Wesley’s four moves of effective preaching

The minutes of the early Methodist conference record John Wesley’s advice to preachers. He said a preacher should aim to do four things:

  • Invite
  • Convince
  • Offer Christ
  • Build up

Wesley does not explain what he means by these terms.

I take them to mean something like the following:

  • Invite – to lay out for the congregation a vision of Christian holiness and/or Christian life; to invite them into this life by showing them what it means in its fullness.
  • Convince – to challenge or stir up the congregation with the distance between the vision and the reality of our lives
  • Offer Christ – to present the good news that in Jesus the door is opened for those who would accept the invitation
  • Build up – to exhort and encourage the congregation to accept the offer of Christ or to stir up the grace they have already received to go on toward full holiness

I’m not at all certain that I have correctly described what these terms meant to Wesley. In reading his sermons, I do think I could stretch them to cover the various moves he makes in many of his sermons. In his advice to preachers, he suggests that they do these four things in various proportions in different sermons.

As I read over them, I am reminded that I tend to go the lightest on the second move, convince. I often find that I leave the exploration of the gap between the vision and the reality under developed or left to implication. Preachers such as Andy Stanley suggest we start at this very point. He writes of the need to open up questions and discontent in the congregation before you can offer them the good news. His style of preaching as laid out in his book Communicating for a Change might be sketched out as Convince, Offer Christ, Invite, Build up.

Of course, there is no one way to preach. But I do find it fruitful to ponder such things and try them out.

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11 thoughts on “Wesley’s four moves of effective preaching

  1. I may be misunderstanding your thoughts here, so please excuse me if I am. I would ask where in these steps does the reading of Scripture come in? Is the “convincing” step the relevancy of God’s Word for their lives? I have found one of the greatest challenges I have witnessed in sermons is those receiving the sermon. We seem to be living in a narcissistic age, where people are wont to fixate on their needs, their wants, their wishes, and their hopes….at the expense of others and certainly at the expense of God.

    Are those delivering the sermons being told to not spend a lot of time in the Bible? ….. but be sure to get to personal illustrations, examples from daily life, and most importantly, an application that people can use. It seems that the fixation of the hearers on their own sense of need and interest looms as the most significant factor in what seems to me to be a marginalization and silencing of the Word. Individually, each human being in the room is an amalgam of wants, needs, intuitions, interests, and distractions.

    Put it all together and corporately, the congregation is a mass of expectations, desperate hopes, consuming fears, and impatient urges. All of this adds up, unless countered by the authentic reading and preaching of the jWord of God, to a form of group therapy, entertainment, and wasted time….if not worse. Again, my experience is that many congregations expect the preacher to start from some text in the Bible, but then to quickly move on “to things that really interest us….LIKE…..OURSELVES”.

    The earliest example of what I would call the preaching of the Bible may well be found in Nehemiah 8:1-8.

    Ezra was standing on a platform with companions on his right and on his left. The scriptural text clearly, and then explained the meaning of the Scripture to the people. The congregation received the Word humbly, while standing….for hours I might add. The pattern is profoundly easy to understand…..the Bible was read and explained and received. I’m not advocating we all need to stand through the whole sermon….but the “method” of preaching really was simple, especially compared to what we have in the church today. And most notably….it was effective.

    In a lot of churches, there is almost no public reading of the Word of God. Worship is filled with great music….but congregations seem disinterested in listening to the reading of the Bible. I’m not knocking singing….I love singing praises in church…but the congregation cannot live only on the portions of Scripture that are woven into songs and hymns.

    Perhaps Christians need the ministry of the Word as the Bible is read before the congregation in such a way that God’s people….young and old, rich and poor, married and unmarried, sick and well……hear it together. Perhaps the sermon should consist of the exposition of the Word of God, powerfully and faithfully read, explained, and applied.

    It really is not enough that the sermon take a biblical text as its starting point. It seems to me that so many of today’s churches demonstrate what can only be described as an impatience with the Word of God. How can this be? The biblical formula is clear…..the neglect of the Word can only lead to disaster….disobedience….and death.

    If I remember correctly….God rescues His church from error….preserves His church in truth….and propels His church in witness ONLY by His Word….NOT by congregational self-study.

    Bottom line…..An impatience with the Word of God….or neglect of the Word of God can only be explained as an impatience with God..

    All of us…..both individually and congregationally ……..neglect our All Mighty God’s Word to our own ruin.

    As our Savior, Jesus Christ once declared…..”He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

    1. In regular worship, it would have been common for multiple texts to be read. In his field and society preaching, Wesley would have more commonly read a short passage or a verse and preached from that.

      1. But Wesley’s sermons themselves were primarily quotations from scripture that supported his basic thesis. He rarely used non-Biblical stories, or illustrations like most preachers do today. When I first started reading Wesley, I was quite struck by this.

  2. Tending to focus on intellectual questions in preaching Christ has led to some good COSTUMES, but not many CONVERTS. Preaching should aid and abet the work of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, who convicts (proves, convinces) the world of sin and righteousness and judgment.

      1. You want converts that are going to stick around.
        Converts that are fully convinced and can defend the faith.
        That will take an effort to appeal to the intellect as well as the heart.

    1. Well not focusing on intellectual certainly flies in the face of what the bible teaches.
      Christ used common everyday life events to appeal to the intellect. Carried away by emotion is not represented in a good light in scripture.
      Paul and the great apologists of the faith appealed to the intellect.
      They explain why the Christian Faith is superior.

      Today the appeal to be driven by emotions that can never be checked or confirmed does a lot of damage to the Christian Church. Everyone is searching for some personal revelation or expresses some sort of “God revealed to me”, “God has led me” that convinces no one of anything. One can do anything they chose to do as long as they validate the act by convincing themselves “God told me.”
      It like like living in some fairy tale world where nothing is real and that is the way may pastors and teachers teach the gospel making it unbelievable to many.

      People spend half their lives trying to figure out where they personally fit into Gods Plan.
      The Bible makes clear where one fits and what they are suppose to do.

      1. By focusing so much on intellectual quodlibets, you neglect the main thing, which is conversion of the heart. That is not identical with “enthusiasm,” by the way. Sharpen your pen all you please, but in the end the “affections” must be converted.

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