In January 1989 I began as minister of a thirty-five year old church at Beaumont in Adelaide that had suffered numerical decline. It had followed the typical pattern of an inner suburban church with its complex of buildings, a Sunday School of 350 children, and two packed morning services in its heyday of the boom years of Methodism in the fifties and sixties.
In those years the church was a buzz of activity. Its youth group grew as children entered their teens. Membership figures increased as the teenagers took confirmation classes. Church growth was natural and expected. It required no specific strategies. People looked for a neighbourhood church which provided worship, a Sunday School, youth program, and the accepted activities associated with church life at the time.
Gradually the neighbourhood became prime real estate. When the young people married they had to move out to newer suburban areas where land was cheaper. Predicably the congregation declined and grew older. By 1989 an average of 85 people attended the one service on Sunday and a handful of children attended the Sunday School. Many were concerned about the future of this single congregation parish, and the parish leaders had begun discussions with nearby congregations regarding amalgamation.
Regreening in the Spirit’s power
This became for me an experiment in turning a church around. Was it possible to arrest the decline and begin to build again? Would the church have a significant and effective future as well as a dynamic ministry in the name of Jesus Christ?
Early in my first year at this church I found I was also involved emotionally and could not separate my personal feelings from what I discovered and what I believed God had in store for us. Could I lead this church to new life and growth? I personally was most aware of my own need of God’s help and of my need to grow spiritually as the leader of this church.
I was fortunate to be nearing the end of doctoral studies in church growth and renewal. I had also been a consultant in the related area of evangelism for eight years. Hence I came with some knowledge and experience that I believed would help my leadership of this church. However, my experience of working at length with a declining congregation was minimal. I knew that I and they would be very dependent upon the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.
In the interview before my appointment the nominating committee indicated they were seeking someone of my age and experience. They also emphasized their desire to be more effective evangelistically and to reach the neighbourhood for Christ. I intimated my bias for evangelism and sought to know whether they would be open to change and to embrace new directions I might initiate. They agreed, not knowing exactly what would occur in the years to follow.
New goals and direction
I began by getting to know the people and by learning their corporate history. Some had been in the church since its inception. Most had been there for ten or twenty years or more. Very few, if any, were new to the church in recent years. They considered themselves a friendly church but did not have in place ways of welcoming and assimilating new people.
Obviously pastoral work was important. I was led by the Spirit to visit people in their homes. In the first year I listened considerably. I also realized that the people were ready for change and much could happen in the first year. Indeed, some significant developments needed to occur as symbols of hope and as signs of God doing a new thing.
We were to engage in a stewardship program in June of my first year. Planning for this two year stewardship cycle had to begin early. So I talked with my parish council and elders about their aspirations and yearnings for the church. It was obvious there were no common goals, no specific direction, no vision to fire the imagination and to prompt people to give freely. Therefore in the April of 1989 we gathered forty people, key leaders and interested people for a seven hour session of reflection, evaluation, waiting on the Lord and goal setting.
We met on a Sunday afternoon and evening with a shared tea. At the end of the time we had established ten specific goals that we could work towards in 1989-1990. These became strategic in the life of the church and did much to harmonize people around a common direction. It gave purpose to the stewardship program which was successful and assured the church of financial resources for the ensuing years.
In the weeks preceding the goal setting I preached on the nature of the church using New Testament imagery such as the Body of Christ, the vine and the branches, and the picture of living stones given in 1 Peter 2:410. This supported the truth that theology is the basis of renewal.
Although there are simple practical strategies that are easily overlooked, true growth is biblically and theologically founded. It occurs through the Spirit of God renewing both people’s lives and the structures that enable us to live in community.
Theology of renewal
Theology became for us the very essence of renewal. How we understood and experienced God and the covenant determined our attitudes, expectations and actions. The term ‘the body of Christ’ became important as a description of who we were. It affirmed three main truths about the church:
1. There is to be corporate growth in unity and maturity.
2. Growth occurs as the variety of gifts of the people, given by the Spirit, are used in complementary fashion.
3. The church is a living organism with Jesus Christ in authority as the supreme head of the body.
Emphasizing a gift theology, inherent in the Uniting Church Basis of Union, we held a gift workshop in the spring of my first year. This examined the teaching of 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians
4. It had practical application and included a process by which the participants could begin to identify their special gifts for ministry.
In Ephesians, Paul describes a church in which all the members are to be equipped for the work of ministry. He does not envisage a church where only a few are engaged in ministry or where most are consumers rather than participants. Ministry is done by the whole church, by Christians working in concert. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Harmonious cooperation and the complementary use of gifts far surpasses the results of individual Christians working alone and independently. One of the priority tasks of church leaders is to help the members discover their gifts for ministry, to develop such gifts, and to channel them into effective areas of service.
Equipping people for ministry
To enhance the pastoral ministry of the congregation a Caring Committee was appointed by the elders council. This group believed that the ministry should be according to one’s spiritual gifts and not by virtue of the office one might hold.
We identified over thirty people gifted in pastoral ministry and called them together to discuss the ministry model we had in mind and to provide instruction on how to make effective pastoral visits. An eight week care workers course followed in the next year. The result is that we now have a team of people who visit members and others associated with the church. This provides a network of care in which no one need be overlooked. The visitors meet about three times a year to discuss their ministry and to review their list of people.
Another person, gifted in administration and with deep compassion, coordinates a special caring program whereby practical help is given to those with special needs.
In our church we no longer allocate each elder to a group of members. Some elders are not gifted pastorally but have other excellent gifts. Any elder is available to anyone according to need and relationships that are established. We work on the principle that the elders are responsible to see that visiting occurs and are there to release the gifts of those who can do it well.
Other gifts have emerged under this theology. We appointed an honorary administrator who retired from the business world but who obviously brought a wonderful gift in administration. His work of about ten hours a week has involved two mornings a week at the church office. I arranged to be at the office on those mornings as that increased efficiency and communication. Opening the church office on these two days improved the church’s profile and made its leaders more accessible.
Many music gifts lay dormant in our worship. We had a very good choir and a couple of proficient organists. The piano in the sanctuary, however, was rarely used. To cater for increasing numbers at worship we added an additional morning service in August 1989. This provided more options. The 9 am service became family oriented and only on occasions is the pipe organ used at this service. Instead, an orchestra sometimes numbering seven or eight has provided the music.
Introducing new songs and installing a screen for use with overheads enlivened the worship and provided greater variety. Our work with musicians includes workshops for worship leaders. We have many unused gifts in this area that we wish to employ. The commencement of a regular 7 pm service has created other opportunities for lay leadership, especially by youth. By 1992 the aggregate number at worship had grown to about 200 and the average age is much less than it was in 1989.
We had demographic data available to us on that first planning day and we discovered that the surrounding community contained more younger people than was reflected in the church. Fifty per cent of the population in the parish area is under forty years of age. With this in mind, and trusting in God, we set about embracing the future with confidence. Now our Sunday School is growing, we operate a creche, and we have a growing youth movement.
Believing prayer is central to the renewal that is occurring. A prayer chain has operated in the church for many years. Its members, all ladies, meet over lunch once a month. Here prayer needs are shared. Another early morning prayer group has begun as a spin off from 7 am services on Wednesdays during Lent. A number decided to meet every Wednesday at that time and so a group of ten, including men, have gathered faithfully to pray for people and for the church. A focus of our prayer is the renewal of the church and for effective evangelistic ministry. Our church also offers prayer for healing, primarily during ministry time following services of worship.
Group life has also received attention. New home groups and Bible study groups have commenced to provide opportunities for people to engage in study, to offer and receive ministry, and to enhance fellowship. These meet according to needs and availability. They very from weekly to monthly gatherings.
At the heart of what is occurring in our church is our belief that God is continuing the renew us and, while giving ministry in the present, is preparing us to embrace God’s unfolding future. We understand that renewal is the ongoing renewing by God of the church. It is dynamic, never static. It is not an achieved state. It is not the end but the way. To be in renewal is to be journeying with God in the presence of believers.
The primary theological ground for renewal is the kingdom of God. Renewal is not the result of human effort although we are able to respond to God’s renewing activity in ways which appropriate such activity. Renewal is the work of God that points to the coming reign of God in the lives of persons and community.
The kingdom of God is neither entirely present nor entirely future. It is here now, is coming, and will come. This gives perspective to renewal. It enables the church to be a community of hope. This orientation points to what is to be as a reality greater than what has been. As such it is a very powerful motivator for Christian living and ministry. It creates vision which fosters hope and incentive.
Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit we have been led to preach that the church is a community premised on the promise of what is to be. We are not simply to adjust to present reality, nor only to patch up here and there or even seek to recover what was. Renewal points to transformation, embracing the new. Hence we pray ‘Your kingdom come’ (Matthew 6:10).
We believe that the ultimate purpose of the church is to glorify God and to be an agent of God in establishing the unity and wholeness of all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:910). The church is a servant of the kingdom of God.
In witnessing to the wholeness of God’s kingdom we seek to demonstrate unity, forgiveness, reconciliation and new relationships. One of the most important factors in our witness is the quality of our corporate life in Christ lest our words be empty and our theology barren. We endeavour to be spiritually renewed, our motivation enlivened by the Holy Spirit. We seek a genuine growth in holiness that releases the power of the Holy Spirit.
Our church is on the way. In some quarters we struggle with conservatism but we endeavour to listen to one another, recognizing the Spirit of Christ in us all. We also use appropriate practical strategies that can be learned from church analysis and church growth. We are down-to-earth and pragmatic. But we endeavour to place God at the centre knowing that unless the Lord builds the house we labour in vain. Renewed in the power of the Spirit we wish to be living stones, built into a spiritual house of God (1 Peter 2:5).
(c) Renewal Journal 2: Church Growth (1993, 2011), pages 35-42.
Reproduction is allowed with the copyright intact with the text.
Now available in updated book form (republished 2011)
Evangelism can lead to renewal and on to revival of the church. I have seen this in my experience in ministry in the last sixteen years as someone committed to the renewal of people and churches.
We need to release the dedicated and already discipled people of our parishes and churches into sharing their faith with those outside the church. This is a strategy for renewal that will lead to the revival of the church in the 1990’s.
Time and time again new converts begin the process of renewing the church and individuals in it. Their fresh approach to religion, their radical testimonies to the faith, and their enthusiasm to share the gospel and to live in its power, affect many others.
Does it work? Let’s look at one parish I know really well where I served for seven years.
Evangelism leads to revival
Margaret Matthews, a nurse and an elder in the Cobden Uniting Church Parish, gave this account at the Conference on Conversion Growth in Launceston, Tasmania, 1012 March, 1988. It describes her experiences of both personal and parish-wide renewal that started with evangelism.
Cobden is in the heart of a dairying district in Western Victoria, and a recent decision to expand the local factory has assured the future viability of the town. Our population of 1,450 is stable. We all know our neighbours. Our parish has two churches, both of which now have active Sunday Schools, youth groups and fellowship groups. Bible studies are an integral part of our life, catering for all levels of faith from 13 to 84 year olds. All participate in the leadership of worship. We started evening services with a more relaxed, informal worship style where newcomers felt more at ease.
Our growth story really began many years ago, when during a prolonged time of ministerial vacancy we were visited by an evangelist who challenged us to pray for revival in our church. A small group gathered together following the lines suggested: that we share the leadership, pray for the church and each other, and bring a name before the group and pray that God would prepare their hearts as we approached them and shared his Word.
We saw our prayers answered and we saw our fellowship grow to 2030 people who met under our first minister after the formation of the Uniting Church in 1977.
Like most of our generation, we clung to the concepts we had grown up with: preaching the gospel was the minister’s job and bringing newcomers to the church was no longer our responsibility. We lost our sense of purpose and our direction for several years. Our numbers began to dwindle and although we continued to pray that others might come to know the Lord, we were almost back to the original six or seven of us.
A new minister arrived. Hearing our prayer for revival and seeing us do nothing actively to bring it about, she organized an evangelism workshop for our Presbytery and persuaded eight of us to go to it. For myself, it was a real step of faith. I had forgotten how easy it had been, with the Lord’s help, to share my faith with friends, and now we were being asked to knock on stranger’s doors a terrifying thought!
It became our ministry to make those strangers into friends: getting to know people, listening and ministering to their needs, sharing their stories, sharing our story and God’s story, depending on God to do the rest.
We all came home from the workshop inspired to put what we had learned, into practice. We set aside one night each week to go visiting on a regular basis. We first met for prayer to ask the Lord to prepare the way and to go with us, and those of our group who did not go out joined together to pray for those who did. After our visit we returned to the church to talk it over, to learn from each other’s experiences, to get any hurts or knockbacks off our chests, and to share any blessings with those who stayed behind to pray.
To our surprise, after a few weeks, we realized we were enjoying this experience and started looking forward to it. We found that our little team of eight just couldn’t keep up with all the people who would like us to return for a visit. There was a great thirst out there beyond our church of people wanting to know more about the Lord, about the church, or wanting to share the hurt that took them away from the faith in the past.
About twelve months later, a second evangelism workshop was organized by our own and neighbouring parishes. Now many others in the church could see the importance of evangelism and most of our elders and several of our converts attended it. By then, I had begun a Bible Study home cell for some of the new converts who had no background of Christianity, but a wonderful new faith which was to change their lives, and lead me into a deeper faith commitment.
I didn’t start out to be an evangelist. I didn’t have that burning desire to share my faith with everyone I met, which I found among our converts. My visiting was an act of obedience to God’s will for us to share the gospel with all people. It was a stepping out in faith on the road that takes you from `What can God do for me?’ to `What can I do for God?’
Margaret, through the witness of her converts, later sought the infilling of the Holy Spirit and today not only continues to share her faith but is a mighty preacher and dynamic Bible Study teacher. From the witness of these early evangelists and those who were converted to the faith, the parish grew by 135% on their adherents roll and by 26% in four years (198387) in their confirmed members’ roll. In 1988, the 241 regular Sunday worshippers included 121 of the people who had faith for longer than ten years and 119 (49%) of the people having come to faith in the last five years (between 198388). In 1989, 94% of those converted to the faith were still regular attenders at worship (some now 6 years old in their faith).
Revival first started in this parish because an evangelist came and proclaimed the gospel. That gave others a hunger to do the same. It almost failed when a minister arrived during a prolonged vacancy and the people abdicated their responsibility to him, but it was later revived by another minister. As the converts grew in faith and hungered for a deeper expression of their faith, they sought, received and began to use their spiritual gifts. It led them into a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit. This influenced the established church to reevaluate itself and to also grow in renewal.
Renewal that brings revival
Our strategies in the church for bringing renewal have at times been wrought with force, causing judgment, mistrust and resistance. This resistance in the church can gravely hurt those in the renewal movement. So they have at times left the churches that would not accept their way or stayed in their church and developed a ghetto mentality of `we-they’ that made it harder for others to see renewal as an option for their lives.
In past years, the renewal movement often concentrated on changing worship to allow all the spiritual gifts to be prevalent and seen by sceptics and nonbelievers alike, thinking that this would aid in renewing others. Signs and wonders, although reaching some and exciting them to seek renewal, also frightened many more and turned them right off renewal.
A strategy for the renewal of the church needs to be more than just a change of worship where signs and wonders can be evident. Renewal demands a more radical lifestyle and call to ministry than this. When this change is seen in others, the people in the church do respond.
Here is an anatomy of renewal that I believe leads to revival:
1. Evangelists proclaim the message of salvation and people are converted to faith.
2. The converts grow in faith and hunger for a deeper expression of their faith. They seek, receive and use the spiritual gifts leading them into a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit which influences the established church to reevaluate itself and to also grow in the area of renewal.
3. The church then needs to understand and standardize the use of the spiritual gifts from good biblical teaching moving the people away from experience as the authority for the use of spiritual gifts to good theology about their use.
4. Converts and those who grew up in the faith examine their lives in light of God’s Word,
showing a desire for deeper service to the Lord and a hunger for righteous and holy living.
Evangelism renewal revival
The Reformation revivals of the 1500’s, the Great Awakening of the 1700’s, or the South Australian revivals in the mines at Wallaroo, Moonta and Burra at the turn of this century, follow this common pattern: evangelism renewal revival (in that order).
First, evangelists went out and proclaimed the gospel. The gospel they proclaimed emphasiszd a personal encounter with Jesus Christ and an individual religious experience rather than the doctrines of the church. Many people fell under the conviction of these evangelists’ proclamation of the gospel and received salvation.
As these converts grew in faith, they began to hunger for a deeper expression of their faith and began seeking, receiving and using the spiritual gifts God uses to build the church. That led them into a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit. This greatly influenced the preaching of the evangelists and their message.
When revival got to this second stage evangelists like John and Charles Wesley shifted from their basic salvation message of the early days of revival to sermons on a deeper discipleship and on walking in the power of the Spirit of God. This led to them establishing Bible studies, encouraging lay people to take up leadership roles in every giftedness of the Spirit, and it eventually led to the established church of their day reevaluating itself and growing in renewal.
This process also happened in the Reformation revival where the reformers shifted from the basic salvation message of their earlier days to deeper discipleship which led to the established church (the Catholic Church) reevaluating itself and having a revival itself influenced by such people as St. John of the Cross and Theresa of Avila, some 40 years after the Reformation.
This leads to the third phase of revival. In every succeeding generation when renewal comes, the church all over again, needs to learn how to understand and use the spiritual gifts given to them by God. So, the next phase of revival seems to be standardizing the use of the spiritual gifts and how they are to be ordered and used in the life of the church. Every new generation of revivalists find themselves in unchartered waters. So it takes time to sort out problems with the use of spiritual gifts and ensure that there is sound Biblical teaching on them.
Often those in the renewal movements, excited to experience the power of their faith, rush into using the gifts (and having `the experience’) rather than doing serious biblical study in order to bring others with them in good understanding. The `experience’ is not enough. We need good renewal theology that is strong enough to be debated.
The last phase of revival seems to be an inner desire of both converts and those who grew up in the faith to examine their lives in light of God’s Word, a desire for deeper service to the Lord and a hunger for righteous and holy living. This was very evident in the Great Awakening revival where evangelists later in the revival clearly shifted their proclamation of the salvation message to the preaching on holiness and righteous living (such as the sermons of the American revivalist of the early 1700’s, Jonathan Edwards).
The history of the church, shows long periods (which sadly follow great revivals) where the gospel is reduced by many in the church to narrow relativism. Pragmatism is rife. This leads to a suspicion of the supernatural, and for a while the church loses the power of its faith from lack of belief in the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s gifts. The church in this condition seldom goes out to do evangelism but is content with social work and political statements.
Therefore, for renewal of the church to be effective today and for it to issue out into revival, we must first start with evangelism.
Revival involves mission and ministry
The following comments show how the personal encounter of the Holy Spirit by converts led the church to reevaluate its life, moving them into renewal. It caused them to explore the use of spiritual gifts by good Biblical teaching and discipleship. That moved people away from experience as the only authority for the use of spiritual gifts to good theology about their use.
These quotes are from talks that Cobden people gave at the Launceston 1988 Conversion Growth Workshop sponsored by the Uniting Church Assembly’s National Mission and Evangelism Committee.
