Francis Asbury died 200 years ago, March 31, 1816. Lately, I have been inspired by his courageous life. Here is a brief reflection on what his life means to me and so many others in the global Wesleyan Movement.
In 1771, America was on the verge of revolution. We didn’t realize we were also on the edge of revival.
That year Francis Asbury landed on American soil. He was only 26 years old. When he arrived there were 316 Methodists total and only nine preachers to lead them. He was what they called a circuit rider, carrying the gospel on horseback from outpost to outpost. He raised up a collective of circuit riding preachers, venturing into the frontier edges of the nation. They were pioneers who pushed the kingdom forward, planting new churches and gaining new ground out on the fringes of unreached places.
Did it work? By the time of his death, the Methodists grew from 316 to more than 200,000 and from nine preachers to over 4,000. And the pioneering ministry of Asbury helped fan the flame of our nation’s Second Great Awakening.
If John Wesley challenges us that the time for renewal is always now, Asbury shows that the place for renewal is always here. The Wesleyan revival didn’t depend on the unique culture of England, where it started, but on God’s unchanging heart to reach the lost and transform lives in every culture and every age.
We need a new generation of circuit riders. We need to raise up future pioneers.
The major cities, influential college towns, and cultural centers of our nation are becoming frontier places for the gospel all over again. We need the kingdom imagination to envision our unique opportunity for a new harvest.
Rev. Matt LeRoy is teaching pastor of Love Chapel Hill in Chapel Hill, N.C.