Much of the church has surrendered its mantle of prophet in exchange for the title of salesman.
Relevance. One could argue it makes sense to be relevant. We want people to have a legitimate, life-altering encounter with Jesus. He will reach people at the core of who they are, and they would absolutely confess their engagement with deity would be relevant. Jesus knows how to touch people's lives in exactly the right way.
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However, what most consider relevance in today's vernacular has resulted in a deviation from the hard-core, white-hot truth of Scripture.
Check out this definition:
rel·e·vance | \ ˈre-lə-vən(t)s practical and especially social applicability
To meet the demands of relevance, so much of today's church has dressed up Jesus, wrapped a bow around him and paraded him down the fashion runway in hopes that people will like his style, that he would be appealing, and sign on the dotted line of salvation. Their ultimate goal is for people to close their eyes, raise their hands and say a prayer that somehow seals their eternity with Jesus. Sadly, this method of evangelism has most probably resulted in millions of people following Jesus in an unsaved condition. There are many “Rich Young Rulers” out there who have been welcomed with open arms by today's preachers but who have not surrendered all.
Relevance has required that we lay down our mantle as a prophetic people who boldly preach soul-piercing truth in favor of the methods of a salesman. The result is innumerable people being added to an ever increasing lukewarm stew that will soon be vomited out of God's mouth. Relevance has neutered the church and has drained it of its power.
THE CHRISTIAN ROCK LESSON
Somewhere around 40 years ago, give or take a few, the phenomena of Christian rock emerged. As a youth pastor in the 90s, I preached multiple times about Christian rock, and the risk it presented. My belief is that music was never intended as an evangelism tool. Christian rock violated the original purpose of music as God intended. Music in it's purest form is anointed, glorious worship. Personally, my life is strengthened when I pump my spirit full of supernatural music that's devoted to exalting God. I'm listening to some old school Vineyard music from the 90s as I write this. (It doesn't get much better than that!)
The fruit of this spiritualized, worldly amusement includes a Christian culture that has no issue with secular music today. Pastors and worship leaders are often drawing from that ungodly well, giving no thought to the source of their entertainment. Add to that immoral movies, television and online media, and you have a compromised church that has lost its oil, if not its lamp stand.
As a youth pastor, intense worship, powerful deliverance, baptisms in the Holy Spirit, fervent prayer and visitations of God marked our culture. We had no need or desire to tone things down in the hopes that people would give a thumbs up to an altered form of Jesus and jump on board. While we must weep and mourn when people reject Jesus, we must also allow them to walk away if they aren't interested in surrendering all, signing up as martyrs and truly following God on his terms.
Attempting to sell the “Christian thing” with movie nights, parties, skits, ice-breakers, “Christinized secular music” and other attempts at relevance are foolish at best, devastating at worst. Hit your face, tremble under the weight of the Holy Spirit, get saturated with his glory and then worship and preach on fire—and watch those who are truly hungry rush in.
SEEKER SENSITIVE EVERYTHING
Additionally, the primary church service wasn't meant to be an evangelism tool. Yet, we have all watched seeker-sensitive churches emerge and thrive as prayer and the activity of the Holy Spirit took a back seat to coffee, music and human interest stories from the platform.
We must see the invisible, supernatural realm manifest in the earth again! We have become experts at using psychological, sociological mind-tricks in an attempt to connect with people and to compel them to consider Jesus. The seeker sensitive train wreck has impacted nearly every corner and crevice of today's church as we attempt to sell Jesus, sell our church and sell salvation.
What happened to revival? What about the indescribable glory of God that should be flooding our churches? Where are the manifestations? Tongues of fire? In most churches, quenched. All of it. Why? Because it's not relevant according to the expectations of today's culture. Manifestations of the Holy Spirit irritate the pretenders in the church and repel the mockers outside the church. Instead, many church leaders have adopted an often “successful” model of ministry that fills the seats while dumbing Jesus down and deeming the church impotent.
WE ARE NOT SALESMEN!
