An overnight fix is available for the church, but is anybody willing to implement it?
So much of today's church is drunk on all the wrong things: growth, notoriety, busyness, endless programs, marketing, visitor assimilation and more. It's no wonder pastors are spinning out, members are disgruntled and stress is overtaking most. While there's a deep reformation necessary, there are a handful of simple, quick steps we can take to kick-start the shift.
Release pastors and church leaders to give themselves to prayer and the Word.
2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:2-4 (ESV)
It seems many of today's senior leaders are doing everything but spending hours in intercession and study of the Word. They are expected to visit people in homes and hospitals, counsel the hurting, attend birthday parties and other celebrations, clean the church, befriend members, assimilate visitors, develop programs, raise funds and so much more that is sucking the very life out of them—and out of the church.
Set them free. I believe we will skyrocket towards revival if pastors drop almost every ball they are juggling and give themselves to hours and hours of prayer and study in the Word every day. Let them be the preachers God called them to be. No more endless meeting, projects or programs. Pray, study and preach. Repeat.
Stop expecting a single local church to do it all.
The competitiveness in the Kingdom must cease. It's time we understand that a single local church plays a small part in the larger scheme of the city church. In Scripture the church was designated by city, not by street corner.
I propose adopting a culture that encourages people in our local churches to also connect faithfully in other churches and ministries in the region. As a church planter and senior leader for many years I was keenly aware of my strengths and my weaknesses. I was also determined to run in the very specific vision and mandate that God entrusted to me, which meant that I would intentionally, by design, minimize or fully eliminate other seemingly obvious programs and ministries. Needs would go unmet. This meant that I had to trust other leaders in the city to minister to those needs. I encouraged the people to connect in several places each week and to take responsibility for their own spiritual growth.
In fact, I so embrace this mindset and I so believe that city ministry is the healthiest and quickest path to an outpouring in the region that I had an open hands policy with people in my church. I let it be known that any leader of any church in the region could, without fear or reservation, approach anybody in my church and invite them to leave to join their ministry. They could recruit my biggest givers, my best leaders, my favorite worship team members, my most faithful workers and my best friends. I understood they wouldn't be leaving my church, but rather they would simply move from one department of the city church to another. Their positioning is more important than any selfish desire to keep them close.
Immediately stop with the church growth madness.
Two realities will threaten local church growth:
- The regional church that I wrote about in the above point.
- The call to gather the remnant.
As we “catch and release” those who venture into our church, believing for the right positioning in the region and as we focus on the hungry, surrendered, on-fire remnant who will gather and contend in prayer for revival, the numbers will most often diminish.
I wonder if pastors understand the severity of the stress and the deep cost that is being paid because of the seduction of numerical and financial church growth. Let it go. Simply enjoy going into the church every day to meet with Jesus and to relay the burning revelation that he pierces you with.
Quit trying to herd cats. Stop with the gimmicks. Repent for compromising the message in an attempt to attract the moderates. Simply pray, lead, equip and celebrate with people when they leave your church for another and stay faithful to the call with those who remain.
Reassign pastors and the entire five-fold ministry.
Pastors are typically best suited for nurturing people, not leading movements. I believe we need to see pastors resign senior leadership positions as prophetic, apostolic leaders step in to advance more powerfully. They are gifted to lead while many pastors will be most successful and satisfied in smaller settings where they can connect one-on-one with people.
Many pastors will remain as the senior leader of churches, and this can absolutely be okay if they embrace their role in the broader city church model. Their churches can remain very small as they minister to their congregations, however it's extremely important that they are strategically connected to apostolic ministries in the city.
They will need to attend city church meetings and encourage everybody in their church to join them. As they do this, the greater city church will continue to expand and people will be connected more appropriately. And, leaders will see the joy of ministry return as unnecessary tension is eliminated.
Eliminate most every program except prayer meetings.
I believe this may be the most significant, powerful and immediate trigger of revival of everything I have shared so far.
I am serious when I suggest most every program, focus, strategy, service and function of the local church should be dropped for a significant season to do little else but pray.
Instead of our typical, mostly predictable and often extremely boring Sunday morning church services, transition it into a fiery, passionate eruption of intercession. As people walk through the doors they would hear groans and cries of desperation fill the sanctuary. The musicians would be right there with them for the first hour or so, at the altar, contending for an outpouring. At some point the worship team can start playing in the background as the choruses of Heaven-shaking prayer continue to erupt from hungry hearts.
Intermix short declarations of Scripture and allow for potent prophetic revelation to be released to all. Encourage people to release short prayers on the mic. Leaders can give appropriately timed messages that will take the atmosphere to an even higher place.
Remember, the church isn't a house of fellowship, a house of teaching, a house of visitor assimilation, a house of evangelism or a house of worship. It's a house of prayer and prayer must be the driving force, the main thing and the dominant activity of all.
Are we ready for such a dramatic shift?
I believe we could take a giant leap overnight toward great corporate strength and an outpouring that will rock nations if we embrace and adopt a mighty shift in the church. Understand, these are preliminary steps that will make us ready for an even more costly, troubling and important reformation that must come to the church. Baby steps.
These are simple though very costly steps that every one of us are able to take, but few probably will. I want to encourage you to prayerfully consider the reality that revival is withheld and that the church, in general, is quite weak and compromised. Do you want to live your entire life outside of the shock and awe of God's glory? He wants to move, but the church must transition dramatically if we want to see it happen in our cities and in our lifetimes.
Pastors must allow God to awaken them to the call to regional revival.
I regularly hear from people who are done with church, are frustrated with church leadership and are ready to abandon the weekly gathering, if they haven’t done so already.
I agree that there are significant issues. However, I relentlessly support God’s ordained leaders and encourage as many as I can to stay connected in life-giving churches. Now is not the time to abandon ship, even if we agree that reformation is necessary. This reform must come from within. The new wine skin is coming, and we need everybody in position and ready to serve the revival that results.
Since it’s critical for everybody to remain locked in to their assignments in this “all hands on deck” season, we need today’s leadership to shift toward the apostolic and become more regionally minded than locally minded.
SIX WAYS PASTORS ARE HINDERING REVIVAL
ONE: They don’t pray.
So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:2-4 (NIV)
The daily schedule for pastors should be mostly devoted to fervent intercession and study of Scripture. Sadly, most pastors don’t even lead corporate prayer meetings much less hide away in their prayer closet.
There is no way they can discern the spirit of revival if they aren’t given to a life of intensity in prayer. It’s extremely easy for me to discern whether the spirit of prayer and the spirit of revival is in a church. I travel all over the nation and I explode with life when I walk into some sanctuaries that have been bathed in prayer. You can feel the tangible presence of God. You are impacted by the weighty atmosphere that could only be the result of a praying pastor.
Praying pastors can’t help but to weave Holy Spirit fueled intercession throughout the Sunday service. Tongues of fire rest on top of the congregation, groans erupt from the saints and people are laid out all over the room. Not only does a praying pastor refuse to shut down such an atmosphere, he initiates it. God’s presence becomes a key driver of their ministry, and the goal changes from church growth or visitor attraction and assimilation in their local church to a raging fire in their region. If the pillar of fire emerges in a local church across town, the revival-minded, intercession-driven pastor will cancel everything at his home base to lead the people into the presence of God in the region.
TWO: They don’t embrace the prophetic.
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20 (ESV)
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 1 Corinthians 14:1 (ESV)
Too often pastors are leading their local churches logically, using church growth methods instead of facilitating a prophetic culture. It’s one thing to point your ship in the direction you want it to go. It’s something altogether different to put up your sails, allowing the wind to take you where it wants to go.
