A Word to Preachers

In the months ahead I intend to focus this blog on John Wesley’s letters. Wesley maintained an unbelievable correspondence during his life. Many of those letters have been collected and offer insights into Wesley’s opinions and advice.

As one might expect, Wesley was an excellent preacher and wanted the same from his traveling preachers. In his writings there are several cogent pieces of advice both on the standards of good preaching and also ways to improve. I share the following quotes:

“Be sure to begin and end precisely at the time appointed. Sing no hymn of your own composing. Endeavour to be serious, weighty, and solemn in your whole deportment before the congregation. Choose the plainest texts you can. Take care not to ramble from your text, but to keep close to it, and make out what you undertake. Always suit your subject to your audience. Beware of allegorizing or spiritualizing too much. Take care of anything awkward or affected, either in your gesture or pronunciation. Tell each other if you observe anything of this kind.”

A young preacher once asked John Wesley, "How can I get crowds to attend my church services?" Wesley replied, "Get on fire, and people will come out to see you burn."

Here is John Wesley writing to John Trembath (August 17, 1760), a young minister who was a poor preacher: “What has exceedingly hurt you in time past, nay, and I fear, to this day, is lack of reading. I scarce ever knew a preacher who read so little. And perhaps, by neglecting it, you have lost the taste for it. Hence your talent in preaching does not increase. It is just the same as it was seven years ago. It is lively, but not deep; there is little variety; there is no compass of thought.'

'Reading only can supply this, with meditation and daily prayer. You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this. You can never be a deep preacher without it, any more than a thorough Christian. Oh begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercise. You may acquire the taste which you have not; what is tedious at first will afterward be pleasant. Whether you like it or not, read and pray daily.”

One temptation of every Christian worker at some point in their ministry will be the temptation to succumb to discouragement because of a lack of visible results. In a letter to a leader of one of his societies Wesley says, “Sometimes you will be in danger of dejection--when you have labored long in any instance, and see no fruit of your labor. But remember! You will be rewarded according to your labor, nor according to your success.”