We need preachers who have the unction of the Holy Spirit in their gut and the fire of Holy Spirit in their mouths!
Our goal is not to rack up points for every soul “saved.” We must present truth and make it hard, not easy, for people to decide whether they want to follow Jesus or not.
Jesus died for you, what else could you want? That's a legitimate evangelism question. You see, none of us have bargaining power. We don't have leverage. We can't haggle. We don't have the option of jumping in at a lesser level. Without Jesus, we will be tortured and tormented every second of every day for ever and ever. We don't have a say in how we connect with Jesus. It's everything or nothing. It's full surrender or no surrender. It's radical repentance or no repentance. It's all or nothing.
I explained the extreme cost of following Jesus to a co-worker many years ago. I revealed the difficulties and the glories. I highlighted the issue of sin, God's solution and the permanence of eternity. I made it clear that life would be more challenging than he could ever imagine should he follow Jesus. Many friends may leave him. He might be lonely. His life of darkness would have to be abandoned. The love of God and the severity of God was presented unapologetically.
You see, I was honest with him. I didn't hold back. I revealed the indescribable invasion of life that Jesus alone can bring, but I didn't parade Jesus as a spectacle, as someone other than he truly is. I certainly didn't want it on my record that I led someone into an illegitimate relationship with Jesus. He understood without question what it was to follow Jesus. His response to me was equally honest. He said, “I just can't do that right now. I don't want to surrender my way of life to follow Jesus.”
I honored him for his honesty and let him know that Jesus was pursuing him. I pray he ultimately made the right decision and is an on-fire disciple of Jesus today as I believe the Holy Spirit used me to present to him a solid foundation to start from.
WHOLESALE CHANGE OF OUR MINISTRY METHODS
It's beyond time that we learned the Christian rock, seeker sensitive lessons. We are not of this world. We should stop mimicking it. We are aliens. We need an Area 51 experience as a curious people flock to look at the spectacle of an alien culture that doesn't try to blend in to society. Revival will do that. In Acts chapter two, many people marveled and many mocked when they saw the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. They were provoked by the aliens.
If you truly want to win the lost, then do away with delusions of relevance. Preach on fire. Pray on fire. Evangelize on fire. Worship on fire. Do everything on fire! We need to turn the temperature up, not down, when attempting to reach the lost. Too many have built a bonfire where people can warm their flesh when God has called us to surrender fully to the refining fire, to lay across it and die.
12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” Acts 2:12-13 (ESV)
Youth pastors, it's time to put away the games and to ignite a raging fire!
When I was a youth pastor over two decades ago, nothing grieved me more than the expectation that I create a culture of parties and slap the name of Jesus on them. I've seen it time and again—youth ministries that appeal to the natural and that develop social experiments in the hopes of drawing in the masses along with their friends. In fact, I've just described many adult church strategies too, but I'll leave that for another article.
As a youth pastor, I'd have nothing to do with such a tired, powerless ministry plan, no matter how great the pressure was to serve this candy to the kids.
No, the emerging young wonders I had the privilege of giving leadership to deserved more than that. They were ready to set the world ablaze, even if they didn't know it.
BRANDED BY FIRE
The baptism of the Holy Spirit is a non-negotiable pursuit for us today. Pastors and youth pastors alike absolutely must promote this immersion in fire. Our services must be marked by the searing hot activity of the Holy Spirit that intends to brand us all with his heart.
I'll never forget Nick. He was a remarkable young man, and God was moving powerfully in his life. Our youth services were prayer and worship fests. The Word was preached and the Holy Spirit rocked us all every week. It was normal to see people sprawled out all over as they met God at the altar. At times we'd meet outside on the basketball court, and it was quite a site for everyone driving by to see young people rocking back and forth, pacing, lifting their hands and laying face down on the pavement. God was moving and lives were truly impacted for eternity.
One day, Nick approached me. He wanted to bring some friends from the high school football team, but he was certain our supernaturally wild environment would freak them out. He asked if we could have a less spiritual, more social event that would make it easy for his unsaved friends to assimilate.
