“Bring one person to faith this year,” Methodist President urges churches

  • Photo of Steve Wild at the Conference here
  • The audio of Steve's address will soon be available here
  • Video: Meet the President and Vice-President of the Methodist Conference

The newly elected President of the Methodist Conference has urged the Church to 'take God seriously' and put evangelism back on the agenda.

In his inaugural address at the Conference in Southport, the Revd Steve Wild challenged each Methodist church in Britain to aim to bring just one person to faith in the coming year, saying: "Let's take God seriously. I want to help us in the task of evangelism, to put mission on the agenda and give our churches an aim to win a person for Christ."

"We cannot sit back in complacency," he added. "We have a massive Kingdom of God task. I'm wanting this year to challenge each church to bring one person to faith - to make one new member this next year, let's make bringing people to faith the main point, we don't do it alone. The unconditional love of Jesus is our motivation."

He told those gathered at the Conference that John Wesley only had ten guineas to his name when he died. Wesley's will directed that four of these guineas should pay four unemployed men to carry his coffin and the remainder be distributed among his poorest preachers.

"What else did he leave behind?" Steve asked. "Changed lives hundreds of them, Christian communities dotted all over this country and in other parts of the world, fellowships seeking to take God seriously. Oh that we may all draw to the foot of the cross and experience this powerful love and make this our legacy one of transformed lives and communities!"

The full text of the address follows:

This is a huge honour and privilege to serve you in this post. Thank you - it's a deep honour.

The first thing I want to do publicly is to thank Almighty God for his great grace and faithfulness to me. I want to say with the Apostle Peter "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead"(1 Peter ch 1 v 3 ).

What praise!

Of course, I am a fallible human as it says in the 1936 'Book of Offices' in the Covenant Section, "Forgive me that I have been unwilling to overcome evil with good, that I have drawn back from the cross."

Yet such is the nature of our Lord that I stand before you as one redeemed and so I want to put God first - and it's the family next and without the great love and support of my Laura and our amazing daughters Lois, Phoebe and Timna of whom I am so proud, what a journey of life we have together and by His grace it goes on.

My mother's present today my father is in heaven.

But I am wearing today he shoes he bought me for my ordination in 1985. He took me to Manchester to a post shop and they cost £100 then because no expense could be spared for that great day, 30 years ago, I've kept them in the bottom of the wardrobe only coming out for special occasions like weddings, funerals and Sunday School Anniversaries.

Well, it almost cost that much to have them soled and heeled for today, but I shall be wearing them throughout my year of office.

It is customary in the Presidential address to give thanks to the Methodist people. I do this gladly, I have owed so much to the people called Methodists all through my life. I am deeply grateful for all the loving messages of support and promises of prayer. I feel that prayer right now, thank you.

I wish to thank the Cornwall District who I am privileged to serve as their chair, for their love and support and putting up with me. Cornwall's a beautiful part of the country and the people are beautiful.

I am grateful to my Bishop, the Bishop of Truro, Tim Thornton. He is a real brother to me, he is more than generous in the way he has encouraged me to pray with him, to mission with him and to enable us to work as Christians together in the Duchy.

Once on mission we were shown round a local brewery the owners gave a meal for all the workers and we shared the gospel with them. Then the owner came over and asked us to do the honour of blessing the beer - as I am teetotal Tim quickly jumped in with "I'll do it if he does it will all turn to water!"

We hope to join with Archbishop Justin Welby on an evangelistic mission next year. That is the best platform for Christian unity working for Christ in mission. Roger, the Dean of Truro Cathedral, is here because it is a special place to me, it's a great place to play for Cornwall and to me it's my spiritual home.

I want to say thank you to my colleague Chairs. I want to say to you that it's is an honour and privilege to sit with you in that circle. You are a great gift to the connexion and I salute you.

I want to thank Martyn, our General Secretary and Gareth the assistant secretary and all on the Connexional team and all who work so hard behind the scenes at Methodist Church House.

I'm thrilled to be serving this year with Dr Jill Barber, a woman full of Christ and exceptionally gifted as our Vice President. We share the theme together of "Mission and Heritage". This year marks the 200th Anniversary of the founding of the Bible Christian Church in Cornwall and the South West, they were a fiercely independent denomination, passionate about the message of the Gospel. They served mainly the rural and poor working class people. The Bible Christians were the smallest of the five major Methodist-type denominations and the only one without Methodist in its name though they did sometimes add Methodist in brackets.