Barbara Cowley, the Cobden Parish treasurer and a mother of two, says, “I have always believed in God and have attended Sunday School and church most of my life. In our courting days, my husband used to come to church with me, but after we were married he always found himself too busy to come. Our two children were baptized and attended Sunday School regularly, our daughter especially so, and our son until the age of 10 when he rebelled about going.
“When my daughter finished Sunday School and didn’t want to attend church anymore, I went to church by myself but my attendance started to drop off. At about that time my husband started exploring his faith. This encouraged me and we started attending church as a family. Since then, both our children have made decisions for the Lord at different times.
“Since being baptized in the Holy Spirit, my eyes have been opened to the workings of the Lord. Even though I had been involved in attending church all my life, it’s only in the last couple of years that my faith has come alive in attending our Bible Study group, which has helped me grow in my walk with the Lord.”
Hazel and the late Norm Maskell, dairy farmers, church elders, and Cobden Parish’s original evangelists in their mid70’s, led cell groups. Hazel and Norm said, “Why did we form study or cell groups? We believed that the church would not or could not grow until our people came together to study God’s Word, understand his gifts and to build each other up in faith. Those we brought to faith needed nurturing and encouraging. So our study groups came into existence one by one.
“These converts were more teachable than some of the older folk in the faith. Being eager to learn, they were wide open to Bible teaching and getting to know the Lord in a real way. Their growth was astounding, causing our growth too! We have seen miracles happen and now we see many of these new Christians taking leading roles in our church life alongside of us. I have found that new Christians pray out loud, share faith, and learn far more easily than we who have been in the church for some time, because they have no preconceived ideas. Almost any Bible Study member in our church will pray on the spot publicly. They thank God for various things, confess their own shortcomings, and pray for others. Now almost half the congregation will participate in prayer or the leading of worship whenever asked to do so. The result of these Bible Study groups is that our church has not only grown in numbers, but more importantly, we understand the Holy Spirit so much better and know the Spirit to be working in our church. We older folk have learned so much and grown closer to the Lord.”
Sometimes there may be difficulties for the church when it tries to assimilate not only new people into the life and especially the leadership structure of the church, but also starts reevaluating itself in light of the testimonies of these new converts and their walk with the Lord.
Most people within our church will say ‘we need new blood, some fresh faces and especially we need more younger folk to keep us going.’ However, once there is new blood, fresh faces, and younger folk coming into our churches, many old-timers may feel that the ‘new folk have taken us over and have made so many changes that we don’t know what’s going on anymore, so we will just stay at home and let them run it!’
Church growth in evangelism and renewal means that we, too, as individuals have to grow and be renewed. Many people resist this. Sometimes, church growth can only happen by berthing a new church that’s separate from the established church. This happened both in the Reformation and Great Awakening Revivals and it did most recently in the 1970’s and 1980’s. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Although the Cobden Parish had some battles and upheavals from its evangelism and renewal, division was averted by hospitality fellowship, Bible Study and shared worship. The leadership shared in hospitality fellowship, that is, intentionally inviting old-timers in the church to meals and gatherings with converts and helping them to get to know and to interpret their faith journey to each other.
The Bible Studies started out to disciple converts. Then, as people in the church started to reevaluate their faith journey through their contacts with the converts and hungered to know more, Bible Studies were set up for them too. Later, converts and those of long standing in the church merged many of their separate Bible Studies together where they learned to pray and care for one another.
Another important aspect of the Bible Studies, was the curriculum the Parish wrote to train people about the infilling of the Holy Spirit and the proper use of the spiritual gifts. When members discovered their own spiritual gifts, they were encouraged to take up their ministry roles within the life of the church. For converts this usually occurred by the end of their first year in the faith.
Shared worship took the form of setting up eight worship teams of six people each, chosen across generations and from each of the worshipping congregations. Each member of the team had a designated area of leadership: prayers, music, administration of the team, children’s sermon, the sermon, the organisation of the service sheet, announcements and the Bible readings. They had to listen to each other’s needs and they developed a style of worship that all were happy with and that was open enough to be able to evolve, as the parish needs changed.
We see that evangelism starts the process of renewal which brings revival. Renewal leads to a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit as the converts of the church’s evangelistic outreach grow in faith and hunger for the power of their faith, seeking, receiving and using the Spiritual gifts. This renewal leads to the established church reevaluating itself and either blockading and resisting renewal, or growing in it.
Renewal leads to discipleship training in and standardizing the use of the spiritual gifts with good Biblical teaching and the development of an articulate theology that can be debated. Discipleship leads to a radical lifestyle where one has a desire for a deeper service to the Lord, a greater knowledge of God’s Word and a hunger for righteous and holy living.
When the church misses one of these parts revival doesn’t happen. For instance, in studying several charismatic churches, I have discovered that if a church tries to bring in renewal before it does evangelism, it often gets a huge amount of transfer growth from other churches which leads to divisions and it eventually goes into decline.
If renewal doesn’t follow on into good discipleship, the church folk often get stuck on the experiences of the Holy Spirit and cannot articulate a clear enough theology so that they can take others into the experience with them in good understanding. Often these churches can become quite ingrown and in a denominational structure be quite divisive.
If discipleship does not produce a radical lifestyle, the church does not benefit others. Then it runs the risk of not only privatizing a person’s faith journey, but also of making one’s experience the only test of the validity of other people’s faith. It also means that the church remains at the level of signs and wonders instead of moving into a deeper discipleship with Jesus where one is sold out to him in complete sacrifice in holy living.
Jesus said to the doubting Thomas, ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe’ (John 20:29). Signs and wonders are for nonbelievers (1 Corinthians 14) but a radical lifestyle of a disciple is for the mature Christian.
Many church leaders spend so much effort in renewing a congregation from within. I firmly believe that a congregation should be renewed from without, through evangelism and the converts that receive their message.
Then evangelism will lead to renewal and revival in the land.
(c) Renewal Journal 2: Church Growth (1993, 2011), pages 23-33.
Reproduction is allowed with the copyright intact with the text.
Now available in updated book form (republished 2011)
Reproduced from the Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies No. 4, 2001, pages 99-107, from Dr Chin Khua Khai’s research for his Ph.D. degree.
Although small and often unnoticed, Myanma (Burma) has had its share of great leaders. The late Reverend Hau Lian Kham, often referred to as the “John Wesley” of Zomi (Chin) because of the similar characters and patterns seen in his leadership, is a noted pastor-evangelist and teacher among the evangelical Pentecostal believers in Myanmar. From the early 1970s until his death in 1995, he was the key figure and leader of a renewal movement among the Zomis. The renewal began on a small scale in the early 1970s and has spread throughout the region to many parts of the country through evangelism and cross-cultural mission efforts (1). It has resulted in the planting of new churches in both rural and urban regions and to the establishment of leadership training schools. Kham has left his legacy as a revivalist, equipper, and transformer.
A Brief Story of His Life
Kham’s legacy in Zomiss began against the backdrop of a predominantly nominal Christian atmosphere (2). The Zomi is a major ethnic group in Myanmar occupying the north-western region. They were 2.2% of countries estimated population of 49 million in the year 2000 (3). Christianity has been a dominant religious practice among the Zomis for half a century.
The Zomis received Christian faith through the efforts of missionaries. American Baptist missionaries first introduced the Christian faith to them early in the 1900s (4). Other missions such as the Methodists (1925), Catholics (1934), Anglicans (1934), Seventh-Day Adventists (1954), Presbyterians (1956), and Pentecostals (that is, Assemblies of God, 1960s) arrived as well. When missionaries were expelled from the country in the 1960s, more than half of the Zomi population had become professed Christians. At this stage, there existed among the Zomis Christians a moral laxity and a lack of salvation knowledge (5).
Out of this background, Kham arose as a giant of faith who launched the renewal movement in 1973. On November 24, 1944, he was the sixth of eight children born to devout Christian parents in Ngennung-Tedim, Chin State, Myamnar. Upon graduating from high school, he began serving as the headmaster of Zomi Baptist Academy, a primary school, in his native town of Tedim from 1963 to 1965.
Though poverty has always been a roadblock to education for the Zomis, Kham found a way to pursue his secular education as well as theological education. He attended night classes at Workers College on a work-study program, receiving a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree in 1968. He then enrolled in Myanmar Institute of Theology, Insein, Yangon, and received a Bachelor of Religious Education (B.R.E.) degree in 1971.
Upon completion of his studies, he decided to return to Tedim to engage in full time ministry. Indeed, temptations prevailed when relatives asserted he was making an undesirable career choice due to the poor income ministers receive. After a strong prayer, he made a lasting decision to serve the Lord alone.
Kham’s ministry went through enormous changes, which better equipped him for kingdom service. He was first installed as the senior pastor of Cope Memorial Baptist Church (April 1971 to 1974) in Tedim receiving his ordination credentials on February 25, 1973. He went on to become a leader of the Evangelical Baptist Conference (EBC) and the senior pastor of Tedim’s Evangelical Baptist Church (1975-1976) when Cope Memorial Baptist Church dismissed him from membership because of his promotion of the renewal movement.
Eventually, he became a Pentecostal minister (1977-1996) because of his new experience with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and a larger vision of the kingdom’s mission. Regarding his joining the Assemblies of God of Myanmar, he once stated, “We must keep a large vision of the whole country, even the whole world, for the evangelization, while starting the work at the local area” (6). In 1979 Khain became the founding principal of Evangel Bible College in Yangon, the capital city of Myanmar, serving in this capacity as well as teaching until his death on December 29, 1995. During this time, he also held the position of the senior pastor of Grace Assembly of God Church. Kham was the general secretary of the Assemblies of God of Myanmar for a period. This position was relinquished when he was sent to the Philippines for graduate studies in 1987.
Kham received a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree from Asia Pacific Theological Seminary (APTS), Baquio, Philippines in 1991, a Master of Theology (Th.M.) degree from Asia Graduate Theological Seminary (AGTS), Manila, Philippines in 1994, and was a candidate for the Doctor of Ministry (D. Min.) degree at AGTS.
Kham’s premature death was a great loss not only to his family, friends and relatives, but also to the body of Christ in Myanmar. He was the prospective leader of the whole evangelical-Pentecostal body in Myanmar. His remaining family members include his wife Mary Hau Lun Cing who also had reached candidate of D.Min. status at AGTS, and three daughters, Cing Lam Dim, Man San Lun, and Cing Lian Ciin. At the writing of tiiis article, with the help of her daughters, Mary carries on the Kham’s ministries as the acting principal of Evangel Bible College and as by serving as the senior pastor of Grace Assembly of God Church.
Early Theological Paradigm Changes
Being raised in a pious family, Kham was a committed Christian since childhood. God-fearing in attitude, obedience, sincerity, friendliness, and humility were revealing marks in his life. He was a Bible lover, active churchgoer, and even a choirmaster. He was a genius in widespread reading, especially of Christian books. More than anything, he had a strong desire to serve the Lord as a full-time minister from his youth.
Two prominent experiences proved revolutionary in Kham’s faith journey. He, like Timothy in the Bible, had a strong faith in Christ though he did not know the exact time of his rebirth. However, a paradigm shift of faith took place in him sometime in 1970 when he accepted the Bible as the infallible word of God. This conviction came by his reading of an article in a Decision magazine in which Billy Graham stated his acceptance by faith of the whole Bible as the word of God. This, in fact, was opposite to the teachings at the theological institute that Kham was attending at the time (7). The theology he had received at the institute led him to confusion, as it questioned the authority and inspiration of the scripture. He attributed his overcoming the theological dilemma to the work of the Holy Spirit (8). As a result, he asserted the authority and sufficiency of the Bible for faith and practice.
Another experience had caused him to pursue renewal. Being a newly ordained minister, he paid home visits to church members once a week. He soon discovered the church members were nominal and weak in their faith, having little knowledge about the salvation of Christ, lacking real commitment. This discovery led to a turning point in his ministry, for he felt compelled to preach and teach the people about the gospel of the salvation of Jesus Christ in order to help bring renewal to the church. This was his prayer, “These people must hear the gospel and repent and come to the cross of Christ. God, help me and use me” (9).
Serving with Multiple Gifts
Kham was a gifted preacher. His preaching was persuasive, forceful, and biblical. When preaching, he always referred to the authority of the word of God, often stating, “The Bible says….” His frequent use of body movement gave him the title, “The Action Preacher.” With all of these qualities, his method was a breakthrough for contemporary preaching.
Kham was gifted in teaching. From the very beginning of his pastoral ministry, he taught the Bible and Bible doctrine from the evangelical perspective which was contrary to contemporary teaching in the vicinity. The people were amazed at his new teachings. Consequently, church attendance doubled for the first time since the death of the former pastor of his church in 1965. News about his ministry spread so quickly that the unchurched in the town and visitors from rural villages were persuaded to attend the worship services and his Bible classes.
Moreover, Kham was gifted in music, art, and literature. He conducted the church choir every Sunday, performed in and directed dramas on special occasions such as Christmas. The “Life of Jesus” attracted not only the town dwellers, but also people from the villages nearby. His first publication was a small handbook, Khasiangtho Ngeina Nam Lite [The Four Spiritual Laws], published and distributed in March 1973. He translated the books of Jeremiah and Jonah into the Tedim language for the Tediin Bible. Another work of his was the book Upna Laigil [The Essence of Faith] which was an evangelical position on Bible doctrine (10). Besides these publications, he wrote several articles and helped revise a local hymnal.
Kham was the pioneer leader of the renewal movement among the Zomis. A “burden for souls’ was his motivating factor. He was convinced that soul winning was the most important task under heaven. Referring to the scripture in Luke 16:25, he asserted that a soul is more precious than the whole universe; to win a soul is more important than to gain the whole universe, and to help a soul being saved is the most precious task in the sight of God (11). Thus, to promote and bring renewal (12) within the church and to seek souls outside the church was the most urgent call of his pastoral ministry.
Kham believed that prayer is a key to renewal (13). He said his supporters learned from historical evidences and personal witnesses that renewal often takes place when the people of God pray and seek him. They soon promoted individual and group prayer meetings for renewal.
Believing an open-air crusade would be the most appropriate strategy to reach the common people, the revivalist and his supporters launched a week-long crusade on April 30, 1973. They raised a bamboo pulpit on a football field where he preached seven nights about the salvation of Christ. This pioneer crusade was characterized by breakthroughs, a charismatic-style singing of revival choruses, a style in preaching the message that had direct implication upon the hearers, the altar call for repentance and acceptance of Christ, and face-to-face discussion of the personal assurance of salvation. These types of events marked a new breakthrough in ministry.
Furthermore, the revivalist learned to trust in the Holy Spirit. He acknowledged the dimension and crucial work of the Holy Spirit in bringing renewal. This factor prevailed as he surrendered himself by kneeling and crying to the Lord for the conversion of sinners, praying all night on the second day of the crusade (14). Preaching aggressively and persuasively for the first two nights did not draw a single sinner to the Lord. However, surrendering and trusting in the Holy Spirit made the difference.
A young man by the name Kham Lian Khup turned and stepped forward in the altar call and accepted Christ as his Saviour and Lord on the third night (15). The bold decision of this young man was a breakthrough that encouraged many to do the same in the days that followed. Converts were added every day.
Eventually, the pioneer crusade was the recognized launching pad of the renewal movement. The word “born again’ became a catchword throughout the renewal movement. The born-again believers spread the gospel by preaching, teaching, and counselling. Repentance for sin confession of Christ as Saviour and Lord, baptism in water as a witness of discipleship, studying the Bible, praying, and sharing the word of God were phenomenon indicative of this renewal.
Kham, along with his itinerant gospel team, continued to make gospel tours throughout the countryside during the years of 1973 to 1979. His motto became, “To bring as many people as possible to Christ in the shortest possible time” (16). He conducted gospel crusades from town to town and from village to village.
Like revivalist John Wesley of England in the eighteenth century (17) he travelled hundreds and thousands of miles on foot to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. His brother Gin Za Lian like Charles Wesley, was a gifted musician throughout this renewal period. The two brothers worked hand in hand preaching and singing. During the next ten years, Kham would also preach the gospel to several other people groups throughout the country.
Not a lone star, Kham trained up other effective leaders for servicing in the Kingdom of God. Teaching Sunday School was a regular ministry. His gospel crusades were two pronged: preaching and teaching the word of God. He also conducted Bible seminars every year, attended by believers from all the countryside.
Kham renovated the pattern of leadership by emphasizing lay witnessing. Like John Wesley, he motivated, challenged, equipped, and mobilized believers to carry out the work of the ministry. Prioritizing the evangelistic mandate, he emphasized witnessing and winning souls as the greatest call of believers. Their greatest accomplishment would come by fulfilling that call.
He often elaborated the urgency of the call, the doom of people who never hear the gospel, the reward of obeying the call, and the consequences of disobedience. He explained agape as God’s kind of love, which meant loving others in the way God loves sinners who are doomed to eternal judgment. He also taught about how to witness, live a righteous and Spirit-filled life, and how to build the body of Christ.
As a result of his efforts, lay witnessing became the most dynamic factor of spreading the renewal throughout the country during the last three decades of his life (1970s-1990s) (18).
As stated earlier, Kham began teaching at the Evangel Bible College, serving as the founding principal as well. In fact this call was not a new challenge for him. He had long acknowledged the need to build armies for the Lord with deeper biblical knowledge.
Sensing the need to multiply himself by training leaders, he decided to take over the teaching role at the Bible school. Today, the school’s graduates are ministering the mission of the kingdom of God in different capacities all over the country.
One final legacy to be noted here is that of the transformational changes within the church and in the culture that resulted from the renewal. Kham’s own rediscovery and subsequent preaching on key issues such as the Bible as the inspired word of God, the lukewarm nature of the church, the dispensation of law and grace, the atoning work of Christ, justification by faith alone, and other teachings laid the foundation of evangelical Pentecostal beliefs and practices. As a result, Evangelicalism (Fundamentalism and Neo-evangelicalism) and Pentecostalism emerged like a strong river among the born-again Zomi Christians. Half the Christian population label themselves Evangelical/Pentecostals today (19). The following figure shows the percentage of their attachments in 2000:
Kham’s pattern of preaching became a favourite model for young preachers. His messages were grounded not in mere knowledge but in sound biblical and theological teaching built upon solid theological terms in which Christ is the subject. He interpreted scripture passages from the root meaning and then adapted it to the local situation. He also drew examples from local contexts and biographical stories to support the message. He was an expert in coining and applying popular words and phrases in his preaching. Most often, he contextualized the husk and kept the kernel of the gospel unchanged. His method is a combination of the “translation model” and “adaptation model” of contextualization (20).
Moreover, the messages have facilitated a Christ-centred worldview among believers. They saw God not only as sovereign and transcendent but also as immanent. They recognized secular things as temporary and spiritual things as eternal. They accepted Christ as Saviour, Lord and King. Therefore, many believers chose to serve Christ rather than the world. Believers also gained positive self-images, liberating them from the low self-images of an inferiority complex.
