Much has been said of “Apostolic Movements” of late. These are supposed to be a restoration of the pattern of the first apostles. Too often these “apostolic” movements are just large churches built around an extraordinary leader who has planted a few satellites. What is needed is an explosive first century style revival movement, where the Gospel spreads like a flame so fast that can not be extinguished. I believe the closest thing we have to a well documented apostolic movement in modern times is the early Methodists, particularly in America where the frontier was opening up new lands at a remarkable speed. The Methodist “circuit riders” under the leadership of Asbury tamed an entire country as rapidly as it could be settled. Now, certainly some of what has happened in places like China, Africa and Brazil rivals this, but little study has been done on it yet.
The question is how did they accomplish this, and can we reproduce it today? I have been reading about it, and have identified the following principles so far:
Go where the people are. In the old days, simply going out to preach somewhere was an event, since there was nothing else in particular to do. Today it’s a kind of oddity. The Methodist circuit riders went all throughout the countryside, sometimes going house to house, and scheduling meetings for themselves when the would return. The culture has changed, but the principle remains. The modern church has planned almost all of its evangelism strategies around getting the people to come where we are. We have to go where they are – physically. In inner cities, emergency rooms, coming out of bars and clubs. Anywhere that we can find people who might listen, we have to go. We have to be on the ready for a “revival moment” in our regular activities too. Revival happens where the people are.
Emphasis on regular people. Methodism was so popular partly because it was so egalitarian. In a time where hierarchy had been the norm, the Methodist gave regular people a big stake in the game. The itinerants were paid (a small sum) but the local preachers were regular working people who had a passion for the work. When we focus on people who are paid to pastor, the expectation quickly becomes that they are paid to be the God people, and we just relax. The other aspect was that regular people relate to regular people. A highly trained clergyman is in a different world than an average person giving their testimony. This led to “wildfire” at times, but it was better to have that than no fire.
Young Single Men. Methodism drew upon those who had nothing to lose and were looking to make a difference for God. These were the men who could most easily be shaped and who were glad to go into hard places.
Motion. Once you stop moving you are in maintenance mode. The dynamic nature of the early Methodist movement, and the extent of their travels is the stuff of legend. Asbury himself rode 250,000 miles in his lifetime. People were trained “on the field.” They did not stop to go to school. They studied while they were going. Wesley and Asbury had very high expectations of personal discipline for the early itinerants. There was not time to waste.
The word apostle means “sent ones” yet too often in our ministries the structure looks more like “exalted ones.” I am meditating on what a rapidly expanding ministry would look like, so this is a work in progress, but my intial thoughts are that we need:
1. A fiery message.
2. Itinerant men supported by the church who will go to reach lost people where they are.
3. A system to catch the people that are stirred or awakened by the itinerants. This system should not be focused primarily on fixing people, but primarily on putting them into the harvest as well. The “fixing” has to be a byproduct, not a goal.