December 2, 2020

Reaching the Rough and Tumble of Society: An Historical Example

By Chaplain Mike

OK, so you have a heart to reach men for Christ—working class men, work with your hands and bring home the bacon kind of men, hard working and sometimes hard living “men’s” men, men who are not afraid to break a sweat and get dirty.

These are not the kind of men that grace church pews. You’ll find them in the pubs after work, downing a pint or two and using indelicate language. In their rare free time, you might find them playing sports with such a competitive fire that it leads to a brawl now and then. You’ll find them placing bets on the ponies. You’ll find them out in the woods hunting or on the lake fishing. At home, they are likely to be chopping firewood or wielding a hammer to mend some flaw on the roof.

You want to reach these men for Christ. You want to see them humble themselves and repent and go to the Cross and trust in Jesus. You long that they will become disciples. You hope to see them in church among the congregation, praising God in song, becoming hearers and doers of the Word, partaking of Christ’s body and blood at the Lord’s Table. You want to teach them to love their families, to do their work to God’s glory, to love their neighbors, to be generous, kind, and hospitable people. Perhaps some will find opportunities to improve their lot in life and they will do great good through their charitable works on behalf of the less fortunate. Perhaps some will become leaders in their communities, peacemakers, promoters of good order and all that is good and right.

What is your strategy for reaching these men, the rough and tumble of society?

What kind of a person would you choose to speak to them?

If you had fifty years to try and impact this working class culture dramatically with the Gospel, who would you pick as your leader, as the face of that movement?

I’ll tell you who God chose.

God chose…

  • A man of aristocratic background, not a working class man.
  • The youngest child in a large family, whose greatest influence in life was his mother.
  • A man who was frail and diminutive, about 5′ 4″ tall, not an imposing figure.
  • A man who was undramatic, not one who overpowered you with his presence and speaking ability.
  • An academic, who had spent most of his life in school surroundings, who had mastered six languages.
  • A serious and pious man, who had lived a strict personal life of following religious rules and abstaining from fleshly pleasures.
  • A man who was very conservative about the church, who practiced liturgical worship, who did not believe in religious innovation.

In other words, a man who did not relate to the people in that rough and tumble working class by any natural ties whatsoever.

God chose John Wesley.

One day God dragged John Wesley out into a field in Bristol, England, where he hesitantly preached to a large group of tough coal miners, and he was hooked. For the next fifty years, he and his band of “methodists” worked tirelessly among the working classes throughout the British Isles, winning those on the rough edges of society and equipping them to follow Christ in their world. Though it ultimately did not work out that way, Wesley had no intention of starting a new church or denomination. He was a staunch Church of England proponent his entire life, and the Book of Common Prayer was his liturgy. He hoped methodism would become a missional force within the Church of England that would help the church recover and maintain her spiritual vitality. He was an organizational genius, however, and the overwhelming response to his preaching required that he provide for the ongoing spiritual sustenance of those the Church would not welcome. And thus the Methodist church came to be. However, Wesley’s innovations were targeted toward the church’s mission, not her gathered life and order.

He did not think that one had to change the Great Tradition of the church to reach lost working class people.

He did not think that one had to change the church’s worship or traditional ministries to reach lost working class people.

He did not think that he had to radically identify with the culture of his audience by dressing like them, speaking like them, or altering his message in any way in order to reach working class people.

He did not try to change the church or its fundamental ethos.

He did not change the pastor’s ministry.

What did he do?

He took the Gospel out of the church and into the world.

He trusted in the power of the Holy Spirit to empower the preaching of the Gospel and the good works of his people as they lived and moved and preached and ministered in the fields, villages, towns, and cities of England.

And that’s how you reach men, women, and children for Christ. You don’t have to identify with them, dress like them, speak like them, attract them by playing their music or making them think you’re cool.

You just have to be yourself, radically identified with Christ, and living in relationship with your neighbors in their world. Let the church be the church. Let the mission be done in the world by the John Wesleys of our day, who rely not on church growth principles and missional strategies, but on the power of God to bring revival.




