Friday, February 14, 2014

Shattered Hearts: The Sad Love Life of John Wesley

Wesley the Lover
It's hard to overstate John Wesley's impact on the history of Christianity. Wesley's quest for real, authentic, Christianity furthered an awakening and ignited the Methodist denomination. Wesley's preaching was powerful, his writing prolific and his theology widespread. His influence is so significant that it has been stated "Since Wesley, we are all Arminians." He is a giant among giants.

Wesley the preacher heralded the Gospel. Wesley the theologian emanated passionate brilliance. Wesley the leader super humanly organized Methodism . Wesley the lover, however, did not rise above the rest of us mortals. From tragic relationships to his disastrous marriage, John Wesley the lover was painfully human. 

Forbidden Love: Sally Kirkham
John Wesley was a ladies' man. He was in tune with his heart, compassionate, and tender. Wesley would visit Sally at the Stanton rectory. They played games together, danced and discussed literature, theology and spirituality. It is likely that Sally played a significant role in Wesley's spiritual development in pursuing holiness. Wesley was fond of Sally. Their relationship was flirtatious, but it never reached anything more than that

Wesley never asked Sally to marry him and in 1725 she married John Chapone. Wesley continued to write to her even after she was married. Kenneth J. Collins recounts an evening meeting between John Wesley and the married Sally Chapone:
[Wesley] took the liberty to hold her hand while she laid his head gently on her breast. Moved with affection, Sally expressed her ongoing care for John: "If my husband should ever resent our freedom, which I am satisfied he never will; such an accident as this would make it necessary in some measure to restrain the appeareance of the esteem I have to you, but the esteem as it is founded on reason and virtue and entirely agreeble to us both, no circumstance will ever make alter." Again, Sally professed that she loved Wesley "more than all mankind except her father and her busband."1 
Their ongoing writing to each other troubled Wesley's mother Susanna. Collins, again, records that:
Sally Chapone, in considering the appropriateness of her ongoing relationship with Wesley exclaimed, "I can't think it expedient, nor indeed lawful, to break off that acquaintance which is one of the strongest incentives I have to virtue."Nevertheless, Susanna Wesley was not impressed with such professions of high-mindedness, and she feared that Sally--or her son--might soon desire things other than virtue. In fact, the correspondence between Wesley and this married woman outright alarmed Susanna: "The more I think of it, the less I approve it."2
In Sally Kirkham, Wesley missed an opportunity. In Sally Chapone, Wesley faced forbidden love. Sally presented with him two different types of relationship woe, both terribly sad. But, for John Wesley, the heartbreak love brought was just beginning.

Georgia Tragedy: Sophia Hopkey
John Wesley's missed opportunity with Sally could not compare with the explosive drama that was his relationship with Sophia Hopkey. Early on in Wesley's brief ministry in Georgia, he met Sophia Hopkey.Wesley had come from England to Georgia to minister to the natives but, instead found himself ministering as a pastor. In 1736, Sophia was Wesley's nurse when he became ill. She cared for him and sat by his bed reading prayers to him. Wesley was smitten, completely charmed by this young woman. His pursuit of her would play a hand in the downfall of his short lived ministry to the natives. 

Sophia Hopkey was the niece of the Chief Magistrate of Savannah, Thomas Causton. James Oglethrope, governor of Georgia, thought that Wesley should have a wife. In October of 1736, Oglethrope arranged for Wesley and Sophia to travel together on a boat from Frederica to Savannah. This trip sent Wesley into a turmoil as he was confronted with his own resolution to remain single so that he could minister to the natives, and his own heart's desire for Sophia. He also presumed that celibacy was Sophia's desire as well. It was on this voyage, that Wesley discovered Sophia was engaged to Tom Mellichamp. Mellichamp was a cruel and violent man. Kenneth Collins records Wesley's inquiry of her relationship with Mellichamp:

