Pastoral Ministry in a Non-Revival Age

America has experienced significant revivals in her short history. Most notable among them are the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings (18th and 19th centuries)—revival scholars such as J. Edwin Orr name several others as well, including the Pentecostal and other significant moves of God in the early 20th century.

These revivals were characterized by large numbers of people repenting of their sins and confessing faith in Christ. Whole regions were radically affected by this turning to God. Taverns closed, divorce rates declined dramatically, violence and murder waned, drunkenness decreased. Churches filled up, with a notable hunger for prayer, Biblical preaching, and Christ centered evangelism. (For a brief history of revivals in America, read http://www.peacekey.com/1-1-a/OSAS/Revival_Prayer_1.HTM).

While not an American revival, the Welsh revival is famous for its sudden and dramatic impact. Evan Roberts was one of its main leaders. His message to believers or professing believers hit home with great power. Summing up his message in four parts, Roberts emphasized the following points:

1. Confess all known sin.

2. Deal with and get rid of anything ‘doubtful’ in your life.

3. Be ready to obey the Holy Spirit instantly.

4. Confess Christ publicly.

Let’s fast forward to our present day. In some parts of the world, revival-like conditions exist. Perhaps even in the U.S. there are pockets of revival in a few places. But overall, we who minister in the U.S. are ministering in non-revival conditions. Evan Roberts’ four points do not generally describe the way things are in our churches. When these things are seen today (in individuals or in small groups of individuals), they are viewed as exceptional … definitely not the norm for 21st century American Christianity. Confession of sin?  Sins are renamed and are viewed as mistakes. Getting rid of things that are doubtful?  Today’s believer wants his/her liberty, and wants it now. Instant obedience to the Holy Spirit?  Hardly. Confess Christ publicly?  Most believers never share their testimony or the gospel. With anyone.

I hope I’m not jaded, but that’s how it seems to be, at least to me. According to one author’s intriguing book Not a Fan (Kyle Idleman), Jesus has lots of fans, but not too many followers. He writes about a guy who had been attending the church where he pastors. This fellow sent in an email asking to be removed from the church membership. His stated reason? “I don’t like Kyle’s sermons.” Curious, the pastor found this man’s phone number and called him. “Hey, this is Kyle Idleman. I understand you’re leaving the church because you don’t like my sermons.” After a brief silence and some rambling, bumbling words, the man complained like this: “Well … whenever I listen to one of the messages I feel like you are trying to interfere with my life.”  Bingo! As Idleman says (representing what we pastors are supposed to do),  “Yeah, umm, that’s kind of like my job description.”  This ex-church member was a fan of Jesus, but not a follower. Of course Jesus interferes with our lives! That’s the core and essence of discipleship.

My question has been (and still is) … how do we do pastoral ministry in a non-revival age?  I’ve some suggestions, maybe we can banter this around a bit.

  • We need to start praying for revival, begin a prayer movement.

Revival accounts that I have read all say the same thing: no revival ever occurred without what J. Edwin Orr calls extraordinary prayer. “What do we mean by extraordinary prayer? We share ordinary prayer in regular worship services, before meals, and the like. But when people are found getting up at six in the morning to pray, or having a half night of prayer until midnight, or giving up their lunch time to pray at noonday prayer meetings, that is extraordinary prayer. It must be united and concerted.”  (http://www.pastornet.net.au/renewal/journal1/orr.html)

  • Live for Christ myself.

Recently, I listened to the audio reading of David Platt’s radical book, Radical. It moved me. I need to be that guy. Not David Platt, but the radical disciple. I need to be an authentic Christian. I need to live in the new covenant. I need to confess sins, a lot. By living this way I’ll be more understanding, gracious, truthful, and intentional in my ministry to Christ’s people.

  • Preach and teach the whole Bible.

Only a whole Bible can produce a whole Christian. Teach and preach the Bible book by book, chapters and verses. Tough to dodge vital issues like sin, repentance, and confession when going through the entire Word.

  • Continue to emphasize the need for a focused, personal devotional life.

Those who are seeking to follow Christ need to learn to become self-feeders.

  • Go on short term missions trips to places where revival is happening.

There are such places in the 10/40 window, sub-Sahara Africa, and Central and South America. I frequently recall something G. Campbell Morgan one wrote, “The value of distance is perspective.” These trips help me to think on the way things ought to be, rather than on the way things are.

  • Make disciples.

Work with pockets of teachable, malleable people. Do 2 Timothy 2:1-2. Not everyone in our churches is cold toward Christ. Those that are hungry and truly thirsty—we should work with them. To do so, we have to drop our expectations of how they’ll fit into our church programs. Instead, we must point them towards reciprocally abiding relationship with Christ … the believer in Christ, Christ in the believer.