  1. I don’t know……his hair seems kind of long 🙂
    great post!

  2. Not only that, but brainy as all heck. He was well-read in patristic writings. How did this guy reach the rough-and-tumble crowd? You’re spot-on:

    “He trusted in the power of the Holy Spirit to empower the preaching of the Gospel and the good works of his people as they lived and moved and preached and ministered in the fields, villages, towns, and cities of England.”

    Hudson Taylor is another good example of someone who reached the end of his rope trying to reach the lost in his own strength and cleverness. How long will it take us to reach the end of our cleverness, endless resources, and technologies and begin to trust the power of the Holy Spirit?

  3. Love Wesley, but sad to see what became of Methodists in my town. I can’t tell the difference between them and Olsteen. I wish they would go back to their roots.

  4. Yes, absolutely!

  5. David Cornwell says

    Wesley designed and put into practice some of the most effective small groups in the history of the church, before or since (my opinion). They had a form, rules, and discipline. Some who have studied the history of such groups give them credit as being the forerunners of the modern recovery group. They also helped restore the pastoral ministry of the church, in its stress in caring for it’s members. This in many ways was the heart of the methodist movement.

    Some of these groups persisted into the 20th century. My mom and dad met in a very active, larger Methodist Church and were active in “class meetings” up until the mid 1930’s. This church is where my dad became a Christian.

    In earlier history Methodism had a strong appeal to working class people. it combined a passion for bringing people to Christ with a concern for the societal conditions in which people found themselves in the community and nation.

    As an aside, Wesley walked and rode horses thousands of miles a year, both reading and writing in his journals as he did so. He knew several languages, but could speak in a way that was understood by the common person.

  6. 1 Corinthians 9:19-22?

    • Eric, I love this passage, but I think it is misunderstood and misused in the contemporary church growth climate. Today it is used to say we should change the way we meet together as a church so as to reach more people. Paul was not talking about the gatherings of the church. He was talking about his mission and the way he would adjust his lifestyle in the world. If a Gentile asked him to dinner, he would not insist on his Jewish scruples about food. If he went to a Jewish home, he wouldn’t try to shock them by insisting on something they considered unclean. It has nothing to do with changing the church’s worship or emphasis on spiritual formation or the job description of the pastor. It’s about the way we love our neighbors when we scatter into the world, not altering what we do when we gather together.

  7. I like to think that no one is “safe” from the Word when it is spoken in truth to sinners, by…whomever is speaking it at the time.

    It’s a powerful thing, that gospel of Christ Jesus.

    It was powerful enough to grab hold of a self-obsessed idolator like me.

    God bless all those who will speak to others, in all manner of ways, about the One who loves, and forgives sinners and who loves to raise them from the dead to live in eternity with Himself.

  8. As of late I have felt the pull of God to be with those I have come out from, the rebels, the prodigals, the addicts, the outcasts, those who would “never grace a church pew”, etc. This post is a reason I doubt the pull because mostly you hear about people being pulled in the opposite direction of their “circle of influence”, but, I feel this passion towards those people so strongly it made me cry this morning……..I just don’t know what to think.

    • I think you should seek them out, Rebekah. It shouldn’t be hard to do…they are everywhere.

      But be careful. Be wise and be on guard. It won’t help anyone if you get hurt.

      I’ll pray that the Lord will use your words to grab a hold of whom He will.

      • Thank you Steve! And yes, careful, wise and on guard, or as CM put it, “radically identified with Christ”.

        The beauty is that they came to me, in a bizarre turn of events the past month, people whom I’ve known for 30 years and haven’t talked to in about 20.

        The people whom I so closely relate to, on so many levels and yet today I have a hope to share. Awesome!