In my journey of life I owe an enormous debt to Cliff College. It was the students who came to Rochdale in the late 60s who inspired me and I met Christ through them and in my duffle coat after saying the sinner's prayer, I filled in a little card and knew that I would try to follow Jesus and what an adventure that has been! It was a former Cliff student our minister the Revd John Hibberts who first involved me in mission - thank God for you - I was fourteen at the time. He organised, inspired and taught me about mission and that thrill of sharing the love of the Lord has never left me. I also did a student placement with him at Bamber Bridge. I owe you a great deal, brother.

As a raw student at Cliff College I arrived with an 'O' level and a certificate for signing the pledge of total abstinence from alcohol. My kindly Principal the late Dr Arthur Skevington-Wood, Miss Doris Halam a retired teacher who gave me special tuition and the tutors, who are here as my guests today.

Incidentally, I hope to challenge Methodists to abstain from alcohol during lent 2016 - but more of that later.

Being at Wesley College Bristol was another enrichment in my life preparing me for ministry. Thank you to the tutors there and our principal Dr. David Stacey, who in a tutorial told me that I reminded him of the Cornish Evangelist, Billy Bray. When I wrote to him afterwards to tell him that I was a better evangelical for my three years at Wesley, he was delighted and said that's what theological training should do. I must mention with gratitude some of those in heaven Revds Olive Rolls, Donald English, Raymond George and Rob Frost.

Thank you Circuit colleagues and my first churches in Ashton and Lea in Preston, and the St Ives and Hayle Circuit in Cornwall.

These are people who have believed in me.

I am reminded of another Lancastrian who became the President of Conference in 1919 Samuel Chadwick he was principal of Cliff and I owe this story to Howard Mellor. There was a big service for him in Burnley one after another his old headmaster the MP councillors and aldermen all got up to say 'of course we always knew that Samuel would one day be president - then afterwards over a cup of tea in the schoolroom each one came up to him and said 'Eee Sam, whoever would have thought it!'

I thank God for all those who have helped me, and this is where it gets like the letter to the Hebrews when the writer says in chapter 11 after naming people of faith: 'I could go on...' But I won't.

I stand before you with my gifting as an evangelist, a bringer of good news, a herald of salvation through Christ. We bring different gifts to this role and that is to the glory of the church. We have all been created differently and we all have a unique journey.

Fundamentally, the evangelist is engaged in winning the lost and reviving the Church. We see in the New Testament Philip the Evangelist. He is different from Philip the Apostle. He first makes an appearance in the Acts of the Apostles as one of the seven chosen by the early Church at Jerusalem to take charge of the daily ministration of charity to the poor widows. After the death of Stephen, there was a general persecution of the Church at Jerusalem, and many Christians fled to escape it. Philip went to Samaria, where he preached the Gospel to the Samaritans.

Now, that he selected Samaria is in itself a proof that he was able to rise above the ordinary Jewish prejudices of his time. This evangelist stepped out of the conventional and shows there are no off-limits. The Samaritans were a group who had split off from the Jews centuries earlier. They were outsiders they had intermarried with the Gentiles. We stand in the tradition of John Wesley who said 'Go not to those who need you but to those who need you most'. What a mission! We're told that these Samaritans all paid close attention to what he said. And later Peter and John came to Samaria to bless the new converts.

The incident we always remember Philip for is his encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. He was obedient and went from Samaria to a desert road, and heard the Eunuch in his chariot reading Isaiah. Philip asks the question: "Do you understand what you are reading?" and what a response: "How can I unless someone explains it to me?"

Here we have the essence of the evangelist, picking up on where the person you meet is in their understanding. In scripture it goes on to say that Philip 'told him the good news about Jesus.' The message is God's message. It's the story of the life, and death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, a new story then, a familiar story now, leading to faith and Baptism for the Eunuch. This account in the book of Acts, chapter 8 is really important, Philip is the only person in the Bible who is called an evangelist. Unfortunately, when we think of an "evangelist" we think of someone like Billy Graham, preaching to large crowds of people, but this is not the case according to the Bible. It does say that Philip preached to crowds of people but the most verses about him are associated with the story I've just shared. A conversion of one single person is seen as very important in the Bible: the lesson being that every single person is important to God. But another lesson to learn from this is clearly that witnessing the Gospel to one person is the work of an evangelist as well as preaching to a large crowd. Since the meaning of the word "evangelist" is to bear glad tidings, to bear the Gospel, all Christians are certainly called to be evangelists. The New Testament teaches me that.