We must hear God’s voice continually in our churches and the pastor is the one to encourage the growth of prophetic ministry. God will connect pastors with prophets (and other offices) so God’s specific mandates can be heard and heeded. Additionally, every person in the congregation must be equipped and released to prophesy. If a vibrant prayer culture has been developed in the church, you won’t be able to keep people from releasing oracles from Heaven! God will be continually communicating to everybody!
THREE: They don’t release people to follow the fire.
And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. Exodus 13:21 (ESV)
It grieves my heart and I’m certain the heart of the Lord when pastors refuse to release people under their care to follow the fire. The call of the church is to equip disciples and then to release them! We as leaders should have open hands, not tight fists. If a move of God launches in another church in the city, the pastor absolutely must encourage people to run to the outpouring! Better yet, he should be leading the way!
God will move geographically, and the fire most likely won’t ignite in your church, even if you are contending for it. If the outpouring is elsewhere, if you hold any value for revival, you will drive every day to that pillar of fire with a convoy of your congregation following behind!
FOUR: Their focus is on building their own ministry instead of the regional church.
…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV)
It’s time to stop expending energy mostly on building local ministries to the detriment of the regional church. It’s good and right to develop what God has given us to steward, and it’s right to have vision, even locally. However, the end goal must not be local church growth. It has got to be a regional outpouring. God will heal the land, the region, not the local gathering.
It’s time we start hearing pastors crying out for a move of God in their city versus in their local church. If the prophetic ministry is sharp and active, you will hear words that focus on God’s plans for the city much more than you will his plans for the local church.
FIVE: Their focus is on attracting seekers instead of training and releasing disciples.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, Ephesians 4:11-12 (ESV)
Numerical church growth in our American church culture has overtaken more important goals. It’s true that everything healthy grows, but sometimes the growth is deep instead of wide. The strategy of local churches must shift from growing in number to training remnants in prayer, ministry, revival and leadership. Then, the goal is actually to shrink in number instead of growing in number as these disciples are released as apostolic men and women of God.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that the local church can’t still grow. It can, but it’s not a metric to be measured. It’s simply the overflow of an effective ministry that is regionally focused, prayer-driven and discipleship-minded.
SIX: They overestimate their role and leadership ability.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV)
Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. Exodus 18:21 (ESV)
This one might sting.
Most pastors don’t have the God given ability to lead a regional revival. They have been called to nurture a small group.
God will raise up a leader or leaders who have the gifting to apostolically give leadership to a massive movement, and it’s important that everybody else in the city assumes their positions in support of the revival.
During an outpouring in Detroit several years ago, I was honored to be asked to lead the prayer emphasis. I wasn’t called to host the revival in my church, so I led the charge as many in my church drove 45 minutes every night to the outpouring. The fact that I wasn’t asked to lead, or that my church wasn’t the focus, or that any of the offerings weren’t coming to me, didn’t bother me in the least. How could it? I was in an outpouring!
In the city church, when a regional outpouring hits, God will utilize the willing pastors in the city in various roles. Humility will be required. Jealously will have to be killed. If that doesn’t happen, the revival is sure to die out as fast as it ignited.
We may need to choose: Grow a large church or contend for revival in a region.
God's world changers always favor being idealistic ahead of being realistic. They are dreamers, visionaries and supernatural theorists instead of analysts driven by logical data. They refuse to work within natural limits for the sake of quicker, more visible success. They would rather fail a thousand times contending for the impossible than succeed once at something that's humanly possible. These leaders won’t compromise the call to revival by seeking to fill the seats with the lukewarm. They are calling forth the burning ones. Their dream is to shock cities with a remnant army.
And the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many. Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ shall go with you, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ shall not go.” Judges 7:4 (ESV)
300 was better than 33,000.
This truth is the focus of this article.
The Big Meeting
For as long as I can remember I have loved the large group atmosphere with innumerable zealous people worshiping God and going deep together. There’s something about the catalytic power and synergy in an atmosphere like that—if the majority are raging radicals for Jesus. A gathering like this most always takes place in the form of conferences or conventions. For example, for me, there’s nothing like the Onething conference that the International House of Prayer in Kansas City hosts at the end of each year. That Missouri city becomes the focal point for people who embrace the call to a life of prophetic intercession in the end times. People from all over the world converge there which results in the large group atmosphere I and so many others value.
Over my 25 years of ministry I have enjoyed many large conferences like this but have also discovered that such gatherings rarely exist within the construct of the local church. Understand, I’m not saying the local church can’t attract a lot of people, become mega in size and become influential in the community. Many do just that. We’ve just ventured through an era where seeker sensitive churches became some of the largest churches in the nation. What I am arguing is that it’s extremely rare to find a church that’s raging on fire by establishing a prayer-fueled, revival focused, region shocking, Upper Room level culture.
In fact, I wonder just how common it is to grow a church to more than one or two hundred people with such an approach. I believe it is possible yet extremely rare. With some exceptions, small revival tribes of 30-70 people are a much more predictable expectation—until revival actually breaks out.
120 in the upper room can quickly become thousands in the church of the city.
NINE REASONS GROWING A LARGE CHURCH AND CONTENDING FOR REVIVAL MAY BE MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE PURSUITS
1. Muzzled Speech
It’s all too tempting for today’s church growth focused leaders to trade in their prophetic mantle for that of a salesman. Instead of cutting, bold, unapologetic truth being delivered with a prophetic edge, lesser, neutered messages are given in the hopes that there won’t be any kickback. Fear of offending the tithers overwhelms fear of offending the Spirit.
The prevailing question becomes, “What will the people respond to?” I’ll major on that. Then, “What will people resist?” I’ll avoid those topics at all costs—even the cost of revival.
The demands of revival include, at the most foundational level, God’s leaders refusing to be careful as they pierce with a sharp blade the sphere of influence they have been entrusted with. If leaders consistently communicate revival truths, only the remnant will remain. The masses that promised a mega-church experience would leave the pastor with but a handful to run with. Very few are willing to pay that price. The alternative is much more attractive—muzzled speech that the majority will enjoy.
This, friend, is not the call of today’s leader—not at this critical time in history. We must see troublers of Israel emerge once again.
When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the LORD and followed the Baals. Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” 1 Kings 18:17-19 (ESV)
Elijah refused to be silenced. He wasn’t attempting to gain favor or approval. He had a message and he refused to be muzzled. The same was true of Micaiah:
And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the LORD, Micaiah the son of Imlah, but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil.” And Jehoshaphat said, “Let not the king say so.” 1 Kings 22:8 (ESV)
And the messenger who went to summon Micaiah said to him, “Behold, the words of the prophets with one accord are favorable to the king. Let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.” But Micaiah said, “As the LORD lives, what the LORD says to me, that I will speak.” 1 Kings 22:13-14 (ESV)
Micaiah was sent to prison because he refused to cower when ordered to only speak what is favorable. I wonder how leaders will preach against the sins of the day when it becomes illegal to do so if the fear of losing people is such a struggle. It’s shocking to me when people reveal they haven’t heard troubling, shaking preaching on holiness, sin and repentance in decades! We must have the prophetic mantle return to the pulpits again!
Consider the following:
“My aim is to agitate and disturb people. I'm not selling bread, I'm selling yeast.” ~Miguel De Unamuno
“If Jesus preached the same message minister's preach today, He would have never been crucified.” ~Leonard Ravenhill
Revival leaders will bring trouble, and people will leave when they feel the blade of the sword touch their flesh.