"I have promised either to marry him or marry no one at all," Miss Hopkey immediately burst into tears and whimpered, "I am every way unhappy, I wont have Tommy for he is a bad man. And I can't have none else." She then cautioned Wesley not to speak any longer on this subject, for he did not realize the danger he was in, and the two ended their conversation with a Psalm.3
The trip with Sophia and the revelation of her sad engagement to Mellichamp did not deter Wesley from spending time with her. He spent private time counseling her and tutoring her in French. Wesley's resolve to remain single was crumbling as he expressed his affections to her, wrapping his arm around her waist and kissing her. As his relationship with Sophia grew, so did his inward struggle. He sought the advice of a Moravian pastor who, to Wesley's surprise encouraged him to marry Sophia.

Eventually, Wesley revealed to Sophia his conflict of wanting her but also wanting to minister. She responded by telling him she would not longer would go to breakfast with him, or spend time alone with him at his home. The next day she informed him that she no longer desired to be tutored in French by him. A heartbroken Wesley then decided to return to England.

When she learned about a week later that he was planning on returning to England soon, she "changed color several times" and exclaimed "What! Are you going to England? Then I have no tie to America left." When Wesley asked her about these words later, she responded in tears, "You are the best friend I ever had in this world."4
Like thousands of other men have experienced, John Wesley had been friend-zoned by Sophia. She cared enough for him that she did not want want him to leave, but she didn't express a romantic love to him.  She had both expressed a desire for and against a relationship with him, as he had done with her. The two of them continued to spend time together, not at Wesley's home but hers. Wesley loved Sophia and was completely taken by her beauty. He would take her hand, kiss her, and longed to spend time with her. They were two young lovers, lovers that could never be.

On March 9th, 1737 everything changed. Sophia revealed to Wesley that she had given permission to a man named Williamson to marry her. Williamson was not known for his godliness. She told Wesley that she would marry Williamson unless Wesley had an objection. Wesley took her engagement to Williamson as a slight and was completely devastated. On March 12th, 1737 Sophia Hopkey married Williamson.

Wesley's perspective of Sophia immediately changed. No longer was she the sweet beauty in whom he could see no wrong. For Wesley, Sophia's shortcomings became stunningly clear. He even began look for them. He noticed she had missed the Lord's Supper and he believed her to be a liar. He confronted her and was attempting to build a case against her.

On August 7, 1737 John Wesley barred her from receiving the Lord's Supper. It this public humiliation that upset her uncle, Savannah's Chief Magistrate, Thomas Causton. Causton demanded to know why Wesley would subject his niece to such embarrassment. Wesley responded by saying Sophia had wrongs to correct. Causton then started a rumor that Wesley barred Sophia from the Lord's Supper because he had been rejected of her so she could marry Williamson. Wesley, indeed, had begun his campaign against Sophia after she married Williamson.

Wesley very quickly lost favor with the public and on December 2, 1737 he began on a journey back to England. Wesley came to America to minister to the natives but instead served as a pastor. He fell wildly in love only to be ultimately rejected. Sophia had Wesley's heart and that troubled him immensely. He had not cared for a girl like he cared for Sophia. He was in love and love's course dragged him down into the depths of bitter heart ache. Who knows what would have happened had Wesley objected to her marriage to Williamson. Perhaps she was giving him an ultimatum of sorts. What is known for sure, however, is that John Wesley's ministry and love life in Georgia were both complete failures. 

Betrayal: Grace Murray
Wesley once again found himself sick and being nursed back to health by a woman he would fall for.  In 1748, he was under the care of Grace Murray, a Methodist class leader and orphan housekeeper. Wesley was impressed with her and proposed to her not long after meeting her. She went with him as he journeyed south, and he left her in Chinley with fellow minister and friend John Bennet. This would prove to be a disastrous mistake.