Furthermore, the renewal has had a great social impact among the Zomis such that transformational changes occurred in the cultural subsystems (21). God was seen as the reservoir of blessings. Therefore thanksgiving celebrations toward God for blessings and success were and still are common phenomena in the communities today. Families give their children Christian names in order to express appreciation and acknowledgment of what He has done in a person’s life. Yet another outcome of the renewal is that the need to take the cultural mandate is more recognized among evangelical Pentecostal believers today than ever before. Churches and individual believers continue to establish orphanages, open private clinics, donate relief funds and take on social responsibilities in their communities.
With all these patterns and characters of the renewal, many believers in Myanmar have regarded Kham as a great revivalist, a great leadership equipper, and a great transformer whose legacy will speak to many generations to come. He could say as Paul did, “I have fought a good fight I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:6 NIV).
(1) Chin Khua Khai, “Myamnar Mission Boards and Agencies,” in Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions, ed. A. Scott Moreau (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), pp. 667-69.
(2) The Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization describes a nominal Christian as one who would call him/herself a Christian but has no authentic commitment to Christ based on personal faith. See Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, The Thailand Reporton Christian Witness to Nominal Christians Among Protestants, Lausanne Occasional Paper No. 23 (Wheaton, IL: Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, 1980), p. 5.
(3) Sein Tin, Central Statistical Year Book of Myanmar 1995 (Yangon, Myanmar: Central Statistical Organization, 1995), pp. 26-7. These statistics do not include the Asho-Chin (plain Chin), Mizos and Zomis in India and Bengaladesh.
(4) Robert G. Johnson has documented in detail the work of the American Baptist missions among the Zomis. Robed G. Johnson, History of American Baptist Chin Mission, 2 vols. (Valley Forge, PA: Robert G. Johnson, 1988).
(5) I briefly discussed in my dissertation mission works among the Zomis and argued why the churches fall into a nominal state. Chin Khua Khai, “Dynamics of Renewal: A Historical Movement among the Zomi (Chin) in Myanmar’ (Ph.D. dissertation, Fuller Theological Seminary, 1999), pp. 128-165.
(7) Myanmar Institute of Theology (formerly known as Burma Institute of Theology), Insein, Yangon, is the largest theological school in Myanmar. It has been largely influenced by the teachings of theological liberalism since the 1960’s. “The Church in Myanmar,” in Church in Asia Today: Challenges and Opportunities Today, ed. Saphir Arthyal (Singapore: Asia Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, 1996), pp. 349-60.
(8) Hau L. Kham, ‘My Testimony” (unpublished manuscript, 1994), p. 7.
(9) Hau L. Kham, Personal Diary, June 25, 1971.
(10) Khai, “Dynamics of Renewal” pp. 178, 205.
(11) Chin K. Khai, Personal Sermon Note, 1973.
(12) The term “renewal” has been defined in several ways. What I mean by “renewal” and “renewal movement” here is an inward experience of a spiritual dynamic that involves a new, deeper experience of God’s transcendence and holiness, of grace and forgiveness, coupled with a new dimension in worship and a reaching out in mission (Khai, “Dynamics of Renewal,” p. 4).
(13) Kham, Personal Diary, January 27, 1973. Referred to in Khai, “Dynamics of Renewal,” pp. 180-181.
(14) KhaM, Personal Diary, May 2, 1973.
(15) Publication Committee, EBC Taangthu.. History of the Evangelical Baptist Conference (in Tedim-Chin) (Tedin Myanmar: EBC Church, 1990), p. 29.
(16) Kham, Personal Diary, January 18, 1995.
(17) W H Fitchett, Wesley and His Century: A Study in Spiritual Forces (London, Smith, Elder & Co., 1906), p. 16.
(18) Khai, “Dynamics of Renewal,” pp. 245-46.
(19) Khai, “Dynamics of Renewal,” pp. 92,298.
(20) Dean S. Gilliland, “Contextualization Models,” in The Word Among Us: Contextualizing Theology for Mission Today, ed. Dean S. Gilliland (Dallas, TX Word, 1989), pp. 313-17.
Accelerating change is changing us and the church. Already the one hour (11 am to noon) hymn-sandwich church service held in a ‘typical’ church building with wooden pews and an organ which stands empty most of the time, is looking like ancient history – and very bad stewardship. It may not be wrong (and God can use anything), but it’s not in the Bible, and it’s fading into history.
Nearly 2000 years ago Jesus gave us our job: “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth, so go and make people my disciples … and I am with you all the way even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
His final promise told us how we would do that: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
That’s still our job, and we can only do it by the power of the Holy Spirit – as Jesus did. However, the context and the way of doing the job changes constantly.
There’s nothing there about buildings, pews, spires, bells, organs, clerical garb, status (except witnessing servants.
Change has changed. It is speeding up. We live in accelerating change. Change changes our ministry, and us. We think, feel and act differently from all previous generations. We perceive each day in new ways now. We plan and do more. Cars, phones, microwaves, TV and the internet have changed us.
Church has changed. Church people walked to the services and socialised together on Sundays for most of history; now millions drive cars, and fill Sunday with many other activities. Church life for most of history involved time with extended families; now families are widely scattered.
1. Accelerating social change
Alvin Toffler wrote about the Third Wave in sociology. He could find no word adequate to encompass this current wave we live in, rejecting his own earlier term, ‘super-industrial’, as too narrow. He wrote:
In attempting so large-scale a synthesis, it has become necessary to simplify, generalise, and compress. . . (so) this book divides civilisation into only three parts – a First Wave agricultural phase, a Second Wave industrial phase, and a Third Wave phase now beginning.
Humanity faces a quantum leap forward. It faces the deepest social upheaval and creative restructuring of all time. Without clearly recognising it, we are engaged in building a remarkable new civilisation from the ground up. This is the meaning of the Third Wave.
Put differently … we are the final generation of an old civilisation and the first generation of a new one … [living] between the dying Second Wave civilisation and the emergent Third Wave civilisation that is thundering in to take its place.
Think of church life during those three waves.
1. Churches for most of 2000 years of the First Wave agricultural phase were the village church with the village priest (taught in a monastery) teaching the Bible to mostly illiterate people, using Latin Bible parchments copied by hand for 1500 years. Worship involved chants without books or music. These churches reflected rural life, with feudal lords and peasants.
2. Churches in 500 years of the Second Wave industrial phase (co-existing with the First Wave) became denominational with many different churches in the towns as new denominations emerged. Generations of families belonged there all their life and read the printed Authorised (1511) version of the Bible. They have been taught by ministers trained in denominational theological colleges. Worship has involved organs used with hymns and hymn books. These churches reflected industrial town life, with bureaucracies such as denominations.
3. Churches in 50 years of the Third Wave technological phase (co-existing with the Second Wave) are becoming networks of independent churches and movements, among which people move freely. They tend to be led by charismatic, anointed, gifted, ‘apostolic’ servant-leaders, usually trained on the job through local mentoring using part time courses in distance education. Their people have a wide range of Bible translations and use Bible tools in print, on CDs and on the internet. Worship involves ministry teams using instruments with overhead projection for songs and choruses. These churches reflect third wave technological city life.
Some churches, of course, mix these phases, especially now with the second wave receding and the third wave swelling. For example, some denominational churches, especially those ‘in renewal’, may have a gifted ‘lay’ senior pastor not trained in theological college. Some independent churches have theologically trained pastors with doctoral degrees in ministry. Some denominational churches function like independent churches in their leadership and worship styles.
The huge changes we live through now can be compared to a clock face representing the last 3,000 years, since people recorded history, so each minute represents 50 years. On that scale the printing press came into use about 10 minutes ago. About three minutes ago, the telegraph, photograph and locomotive arrived. Two minutes ago the telephone, rotary press, motion pictures, automobile, aeroplane, radio and emerged. Less than one minute ago television appeared. Less than half a minute ago the computer and then communication satellites became widely used, and the laser beam seconds ago.
A former General Secretary of the United Nations, U Thant, noted that “it is no longer resources that limit decisions. It is the decision that makes the resources.” He saw this as the fundamental revolutionary change, the most revolutionary social change we have ever known.
Other writers focus on the problems involved in accelerating change.
We live through problems never experienced before. No nation and no aspect of life can escape their pressure. These include: the expansion of population, the burst of technology, the discovery of new forms of energy, the extension of knowledge, the rise of new nations, and the world-wide rivalry of ideologies.
Accelerating change produces uprooting which causes rootlessness in society through:
1. the repeated moves of so many families (e.g. scattered relatives);
2. the disruption of communities through urban sprawl (e.g. moving to new churches) ;
3. the increasing anonymity of urban life (e.g. the lonely crowd);
4. the disruption of shift work (e.g. longer hours); and
5. the fragmentation of the family (e.g. divorce now common).
We live and minister in this revolutionary ‘post-modern’ era of rootlessness and changing values. This context gives us increasing opportunities for loving, powerful witness and revival.
2. Accelerating church growth
Not only is the world population exploding. So is the church. By 1960 the world population had passed 2.5 billion and in 30 years from then doubled to 5 billion. By 2000 it passed 6 billion. However, in most non-Western countries the growth of the church already outstrips the population growth.
About 10% of Africa was Christian in 1900. By 2000 it was about 50% Christian in Africa south of the Sahara. In 1900 Korea had few Christians. Now over 40% of South Korea is Christian. By 1950 about 1 million in China were committed Christians. Now estimates range around 100 million.
Every week approximately one thousand new churches are established in Asia and Africa alone. Places such as Korea, Ethiopia, China, Central America, Indonesia and the Philippines are dramatic flash points of growth.
What kind of church is emerging? Over 500 million Christians are pentecostal/charismatic.
The movement of the Holy Spirit across the world in the twentieth century has far eclipsed the marvellous beginning of that same movement in the early church. It continues to spread. Churches change and grow in power – along with persecution.
Modern developments provide the church with amazing resources. Already reports of radio ministry into China and Russia tell how God uses this medium powerfully, along with spontaneous expansion of the church through signs and wonders. Preachers now reach into the homes of people through television. Millions are being won to Christ through The Jesus Film now translated into over 500 languages. Similarly, cassettes and video tapes proliferate, much of all this being closely related to dynamic ministry in the power of the Spirit.
Some fundamental principles now change how we function as a church. These dynamic changes recapture basic biblical principles. They include:
Divine Headship – from figurehead to functional head.
Servant Leadership – from management to equipping
Church Membership – from institutional to organic
Dynamic Networks – from bureaucracy to relationships
Body Ministry – from some to all
Spiritual Gifts – from few to many
Obedient Mission – from making decisions to making disciples
Power Evangelism – from programs to lifestyle
Kingdom Authority – from words to deeds
Divine Headship – from figurehead to functional Head.
A Catholic prayer group in Texas realised that none of them had ever obeyed Luke 14:12-14. They had not fed and clothed the poor who could never repay them. A loving prophetic word from the Lord through a charismatically gifted Sister called them to do that. They all agreed it was from the Lord. So they took enough food for 120 people working everyday (including Christmas day) at the city garbage dump just over the river in Mexico, and they all had Christmas dinner together there in the dump where the people were working. Over 300 people turned up to eat. The food multiplied. People brought relatives and everyone ate. The eight carloads from the prayer group ate. They had enough left over to take food to three orphanages.
Now a lively church exists there. The sick are healed. Everyone at the dump had TB originally. Within four years no one had it. Charismatic doctors see people healed through medicine, prayer and miracles. At regular meetings, not just on Sundays, people have more fun dancing in church than in any dance hall. Their worship involves everyone in singing, dancing, and praying for one another.
If Jesus is really the functional head of his church, not just the figurehead, how does that work? Basically we listen to him, and just do what he says, in any group, anywhere.
The disciples found it almost impossible to conceive of the kingdom of God without equating it with the world’s kingdoms. So do we. We also find it almost impossible to conceive of the church without equating it with our human societies.
We tend to run the church according to social patterns. Church structures look like social structures. The word ‘church’ often refers to some social expression of the church, or to a building, neither of which are biblical. So we have great difficulty with the apparent lack of interest in the New Testament for institutional models of the church.
The New Testament church grew, rapidly. It could be counted: 3,000; 5,000; and great multitudes. This was undoubtedly the church of Jesus Christ, with all its faults. He lived in the midst of his body.
The written and living word express the Lord’s headship in his church.
1. The Written Word
All scripture is the inspired word of God; God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16,17). Scripture communicates the word of Christ to his church.
The headship of Christ in his church is eroded or denied when scripture loses its authority. Conservative churches including Charismatic and Pentecostal churches believe the Bible. They believe in miracles, then and now. They believe God answers prayers, then and now. That does not make all they do or say right, but it does preserve what’s right – God’s Word.
Although church structures and traditions vary, the Word of God provides an anchor and an objective measure of faithfulness or aberration. Jesus was very clear in what he said!
Always there is the unexpected. God’s purposes may be known, and yet are unknowable. We continually discover that we have missed large slabs of the total picture. We have the scriptures, as did the theologians of Jesus’ day, and like them we often fail to see what is there. It must be divinely revealed and illuminated to be known.
2. The Living Word
Scripture and prayer provide a means of communication with Christ our head. Yet, like all means, they are a vehicle of communication, not the communication itself.
Speak to Him thou, for He hears, and Spirit with Spirit can meet –
Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet.
The body of Christ is a living body, just as the Head is a living head.
Institutional forms and organisational expressions should yield to that. The living body of the living Christ must give substance to that reality. Then the inward union with Christ finds expression in the outward dimensions of church life.
Unless we grasp this, we will continue to secularise all we do, including ministry. A secularised church functions like any other secular society: voting, electing leaders, keeping minutes, and running a bureaucracy. That can easily bypass the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Christ, the living Head changes all that!
For example, obedience to the Great Commission comes not from mere outward observance of the written word, but naturally from the dynamic life in Christ.
The Living Word transforms the letter into life. “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life,” said Jesus (John 6:63), and Paul added, “the letter of the law kills, but the spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6).
Then the Bible comes alive, anointed and empowered by the Spirit who inspired it. Preaching becomes prophetic words from God as we wield the sharp two-edged sword of the Spirit. Teaching lights fires in minds, hearts and wills. Serving gives Christ’s love and healing through his responsive body, the church. Prayer is transformed into intimate communion and sensitive response to the Lord, our Head. Faith grows bold and strong. The church grows with unleashed power when Christ is no longer the figurehead or absentee land-lord but sovereign Lord with kingdom authority.
Carl Lawrence gives an outstanding example of this in his book The Coming Influence of China.A full account is reproduced in Renewal Journal No. 12: Harvest.Two teenage girls ‘just prayed and obeyed’ as they were led by the Lord. They established 30 churches in two years on Hainan Island in China. The smallest had 220 people, and the largest nearly 5,000 people.
That kind of radical obedience to Christ the Head of his church produces a radical biblical kind of leadership in the church.
Servant Leadership– from management to equipping
Leadership in the body of Christ, as in the kingdom of God, is very different from all other leadership in human society. Authentic Christian leadership is Spirit-filled, Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered, hidden and charismatic, yet manifested in power and visible institutionally.
Bishop Stephen Neill notes:
There has been a great deal of talk in recent years about the development of leadership … But is the idea of “leadership” biblical and Christian, and can we make use of it without doing grave injury to the very cause that we wish to serve? . . .
How far is the conception of “leadership” really one which we ought to encourage? It is so hard to use it without being misled by the non-Christian conception of leadership. It has been truly said that our need is not for leaders, but for saints and servants. Unless this fact is held steadily in the foreground, the whole idea of leadership training becomes dangerous.
Jesus raised these issues also. They touch on the fundamental dimensions of servanthood and equipping for ministry.
The radical nature of Jesus’ leadership, what he demanded of his followers, is best expressed in his words:
In Matthew 20:25-28, in response to the request of James and John for leadership or prominence in the coming kingdom and in answer to the other disciples’ reaction to this request, Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant – and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Jesus insists that the world’s concept of leadership must not operate in his church: “Not so with you.” Leadership is not about position or hierarchy or authority; it is a question of function and of service. The greatness of a Christian is not in status but in servanthood.
Jesus underscored his revolutionary teaching: greatness comes not through being served, but through serving. In God’s kingdom the standard of achievement is found not in exercising power over others, but in ministering to them and empowering them.
Jesus dramatically illustrated this teaching by washing his disciples’ feet. Then he told them to do just what he had done: “If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, so you must also wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). That lesson was so important that he gave it to them a final act of love just before he died.
Jesus rejected both political and religious authority. He established Kingdom authority – serving others. His rejection of earthly power is so revolutionary that his disciples continually missed it. So do we.
What pain we could save ‘the church’ and what awful church-split sins we could avoid if we understood and obeyed this basic biblical principle! Church splits don’t happen where people love, serve, and truly forgive one another. You may be ‘right’ (in theology or practice) but if you split the church then you are very wrong.
Where would Jesus fit in our traditional church patterns today? Would he savagely attack the political power plays and status seeking leadership? Would he call our divisions sin? Would he denounce in scathing terms the religious pomp and ceremony? Would he absolutely reject hierarchical positions, titles, and garb. Once he did.
Even more fundamental to the nature of the kingdom and the ministry of the church are other questions. Would he disturb the meetings? Would he cast out demons? Would he heal? Would his preaching so provoke his hearers that they would oppose him? Would he be more at home outside our religious systems than within them? Would he so threaten our systems that we would denounce, expel or ignore him?
Leaders in many persecuted churches, where the church grows powerfully, face all that now. That’s where you see servant leadership most clearly!
“Who serves?” is a very different question from “Who leads?”
Does this do away with leadership? Yes and no. It does away with the world’s kind of leadership. It requires the Kingdom’s kind of leadership, which is servant leadership led by the Spirit of God.
Terry Fulham (in Miracle at Darien) demonstrated that kind of Kingdom leadership in an Episcopal church in America. He accepted ‘leadership’ on the basis that no decision would ever be made by the elders (or board) until they were in total unity in the Spirit. No vote would ever be needed. They believed Jesus could lead his church. So they required unity. If unity could not be attained, they waited and prayed till it was.
The New Testament regards all Christians as ministers and servants. Body ministry must be servant ministry. If leadership is a legitimate term for kingdom life and body ministry, it must be servant leadership.
It is both a radical leadership style among other styles and also the life-style of every Christian. It is the ministry of every member of Christ’s body. The great leaders in the Kingdom may be the least obvious – humbly and courageously serving others, unnoticed.
2. Equipping for Ministry
Some servant leaders are called and anointed to equip others for ministry.
In one sense we are all called and anointed to do that. Some as parents, raising children. Some as carers, showing others how to care. Some as team leaders, serving and inspiring the team and empowering them for service also.
Among spiritual gifts there are different ministries including leadership and administration. Our problem is that those words carry so much political and hierarchical freight that we can hardly use them without distorting them.
Leadership in Christ’s body means service, ministry, and being least or last, not greatest or first. The first shall be last, and the last first, Jesus said. Leadership is a spiritual function of serving and empowering, dependent on spiritual giftedness, not just on human ability.
Jesus Christ, not personality or achievement, makes leaders. The Ephesians 4 passage is a clear statement of that kind of giftedness. He appoints some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers in his body to equip (by serving) the members of that body for their ministry.