Today, we have leaders who refuse to speak on the troubles of the day, on politics and on other critical issues out of fear that they will divide the crowd and send some running with all of their resources in their pockets. The same is true with many itinerate ministers, evangelists and others who make a living from the Gospel. The more careful their speech, the more diplomatic they can be, the more appealing their focus, the greater the numbers and the more respected they become. Unfortunately, such an approach is an enemy to revival. Few will respond to those who trouble Israel.
The coming Church will be marked by those who will preach truth without moderation. I want to directly address fellow pastors and leaders with both brokenness and boldness—open your mouths! When people tell me that I have guts to say what I do in teachings, on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, I am shocked! Really? They can’t be serious! I barely reveal even a small percentage of what is burning within me. The messages are minor and obvious, yet somehow in our passive, ultra-sensitive culture they come across as sharp and risky. We have to open our mouths and deliver the troubling truth! No more messages designed to grow churches. No more sermons that result in us looking good, smart and polished. If we are out to save face, we may do just that—as we ultimately lose our soul in Hell. The raw, irritating, offensive messages of the Word of God must explode out of us with the full understanding that many of those under our care will revolt! That is true love-based preaching! We can’t even call people to prayer today due to the fear that they will leave our churches! My God! How can we presume revival is near? ~The Coming Church
One day God spoke clearly to me: John, when you pray for a remnant, don’t be surprised when the remnant shows up.
Personally, I’d much rather have a church of 30 devoted, burning, remnant revivalists than a church of several hundred people who will leave when the fire gets hot and the message cuts their flesh.
2. Visitor magnets
The primary purpose of the church is to be a gathering of Believers under apostolic authority with prayer and equipping being the dominant activities for all. Focusing on attracting visitors can quickly compromise that core church mission. The Bible tells us the church is to be a house of prayer for all nations. It is not to be used as an evangelistic tool, but rather evangelism should be a result of what happens in the gatherings.
In my book The Coming Church I highlighted several ways today’s church is going to drastically change. One is the move away from seeker style ministries. The church gathering is for Believers who are praying:
Even churches that aren’t identified as seeker sensitive tend to be intent on attracting visitors and they gear their ministry to do so. Instead of attempting to grow the church by focusing on visitors and seekers, the leaders will be fully devoted to a 2nd Chronicles 7 strategy of compelling God to show up in extreme, weighty power. The pillar of fire that connects Heaven to Earth is the new goal. In fact, an empty church is a better goal than a full church if we understand that passage of Scripture correctly! Many disgruntled people will leave the church as a more serious devotion to Holy Spirit activity is given, but the supernatural invasion will result in fire, smoke and earthquakes that will rock cities and nations. ~The Coming Church
As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD’s house. 2 Chronicles 7:1-2 (ESV)
I made a significant transition in my own ministry many years ago regarding my focus on visitors and church growth. In the early days, I’d get frustrated when they didn’t show up and overly excited when they did. It was common for my wife and me to take visitors out for lunch or coffee to encourage them that there was definitely a place for them and their giftings in our church. While we did grow, our vision was compromised due to attracting people who were more excited about their own ministry than the mission of revival. Over time we had people who could lead worship, serve in children’s ministry, wave flags, dance and serve as ushers. The problem? The church is called first and foremost to be a house of prayer. We had a lot of activity, a solid group of people and an underlying resistance to going deep in intercession. Our visitors turned leaders were not invested in prayer.
I believe one of the most damaging things a pastor of a church can do is release people into ministries and roles if the they aren’t on fire, living in the Spirit and praying without ceasing.
We wouldn’t allow anybody to step into any role until they completed an intense three month internship that revealed our DNA, our focus and the cost of running with us. This approach resulted in a small army of burning ones locking arms together in the pursuit of revival.
Our transition from empowering visitors to warning and preparing visitors was key to our progress. We went from encouraging them that they would definitely fit in to being forthright with them. We let them know that they have stepped into an extremely challenging ministry. It would be hard, not easy, for them to connect. Everybody prays on fire as their primary function, we all rally around the vision of city transformation and we embrace radical holiness and a consecrated lifestyle. We stopped pursuing people, taking them out for lunch or attempting to sell our experience to them. The expectation was for the visitors to show up in the fire with us and to watch powerful relationships develop in that fox hole.
We made the decision to trade in being a large church with people who were merely intrigued by the vision with being a smaller church with people who are wrecked by the vision.
“…these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” Isaiah 56:7 (ESV)
3. Naturally Relevant
The coming Church will be marked by bold, Holy Spirit filled prayer warriors who burn night and day. They will be an explosive people who carry and release the fire of God into the cities of the Earth. There will be a regular tremble and a continual burn on them as they live in the supernatural realm in historic fashion. ~The Coming Church
Most people are much more familiar with their natural, predictable, tangible world than they are the invisible, supernatural reality of God. With that in mind, outside of actual revival, church meetings that allow supernatural manifestations and embrace a spontaneous, bizarre environment will be avoided by most.
When is the last time a Sunday morning service has erupted in a couple hours of groans of intercession as people go face down on the carpet? A friend of mine who is an extremely mature and seasoned Christian worked for a major prophetic ministry. During our services, she would regularly manifest with groans and violent shaking and other reactions to the Spirit of God. She kind of looked like a super intense, supernaturally possessed karate kid! That was not naturally relevant behavior! Most people would not visit a church again if that was a regular occurrence. The remnant would, though.
From my book The Coming Church:
I met with a House of Prayer network leader the other day who said that people leave churches when leaders shift time, energy and attention from them to God. I’ve watched that happen myself, and it rips me up! In our church in Colorado we shifted from potlucks to prayer meetings, and there was a mass exodus. We lost people and money. I had to get a part-time job. It was disruptive. It was heartbreaking that people ran from the call to pray. Where are the ones who aren’t looking first for human friends, personal affirmation or a sense of belonging but who are seeking after every available minute to minister to God in prayer? The prayer rooms must be full—and the main prayer room in the American Church is the Sunday morning sanctuary!
And don’t you even think of using the excuse that you need to create a non-threatening environment for the new believer! Every person, young or old, immature or seasoned must be in the prayer room—and it must be their primary focus! What if the Upper Room were toned down in the hopes of drawing a bigger crowd and interested seekers? We must absolutely refuse to tone down the activity of the Holy Spirit out of respect of those less hungry! God is a consuming fire, and he is about to consume what is unholy and compromised. Who are we to presume we know better how to facilitate a service? Is inviting the Holy Spirit to step aside as we give preference to human wisdom the way to go?
I’ve heard it said that the main Sunday service should be a toned-down meeting so as not to freak out visitors and seekers. Apparently the meeting where the Holy Spirit has liberty to move in freedom should be reserved for a night when there’s little risk of the unconverted showing up. This is humanistic religion at its best! Did those in the Upper Room tone down the Holy Spirit so as not to confuse and trouble the seekers in the city? Absolutely not! In fact, the power was so extreme and so unusual that the people were provoked to wonder and proclaim, “they must be drunk!” What was happening was off of their grid. When man moves, it’s naturally familiar. When God moves, it’s supernaturally shocking.
4. Prayer as a program
I commit to serve all, but I refuse to strategically align with someone who doesn’t embrace fervent prayer as a lifestyle, holiness as a principle and dying daily as a goal. ~The Coming Church
I’ve led life impacting prayer events in over 170 different churches, and while there was a lot to leave me in awe of God’s power, I was also left with disappointment. Sadly it was easy to see which pastors allowed room for a program of prayer in their church and which had established a culture of prayer. I was initially shocked when I’d see pastors show up, often alone with none of their staff or the people in the church, to pray in the Spirit for two hours on a Friday night. We were bringing anywhere from 30 to 250 people to their church, to pray with them and their people for the fire of God to engulf their church, and very often it was just us. I didn’t understand.