I loved Nick's heart! However, I also trusted the Holy Spirit to arrest his friends much better than our human strategies ever could. I challenged Nick. “Bring them.”
He did. The night was as crazy and intense as ever. Every one of his friends surrendered to Jesus. Yes, we can trust the Holy Spirit.
One of our favorite pastimes in that particular youth group was to jump on the bus and visit any revival, conference or Holy Spirit infused event we could find. We'd arrive early, pray at the altar and encounter God in new places all the time.
Young people have no patience for anything less than a legitimate move of God that will shock their system and transform them for the rest of their lives. They are yearning for a supernatural invasion of holy fire into their lives!
DON'T PUT OUT THEIR FIRE!
It's time we stop dumbing down youth ministry. We are looking for fire-breathers, and our teens are ripe for the assignment!
Every single young person should be equipped in supernatural prayer and intercession should be the foundation of every youth ministry. As you raise up an army of burning ones, you will certainly see this planet rocked.
Adults, you must be okay with messy services and an intense pursuit for your young people. I get so troubled when I speak at a youth conference or camp and God is moving powerfully with wild deliverance of demons, amazing confessions, life-rocking salvations and radical freedom, only to have the adults become uncomfortable with such a spectacle. They all to often apply their human wisdom and quench the fire that was started.
Let the young people burn!
It's time we see these burning ones trembling under the weight of the Holy Spirit, prophesying with passion, having dreams and visions and boldly encountering Jesus day after day. We need this army to emerge. Many young people have started this journey of intensity while most have no idea such a life is even possible.
FILL THE PRAYER ROOMS
Throughout my years both as a senior pastor and a youth pastor I'd always have an hour of fiery intercession before every service. There is literally nothing more important that I've ever instituted in my ministry. Gathering people together to literally encounter God before we kick into corporate prayer, worship and the Word will transform your church.
Often our pre-service prayer would flow right into the main service and those arriving late (well, actually on time) would wonder what in the world was going on. It was other-worldly.
The point is simple—develop your youth ministry and your entire church around the furnace of intercession. Most everything else will become less satisfying, less important and will pale in comparison to the revelation of Jesus that comes only through supernatural prayer.
Shut down the parties. Cancel your pizza orders. Eliminate the show. Stop the social experiments and contend in prayer. Promote holiness. Train the youth to know their God. They are waiting for leaders who will show them exactly how all of this works.
If a church is small, does that mean God’s favor isn’t there or that the pastor has failed? Not always.
Given a choice, I’d attend a large, impactful and vibrant church. That’s simply a preference of mine, though I understand why many others prefer smaller churches. Additionally, given a choice, I’d prefer to lead a large, impactful and vibrant church instead of a smaller one. The key words are impactful and vibrant. Over nearly three decades of ministry, however, I’ve learned that large does not always equal successful, small doesn’t always equal failure and a lack of numeric growth doesn’t always equal stagnant. It’s time we overcome the stigma of the small church.
Like most young church planters or pastors, my vision for the church I was leading included explosive numeric growth. That seemed to be the non-negotiable, obvious part of the ministry plan that required no explanation. Starting and developing a church clearly demanded attracting people to the mission as a core strategy. In fact, the Ekklesia is defined by three distinct marks: People. Leadership. Instruction.
The Ekklesia is a gathering of people in the region under governmental authority in order to receive apostolic instruction. More simply, it’s people coming together under God ordained leadership to fulfill a mission. So, yes, people are needed if you want to lead a church.
Some of my most memorable church planting moments include an empty 700 square foot room in Manitou Springs, Colorado where I’d pray, usually alone, in the early stages of our church launch there. Eighteen years have passed and a lot of lessons have been learned, but those hours on my knees or pacing around that room were the foundation of my church planting experience.