Michael Harper summarises their function as:
Let my people go – the apostolic function of the Church
Let my people hear – the prophetic function of the Church
Let my people grow – the evangelistic function of the Church
Let my people care – the pastoral function of the Church
Let my people know – the teaching function of the Church
Go to my people
Speak to my people
Reach my people
Care for my people
Teach my people.
Leadership gifts in the body of Christ equip that body for ministry. Again, using such loaded terms, it needs to be stressed that this is quite different from mere human ability to lead; it is spiritual giftedness. Like other spiritual gifts, it may find expression in and through natural ability, but it is then natural ability anointed in Spirit-led power.
The amazingly diverse, flexible nature of spiritual leadership needs emphasis. No one model has it all, even though we all are called to be servant leaders.
Paul’s way of developing leaders was to recognise and encourage the special gift and role of each person, especially elders. Paul was undoubtedly a leader, a servant leader in the strong sense of the term. He served with his apostolic gifts. He equipped the body for ministry.
The term servant leader recaptures essential dimensions of the equipping ministry. So long as ‘leader’ is understood charismatically as spiritual giftedness, it becomes stronger than ever. Christ, head of his body, gives that kind of equipping leadership to members of his body. Enormous authority is vested in that understanding of servant leadership, precisely because those leaders serve others, and equip others for ministry.
This specific equipping ministry in the body applies especially to leadership of large churches. As a church grows larger, it is vital that the pastor be an equipper. The ministry will be done by the whole body, not just the ‘leader’. No one person can do it all.
Body ministry requires leadership which is both humble and powerful, leading by serving. All spiritual gifts need to function this way, especially leadership gifts. Powerful leadership grows from humble service.
Church Membership– from institutional to organic
We are members of Christ’s church; that sounds institutional.
We are members of Christ’s body; that sounds organic.
In fact, the two can be one!
The church must find its expression in human society, so it must have institutional characteristics. They may be as simple as a home group gathering regularly together, or as complex as a multi-million dollar denominational agency. As the institutional forms grow more complex, their vested interests become more binding and conformity to the world usually increases.
The Holy Spirit cannot be confined by institutionalisation. He never has been. He continually breaks free of human limitations and blows where he will. Christ, by the power of his Spirit is building his church.
Instead of a dictatorship or a democracy, God has chosen to make the Body of Christ an organism with Christ as the head and each member functioning with spiritual gifts. Understanding spiritual gifts, then is the key to understanding the true organisation of the church.
The charismatic nature of the church as Christ’s body will be expressed through the spiritual gifts of its members. So both the charismatic dimension and the institutional dimension co-exist in the church; the former being its essence, the latter its cultural or social expression.
1. The Organism
The body of Christ is an organism, a community, with interpersonal relationships, mutuality and interdependence. It is flexible and leaves room for a high degree of spontaneity. The Bible gives us this model for the church: the human body (1 Corinthians 12).
The charismatic dimension in both ministry and organisation does not do away with professional abilities and functions but fills them with the active, powerful presence of Christ by his Spirit and so transforms them from being merely professional to being charismatically gifted as well as professionally competent.
For example, a professional counsellor may be less effective than a non-professional friend who ministers love and care in the power of the Spirit of God. The dynamic power of charismatic ministry lies in the active presence of God’s Spirit filling that ministry or at least guiding it. However, a Spirit-filled, Spirit-led professional counsellor draws powerfully on both gifting and training.
Implications for church organisation are enormous. Although the professional tasks and organisations will probably continue, the ministry of the whole body will require very flexible forms which allow and intentionally foster body ministry. Counselling, teaching, preaching, social care and evangelism are all transformed by the Holy Spirit guiding and empowering those activities.
Charismatic Anglican David Watson gives an example of this from his own experience. As the church he pastored in York grew into fuller expressions of charismatic life it needed restructuring to provide adequate pastoral care through elders who were charismatically gifted as pastors not just elected to fill an institutional role of leadership. They cared for area groups, especially mentoring the group leaders.
Watson emphasises that where Christ is central and head of his body, he will provide charismatic leadership through gifted elders who in turn lead or care for the whole body, especially through pastoring and teaching gifts in the small groups or cells of the body. An organic model of the church expresses the real headship of Christ in his body and his ministry through the spiritual gifts of his people in body ministry.
Revival in Bogotá (see article in this issue) tells that kind of story dramatically in 2001.
Paul was clear on this. Within the body of Christ apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor- teachers equip the body for ministry so that the body members, using their spiritual gifts, can do the work of ministry (Ephesians 4).
Paul’s three main passages on the church as the body of Christ give basic lists of spiritual gifts for charismatic ministry. Others could be added. The Ephesians 4:11-12 list refers specifically to charismatic leadership in the church, given by Christ, the risen and ascended conqueror, to equip the members of his body for the work of ministry. Aspects of that equipment are included in the various lists of spiritual gifts. Each passage emphasises the importance of ministering in love and unity.
2. The Organisation
In times of accelerating change and exploding church growth, the institutional model of the church needs to be flexible and responsive to its environment. Further, if it is to allow a truly charismatic ministry to function with strong spiritual gifts, it must be sensitive and responsive to the Holy Spirit, all the time.
The early church gives a startlingly clear picture of such a flexible institutional model. They were constantly led and empowered by the Spirit. They were very human, with typical faults and problems. The New Testament authors wrote mostly to fix those problems, especially in the epistles.
They met in many house churches, still as the one church in one place, inter-related. It was extremely flexible, needed everyone’s involvement, and could multiply anywhere. The church in China today, and in African villages, and in Latin American communities, uses this same organisation.
The institutional model of the church then was a house church model. That model has been repeated all through history, and in many parts of the world today is the means of flexible rapid church growth. Most large churches use this model in home groups.
Organisational membership often involves attending the meetings, paying the dues, abiding by the rules, and possibly being elected or appointed to office. Any society can do that. Most do.
Organic membership of the body, however, functions by living in Christ and ministering in spiritual gifts.
These two kinds of membership need to be differentiated when discussing church membership. Usually “church membership” means club membership; it is an institutional expression of the church. Usually “body membership” means the organic functioning of the members of Christ’s body, and its members being united by the Spirit of God in the one body, the church.
Organisational habits can reverse their meaning over years. Calvin in Geneva, for example, refused to identify with clerical pomp and wore the poor man’s cloak when preaching, but in time that turned into the Geneva gown, a clerical institution. Francis of Assisi also wore a poor man’s cloak, which has now become a religious uniform quite unrelated to what the poor now wear.
Those quirks are minor compared with the massive maintenance programs of large religious institutions. Denominations which came into being for mission, often breaking away from hardened institutional forms, in turn become maintenance-oriented and lose the very vision which gave them birth.
The organisational form of the church needs to be continually responsive to the Head of the church, or it becomes secularised and the Spirit of God is quenched. Leadership in the church must be especially responsive to the Spirit to avoid this.
Organisational life in the church can remain flexible and responsive to the Head of the church as it keeps its organic life alive in the power of the Spirit.
Dynamic Networks-from bureaucracy to relational groups
Networks of groups increasingly replace bureaucracy. Short term task groups replace committees. Networks of independent churches and groups are replacing historic denominations.
Spirit-filled groups or communities give one simple example, now affecting multiplied millions of people. People relate in home groups, house churches, mission groups, independent churches, and renewal or revival movements everywhere. So your home group may have people who were Catholic, or Anglican, or Methodist, or Baptist, or Hindu, or New Age.
Second Wave churches, for example, in earlier days could insist on loyalty to the denominational bureaucracy and policy lines. Now people choose from networks of the ecclesiastical smorgasbord. Television, mobility and education all shift our consciousness and increase our awareness and choices, including church life. That is how renewal and revival have been spreading.
A current example is the grassroots spread of charismatic renewal and revival.
In First Wave rural villages with little outside influence, little change occurred – “We’ve always done it this way.”
In Second Wave town churches ‘renewal’ could be kept outside the denomination by being banished to another bureaucracy, and therefore ignored – “Join the pentecostals and don’t rock the boat.”
Third Wave society opens new networks of information and experience. Our increasing mobility brings us into contact with renewal and revival. Our extended education opens our minds to these new insights. Our television portrays the power of God in healing and our worldview begins to shift. Our friends give us paperbacks to read or cassettes to hear and videos to see, and conviction or hope grows within us. Our visitors or home group leaders tell of their experiences and we seek what they’ve found. Our friends pray for us and God releases his Spirit more fully in our lives. Yet all of this happens outside the denominational bureaucracy; or it may do so.
So Wagner’s “third wave” of renewal is carried on Toffler’s Third Wave of social change into all church structures. Our friendship networks become ‘the bridges of God’ into our churches and out into the lives of others. Significantly, no pastor or minister may be involved. People witness to people. People now have the Bible tools, education, and friendships to check it out.
Those changes catapult us into new expressions of ministry.
Body Ministry– from some to all.
Body Ministry involves the biblical pattern of ministry in the church, the body of Christ.
Body Ministry is the ministry of the whole body of Christ. It functions through the use of spiritual gifts in all the members of the body. The unity of the Spirit of God finds expression in the incredible diversity of spiritual gifts and ministries.
The Reformation rediscovered the authority of the Bible and the wonderful gift of God’s grace in providing salvation by faith in Jesus. Unfortunately it failed to free the church from the rule of the priest or pastor, so carried that form of leadership into the Protestant church, producing a drastic clergy-laity division. Spiritual gifts in the whole body of Christ were largely ignored.
Body ministry, then, is not limited to church meetings, although the meetings need to express body life as well. That ministry is total. It finds expression in all of life.
Ray Stedman popularised the term “body life” in his book by that name thirty years ago. He used body life services in which people could share needs or testimonies. Bodylife becomes body ministry as people apply their spiritual gifts to those needs in the church and in society in ministry.
Body Life teaching opened the way for a fuller apprehension and use of spiritual gifts in shared life and ministry. That in turn has opened the way for a fuller discovery of the dynamic power of body ministry in Kingdom authority.
Spiritual Gifts– from few to many
Body ministry requires spiritual gifts. The body of Christ ministers charismatically. There is no other way it can minister as the living body of the living Christ. He ministers in and through his body, by the gifts of his Spirit.
Charismatic gifts of the Spirit differ from natural talents. We can do much through dedicated human talent, but that is not body ministry through spiritual gifts. Natural talents do need to be committed to God and used for his glory. They can be channels of spiritual gifts, but may not be.
Spiritual gifts constantly surprise us. God uses whom he chooses, and chooses whom he will. Spiritual gifts often show up with great power in unlikely people and in unlikely ways.
A common misunderstanding, for instance, is that those with an effective healing ministry must be especially holy people. They may not be. Gifts of the Spirit are given by grace, not earned by consecration. Young, immature Christians may have powerful spiritual ministries, as they discover and use their spiritual gifts. Many do. That is no proof of consecration or maturity, even though to please God we need to offer ourselves to him in full commitment.
Romans Chapter 12 gives a surprising example of this. The well known first two verses challenge us to offer ourselves fully to God and so discover his will for our lives. Paul then explains that knowing God’s will involves being realistic about ourselves and our gifts. If we know and use our God-given gifts, we fulfil God’s will for our lives.
Body ministry, then, depends on the use of spiritual gifts, not just the use of natural talents dedicated to God. Both are vital for committed Christian living, and both will be present in the church. However, the church is not built on committed natural talent, even though churches often seem to operate that way. Body ministry involves the use of spiritual gifts.
For example two people may have the talent of beautiful singing voices. Both will sing in worship and even on the platform in ministry. One, however, may be anointed with a prophetic gift in song, and the other may not be. That gifting will move hearts and wills in the power of God’s Spirit. Christ gives those gifts – we don’t create them. Some of these gifts of God’s Spirit, received for ministry, will be blessed in ministry in and through natural talent as well, but the key to body ministry is not the talent. It is the spiritual gift.
Similarly, spiritual gifts are not Christian roles or tasks. All Christians witness, but only some are gifted in evangelism. Every Christian has faith, but some have a gift of faith as well. All must exercise hospitality, but some are gifted in hospitality. Prayer is for all of us, but some are gifted in intercession.
Spiritual gifts operate in unity with diversity.
Paul’s passages on spiritual gifts all emphasise unity expressed in diversity (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4).
Without that unity expressed in love, the diversity destroys the body’s ministry causing chaos, division, sectarianism, and impotence. This is Paul’s theme in 1 Corinthians 12-14.
The Corinthians did not need teaching on the reality of spiritual gifts nor on their diversity. They knew that. In fact, they abused that. So Paul had to correct the fault by emphasizing the unity of the body, bound together in love. Gifts are not to be a source of division and strife, but an expression of unity and love. Unless rooted and grounded in love, the gifts are counter-productive.
Unity in the body of Christ allows that body to function well, not be crippled. No one has all the gifts. We all need one another. No one should be conceited about any gift that God has given. No one must think his or her gift the most important, and magnify and exalt it at the expense of others. All gifts must used in humility and service. We do not compete. We minister in harmony and co-operation.
Paul’s great theme, “in Christ,” expresses the unity essential for body ministry. In Christ we are one body. In Christ we live and serve. Love lies at the heart of body ministry. The body is one, bound in love. The body builds itself up in love (Eph. 4:16). That is why 1 Corinthians 13 is central to Paul’s passage on spiritual gifts in the body of Christ. “Make love your aim,” he insists, “and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts” (1 Corinthians 14:1).
Jesus insisted on love. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all mean will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
Our unity is not based on doctrine, or methods. Our unity comes from who we are, the body of Christ. Paul states this as a fact, not a hope. We are one in Christ. We are one in the Spirit. God has made us one. That unity is expressed in body ministry.
It shows in our attitude – in humility, kingdom thinking, and love. It smashes competition and critical spirits, especially between different people and groups with different gifts.
Breathtaking community transformations are now happening around the world where we live this truth in united ministry. See articles in this issue of this Journal!
That unity is expressed in the diversity of gifts. There is one Spirit; his gifts are incredibly diverse.
The point is developed in all the body passages of Paul. Diversity is to be celebrated, not squashed; encouraged, not smothered; developed, not ignored.
The church may be two or three, or two or three hundred, or two or three thousand. Different sizes will have different ministries or functions, such as cell, congregation or celebration, but all are the church. Christ is present in his body. So are his gifts. Again, different gifts will be appropriate for different expressions of that body’s ministry, but it in one body.
Body ministry will use these gifts. God’s Spirit moves among his people in power to meet needs and minister effectively. Those gifts need to be identified and used, and in the process, as in Jesus’ ministries, special anointings will come.
Preaching, for example, will often become prophecy as it is anointed by the Spirit of God. That prophetic ministry may happen unexpectedly in the process of a sermon. It may also be given in preparation as a word directly from the Lord.
Compassionate service and healing administrations will at times be anointed powerfully by God’s presence in signs and wonders to heal. Role, gift and anointing then merge into strongly focused spiritual ministry.
So role, spiritual gift, and anointings cannot be clearly divided. Indeed, as the Spirit of God moves in still greater power among all members of the body of Christ, the ministry of that body will be increasingly anointed.
Then the professional is swallowed up in the spiritual; natural ability is suffused and flooded with supernatural life; the human is filled with the divine.
Jesus lived this way. No one need envy another’s gifts or ministry. All are needed.
Obedient Mission– from making decisions to making disciples
Christ himself, head of his church, clearly stated the church’s mission. He did so on many occasions between his resurrection and ascension. The powerful dimension of the Great Commission has often been overlooked. Jesus himself emphasised our mission couldn’t be done without the power of his Spirit. That is the point of all the power promises in the Great Commission:
Matthew records it: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me . . . and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt. 28:18-20).
Mark records it: “These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:17-18).
Luke records it: “I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).
John records it: “He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit …’ (John 20:22).
Acts records it: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).
When empowered and led by the Holy Spirit (who is the Spirit of Jesus and the Spirit of God, Gal. 4:6), mission is powerful. Then we do not make plans and execute them in human wisdom and strength, but seek divine wisdom and strength.
Empowering by the Spirit of God and being led by the Spirit of God are central to obedient mission. We cannot claim obedience to the Great Commission when we do God’s work in our strength or our own ways and wisdom.
The Great Commission is not merely an external command to hard to obey. It is an internal compulsion, ignited in us by the Spirit of God. The Spirit has been given to the Church because it is her essence and nature to be a witnessing body.
Consequently, a church which is not evangelistic, nor missionary, nor empowered, is an apostate church. We begin to see the magnitude of our apostasy when we compare our churches with the biblical norm. We only need an evangelical movement or a missionary movement or a charismatic movement because we have fallen so far.
Body ministry, then, will obey the Head of the body, move in his authority, filled with the power of his Spirit. The Great Commission begins with the absolute authority of Christ in his church and all the cosmos; it issues in obedient mission, exercised within that authority, and exercising that authority in powerful ministry.
Powerful body ministry flows from obedient disciples, who, individually and as a body, obey their Lord.
The Great Commission calls for this total task of ‘making disciples’ in terms of becoming disciples in the body of Christ and growing in discipleship. It is one process. The kind of evangelism required for church growth and stated in the Great Commission is evangelism which makes disciples, not merely gets people to make decisions. Those decisions may be inadequate and fail to make disciples.
Wholistic evangelism and conversion can be summarised as involving:
Priority One: Commitment to Christ.
Priority Two: Commitment to the body of Christ.
Priority Three: Commitment to the work of Christ in the world.
Jesus would not turn aside from his redemptive mission. He lived fully in the kingdom realm. He did only his Father’s will, not his own. So everything he did was mission. Within that mission, his evangelism was not meetings or a program. He saved. Those he touched were made whole when there was faith. He said, “Follow me.” That was his program. He still calls us to follow him in obedient mission.
Power Evangelism– from programs to lifestyle
Spiritual gifts can release body ministry for effective power evangelism. The New Testament pattern of evangelism is always Kingdom words combined with Kingdom deeds.
A major shift in evangelism always evident in revivals, and increasingly evident now moves from program evangelism to power evangelism as a lifestyle of all members of the body of Christ, as John Wimber reminded us.
1. Program Evangelism
Programs of evangelism can be effective. Crusade evangelism has won thousands to Christ. Saturation evangelism, especially in Latin America, has reached every home in target communities with the gospel message. Personal evangelism such as door-to-door programs have reached many people. Some churches have focused on seeker services or outreach services aimed at reaching the unsaved, and often done so effectively.
All of these programs and many more have been significant means of evangelism. So, we thank God for so much evangelism which has won thousands to Christ.
However, we must also recognize that thousands and even millions of dollars spent on evangelism programs and all the time and work involved do not always bear abundant fruit.
Wagner, for example, noted that ‘Key 73’ in America touched over 100,000 congregations without any noticeable change in patterns of growth across the board.
Win Arn reported on ‘Here’s Life America’ noting that only 3.3% of those who recorded decisions became active members of any church, and 42% of them came by transfer. After polling over 4,000 converts Win Arn discovered that 70% – 80% of them came into the church through relatives and friends, whereas less than 1% came as direct result of city-wide evangelism campaigns.
Lyle Schaller similarly discovered that 60 – 90% of people involved in the church were brought by some friend or relative.
