John Wesley's Accountability Discipleship Groups
to Methodist Accountability Discipleship Groups. [Called Methodist
Societies, Classmeetings, Band Societies by John Wesley]
The heart of Methodism
during the life of John Wesley was the Methodist Class Meeting. This
was a small covenant discipleship support group where members were
accountable to each other. They confessed their faults one to another,
prayed for each other, and stirred up one another to love and good
works. Here the teachings of the Bible were examined in light of actual
personal experience. Here leaders were nurtured and equipped.
The following materials
are taken from the writings of John Wesley and his Preachers. For
furture study see The Works of John Wesley.
Rules for the Band-Societies (drawn up Dec. 25, 1738)
design of our meeting is, to obey that command of God, "Confess
your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may
end, we intend,-
meet once a week, at the least.
come punctually at the hour appointed, without some extraordinary
begin (those of us who are present) exactly at the hour, with singing
speak each of us in order, freely and plainly, the true state of
our souls, with the faults we have committed in thought, word, or
deed, and the temptations we have felt, since our last meeting.
end every meeting with prayer, suited to the state of each person
desire some person among us; to speak his own state first, and then
to ask the rest, in order, as many and as searching questions as
may be, concerning their state, sins, and temptations.
of the questions proposed to every one before he is admitted among
us may be to this effect:-
you the forgiveness of your sins?
you peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ?
you the witness of God's Spirit with your spirit, that you are a
child of God?
the love of God shed abroad in your heart?
no sin, inward or outward, dominion over you?
you desire to be told your faults?
you desire to be told of all your faults, and that plain and home?
you desire that every one of us should tell you, from time to time,
whatsoever is in his heart concerning you?
Do you desire we should tell you whatsoever we think, whatsoever
we fear, whatsoever we hear, concerning you?
Do you desire that, in doing this, we should come as close as possible,
that we should cut to the quick, and search your heart to the bottom?
Is it your desire and design to be on this, and all other occasions,
entirely open, so as to speak everything that is in your heart without
exception, without disguise, and without reserve?
of the preceding questions may be asked as
often as occasion offers; the four following at every meeting:-
known sins have you committed since our last meeting?
temptations have you met with?
were you delivered?
have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be
sin or not?
Conditions of Membership
into Methodist Society:
is one only condition previously required in those who desire admission
into these societies: a desire "to flee from the wrath
to come, to be saved from their sins:" But, wherever
this is really fixed in the soul, it will be shown by its fruits.
It is therefore expected of all who continue therein, that they
should continue to evidence their desire of salvation. Thus we say
to those who unite with us:
are supposed to have the faith that "overcometh the world." To you,
therefore, it is not grievous:
I. Carefully to abstain from doing evil; in particular:
to buy nor sell anything at all on the Lord's day.
taste no spirituous liquor, no dram of any kind, unless prescribed
by a Physician.
be at a word both in buying and selling.
pawn nothing, no, not to save life.
to mention the fault of any behind his back, and to stop
those short that do.
wear no needless ornaments, such as rings, earrings,
necklaces, lace, ruffles.
use no needless self-indulgence, such as taking snuff
or tobacco, unless prescribed by a Physician.
Zealously to maintain good works; in particular:
give alms of such things as you possess, and that to the
uttermost of your power.
reprove all that sin in your sight, and that in love and
meekness of wisdom.
be patterns of diligence and frugality, of
self-denial, and taking up the cross daily.
Constantly to attend on all the ordinances of God; in particular:
To be at church and at the Lord's table every week,
and at every public meeting of the Bands.
attend the ministry of the word every morning, unless distance,
business, or sickness prevent.
use private prayer every day; and family prayer, if
you are the head of a family.
read the Scriptures, and meditate therein, at every vacant hour.
observe, as days of fasting or abstinence, all Fridays in
are the General Rules of our societies; all which we are taught
of God to observe, even in his written word, the only rule, and
the sufficient rule, both of our faith and practice. And all these,
we know, his Spirit writes on every truly awakened heart. If
there be any among us who observe them not, who habitually break
any of them, let it be made known unto them who watch over that
soul as they that must give an account. We will admonish him
of the error of his ways; we will bear with him for a season: But
then if he repent not, he hath no more place among us. We have delivered
our own souls. -Wesley's Works Vol. 8. pgs 270,271,272-274.
