When the Methodist movement began to grow, John Wesley faced the problem of dealing with converts who returned to their old ways. Many Methodists came from the lowest social classes, so nothing in their background or environment helped them live the "sober, quiet, godly lives" Wesley prescribed. Their backsliding discouraged those who were trying to follow Christ and gave Methodism's detractors ammunition.

The solution to this problem came in a way no one expected. The Methodists had contracted a debt to build a preaching house. In an effort to pay off the debt, the leaders volunteered to visit each Methodist each week and collect a penny.

When they found that it was easier if the people came to the leader, the Methodist class-meeting was born. The people still paid the penny, but the meetings quickly became more pastoral than financial. Leaders used the meetings to instruct members and check up on their spiritual progress.

Seeing how effective this practice was convinced Wesley that the work of God could not prosper without church discipline. With church discipline, however, Methodism did prosper, reaching almost a million people before Wesley's death.

Wesley made church discipline work through four main strategies: (1) he preached it, (2) he taught his lay leaders to administer it lovingly, (3) he organized people into small groups where they could look out for each other, and (4) he publicized the benefits of obeying the Lord in this area.

Preaching "This is the way"

Wesley frequently preached a sermon on Matthew 18, the passage in which Jesus describes the steps to take upon discovering a brother's sin. Wesley said that the admonition to begin the process of church discipline is not just a suggestion, but "a plain command ...

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