- The exhorter was an unordained lay preacher. The office appears in the Moravian Church but found its greatest use among 19th-century Methodists. Methodist founder John Wesley, who had been ordained in the Church of England, was reluctant to assume the office of bishop or ordain any of his assistants. Instead, they remained unordained lay preachers; such preachers helped build Methodism into a large, vibrant movement. Eventually, ministers were ordained, often traveling between churches, but Methodism still had more congregations than ministers, and churches where ministers were stationed often had more services than one person could lead.To meet this need, American Methodists developed the office of licensed lay preacher or exhorter. An exhorter supplied continuous leadership to a congregation during the frequent absences (and changes) of the ordained minister. If a traveling ordained minister delivered one of his stock sermons on general themes, the exhorter was expected to speak after the minister and apply the message to the particular local situation and audience.From its founding until the Civil War, the Methodist Episcopal Church (and after 1845, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South) generally refused to ordain African Americans, and most of the few blacks who were ordained left to found independent churches. The churches were, however, quite willing to give exhorters' licenses to black men, many of whom became the virtual preachers in charge of predominantly black congregations.In the 20th century, the office of licensed preacher continued in Methodism, in both the United Methodist Church and a number of its offshoots. However, it is usually held as a first step for young ministers on their way to the ordained ministry.Further reading:■ Nolan B. Harmon, Encyclopedia of World Methodism, 2 vols. (Nashville, Tenn.: United Methodist Publishing House, 1974).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.