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May 9, 2005
Dear ICE Subscriber:
There are well over six billion people alive today.
About five billion either have not heard about Christ's mercy or have rejected the message. These people are running out of time. Only one thing can save them: mass conversion.
In places like Africa and China, this is not revival; it is the initial presentation of the gospel. In Latin America and in formerly Christian societies, this transformation means revival -- revival on a scale never before imagined and never before planned for.
Revival offers enormous problems. This first has to do with space. Where will visitors sit? For example, if every family in a church invited just one family to attend next week, and the invitation was accepted, there would be insufficient room for the attendees. The second problem is pastoral. Who will minister to the visitors? Who will disciple them?
Revival takes planning. There is no planning. So, there is no revival.
Because the post-Christian world's churches are organized in ways that cannot not deal with the numerical and institutional results of such a revival, and because church members are basically content with their churches, Christians affirm eschatologies that insist that God really has no intention of bringing a revival on this scale. So, God does not hold His church responsible for failing to plan for it. "We're off the hook!"
Christians have re-defined the Great Commission to be the Pretty Good but Institutionally Traditional Commission.
With respect to the institutional requirements for successful worldwide evangelism -- discipling at least 100 million new converts a year for five decades -- they say, "That's not the way we do things around here." They are correct. It isn't the way the church does things.
I have five billion reasons why the churches should do things differently. Third-world birth rates being what they are, I will soon have six billion reasons.
Formerly Christian societies need a revival. They need a revival like no other in church history. They need a sustained revival. The church has yet to see one.
PREVIOUS REVIVALS HAVE NOT WORKED
The last nationwide revival in the United States took place in 1858-59, when the country had about 30 million
people. About a million people professed faith. There
was a later revival during the Civil War among Confederate troops. It did not follow the defeated troops home in 1865.
The 1858 revival, which began in 1857 in Ontario, Canada, was followed within months by revivals in Northern Ireland, Wales, South Africa, and England. The main institutional legacy of the English revival of 1859 was William Booth's Salvation Army, which is not a church.
There is no ecclesiastical trace of the other revivals.
The last great Protestant revival began in Wales in 1904. It lasted a year. Its effects were soon extinguished.
By revival, I do not mean the steady progress of normal evangelism, such as what is taking place today in China and sub-Sahara Africa. I mean a tidal wave of unprecedented spiritual transformation that seems to come out of nowhere and then departs, community by community, leaving behind what has been referred to as burned-over districts. Western New York state was such a place by 1830.
The First Great Awakening began in the early 1720s, became institutionally visible in the mid-1730s, spread across the colonies in the 1740s, and then faded. Over the next two decades, the burned-over aftermath and then the American Revolution transferred national political power to the unitarians (small "u"): Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, and most of the other famous "Founding Fathers" of the high school textbooks.
The Second Great Awakening, which began no later than 1790 in the South and accelerated rapidly in 1801 at the famous Cane Ridge revival in Kentucky, lasted for at least 40 years, moving like a forest fire from community to community. It had ended by 1850, replaced by the abolitionist crusade in the North. The Civil War led to the political triumph nationally of the abolitionist New England Unitarians, not Christian revivalists in the North who had been the shock troops of that crusade.
It is safe to say that Protestantism has not profited culturally by revivals. Revivalism sweeps through a community, but then it fades. The honeymoon of emotional hot-gospeling is replaced by church routine -- rather like a marriage hastily entered into in a season of passion.
Some of these marriages survive. Others don't.
PRAYER AND REVIVAL
Studies of these great revivals have revealed a pattern. Prior to the first wave of a local revival, a handful of church members would meet together for fervent prayer. All-night prayer sessions were common.
Then a revival hit, with its unordained itinerant preachers -- some good (D. L. Moody), others not so good.
There would be wild meetings, with people on their knees, barking like dogs, and other manifestations of emotional chaos. This chaos was explained by revivalist preachers as manifestations of the Holy Spirit.
These days, we get holy laughter. "You are going to hell!" Hahahaha. "Your children are also going to hell."
Hahahaha. A laugh a minute. The Holy Spirit apparently works in very mysterious ways -- too mysterious for me, I guess.
For over four decades, I have heard repeated calls for national revival by fundamentalist leaders. Yet I have never seen any systematic attempts on the part of these leaders to organize programs of local prayer and discipleship in preparation for this revival. I have also never heard of a local congregation that has called on its members and then other local churches to conduct the kind of intense prayer meetings that have always preceded revivals.
Why not? Maybe because pastors who know the history of revivals know what a traditional revival brings.