Let's take God seriously. I want to help us in the task of evangelism, to put mission on the agenda and give our churches an aim to win a person for Christ.

Now I understand that this is my language, and translate it, please, as you will.

I'm not being triumphalist but I want to see growth numerical and spiritual and with this great offer of faith in Jesus we have a lot to give. The incredible love that Christ pours out on us, but the people we share with do have a choice. It pains me to tell you, but it is a big part of that gospel - we have choice.

Once in my ministry I led a young couple to Christ. The next day in his enthusiasm the bloke went to W.H. Smiths and bought a Bible. They were welcomed and loved by the local church, but suddenly missing a couple of Sundays. The steward informed me and I went round to their house. The Bible was on the coffee table. I sat down and he pushed it across to me, "Take it" he said, "its too hard to follow Christ and be a Christian". It was a big lesson for me, we all have the choice to accept or reject. It broke my heart. it is hard to face rejection. Jesus faced rejection. And he didn't run after the rich young ruler.

With the risk of rejection we continue to offer Christ.

To set the scene - the need:

Last December I was meeting with a circuit leadership team in a small village chapel. However as can happen the lady who came with a tin of mince pies and lit vestry fire, left the door on the latch and was followed by someone who thought this was a mistake, turned off the fire and locked the door. We stood outside in the icy evening air. After 15 minutes I wandered in my dog collar just a little way down the lane to the village pub. I asked the barmaid if we could hold our meeting in her pub. she was delighted for us to use her premises, she put the coffee machine on. I shuffled in the leadership team and went to speak to the other four people in the pub. There was a middle-aged couple and I explained why these Methodists had come onto their territory. They were kind and I moved on to an elderly Cornish gentleman sitting in the corner and said the same to him. He said "you church are you?" I nodded. He pointed down the lounge to a woman in her thirties sitting alone "She needs church" he said. So I went down and explained to her why we were all in the small restaurant area. And then I said "the gentleman up there said you need church is that right?" "Well," she replied, "I don't know about church but I need Jesus" and she shared her story. I listened and prayed with her.

Some people who it would be easy to categorise as uninterested actually have spiritual needs. We sit in chapel up the lane praying for the village when there is a warm comfortable place where we can encounter people who we don't see on our premises. The great love of Christ spreads over the world all the way from the cross down to you and me today.

This leads me to one of my favourite doctrines - prevenient grace. Christ going before us.

Martyn Atkins calls this John Wesley's big doctrine of the Holy Spirit. John Calvin and those before Wesley had a kind of theology of a Domestic Holy Spirit who was there to protect them.

It was the Holy Spirit who urged Wesley to leave the church building because of the message which needs to be proclaimed. And the effect was profound every time he preached, they awoke. He wrote in his journal "I offered them Christ". He wrote it again and again, again and again. And people would see something that previously existed - an awakening. I note in Wesley's sermons, all the time he assumes that God has prepared hearts to repent. God is going before him. It wasn't as though on the Day of Pentecost God sent them out. "Oh good I've sent them, now I can sit and watch. NO, he says, "Follow me." He commits the Holy Spirit to go before us.

In all these years of evangelism I have experienced many times to go to a situation were I discover Christ already there. I'll tell you, it knocked some of the triumphalist stuffing out of me as a Cliff College student. I didn't go to take Christ to Mellor Village, Blackburn, with the first mission team I ever led. He was ahead of us. People were converted, it was an awakening, the Holy Spirit at work there. Prevenient grace is part of our DNA, but let's not keep it just to baptising infants, it's an essential doctrine in our evangelism. You see this proves a great and important point about getting out beyond the walls of the church building. Its a risky place, but we take courage and find the Lord at work. I find I get in the flow of the Holy Spirit and great and surprising things can happen. My world church visit back in April to Portugal taught me many things. I loved being on mission with them. But part of that mission was walking the streets and standing together to pray at certain points. I saw how God had surprised them as we trod the streets of the city and encountered people where Christ had gone before us.

Last January on my way to the Connexional Finance Committee in an otherwise empty railway carriage, I met a man wearing a green and yellow cross. When I asked him he said he wasn't a Christian. It came out that he had been released from prison that morning and was on his way home. Pervenient grace, in the prison he had felt the presence of Christ and attended all the services. He had made the cross out of two dishcloths which he'd knitted together. I told him that was the most theologically correct cross I had ever seen - not gold or silver or bronze but dishcloths - dishcloths are used to wipe up mess, and the cross wipes up our sin, the mess we make in life. When I shared that with him he experienced an awakening on that train and I led him to Christ. He got off transformed.