Time and again I’d see pastors engage for 20-30 minutes and then get distracted, bored or restless. While the sanctuary was exploding in raging tongues of fire, over and over again pastors would be uncomfortable. Often they’d open their Bibles and read or they’d go to their office or talk to people in the foyer. Frankly, I don’t see how these leaders are even qualified to pastor. It’s unthinkable to me that anyone would presume they can lead a supernatural church without living a supernatural life of prayer. The reality is they aren’t leading a supernatural church. They are leading one that will attract the spiritually numb and naturally invested.
Ministers who do not spend two hours a day in prayer are not worth a dime a dozen – degrees or no degrees. ~Leonard Ravenhill
Occasionally a pastor would show up, on fire, with all of his staff and a significant number of the people in his church. Oh, I lived for nights like that! I knew that prayer was appropriately primary in that church and that it was more than a program. They had nurtured a culture where prayer saturates every part of their ministry.
When every person in the church is called into the furnace of intercession as a lifestyle, you are going to be left with only those who are truly passionate about Jesus and ready to contend for revival with you.
Listen closely: the lukewarm, casual Church must be shaken! Yes, the true Church is one that is burning hot, in love with her Bridegroom. I risk off ending a lot of people when I deal with this issue of fervency and costly discipleship as it’s an assault against their theologies and lifestyles. It is NOT OK to be casually committed, loosely connected and given to the apathy that is destroying the Church. I’m calling awakeners to rise up! We must pray and burn non-stop! You can do this! There is no better way to live—and there is no other option!
I know this is why some don’t connect well in houses of prayer, or even in my own church—the call to burn hot is beyond what most are comfortable with. The call over the edge is unsettling for those who don’t even want to come near the edge. Listen—your eternity is at risk! Be fervent and radical in your love of God and commitment to his mission! The coming Church will be a burning hot crater of searing fire. It will be pure and it will be rejected by most in today’s culture. ~The Coming Church
I believe it would be more biblically normal to have everybody praying, decreeing the Word of God and crying out in intercession for two hours on a Sunday morning than to continue putting on the predictable, tepid, schedule driven services we have today. I often challenge pastors by asking them what would happen if every church in the city cancelled every program, every group, every service for six months and did nothing but hit our faces and prayed instead. Instead of worship and teaching on a Sunday morning, we’d instruct everybody to find a place and cry out to God. Instead of children’s ministry, the kids would be with their parents in intercession. Instead of small groups and youth ministry events we’d pray.
The pastors almost always answer by saying they believe revival would break out suddenly. I agree, yet I have not met one leader who had employed this strategy. Why? It threatens the goal of local church growth. People with money might leave. The less hungry will walk. This grieves my spirit.
If prayer is a program you will have the opportunity to pray with a handful of others during the week. If prayer is the culture, nobody in the church will be able to avoid the call to fervent intercession because it occurs at every meeting they attend. It becomes seared into their very identity.
When the call to the Upper Room was sounded, they didn’t tone down the prayer in the hopes that more than 120 would show up. They allowed hundreds to walk.
We must repent for forsaking the house of prayer. The primary ministry of every church must be prayer. This commitment to intercession is to be modeled and led by senior leadership. The primary purpose of the Church is not teaching, visitor assimilation or fellowship. It is undeniably night and day prayer for the nations. Lengthy prayer should be taught and modeled as the dominant activity of every believer. ~20 Points of Reformation, found in The Coming Church
5. Programs everywhere
It makes logical sense that we should have ministries available to attract the broadest group of people we can. This means programs, ministries and groups all over the schedule in order to draw every type of person is necessary.
On the contrary, churches that are pursuing revival are calling people into one primary meeting—the prayer meeting with apostolic leadership giving direction.
I’ve heard some wisdom over the years that I actually agree with to a point. It’s been said that if someone senses there’s a program or ministry that needs to be started in a church, the leader should thank them for their analysis and encourage them to be the ones to start it. After all, they are the ones with the vision for it. I can’t disagree that this is an effective method to diffuse accusation of lack in a ministry, but I do disagree that it’s an appropriate strategy across the board.
Over the years I’ve used this method and watched people start ministries and crash and burn due to a number of reasons, not the least being that they didn’t embrace the vision of revival. They simply wanted to lead something or be a part of something they affirm.
The better strategy I’ve employed in recent years is to simply say no. What they think is lacking is by design. What they think we need to add should not be added. Redirect people to the fire. Call them to refocus and to be calibrated with the unified vision of the church.
In latter years, instead of filling the calendar with programs, or even a variety of scattered prayer meetings, we would maneuver everybody to our primary meetings. In fact, we had 24/7 prayer for an extended period of time and had every slot filled. Over time we decided the corporate vision demanded corporate meetings. We had to be together. Scattering, even in prayer, was doing damage to our mission. I’d rather have 3 larger prayer meetings than a hundred smaller ones.
It also became less important to have youth and children’s ministries, small groups or various programs and much more important to gather people together for corporate intercession and apostolic instruction.
Yes, this will result in a smaller church, but people won’t be scattered. Am I saying there can never be supplemental ministries or events? No, but you have to be careful.
Mike Bickle initiated small groups at the International House of Prayer several years ago. From what I understand, they were “successful” but at a cost of their primary, corporate mission. People loved gathering together in homes each week, but these small group meetings negatively impacted the prayer room. Instead of everybody contending in prayer as the main thing, there was now another option to connect, and the prayer room suffered.
Mike then eliminated the small groups for many years and only recently reinstalled them again, with a new strategy that ensures those secondary programs supported and funneled into the prayer room.
Those focused on church growth want people in programs. Can those programs be good? Sure. However, the moment you start contending for revival don’t expect the strength, commitment or passion from the laborers to be there.
The pursuit of revival is a very narrow one. Revival churches aren’t called to meet every need. They are called to pray in the laborers, the remnant, to pray on fire and shake the city.
6. A quenched atmosphere
I want the prophetic spirit upon me or I want to die. ~A.W. Tozer
We live in a day when churches promote comfort and self-satisfaction. Coffee, personal ministry, blessing, programs and other lesser things are overshadowing the call to the cross. The alarm of the hour is not a welcome sound. Casual spirits are driving the culture. The problem? The message of the cross is not a casual message. The bottom line is this: A casual spirit will always reject a prophetic warning if it threatens their comfort. A prophetic spirit will always threaten something. ~The Coming Church
Above I mentioned how powerful it would be to shut down everything in the church for a season except for prayer. I asked this question on Facebook:
If your church cancelled everything for a year…cancelled children’s ministry, teaching, programs, pot lucks, small groups… and replaced those activities with prayer meetings, would you stay in your church?
One response rocked me. It encouraged me that the remnant is out there:
That’s when I’ll return to the church.
When we walk into the church we must be blown over by the unusual, overwhelming, otherworldly shocks of the Spirit of God. Simply, we need a powerfully prophetic atmosphere that causes everybody to respond by either running out the door or collapsing to their knees.
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20 (ESV)
A truly prophetic atmosphere will result in a never-ending charge in the room. People will be expressing themselves in many ways including cries of intercession, banners and flags flying, prophetic art, trances, encounters, repentance, dreams and visions and more. The goal isn’t the manifestation but rather avoiding restriction of Holy Spirit activity.
A prophetic atmosphere will repel the more naturally wired people, unless their hunger for God is greater than their resistance to him.
Revival churches absolutely must be driven prophetically in every service. We must hear the oracles from Heaven as we strategically advance day to day.