I’ll eliminate the countless remarkable stories, miracles, supernatural encounters and other happenings that spurred the church development process, both there in Manitou Springs and also in Detroit where we planted our second church. I’ve written about these miracles and wonders in some of my books (www.burton.tv/resources), but suffice it to say, I’m humbled at how God moved. In fact, I’m stunned at just how much God did. I and many others will never be the same, and for all eternity we will be able to praise God for what he did in those seasons.
To this day I wonder if my two church planting exercises were massive tests—for me. I know for sure that both contained many tests, but my question is about the comprehensive experience. Did God call me to plant two churches mostly to develop me personally and to test my heart? Certainly there were enough stories of impacted lives to fill many books and countless articles, so I don’t question whether the ministry was legitimate or not. I’ll be forever wrecked by the transformation that resulted in people in those two regions, in those two seasons. Watching lives supernaturally transformed before my eyes caused tears to flow.
Yet, as God truly branded many people with his fire in those many years of ministry, I do wonder if God was mostly testing me. Would I be more interested in growing my legacy, my ministry, my church and my reputation—not to mention my bank account—or, was I truly in it for love and to minister to the heart of God?
In both Manitou Springs and Detroit we saw the churches grow. People to this day count those years among the best of their lives. God was drawing people together and we were contending for revival together.
In both Manitou Springs and Detroit, God tested my heart. It was difficult to say the least. Crushing even. To simplify what he was doing, he called us to go deeper and to raise the bar higher. The cost of consecration and the call to fervent intercession became a much greater focus (and we were already known for being an edgy, intense ministry). While we had amazing people in both churches, I knew the decision to become even more revival focused, even more intercession driven and even more devoted to a consecrated, holy lifestyle would result in many people disengaging. I knew it. I was troubled. God was calling me to “intentional failure.”
I’ll never forget the key moments in both places when God nailed me to the ground and directed me to surrender all, including my reputation. There were many cries and questions during the many hours of prayer in those two defining seasons in Colorado and Michigan. If I obeyed God and introduced a new wine, reformation church that was very unique and specific to our particular mission, those who were mostly invested in the church experience for reasons other than revival, reformation, intercession and revolution would most definitely jump ship. That would be almost everybody. Literally. No exaggeration.
I was right. That’s exactly what happened. I could have stayed the course and watched the churches continue to grow and “thrive,” possibly into several hundred in number. I have no doubt that I could have chosen growth over God, and that freaks me out. It would have been very easy to spiritualize my decision and avoid the pointed fingers and accusations of failure by continuing on the way we started. And I would have failed some of my most critical tests. I would have satisfied people and rejected God and the church would have grown. That is absolutely terrifying.
Attempting to transition a passionate, Spirit-filled, fiery church into a church that’s even hotter, more costly and one that results in a terrifying tremble in our spirits is not for the feint of heart. You see, there are many who absolutely love to warm themselves by the fire, but very few who are willing to lay across the fire as it consumes their flesh as a sacrifice to the one they love.
If small churches have a stigma attached to them, and failure has a stigma attached to it, failed churches most definitely have a stigma attached! But why?
Stop and think about it. Pastor, I want you to be free from the finger-pointing and cruel accusations if you struggle to grow your church or if you fail altogether. Has anybody figured out why failure in this manner is such a negative for some people? Failure in man’s eyes means little. The question is, are you growing in God? Are you truly obedient to God even if such obedience results in people presuming you are weak? (By the way, we are all weak!)
Here’s a portion of an article based on my book Piece of Cake, which deals directly with the stigma of failure:
One of the greatest fears man has is that of failure. It invites scrutiny, accusation and mocking—but society’s greatest leaders embrace a culture of failure!
The goal isn’t to look like you know what you are doing, the goal is to experiment, try, fail, try again, grow, have epiphanies, gain knowledge, fail again and ultimately succeed!
Success doesn’t develop experts nearly as well as failure does.
Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.” (attributed to Thomas Edison)
If we understand the scope of our project, it’s actually quite insane to presume we will accomplish it without significant and repeated failures.
Yes, you are going to fail. Go ahead and wrestle with it now, you can’t avoid it. I don’t mean ultimate failure, of course. But, I do mean that you will pray much, do your best to gain insight from God, consider your best options, seek wisdom from others and then move out with at least a measure of confidence—and you will experience failure!
