Among my many blessings in serving as General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church (TWC) is to chair an incredible General Board. In 2023, we had vibrant conversations around stewardship of the promise and empowerment of Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
More than talk, we asked, “What action may be required for TWC to be included in a movement of God in our day?” That focus was enriched by the Kingdom Force breadth of representation of voices multigenerational, multiethnic, multieconomic, multinational, women and men, lay and clergy.
So, I asked a few of them to speak into my life and our church as we approach the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, so that their collective voices might provide an enriched perspective. Every time a General Board member shares a devotional, I think, “I wish the whole Wesleyan Church could be in on this!”
These incredible leaders, representative of the broader TWC, shared the following Dr. King quotes and their personal reflections — words that have been at times inspiring, sometimes convicting, but definitely formative for their leadership and lives.
Though Dr. King shared many speeches, essays and expressions, it was his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” that has had the most profound impact on my life as an adult and ministry leader. It was addressed to “Fellow Clergymen” of the time that criticized his leadership and the movement as a whole as “unwise and untimely.” His humble yet passionate response offered a gentle rebuke that prophetically echoes — convicting, even, the church of our generation.
- There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period that the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was the thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disrupted and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. (Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail”)
In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. responded to criticisms from members of the clergy to his activities in Birmingham. I, too, am convicted of my responsibility to act to improve the lives of others in light of his observations.
- Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.
Martin Luther King, Jr. did not live a passive Christian life, but instead exhibited a fearless humility toward a vision bigger than himself. He articulates this in the sermon “The Drum Major Instinct,” preaching that when Jesus responded to the self-promoting request of James and John to someday sit at his right hand, he did not rebuke them for ambition but instead redefined greatness.
- We all have the drum major instinct. We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade. … And the great issue of life is to harness the drum major instinct. … It’s a good instinct if you don’t distort it and pervert it. Don’t give it up. Keep feeling the need for being important. Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be first in love. I want you to be the first in moral excellence. I want you to be the first in generosity. (Martin Luther King Jr., “The Drum Major Instinct”)
- The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others. In dangerous valleys and hazardous pathways, he will lift some bruised and beaten brother to a higher and more noble life. (Martin Luther King Jr., “Strength to Love”)
I definitely feel convicted by it as comfort and convenience are a continuous lure.
Martin Luther King has so many incredible quotes, but one of my favorites that I cherish deeply is:
- Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.
The movement precipitated by Acts 1:8 in the birth of the church required transcending cultural barriers so the witness of the gospel would include all. May we all embrace lives of passionate love for God and others that lead us past barriers and into cultures needing Christ’s transforming presence.
Dr. Wayne Schmidt is General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church.