There is a rapidly increasing movement of people who are shutting their ears to any prophetic words that have any measure of alarm to them. The warnings are not wanted as they threaten the current structures of comfort and ease. These people are at risk of a catastrophe that will mercilessly hit them and those who have been influenced by their messages of peace and safety. There are true voices that must emerge and declare the word of the Lord in its pure form.
If we EVER temper a message in the pulpit, online or one-on one in the hopes of maintaining an audience, we’ve become a 2 Tim 4:3-4 false teacher.
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 2 Timothy 4:3-4 ~The Coming Church
Revival always includes the conviction of sin on the part of the Church. What a spell the devil seems to cast over the Church today! ~Billy Sunday
7. Teaching vs. apostolic instruction
Another shift we will see has to do with teaching. Teaching will be minimized while instruction is emphasized. Teaching is mostly for personal edification while instruction is mostly for corporate assignments. Today, most churches focus on teaching principles of Scripture, providing truths that will help believers navigate through their lives and on offering nuggets of biblical information. While there will still be important Bible teaching, apostolic instruction will emerge as a necessary new ministry.
The responsibility of prophetic leaders is to relay the messages of God and to instruct the people accordingly. Though teaching materials are in abundance, what is lacking is apostolic leaders, military commanders, who give instruction, assignments, to a ready army. Teaching is personal growth based while instruction is a call to corporate action for the sake of mission fulfillment.
It’s a corporate call to action vs. a simple biblical study. It’s mission focused vs. personal growth focused (though I can’t imagine a better way to grow personally than by being invested in a corporate mission!). Personal growth will be largely our responsibility between services so we can be ready to respond to the corporate instruction where we will receive our assignments. ~The Coming Church
When I was a youth pastor at a large church in the Dallas area, part of my job was to change out the marquee every week. The pastor’s sermon title for the upcoming Sunday was to be displayed for the many cars passing by on the busy road. It got to the point where I usually didn’t have to remove the two words of the previous week’s message: How to…
How to be an amazing parent, how to grow in God, how to prosper financially, how to walk in healing, etc.
Those topics are fine, but they represent teaching versus instruction. Teaching is showing someone how to fish. Instruction is telling them to go fishing.
Teachings are nuggets of truth that will help the people navigate their lives. However, I’m pretty certain if that large church of over 1200 people shifted to apostolic teaching unto revival, they would probably shrink to less than 100 people.
My instruction when leading churches in Michigan and Colorado was for everybody to arrive at every service full, not empty. I challenged them that it was their responsibility to grow aggressively, intentionally, through the week so they would be maturing, on fire and ready to move out into mission. When we gathered together, I had the freedom to share key dreams and visions, to prophetically reveal how we must pray and act in the current season, share warnings and national words to prepare people for what is coming.
for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Hebrews 5:13-14 (ESV)
Those who refuse to mature and who really don’t care much about revival or national or regional prophetic revelation won’t want to connect in such a church. Growing a church this way is extremely difficult, but gathering a remnant is more powerful.
It was extremely common for people to arrive for prayer before the service and hear clear, specific revelation that I or other leaders received the night before. That would change the entire service as I’d preach from that place of prophetic activation and we’d pray and contend the rest of the night in our new direction.
That service would always be irrelevant to those who are simply showing up to gain some biblical insight (and especially those who didn’t arrive early for prayer). They would be disconnected. However, the revival minded would come alive and would be alert and ready to respond with great conviction.
8. Karaoke Worship
When in Colorado leading Revolution Church, I instructed our media team not to display the words to the worship songs on the screens for a season. I was grieved at how dependent on the screens people were as they simply sang along karaoke style to what was being sung on the platform. It was time for them to launch into a prophetic realm of worship and prayer!
In fact, we eliminated a worship team altogether in Detroit for a couple of years and filled the atmosphere with spontaneous, prophetic decrees, prayer and groans of worship. Music would sometimes play in the background, but we weren’t simply singing along from our soul. Our spirits were crying out!
Revival churches must facilitate an explosive, supernatural atmosphere, understanding that the high majority of people will not join such a thing.
As we become supernaturally changed in a place of extreme intercession, worship will change significantly. It will be supernaturally driven. There is a new sound coming to worship, and it’s not simply a new style. There is a supernatural, otherworldly groan of intercessory worship that will explode out of the entire body as a new breed of trembling worship leaders lead the way into the shock and awe of the glory of God. We will no longer simply sit in a pew or stand with a raised hand while a familiar worship song is sung. The prophetic, groaning sounds of Holy Spirit-facilitated worship will make it normal to shake and fall to our faces as we cry, “Holy!” The natural, logical sing-a-longs will be no more.
We will have a hard time standing as man’s karaoke gives way to God’s Shekinah and Kabod glory that takes up residence in his Church. Worship teams will practice less and pray in the Spirit with tears in their eyes more.
Today, along with most other expressions of church life, worship is at least slightly and sometimes extremely marginalized for the sake of the less adventurous attendee. Since most people tend to be adverse to more supernatural forms of worship, and many would leave if the atmosphere became too uncomfortable, the majority has been winning.
I’ve said it countless times, and have written before that I refuse to tone down the activity of the Holy Spirit out of respect of those less hungry. How is it that the naturally-minded majority has supplanted the supernatural remnant in the Church? How is it that burning, raging, intercessory worship that’s driven by the groans of the Spirit himself are not appreciated enough to risk losing people from our churches? For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.
For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:5-8 ~The Coming Church
9. The threat of regional focus
It was extremely important to me as a leader that everybody in the church was investing in the region. This means I wanted them to connect in other churches and ministries, to be ambassadors of revival and to become regionally unified. Growing a local church, to the contrary, focuses on having everybody in that church overly invested at that level, in the local setting. There’s no room for regional ministry.
In fact, even Spirit-filled, revival focused churches can easily become resisters when the pursuit of revival in a region threatens their own pursuits.
Pastors and leaders must have a clear vision not only for revival in the region, or only their personal part to play, but for the church of the city. How should everybody in the local army be investing in the regional mission? It’s important to not only encourage but also to lead people into regular regional events that are unto revival.
If we are trying to grow a large church, this becomes difficult because most people won’t share the passion for revival in the city. They want to come, grow personally and connect relationally to a spiritual family. But, when they are called into regional mission, they just won’t have the passion or energy for it.
The coming Church will be a regional Church, expressed on a city level. The local expressions will be important, but only as they are connected regionally. The regional Church will be important, but only as it is connected with God’s Kingdom government.
The coming Church will be a praying Church that understands its authority and responsibility in the region.
This is how the coming Church will function governmentally. As we focus on the region and the greater mission, we will be in step with God’s passion for the nations. Grace and favor will follow. Unusual interventions by God will become common. This is such an important point, especially with the state of today’s Church in mind. We no longer can sweat, bleed and burn out by trying to build our own local ministries. The vision absolutely must be a regional one as we give ourselves to true city unity, intercession for revival and Kingdom advance. This doesn’t mean all local churches will close (though many will), but it does mean that they will no longer be at the pinnacle of the priority list. Local church leaders will mostly give their attention to corporate advance regionally with the Church of the city instead of to local issues. ~The Coming Church
I’m sure I’ll receive emails from people who report that their church is large and contending for revival. I celebrate that! I’ve been to a few like that.
I would then have a few thoughts:
- Do they really understand the intensity of the new wineskin church that I reveal in The Coming Church?
- Is everybody in the church truly raging on fire in prayer and contending at an intense level toward revival or is there simply a great atmosphere and a focus on revival?
- This would be a remarkable exception and I absolutely want to visit! There are some brilliant, anointed leaders out there who can pull it off!
As I said, most churches that are truly revival churches will be quite small. 120 just might be a good goal! The majority will be less than 70 in number of soldiers in their local army.
