John Wesley (1703-1791) was one of the key leaders of the Evangelical Awakening in Britain during the mid-18th century. Circumstances drove Wesley to adopt itinerant evangelistic preaching, an idea he picked up from his friend and former student George Whitefield. Once Wesley embraced itinerancy, he extended his movement’s influence by appointing other itinerant preachers to serve various “circuits” (regional networks) of “classes” (small groups)–Wesley hoped this strategy would bring evangelical renewal to the Church of England. It did bring some renewal, but the greater fruit was the Methodist denominations that were birthed in both North America (1784) and Britain (1795).
Wesley laid out twelve rules for preachers who wished to serve as Methodist itinerants. While some of the rules themselves are not strictly applicable to a settled, non-Methodist ministry, there is still much wisdom to be gleaned from the principles Wesley articulated. The following is taken from John Telford’s The Life of John Wesley (Hodder & Stoughton, 1886), which is available online at the Wesley Center for Applied Theology at Northwest Nazarene University.
Wesley’s name for his itinerants was “preachers” or “helpers.” The preacher whose name stood first in the appointment for any circuit was the assistant, now known as the superintendent, who had oversight of all the work of the circuit. “In what view may we and our helpers be considered?” was another question. “Perhaps as extraordinary messengers (i.e., out of the ordinary way), designed—1. To provoke the regular ministers to jealousy. 2. To supply their lack of service towards those who are perishing for lack of knowledge.” Wesley’s twelve rules of a helper are still cherished as the guiding principles of a Methodist preacher :—
1. Be diligent. Never be unemployed. Never be triflingly employed. Never while away time, nor spend more time at any place than is strictly necessary.
2. Be serious. Let your motto be, ‘Holiness to the Lord.’ Avoid all lightness, jesting, and foolish talking.
3. Converse sparingly and cautiously with women, particularly with young women.
4. Take no step towards marriage without solemn prayer to God and consulting with your brethren.
5. Believe evil of no one unless fully proved; take heed how you credit it. Put the best construction you can on everything. You know the judge is always supposed to be on the prisoner’s side.
6. Speak evil of no one, else your word, especially, would eat as doth a canker; keep your thoughts within your own breast till you come to the person concerned.
7. Tell every one what you think wrong in him, lovingly and plainly, and as soon as may be, else it will fester in your own heart. Make all haste to cast the fire out of your bosom.
8. Do not affect the gentleman. A preacher of the Gospel is the servant of alL
9. Be ashamed of nothing but sin; no, not of cleaning your own shoes when necessary.
10. Be punctual. Do everything exactly at the time. And do not mend our rules, but keep them, and that for conscience’ sake.
11. You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work. And go always, not only to those who want you, but to those who want you most.
12. Act in all things, not according to your own will, but as a son in the Gospel, and in union with your brethren. As such, it is your part to employ your time as our rules direct: partly in preaching and visiting from i house to house, partly in reading, meditation, and prayer. Above all, if you labour with us in our Lord’s vineyard, it is needful you should do that part of the work which the Conference shall advise, at those times and places which they shall judge most for His glory.
“Observe, it is not your business to preach so many times, and to take care merely of this or that Society, but to save as many souls as you can, to bring as many sinners as you possibly can to repentance, and, with all• your power, to build them up in that holiness without which they cannot see the Lord. And, remember, a Methodist preacher is to mind every point, great and small, in the Methodist discipline. Therefore you will need all the grace and sense you have, and to have all your wits about you.”