It may have been a straw man, but in his “A Farther Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion” John Wesley set his aim on pastors who claim that their calling is nothing more than the preaching of a sermon once or twice a week.
What gross ignorance is this! What a total mistake of the truth! What a miserable blunder touching the whole nature of his office! It is, indeed, a very great thing to speak in the name of God; it might make him that is the stoutest of heart tremble, if he considered that every time he speaks to others, his own soul is at stake. But great, inexpressibly great, as this is, it is perhaps the least part of our work. To”seek and save that which lost;” to bring souls from Satan to God; to instruct the ignorant; to reclaim the wicked; to convince the gainsayer; to direct their feet in the way of peace, and then keep them therein; to follow them step by step, lest they turn out of the way, and advise them in their doubts and temptations; to lift up them that fall; to refresh them that are faint; and to comfort the weak-hearted; to administer various helps, as the variety of occasions require, according to their several necessities: These are part of our office; all this we have undertaken at the peril of our own soul.
Wesley goes on to charge what he calls shepherds to be mindful of their own soul. The pastor who fails to care for the souls in his or her charge is at risk of judgment. He challenges them to preach and teach and counsel the truth, even if it causes conflict. Better conflict now than to let people die. For failing to do this, Wesley turns his aim to pastors.
O, what an account have you to make, if there be a God that judgeth the earth? Will he not require at your hands the blood of all these souls, of who “ye are the betrayers and murders?” … How great will your damnation be, who destroy souls, instead of saving them.
I hear two things here. First, none of what Wesley calls for if without a lively sense of God’s judgment. If it all about giving a little comfort and easing a few burdens in this life, it makes little sense to heed anything Wesley writes about the pastoral craft.
The second thing I hear is a call to visitation and the more intimate arts of the pastor. Such work is time consuming. It is often difficult. It is frequently resisted. But in these passages at least, it is described as essential to the kingdom.