Pastor, are you okay with such a shift in strategy? Trust me, 70 scalding hot warriors who can move mountains in faith filled prayer will do more for your city than two thousand moderates ever could.
The pursuit of city wide revolution must no longer be resisted by the spiritual leaders.
I’m risking a lot by writing this article, but the grief in my heart is telling me it’s a risk that is well worth it.
I’m beyond disgusted, and I am going to reveal to you the source of that sickness that’s churning in my spirit in a moment. First, since I’m jumping way out on a limb in a way that will make it very easy for people to misunderstand my heart, I have to make some qualifying statements.
First, I am a radical, unapologetic lover and supporter of pastors and leaders. What many of them go through for the sake of the advance of the Kingdom is worthy of high honor. I am quick to defend a ‘wrong’ pastor against a ‘right’ congregant due to the fact that God has ordained them. God establishes all leadership. I absolutely love pastors!
Additionally, I embrace with great passion the local church, even in it’s yet to be renewed wineskin. We must commit to the ministry of the local body God has placed us in with great zeal.
For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me. Psalm 69:9 (ESV)
Lastly, I understand how terribly an outsider can wreck havoc and bring destruction to a local body. We should guard our pulpit from wolves. I’ve been ravaged by wolves in ministry before and, trust me, the knee-jerk reaction is to reject anybody outside of my circle of trust.
However, it’s that last point that brings us to our current crisis. The gun-shy dog syndrome is causing pastors to be tentative at best and outright dismissive and cruel at worst toward God’s circuit riders that are on assignment in their city.
PASTORS DON’T RULE THE CITY
I continue to hear from people that God desires to use to impact a city, people who are outsiders but who carry key authority, messages and ordination to function with apostolic and prophetic strength in a region.
They are rejected, one after another. They are gossiped about. They are murmured about. They certainly aren’t celebrated, as they should be.
There was a particular well known evangelist that came to a city, and God was working wonders. The pastors were few in number at the meetings. The gossip and suspicion and rejection of this ministry was being whispered through the town. That makes me sick. I just can’t hold back anymore. You have to be kidding if you think God is going to bring revival to your city if you treat God’s messengers like this. It’s shameful.
Pastors, you have to get over it. When revival comes to your city, your ministry will be threatened. People may flock to the greater city meetings—and you should too. If I was asked whether it’s best to stay in position in our local church or to rush to an outpouring in the region, with grief I’d counsel the person to stay submitted in their local church. However, I’d probably leave with tears in my eyes and fire in my veins. The pastor of that church should never put that person in such a terrible position. They have to choose between the sudden and timely fire of God in the city or fulfilling their duties in their local church? The pastors should be shouting to everyone of his sheep, “Follow me to the pillar of fire!”
But, unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Rejection is the norm. Evangelists know that in order to get the pastors on board they have to choose a neutral location such as a convention center. If they hold their meetings in a local church, other pastors won’t come. Again, this is disgusting. Shameful.
I’ve experienced this type of resistance myself. Many tears have been shed in the Burton family through the arrows of other ministers. And, by the way, the arrows that hurt aren’t only the ones that are clear, vicious attacks. It also hurts when other pastors in the city don’t encourage and visibly support the mission of revival. Rejection and resistance can be felt by God’s messengers. Silence is loud.
Such treatment is par for the course for prophetic and apostolic people especially. However, don’t worry. We signed up for this. It’s not about us.
It’s not about tending to the wounds of the prophets, but rather it’s about, once and for all, dealing with the rejection of God’s ministry through them.
1 Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. 2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3 So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. 4 But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles. 5 When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, 6 they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country, 7 and there they continued to preach the gospel. Acts 14:1-7 (ESV)
Paul and Barnabas didn’t visit Iconium for a vacation. They were there to lay down their lives for the sake of God’s call on their lives. Instead of being celebrated, instead of leaders rallying around them, they were mistreated. In fact, the leaders tried to kill them—for delivering good news.
So, what did they do? They fled. They went to Lystra. A new chapter and a fresh start was upon them. What happened there? Paul was stoned.
19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. Acts 14:19-20 (ESV)
He was left for dead, but survived. While I don’t want to make it sound like the trials of God’s messengers in America today are at the same level of those that Paul experienced, or of those in other nations that have outlawed Christianity are experiencing today, I do want to offer a parallel. Today the religious leaders, those who don’t want their status quo touched by an outsider with another focus or level of authority or charisma, are attacking them through gossip and other forms of rejection. Often their credibility, their motives, their ministries are assaulted and threatened.
The attacks of supposed spiritual leaders can be relentless.
In fact, the ministry of Paul and Barnabas so incited the region, Jews from Antioch and Iconium actually followed them in order to defame them in their next city!
It would seem that the spiritual leaders, the pastors of today, presumed to rule their respective cities. They banded together and resisted with violence the messengers of God. However, I love how the story continues, without any pretension whatsoever:
21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. Acts 14:21-23 (ESV)
They would not be denied! They returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch! The spiritual leaders of the cities would not dictate whether they would advance the Kingdom of God there or not!
The desire of Paul and Barnabas certainly was to work together with the leaders of the Jews and Gentiles, and to be welcomed in with open arms so they could tend to the difficult assignment God had given them without any unnecessary resistance.
This is the passion of evangelists, prophets and others that God is raising up today to initiate reform in cities. They desire the pastors of the city to rally around them! Don’t be suspicious. Open your pulpits! Let them cast their vision for revival!
It pains me to say this—if pastors won’t honor those God is bringing to labor with them, there comes a time to either shake the dust off your feet and move on, or to power through without their support.
14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. Matthew 10:14-15 (ESV)
What would the Pensacola Revival have been without Steve Hill being received from the outside?
What would Toronto have been without Randy Clark?
Evan Roberts was rejected, and then the Welsh Revival broke out.
William Seymour’s message was rejected and the door to the building he was ministering in was padlocked—so he moved to 214 Bonnie Brae Street. After outgrowing that space, his next stop was Asuza Street.
Until pastors value the pursuit of a move of God in the region more than a move of God in their own local church, conflict, resistance and disunity will reign. Local churches are merely departments of the greater city church and MUST be in sync with what is going on at that level. If revival is being pursued, will doors be padlocked? What happens when the meetings are being held in a church other than yours? Will you still radically support it, lead the people there and honor those God is calling to give leadership to it? It continually grieves my heart when I hear about pastors who refuse to unite at a strategic level with other pastors. God will raise up a lay remnant if today's senior leaders can't lay down their own pursuits for the sake of the greater call in the region.
No, pastors don’t own the city. We must honor them and support them as they work tirelessly in the assignments God has given them. However, I’m done with the ridiculous rejection of people who are paying a great personal price to serve God among them. Visitors to town, people that have quit jobs and uprooted their families to contend for revival in a new place, those who have no friends in the city they are assigned to, those who feel alone and would love to be well received, should be celebrated and encouraged to move ahead with no resistance and with the zealous support of the town’s spiritual leaders.
And, yes, there’s an entirely different article that can be directed at the evangelists and prophets. If they can’t handle the heat, they should get out of the kitchen. But we’ll leave that article for another day.
For now, is it possible even to have revival at a city level? Will pastors finally embrace those who God has called to help facilitate an outpouring? Will they stop building their own little kingdoms for the sake of revival in their city? If not, it’s time to advance in humility and boldness, whether the pastors like it or not. If the pastors don’t yield, love and honor God’s messengers, there’s a remnant waiting to step into position, and their time may be soon upon us.
Experience a potent prayer culture in your life, your church and your region!
You can view the related video teaching by John Burton HERE.