        • Radagast says

          Ah Rebekah… the warning bells are going off in my head…. there are times where I believe my life paralelled yours, so I offer this to you. There are some I can never go back to, even though it has been many years. Because, if they are still walking that same road, there is a part of me that wants to wake back up and join them. I keep that part of me in a cage because ultimately it is destructive to those around me. But boy was that part of me a fun guy at one time in my life.

          So what I mean is if it is those you describe in general then that might be safer than specific people who were in your life at one time still stuck in what you fought hard to get out of. And as much as you can relate to them, I understand this intimately, because of that closemness you may end up being vulnerable. I know, maybe I’m jumpin the gun, but I know what I feel on my end when the past shows itself to me again in certain situations.


          • Radagast, thank you for your bells and words of wisdom.

            There are some from my past that I refuse to go back to, the conviction is strong and pressing. There are others that are walking that same road, but I don’t feel the vulnerability because I wouldn’t trade anything that I live by faith today, all the questions and all the doubts to “wake back up and join them”. For me, I know where the road leads……..death.

            My morning meditation was this: “To keep the Lord continually before you”……I’m asking Him what that looks like for He and I…….the vulnerability, the certain situations, I know them. I know them all too well. But your words are received well my friend! Thank you!

  9. Scott Miller says

    “He did not think that one had to change the church’s worship or traditional ministries to reach lost working class people.”
    Come on. Wesley took well known bar tunes and added Christian lyrics to them, creating some great hymns.

    • The Wesleys did bring vitality to congregational singing. Hey wait, didn’t they invent the praise band?

    • A lot of those types of stories are myths. And even if Wesley did use some secular songs, they weren’t just taken “as is” into the church—they were reworked so that they fit in stylistically with the majesty of church hymnody. They were “lifted up” as they were brought into the church rather than the church being “brought down” to their level.

    • Never heard this story about John Wesley before. It’s a version of a misunderstanding about Martin Luther, who wrote hymn tunes in bar FORM. While bar form was a form that many popular tunes of the day took (even many that could have been sung in taverns), Luther nor Wesley took drinking tunes and wrote hymns to them.

      • Yes, “A Mighty Fortress” is the classic example.

        • The other Graham says

          Big debate over that one. I think, although I had a music history prof back in the late 60’s who taught that “A Mighty Fortress” had that history. I am quick to raise that point about some of the Wesley hymns when folks start spouting about “sacred music” versus other hymnody that praises God but somehow is less acceptable because of its pre-Christian past.

  10. Well done, Chaplain Mike.

  11. Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says

    As an Anglican, I think one of the greatest tragedies in our tradition’s history was being too in-the-box to deal with Wesley’s crew. That it had to become a new denomination is too bad.

    • David Clark says

      As a Methodist who wishes for an infusion of high church liturgy which Anglicanism would provide, I concur.

    • David Cornwell says

      If the Church of England had consented to making Francis Asbury bishop, things may have been different. Refusing that, Asbury and Coke took it into their own hands (to the disapproval of Wesley) and a new denomination was born.

  12. David Clark says

    I think this is one case where American anti-elitism would cause problems for a modern day Wesley. 99% of the time I think America’s lack of class distinctions (at least compared to 18th century England) is a net positive for Christianity or can be used as a net positive. But in this case it might cause problems for a 21st century Wesley.

    I think class worked towards Wesley’s advantage because the overarching attitude in 18th century England was deference to one’s superiors and duty to ones inferiors. Wesley would have commanded the respect of the miners and laborers. It doesn’t mean that everyone listened to him or believed him, just that looking and talking differently from the lower classes would not have been a major impediment to at least getting their attention.

    America expects egalitarianism, any whiff of elitism by and large turns people off. And if people are turned off, they are less likely to listen. Thus the drive to be hip by so many clergy. Americans too often have the false impression that unless someone looks like us, dresses like us, and talks like us, they don’t understand us and have nothing to say to us.

  13. “These are not the kind of men that grace church pews.”

    I’m a little suprised that there hasn’t been more push back on the premise about what kind of men attend church. Perhaps it would be interesting to see some real polling work/numbers done touching on this.

