In his latest book, “Transforming Community: The Wesleyan Way to Missional Congregations,” The Rev. Dr. F. Douglas Powe, Jr. uncovers an important parallel between John Wesley’s community building skills and the entrepreneurial skills required to revitalize the 21st Century church.
Managing Director of Wesley’s Institute for Community Engagement, Powe looks to the past even as he and his students contemplate the future. “When we refer to the Wesley brothers as entrepreneurs, we’re referring to how they take practices that are already part of the tradition but then organize people in new ways, ways that created a movement,” he said.
He notes that “Transforming Community” is not just an academic work but offers a practical approach that can be embraced by congregations. “It’s easily adapted for a Sunday school or Bible study class,” he said. “The goal is that people will understand and experience what the Wesleys were doing, and then make that live in the context of their churches today.”
The book demonstrates how John Wesley broke new ground by organizing small groups of the faithful to become agents of change. “He gave people a sense of connecting, and growing in faith in a new way,” Powe said. “It was more than just coming to hear someone speak. It involved people actually doing something about what they heard.”
With co-author Rev. Dr. Henry Knight, III, Powe focuses on John Wesley’s insistence that Christianity be a ‘social religion.’ “He doesn’t mean social activism,” he said. “He means that religion is meant to be lived out in the community, where we have our hearts transformed, both toward the love of God and the love of our neighbors.”
Powe finds that churchgoers often fall into either/or categories. “People want to completely love God and have no interest in their neighbors, or they want social activism but they have no interest in loving God,” he said. “John Wesley would find those extreme things very strange.”
Like John Wesley, Powe insists that the two cannot be separated. “The first step is to understand what Wesley actually meant when he talked about a social religion,” he said. “The second step is to not bifurcate ourselves, to recognize how our love of God and love of neighbor are the same thing.”
The book, which follows on the co-authors’ other successful work, “Transformative Evangelism,” dovetails nicely with Powe’s duties at the Institute for Community Engagement.
“John Wesley invited people to become part of a unique community,” he said. “It was a community that transformed their lives and the lives of others in society. That’s precisely the work that we’re trying to teach and participate in at the Institute for Community Engagement.”
The new book seems a perfect reflection of the phrase, “turning the church inside out,” which is heard often in the classrooms of Wesley Theological Seminary. “This book is about the process of first understanding the Wesley context and then moving it forward to today,” Powe said. “If we do that, we will absolutely turn the church inside out!”