I regularly hear from people who are passionate about prayer—yet they don’t know how to see that passion develop into an explosive culture of prayer in their lives, their churches and their regions. They crave a continual, intimate encounter with God, and they are zealous for this in the lives of others as well.
God has clearly called us to nurture a lifestyle of never ending prayer that results in intimacy with him and impact in our world—yet it’s rare to find a people who have embraced this most elementary of instructions. Some are apathetic. Others are resistant. A growing number are ready. This article is for them—the ready remnant.
17 pray without ceasing… 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (ESV)
In another article titled “5 Major Changes Coming to the Church” I brought attention to the role that prayer will be playing in the church:
Services will become more like prayer meetings. One of the greatest indictments on the church today is that prayer is not the driving force. Today, people tend to choose churches based on the appeal of the teaching and the worship instead of the fervency of prayer. If the church was a house of teaching, or a house of worship, that would make sense, but it's not. The church is a house of prayer for all nations. Every person in the church will function as a burning intercessor and the services will be marked by this unified groan of fiery prayer.
Like it or not, Scripture does make it clear that the church is a house of prayer for all nations. That’s it’s foundational identity, yet prayer is rare in the church, especially in the Sunday morning service. The Western church seems to be everything but a house of prayer as other activities and focuses tend to take precedence.
17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? Mark 11:17 (ESV)
I’ve often said we’d be much closer to the biblical model of the church if we gathered together and did little else than pray for two hours on a Sunday morning. Add in some instrumental worship over the top of the prayer, some Spirit-driven exhortations and decrees of Scripture and we’d have a furnace of intercession that would transform entire cities! Just imagine if every church in a city did this!
SEVEN KEYS TO DEVELOPING A POWERFUL CULTURE OF PRAYER
A culture of prayer can be developed in most any context, such as our homes or our personal lives as we move from place to place throughout the day. Probably the most obvious context a culture of prayer can be nurtured is in the local church.
We’ll use the local church as our focus as I share some keys to seeing prayer grow and bring the impact it was designed to.
As we do this keep in mind that the ultimate goal of prayer expanding in the local church is not the growth and impact of that church. The goal is the establishment of a Holy Spirit fueled culture of prayer in the city. Biblically, the church isn’t defined by the local expressions in individual buildings but rather it’s known simply by the region it is in.
Revival isn’t revival until it spreads through an entire region and the church of that region is gathering together in prayer and ministry on a large scale level. This is why I believe stadiums are going to be full in the coming years. I see the thousands of people who make up the city church in a particular region coming together regularly to groan in intercession. Can you imagine the multitudes in one place on their faces contending in faith driven, Spirit empowered prayer for hours every single week? That’s the goal! Keep that in mind as you develop a prayer culture whether it’s in your personal life, in your home or in your local church.
Key #1—Senior Leadership Driven
In the context of the local church it’s imperative that senior leadership fully buys in, owns the vision and leads the people into the culture of prayer.
I’ll never forget the time I was waiting to talk with a well known national church leader after a luncheon. An elderly couple was just in front of me and they were excitedly sharing their vision of seeing harp and bowl intercession and worship established in the churches there. They were sharing their vision and explaining how they were going into churches to hold workshops that taught people how to develop intercession there.
As they were talking the leader they were talking to interrupted and simply said, “It will never work.”
I felt so bad for that couple! The life ebbed out of their faces and they were shocked that such a thing would be said. They sheepishly asked, “Why not?”
The leader revealed the truth behind his curt statement, “If senior leadership doesn’t have that vision burning in their veins they will not embrace it. It will not be supported and it will give way to what the pastor chooses is more appropriate to give time and energy to in the church.”
He was right.
If senior leadership doesn’t believe prayer is the main thing it will be relegated to an off night in an unused room in the church. It will be treated as an extracurricular activity instead of the foundational purpose of the church even existing.
Key #2—Tongues & Groans
One of the most misused scriptures in all of the Bible is Romans 8:28:
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (ESV)
When people are going through difficult life challenges a common piece of counsel is to casually inform the afflicted person that they can relax. Why? Because it’s all good!
That’s terrible counsel!
You’ll notice the first word in that scripture is “and.” This should tell us that verse 28 is contingent on what precedes it.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:26-27 (ESV)
When we literally groan in the Spirit in intercession and yield to exactly what the Spirit is releasing through us, THEN all things work together for good!
The counsel to those struggling should not be to chill out—it should be to hit your face and groan in deep intercession!
I believe Sunday morning services should be marked by people laid out all over the room in travail, groaning in otherworldly intercession! Now that would be a prayer culture, wouldn’t you agree?
This call is for everybody, not just those who are outgoing or those who consider themselves to be intercessors. Every Christian wants things to work together for good, right? Then every Christian has the glorious opportunity to tremble under the weight of the Spirit of God as audible groans from the depths of their spirits rage out of them!
Don’t worry about the visitors who might get freaked out by such a display. The church isn’t a vehicle of evangelism, it’s a vehicle of intercession. But even when those who don’t know Christ enter in, the intensity must get hotter not cooler! The Holy Spirit will absolutely captivate the seekers with fire!
A promise I’ve made to every ministry I’ve given leadership to is this: I refuse to tone down the activity of the Holy Spirit out of respect of those less hungry.
It’s time to groan, church.
Key #3—Prayer Must Be The Main Thing
I’ve spoken to this already, so I won’t give too much more time to this point right now. But, I do want to communicate again how critical this is.
The culture of prayer must be the primary focus every day in order for it to truly be considered foundational. This is something that should dominate our lives.
18 praying at all times in the Spirit, Ephesians 6:18 (ESV)
The leader of a very effective prayer ministry once introduced small groups into their ministry. These groups took on a life of their own and people were giving time and energy to them. This seems like success, right? No. The small groups that met each week were drawing people out of the prayer room. The main thing, the call to continual intercession, was compromised by another successful, more appealing ministry focus.
The leader shut down the small groups and reemphasized the very reason their ministry was there—to prayer for the nations night and day.
Years later small groups were reintroduced in a different format so they became a great support system for the prayer room and those who were giving their lives to intercession.
Basically, the goal is this—everybody who is involved in the ministry or church must be ready to embrace a lifestyle of fervent, fiery and continual prayer as their primary focus. From that foundation there will be much room to do everything else God is calling people to such as evangelism, teaching, missions, family life and more.
Key #4—Eradicate Unbelief
15 What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? And what profit do we get if we pray to him?’ Job 21:15 (ESV)
God isn’t resisting us, yet so much of prayer sounds like begging. Prayer that takes the form of convincing God to do something is prayer that won’t last. We must know God’s will!
In our prayer meetings we must boldly decree, declare and command as we fight the enemy, advance the Kingdom and move mountains. When we are convinced of our authority and what God has already resolved, our times in corporate prayer become electric!
11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, Colossians 1:11-13 (ESV)
We have been delivered from the domain of darkness! We have access to all the power of God! This should change our prayer lives like nothing else! We have an incredible level of authority and it’s time that we move forward with faith!
As we decree the Word of God there should be a Rhema strike from the Spirit of God that causes us to believe what we are declaring.
I’d encourage you to spend time in prayer wrestling with this point. Unbelief will diffuse any prayer meeting, and it will certainly kill any hopes for a prayer culture.
38 but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” Hebrews 10:38 (ESV)
Key #5—Reject an Addiction to Petition
Prayer is not mostly asking God for things. It’s so much more than that!
It’s time we stop gazing into Heaven hoping for God to do something that we ask him to.
I almost never bring a list into my prayer meetings. It’s important that we are Spirit led and that we release the decrees and declarations that God puts on our spirits. From a place of praying in the Spirit God will highlight things he wants us to focus on. It never makes sense to pray for something that logically makes sense to give attention to if God reveals there is something more pressing to deal with.
