Thursday, August 11, 2011

John Wesley's mother births a church

John Wesley (1703 - 1791) is known as the founder of the Methodist movement which transformed the England of his day and then spread around the world.  At the heart of that movement were small groups that are similar to the house churches of today.  But, where did John learn about the value of small, family-like expressions of the church?

No doubt, John was deeply influenced by his mother, Susannah.  While his father, Samuel, saw the value of smaller groups (called "religious societies" in his day), it was his mother who actually lived this out.  This amazing women had 19 children, nine of whom died in infancy.  Here's the story of how she started a "church" (although that term wouldn't have been used in her day for what she started).

What Samuel Wesley only dreamed and talked of doing, however, his remarkable wife Susannah carried out, at least in a measure.  Samuel Wesley often traveled to London on church and political business, leaving Susannah and the large family alone at Epworth.  In early 1712 (John would have been about 9 years old), while Samuel was on a prolonged absence, Susannah began a small meeting in the parsonage.  As she related in letters to her husband, the meeting grew out of the family devotional time Susannah held on Sunday evenings with her children.  A few neighbors asked to attend, then others, so that the group soon grew from about thirty persons to over 200.  At these gatherings Mrs. Wesley would read a sermon, pray and talk with the people who came.

This new venture caused a stir in Epworth and some friction between Susannah and her husband.  Samuel liked the theory but not the practice.  He objected to these home meetings because they were led by a woman, might cause him some embarrassment and would be seen by some as a "conventicle," a private, separatist religious gathering."  Snyder, The Radical Wesley:  Patterns for Church Renewal, p. 16-17.

Two observations about this story...

1.  The healthiest house churches generally form around one or more "spiritual parents".  A spiritual parent is a person who is an "elder" as to maturity (ie, a spiritual grown up).  And, they have the heart to care for spiritual "children".  (By "children", I'm not talking about physical age.)  Susannah is a great example of a "spiritual mom".  See John 14:9, 1 Cor. 4:15, 1 Thes. 2:7, 11.

2.  No doubt, most New Testament house churches also started from family devotions.  In the Jewish culture, the home (not the synagogue) was always seen as the center of spiritual life.  Family devotions (the Shabbat Meal) occurred on Friday evenings.  The core group was mom and dad and the kids.  (Family = church).  Into this family community, friends and neighbors were invited and the house churches grew.  A high value for the LK10 community is expressed in this statement:  The marriage, and then the family, is the first and most foundation expression of church.

For more on Susannah, who is called "the Mother of the Methodist Movement", see


  1. If only more mothers spent time with their aprons over their heads in prayer!

  2. I like this Story--Brittani Morris