Failure should not intimidate you! People will presume you to be inadequate, confused or immature during your experimenting.
Most young ministers crave for others to see them as successful and steady with a pipeline directly into the command center of Heaven. The reality? We see in part. We understand little. We have clarity on a small part of the big picture, and when we initiate action, others will watch as we stumble and struggle. Are you OK with that?
THE STIGMA OF SMALL CHURCHES
I’ve heard it said that small is the new big. I believe that is true for many, though we have to be careful not to use that as a cop out. There are some leaders out there who have what it takes to grow a large church yet their lack of personal growth, faith and surrender is standing in the way. Small is the new big only if God has called a particular ministry to be small. There are a lot of silly excuses pastors give for having a small church, just as there are many compromises pastors make to have a large church.
I know we could have easily seen our churches grow moderately large, but I also know I’m probably not gifted enough to lead anything in the thousands. But, in reality, if I honestly analyze God’s mandate on my life, I may not be able to stay true to God’s call while leading more than a hundred—if that. Twice I have traded my ability to grow a church for God’s mandate for a small army of zeroed in warriors. You have no idea how thankful I am that I didn’t fail those tests (though I’ve certainly failed a bunch of other tests over the years! I’m thankful for God’s grace and mercy!).
Further, many pastors simply are not equipped or called to lead a large ministry, yet they expend ridiculous amounts of energy trying to fill the seats.
Pastors, if you have a small church, it could be that you aren't gifted to lead a larger one. God didn't give you that ability. Leadership doesn't come naturally to you. The quicker you can admit that, if it's in fact true, the quicker you can shift expectations and pivot into strategies that take advantage of what you are gifted at.
There's such a stigma regarding small churches. People presume them to be failures. Why is that? Numeric growth should not be the barometer of health and success.
The moment you realize it's okay to be small, the stress and pride and anxiety will fall off. Joy will return as you enjoy being who God created you to be.
The truly scary reality is that many people are naturally gifted to lead a large church or ministry, but God has actually called them to lay that on the altar—and they don’t. They can’t imagine the ridicule, the mocking, the accusation and the massive price that would come if they took their church in a direction that few would join them in.
In fact, I wonder how many mighty church growth visions are being fulfilled as Ishmaels instead of Isaacs. I propose churches all over the world be laid on the altar of sacrifice as God brings redefinition and redirection. The revival we are yearning for requires a sacrifice—a surrender of personal ambition and dreams of success. Put it all on the altar. It requires the church is birthed supernaturally, as Isaac was, not naturally as Ishmael was.
I often think about heroes like Leonard Ravenhill. I would imagine if Ravenhill had decided to start his own church, it would probably be initially well attended, and then a colossal failure. His rebukes of the church that he’s so well known for in his writings would most definitely drive the typical church goer away with mocking and accusations flying out of their mouths. You see, if he would have experienced failure such as this, it wouldn’t be his failure, it would be the failure of those who rejected the call to respond.
Leonard Ravenhill received a lot of criticism about his view of the church being weak witnesses for Christ. He sought to rekindle the fire of the church into the devotion that the first century church had. To him, the greatest tragedy was not sinful activities of the world; it was a sick church in a dying world and so he thought, “Save the church and you will save the world!” Leonard Ravenhill was an old time preacher that warned of the wrath of God, hellfire, heaven, the need for repentance, confession of sin, living a life of holiness. ~Jack Wellman
IF I DECIDED TO PLANT MY THIRD CHURCH
I’d encourage you to read an article I wrote about just what my third church plant might look like, should God direct me to launch one: What My Third Church Plant Might Look Like.
Here’s a portion:
We Will Be Intentionally Small
Understand, I'm someone who absolutely loves large-group meetings. I love praying and contending with thousands of people at various conferences and events. I also would have no problem with a church that does in fact explode in number as a result of revival. I believe we will see that.