    Anecdotally, my experience over the past decade [attending at different times a United Methodist, Presbyterian (PCA), and a Lutheran (ELCA) church] would not conform. In my church experience there have been plenty of folks who drink, cuss, hunt, fish, play sports, work blue collar jobs, and who can fix their own cars and do house repairs. So when I read pieces like this it just doesn’t ressonate and comes off as a bit like stereotyping.

    However, as a one time Methodist (even was employed as a Director of Congregational Care and Ministries for a short time) I can appreciate your words about John Wesley and his missional approach to ministry.

    Additionally, I’ve had a hard time understanding what people are talking about when they speak of a need to “identifying with the culture.” We aren’t talking about immigrants and refugees from some far away place that we know little about. Don’t we all pretty much by default share the same culture as our neighbors? Don’t we shop at the same stores, eat at the same resturants, watch the same TV programs, listen to the same radio stations, enjoy the same recreations, work at the same places of employment?

  14. Before you know it we’ll turn Wesley into a (yet another) recipe: “Ah, so if I want to reach manly men I need to do as Wesley did” (wig and all)

    The most important thing Wesley did was to obey when called.

    History shows a lot of unlikely leaders who ‘simply’ obeyed.

  15. Excellent post! Wesley provides us with proof that we don’t have to conform to the culture in order to reach it; instead, we need only to be true to the Gospel, and passionate for people. Thanks, CM, for a good start to the day!

  16. This is a breath of fresh air.

  17. Thank you for a great and relevant essay, CM.

  18. MelissaTheRagamuffin says

    General William Booth – founder of the Salvation Army which was originally a split from the Methodist Church. I would also point out that the Salvation Army is still reaching the “rough and tumble” for Christ. I worked at a Salvation Army shelter several years ago, and I was very impressed by that particular church. They loved the people they (we) served, and lives were changed because of it. I asked my boss if anyone kept track of the people who had been helped by the Salvation Army and how many later joined the Salvation Army. He said, “Where do you think our membership comes from?” That Christmas I went back to ring bells for the Salvation Army and was amazed at the number of people who stopped to tell me how the Salvation Army helped them.

    Unfortunately, I also had the experience of working at another Salvation Army shelter where the attitude was, “We help the scum because we’re the Salvation Army and we’re supposed to.” And that attitude showed in a lack of change in the clients. The good news is that they’ve had a change in leadership, and it is turning around for the better.

  19. I thought you were going to say A.B. Simpson. He left his prestigious New York Presbyterian church because he believed that God was calling him to reach New York’s teeming immigrants… an idea to which his church’s leadership was greatly opposed.

  20. Thanks for the information….never knew much about the man except his name. I have learned something today!

  21. Thanks for this post. I find it to be spot on and a great reminder that it’s really not about me but about how God chooses to use me as I submit and obey.

  22. “You just have to be yourself, radically identified with Christ, and living in relationship with your neighbors in their world. Let the church be the church.”

    I agree. Thing is, over the 2,100 years of Her world-wide existence the Church has had and today has many different forms. Liturgical or non, doesn’t really matter. Mega-church or house church, doesn’t really matter. Just as long as it minsters to people and doesn’t violate Scripture. The world changes and the Church forms have changed many times with it and will continue to change.

    As far as people go: An academic like CS Lewis should be who he is, as should a back alley rough-neck like Mark Driscoll. Let’s not try to make anyone conform to our expectation of what we think a gospel minister should look and act like. I’m not a proper English fellow like Wesley and I’m not going to try and become one so that I can reach people for Christ. That would be phony and a total failure.

    My hero is Joseph, Jesus’ step dad. He knew he was raising the Messiah-King. He didn’t make any efforts to send Jesus to “king-school” or anything like that. He thought “God gave Him to me to raise and I’m a carpenter. Therefore, I will prepare Him for His life’s work by teaching him carpentry.” Wow! His decision to just be himself in his God given task of raising the Messiah shows a wisdom and level of security that blows me away.