In the Summer of 1749 while the two ministered together in Ireland, Wesley and Grace entered into a betrothal contract. It was during the return journey back to England that Wesley discovered a startling truth about John Bennet. Grace had developed feelings for him when Wesley had left her in his care at Chinley. She still had feelings for him even after she had entered engagement with Wesley. Wesley was distraught. She said she had feelings for Bennet but still pronounced her love to Wesley. He asked her who she would choose. She responded that she loved him and wanted him to marry her immediately. Wesley would not accept her request until he could clear the air with Bennet and revive some advice. Charles, Wesley's brother, heard the gossip about the Wesley/Murray/Bennet love triangle and saw a potential scandal in the making. He traveled to Newcastle and urged Grace to marry Bennet. And she did. 

Wesley felt betrayed on several fronts. The woman he loved and wanted still had feelings for his friend and fellow minister, Bennet. Bennet had betrayed his trust and confidence by moving in on Grace. Charles, meaning well, had hurt him deeply by encouraging Bennet and Grace to marry. Wesley's  relationship with his brother was strained. His friendship with Bennet imploded, with Wesley publicly attacking Bennet. His attacks were veiled in theological disagreement much like he had done years earlier when denying Sophia Hopkey the Lord's Supper.

Wesley had failed dramatically so far in his love life. Understandably, his views on loving women and marriage were very negative. Soon, though, Wesley again found himself in another mess of a relationship. 

Marriage Misery: Mary Vazielle
In Mary Vazielle, Wesley saw an opportunity for a marriage. Mary was a wealthy widow past the age of child bearing.  Wesley saw the potential for a family without children as freeing him for the work of the ministry.  In February 1751, Wesley and Mary married. Wesley was often gone but wrote his wife regularly. At the beginning of their marriage, they seemed to be a happy couple. But, things would soon change. 

Wesley gave his wife permission to open his mail and she was shocked to find that he was writing to several women. One of the women Wesley wrote was Sarah Ryan. Sarah had gone through three failed marriages and under Wesley's ministry was converted. Mary grew jealous of Sarah and the attention her husband gave her. One evening at a conference dinner where Ryan was serving, Mary Wesley stormed in, making a public scene, and called Sarah a whore. 

As if this outburst of rage wasn't enough to further their tempest of a marriage, Mary found a letter inside of Wesley's pocket from Sarah where she expressed deep affection to him. After finding the letter, Mary Wesley left her husband. Though she returned a few days letter, her leaving him would be a sad pattern of their married life. Mary was married to a husband who so busied himself with the work of the ministry that he neglected her. He didn't have time for her, but he somehow found time to write Sarah Ryan. She was understandably and rightly upset. 

After 23 years of a miserable marriage with an inattentive husband, Mary left Wesley for the final time in 1774. Though they did communicate through letters, their marriage relationship was far past repair. On October 8, 1781, Mary Wesley died. John Wesley wasn't notified of her death right away and did not attend her funeral. 

Of God and Women
For Wesley, love of God and love of a woman were competing affections. The young Wesley was torn with their competition. He loved God and loved women. But he would not allow any love with a woman, no matter how pure, compete with his love for his God. His heart was for God alone. Kenneth J. Collins observes that:
This was a pattern that Wesley not only continued through his life, but one that also caused him considerable difficulty. It emerged in the wake of his understanding of entire dedication to God not in an inclusive, embracing way, but in a nearly exclusive way, that God must not only be highest love, but also, in a real sense his only love.5 
The older Wesley married out of necessity and it was miserable disaster. He neglected his wife, who should have been his first true ministry. Instead of showing her affection, Wesley gave affection to several other women. He failed her in dramatic fashion. John Wesley may have succeeded as a preacher, theologian, and Methodist founder, but he failed as a husband. Wesley's love life is a stain on his otherwise exceptionally, exemplary life. 