There is much that God is ready to pray through us that has nothing to do with what we can intellectually understand.
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5 (ESV)
20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, Ephesians 3:20 (ESV)
Again, this is why any prayer culture must be driven by groans and tongues. We must allow the Spirit of God to pray through us exactly what God is saying in that moment.
A primary goal is to see a sharp, prophetic atmosphere develop. People will be impacted by the very voice of God as we focus on hearing him and responding.
19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20 (ESV)
Key #6—Implement Ongoing Training
Developing a culture of prayer requires a constant focus on it from the pulpit. The thread of prayer must weave through most every teaching that is given so people will understand the connection to the foundational call to give themselves to continual intercession. The why must be answered or prayer will cease.
Important topics that must be taught effectively include intimacy, identity, authority, faith, warfare and others.
In order for prayer to become dominant it will be necessary for people to be together often. If Sunday mornings are mostly prayer meetings (which I think they should be), then when would the training come? People will have to come back Sunday evening, Monday, Tuesday and other nights of the week.
When I was leading a church in Detroit I also encouraged people to grow very fast, independently. I’d encourage them to read books on prayer, watch or listen to sermons and attend other churches and ministries in the area that are going hard after revival from a foundation of regional intercession.
In fact, one of the most powerful ongoing workshops we had looked little like a typical classroom setting. People from our church and many others from churches in the region would gather together every Friday night for two hours of intense praying in the Spirit. We’d be in a different church every week and the Holy Spirit would teach people, in the moment, how to endure in prayer, how to break off fear and how to functionally lead such a dynamic type of event.
We were in over 100 churches in the Colorado Springs area and in over 70 churches in the Detroit area. That weekly, ongoing training in the classroom of the Holy Spirit was powerful!
I’d often call people together for a quick 2-3 minute instruction in the moment to explain what was happening or to give them a new tool of intercession.
Regular, weekly events like this will train a ready army of intercessors much more quickly than a teaching will.
Key #7—Practical Advice
While I could never communicate all of the various nuances and suggestions that help establish a culture of prayer, I’ll hit on a few.
In all of my years of ministry I’ve always held prayer one hour to every service. I would be the one, as the senior leader, conducting those prayer meetings. I think that’s very important as it communicates to everybody that it’s important. If the senior leader doesn’t lead those meetings, I believe he or she should be there and be extremely active.
I heard a story once about a very high ranking official from another nation wanted to meet with Mike Bickle of the International House of Prayer. It was an extreme honor for that meeting to be made possible, yet Mike declined. The only time the official had time to meet was during Mike’s scheduled prayer shift. Mike already had a meeting with a higher ranking official, so he could not cancel it. I think we must have this type of commitment.
Over time I found myself getting a bit disturbed with my one hour prayer meetings before the services. Yes, they were extremely fervent and fiery. People were undone and praying boldly in the Spirit. It wasn’t the content that troubled me. It was the timing. If the church is, by definition, a house of prayer, why was the prayer meeting taking place before the church service started?
So, we changed things. We still prayed before the service, but we also moved it into the sanctuary. We didn’t stop praying when the service started. We didn’t bring on the worship team. We kept praying and launched the service with intercession. The first 15-20 minutes of the service was nothing but intense prayer. People would take turns boldly declaring the Word of God on the mic while the rest of the people would be on the faces or pacing around in raging prayer.
We’d then mix in worship and teaching, but prayer was the dominant force during the entirety of the service.
I’d encourage having one or two sessions of rapid fire prayer during your services as well. Invite people to line up and to pray bold prayers on the microphone, one after another. These are 5-10 second prayers that give everybody in the room a chance (and a challenge) to participate.
There’s a lot more I could share, but I’ll leave you a little hungry for more!
I’d love to hear about what’s going on in your church or region. Are you moving toward a prayer culture? What stories do you have? What questions do you have?
I’d love to come to your region to teach more on this. A weekend workshop could do wonders in your ministry!
Watch me teach on prayer and revival, learn more about the ministry and contact me at www.thefurnace.tv. Let’s connect!
WATCH the series conclusion: Four Fires—A Personal Fire
IMPORTANT!! This message will be available for the next seven days, at which time the entire nine part series will be moved over to our MEDIA PARTNER subscription section. It will no longer be available in the free media section of the site. You can subscribe and enjoy all our our past teachings at www.thefurnace.tv/partner.
FOUR FIRES: FIRE NUMBER FOUR—A PERSONAL FIRE
This nine part series concludes with this message on the fourth fire-a personal fire.
When we go through the intense process of discovering our own fire and intentionally fanning the flames, a great end time drama is set into motion.
There are people who currently don't know God who have an earth shaking destiny on their lives. God is waiting for fire breathers to awaken and start a fire that consumes a city…so these world changers will be provoked to surrender their lives to Jesus.
Arguments against a fiery church and a movement of prayer are already arising. Unbiblical theologies that oppose such a lifestyle are emerging, and the demand of the majority is to tone it down and to avoid an extreme life.
In response to that, I refuse to tone down the activity of the Holy Spirit out of respect of those less hungry. Let the resisters resist. God's remnant will carry the fire of the Holy Spirit to the cities of the earth.
Local churches must become minimized as the city church is emphasized. Discover some of the challenges to revival on a city level.
FOUR FIRES PART 8—THE CITY FIRE
It's critical that we understand the difference between the city church and the departments in the church. These departments are commonly called local churches.
The pressure of revival and also of the great end time drama that is about to unfold is much too great for a local church to withstand. The city church must begin to be emphasized while the local church minimized.
The local church will gain great strength as soon as it discovers its unique identity as a department within the greater city church.
Watch this short video where I cast vision on how to EASILY start a prayer based church on fire in your home!
The world is waiting for the remnant church to rise up!
I share in this short video how YOU (YES YOU!) can start a prayer-based, Holy Spirit driven church on fire in your home TODAY!
YOU CAN START A CHURCH!
This is YOUR hour!
I constantly hear from people who are frustrated and discouraged by the lack of burning, white hot, prayer driven, revival focused churches in their region. I understand that frustration!
One reason we started Revival Church in Detroit was because we wanted to experience a church with extreme heat and simply could not find one!
No more delay!
We can't keep waiting around for the next great church or the next powerful move of God to come so we can visit it. We have the power of God within us and we absolutely can launch a legitimate church on fire in our homes! You can (should?) do this!
I am making myself available to help consult you, encourage you and help you get started holding weekly prayer-fueled meetings in your home.
Grandmas, grandpas, teenagers, stay at home moms, busy business people and anybody can absolutely do this!
Watch: A spirit of independence and a lack of response to leadership will put any hope of revival on a city level at risk.
FOUR FIRES PART 7 – SUBMISSION TO AUTHORITY
Where is our heart in regard to honoring and submitting to human authority? How will we respond when city leaders call the church into a certain direction? Will we be instant in our response or will we maintain control of our own situation and rebel against the mandate?
There is much pastor and leader hatred in the church and this will absolutely affect our ability to see a move of God in a region.
You are sure to be challenged and possibly deeply convicted into freedom as you watch this passionate, heart felt message.
Are you ready to experience a fiery outpouring that impacts an entire city? Watch this week’s message!
FOUR FIRES PART 6: THE CITY FIRE
Now it's time for a full blow city fire!
After we have successfully disciplined ourselves to burn personally every day, and then watched a corporate fire ignite in our local church, the next expected manifestation happens on a city level.
John teaches on the cost and complexities of working toward a city-wide outpouring.
God is ready to move in power. Are we?