describes the conviction she experienced and shared that she, “had sweet communion with God for two months…” However, she also shared the challenges which soon cropped up when she wrote, “then the enemy came in as a flood upon me telling me I was in a delusion.”  It could be comforting to know that the challenges they were experiencing were not unusual, nor were they insurmountable through the power of the Holy Spirit. Without such a testimony, a person could continue wallowing in self-doubt and perhaps even lose their faith.

Many of these conversion stories made their way into the Arminian Magazine, a publication started by John Wesley in 1778 to encourage and inform the Methodist movement. In addition, Wesley published the stories of lay preachers whom God had raised up as leaders in the movement. While these published stories are significant, it seems more significant that people were encouraged to share their stories in class meetings and bands. It was in the context of community that the “metric of testimony” impacted the movement. As persons shared their stories and listened to the stories of others, God also spoke into their lives by his Spirit and people were empowered to, “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling.”3

While publishing was significant, as Hindmarsh notes, the primary space in which these stories were shared was the band meeting. Persons would gather in very small groups and share their lives with each other. Methodists would confess their sins with one another, share their triumphs with one another and then encourage and admonish one another to continue to pursue holiness of heart and life.

Shortly after Wesley’s death, the 1798 Book of Discipline of the Methodist Church in America indicated the value of such testimony that can take place within a band:

There is nothing we know of, which so much quickens the soul to a desire and expectation of the perfect love of God as this. For there little families of love, not only mutually weep and rejoice, and in everything sympathize with each other, as genuine friends, but each of them possesses a measure of ‘that unction of the Holy One,’ (1 John ii. 20.) which teaches all spiritual knowledge. And thus are they enabled to ‘build up themselves [and each other] on their most holy faith,’ Jude 20. and to ‘consider one another, to provoke unto love and good works,’ Heb. x. 24.4

In these groups, life was shared in its raw form – the ins, outs, ups, and downs of a person’s walk were shared and as the community heard the stories, they were inspired by the Holy Spirit to offer a word of encouragement, admonishment, or exhortation. In addition to these groups, bands would come together periodically for a “love feast” in which testimony to the amazing work of God would be given and the community would celebrate and be encouraged by the stories.

Have we lost the metric because God is not at work? I certainly do not think so. God is still in the life changing business and people are being transformed by the Holy Spirit just as they were in the days of John and Charles Wesley. However, I am afraid that we seldom hear their stories and that we have not done a good job of making space for people to tell their stories – warts and all. So how do we recover the lost metric of testimony?

Recovering the Metric of Testimony

Perhaps it is obvious, but for someone’s story to be heard, they must have the opportunity to share what God is doing in their lives. In some traditions and at certain times congregations have practiced testimony services or other gatherings in which people could tell their stories, similar to the love feasts of the early Methodists. A modern twist on the testimony service is using video to share stories of faith in a worship service. However, I am not certain that either of these is an adequate way of addressing the loss of testimony as a metric, and more importantly, as a spiritual practice. 

Fortunately, there are movements among Christians that are seeking to bring back, not the 18th century of John and Charles Wesley, but rather the spirit of the Methodist movement: a way of life marked by a commitment to grow in faith, a focus on spiritual disciplines, a passion to engage the mission of God in everyday life, and a covenant of life together in small groups of spiritual friends. One such initiative is the Inspire Movement which was begun in the United Kingdom in 2008.

The Inspire Movement is “an international network of Christians who are committed to developing mission-shaped discipleship in the leadership and life of the church.” Since its founding, Inspire has spread from England to Ireland, the United States and beyond. Inspire seeks to engage Christians in a way of life marked by longing for more of God, staying connected to God’s grace through spiritual disciplines, following God’s lead in mission and investing in spiritual friendships. Fellowship bands are the catalyst of this way of life and are groups where people share life deeply and help each other pursue this way of lifeInspire has developed missioner teams who work with churches and leaders to train and enable Christians to develop bands in their respective contexts. In the context of bands people share their stories of how God is working in their lives, and as they learn to tell their stories to each other, they are learning how to share this testimony with others in their church fellowship and beyond.

People need to tell their stories perhaps as much as people need to hear them. Focusing on numbers without the opportunity to share testimony of God’s work robs people of the opportunity to share what God is doing in their lives and prevents those who could hear the testimony from experiencing its impact. The recovery of the metric of testimony through community and bands could help individuals and congregations pursue a richer, deeper life of discipleship.