Because the Methodist
Societies were not controlled by The Church of England some Priests
from the Church opposed them and said they were divisive. John Wesley
pointed out that they were not dividing Christians but introducing
true Christian fellowship and support where it had not been.
it was not long before an objection was made to this, which had
not once entered into my thought: "Is not this making a schism?
Is not the joining these people together, gathering Churches out
of Churches?" It was easily answered, If you mean only gathering
people out of buildings called churches, it is. But if
you mean, dividing Christians from Christians, and
so destroying Christian fellowship, it is not. For,
(1) These were not Christians before they were thus joined.
Most of them were barefaced Heathens. (2) Neither are they Christians,
from whom you suppose them to be divided. You will not look
me in the face and say they are. What! drunken Christians! cheating
Christians! If these are Christians at all, they are devil Christians,
as the poor Malabarians term them. (3) Neither are they divided
any more than they were before, even from these wretched devil
Christians. They are as ready as ever to assist them, and to perform
every office of real kindness towards them. (4) If it be said, "But
there are some true Christians in the parish, and you destroy the
Christian fellowship between these and them;" I answer, That which
never existed, cannot be destroyed. But the fellowship you speak
of never existed. Therefore it cannot be destroyed. Which of
these true Christians had any such fellowship with these? Who
watched over them in love? Who marked their growth in grace? Who
advised and exhorted them from time to time? Who prayed with them
and for them, as they had need? This, and this alone, is Christian
fellowship: But alas! where is it to be found? Look east
or west, north or south; name what parish you please: Is this Christian
fellowship there? Rather, are not the bulk of the parishioners a
mere rope of sand? What Christian connection is there between
them? What intercourse in spiritual things?
What watching over each other's souls? What
bearing of one another's burdens? What a mere jest is it
then, to talk so gravely of destroying what never was? The real
truth is just the reverse of this: We introduce Christian fellowship
where it was utterly destroyed. And the fruits of it have been peace,
joy, love, and zeal for every good word and work." -Wesley's Works
Vol. 8. pgs. 251, 252-
True Christian Discipline
Christian discipline, whereby all the living members of Christ are
knit together in one, and all that are putrid and dead immediately
cut off from the body; this order I reverence, for it is of
God... Are you Rector of a parish? Then let us go no farther. Does
this order obtain there? Nothing less. Your parishioners are a rope
of sand. As few (if any) of them are alive to God; so they have
no connection with each other, unless such as might be among Turks
or Heathens. Neither have you any power to cut off from that
body were it alive, the dead and putrid members. Perhaps you
have no desire; but all are jumbled together without any care or
concern of yours. It is plain, then, that what order is to be found
is not among you who so loudly contend for it, but among that very
people; whom you continually blame for their violation and contempt
of it. The little flock you condemn is united together in one
body, by one Spirit: so that "if one member suffers, all the members
suffer with it; if one be honored, all rejoice with it." Nor does
any dead member long remain; but as soon as the hope of recovering
it is past, it is cut off. Now, suppose we were willing to relinquish
our charge, and to give up this flock into your hands, would
you observe the same order as we do now with them and the other
souls under your care? You dare not;
because you have respect of persons. You fear the faces
of men. You cannot; because you have not overcome
the world. You are not above the desire of earthly things.
And it is impossible you should ever have any true order, or
exercise any Christian discipline, till you are wholly crucified
to the world, till you desire nothing more but God." Wesleys
Works Vol. 8, pg. 225
Testimonies to the
Effectiveness of the Methodist Societies:
Walsh testifies in Wesley's Veterans Vol. 5, pgs 30,31:
was now appointed a class leader. 'My business,' says he, 'was,
To see each person in my class once a week; and if any were absent,
to inquire into the cause; (2) Whenever we met together, to sing
psalms or hymns, and to pray with them; (3) To examine how their
souls prospered, and what progress they had made the preceding week
in the way of the Lord.'