Programs are not as effective as body evangelism through the local church. Body evangelism involves more people in the church than many programs do, is the natural way most people are brought into the church, and can be the focus of church life in a lifestyle of evangelism.
Program evangelism may be useful, but it needs to link strongly with the local church and be a natural expression of that church’s life and witness. Program evangelism, however, falls short of the biblical model. It is needed because the church fails to be what the church should be! Body evangelism calls for more. It requires the involvement of the whole body of Christ in the power of his Spirit.
2. Power Evangelism
The biblical model goes beyond program evangelism. It is depth centred in Jesus’ promise: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses …” (Acts 1:8).
John Wimber emphasized the importance of power evangelism:
Power Evangelism … transcends the rational. It happens with the demonstration of God’s power in Signs and Wonders, and introduces the numinous of God. This presupposes a presentation accompanied with the manifest presence of God. Power Evangelism is spontaneous and is directed by the Holy Spirit. The result is often explosive church growth. …
The issue is not what the church is doing. The issue is what the church is leaving out! Where is the promised power of Acts 1:8? Where are the demonstrations of the manifest presence of God that we see illustrated throughout the book of Acts? Were they only for that day? Do they occur today? If so, can we get in on it? Is it possible for you and me to work the works of Jesus?
Power Evangelism is still God’s way of explosively growing His church.
In one area where there were 4,000 Christians before the revolution, the number has now increased to 90,000 with a thousand meeting places. Christians in the region give three reasons for the rapid increase: The faithful witness of Christians in the midst of suffering, the power of God seen in healing the sick, and the influence of Christian radio broadcast from outside.
(b) John Hurston, associated with the world’s largest church, Full Gospel Central Church in Seoul, Korea, where David Yonggi Cho is pastor, attributed the phenomenal growth of that church to “the constant flow of God’s miracle power” from the beginning.
(c) A third example is from Wagner’s observations:
In Latin America I saw God at work. I saw exploding churches. I saw preaching so powerful that hardened sinners broke and yielded to Jesus’ love. I saw miraculous healings. I met with people who had spoken to God in visions and dreams. I saw Christians multiplying themselves time and again. I saw broken families reunited. I saw poverty and destitution overcome by God’s living Word. I saw hate turn to love.
Power evangelism fulfils the biblical pattern of body ministry and evangelism. It goes beyond programs to the mighty acts of God in the midst of his people. Christ is alive in his church by the power of His Spirit.
The church is true to the kingdom of God when, like Jesus, the signs of the kingdom are manifest in powerful ministry.
The church spontaneously expands through power evangelism. It is one facet of dynamic body ministry; a natural result of a healthy body, filled with the life of God. That transformed body will explodes in mission. It is already in many countries.
The emerging church in the 21st century is increasingly involved in power evangelism under the Kingdom authority of Jesus himself.
Kingdom Authority– from words to deeds
Christ is king. In Paul’s later writings he emphasises this dimension in relationship to the church as Christ’s body. He reigns in and through his body, the church. Yet that rule is also cosmic, of which the church is now a part and therefore directly involved in cosmic principalities and powers. Kingdom authority is integrally part of the church’s life and mission as the body of Christ.
In Colossians 1, Paul explains that Christ alone is ‘the image of the invisible God’ and is pre-eminent over everything and everyone (v. 15). This includes being ‘the head the body, the church’ (v. 18). He is not just another divine being but in him alone ‘all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell’ (v.19). In his death and resurrection he triumphed not merely over sin and death but over the cosmic powers also (v. 20).
In Ephesians 1, Paul emphasises that Christ is pre-eminent over the cosmic powers. He is ‘far above all rule and authority and power and dominion’ (v. 21) and ‘head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all’ (vs. 22-23). Paul then explains how this applies to the church which is his one body, not many different bodies (4:4). The ascended Head of the church gives spiritual gifts to his church, all of which come from Christ (vs 7-8). These include spiritually gifted leaders to equip us all ‘for the work of ministry’ and to build up the body of Christ (v. 12).
These passages from Paul lift the concept of the church as the body of Christ way beyond a cosy club of personal support and encouragement. Support and encouragement must be in the body, but any human society could give that if it’s members care for one another.
The body of Christ is something more. It is the body of Christ the King. Like the kingdom of God, Christ’s rule has been established and is yet to be realised fully. So the ministry of the body of Christ is his powerful ministry.
The ascended, victorious, all powerful Christ, having conquered sin and death and hell now reigns supreme. He is the head of his body, the church. He gives gifts to his church, specifically those called under his authority to exercise authority in the church as leaders so that all God’s people may be equipped by him for his ministry in and through us. That is body ministry.
Signs, wonders and fantastic church growth characterised the early church as normal Kingdom life burst out in the powerful ministry of the body of Christ. Body ministry demonstrated kingdom authority. As in Jesus’ ministry, the early church ministered in signs and wonders (Acts 2:43), prayed for signs and wonders, and expected more signs and wonders (Acts 4:30; 5:12-16).
Granted, the church is often weak. Kingdom life often lies untapped. Christians, and the church, corrupted and weakened by disobedience or faithlessness (the lack of faith which results in sin), may fail to manifest kingdom Life.
However, accelerating church growth in the power of the Spirit of God point to the greatest demonstration of kingdom life and power the world has even known. Yet, as in the life of Jesus, it can remain hidden from those who, seeing, will not see, and hearing, will not hear (Isa. 6:9-10 Mt. l3:14-15; Mk. 4:12; Lk. 8:10; Jn.12: 40; Acts 28: 26-27).
The kingdom is manifest, yet hidden; revealed, yet concealed. Those who ask, receive it; whose who seek, find it; to those who knock, the door of the kingdom is opened. And the church has the keys!
The Kingdom of God was the central message of Jesus. That message was in powerful words and deeds. Christ, the Messianic King, incarnate in his human body, proclaimed the kingdom of God as immanent. He called for response in repentance and faith Mk.l:15). His parables described the mysteries of the Kingdom. His miracles displayed its power and authority (Mt. 12:28). You cannot separate, in the evangelistic ministry of Jesus, proclamation and demonstration, preaching and acting, saying and doing.
Similarly, Jesus gave that authority and power to his disciples: “preach as you go, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons” (Mt. 10: 7,8).
This same message and powerful ministry were normal in the early church. Throughout the whole of Acts, in almost every chapter a demonstration of the Kingdom accompanies the proclamation of the gospel.
The clash of kingdoms emerges as a strong theme in the epistles also. The church contends against the principalities and the powers, the world rulers of this dark age, the spiritual hosts of wickedness (Eph.6:12). Each member of Christ’s body, then, has been redeemed from captivity and set free by Christ to serve the King.
The body of Christ must be seen as the agent of the kingdom of God, where Christ rules in power and still proclaims that reality through his church, both in living word and dynamic deed.
The kingdom of God is much more than an evangelical ‘born again’ experience, or a concern for social justice, or a communal interest in loving relationships, or a charismatic quest for personal victory. It is all these and much more. It is the cosmic clash of kingdoms. It is the church smashing the gates of hell to release the captives. It is the spreading reign of God in Christ upon the earth. It is the eternal purpose of God being fulfilled in restoring and reconciling all things in the universe to himself.
God reigns. Christ is King. His Spirit endues his church with kingdom life and power. Jesus himself declared the kingdom charter, quoting from Isaiah 61:1-2: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord (Luke 4:18-19).
Body ministry, then is powerful ministry by the body of Christ. It must include the signs of the kingdom as well as the words of the kingdom. Spiritual gifts, imparted by the victorious Christ through his Spirit, empower Christ’s body for authentic mission in the world.
 Toffler, A. 1980. The Third Wave. London: Collins, pp. 20, 25, 28.
 Adapted from Postman N. & Weingartner, C. 1969. Teaching as a Subversive Activity. London: Penguin, pp. 22-23.
 Toffler, A. 1970. Future Shock. London: Pan, p. 23.
 Trump J. & Baynham, D. 1961. Focus on Change. Chicago: Rand McNally, p. 3.
 Schaller, L. 1975. Hey, That’s our Church. Nashville: Abingdon, p. 23.
 Laurentin, R. 1986. Viva Christo Rey! Waco: Word.
 Barclay, W. 1958. The Mind of St. Paul. New York: Harper & Row, p. 122.
 Lawrence, C. 1996. The Coming Influence of China. Gresham: Vision, pp. 186-192.
 Neill, S. 1957. The Unfinished Task. London: Edinburgh House, p. 132.
 Harper. M. 1977. Let My People Grow. Plainfield: Logos, pp. 44-45, adapted.
 Watson, D. 1978. I Believe in the Church. London: Hodder & Stoughton, pp. 292- 293.
 Wagner, C. P. 1976. Your Church Can Grow. Glendale: Regal, p. 159, from Ray Ortland.
Pentecostalism by Walter Hollenweger (Hendrickson, 1997)
Pentecostal pastor and then Reformed minister, Dr Walter Hollenweger, retired professor of Missions at Birmingham University in England, pioneered research on Pentecostalism for 40 years.
He published The Pentecostals in 1972, which is still a classic survey of the worldwide Pentecostal movement. His recent book, Pentecostalism is in many ways a sequel. Hollenweger assesses the origins of the fastest-growing religious movement in the world. He describes the theological stories of the pentecostal movement within its Black oral root, Catholic root, evangelical root, critical root, and ecumenical root.
Cecil Robeck of Fuller Theological Seminary says, “I know of no one else who has the breadth of knowledge, the depth of understanding, or the grasp of such a broad base of scholarship to be able to write this book. … This fascinating book is at times playful, at times deadly serious, and at times simply informative. It will stretch the thinking of all who care to be taught, and challenge the hypocrisy of those who think they know it all. And it will help us all to understand better than we have before, the roots that have nurtured one of the most vital Christian movements in the twentieth century.”
Harvey Cox of Harvard University and author of another investigation of Pentecostalism, Fire from Heaven, adds, “Pentecostalism is the fastest growing and most vital Christian movement on the globe today. What great news that the esteemed elder statesman of Pentecostal studies has now given us this comprehensive and absorbing account of how it started and why it is growing.”
Almost 500 pages, it is not light reading, although it is peppered with vivid stories of Pentecostalism. If you want a light-weight paperback summary, look elsewhere. If you want a thorough, academic and fire-filled examination of this astounding movement, you have it in this book.
An increasing number of postgraduate and undergraduate students will mine this rich ore for profound insights and quotable quotes. (GW)
The Transforming Power of Revival edited by Harold Caballeros and Mell Winger (Peniel, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1998).
This collection of 18 articles by 16 authors from five continents gathers insights from the World Congress on Intercession, Spiritual Warfare and Evangelism held in Guatemala City in October 1998. It provides a global picture of recent developments in Spirit-filled prayer and evangelism.
It’s worth it to pay the price, by Omar Cabrera.
The purpose of the anointing, by Carlos Annacondia.
The Agreement of Heaven and earth, by Cindy Jacobs.
Soulwinning, by T. L. Osborn.
The New Apostolic Reformation, by C. Peter Wagner.
The Road to Community Transformation, by George Otis Jr.
Almolonga the Miracle City, by Mell Winger.
In the sixties and seventies, renewal was sweeping the churches and independent churches and movements abounded. By the eighties and nineties, revival movements gained increasing prominence. Now he vanguard of revival movements is reporting on whole cities and even nations experiencing powerful Spirit-filled awakening and transformation.
This book from Latin America will inform and inspire you with some of those latest current accounts of God’s mighty purposes and actions in the world today. It is the forerunner of many current books emerging to lead us into city-wide transformation and revivals which are beginning to impact nations.
A few Christian videos grab your attention and expand your horizons. These do.
Transformations 1 (The Sentinel Group, 1999)
George Otis Jr. takes you on a mind-blowing journey to four cities, two in Latin America, one in Africa, and one in North America. All of these cities have been radically transformed by united Christian prayer and witness. Crime has dropped dramatically. Christians really love one another and God answers their prayers, to the astonishment of the government and civic leaders. Mayors and police chiefs plead with the Christians to keep praying because it has made so many revolutionary social changes.
One is a community where 92% of the population is born again. The four city jails have been closed for lack of crime. Agricultural productivity has reached biblical proportions, and experts from America are now visiting the city to try and learn the secret of such abundant agricultural productivity.
Another is a city where 60,000 jam the municipal soccer stadium for all-night prayer vigils every three months. There a multi-billion dollar drug cartel has been brought to its knees in answer to united prayer.
Another is a town where local bars have been transformed into churches. Ancestral shrines have been destroyed. Entire family clans have come to faith in Christ.
Another is a city where thriving occult centers have been closed, drug abuse has been significantly reduced and a crime wave has subsided as the churches fill.
Transformations 2 (The Sentinel Group, 2001)
Visit modern-day sites of transforming revival in Uganda and Canada’s Arctic provinces.
Re-visit a true historical revival in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. (75 min)
More stirring stories of whole communities transformed by the presence and power of God.
Available in Australia from Toowoomba City Church, PO Box 2216, Toowoomba, Qld. 4350. Ph. 07 4638 2399.
Scene 1: A large pentecostal or charismatic church in any Australian city in 2000
They allocate trained full time and part-time staff with modern resources to run their two year government-accredited pentecostal or charismatic Bible College diploma, bachelor and post-graduate courses. Austudy and Abstudy cover fees for their full-time student workers. They train their own leadership on the job and for the future through Spirit-filled study and ministry, especially learning to move in their personal and corporate giftings and anointing. Many people in the church study subjects there part-time for their own enjoyment and development.
Scene 2: A small pentecostal or charismatic church in any Australian town in 2000
They run small study groups led by volunteeers such as teachers or home group leaders for their people enrolled in accredited distance education courses in ministry. They have people enrolled in diploma, bachelor and post-graduate courses in pentecostal or charismatic studies. Austudy and Abstudy cover fees for their full-time student workers. They train their own leadership on the job and for the future through Spirit-filled study and ministry, especially learning to move in their personal and corporate giftings and anointing. Many people in the church study subjects part-time for their own enjoyment and development.
In other words, you can now study pentecostal or charismatic courses at diploma, bachelor and post-graduate levels at home, or in a study group in your church, or in your home group. Individual subjects are available to you right now.
This is new for many Pentecostal and charismatic Christians. In the past, they were often suspicious of study because it seemed to put out the fire through liberal teachings full of doubt and unbelief. Now churches and Christians are rediscovering that Spirit-filled study can fan the flame and set people on fire!
Our ministry is the ministry of Jesus Christ in his church and in the world. He was certainly filled with the fire of the Spirit and has set people on fire for 2000 years. This is the vital starting point and the most radical. Jesus ministered in the power of the Spirit of the Lord. So must we.
Consequently, our ministry is charismatic by definition, nature and function. The Holy Spirit is given to the church so that we can minister in the power of the Spirit. The gifts of the Spirit, the charismata, enable that ministry. Urban Holmes (1971:248) notes:
The heart of the Christian ministry is its charismatic liminal quality. Without question there is a place for professional capacities in ministry but it is the charismatic character of the church that lends strength to professions such as counselling, teaching, and community organization that they cannot possess otherwise.
Hendrick Kraemer (1958:180) emphasized the issue:
The point we can’t evade is that, true as it may be that for many important historical reasons the Church has become from a charismatic fellowship an institutional Church, she must acknowledge that, as to her nature, she is always charismatic, for she is the working field of the Holy Spirit. Her being an institution is a human necessity, but not the nature of the Church.
Ministry education gets caught in that institutional bind, even while seeking to respond to the Spirit. One powerful means of freeing us from that institutional bind is to open education for ministry to everyone.
The challenge facing theological [and ministry] education today is
* to take an open attitude to structures and methods and to design programs that will be open to the whole people of God,
* to take an open attitude toward curriculum design so as to build on the students’ interests and needs and motivation,
* to take an open attitude toward the role of the student and the role of the teacher so that both can become fully involved in determining and developing the learning experiences,
* to take an open attitude toward evaluation and to discover more relevant, more human, more Christian ways to validate our program (Kinsler 1981: 86).
Not only do modern delivery systems provide us with resources to transform our educational task, but the organisational shift from bureaucratic structures towards networking offers new possibilities for effective open education for ministry.
In other words, you can train for any pentecostal or charismatic ministry anywhere now.
1. Third Wave Megatrends
The emerging social and cultural context in which we now live has been called the Third Wave (by Alvin Toffler) and its major characteristics described as Megatrends (by John Naisbitt). These are not to be confused with Peter Wagner’s “third wave” of renewal (first the pentecostal wave, second the charismatic wave, and the third wave in all churches). Those waves of pentecostal renewal in the twentieth century penetrated all the current social/cultural waves of tribal life (as in Africa now), town life (as in country towns now), and technological life (as in huge cities now).
The Industrial Revolution saw a shift from a tribal, agricultural society to the emergence of the town with its mine or factory, printed media and supporting bureaucracies including schools and suburban churches. Professional ministry gradually shifted from the village priest for all the people to denominational ministers educated in theological schools of the classroom model.
We now experience a radical social restructuring ushered in by the accelerating changes of a technological revolution. No terms fully describe it. Alvin Toffler writes of three waves: agricultural, industrial and what he used to call super‑industrial (1970) but changed to “third wave” (1980), arguing that most terms narrow rather than expand our understanding because they focus on a single aspect rather than describe the whole. “Post-modern” has become the current term used to label these profound changes.
Other phrases describing this emerging era include:
Harvey Cox’s technopolitan society (following tribal and town);
Marshall McLuhan’s electric era and global village;
Daniel Bell’s post‑industrial society; and
John Naisbitt’s information society.
John Naisbitt (1982, 1990) examines megatrends shaping this new era, many of which apply directly to education for ministry. He describes American cultural changes but these trends also apply to all societies experiencing the global technological revolution. I comment briefly on five of his first list of megatrends (1982:1) and two from his megatrends 2000 list (1990:276, 248) which seem particularly relevant to education for ministry.
In other words, you can now be involved in a huge range of world-class opportunities for study and ministry right where you are, in your home group, cell group, study group, or mission group or in your own home alone.
1.1. From an Industrial Society to an Information Society:
Although we continue to think we live in an industrial society, we have in fact changed to an economy based on the creation and distribution of information.
Education for ministry now benefits from educational processes and resources common to society including the proliferation of media which liberate education from confinement in classrooms and make it available in ‘schools without walls’. Britain’s Open University is an example. External Christian degree studies is another.
Teachers and students can engage in mutually enriching interaction and research at the interface of context and content, facilitated by educational and communications technology. For example, the computer is replacing the typewriter, the photocopier has overtaken the duplicator, the video is taking over from the audio cassette, the resource centre is assimilating the library and going electronic, the modem connects us with the Internet, and mail is increasingly by fax or e-mail.
An internet copy of this paper is now more useful than a printed copy! It reaches more people, anywhere in the world. Anyone can download it and use it. Quotes can be immediately woven into other tasks, including more articles! The material can be used and re-used in multi-media, including adapted to OHT for study groups or adapted and printed in Study Guides and Readings.