1 Kenneth J. Collins, A Real Christian: The Life of John Wesley (Nashville: Abingdon, 1999), 34.
2 Ibid., 34.
3 Ibid., 45.
4 Ibid., 57.
5 Ibid., 35.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Affirming and Encouraging to the Ministry

Affirmation and Encouragement
"If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task," Paul said to Timothy (1 Tim. 3:1). When a church has within its congregation a young man pursuing pastoral ministry, it is a good thing. It is a visible confirmation that God is working in its midst. He is pursuing men from its flock to work in the shepherding ministry. It's a healthy sign.

Every man entering the ministry of the Gospel receives an internal call. These calls are not necessarily dramatic narratives climaxing in surrender. This call is often portrayed in the called one fighting with God and finally relenting in tears on the side of a country road. In my own experience, the internal call did not involve a campfire, a surrendering to the Lord, or even a near breakdown. As my relationship with God deepened, so did my desire to be in the ministry. It was a steady, quiet, growth. 

The internal call, though vital, should not be alone. With the internal call comes the church's affirmation of his calling in the external call. Far too often, the local assembly of believers, the church passes the young man off to the seminary to receive education and training. It serves as a poor substitute for the church's affirmation. Al Mohler has identified this as a serious problem for the church.
"I emphatically believe that the best and most proper place for the education and preparation of pastors is in the local church. We should be ashamed that churches fail miserably in their responsibility to train future pastors. Established pastors should be ashamed if they are not pouring themselves into the lives of young men whom God has called into the teaching and leadership ministry of the church."1
There are many ways a church can affirm and encourage a young man into ministry. Below are some things that came to my mind as I have thought about church affirmation. These are so ways you can affirm, support, and encourage a young man from your church who is pursuing the ministry. 

Read His Blog
Just kidding. But, I'm glad you're here!  :-)

Be Patient With Him
He is young. He is inexperienced. He is going to make mistakes. He is probably going to do or say something really stupid. Even seasoned pastors do and say extraordinarily stupid things. We have all made mistakes, some serious. When you have a young man in your congregation aspiring for the pastorate, show him some patience. We all have room to grow in our various stages of life.

Realize He Isn't Jr. High Anymore 
When you have known a young person the entire course of their life its easy to dismiss their adulthood. Sometimes, its hard to not see the child. We've all had distant relatives squeeze our seventeen year old cheeks and make remarks about how big we've gotten. Or, our relatives have treated us like we were still children. In the church, this happens easily. When you have changed someone's diaper in the nursery and seen them in their awkward, immature Jr. High days, its easy to not take them very seriously. 

People, however, change. The seminary student, or college student, or high school student is not the same person as the Jr. High runt. They've grown. They've matured. It wouldn't be fair to treat them like someone they are not. For some, it may be hard to accept that the troublesome Jr. Higher is now an adult, an adult who has received a theological education. 

Youth brings a fresh perspective. As with anything in life, fresh perspective could really be beneficial. Don't miss out on what a young person may bring to the table.   

Give Him Preaching Opportunities 
Much of the pastor's primary public ministry will be the communication and explanation of a Biblical text. A young man looking to be a life long herald of the Lord, needs opportunities to teach. These opportunities should not be restricted to children and retirement homes. He must learn to communicate to all ages. He must learn to communicate and explain passages in front of a diverse group in the regular meeting of a congregation. Those men pursuing the pastorate burn within with the desire to communicate the Word of God. Its an intense desire that burns as he is being nourished by the Word of God through the Spirit of God.

Like all developed skills, preaching requires practice. When a church does not give him the opportunity to preach, they are hindering his growth. Reading a book about preaching and actually preaching are two entirely different things. That is not to say that books about preaching shouldn't be read. They are vital. Nothing, however, can actually replace the crafting of preaching skill.

Critique His Preaching 
Ive heard many, many bad sermons in my lifetime. From wild hollering to subtle heresy, I've heard some crazy things from the pulpit. I can't help but think that for some of these well meaning men, feedback early on in their preaching career would have been very helpful. One of the things I hated but needed most was evaluation of my preaching. In both undergraduate and graduate Homiletics, I received critical feedback from my peers and professors. It was hard to stand there as the mob gave it to me. Hard, but so valuable. From distracting mannerisms to my Jerry Garcia ties to unclear communication, everything was up for grabs.

