In 1744 at Oxford University in England, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism,
challenged the Christianity of Britains political and educational leaders.
While it was the last sermon Wesley ever preached there, "the power of his final
proclamation of the Gospel has echoed for 255 years," said the Rev. Bill Lawrence.
Lawrence is senior pastor of Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church in
Washington, D.C., and was one of two speakers at the Feb. 7-9 Institute of Preaching.
Themed "The Pulpit and the Public Square," the institute addressed how preachers
can faithfully take the message of the Bible into the public arena.
Dr. Emmanuel Cleaver II, senior pastor of St. James United Methodist Church in Kansas
City, Mo., and mayor of Kansas City, spoke of his experience serving in both the church
and city government. "Theres no excuse for a Christian pastor not to have an
impact on your community," he said. "We are required by God to matter."
In his keynote address, Lawrence described the settings and impact of some of
Wesleys sermons and those of his father, Samuel, that dealt with public issues,
including capital punishment and slavery. "Methodist preachers have always used the
public square," he said.
Describing how the elder Wesley once preached while standing on a gravestone, Lawrence
said any method that gets a preacher in public view is a good one. "A scaffold at a
busy intersection will work," he said. "So will a Web site with audio and video
capacity and in front of the leaders of our communities
any method we can find."
He said pastors must be prepared to preach both personal and social holiness in public.
"We must say to corrupt systems not only that we condemn them, but we are empowered
by God to transform them."
The Rev. Kelly Greenawald, pastor of Port Tampa United Methodist Church, Tampa, said
she was reminded that being a prophet is part of the call to ministry. "We often
preach love and grace, but its a harder road to be prophetic," she said.
"As pastors, were also called to speak boldly and speak the truth, even when
Both Cleaver and Lawrence said preachers who enter the public arena do so on Gods
authority and urging. "If the church cant influence society then we are
doomed," Cleaver said, "and God will be ashamed of His prophets."