No I am not going to write about Liverpool football club, the Liverpool Resolutions refer to the Methodist Conference held in Liverpool in 1820. The Conference that year were facing the unprecedented situation that Methodist membership was in sharp decline.
This years Vice-President of the Methodist Church Carolyn Lawrence has written an article referring to that conference 200 years ago. She writes ‘What was to be done? Enshrined in the minutes of that conference was a set of resolutions which were seen as being vital for the health and holiness of the church. They give us a wonderful example of how a declining church can turn around and begin to grow, enabled by the Holy Spirit. The members of that conference were determined to reverse the trend and it is said that other business was subjugated to the concern of charting a more fruitful cause.
The resolutions can be grouped into seven main headings:
RENEWING THE PREACHERS. The preachers resolved to devote themselves afresh to God and to focus on their personal growth and discipleship as they sought to care for the flocks entrusted to them. They vowed to eliminate any distraction from the work of saving souls and spiritually shepherding God’s people. They prayed for spiritual gifts that would allow them to minister more effectively and recommitted themselves to the study of God’s word, the solution to decline, they believed would begin in the hearts of the leaders.
RENEWING THE PREACHING. The preachers committed to renewing their preaching. The content of their preaching was refocused on the vital doctrines of the Christian faith and the method would be evangelistic, experiential (practical), and zealous. They would strive for clarity and simplicity while applying the doctrines of faith to people’s lives. When visitors were present, they would pointedly and passionately offer an invitation to receive Christ.
PRAYER AND FASTING. A special day of prayer and fasting was called across British methodism for a reversal of the decline and the renewal of the moment. The preachers recommitted to leading quarterly days of prayer and fasting, prayer meetings and ‘watch nights’ (all night prayer events)
CHURCH PLANTING. Extension of the work was to be the job of every preacher as they began ministries in new places and classes were to be started in neighbourhoods as a strategy for involving lay leaders and reaching new people. Prayer meetings, likewise, were to be held in homes as a way of developing new societies and leaders.
RECOMMITMENT TO CHILDREN AND YOUTH. Wesley had insisted that each preacher be personally involved in the ministry of teaching children. In the light of the decline recorded in 1820, the Liverpool Conference commissioned a new catechism to be used with young people. The training of the rising generation would no longer be neglected.
CULTIVATE THE EXISTING MEMBERSHIP SPIRITUALLY. The preachers recommitted to visiting the sick, the ‘careless’, and the lukewarm. Class leaders were to recommit to visiting the members in their care weekly and enquire personally about their spiritual wellbeing. During pastoral visits, families were encouraged to practise private spiritual disciplines. The public spiritual disciplines of worship, Sabbath-keeping were to be likewise publically encouraged.
RENWEAL OF TEACHING. They pledged to avoid small-minded arguments over theological minutiae. There was a ‘spirit of strife and debate’ that had crept in and the 1820 conference was committed to driving this out. There was a renewed effort to make meetings ‘interesting and appropriate to … the state of the people. The need was recognized for high-quality, relevant, and practical instruction that could be applied to everyday life.
WHAT WAS THE RESULT?
The first-ever Methodist turnaround was a great success. The movement tripled in numbers over the next eighty years and proved it could continue without the direct leadership of Wesley. Of course decline eventually did come to the British Methodists and has sadly continued until the present day.
In her article Carolyn also records ‘I had the privilege of visiting Brazil before the lockdown where the church is growing at an amazing rate. The church there has grown from 167,000 members in 2010 to a current membership of 275,000 and growing’. Carolyn noted that the Brazilian Methodist Church embrace a great deal of the Liverpool Resolutions. She observed ‘In Brazil I witnessed the cell church model effectively enabling and growing leaders as well as in planting and growing new churches’, and ‘There is a practise I witnessed in Brazil, where it is a regular invitation to offer an altar call to encourage people to respond to the preaching of God’s Word’.
At this time of year, on All Saints day we give thanks as we remember those saints who have gone before. We are grateful for their witness and we even reflect on those we have personally known who have influenced and inspired us on our journey of faith.
Is the legacy we leave examples of faithful, obedient worship and witness? Are we being challenged to consider our level of commitment and enthusiasm? We are living in strange times, but we still have the opportunity to make our mark for future generations to reflect upon.
I leave the last word with Carolyn:
‘During our year of office we want to look at growth; both personal growth in discipleship and also church growth. Owing to Covid-19, some things that were planned will now necessarily need to be very different. The theme, however, is still timely and quite prophetic as we learn how to be church in a different way and seek to encourage people in all their fears and uncertainties as they continue to build resilience in their walk with Jesus.