However, after 26 years, much of that in pastoral ministry developing churches, I no longer value growing numerically for the sake of numbers. I don't get excited when more people show up, unless those people are hungry and ready to engage God with us at an extreme level.
I believe the sharp, offensive messages that will be preached, the call for 100 percent of the people to be invested in supernatural, fervent prayer and the extreme commitment necessary to advance apostolically will repel most people. Only a remnant will be left. It's with that remnant that we can preach what much be preached, pray what must be prayed and do what must be done to prepare a region for revival.
IT’S TIME FOR REMNANT CHURCHES—WHICH MEANS MOST CURRENT CHURCH MEMBERS WILL LEAVE
Large churches can be a serious threat to revival—or a great strength to revival. We cannot measure success by the number of people who are attending. We must measure by the number of remnant Christians who are fully devoted and being equipped and marked by God in the fires of intercession. Again, some leaders can gather a small group of firebrands and some can gather hundreds or thousands. The key is the temperature of the fire and the level of surrender. When the fire gets hot, many will leave.
We have too many churches filled with people who are marginally interested in a move of God. They would be counted among those who rejected the call to the Upper Room. Understand, what happened in that Upper Room resulted in the launch of the church. If we don’t see tongues of fire igniting above everyone in attendance, and we don’t feel the wind of the Spirit of God blowing through the place, we have to know our church is either compromised or not ready.
The call must be so severe that most people reject it. Hundreds rejected the opportunity to be a part of the Upper Room prayer meeting. Those who did respond changed the world and ultimately impacted billions.
So, yes, when I gave leadership to the churches in Manitou Springs and in Detroit, I was so hungry for God to move more in the region than in my own meetings that I refused to pursue church growth at the cost of obedience and the greater vision. Those were painful years that resulted in a lot of tears as people moved on to other places. Understand, I don’t blame these people. Many are great friends who simply had a different focus in their lives. It’s easy for us to presume such decisions are black and white, but they rarely are. People are at all different places in life, and sometimes one crazy and wild church may just not be what God has for them at that time. I understand that.
I blessed those who left, as difficult as it was to see them go, but I knew my heart was pure and my decision to contend for revival and God’s plan instead of growing my church was correct. Would I do some things differently? Of course. But, the final, big decision to say yes to God and no to personal ambition was the only decision that really mattered.
Simply do what God calls you to do. Period. It really is that basic. There are many pastors that would be better served entering the marketplace. Others need to come to terms with the size of their ministry. Others have to mature and develop before they will see the next level. But, don’t allow people’s analysis of your progress control you or impact you emotionally. People, even many Christians, love to capitalize on someone who is down, and they will use that opportunity to elevate themselves. Just let them. It’s okay. Love them and trust God. All eternity will be marked by the way you respond to people and challenges. It truly is a glorious thing to be free from the scrutiny of others as we allow the fear of the Lord to overcome us. He is truly a very good Father who is cheering you on, not stepping on your neck when you are down and broken.
Many churches that don’t identify as Seeker Sensitive are actually employing Seeker strategies that threaten revival.
You can read the first article where I dealt with five clear threats to revival that are propagated through seeker sensitive church growth strategies on the Charisma News site HERE.
The very purpose of the church and the experience in the church meeting have become confused, so much so that most would consider today’s typical Spirit-filled service to be biblically normal, though some have “Ichabod” etched above their doorposts.
And she named the child Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel!” because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband. And she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.” 1 Samuel 4:21-22 (ESV)
We have so neutered the supernatural influence that mostly natural religious expressions with a few raised hands and occasional shouts of “Hallelujah!” give it just enough spiritual unction to pass muster. The glory has departed and few have noticed—or cared.
The church must shift from being naturally familiar to being supernaturally shocking! The tremble must return to the church as Believers are functioning in raw, Holy Spirit power that can only be found in a lifestyle of zealous intercession.
From my book The Coming Church:
We soon won’t be able to define going to church the way we do now. God is coming to reform, to crush structures of old for what is to be introduced very soon. Our call isn’t to stand strong until the shift comes, it’s to prophetically sound the alarm and awaken those at risk! God is coming!