In other words, you can download this article from the Renewal Journal web page, reproduce it for your home group, study group, church paper, or tertiary study. You can adapt it, and turn a summary of it into a hand-out or an OHT sheet. I’ve done all that with this article and many other articles – often.
1.2. From Centralisation to Decentralisation:
We have rediscovered the ability to act innovatively and achieve results ‑ from the bottom up.
We are familiar with this trend and encourage it in many of our church structures. It also applies to education for ministry. We choose resources and studies from a widening range of possibilities.
At the personal level, increasing numbers of people study for theological or ministry degrees, often by open education or distance education. At the church level, innovative congregations or creative people in churches find ways to enrich the ministry education of their people, and this may include external studies in education for ministry which was once available only to full time college students. At the college level, many colleges now offer external studies or distance education with decentralised programs related specifically to local contexts and guided by local tutors.
In other words, you are no longer dependent on other people to chart your course or even your beliefs. You do that, led by the Spirit in fellowship with God’s people.
1.3. From Institutional to Self‑Help:
We are shifting from institutional help to more self‑reliance in all aspects of our lives.
Institutional Christianity is big business, but many traditional churches decline while home groups multiply and house churches proliferate. Independent churches attract increasing numbers, and some denominational congregations experiencing rapid growth sit rather loosely or uncomfortably within traditional structures, often challenging those structures prophetically. Large numbers of educated and committed Christians join or form study groups, renewal groups, charismatic congregations or covenant communities.
Continuing theological education is another example of self‑help programs. Institutional help or direction is often by‑passed in favour of a wide range of personal interests including study for various degrees now increasingly accessible from colleges around the world. This self-help option is increasingly taken where external study is available.
In other words, you can chart your own course in study and ministry according to your personal calling, gifting and anointing. That course can fan the flame in you and set you on fire for powerful ministry if you choose your study well.
1.4. From Either/Or to Multiple Options:
From a narrow either/or society with a limited range of personal choices we are exploding into a free‑wheeling multiple‑option society.
Demarcation lines along denominational or doctrinal differences once characterised churches, theological colleges, and even Bible colleges. These increasingly blur and merge within the unity of the Spirit and in the ecumenical landscape.
Renewed Baptists, for example, may identify more deeply with Catholic Charismatic spirituality than with their own historical distinctives. ‘Rebaptism’ is a burning pastoral issue as increasing numbers choose to move freely among differing groups. Multiplying home groups discover authentic unity and raise eucharistic problems. Traditional understandings of ordination and ministry are increasingly challenged, as with this statement nearly half a century ago:
“The question we are now considering is that of the possible ordination of the ordinary farmer or merchant or lawyer, who is prepared to give freely to the Church the time that he can spare from the ordinary occupation in which most of his time must be spent.
The proposal seems to us strange only because, from the point of view of the Early Church, we have got things thoroughly turned upside down. … It is hardly too much to say that in those days almost anyone could celebrate the Holy Communion, and hardly anyone except the bishop could preach; whereas now almost anyone can preach (or, rather is allowed to preach!) and hardly anyone can celebrate Holy Communion. Lack of balance in either direction is to be deplored” (Neill 1957:65).
Local churches as well as Bible colleges need to take our multiple option context seriously and offer a wide range of options adapted to people’s calling, giftings, anointings, ministries and learning styles. An example of this is the learning contract or agreement and the importance of practicum or field education learning and ministry experiences.
In other words, you will probably be ordained to your ministry in your lifetime, if you want to be, whether you are male or female, employee or boss, working in the church or in the world. Many churches in Australia are already doing this.
1.5. From Hierarchies to Networking:
We are giving up our dependence on hierarchical structures in favour of informal networks.
Naisbitt (1982:197) identifies three fundamental reasons making networks a crucial social form now:
(1) the death of traditional structures,
(2) the din of information overload, and
(3) the past failures of hierarchies.
The vertical to horizontal power shift that networks bring about will be enormously liberating for individuals. Hierarchies promote moving up and getting ahead, producing stress, tension, and anxiety. Networking empowers the individual, and people in networks tend to nurture one another.
In the network environment, rewards come by empowering others, not by climbing over them (1982:197, 204).
That is crucial. It fits with Christian commitment to love and serve one another. And it helps to overcome the flaws of bureaucratic Christianity, such as the Peter Principle: ‘In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence’ (Peter 1969:22). Where that happens in churches, people now tend to choose a better option, often going elsewhere.
Toffler describes the shift toward networking this way:
We are, in fact, witnessing the arrival of a new organizational system that will increasingly challenge and ultimately supplant bureaucracy. This is the organisation of the future. … Shortcuts that by‑pass the hierarchy are increasingly employed. … The cumulative result of such small changes is a massive shift from vertical to lateral communication systems (1970:120, 133).
The impact of networking is reflected in our growing use of short term task groups (instead of long term committees) and the supportive, nurturing home group or cell group structures (instead of formal mid-week prayer meetings in pews).
Contextual education for ministry will help to prepare ministry which can function well in a networking environment. Not only do ministers and leaders need to know how to facilitate task groups, study groups and home fellowships (rather than be threatened by them), but the shape of ministry can be transformed in this context as task group specialists and cell group leaders minister and enable ministry, disciple others and are discipled in mutuality.
Further, Bible Colleges can provide essential resources for use in the learning and ministering networking groups as well as for individuals.
In other words, you will get your rewards and fulfil your ministry “by empowering others, not by climbing over them.”
1.6. The triumph of the individual
The great unifying theme at the conclusion of the 20th century is the triumph of the individual.
Networking frees people from bureaucratic restrictions. New relationships emerge in voluntary associations including the church and its activities. Technology empowers the emerging freedom of the individual. The motorcar, then the aircraft, dramatically increased individual mobility. Millions now communicate freely within the electronic village.
The freedom of the individual under God within committed community is an increasing reality of church life and education for ministry. Individual giftings and callings are openly pursued, encouraged and channelled into effective ministry within the body of Christ.
Gifted ministries emerge in ordinary people, fuelled and trained by the best teachers and leaders in the world through video, casettes, TV programs, internet articles which now include video and audio preaching and teaching.
In other words, you can use any or all of these resources as you serve God in the power of His Spirit, doing what He leads you to do, such as in personal networks, home groups or house churches.
1.7. Religious revival
At the dawn of the third millennium there are unmistakable signs of a worldwide multidenominational religious revival.
Naisbitt notes widespread religious revival including charismatic renewal, such as one-fifth, or 10 million, of America’s 53.5 million Catholics in 1990 were charismatic. Now one third of practising Christians worldwide are pentecostal/charismatic. Traditional, doctrinal, cognitive Christianity is increasingly challenged by transforming experience of God.
This has immediate application to education for ministry. An urgent task for us all is to make our ministry education in renewal as widely available as possible to meet this rapidly expanding revival.
Open education for ministry can flow anywhere through networking Christian ministries to inform and inspire, to liberate and equip leadership and multiply ministry.
In other words, you will be increasingly relating to others in revival – from all kinds of denominations, or none, and with all kinds of theologies (where Jesus is Lord). That’s one reason why good Spirit-filled study can help you see more clearly and serve more fervently.
2. Open Education Possibilities
Adult education, continuing education and ministry education now offer wide scope for self-directed learning, which Malcolm Knowles calls andragogy (1980).
Malcolm Knowles developed the concept of andragogy to describe self-directed learning in contrast to pedagogy viewed as mainly teacher-directed learning.
In its broadest meaning, self-directed learning describes a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes … Self-directed learning usually takes place in association with various kinds of helpers, such as teachers, tutors, mentors, resource people, and peers. There is a lot of mutuality among a group of self-directed learners (Knowles 1975:18).
Many people seek out these possibilities for self-directed education, especially in extension or distance education modes. Illich’s de-schooling proposals (and similar expressions of schools without walls) describe networking systems which apply to education in general but also to open education for ministry. Instead of fitting educational resources to the educator’s curricula goals, he proposes four different approaches which enable students to gain access to educational resources which may help to define and achieve their goals (Illich 1971:81). These are:
2.1. Reference Services to Educational Objects ‑ which facilitate access to things or processes used for formal learning.
Educational objects can include resources found in most churches such as libraries, resource centres, book shops, study notes, CDs, audio and video cassettes, TV (e.g. open university), ands study groups using overhead projectors, whiteboards, and a range of resources.
In other words, you can now offer video nights or seminars for a huge range of training including counselling, worship, evangelism, home group leadership and youth and children’s ministries. Leaders from around the world come into your home or group by video.
2.2. Skill Exchanges ‑ which permit persons to list their skills, the conditions under which they are willing to serve and the addresses at which they can be reached.
Skill exchanges can include activities such as tutoring or people who can teach or disciple others, musicians, ministry task groups, and educational or service specialists. Most informal church programs use these skill exchanges – musicians train musicians; home group and study group leaders train other cell or study group leaders. We call it discipling.
In other words, you can be in a group where someone disciples you (choose well!) and also in a group where you disciple others. One great way to learn something is to also teach it to others. Use your gifts and skills, don’t bury them! Many people use their distance education study materials for study groups, teaching or preaching.
2.3. Peer‑Matching ‑ a communications network which permits persons to describe the learning activity in which they wish to engage, in the hope of finding a partner for the inquiry.
Peer matches can include persons interested in learning skills or forming study groups, including a wide range of ministry education activities. Some church directories now list areas of interest, and people can easily establish common interest groups.
In other words, you can help people in your home group or church to identify their interests from a list (there are plenty around, or make up your own in the group), and then to match them. It happens informally anyway – people who like surfing go surfing together; intercessors love to pray together.
2.4. Reference Services to Educators‑at‑Large ‑ who can be listed in a directory giving the addresses and self‑descriptions of professionals, para‑professionals, and freelancers, along with conditions of access to their services.
Educational leaders in churches can assist in exploratory activities and in helping students achieve specific goals. Practicum and field education studies often link students with mentors and role models in ministry such as in music, youth or children’s work, counselling, evangelism and other significant ministries.
Open education for ministry can explore these networking facilities. Networks, along with the other megatrends, both require and enable contextually appropriate models of education for ministry, and help to open the theologising process to the whole church in an intentional and integrative way.
In other words, you can mix life and ministry with continuing education such as in distance education, learning with others, or on your own, how to live for God and minister in the power of His Spirit.
3. Implications and Directions
Open education for ministry can intentionally address these contextual issues of accelerating change and integrate traditional classroom procedures with open education processes.
Significant implications and directions include equipping the church for ministry, contextualising education for ministry, providing resources for the church, and renewing the church.
3.1. Equipping the Church for Ministry.
Open education for ministry not only equips pastors or leaders for ministry but opens that process to the whole church.
Ralph Winter, an extension pioneer through the Presbyterian Seminary in Guatemala, observed that their extension program cost less per student, allowed a smaller faculty to deal with a large number of students (by using seminar tutors), stressed independent study and reflection, attracted more candidates to the ministry, reached more mature students, enabled teaching on several levels more easily, and allowed students to work in the context of their ministry.
He emphasized that extension was not primarily a new method of teaching but that its greatest significance was as a new method of selection and equipping for ministry, since the underlining purpose for working by extension is in fact more important than any of the kaleidoscopic varieties of extension as a method ‑ it is the simple goal of enlisting and equipping for ministry precisely those who are best suited to it (Kinsler 1978:x).
Opening ministry education to the whole church helps to reach the real leaders and equip them. Missionary Roland Allen severely criticised western styles of education for ministry for failing to do this. His points include these (Mulholland 1976:16‑18):
(1) The apostles required maturity and experience with Spirit‑filled giftedness for leadership; we ordain young, inexperienced graduates.
(2) The apostles say nothing about full time employment in the church; we require it.
(3) The apostles selected the real leaders; we emphasise a subjective, internal call.
(4) The early church valued spiritual and practical formation in life and ministry; we value academic credentials.
(5) The early church allowed full ministry including the sacraments; we deny this to many groups.
Open education for ministry gives the real leaders access to theology in a ministry context. These spiritually gifted and pastorally experienced leaders may, or may not, be officially ordained but they function in significant pastoral ministry not only with individuals but also as task group leaders, home group pastors, or worship leaders and preachers.
In other words, you can run your own ministry training centre, as in your home group or study group or ministry group or mission group.
3.2. Contextualising Education for ministry.
Opening ministry education shifts the focus from the classroom to the context of ministry, from preparation for ministry to formation in ministry.
Classrooms will undoubtedly continue to provide an essential means of serious theologising, especially when students’ ministries, gifts and contexts are taken seriously.
Open education for ministry can broaden this approach. Ross Kinsler emphasised the role of extension in that process:
The full significance of theological education by extension will be perceived when local people discover that they are being invited to become primary agents of both ministry and theology. For theology itself is the interplay of Christian life/ministry and reflection, of Gospel and context, of God and history. …
Theological education by extension can be treated as a stop gap for those who can’t go to seminary, a partial, pragmatic substitute for the ‘real thing’. Or it can become a new and powerful attempt to return ministry and theology to the people, where they really belong (Kinsler 1983:3, 21).
Committed Christians often challenge entrenched structures with spiritual sensitivity, prophetic insight, pastoral concern and intellectual integrity. The prophetic and teaching role of Bible College staff can be increasingly exercised by informed people who may never sit in college classrooms but who now have greater access to theological resources. This is closer to the New Testament pattern for ministry formation and education.
The principal model for ministerial formation is Jesus himself, who continues to call his followers into his ministry and mission, and the classic text is Mark 10:42‑45, which speaks of service and self‑giving. One of the enigmas we face is that theological education … leads to privilege and power, whereas ministry is fundamentally concerned with servanthood (Kinsler 1983:6).
Open education for ministry can fulfil a significant servant role in the church by providing ministry education for the whole church, not just the elite few.
In other words, you can minister as Jesus did, serve as Jesus did, disciple others as Jesus did – without desks in a classroom, but in life, in homes, in relationships.
3.3. Providing Resources for the Church.
Open education for ministry provides resources for the whole church which can be used anywhere. Many churches now make these resources available, and produce their own. Resource centres in churches supply audio and video cassettes as well as books and magazines including periodicals or journals.
Guest speakers are now recorded on cassettes (audio and video) and copies can be widely distributed. The same applies to lecturing or teaching. Distance education uses these facilities extensively. Resource directories and publicity through church papers provide the church with access to these.
Many resources, simply produced and widely distributed, facilitate group sharing as well as provide significant input. Taped lectures or sermons, for example, can easily include discussion questions or tasks for discussion and action.
External students value these resources. Cassettes (easily used with accompanying material) become not only formal study tools, but also provide up‑dated resources for continuing education, for personal enquiry, and for seminar or tutorial groups.
More sophisticated distance education models can be developed also. University external studies departments offer many examples.
Clive Lawless, a lecturer in Educational Technology at the Open University in London comments on how Britain’s largest university teaches at a distance using a wide range of media including audio and video cassettes available for personal use as well as broadcast through educational radio and television. Most of their courses involve regular seminars as well as providing personal study resources.
Lawless (1974:8) notes three important implications of the Open University for ministry education:
(1) Open education for ministry methods can be used on a large scale and at the highest educational levels;
(2) Open education for ministry needs personnel and resources to concentrate on it; and
(3) Open education for ministry needs to use a wide range of media and materials.
He says that we need to ask two questions concerning the range of media and materials available: whether all possible media and materials are being used, and whether they are being used in an effectively integrated way.
In other words, you can have world leaders such Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Benny Hinn, Yonggi Cho and many others in your home or home group via video or cassette, leading to lively discussion and mutual ministry. Current educational media provide resources for the church and in the process opens the classroom to the whole church. This in turn helps to further equip the church for its ministry.
3.4. Renewing the Church.
Ministerial formation is committed to renewing the church but often frustrated and bound by entrenched traditions. Those limiting structures are increasingly by‑passed in the shift to lateral networking fuelled by creative open ministry education resources.
The concern of theological educators in many places is to liberate our institutions and churches from dysfunctional structures in order to respond in new ways to the Spirit of God in our age and in our many diverse contexts. Theological education by extension is a tremendously versatile and flexible approach to ministerial training; it is also now a spreading, deepening movement for change, subversion and renewal (Kinsler 1981:101).
Rigid or traditional structures may be made more flexible with new developments which emerge out of creative and courageous responses to the Spirit of God.
Renewal ministries in the church function naturally and powerfully along flexible networks of committed groups. Some of these fit within denominational structures, though uncomfortably at times. Others emerge as new structures, mixing formerly separated Christians into various expressions of “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. Networks of committed and creative groupings continue to multiply.
Larger congregations also need networks of small groups for personal fellowship, effective ministry and service to others. These congregations usually provide significant ministry education resources in paperbacks, magazines, audio and video cassettes, and also produce their own resources.
One common example of such resources in ministry education made widely available are external studies units in degree courses. These often include:
(1) A study guide, including administrative, content, resource and assessment information;
(2) Notes and/or essential text(s);
(3) A reader containing significant articles or book chapters;
(4) Resource materials, such as disks, and audio and/or video cassettes.
These become available not only for individual or tutorial study, but also for use in ministry.
Bible College staff have abundant resources to make their teaching available anywhere as resources for open education for ministry, including overseas. This includes accredited diploma and degree programs.
Open education for ministry uses these emerging opportunities to creatively involve the church in contextual theological reflection. It is a significant force to equip the church for its mission in the world.
In other words, you are a theologian (you have significant thoughts about God and are continually learning), a teacher (by example, modelling, dsicipling and serving – both informally and formally), a minister (for to serve is to minister), and a disciple of Jesus who by his Spirit within us ministers through us to others, and through others to us.
Illich, Ivan (1971) Celebration of Awareness. Penguin.
Kinsler, Ross (1981) The Extension Movement in Theological Education. Pasadena: William Carey Library.
Kinsler, Ross (1983) “Theology by the People.” Manuscript prepared for Pacific Basin Conference, Fuller Seminary Library.
Kinsler, Ross, ed. (1983) Ministry by the People. Orbis.
Evangelist Tommy Tenny describes people and churches who seek the Lord zealously in his book The God Chasers. This article from his first chapter tells how he witnessed the visitation of God in the 3,000 member Christian Tabernacle Church in Houston, Texas, led by Richard Heard.
This body of believers in Houston had two scheduled services on Sundays. The first morning service started at 8:30, and the second one followed and began at 11.
When I returned for the third weekend, while in the hotel, I sensed a heavy anointing of some kind, a brooding of the Spirit, and I literally wept and trembled.
You could barely breathe
The following morning, we walked into the building for the 8:30 Sunday service expecting to see the usual early morning first service “sleepy” crowd with their low-key worship. As I walked in to sit down in the front row that morning, the presence of God was already in that place so heavily that the air was “thick.” You could barely breathe.
The musicians were clearly struggling to continue their ministry; their tears got in the way. Music became more difficult to play. Finally, the presence of God hovered so strongly that they couldn’t sing or play any longer. The worship leader crumpled in sobs behind the keyboard.
If there was one good decision I made in life, it was made that day. I had never been this close to “catching” God, and I was not going to stop. So I spoke to my wife, Jeannie. “You should go continue to lead us to Him.” Jeannie has an anointing to lead people into the presence of God as a worshiper and intercessor. She quietly moved to the front and continued to facilitate the worship and ministry to the Lord. It wasn’t anything fancy; it was just simple. That was the only appropriate response in that moment.
