Once upon a time there was a kite. It had a wonderful time when a certain little kid would take it to the park. It caught the wind and soared high. It loved to be close to the clouds — but it longed to fly higher.
“This kid is holding me back. I could go way higher if I wasn’t tied down!”
Finally it caught a really strong gust and saw the chance to break free. Snap went the string. And, of course, down went the kite.
“Hey, what happened?”
As a kite needs to be tethered to the ground to fly, Christians and communities need some kind of clear grounding to flourish and grow.
Last week I wrote about John Wesley and the enormous success of his early Methodist movement. They were nimble, ready to try new things and leave behind anything that didn’t work. To those who didn’t like his changes and innovations he said
“continually changing one thing and another, is not a weakness or fault, as you imagine, but a peculiar advantage which we enjoy.”
However, it would be a very serious mistake to think that there was no method to this aspect of Methodism. They didn’t just flip things around to do something new. That would have made the movement tumble down like an untethered kite.
So what was the string connecting Wesley’s Methodists to the ground so the wind of the Spirit could lift them high?
I’ll tell you, but you aren’t going to like it.
In Wesley’s words,
“There is only one condition previously required in those who desire admission into this society, — ‘a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins.’”
Wesley had absolute clarity about what he aspired to as a Christian. He was equally clear that this same thing was required to join his movement. You had to want to be holy.
Every new kind of meeting was a further attempt to help people grow more like Jesus. Leadership emerged from within the groups because everyone involve shared this same grounding conviction.
- They were all there to grow in the life to which Jesus calls us.
- Each needed the help of others to grow in that life.
- As they grew closer through helping each other they developed the gifts and the passion for the process.
But take note: Wesley set up a high barrier to entry. You had to be eagerly seeking to grow in Christ; to “flee from the wrath to come” as he usually put it. If you didn’t show that in your life you weren’t allowed to continue with the group. The whole system of regular meetings and loving oversight led to processes of discernment.
“Many disorderly walkers were detected. Some turned from the evil of their ways. Some were put away from us. Many saw it with fear, and rejoiced unto God with reverence.”
Note the distinct lack of apology. They just weren’t Methodists, so they couldn’t be allowed to keep their membership.
I cannot help but contrast this to churches I’ve known that are so eager to gain members that they seem to hide the demands of the Gospel.
I knew a woman who visited a church, asked someone what the process was to become a member — someday, maybe — and was told to come talk about it Tuesday night. That was when the council met. When she came they voted her into membership — which she had not yet asked them to do.
Wesley’s Methodists flew high. Their shared commitment to holiness grounded them while they swooped and soared through an array of changing programs.
What is the common thread tethering your Christian community’s life? Does it help, or hinder, and how?
If you were starting from scratch what would you want your community’s tether to be?