America doesn’t need another bed-and-breakfast church that comforts our flesh (our natural desires). Our nation needs a Church with a volatile atmosphere that explodes, burns human flesh and shocks our culture.
To the dismay of those who simply want to hear a little worship and listen to good (and short) teaching, services will become more like prayer meetings. This is one of the most critical and most upsetting shifts that will come–and it must come now. Today, most of the energy church leadership teams expend is usually on attracting and keeping visitors instead of training and engaging intercessors.
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. Scripture reveals that the Church is a House of Prayer for all nations (Mark 11:17) Every person in the Church will function as a burning intercessor, and the services will be marked by this unified groan of fiery prayer. It simply does not make sense that people gather together as Christians without prayer being their primary activity!
Christians who aren’t invested in fervent, supernatural prayer will be enticed by the natural familiarity of Ichabod churches (where the glory has departed).
5 MORE SEEKER-SENSITIVE STRATEGIES THAT THREATEN REVIVAL
1. Fewer, Shorter, Predictable Services
First, I’m quick to admit that I, like many others, do not like poorly formatted church services that are too long for all the wrong reasons. Do away with Sister Martha’s five minute announcement on the upcoming social and a special song by Brother Larry that unnecessarily fills space. Let’s do away with announcements and other time wasters and dive into what is more pressing.
That being said, we have to stop the trend of churches giving into the demands of the culture. It’s laughable to think the church can impact the world if the soldiers are only together two hours a week (or less than an hour in some churches). What happened to being in church every time the doors are open? I suppose this still happens since the church doors are only open from 10am-noon on Sunday mornings. The house of prayer is eerily empty, dark and closed most hours of the week.
So continuing daily with one accord in the temple… Acts 2:46 (NKJV)
It’s time to call the warriors together for fervent intercession and apostolic instruction and expect the Spirit of God to shock and rock the service! Even some of the most revival focused, Holy Spirit friendly churches out there have limited services and have created a predictable, repeatable, user-friendly order of service that ensures very little spontaneous would ever happen. Stop and think of the various elements that happen in every single church service, at exactly the same point every single time.
People are typically creatures of habit and it’s proven that growing churches are structured, shorter and mostly predictable. This is a tried and true Seeker strategy. It makes it comfortable for the seeker while it creates a foreign environment for the Holy Spirit. God must not only be given room to move in unusual and unique ways, but the service must be formatted in such a way that such Holy Spirit activity is nurtured and facilitated. I’d rather wait on my knees in silence for an hour waiting for God to move than to go through the order of service as if God has chosen another church to visit that day.
And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Acts 2:2 (NKJV)
2. Programs for Everyone
The Upper Room had one program, one expectation, one mandate. Pray. Hundreds of invited people chose not to attend, and that was okay. Sad. Unbelievable. But, okay. The mission was more important and it would not be compromised to attract a few hundred more distracted seekers.
Many of today’s pastors are so eager to keep every visitor and make every participant feel connected and satisfied that a massive and every growing menu of programs, small groups and activities is carefully created. The reasoning behind this is to ensure everyone has a place. This feels right. It seems to be a great way to welcome and include as many people as possible. However, if we look at what is really being done it will infuriate you. It does me.
There is a place for everyone in the church, in the house of prayer, in that Upper Room. The place is the prayer room! When we create programs and activities in an effort to keep people in our church it’s evidence that we have not successfully developed the culture of prayer that the church demands. We end up empowering people in their resistance to a lifestyle of intercession. If the prayer room isn’t magnetic enough, those you are attempting to attract just have to be allowed to move on.
This is why I’m a firm believer that the prayer meeting must take place on Sunday mornings. It’s the main thing, the program for all, the activity that entire families give themselves to night and day.
Even the most revival-centric churches fall into the trap of enticing people to stay via means other than the call to prayer.
The true church lives and moves and has its being in prayer.”