  • Aim high.

 We must raise the bar, not lower it. No sermonettes for christianettes. If I’m raising the bar in my own life, I’ll know the difference between the heights of that bar. For example, I recently stopped listening to Sports Talk Radio while driving around. It’s not a law for me, just something I felt I needed to do. It was an unnecessary weight (Hebrews 12:1-2). I’m amazed at how much richer my walk is, now that I’m free to converse with and worship the Lord, and listen to His voice. So also, we need to challenge our people. Interfere with their lives a bit.

  • Get around peers in ministry that are en el fuego (Spanish for “on fire” … learned that on Sports Talk Radio).

 Seriously, iron sharpens iron, we greatly encourage each other as we talk outreach, church matters, ministry challenges, and the rest.

  • Find ways to be healthy … spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

It’s easy to dive into depression, I know because I’ve been there. But if I go there, I’m of no use to anyone. I’ve got to be strong in the grace of God which is in Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:1).

  • Remember that faithfulness is what Jesus requires of me, not results.

If I’m results oriented, I’ll get easily discouraged. If I focus on daily obedience in faith, I’ll be living as Jesus lived, in wholesale dependence upon His Father. Jesus was the faithful Son over His own house, listening daily for the Father’s instructions (Hebrews 3:1-6; Isaiah 50:4-5). Just before Calvary, Jesus told His Father that He’d glorified Him on the earth and finished the work He’d given Him to do (John 17:4). Jesus didn’t do everything that was within the realm of the possible—that which could have been done, but He did do everything the Father directed Him to do. Faithfulness is the key.

Concluding thoughts…

Recently, we had a word of prophecy from a young woman … it was in an afterglow service during our recent Northern and Central California pastors and leaders conference at Mt. Hermon. The word had to do with revival … that it was coming. I sure hope so. If you have read and agree with Joel Rosenberg’s recent book Implosion you believe that revival is the only hope for the United States. But imagine ministry in a revival atmosphere! It would be a completely different animal, on so many levels. I’m sure you can imagine…

Following that prophecy was a word of wisdom. The word went like this. I’m paraphrasing, and may not be exactly right: “Pray for revival. Prepare for revival. And when (if) revival comes, give God the glory for everything that happens in the revival.”

Amen.

12 replies
  1. Jon Langley
    Jon Langley says:

    Bill — thanks for the great post! I’m curious what you and others here would define as “revival”. Insofar as our everyday use of the term, would it be characterised by the lost repenting, or those who call themselves believers repenting? Or do we mean both? I only ask because the term is often used with different parties conjuring different visions of what’s being spoken of.

    Reply
    • Bill Holdridge
      Bill Holdridge says:

      Hi Jon,

      Thanks for the feedback. I would define revival as first of all, believers coming back to life (that which has been “vived,” made alive, becoming “re-vived.” The result of a dramatic reviving of groups of believers and outpouring of God’s Spirit is the salvation of unbelievers.

      The section in this post about Evan Roberts and the Welsh revival sums it up for me. Roberts was calling believers (or perhaps professing believers in some cases) to do the four points.

      I’m quite sure that in many congregations there are tares among the wheat … mere professors of religion (Charles Finney) among the true believers. The mere professors of religion do not know they are unsaved. In revival like conditions, it seems to me that they can see their position, and oftimes they too will repent.

      Reply
  2. Miles DeBenedictis
    Miles DeBenedictis says:

    Bill,

    I like your approach. I think it’s certainly a discussion that ought to be had, again.

    As it relates to revival I have two concerns.

    First, the thought by some that we can manufacture revival. If we just work hard enough and try to pray and repent more, then we’ll conjure up the Spirit to revive us. Please don’t misunderstand, I do think that prayer and repentance are important for revival and in general for a Christian, but the concept that we’re the lynchpin in the whole equation strikes me as odd.

    Secondly — and perhaps more of an issue for the church in the west — we seem to have “ministry” so figured out from a technical standpoint, that we don’t need God. We just need a bigger budget, a better sound-system, more talented musicians, more dynamic/charismatic teachers. Far too often I find myself falling into just such a mindset.

    I’ve been reconsidering Acts recently as we’ve been overviewing the first 20 chapters at CCEsco the last several weeks. The first revival (i.e. Acts 2) is very interesting to me. When God poured out His Spirit, bringing revival, the disciples were “were all with one accord in one place.” I think the concept of the body of Christ living life together in one accord is vital.

    Reply
  3. Bill Walden
    Bill Walden says:

    Bill,
    Great post. Challenging and convicting.