The atmosphere reminded me of the passage in Isaiah 6, something I’d read about, and even dared dream I might experience myself. In this passage the glory of the Lord filled the temple. I’d never understood what it meant for the glory of the Lord to fill a place. I had sensed God come in places, I had sensed Him come by, but this time in Houston, even after there was all of God that I thought was available in the building, more of His presence literally packed itself into the room. It’s like the bridal train of a bride that, after she has personally entered the building, her bridal train continues to enter the building after her. God was there; of that there was no doubt. But more of Him kept coming in the place until, as in Isaiah, it literally filled the building. At times the air was so rarefied that it became almost unbreathable. Oxygen came in short gasps, seemingly. Muffled sobs broke through the room. In the midst of this, the pastor turned to me and asked me a question.
“Tommy, are you ready to take the service?”
“Pastor, I’m just about half-afraid to step up there, because I sense that God is about to do something.”
Tears were streaming down my face when I said that. I wasn’t afraid that God was going to strike me down, or that something bad was going to happen. I just didn’t want to interfere and grieve the precious presence that was filling up that room! For too long we humans have only allowed the Holy Spirit to take control up to a certain point. Basically, whenever it gets outside of our comfort zone or just a little beyond our control, we pull in the reins (the Bible calls it “quenching the Spirit” in First Thessalonians 5:19). We stop at the tabernacle veil too many times.
“I feel like I should read Second Chronicles 7:14, and I have a word from the Lord,” my pastor friend said.
With profuse tears I nodded assent and said, “Go, go.”
My friend is not a man given to any kind of outward demonstration; he is essentially a man of “even” emotions. But when he got up to walk to the platform, he appeared visibly shaky. At this point I so sensed something was about to happen, that I walked all the way from the front row to the back of the room to stand by the sound booth. I knew God was going to do something; I just didn’t know where. I was on the front row, and it could happen behind me or to the side of me. I was so desperate to catch Him that I got up and publicly walked back to the sound booth as the pastor walked up to the pulpit to speak, so I could see whatever happened. I wasn’t even sure that it was going to happen on the platform, but I knew something was going to happen. “God, I want to be able to see whatever it is You are about to do.”
My pastor friend stepped up to the clear pulpit in the centre of the platform, opened the Bible, and quietly read the gripping passage from Second Chronicles 7:14: If My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
Then he closed his Bible, gripped the edges of the pulpit with trembling hands, and said, “The word of the Lord to us is to stop seeking His benefits and seek Him. We are not to seek His hands any longer, but seek His face.”
In that instant, I heard what sounded like a thunderclap echo through the building, and the pastor was literally picked up and thrown backward about ten feet, effectively separating him from the pulpit. When he went backward, the pulpit fell forward. The beautiful flower arrangement positioned in front of it fell to the ground, but by the time the pulpit hit the ground, it was already in two pieces. It had split into two pieces almost as if lightning had hit it! At that instant the tangible terror of the presence of God filled that room.
People began to weep and wail
I quickly stepped to the microphone from the back of the room and said, “In case you aren’t aware of it, God has just moved into this place. The pastor is fine. [It was two and a half hours before he could even get up, though – and even then the ushers had to carry him. Only his hand trembled slightly to give proof of life.] He’s going to be fine.”
While all of this happened, the ushers quickly ran to the front to check on the pastor and to pick up the two pieces of the split pulpit. No one really paid much attention to the split pulpit; we were too occupied with the torn heavenlies. The presence of God had hit that place like some kind of bomb. People began to weep and to wail. I said, “If you’re not where you need to be, this is a good time to get right with God.” I’ve never seen such an altar call. It was pure pandemonium. People shoved one another out of the way. They wouldn’t wait for the aisles to clear; they climbed over pews, businessmen tore their ties off, and they were literally stacked on top of one another, in the most horribly harmonious sound of repentance you ever heard. Just the thought of it still sends chills down my back. When I gave the altar call then for the 8.30 a.m. service, I had no idea that it would be but the first of seven altar calls that day.
When it was time for the 11 a.m. service to begin, nobody had left the building. The people were still on their faces and, even though there was hardly any music being played at this point, worship was rampant and uninhibited. Grown men were ballet dancing; little children were weeping in repentance. People were on their faces, on their feet, on their knees, but mostly in His presence. There was so much of the presence and the power of God there that people began to feel an urgent need to be baptized. I watched people walk through the doors of repentance, and one after another experienced the glory and the presence of God as He came near. Then they wanted baptism, and I was in a quandary about what to do. The pastor was still unavailable on the floor. Prominent people walked up to me and stated, “I’ve got to be baptized. Somebody tell me what to do.” They joined with the parade of the unsaved, who were now saved, provoked purely by encountering the presence of God. There was no sermon and no real song – just His Spirit that day.
Two and a half hours had passed, and since the pastor had only managed to wiggle one finger at that point to call the elders to him, the ushers had carried him to his office. Meanwhile, all these people were asking me (or anyone else they could find) if they could be baptised. As a visiting minister at the church, I didn’t want to assume the authority to tell anyone to baptize these folks, so I sent people back to the pastor’s office to see if he would authorize the water baptisms.
I gave one altar call after another, and hundreds of people were coming forward. As more and more people came to me asking about water baptism, I noticed that no one I had sent to the pastor’s office had returned. Finally I sent a senior assistant pastor back there and told him, “Please find out what Pastor wants to do about the water baptisms -nobody has come back to tell me yet.” The man stuck his head in the pastor’s office, and to his shock he saw the pastor still lying before the Lord, and everyone I had sent there was sprawled on the floor too, just weeping and repenting before God. He hurried back to tell me what he had seen and added, “I’ll go ask him, but if I go in that office I may not be back either.”
We baptized people for hours
I shrugged my shoulders and agreed with the associate pastor, “I guess it’s all right to baptize them.” So we began to baptize people as a physical sign of their repentance before the Lord, and we ended up baptizing people for hours. More and more people kept pouring in, and since the people from the early service were still there, there were cars parked everywhere outside the church building. A big open-air ball field next to the building was filled with cars parked every which way.
As people drove onto the parking lot, they sensed the presence of God so strongly that some began to weep uncontrollably. They just found themselves driving up onto the parking lot or into the grass not knowing what was going on. Some started to get out of their cars and barely managed to stagger across the parking lot. Some came inside the building only to fall to the floor just inside the doors. The hard-pressed ushers had to literally pull the helpless people away from the doors and stack them up along the walls of the hallways to clear the entrance. Others managed to make it part way down the hallways, and some made it to the foyer before they fell on their faces in repentance.
Some actually made it inside the auditorium, but most of them didn’t bother to find seats. They just made for the altar. No matter what they did or how far they made it, it wasn’t long before they began to weep and repent. As I said, there wasn’t any preaching. There wasn’t even any music part of the time. Primarily one thing happened that day: The presence of God showed up. When that happens, the first thing you do is the same thing Isaiah did when he saw the Lord high and lifted up. He cried out from the depths of his soul:
Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts (Isaiah 6:5).
You see, the instant Isaiah the prophet, the chosen servant of God, saw the King of glory, what he used to think was clean and holy now looked like filthy rags. He was thinking, I thought I knew God, but I didn’t know this much of God! That Sunday we seemed to come so close; we almost caught Him. Now I know it’s possible.
They came right back for more
People just kept filling the auditorium again and again, beginning with that strange service that started at 8.30 that morning. I finally went to eat at around 4:00 that afternoon, and then came right back to the church building. Many never left. The continuous “Sunday morning service” lasted until 1 a.m. Monday morning. We didn’t have to announce our plans for Monday evening. Everybody already knew. Frankly, there would have been a meeting whether we announced it or not. The people simply went home to get some sleep or do the things they had to do, and they came right back for more – not for more of men and their programs, but for God and His presence.
Night after night, the pastor and I would come in and say, “What are we going to do?”
Most of the time our answer to one another was just as predictable: “What do you want to do?”
What we meant was, “I don’t know what to do. What does He want to do?”
Sometimes we’d go in and start trying to “have church,” but the crying hunger of the people would quickly draw in the presence of God and suddenly God had us! Listen, my friend, God doesn’t care about your music, your midget steeples, and your flesh-impressive buildings. Your church carpet doesn’t impress Him – He carpets the fields. God doesn’t really care about anything you can “do” for Him; He only cares about your answer to one question: “Do you want Me?”
Ruin everything that isn’t of You, Lord!
We have programmed our church services so tightly that we really don’t leave room for the Holy Spirit. Oh, we might let God speak prophetically to us a little, but we get nervous if He tries to break out of our schedules. We can’t let God out of the box too much because He can ruin everything. (That has become my prayer: “Break out of our boxes, Lord, and ruin everything that isn’t of You!”)
Let me ask you a question: How long has it been since you came to church and said, “We are going to wait on the Lord”? I think we are afraid to wait on Him because we’re afraid He won’t show up. I have a promise for you: “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” (Isa. 40:31). Do you want to know why we’ve lived in weakness as Christians and have not had all that God wanted for us? Do you want to know why we have lived beneath our privilege and have not had the strength to overcome our own carnality? Maybe it’s because we haven’t waited on Him to show up to empower us, and we’re trying to do too much in the power of our own soulish realm.
God ruined everything in Houston
I am not trying to make you feel bad. I know most Christians and most of our leaders genuinely mean well, but there is so much more. You can “catch” God – ask Jacob – and it might ruin the way you’ve always walked! But you can catch Him. We’ve talked, preached, and taught about revival until the Church is sick of hearing about it. That’s what I did for a living: I preached revivals – or so I thought. Then God broke out of His box and ruined everything when He showed up. Seven nights a week, for the next four or five weeks straight, hundreds of people a night would stand in line to repent and receive Christ, worship, wait, and pray. What had happened in history, past and present, was happening again. Then it dawned on me, “God, You’re wanting to do this everywhere.” For months His manifest presence hovered.
Richard Heard’s account of that visitation is reproduced in the Renewal Journal, # 10: Evangelism. He tells of continual evangelism and the whole carpet of the church being tear-stained from people repenting for over a year. See also: God’s Awesome Presence, by Dr R Heard
The Great Leap of Faith – comment by Max Welsh, Editor-in-Chief of The Bulletin:
In discussing the role of religion in Australian politics, especially with Americans, I stress the fact that Australia is probably the most secular of all the democracies. We do not have an established church. At the individual level, people may claim allegiance to one faith or another but, in practice, we are not a church-going nation.
We do have religious leaders who speak with the authority of their rank. However, their ability to influence the national debate, let alone to set the national agenda is, at best, modest and usually marginal.
While committed Christians have formed themselves into non-partisan fellowships, at the federal parliamentary level there is no real equivalent of the Moral Majority movement in the United States.
I’m referring here to a mass political force. The Pentecostal movement, which operates outside traditional religious groups, has been around for some time but it has a low profile in the national political-cum-social debate.
It may be that I’m the one out of touch, but I was surprised when senior writer Diana Bagnall told me more Australians attend Pentecostal services than Anglican churches. This is a major, fast-growing religious force.
Its low profile is in large part due to its atomistic, as distinct from hierarchical, form of organisation. But it also reflects a widely held view among Pentecostal leaders that the mass media – a singularly secular institution – has in the past sensationalised their activities, exhibiting more scorn and ridicule than sensitivity and understanding.
If that is true, it’s a pity because what is happening in this corner of Australian life is both interesting and important for what it says about our society. It was on this basis that Bagnall researched and wrote our cover story.
The New Believers, by Diana Bagnall
Christianity is being born again. Pentecostal congregations are swelling, the influence of their leaders is soaring, and politicians are starting to take notice. Diana Bagnall examines the attraction of the absolute in an age of doubt.
There’s a point at which continuing to caricature a sizeable group of Australians as a weird or loony fringe when they are going about a lawful activity in a purposeful, well-organised manner begins to backfire. Think of One Nation. When the group numbers scores of thousands and has been notching up double-digit membership growth each year for the best part of two decades, the ridicule is clearly unsustainable.
Call them misguided if you want, or politically subversive, which they undoubtedly have the potential to become, but don’t trivialise born-again Christians as marginal or eccentric. Because the numbers tell a different story. Their signature mix of conservative theology and radical religious practice is as mainstream as the church comes these days if by mainstream we mean belonging to that part of the river where the water flows most strongly and in greatest volume.
That they are relatively invisible at a national level is partly because their culture and vocabulary is so particular (in many respects theirs is a parallel universe), and partly because the Pentecostal churches that attract them in the greatest numbers don’t have the street-corner presence of traditional churches. Sure, a handful of Pentecostal congregations are housed on big acreages in large, purpose-built auditoriums, complete with cafes and youth centres, recording studios and schools, but more find a home in recycled buildings – warehouses, primary schools, community centres. And that’s what’s fooled us.
We haven’t seen the communities and the networks. And they’re big, vigorous and potentially powerful. Brian Houston, who heads the Assemblies of God denomination in Australia, estimates that there are 3000 full-time trainees in AOG Bible colleges across the country. Many of these churches are young churches. In the Christian City Church, a Sydney-based denomination that didn’t exist 20 years ago and now claims 25,000 members worldwide, for example, 70% of attendees are aged I5-39. The predominant style is contemporary and prosperous. Hip even.
These are places where winners hang out, where the rewards are tangible and tantalising. They promise the good life on Earth, and of course, the bonus of eternal life. They offer intimacy and excitement, a sense of belonging and of righteousness. A heady mix.
The church in decline has become a media cliché. Church leaders, those whose opinions are sought out because their brands of Christianity are familiar and visible, are increasingly portrayed as desperate men, maximising what’s left of greatly depleted stores of spiritual and temporal authority. One minute they’re talking of the need to market their spiritual “programs” more effectively, the next they’re wading more deeply, with government encouragement, into bureaucratised social welfare.
Save for the odd embarrassing episode where a triumphant Melbourne Cup jockey or superstar footballer takes advantage of his media access to proclaim his love for the Lord, there is little in the mainstream media to suggest that the church is anything other than a cultural backwater populated by the elderly and the backward-looking. Census data seems to prove the point. It shows a 35.5% increase between I99I and I996 in the number of Australians saying they had no religion and the major Christian denominations losing market share.
So what about the 3500 people who turn up each weekend to worship at the Christian City Church in Oxford Falls, near Sydney’s northern beaches? What about the 5000 women who milled among the marquees and pots of pink and magenta petunias at Pastor Bobbie Houston’s women’s conference last month at the Hills Christian Life Centre in Sydney’s Baulkham Hills? What about the 1200-strong Ipswich Region Community Church in Queensland waiting on the completion of a new 1000-seat auditorium and 350-seat youth and children’s facility? What about the 100,000 people who are expected to march into the Sydney Olympic Stadium on June 10 (the Day of Pentecost) under the banner of the Awakening 2000 movement to celebrate ‘the reason for the turning of the millennium’? Don’t they count?
As a combined grouping, there are now more people worshipping in Pentecostal churches than at Anglican churches each week, according to the most recent National Church Life Survey. Only Catholic parishes have a greater number of attendees. But these new Christian communities don’t just restrict themselves to Pentecostal churches, which makes the business of mapping their influence much more difficult than simply counting bums on pews. There are contemporary evangelical, charismatic and Pentecostal churches across denominations, says Melbourne Anglican leader Peter Corney. “The majority of adults attending Protestant churches on Sunday in Australia would go to one of these types of churches,” he says. “Almost all the large churches (that is, over 500 members), and the churches with young congregations, fall into those categories.”
For just as loyalty to political parties has broken down over the past decade and capturing the swinging voter has become the measure of political success, so too the old religious tribal connections have broken down. People are open to persuasion. In the new churches the power of the message is in its communication. “We scratch where people are itching,” says Mark Edwards, 41, an ex-lawyer who has increased membership of the Ipswich Region Community Church sixfold in the eight years he has been its senior minister.
His sermons are more likely to focus on financial management (he has just finished a two-year term as president of the local chamber of commerce) and work issues, relationships and raising children than on fine theological argument. But, fundamentally, there is still only one message – salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Part and parcel of that is acceptance of the Bible’s authority, literally across the board. … For it is now well understood by those who analyse patterns of church growth and decline that firmly drawn boundaries and clearly stated values are an asset rather than a liability to churches in a post-modernist world characterised by impermanence and relativity. The balance of theological power is shifting on the ground as people vote with their feet for more conservative, orthodox Christian values.
“Liberal theology has reigned supreme in the theological colleges, and still does, but out there, in the trenches, the whole liberal theology thing just hasn’t worked,” explains Peter Corney, who until last June was vicar of St Hillary’s Anglican Church, in Melbourne’s Kew. “It has failed to capture the hearts and minds of a generation of young people.”
The average size of Anglican and Protestant congregations in Australia is around 70, with more than a third having fewer than 25 attendees, according to the National Church Life Survey. Yet in 20 years, under Corney’s evangelical leadership, the congregation at St Hillary’s grew from 150 to 1000. Most of those filling the pews in the two Sunday evening services are under 25. Further east in the same city, 2300 people pack the pews of Crossway Baptist Church which under ex-missionary Stuart Robinson’s leadership has grown by about 20% each year since the mid ’90s. People lock into clearly defined vision and values, says Robinson. “They want to know where they are going.”
In fact, St Hillary’s and Crossway are the exception rather than the rule in more than one respect. For while Corney believes that the church is entering a post-denominational era, it is an undeniable fact that most of Australia’s mega-churches are Pentecostal, not in itself a denomination but a brand of Christianity that features as its centrepiece the highly charged experience called baptism of the Holy Spirit. The most common sign of a Pentecostal experience is that a person begins speaking in tongues (making sounds that usually they can’t understand and feel they can’t control), but there are other signs such as falling to the ground in a trance or, as happened first in Toronto in the early ’90s, laughing uncontrollably (the Toronto Blessing).
Pentecostal churches have been around since the beginning of the century, but burst into international prominence in the ’70s during the so-called charismatic renewal. At that time, a fair few people attending regular churches were also caught up in Pentecostal-style worship. While some of them defected early on to the Pentecostal churches, many hung in with the old denominations hoping they would move with the times. By and large they were disappointed, and by the mid ’80s large numbers of church-goers were spilling out of old churches and into new ones in a massive shift in the Protestant landscape that some have compared to the Reformation of the 16th century.
That exodus gathered momentum in the ’90s. Between the 1991 and 1996 censuses, Pentecostal groups overall increased their membership by 16%. In terms of the number of congregations established, the growth appears to be even more dramatic. The National Church Life Survey found that between 1991 and 1996 the number of congregations within four Pentecostal denominations, the Assemblies of God, Foursquare Gospel, Christian Revival Crusade and the Apostolic Church, had grown from 832 to 1046, a 26% increase.
The NCLS found that the overall growth in Pentecostal denominations was predominantly due to ‘switchers’, that is people who are joining from other denominations. The survey found nearly three times as many switches joining the Pentecostal churches as there were newcomers without a church background.