'Oh,' adds he, 'how wonderfully did we experience
the power and love of God, whenever we made prayer and supplication
to Him! We had a heaven amongst us; a paradise within
us! The Lord poured such peace and joy into our hearts,
we were often so happy, that we did not know how
to part. We lived as brethren, and strove together for "the
hope of the gospel." We were of one heart and of one mind
in the presence of God. And is not this the communion
the tie, where souls agree
In Jesu's dying love;
Then only can
it closer be
When all are joined
Wright shares the help he found when he began attending the
Methodist Class Meeting and the blessing of Accountability and Support:
length that serious man, Mr. Thomas Secombe, took notice of me;
and when he was about to leave Limerick desired Sidney Hoey (a mother
in Israel she was to me and many of the soldiers) to get acquainted
with me. She brought me to her house, and the same day to a class
meeting, which was a day of gladness to me; for I had often found
Solomon's words fulfilled, 'Woe to him that is alone when he
falleth.' For when I fell into perplexities and temptations
I had no one to help me, but now I found the real benefit
of having fellowship with a loving people.... It was of
uncommon advantage to me to be among the Methodists at a time when
both the preachers and people loved all our discipline, and practiced
it. I saw the blessed consequences, for few cared
to stay among us but such as retained their fervor for the whole
of religion. False brethren especially were soon tired,
and went to the Independents, Anabaptists, or Moravians."-Wesley's
Veterans Vol. 2, pgs. 23,24
of John Pickard:
I joined the society [at London], and the first night of meeting
the class I thought it the greatest emblem of heaven of any meeting
I was ever in. My soul was much humbled under a deep sense
of my great unworthiness, and of being permitted to sit and hear
such as feared God relate His loving kindness to them. I was
now united to a happy people, who walked (the general part of
them) in the light of God's countenance, and counted it all joy
at any time to suffer for His name's sake; where discipline was
for walls and bulwarks, and where His doctrine dropped as rain,
and His words distilled as the dew.... I saw the best way
to be free was to lay the ax at the root of the tree, and to spare
neither root nor branch, but cut asunder all the cords which would
tie the soul to earth; to deny every temper, passion, and gratification
that had the least tendency to indulge the evil nature; seeking,
intending, and desiring nothing during by long or short stay in
this world but to find in Christ what I lost in Adam-holiness of
heart and heavenly tempers, which become those who are called by
grace to be children of God and heirs of glory.- Wesley's Veterans
Vol. 3, pg. 203:
The Use of Tickets
For Admission to help insure those who attended were serious about
the society increased, I found it required still greater care to
separate the precious from the vile. In order to
this, I determined, at least once in three months, to talk with
every member myself, and to inquire at their
own mouths, as well as of their Leaders and neighbors,
whether they grew in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus
Christ. At these seasons I likewise particularly inquire whether
there be any misunderstanding or difference among them; that
every hindrance of peace and brotherly love may be taken out of
each of those whose seriousness and good conversation I found
no reason to doubt, I gave a testimony under my own hand, by
writing their name on a ticket prepared for that purpose;
every ticket implying as strong a recommendation of the person to
whom it was given as if I had wrote at length, "I believe the bearer
hereof to be one that fears God and works righteousness."
who bore these tickets, ( these or
tesserve, as the ancients termed them, being of just the same force
with the ,
commendatory letters mentioned by their Apostle,) wherever they
came, were acknowledged by their brethren, and received with
all cheerfulness. These were likewise of use in other respects.
By these it was easily distinguished, when the society were to
meet apart, who were members of it, and who not. These also
supplied us with a quiet and inoffensive method of removing any
disorderly member. He has no new ticket at the quarterly visitation;
(for so often the tickets are changed;) and hereby it is
immediately known that he is no longer of the community." -Wesley's
Works Vol. 8. pg 256, 257.
"You do well in insisting
on every person showing his ticket. I wonder John. Coussins
[assistant the previous year] did not. It is of importance to mind
the Select Society; that, I apprehend, he never neglected. If
the leaders and the bands are closely attended to, they will do
well; otherwise not." -Letter to Thomas Wride Sept. 16, 1785,
Wesley's Letters Vol. 7, p. 291.
Results of not following
of Thomas Taylor:
next remove was to Leeds; which proved a trial to my patience, especially
the first year. I always find where the reins of discipline are
slackened, it sinks the state of vital religion much. I found
it so here: and the mischief is, there is in people an unwillingness
to be brought into order when they have been accustomed to live
without it; and the minister who attempts the reform must bear his
cross.... very great care should be taken that men of unblemished
characters alone be employed in the ministry of the word. The same
care should be taken respecting the class-leaders; and then
there is hope that they will labor to make the people like themselves.
