Sometimes what a person is best known for isn’t even the greatest thing they did.
I think of the courageous and visionary leader, John Wesley, the famous Protestant reformer, who founded what would become the Methodist Church. As you can imagine from that name, Wesley is perhaps best known for his methodical approach to spiritual growth, consistently providing systems and structures that have helped people for years grow into the life of Jesus. As powerful as his wisdom for structure and discipline may be, I would argue that the greatest contribution he has passed down is a relational approach to life and faith. As a non-denominational chaplaincy, we are free to learn from any healthy example in God’s larger Christian family, and I believe Wesley models the same relational approach to ministry we have here at COM.
I think of two examples from the great reformer’s life. The first is when Wesley was a student at Christ Church College in Oxford, he started as many do, ignoring his faith and exploring a life of supposed “freedom.” After having a spiritual awakening, Wesley was convicted to take his faith and character more seriously. He quickly realized that integrity and faith do not grow in isolation. He and a small group of his friends at Oxford committed to gathering regularly, sometimes for personal growth through Bible study and prayer, and often by serving the less fortunate, such as regularly visiting inmates at the local prison, visiting the aging and serving the poor. People would even mock these meetings, calling them things like “The Holy Club,” but Wesley knew you don’t grow a life that matters on your own.
The second example of his relational approach to life and ministry is one of leadership: when Wesley traveled to the American colonies as a missionary, he would often “ride the circuit” to mentor and encourage local ministers. One question he regularly asked was more important than any system, structure or “method” he ever offered: “Who are your men? Who are your people?” In other words, he wanted to know who were the small groups of people these leaders would invest their life in, beyond the Sunday sermons and weekly teachings. Wesley knew that, just like Jesus, you can serve and preach to the masses, but you change the world in small, close knit, authentic relationships.
Wesley’s example reminds us that life works best when we all can answer that question: who are your people? Who will be your inner circle, your “holy club” of broken, imperfect friends who let you into their life and you let into theirs deeply enough to make a lasting difference?
Here at Community Outreach Ministries, we have many one-time acts of service. But we also have the honor of seeing and helping people develop that inner circle that God may use one day to save their lives. We have seen couples move from isolated, disconnected lives to rich, healthy friendships with older couples who are experienced in the long, beautiful journey of committed relationships. We have seen officers develop real friendships and even deep faith connections with other officers and their families. And we regularly help leaders and people in every life stage in our Unleash ministry to get connected to those who can help them grow together to be “the best version of themselves.”
I saw the power of God working in these kinds of relationships again last week, when two of the regular volunteers in our Breathe ministry stayed after one of our events and shared real, authentic connection as friends. Neither of them knew each other before their involvement with COM, coming from different cultural, church and generational backgrounds. But just like the “Holy Club” almost 300 years ago, these two men connected through service to others and realized one of the deepest truths God intends for us to know: we are not alone on this journey called life.
Here at COM, we are honored to play one small part in God’s much larger work here in Middle Tennessee to help folks answer that critical question: who are your people? Thank you for helping us answer that question not only for those we serve, but for those who serve with us!
-Dean Barham, Community Chaplain
Community Outreach Ministries is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization that helps some people in times of death and walks with others to fully live life. We are only able to do this through the generous support of our friends who partner with us in this ministry. If you would like to join us in making this work possible, please click here. You can make a difference.