Leadership lessons from John Wesley and successor John Fletcher
John Fletcher was born in Switzerland, grew up speaking French and settled in England where he helped shape the world. John Fletcher was the successor chosen by John Wesley to lead the Methodist movement into the 19th century.
Fletcher moved to England at age 22, where John Wesley became his spiritual guide. Before long, the young protégé became the most influential individual in all of Methodism after the Wesley brothers. (1)
Today the need to develop principled spiritual leaders is as great as in Wesley’s day. Those we develop will benefit, yes, but they will also be our partners in the work God calls us to do. Wesley noted as much in his journal:
“Mr. Fletcher helped me again. How wonderful are the ways of God! When my bodily strength failed, and none in England were able and willing to assist me, He sent me help from the mountains of Switzerland; and a help meet for me in every respect: where could I have found such another?” (2)
Whether we’re developing ourselves or others, we can learn valuable leadership lessons from the historic relationship between Wesley and Fletcher. In their legacy, we can see the three primary types of skills necessary for development as we work to effect positive change: technical, people and strategic skills.
From the life of John Fletcher, we can see how these three skills contributed to a world-changing movement.
Fletcher became Wesley’s authoritative interpreter, an authorized biographer who could speak on behalf of his mentor. Technical proficiency meant theological clarity, and he shaped the early works of Wesley to become a key founder of the precepts of Methodism. In his book Practical Divinity, Thomas Langford noted that Fletcher had even been called the “Theologian of Methodism.”
Yet Fletcher started as an assistant, helping Wesley with the church sacraments. From potential successor to first-time helpers, folks around you need help developing technical skills. Here are just a couple ways you can help them.
- Improve ministry with church management software
- Learn to run an effective web ministry
- Consider how interns can bolster your efforts
- Provide excellent ideas for your church's IT superheroes
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Wesley saw that Fletcher was also good with people. In 1773, the aging elder considered Fletcher the only person qualified to act as his replacement. This belief was both about Fletcher’s popularity with other preachers and his clear understanding of Methodist doctrine.
Fletcher demurred, and Wesley’s preachers spent years advocating for Fletcher to accept the honored appointment as heir apparent.
God calls us to be winsome to all people, so we must connect with as many people as possible.
So how can we increase our social skills?
- Learn how adults learn
- Learn how to give and take criticism
- Master the art of conflict resolution
- Train others according to Wesley’s three simple rules
- Motivate and maintain your volunteers
We should start early, too. Young people need social skills. Developing social skills is one reason it's so important to run a good summer camp.
By the Methodist conference of 1784, Fletcher led positive change that would reinforce the church long after its founders were gone. Fletcher understood the mission. He thought strategically and conducted his own version of a SWOT analysis by considering strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
He saw a bigger picture than most and laid out a comprehensive plan for the young Methodist movement. He focused on how to interact with government leaders while also engaging critics and dissenters. He saw the need for next generation leadership and presented a succession plan with the names of 100 preachers. He even drove the branding change of Methodism as a society to the Methodist Church and envisioned global communications. (3)
The higher we operate within an organization, the more critical strategic skills become. They are more frequently called upon for innovating, adapting and decision-making.
In our global and digital environment today, we especially need to be strategic in our communication. The example of Wesley’s chosen successor is a good one to follow as we engage people with a message of life and love.
Whether developing the successor of your life’s work, helping someone improve in a chosen role or focusing on self-improvement, these skills help us contribute more effectively to the overall performance of the body in which we serve.
As it turned out, Fletcher died in 1785 at age 55. Wesley outlived him by six years, but the two grew together in tremendous ways during their friendship of 30 years.
"I look upon all the world as my parish." Wesley once said. May we find opportunities to help everyone around us become better versions of themselves by developing skills critical to life success.
1. John Fletcher: The First Wesley Scholar by Laurence W. Wood
2. The Works of John Wesley Volume 21: Journal and Diaries IV (1755-1765), ed. By W.R. Ward & R.P. Heitzenrater (Abingdon, 1992) 89.
3. John Wesley the Methodist. “Chapter XVIII - Setting His House in Order” by the Wesley Center Online (Northwest Nazarene University, 1999).
— Clay Morgan is an author from Dallas, Texas who spent a decade teaching college courses in the social sciences before becoming a consultant in communications and organizational strategy. Clay enjoys writing at the intersection of culture and spirituality. He has done ministry with college students for years and loves finding creative ways to engage millennials.