“How is it with your soul?”

Something the early Methodists were most known for was their “class meetings.” Some people call these the original church “small groups.” Many believe that they were the key to the early Methodist movement’s success and spread.

I think you can gain a lot by being a part of a group like this today. It has been the most important part of my own growth in the past five years.

Pastor, I think your congregation can grow incredibly if you encourage them to participate in a group like this. Some think that these groups are a major key to renewal.

Here, I’d like to paint a picture for you to show how these groups can look.

In early Methodist class meetings, the leader asked everyone, him/herself included, about the condition of their souls. The groups I have led or participated in have used these 4 questions:
1 – How is it with your soul?
2 – Have you done all the good you could and avoided all the evil you could this week?
3 – How have you availed yourself of the means of grace?
4 – How can we as a group best pray for and support you?

[Edit: I originally said that these were the original 4 questions, but I can’t find firm evidence for their use in early Methodist history. Wesley required his class leaders to meet with each class member weekly to “inquire how their souls prosper,” but I can’t find a primary source showing that John Wesley ever asked Question 1. A Google search will turn up numerous hits saying that he did, but never with references or primary sources.

Questions 2 & 3 ask people whether they are keeping the 3 General Rules of the United Societies organized by Wesley, but I can’t show that they were asked every week to every member. Nevertheless, I believe these are still great questions and faithful to a Methodist ethos.]

You may use other questions if you find others that do a better job of driving at the core essence of what these questions are after. I’ve had a difficult time, though, finding any that truly get to the same essence quite as well.

The intent with these questions is to focus on the spiritual condition of each member. I’ll focus on the first two in this post and the second two in a later post.

1 – How is it with your soul?

This is a tough question. A lot of us don’t even know how to answer it today. At its heart, it’s asking about your experience of God’s grace and presence in your life.

I think the fruit of the Spirit is a good (though certainly not only) way of evaluating this question. “Do I have love? Do I have joy? Peace? …”

I remember a week when one of my men started by saying, “My soul is good! God has really given me a sense of peace this week.” And then he went on to describe a terrible week. He had some serious family issues, a rough week in school, and bad medical news for a friend. But it was well with his soul. He talked about the ways that he could truly sense God carrying him through.

Here’s an example on the other side. One week someone started by saying, “Well, my week has been just fine. Work is good. Things at home are fine. But it’s not well with my soul.” He went on to talk about a general restlessness, distraction from any sort of Christian practices, and noticing himself being short-tempered with some people.

2 – Have you done all the good you could and avoided all the evil you could this week?

If we don’t handle this question the right way, it could seem like it just leads to guilt and judgment. That’s not the point of the question, though. I hope you’ll understand its real intent and help others to see it with a different spirit.

We ask this because we want to cause ourselves to think a bit about whether we are doing the good God is calling us to do and avoiding evil. We ask because we know that we need help.

The point isn’t to have everyone share their laundry list of goods and evils. So for instance, we’re not looking for, “Well, I swore on Tuesday when I stubbed my toe.”

But I have heard someone appropriately share, “I’m realizing that my language hasn’t been good this week. When I’m around my co-workers it’s like I just join right in. But I need to stop. It would be a better witness if I stopped, too.”

Sometimes it’s when I begin answering these questions myself that I realize a great good I’m missing, or an evil I hadn’t even recognized was in my life. Sometimes the same happens when I hear others sharing about their own struggles. Sometimes I realize my biggest problem may be that I’m not even looking for opportunities to do good.

And sometimes this question leads to celebration. Some of my favorite times in meetings are when someone comes back with a celebration because they have managed to avoid an evil after a long struggle, or when someone shares about a way God gave them an opportunity for good and they took it.

See the second two questions here.

Do you have a person or group where you regularly ask these questions of each other? Is there a place you could find to do this? I’d love to help you get started!

9 thoughts on ““How is it with your soul?”

  1. Thanks for this post, Teddy. I don’t recall ever seeing the first question in Wesley, either. I believe it is a paraphrase of the question that is in the “General Rules” where, among the duties of the class leader is listed, “to inquire how their souls prosper.”

  2. Thanks for blogging on this topic. It has been very important to me this year. I posted a citation to your blog this morning; your topics are right on the topics I am trying to cover in a class at my church these days.

    1. Hi Tom,

      So glad this was helpful to you. I appreciate you linking to it, and I’m thrilled to hear of anyone who is helping a congregation move toward more self-examination like this. I’d be interested to hear more about what has worked or been helpful in your setting.

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