More attendees (temporary)
Unruly children of visitors
An extra morning worship service -- maybe two
Extra mid-week services
Free-riders (few tithers)
Greater teaching responsibilities
Extra spiritual counselling (unpaid)
New-member attrition after one year
A burned-over district for 30 years
Preparations for national revival? Not in my
lifetime. There is no market for it.
I concluded years ago that calls for revival are perfunctory. The cost of preparing for such a revival is high -- organized prayer -- and the results are frightening for pastors: filled-up churches, with lines of would-be members outside the church door, all of them with lifestyle problems, many with emotional and financial problems, and none of them ready to tithe. So, I learned many years ago not to take seriously calls for national revival by famous evangelists. Such calls are the equivalent of "Have a nice day."
There are five billion covenant-breakers out there.
Time is running out for them. Eternity beckons. We need effective evangelism. But we don't need a revival like all those that have occurred in the past. We need one that will provide a new life for huge numbers of new converts.
We need a different kind of revival.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF REVIVAL
Here is what I would like to see in a revival:
sustainability. To deal effectively with five billion lost souls, here are the minimum requirements:
100 million conversions a year, worldwide
Little attrition ("backsliding")
Church buildings rented out all day on Sundays
Larger church facilities
Tens of thousands of new churches built annually
Crash programs for recruiting/training pastors
Local lay leaders as disciplers
Service opportunities accepted by volunteers
Social welfare: from the state to churches
Christian influence at every level of society
Lower crime rates
More effective church programs
Tithing -- soon: there are no free lunches
Now, that's a revival! Praying for anything less is a waste of valuable praying time. If we are going to ask God to do something big, why not something really big: God- sized?
Praying should be systematic, perpetual, and above all, it should be routine. We should not expect or insist on forms of prayer that require a non-routine commitment.
Non-routine commitments cannot be sustained.
The all-night prayer vigils of pre-revival fame invariably produced all-night revivals and then spiritual burn-out -- for pastors, laymen, and new members. These revivals could not be sustained by routine prayer by routine Christians.
What we need is sustainable prayer for a sustainable revival. No other kind of revival is worth praying for.
We need members of entire congregations agreeing to pray for an hour a day. Then we need them to do it until Christ returns. This will take constant reminders and follow-up. It will take mutual support.
Churches will need separate prayer meetings that pray for only one thing: daily, sustained, individual prayer.
That's what Alcoholics Anonymous offers: nightly meetings to help its members get through the day. That's what Weight-Watchers offers. Routine self-discipline needs organized institutional support to remain routine.
People can start with five-minute prayers. Pray them while ironing, driving to work, mowing the lawn. Then, when this commitment becomes routine, they should add another five minutes next month. Month by month, add five minutes -- not necessarily sequential. In one year, people are praying an hour a day. That's plenty, on average.
Some will pray more; others will pray less.
When revival hits, people might increase this to 90 minutes, just for the honeymoon's sake. Then, when the revival becomes routinized, it's back to an hour a day.
Sweet hour of prayer is enough.
If the prayers stop, the revival will stop. But we need a 50-year revival. The churches today are incapable of turning a traditional revival into a sustained revival:
not enough room, not enough discipling, not enough volunteers, and not enough self-discipline.
WHAT KIND OF PRAYERS?
What should people pray for? Here, I offer a completely different strategy. They should not ask for successful revival meetings. There have never been any successful revival meetings. That's because the work of the church is much broader than revival meetings.
Prayers should be for the work of a church's ministry.
I mean a local congregation. I also mean just one ministry.
If each congregation would identify one ministerial service that it does well and is equipped institutionally to do on a larger scale, the pastor should ask for prayer for this ministry. The cutting edge of a sustainable community revival is each congregation's unique public ministry to the lost.
If it has no such ministry, then its plans for revival must start here. Get one.
Next, each pastor in town should publicly ask for prayer by Christians all over town for this one special ministry.
No church can do everything well. There is specialization inside a church: members (Rom. 12; I Cor.
12). There is also specialization within the broader
church: postal service zip code by zip code.
Each city should have a multitude of specialized ministries, each provided by a church that is fully committed to sustaining its unique public ministry. I have in mind assistance to the poor, job training, financial budgeting, marital counselling, parenting, day care, k-12 education, door-to-door evangelism, university evangelism, and a hundred other services.
These ministries must be run by laymen. This is the key to sustainable revival. A revival puts enormous pressure on pastors. They cannot handle it alone. They must be supported by trained, dedicated, self-sacrificing laymen.
So, the pre-revival prayer program must be aimed at building up local church ministries that are run by laymen.
Prayer should be focused on recruiting volunteers, training them, and then bringing the walking wounded under their care.
Organized congregational prayer begins with the central ministry of a local congregation. First things first. Then it spreads outward, five minutes per ministry per day, to other congregations' unique ministries. An hour a day is plenty.