The leaders of these new churches make no apology for their gain at another’s expense, “People will go where it’s happening for them,” Phil Pringle, 47, founding head of Christian City Churches and senior pastor of the mega-church at Oxford Falls. At Brian Houston’s Assembly of God church at Baulkham Hills in the north-west of Sydney, growth is limited to how many carpark spaces can be accommodated on the 8.5-hectare site. The church is about to embark on building a 3500-seat auditorium. “Most people here think it is too small,” he says. Already, the Hills Christian Life Centre pushes through 7000 churchgoers on any one weekend. Like those who attend any of the big, new regional churches, they are likely to drive past 100 other churches on their way. The question is, why?
We can talk, as Pringle does, about an “ache” for God, we can talk about seeking refuge from the confusion of modern life and about the eternal longing for meaning. And all these things go some way to explaining the filling up of the churches. But there are more temporal reasons, to do with charisma, seductive packaging, the power of positive thinking, professional standards and, possibly most importantly, the effective harnessing of youthful idealism and passion.
Men like Pringle and Houston bear as little resemblance to conventional clergymen as Brad Pitt does to Laurence Olivier. Pringle, once an art student and still a painter, started his church in 1980 with 12 people in the Dee Why Surf Club on Sydney’s northern beaches. It has grown into a denomination (a formalised denomination, that is) encompassing, according to his estimates, 25,000 people in 100 churches around the world. Houston, 46, runs two Assembly of God churches and one of gospel music’s most successful recording stories, Hillsong Music, which claims annual worldwide sales of more than 2 million albums. Aside from the Baulkham Hills operation, there’s a smaller church at Waterloo in central Sydney with a congregation of 2300.
Not for Pringle or Houston the quiet scratch of pen on paper within the sanctuary of a book-lined study. They move at a furious pace, as much entrepreneur as pastor, as much celebrity as preacher. It is nothing for them to be opening a new church in Los Angeles one week, addressing a conference on the Gold Coast the next, all the while churning out the next motivational book, overseeing the operations of their various training colleges and schools and co-ordinating the activities of roving teams of laptop-toting pastors, big pools of musicians and singers, and expanding counselling and community service arms.
Masters of communications technologies, they draw around them sophisticated teams to produce web sites and videos, music recordings and television programs for broadcast on both free-to-air and pay TV (the Australian Christian Channel is part of Optus TVs basic package). Their core role, however, is to spearhead the growth of their churches by presenting their deeply conservative religious message week after week in a compelling, high-energy, contemporary format.
“I would struggle with that kind of pressure,” admits Father Mike Delancy, a Catholic parish priest at New Norfolk in rural Tasmania whose daily pastoral fare is much more likely to be a funeral service than a baptism of any sort. He’s involved in the ecumenical Awakening movement, and unusually for a man of his cloth, counts many Pentecostal pastors as his friends. “The flip side for them is that when the high energy drops off, so do the people,” he says.
Physically, the churches these men lead (and make no mistake, this is a man’s world – women have a vital place in it, but the Bible’s teaching is firm on the gender hierarchy) are designed to be user-friendly for “seekers”, as newcomers are called. No knee-bruising pews, no distracting religious icons. The purpose-built auditoriums are cathedrals of modern entertainment with all the technological wizardry. Christian City Church at Oxford Falls is in the process of redesigning its web site to give live online access to church services. But even in more modest locations, church services are conceived of as multimedia events – display windows for marketing Christianity – rather than as liturgical set pieces to mark a religious calendar.
There’s none of that intimidating business of knowing when to stand and when to kneel, and which page of the order of service or which number hymn to turn to. “Culturally relevant” is the buzz phrase used to describe the approach. Instead of priests and altar boys, the focus of attention is a rock band, usually several musicians and singers who pump out music with the catchy rhythms and romantic tub of good pop. The words are simple, and projected on big screens.
In fact, the services are not unlike Saturday night variety TV – seemingly effortless, but planned down to the last minute. At Edwards’Assembly of God church in Ipswich each service (and, typically, there are several each Sunday, designed for different congregations) is planned six months in advance by a salaried creative arts director who leads a team of about nine people and draws on a bigger pool of about 70 musicians, singers, sound, lighting and drama people. Edwards explains: “You go to a Barbra Streisand concert and you expect a certain standard of that concert. Why should people who come to our church expect any less?”
Edwards is a former lawyer, a local lad who switched careers in his mid-30s to follow his passionate belief. He’s typical of the new breed of church leader – intelligent, thoughtful and community oriented. Bronwyn Hughes, a member of the National Church Life Survey team, says leaders of growing churches have a profile that closely matches the leadership profile of management literature. “These people function in a similar change environment. [Their role] is about mobilising people, and gaining their trust.”
Some of the new church leaders are traditionally trained denominational ministers but the great majority are not. Melbourne pastor Mark Conner, for example, inherited the church from his father, Kevin. He was a musician and a youth leader before he took over the reins. Houston, too, inherited his church from his father Frank (there’s a dynastic streak in these churches). Robinson, of Crossway Baptist, says his Pentecostal friends laugh at him because he has a string of degrees. “In contemporary church, we don’t place a high value on the status of ordination,” he explains. A leadership “gift”, by contrast, is mandatory. “I think all these guys could run a large company somewhere,” explains Corney, who is now executive director of the interdenominational Institute of Contemporary Christian Leadership.
Yet, curiously, they have relatively little profile beyond their own world. That, it seems, is about to change. “The church that I see is a church of influence, a church so large in size that the city and the nation can’t ignore it, a church growing so quickly that the buildings struggle to contain [it] . . .” write Houston and his wife Bobbie in a manifesto placed prominently in the foyer at Baulkham Hills -just a few metres away from the Brian and Bobbie exhibition stand, a bookstall of their books and videos over which their names are written in neon script.
Houston’s stated desire for influence more in keeping with the size of his church is a sharp new turn for the Pentecostals. Until very recently, Pentecostals have lacked a cohesive national voice. The hallmark of Pentecostal churches is that they are strongly autonomous. Individual pastors run their own show and are not answerable to a church hierarchy. To their members, that flat management structure is undoubtedly a drawcard, but it means these new churches lack any kind of national cohesion, and they’ve punched below their weight politically. But if politics is about whose values are going to prevail, then these communities are finding their voice.
On February 18, Houston launched a new alliance of Pentecostal churches called Australian Christian Churches claiming to represent more than 1000 churches and 170,000 members. That’s by no means all the Pentecostals in Australia. Pringle’s Christian City Church is not yet involved, and may never he (there is territorial jealousy in this arm of the church too).
But the intention behind the new alliance is what counts. “If the people of God see themselves as grasshoppers, everyone else sees them as grasshoppers,” says Houston, leaning forward, his elbows resting on his long legs, the blond highlights in his hair an altogether unsurprising touch in a thoroughly modern preacher. “I want to change inside the church . . . [I want it to be known] that the message of God is valid, that there is nothing to apologise for. I believe it is time that we started to see ourselves as a legitimate voice of the church and no one else is going to see that if we don’t even see ourselves that way.”
Rearing its head here is the old Pentecostal underdog. They are used to being out in the cold. For example, Houston was only in January asked to join the National Council of Churches even though he was appointed national president of the Assemblies of God in May 1997. Pringle comments wryly that “maybe we have enjoyed it out there a little.” And it is undoubtedly true that Pentecostals revel in their outsider status. When Hollywood pastor in pink, the impeccably manicured Holly Wagner (a dead ringer for Meg Ryan) excitedly told of a deal she had struck with “the secular publisher HarperCollins” to publish her book The Dumb Things She Does, The Dumb Things He Does, she spoke of taking her book “out there”. There is that degree of them and us going on here.
So what is the Australian Christian Churches’agenda? Making disciples, of course. There is no other for Christians. “I love this country and I really believe the church has answers for Australia. I genuinely would like to see the church helping people and give them the answers that they want,” says Houston.
Pringle is going down another path. Last year, Prime Minister John Howard opened Pringle’s church at Oxford Falls. Pringle is in Canberra reasonably often, at the invitation of Alan Cadman, federal member for Mitchell, who attends some of the CCC’s services. He has lunched with John Anderson, John Forrest and Brian Harradine. He doesn’t like the idea of Australia developing a Christian political party. Neither does Ian Jagelman, a former Pricewaterhouse Coopers accountant who is now senior pastor of a 1000-strong church in the Sydney district of Lane Cove-Ryde. “I am not sure that we are not better off having strong relationships with our local members and when an issue comes up letting them know what we think about it,” he says. “There comes a point where our church will be so big, where clearly people in the political process will want to know what we think.”
The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition by Vinson Synan
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997
Review by Eerdmans Publishers
Vinson Synan is dean of the School of Divinity at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia. This review from the back cover of the book summarises the scope of this book written by a world recognised Pentecostal historian.
Called “a pioneer contribution” by Church History when it was first published in 1971 as The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement in the United States, this volume has now been revised and enlarged by Vinson Synan to account for the incredible changes that have occurred in the church world during the last quarter of the twentieth century.
Synan brings together the stories of the many movements usually labelled “holiness,” “Pentecostal,” or “charismatic,” and shows that there is an identifiable “second blessing” tradition in Christianity that began with the Catholic and Anglican mystics, that was crystallized in the teaching of John Wesley, and that was further perpetuated through the holiness and Keswick movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to the appearance of modern Pentecostalism.
Synan then chronicles the story of the spread of Pentecostalism around the world after the heady days of the Azusa Street awakening, with special attention given to the beginnings of the movement in those nations where Pentecostalism has become a major religious force. He also examines the rise of various mainline-church charismatic move- merits that have their roots in Pentecostalism. Because of the explosive growth of the Pentecostal movement in the last half of the century, Pentecostals and Charismatics now constitute the second largest family of Christians in the world.
“This could well he the major story of Christianity in the twentieth century,” writes Synan. “Pentecostalism has grown beyond a mere passing ‘movement’ . . . and can now he seen as a major Christian ‘tradition’ alongside the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Reformation Protestant traditions.”
The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition will continue to be an important handbook for shaping our understanding of this phenomenon.
The God Chasersby Tommy Tenny
Shippensburg: Destiny Image, 1998
Review By Ruth A. McKeand
Some books will make you happy. Some will encourage you. Some will challenge you. Some will make you think. Some will even make you angry. The God Chasers will do all these and more.
Tommy Tenney, whose pen authored The God Chasers, has spent 30 years in the ministry. He’s seen and experienced much of God. Like King David, he has always sought to be “a man after God’s own heart.” To Tenney, this seeking after God’s heart is the essence of a God chaser.
The God chaser longs for deep intimacy with God. He or she wants more than just the “stuff” of ordinary religious experience. Tenney, like all true God chasers, has questioned why we find entering into the desired intimacy so difficult. Why, if God is all I truly want, am I so aware of “where He’s been” instead of being conscious of “where He is?” And so, painting picture after picture, Tenney reveals many of the things that get in the way of intimacy with God.
First, Tenney challenges us to ask ourselves if we are truly seeking God. With statements like “it’s simply not enough to know about God. We have churches filled with people who can win Bible trivia contests but who don’t know Him,” he invites us to look at our own walks with God. Do we realize, as Tenney did, that “there is much more of God available than we have ever known or imagined, but we have become so satisfied with where we are and what we have that we don’t press in for God’s best.”
Secondly, we must honestly look at what we’re eating each day. Tenney’s comments may anger you but he believes that “most of us . . . keep our lives so jammed with junk food for the soul and amusements for the flesh that we don’t know what it is to be really hungry.” He views this daily diet of the typical believer as one of the main obstacles to intimacy with the Almighty for most of us. He sees too many of us being more concerned with our own comfort, and that of our families, and all the things we want (or have) to do, that God gets precious little of our attention. When we do come before Him, our minds are preoccupied with the cares of this life. He points out that “we’re happy with our music the way it is” and we’re content with services designed for pleasing men “instead of yielding to what God likes.” We want the stuff that God can give us, without the commitment and intimacy of union with Him. But Tenney calls us repeatedly back to the desire of the God chaser. The true God chaser wants to see His face, just as did Moses and the Apostle John.
Most of us want revival today. We truly believe we want God to be real to us and in us. But Tenney calls us to pause and think. There’s more to this relationship with God than getting the stuff. The first step to real, personal revival, according to Rev. Tenney, “is to recognize that you are in a state of decline.” Recognizing our true state will birth a “divine discontent” in us, out of which real hunger for God will grow.
Tenney contends that most of us have “become addicted to the anointing, the relayed word of good preaching and teaching,” preferring for someone else to go up the mountain to seek God for us. Like Israel of old, we prefer “distant respect” over “intimate relationship” with the Almighty. We seek revival instead of the Reviver just as we so easily fall into the selfish trap of seeking the gifts instead of the Giver.
Tenney points out that “there is something in us that makes us afraid of the commitment that comes with real intimacy with God.” One reason, he says, is that “intimacy with God requires purity.” In this hour “God is calling people who want serious revival into a place of transparent purity. It’s you who He’s after.” This kind of purity requires death and that is the greatest barrier of all that the believer faces. We all fear death, but to see God’s face, one must die. No one can see God’s face and live according to Scripture.
“It is God’s mercy that keeps Him away from us,” Tenney says. We are sinful flesh and He is absolute holiness and purity. The latter will destroy the former if, and when, it comes into its presence. But be encouraged. There is hope. Through “repentance and brokenness—the New Testament equivalent of death,” we can become “dead men walking.” And dead men can enter the presence of God without fear. Brother Tenney urges us not to shrink back from the altar upon which God would have us sacrifice our egos. Instead he provokes us to embrace death of self and to see it as the only way we can truly see God’s face.
The God chaser is after God Himself. Many know about God. He’s everywhere all the time. That’s His omnipresence. But, Tenney declares, “There are also times when He concentrates the very essence of His being into what many call ‘the manifest presence of God.’” That’s the deepest desire of the God chaser, the manifest presence of God! For this, he is very willing to die! But first we must admit our need and our hunger. That’s what God is looking for. It’s in this state of brokenness, repentance, and hunger that God can come with His presence and His power and begin to really change us. It’s admitting our need and our hunger, and then seeing our true state, which brings the brokenness and repentance that opens the door for God “to take us through the complete process . . . without hindering or quenching His Spirit, then when the kabod, the weighty presence of God, comes among us and upon us, then we will be able to carry it without fear because we will be walking in the purity of Jesus and our flesh will be dead, covered by the blood of the Lamb.”
Tenney believes the world cannot be changed until God is freely allowed to change each of us. We can truly touch our world as witnesses and evangelists only when we engage in what Tenney calls “presence evangelism.” He believes God can, and will, change us as we experience His presence because experiencing “God’s glory is life-changing. It is the most habit-forming experience a human being can have, and the only side effect is death to the flesh.” This prepares us for God’s true purpose, evangelism. But the evangelism that Tenney looks for in the church is “when the residue of God on a person creates a divine radiation zone of the manifest presence of God, so much so that it affects those around you.” This type of evangelism is not “an emotional encounter with man but a death encounter with the glory and presence of God Himself.”
“It is time for God’s people to get desperately hungry after Him,” says Tenney, “because the fires of revival must first ignite the Church before its flames can spread to the streets.” But he warns, “Supernatural things . . . will happen to you too, but it only comes one way. There is no shortcut to revival or the coming of His presence. God’s glory only comes when repentance and brokenness drive you to your knees, because His presence requires purity.” It’s only when we candidly look into our own hearts that we, like the prodigal son, see there the deep “poverty of heart.” It is this revelation that will propel us back to the Father’s arms. And once there we will see His face, sense His power, and experience His presence. It’s there, in the arms of Love Himself, the God chaser finds true happiness and a joy unspeakable and full of glory! It’s there that the God chaser finds that he’s been caught by the very One he’s been chasing all along! And that’s the purpose of this book by Tommy Tenney . . . to whet our appetites and change each of us into a God chaser so we too can get caught by the One Who’s caught him!
Primary Purpose by Ted Haggard
Orlando: Creation House, 1995
Reviewed by Tony Peter
Primary Purpose is a practical book on winning souls for the kingdom of God, especially from a pastoral point of view. Founder and senior pastor of the 6000 member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Ted Haggard is a graduate of Oral Roberts University and has co-authored with Jack Hayford a similar book called Loving your City into the Kingdom.
Ted Haggard writes with a pastor’s heart and a passion for winning souls to Christ in practical, relevant ways. His book includes charts and diagrams as well as practical stories.
The book is focused on three foundations for any attempt to win the lost for Christ and to grow the church. The first is prayer; all kinds of prayer. The second is keeping focused on the task of evangelism; all kinds of evangelism. The third is unity between individuals and the churches.
Haggard begins the book by giving a short testimony of the beginnings of his New Life Church in Colorado Springs. He describes the difficulties and the challenges in starting a new church in an area once known as a difficult place to successfully start and continue a work for the Lord. He describes not only his struggles in starting his church but also in continuing to keep his church on track for the primary purpose of winning the community and city to Christ.
The second part of the book deals with what he calls five principles of keeping your church on the primary purpose. The first principle is that of focusing on the absolutes of Scripture and not side tangents such as different doctrinal issues between individuals and churches.
The second principle is to promote Christ and his Word, not you or your own ideas. This is the key to reaching the lost. Haggard laments that too many individuals and churches focus on winning other Christians from other churches through transfer growth rather than focusing on winning the lost through conversion growth.
The Third principle is to pray for the Holy Spirit’s activity in your area. Haggard describes this as increasing the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in the area where you want to win the lost. This changes the climate of the area to open the way to win souls for the Lord.
The fourth principle is to appreciate and respect one another’s interpretations of Scripture. Different churches interpret Scripture differently and act accordingly. As long as they do not transgress the fundamentals of Scripture they will appeal to different people from all walks of life that become saved and then attend a church that will suit them. Divisions or conflict between churches can stifle the Holy Spirit and stop evangelism.
The fifth principle is honouring others through supportive speech and actions. Haggard explains that this is another way of maintaining unity in the body of Christ between the churches.
The third and last part of the book focuses on the lifestyle, character and fruit of Christians and churches in relationship to evangelism. Haggard explains that it is the church’s function to live as the Bible calls us to live. Then we shall see the fruit of this lifestyle, namely souls won for Christ and churches growing.
Haggard describes the Christian lifestyle as continuous spiritual warfare. Only through a righteous lifestyle can the believer and the church truly advance the Kingdom of God as we are supposed to.
This is a practical, thorough book on evangelism from a pastor’s point of view rather than an evangelist’s point of view. Ted Haggard writes with a passion not only to see souls saved and churches grow but to see the whole community, city and nation changed. The book is a vital manual for any Christian wanting to start a new work or church in any part of the world.
The stories and principles make it a great book for anyone, especially pastors, wanting to reach people with the gospel. This book focuses on proven strategies for the advancing the Kingdom of God today. Essential strategies include prayer warfare, unity between believers and churches, and focusing on the primary mission of the church, evangelism.
This book is one of the best I have read concerning winning souls, communities and cities to Christ through a pastor’s heart for people and not just as a quest for numbers. It shows that whole communities and cities can be won for the Lord and that God wants more of his children to step out in faith with love for the lost.