I’m a servant of God in one of the more affluent areas of our country (and, I suppose, of the world itself). One of the most challenging tasks here is to preach to, and teach, some of the most well heeled people in the world. When Jesus spoke of the difficulties of rich people entering the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 19:24), he wasn’t making it any easier. As we all know, however, “rich” is a relative term.
When are people dripping in opulence surround you, it’s easy to get caught up in the trappings and leave the Gospel behind (or, at least, move it down on your list of priorities). It can be a very slippery slope. To make matters worse, living in such an area affords you the opportunities needed to become prosperous yourself. Accumulating the “toys” can be heady stuff.
“Spritual smelling salt…”
In the middle of all that, occasionally I’ll run across something that is akin to a spiritual smelling salt—something that jogs me back into Biblical reality. That happened to me recently when I read a short article about Francis Asbury. Asbury was an early leader of the Methodists in the North American Continent.
His earthly possessions were few (rarely owning more than he could carry with him). There is no evidence that he ever took a vow of poverty, but you couldn’t prove it by witnessing his lifestyle. Once, on a trip from New York to Boston, he took a sum total of three dollars to spend. Even in the eighteenth century, that was quite a stretch.
“We’ll keep him poor.”
There’s an old joke about a Methodist prayer that says, “Lord, we want a pastor that’s poor and humble. You keep him humble—we’ll keep him poor.” There was no such need for that prayer as it concerned Asbury. He kept himself poor. As Methodist pastors slowly became more and more affluent, his voluntary poverty kept him above the fray.
Despite having no money to speak of, he traveled extensively. He preached everywhere including remote parts of the American frontier (which in those days was considerable). It is said that he was readily recognized in his day. Someone spotting him on the street was more likely to know who he was than if they saw George Washington or Thomas Jefferson. Hundreds of children born in the colonies and early states were named after him.
Asbury was instrumental in aiding in the empowerment of people of color. This was no small feat considering the times. Many people in those days were not living as free men and women. Early Afro-American branches of Methodism arose to prominence in no small part due to Asbury’s fight for equality among all people.
He did all this, and more, without the aid of huge sums of money. In fact, he did it with little money at all. In a day when we measure the success of our congregations by the size of our Sunday offerings, we may want to take note of his example.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]