Indeed, it is natural for the people to take the tinge of their
guides. -Wesley's Veterans Vol. 7 pgs. 75,76 & pgs. 35,36:
"My next remove was
to Cork. Here a blessed work was begun under that indefatigable
servant of God, Mr. Penington. It did not decrease during my stay,
but increased more abundantly. I preached abroad in every part of
the city. Prayer-meetings were regularly kept up. I met the class-leaders
every Saturday night, and appointed each his work for the ensuing
week. Strict discipline was observed. Not a classleader or steward
was permitted to enter the society-meeting without producing his
ticket; and the work of the Lord prospered on every side. In
this agreeable manner things went on, when Mr. James Morgan came
to help me. He was the older preacher, though the care of things
was, in some measure, committed to me. I could soon see a party
gathering against me, who did not like the strictness of discipline.
At length he insisted on a person being admitted to the lovefeasts
and society-meetings who would not meet in class. To this I
could not consent. I insisted on poor and rich meeting in class,
or not to have any privilege of meeting in society. Letters
were sent to Mr. Wesley, and his answers were construed in their
favor. However, I stood to what I saw was right. They then alleged
her husband would not let her meet in class. To cut off this pretense,
I went and asked him if he did hinder her. His answer was, 'She
is at her own liberty.' Then Mr. Morgan was obliged to submit. This,
however, caused a shyness betwixt him and me, which cast a damp
upon the work, Yet I kept up, at all events, the same discipline
as long as I stayed at Cork." [Wesley refers to the work done by
Taylor and Penington: 'They were zealous men, and sound preachers;
full of activity, and strict in discipline, without respect of persons,"
John Wesleys Journal, May 26, 1767]
Examples of John
Wesley's Discipline in Action:
account of those who had left the society: since Dec. 30
Dissenters) because otherwise their Ministers would not give them
9 because their
husbands or wives were not willing they should stay in it.
5 because their
master and mistress would not let them come.
7 because their
acquaintance persuaded them to leave it.
5 because people
said such bad things of the society.
9 because they
would be laughed at.
3 because they
would not lose the poor's allowance.
3 because they
could not spare time to come.
2 because it was
too far off.
1 because she
was falling into fits.
1 because people
were so rude in the streets.
2 because Thomas
Naisbut was in the society.
1 because he would
not turn back on his baptism.
1 because we were
mere Church of England men.
1 because it was
time enough to serve God yet.
account of those who were expelled from the society: since
Dec. 30 was 64:
2 for cursing and swearing.
2 for habitual
17 for drunkenness.
2 for retailing spirituous liquors.
3 for quarreling
1 for beating
3 for habitual,
4 for railing
1 for idleness
29 for lightness
Vol. 1, p. 415 March 4, 1741
The Importance of
Cornwall I find the societies have suffered great loss from want
of discipline. Wisely said the ancients, 'The soul and body make
a man; the Spirit and discipline make a Christian.'" -Wesley's
Works Vol. 2, pg. 204.
Adam [Clarke], Discipline is the great want in Guernsey;
without which, the work of God cannot prosper. You did
well to set upon it without delay, and to be as exact as possible."
-Wesley's Works Vol. 13, pg. 101.
Two types of People
and proper way to help
to your Band, there are two sorts of persons with whom you
may have to do, the earnest and the slack: The way
you are to take with the one is quite different from that of the
other. The latter, [slack] you must search,
and find out why they are slack; exhort them to
repent, be zealous, do the first works. The former [earnest]
you have only to encourage, to exhort to push forward
to the mark, to bid them grasp the prize so nigh!
And do so yourself. Receive a thousand more blessings; believe
more, love more: You cannot love enough. Beware of sins of omissions."
-Letter to Miss March, Wesley's Works Vol. 12, pg. 278, May 13,1782.
Meeting Discipline in Societies:
examining the society [Colchester] I found, that out of the hundred
and twenty-six members I had left in October, we had lost only twelve;
in the place of whom we have gained forty: And many of these, whom
we left in sorrow and heaviness, are now rejoicing in God their
Savior." -March 5, 1759-
rode to Norwich. I inquired into the state of affairs at the Tabernacle,
and found the society, once consisting of many hundred members,
was mouldered into nothing. Of the fifteen or sixteen hundred
subscribers, not twenty, not one, was left; but every one that
pleased went into the galleries without any questions asked.
So that everything was to be wrought out of the ore, or rather
out of the cinders. Surely whatever help is done here, God must
do it himself.
the evening I desired that those who were willing to join in a
society would speak with me the next evening. About twenty
did so; but the greater part of these appeared like frightened
sheep: And no marvel, when they had been so long accustomed to
hear all manner of evil of me."
