Susanna Wesley and the Mission of Motherhood

Mother’s Day is a time to consider our moms and the ways they’ve shaped us. As mothers, potential mothers, and spiritual mothers, this is a season when we consider how to parent. We look at past successes and failures in our efforts to raise up another generation of disciples of Jesus Christ, and we pray for those the Lord might give us to steward as physical or spiritual offspring.

Over the next several weeks, we will delve into the concept of missions. Today, as we consider both motherhood and mission, one of the best places to start is in biography. While far from perfect, Susanna Wesley is an example of one whose life displayed the fruit of great faithfulness in the mission of motherhood.


Susanna Wesley, known as the “Mother of Methodism,” was born in 1669 as the twenty-fifth and final child of a Puritan preacher and his wife. Susanna was educated, theologically astute, methodical, and inquisitive. At the age of 19, she married Samuel Wesley, a preacher in the Church of England. Over the next two decades, Susanna gave birth to nineteen children, ten of whom would survive to adulthood. Her sons, John and Charles, were leaders in a revival movement that came to be known as the Methodist denomination. In addition, Charles composed 6,000 hymns, including many we still sing today. While we cannot measure Susanna’s impact on the global spread of the gospel, we know a few things about the way she raised her children that influenced how they pursued and proclaimed the Lord.

The Faithful Disciple

Susanna was first a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. She was an avid reader, and she studied the ways of the Lord. One biographer stated that she possessed “a theological knowledge superior to that of many ministers of that day” (Arnold Dallimore, Susanna Wesley: The Mother of John and Charles Wesley). Yet, her knowledge of God only fed her devotion to Him. Susanna set aside time every day to spend with the Lord, writing out prayers, reading the Word, and seeking guidance on troubling issues. She loved the Lord, and she sought Him faithfully.

Susanna was so devoted to maintaining sacred time with God that when the busyness of her household distracted her prayer time, she would pull her apron over her head. This signaled to her family that they should quiet down, and it allowed her to focus on the Lord. Susanna was a faithful disciple of Jesus, and she modeled for her children to seek the Lord daily.

The Faithful Teacher

In addition to keeping her ten children alive and fed, Susanna also homeschooled them. While her methods were strict, she saw her role as instrumental in the development of their faith. She cared for the souls of her children by teaching them at an early age of a God who was to be worshiped and obeyed, that they might know and love Him well. Susanna taught them to pray, memorize Scripture, and sing Psalms. She also taught them to obey and exhibit discipline, as she considered it cruel for a parent to allow her children to learn habits which must be broken later. Susanna’s discipleship of her children was so influential that the term “methodist” was meant initially as an insult to John Wesley, who exemplified the teaching of his mother by methodically organizing the club he formed at Oxford. John appreciated his mother’s methods so much that he considered the term a compliment!

In addition, Susanna could never find textbooks that met her standards, so she wrote her own, infusing deep theology with simple language her children could grasp. As her boys grew and left home, Susanna wrote letters to them, encouraging them to pursue the Lord and remain faithful to Him. When her sons first encountered the doctrine of grace, she wrote to them encouraging them to keep working at their theology. Susanna was a faithful teacher of her children, and her children benefited from the knowledge and discipline she imparted to them.

The Faithful Servant

Susanna’s life was also fraught with hardship. Her relationship with her husband was difficult on the best of days. Samuel was a poor money manager and was often in debt. He once abandoned her and their children for nearly a year because of a theological dispute. Their home caught fire twice and burned completely to the ground once. Nine of her children died in childhood; she outlived three of her ten children who survived to adulthood.

Susanna’s life was filled with poverty, illness, and despair. Yet, Susanna continued to serve her husband and children faithfully. She prayed for, taught, cared for, and supported them. Susanna was faithful to serve her family, despite the significant difficulties she faced.

The Faithful Sinner

The temptation in any biography is to highlight only the good that comes from an individual’s life. But, no mother is perfect. Susanna Wesley wasn’t, and we won’t be either. If you’re tempted to read this and think of all the ways you fail to live up to the standard Susanna set, be encouraged. She was a sinner, just like you and I. Susanna was often stubborn and opinionated, and she could be harsh and demanding. Yet, the Lord used her to build His Church and to bring glory to His name.

At one point, Susanna’s husband, Samuel, wrote to his sons:

Reflect on the tender and peculiar love your dear mother has always expressed towards you…the particular care she took of your education…and above all, the wholesome and sweet motherly advice and counsel which she has often given you to fear God, to take care of your soul…Reverence and love her as much as you will.

Though we work to be the best physical or spiritual mothers imaginable, we will fail at times. We will sin in our disciple-making and our parenting. Yet, while we strive to be faithful, we trust the Lord’s faithfulness above all. May He be glorified in us.