    I agree with Miles, (and I am sure we all agree) that revival cannot be manufactured, yet am I even thinking about it or praying earnestly for it? I can and certainly ought to be doing that.

    Again, Miles makes a great point that we seem to have ministry figured out, and yet for me, your post challenges that unspoken and accepted condition, and makes me hungry for revival.

    Many of us have a full plate with ministry responsibilities, and I wonder if we settle for a healthy maintenance of what is, rather than praying for what could be.

    Thanks Bill…good word.

    Reply
  4. Ralph Gaily
    Ralph Gaily says:

    ….exercise your gift with the wisdom you have been given… and love those around you as you have been shown… and keep it all real…. the timing, and the response is the Lord’s…. keep it all real… and don’t be afraid.

    Reply
  5. Tim Brown
    Tim Brown says:

    I am sure I’ll be pilloried for this, but it seems like much of church history is revival – limp, revival – limp, revival – limp. The church has walked with a peg leg down through the ages. The tide comes in, the tide goes out. The tide comes in, the tide goes out. Can we ever learn to live at high tide?

    Reply
    • Miles DeBenedictis
      Miles DeBenedictis says:

      Great question. I certainly don’t know the answer. I guest the further question is what causes the ebb? You listen to some “revivalists” and they seem to make it all about us stopping prayer or no longer walking penitently. I wonder if it’s more simply that we stop recognizing our need for God by His spirit to be working in and through us. We get too good at ministry and just don’t need Him, we’ve figured it all out.

      I have friends in difficult to reach missions endeavors that see God move miraculously all the time. Then we hear people here in the states complain that they never see miracles. Those out in frontier missions desperately need God to move in miraculous ways, when the doctor or a hospital is 100’s if not 1,000’s of miles away. We may be guilty of just not needing His power?

      Reply
  6. Trip Kimball
    Trip Kimball says:

    Thanks for the post Bill, it is timely and needed.
    Only one thing I might add, to raise up and send out missionaries (including, but not exclusively, church planters who will be equippers of existing leaders) to partner with existing leaders, especially in revival-like nations.
    I see this as a natural outcome of true discipleship as a fulfillment of the Great Commission, and a by-product of short-term missions.

    Regarding Miles’ concerns, of course we can’t manufacture revival, but we can certainly pursue the things you’ve expressed and trust God will honor it (Heb 11:6). We can’t give up on the possibility or it.

    Concerning ministry figured out, perhaps in a mechanical/ success-measured sense, but not in a fruit sense. My biggest concern over the past several years back in my home culture is how lacking we are in discipleship and genuine transformational impact upon our own culture. I believe the things you outlined speak to those needs.

    Discussion about all this would be good, but action would be much, much better.
    Thanks again Bill!

    Reply
  7. Trip Kimball
    Trip Kimball says:

    Oops, correction… “We can’t give up on the possibility of it.”

    One more thought, in the early 80’s God spoke to my heart about a coming revival and outpouring of the Spirit, but that it would not come until there was a great darkness. During this time “the dark would get darker and the light would become more lighter, and the grey in between would shrink.” People would also become so thirsty for the Holy Spirit they would begin crying out for a genuine move of God (with the 4 earmarks similar to the Robert Evan’s list).

    Honestly, I haven’t seen that in America…yet. But I have known several people who are praying for a genuine outpouring that is preceded with a renewal of true and practical holiness.
    I know I long for it, and I know I need it. May we see it soon.

    Reply
  8. Bill Holdridge
    Bill Holdridge says:

    Brothers,

    Thanks for responding, and for your comments on revival. As always, there is much to glean from the counsel of many.

    There has apparently always been a lively debate with regard to the factors that precipitate revivals. Finney was convinced that if you follow certain prescribed means, revival would come. Others see revival solely as a sovereign act of God, apart from any human initiation. I suspect that the truth lies in the middle somewhere.

    For example, when we call upon the Lord, and seek His face diligently, and then revival comes … is that human initiation? I think not. The Lord is the One who invited us to seek Him, and promised that if we draw near to Him, He’ll draw near to us. The reality is that God Himself is always the initiator. Yet, the suddenness of a revival with its scope and manifestations are completely up to Him.

    Having said that, the point of the blog was to encourage pastors … particularly those in the U.S., with regard to ministering in a non-revival age. I took it as a given that we’re not currently in revival. Therefore I sought to share thoughts that would encourage pastors to keep on keeping on, to aim high, etc. That was my aim.

    Blessings to all. I, for one, believe the prophecy and word of wisdom that came to us at the Mt. Hermon conference. Now to obey it…

    Reply

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