Saturday and Sunday about forty more gave in their names. On
Sunday, in the afternoon, I met the society, after ordering the
doors to be shut, which they had not been for two years before.
Thirty or forty more spoke to me on Monday. I think two-thirds
of those I have yet seen have had a clear sense of God's pardoning
love. Doth he not "send by whom he will send?"
26...I spoke to as many of both societies [Norwich and Forncet]
now united together, as had leisure and inclination to come. The
whole number is about four hundred and twenty; of whom I do not
think it improbable two hundred may continue together."
29...I divided the Norwich society into classes, without
any distinction between them who had belonged to the Foundry or
April 1...I met them all at six, requiring every one to show
his ticket when he came in; A thing they had never heard of
before. I likewise insisted on another strange regulation, That
the men and women should sit apart. A third was made the same day...
ordered none to be admitted, but those who desired to communicate.
society now contained about five hundred and seventy members;
an hundred and three of whom were in no society before, although
many of them had found peace with God. I believe they would have
increased to a thousand, if I could have stayed a fortnight longer
[14 nights]. Which of these will hold fast their profession? The
fowls of the air will devour some; the sun will scorch more; and
others will be choked by the thorns springing up. I wonder we
should ever expect that half of those who "hear the word with
joy" will bring forth fruit unto perfection." -Wesley's Works
Vol. 2, pgs. 468-470.
John Wesley would
not employ time on people if they would not meet in the Class Meeting:
26, 1759..."I found the little society which I had joined here two
years since had soon split in pieces. In the afternoon I met several
of the members of the praying societies: and showed them what
Christian fellowship was, and what need they had of it.
About forty of them met me on Sunday the 27th, in Mr. Gillies's
Kirk, immediately after Evening Service. I left them determined
to meet Mr. Gillies weekly, at the same time and place. If
this be done, I shall try to see Glasgow again: If not, I can employ
my time better." -Wesley's Works Vol. 2, pg. 482.
who will not meet in class cannot stay with us." -Wesley's
Letters Vol. 7 pg 154; Dec. 7,1782.
about when God began to make him effective in his ministry:
"From the year 1725 to 1729 I preached much, but saw no
fruit of my labor. Indeed, it could not be that I should: for
I neither laid the foundation of repentance nor of believing the
gospel; taking it for granted that all to whom I preached were
believers and that many of them 'needed no repentance.'
From the year 1729 to 1734, laying a deeper foundation of repentance,
I saw a little fruit. But it was only a little; and no wonder:
for I did not preach faith in the blood of the covenant.
From 1734 to 1738, speaking more of faith in Christ, I
saw more fruit of my preaching and visiting from house to house
than ever I had done before: though I know not if any of those
who were outwardly reformed were inwardly and thoroughly converted
From 1738 [which is the year he was born again, and also
the year he began the band societies] to this time, speaking
continually of Jesus Christ; laying Him only for the foundation
of the whole building, making Him all in all, the first and the
last; preaching only on this plan, 'The kingdom of God is at
hand; repent ye, and believe the gospel,' -the 'word of
God ran' as fire among the stubble; it 'was glorified' more and
more; multitudes crying out, 'What must we do to be saved?' and
afterwards witnessing, 'By grace we are saved through faith."
-Wesley's Works Vol. 8, pgs. 468,469; letter to Thomas Church,
Necessity of Godly
Leaders - Letters Vol 4, pg. 3, To George Merryweather
"No person must be allowed
to preach or exhort among our people whose life is not holy and
unblameable, nor any who asserts anything contrary to the gospel
which we have received. And if he does not own his fault and amend
it, he cannot be a leader any longer."
The True Marks
of Godliness - Letters Vol 4, pg 31, To Dr. Free
"'They hunt,' say you,
'for extraordinary marks and revelations whereby to know the state
of the soul.' The marks by which I know the state of any soul are
the inward fruit of the Spirit-love, joy, peace, and meekness,
gentleness, goodness, longsuffering, temperance, patience, shown,
not by words only, but by the genuine fruit of outward holiness."
God gifts people
differently and so their ministry will speak to different people
- Letters Vol 4, pg 33, To Samuel Furly
"Every preacher whom
God has sent will have a message to some souls who have not been
reached by any other. And the more persons attend his preaching
the better; the more room there is for God to work."