When a young man preaches in front of the congregation, it doesn't help him to give him false praise. If his delivery is distracting from the message, tell him. If he completely missed the point of the passage, he needs to know it. It was at this exact point that esteemed expositor John MacArthur was corrected. As a second year seminary student, his professor criticized him for entirely missing the point of the passage. He reflects that: 
"it was the deepest single impression I ever received in seminary. Never miss the point of the passage. To this day, when I come to the text each week and begin to study its richness and depth, I can still hear Dr. Feinberg’s heartfelt admonition ringing in my ears. If you don’t have the meaning of Scripture, you do not have the Word of God at all. If you miss the true sense of what God has said, you are not actually preaching God’s Word! That reality has compelled me for more than forty years of preaching."2
Critical feedback was essential to John MacArthur's development. It will be essential to the development of the young preacher. You don't have to be nasty in feedback, but you should be giving feedback. 

Hire Him 
Ministerial experience under the correcting care of a veteran pastor is monumental. 
The seminary should never replace the local church. Far too often, the church sends a kid off to college or to seminary and trusts their ability to train him. Seminary education is important, but it is supplemental. Seminary education should educate him in homiletics and theology, and Bible exposition. It cannot provide for him specifics of pastoral practice that can only be experienced in the heat of actual ministry.  Seminary education cannot prepare him for specific situations in specific cultural contexts. Instruction in practical ministry in Grenville, South Carolina will not be that all helpful in Farmington, New Mexico. There are few similarities between the Bible Belt and the rugged Southwest. 

Having a prolonged exposure to ministry is essential for effective training. That's why internships are so helpful. Outside, or even after an internship, hiring on a young man from your congregation to your pastoral staff would be an incredible joy to him. It gives him a taste of the vocation God has called him to. My summer internship at Victory Baptist Church in Montrose, Colorado was a highlight in my young life. I had the opportunity to experience all areas of pastoral ministry. It was in Montrose that I had opportunity to preach or teach in some capacity weekly. I grew immensely. Victory was patient with me, and so very encouraging. The significance of those months in Colorado for my own development cannot be overstated. 

Pastors, Take Him Under Your Wing 
Pastors, like most people, have many responsibilities. Central to pastoring, shepherding, is discipleship. The pastor is not a CEO and the church is not his corporation. The pastor is a shepherd. He is to feed his sheep. He is to care for his sheep. Discipleship is so much more than the preached Word. Essential to discipleship is the lived word. 

Steve Timmis and Tim Chester make some enlightening statements regarding how discipleship, real discipleship fleshes out in real life:
"We should be teaching one another the Bible as we are out walking, driving in the car,  or washing the dishes. People should learn the truth of justification not only in an exposition of Romans 5 but as they see us resting on Christ's finished work instead of anxiously trying to justify ourselves. They should understand the nature of Christian hope not only as they listen to a talk on Romans 8 but as they see us groaning in response to suffering as we wait for glory. They should understand the sovereignty of God not only from a sermon series on Isaiah but as they see us respond to trials with "pure joy" (James 1:2). We have found in our context that most learning and training takes place not through programmed teaching or training courses but in unplanned conversations--talking about life, talking about ministry, talking about problems."3
If real life with its highs and lows is the best place for discipleship to happen, shouldn't this also be the context of pastoral training? Chester,again, writes:
 "Having caught a glimpse of the benefits of mentoring when I was much younger, I made the decision early in my ministry to provide a number of young people with the opportunity to work alongside me. The aim was to see lives changed by the gospel and people equipped for  gospel ministry. Integral to the process has always been relationship. These young people not only worked for me, they worked alongside me. They witnessed firsthand both how i conducted myself in public and how I related to my family. It was a life-to-life thing--close, intimate, and demanding."4
Living life together: this was the practice of Jesus, and His disciples, and Paul, and Barnabas, and Titus. Jesus called out His disciples and walked with them. They experienced  life together. Paul surrounded himself with people. He interacted with and had many people around him as revealed in his letters to churches. He poured his life into Timothy. Barnabas took John Mark under his wing and groomed him (Acts 15:36-40). Titus appointed elders at Paul's urging (Tit. 1:5). 