If 80% of a congregation will do this, that will be enough. Don't expect more than 80%. Breaking Pareto's 80/20 law requires a miracle. Miracles are not sustainable. That's why we call them miracles.
This is sustainable prayer for sustainable revival.
Sustainable revival is not what pastors have ever attempted to organize.
Prayer must call the Holy Spirit to intervene in history to produce a revival. But this supernatural intervention must make use of a structured institutional program of discipling. Discipling is what the Great Commission requires. This is what no previous revival has offered. By the time rudimentary discipling programs were in place, the districts were burned over. The revivals always got ahead of the institutional means of discipleship.
All-night prayer vigils? No, thank you. An extra five minutes a day? Yes, please. Make it ten.
The best book I have ever read on urban evangelism is by George Otis, Jr., "Informed Intercession." Out of that book came the best Christian video documentary I have ever seen, "Transformations." It is the story of four communities that were transformed by organized preliminary research into the local sources of Satanic evil, and then prayer for God to heal the community. One was in Colombia, one in Central America, one in Africa, and one in Southern California.
At the heart of the program is pastoral cooperation:
the division of spiritual labor. In the case of the city in Colombia, it took the murder of the organizing pastor (presumably by drug lords) to get the other pastors to cooperate. The pastors had bickered endlessly until the man's funeral. Then they stopped. That's a high price to pay, but it was necessary.
Part of a program of sustainable prayer must be cross- congregational prayer. Members in one congregation must pray for the specialized service ministries in the other congregations.
By focusing on church-operated service ministries to the lost, this prayer program breaks down resistance to praying for "one of those churches." The prayers are for Church B's institutional efforts to deal with a specific local problem that Church A has chosen to ignore or deal with halfheartedly. When a Christian thinks, "I sure don't want to deal with THAT problem," he/she can more systematically pray for some other local congregation's team of laymen that is willing to work with that problem.
Everyone wants back-up. When a pastor is sure that members of other churches will be asked to pray systematically for his local congregation's specialized ministry, he may start cooperating.
The service ministries will start building strength.
More of the walking wounded will walk through the door.
This is what sustainable revival is: the walking wounded walking through many doors, day after day, year after year, in ever greater numbers. No barking required!
AN INTERNATIONAL WEBSITE
What I would like to see is a website that is broken down into these categories: nation, state/province, city, churches.
It would allow a pastor to go on-line, create a password, and then enter his church's name, address, and denomination. There would be a line to identify his congregation's #1 ministry to the lost. There would also be a box to describe this in greater detail.
This of course forces a pastor to work with his elders/deacons beforehand in order to identify what this primary area of service is. This identification is crucial for sustained revival.
A layman could then go to the site, go to his city, and see what each congregation is specializing in for the kingdom of God. If he wanted more information, he would click the ministry ID line. This would take him to the longer description of this congregation's ministry. Then he could allocate 5 minutes/day for prayer for a particular ministry that appeals to him.
An hour will do it, assuming enough laymen are participating.
Pastors must take the lead in organizing such a prayer program. They must hand out the Website's address for members to visit. Each pastor must tell his congregation that other churches' members will be praying for the local congregation's #1 service ministry. He must make it clear that this is a joint effort of local congregations.
There would be a email newsletter to sign up for at the website. This letter would provide detailed testimonials from pastors whose churches' service ministries are booming, and whose churches are being transformed.
There would be a supplemental website where the director of a successful local service ministry could post a free how-to manual (plus audio training files) on its operations. This way, other churches could set up similar ministries.
Pastors must organize this effort, city by city. It will take leadership. If the pastors refuse to cooperate with each other, this plan cannot work. The shepherds must lead the sheep.
Laymen must administer the service ministries.
The revival must be service-based. It must offer help to the lost, followed by training. Then the new converts must be sent back to their circle of friends to bring the good news.
Conceptually, my plan is simple. The website would be cheap to create and run. Administration would local. By decentralizing the program, the revival can be sustained.
It will spread. Districts will not wind up burned over.
But do pastors want the added responsibility? Do laymen? So far, "that's is not the way we do things around here."
The Egyptians under Pharaoh knew they were in bondage, and they cried out for God's deliverance. Today's Christians are not equally self-conscious. "Isn't it nice to ride in the back of humanism's bus? It's good enough for us." They never seem to ask: "Where is the driver taking us?"
When Christians begin sustained prayer for a cooperative effort to roll back the existing covenant- breaking civilization, they will be in a position to experience a sustained revival. Until such time, we will continue ride in the back of humanism's bus. Or, in 22nd century Europe, Islam's.
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