A Tale of Two Leaders

Charles Kiser —  September 27, 2018 — Leave a comment

Mega Vs. Movement

Leader #1

  • He was probably the most famous religious leader in the 18th century
  • Newspapers called him a marvel of the age; he was a golden tongue golden boy
  • He was a brilliant orator – he grew up in the theater – and in his prime famous actors publicly expressed envy at the way he captured audiences
  • People compared him to David, Moses and called him the second morning star of a second Reformation
  • He went on preaching tours in England and the American colonies; ignited the Great Awakening in the American colonies
  • During one preaching tour in America he ended up preaching the gospel to nearly half the population in the American colonies
  • He would stand on the steps outside and 20,000 people would show up to hear him preach
  • In fact, he was one of the first to do “open air” preaching – namely outside of a church building – and the reason he did was because many of the lower class members wouldn’t come into a church building
  • Hundreds of thousands came to faith through his preaching
  • It’s estimated that in his lifetime he preached more than 18,000 times to 10 million people

Leader #2

  • Contemporary of Leader #1
  • Both leaders were part of a men’s group in college together called “The Holy Club” because these young college men were so dedicated and disciplined and methodical about their Christian lives – they were made fun of as “methodists” around campus
  • Leader #2 was a mentor for Leader#1
  • But it didn’t take long before Leader #1 had far eclipsed Leader #2 in his day. Leader #1 was more popular. He preached in more places to more people. He had more converts.
  • In their day, Leader #1 was considered a founder of Methodism, if not a more important founder than Leader #2
  • Yet today there are more than 70 million Methodists in the world who claim that Leader #2 is the founder of their movement
  • Not to mention at least 5-6 other denominations – like the Holiness, Pentecostal, and Charismatic movements – that were deeply influenced by Leader #2 as well


Leader #1 is George Whitefield.


Leader #2 is John Wesley.


I would venture a guess that more of you have heard about John Wesley than have heard about Whitefield.


How is that? How is it that so few of have heard of this Billy Graham-esque figure in world history? How did that happen? How is Wesley still on our radar but not Whitefield?


Whitefield lived to preach to the crowds.

  • He was good at it
  • But when people came to faith, he would leave them in the hands of other pastors or not at all
  • He had to move on to preach elsewhere, to other crowds, so that other people could come to faith
  • On his deathbed he said that the people he preached to were like “sand in his hands”
  • Whitefield invested in the many and at the end of the day reached a few


Wesley loved preaching, too.

  • But he refused to send preachers to an area where congregations couldn’t be formed that would disciple them
  • He insisted that there be organization so that new believers would be nurtured in the faith
  • He said that failure to support new converts was like “begetting children for the murderer”
  • According to Wesley, the Great Awakening in the American colonies that was ignited by Whitefield subsided because he created no way to care for the converts that were made because of his preaching
  • Wesley’s greatest contribution, perhaps, is the creation (accidentally) of the “class meeting” – a meeting of 12 people who gathered regularly with a leader for prayer, accountability, and mentoring
  • Wesley poured a lot of his energy into developing the people in these groups into preachers
  • He was one of the first to equip lay preachers (non-clergy, non-paid, non-ordained) to lead “societies” of Methodists that were made up of a group of class meetings
  • One major reason Wesley is still on our radar is because Wesley invested in the few the reach the many


Wesley was following in the footsteps of Jesus.

  • Sure Jesus preached to thousands; he was charismatic; he attracted a crowd; public proclamation was an important part of his ministry.
  • But Jesus invested in 12 men primarily. Three within that more deeply.
  • They would go out and invest in others, who would invest in others, who would invest in others…
  • That was his strategy.
  • According to Rodney Stark, within 300 years the Jesus movement grew from 1,000 believers to 34 million – from 2 hundredths of a percent of the population of the Roman Empire to 56.5%
  • Jesus invested in the few to reach the many


What do you think it might look like to invest in the few to reach the many?

Charles Kiser


I’m a pastor, missionary, and contextual theologian in Dallas, Texas. I’m committed to equipping and coaching Christians to start fresh expressions of Christian community in Dallas County — communities of hospitality, inclusion, justice, and healing.

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