And young woman got on, and sat in the same seat. She looked miserable we started to talk and I told her I was a Christian minister. She shouted, "Well tell your God why is it right for a Mother to have her child taken from her after only a day together." I filled up. She said "why are you crying?" I said 'Jesus said weep with those who weep - he cries with us' she sofand After more conversation I prayed with her.

To be bang up to date after being in a cafe on Lord St the day before yesterday. Out on the pavement, I recognised a very tall young man walking towards me when I was here on mission over 30 years ago - he was converted then and after conversation just in the middle of Lord Street I prayed with him in the middle of the pavement. I met him again yesterday coming away from our mission centre the Firefest marquee on Mornington Rd - he was glowing.

So Christ goes before us in our mission to serve a needy world. My visits to Africa have changed my life and our theme today is Mission and Heritage, but I still want to make poverty history!

How can we grow confidence in the local church? I want every church to have mission on the agenda this year and an aim to increase by one person!

If I can be domestic for a minute: in Methodism today we still have remarkable mission centres -churches and church halls most of which are busily used by the communities we serve. You know the sort of thing; Parent and Toddler, Weight Watchers, dog training, indoor carboot. The list is endless. Friends, these are mission opportunities on our doorstep. Thats why the bookings secretary - and thanks to you for doing it in any local church - is actually an important missional post meeting those outside the fellowship at an interface.

Looking at heritage, the Cornish blacksmith and evangelist, James Udy wrote in 1899 "Oh for a converted Chapel Keeper." That's quaint language but means the same thing. Let's up our game, pray for people who we serve, get alongside them. It is a long time since Archbishop William Temple said, "You cannot redeem what you don't understand". If you look at the growth points in the Christian Church in Britain and in Methodism, they all show they are not locked into their own little bubble but engaging in the community. This understanding and care comes with the Holy Spirit. Great things occur, and we find our vision enlarged, the Holy Spirit striving ahead of us. It's hard to catch up.

But all growth is one at a time. Each church needs to have mission on the agenda and seek to win one person for Christ - to bring someone to faith - mind you, the Spirit may bring more than one person to know Christ, because the message we proclaim is a glorious, it's attractive, rich message.

During my year, I will be writing in the Methodist Recorder articles that help us in our local evangelism.

It was almost a second conversion for me in 1976 when at the Victoria Hall in Bolton, our then president Colin Morris, another Lancastrian. The title of his message was 'the gospel of minimal demands'. How we have domesticated God and only offer a minimal to those we speak to about Christ. It was then that I decided to take God seriously. On Aldersgate Street John Wesley had an experience that made him take God seriously. You see, this is our heritage. The Deed of Union of the British Methodist Churches in 1932 says 'that it ever remembers that in the providence of God Methodism was raised up to spread scriptural holiness throughout the land.' 'It ever remembers' - here we have corporate heritage, it's our special vocation, I want Methodism to have confidence in the full glory of Christian discipleship to see more and more people becoming Christians and taking God seriously, being enriched by treading the path of holiness - which is a wonderful path to tread. The early Methodists talked about 'Perfect love'. Charles Wesley wrote hymns about it.

We cannot sit back in complacency. We have a massive Kingdom of God task. I'm wanting this year to challenge the church to bring one person to faith - to make one new member. It's not impossible. This next year, let's make bringing people to faith the main point, we don't do it alone. The unconditional love of Jesus is our motivation. We see Jesus in the pages of the New Testament showing unconditional love to boys and girls, men and women from all stratas of society at that time. It goes all the way to the cross: this unconditional love is so powerful.

When John Wesley died in 1791 it was estimated that he had earned over thirty thousand pounds in his lifetime. He had given it all away. He left behind some books, his faded Geneva gown. His executors found that his total treasury amounted to ten guineas (£10.50 pounds)! And his will directed that four of these guineas should pay four unemployed men to carry his coffin and the remainder to be distributed among his poorest preachers.

What else did he leave behind? Changed lives hundreds of them, Christian communities dotted all over this country and in other parts of the world, fellowships seeking to take God seriously. Oh, that we may all draw to the foot of the cross and experience his powerful love and make this our legacy - one of transformed lives, transformed communities - thanks be to God!