Shepherds shepherding shepherds is a Biblical model. Pastors, don't waste this unique opportunity. It's an immense privilege. I'm so grateful in my own life especially for my youth pastor, Dave Deets and the pastor I interned under, Jim Welch. These men have invested their lives in me. They have engaged me in conversation, kept up with me, challenged me and served me. They have been my ministerial mentors, and I'm all the richer for it.

Consider Him for the Future
There is great risk in bringing someone outside of your church in to serve in a leadership role. Knowledge of his ministry and his character is minimal. There just has not been much exposure to him. In contrast, however, there is tremendous benefits to selecting a pastor from your own congregation. As a church you have invested in him, affirmed him, seen him grow, and know his character. As he has been an integral member of the church, he has seen the church's weakness and has a vision for its future. If, as a church, you have affirmed him into gospel ministry, why not consider him for the future of your church?

A Personal Reflection
These are not my grand philosophizing. They are reflections from from my own experience, for good and for bad. In some areas, my own church has supported and affirmed me. In some areas, it has not. I have been both helped and hurt. At various times I have been given valuable pastoral experience and some limited preaching opportunities. In reality, most of those preaching opportunities and ministerial experiences occurred in youth group under the tutelage of my youth pastor. I've had less opportunities to preach in seminary than I had  in high school. While in Seminary, I've also been overlooked for internship and pastoral staff opportunities, as well. I cannot express the deep pain I have experienced from my own church's failure to encourage and affirm me in Gospel ministry. A church's failure to affirm, encourage and embrace young men in the ministry has a tearing impact on his soul. There is always that soft bark, the faint whisper, "if your own church doesn't affirm you, who will?"

There is something unimpressive about the familiar. That was the case with Jesus in His own hometown Nazareth:
He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching (Mark 6:1-6).
"A Prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household," Jesus said. The people who watched Jesus grow from a child into a man, these people of all people should have been the people to embrace Him. Instead, they rejected Him, minimized Him, and even took offense at Him. These are tragic words. My friends, if you have experienced rejection from your friends, family, or even your church you are in good company. The only good, perfect human to live was rejected by those who knew Him best. 

When I'm a pastor, I don't want to be a CEO. I want to be a shepherd. I don't want young men sensing God's calling them into ministry to not have affirmation from the body. I hope I pastor a church that is eager to nurture the call of God on young men from their flock. I hope that the church I pastor sees men of God called out, trained, and affirmed.

What I've written is not an attack on my church. I love it. I'm passionate for it. I want God to use it to reach thousands of people in the furthering of His Kingdom. The congregation has shown me love. Friends from my church are among my dearest relationships. I'm the person I am today because of my incredible church.

I'm writing this post because I agree with Al Mohler and see the church's (universally speaking) failure to embrace, affirm and encourage young men pursuing ministry as a serious problem. I know from the lives of my own pastor and youth pastor, that they too experienced this problem. Young men, young pastors should not have to go into exile or disappear from the scene of their home churches for five or ten or fifteen years before they can come back and play a significant role in its ministry. This process is a major problem that pastors I admire and look up to have overcome. And I too, hope to overcome it as well. It's a problem that shouldn't exist. 

Affirming and encouraging young men into the ministry is huge. A church can be a great support or an immense disappointment. Don't miss out on such a monumental joy. 

1 "Interview with Al Mohler" (

2 John MacArthur, "Missing the Point" (

3 Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church: A Radical Reshaping Around Gospel and Community (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2008), 117-118.

4 Ibid., 120.