In fact, the call isn’t only to pray, but to pray in the Spirit! We need people praying in tongues, groaning in the Spirit, crying out to God night and day. This is the program that must be developed, and until all are involved other efforts should be tabled.
praying at all times in the Spirit… Ephesians 6:18 (ESV)
3. Easy Salvation
This point could easily demand an entire article, or even an entire book to deal with effectively.
Suffice it to say the American church has failed miserably by presenting a casual, easy, costless salvation that is sealed by repeating a sinner’s prayer. This is an offense to the cross of Christ!
When I minister I always invite people to salvation by saying, “Every eye open and everybody looking around.” It’s common today to give people a private moment to ask Jesus into their heart by saying, “Every eye closed and nobody looking around…” I understand what they are trying to do. I understand how intimidating it can be to raise a hand and come to an altar, however if we are training people that salvation can occur without powering through the fear we are providing a lot of them with a false security.
We cannot be ashamed of Jesus! We must call people to radical surrender! The cost is high. The surrender must be complete. There are many people following Jesus in an unsaved condition because they have not been presented with the true Gospel. They have not been confronted with their depravity. They are filled with messages of how much God likes them without highlighting the reason they are separated from him.
True salvation results in a fervent, committed person who will burn hot, serve with passion and rend their hearts continually.
From The Coming Church:
The horrific confusion regarding the issue of salvation in the Western Church is the key reason why I am so intense. I am intentionally extremely off balance as a heavy counterweight due to current off-balance theologies. People are going to Hell. They think they are saved.
Just so you know how I see things, due to this encounter that I had 22 years ago (of being dragged toward Hell and hearing God tell me that many Christians will be shocked to find themselves in Hell one day): when I’m in a vibrant, Spirit-filled church of, lets say, one thousand people—people who are lifting their hands, worshiping Jesus and paying their tithes—I see maybe 100 of them, on average, ending up in Heaven. That’s not a judgmental statement, as I have no way of truly judging that on a person-by-person basis. It’s simply a statistical, analytical reality for me based on my encounter with Hell. How can I stay silent even for a day if billions of unsaved people are going to Hell—not to mention many others in churches who are following Jesus in an unsaved condition?
4. Slow, Easy Pace
Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” Understand, as we follow Jesus, we are called to lead others in that procession—but it’s at the pace of Christ, not the pace of the followers.
Seeker churches provide a “taste and see” environment for people to consider the ways of Jesus at a level that’s comfortable to them. We need churches that will stun the people and preach messages of urgency and radical consecration!
Under Moses the Hebrews dictated the pace of their advance and they all died in the desert—all but Joshua and Caleb. Under Joshua’s leadership, there was precision, urgency and unity in the advance into the land of Promise.
If we truly understood the urgency of the hour we would be shouting from the rooftops, calling people into immediate, radical surrender!
Hell continues to grow larger and today many will begin their eternity there. It’s a horrifying, tragic reality and we cannot allow people under our leadership to be casual, disinterested, lukewarm and disengaged. I believe their blood will be on our hands as leaders if we don’t start preaching with fire and shocking the dead to life!
5. Focusing on Numbers
This is such a huge point that I really want it to hit hard. True revival churches, with very limited exceptions, can expect to be very small in number. The goal of growing in number will almost immediately hijack the primary purpose of calling the remnant together for raging intercession, consecration and inconvenient instructions.
I was personally set free many years ago when God told me to never consider the number of people in the church again, but rather to consider how obedient I am. How well do I allow the Holy Spirit to lead?
It’s a very rare remnant that will gather together in the furnace that is being stoked, prodded and heated. Most people love to warm themselves by the fire but very few will actually lay across the fire and allow God to burn fully through them, to refine them and to cause them to blaze. We don’t need people who have the smell of fire on them, we need those who are burning.
We must let God build his church with rare, remnant burning ones.
God is ready to ignite his remnant bride. We must get ready for a raging furnace of prayer to burn in our churches again. It’s time. It’s past time. Most won’t be ready. Most weren’t ready for the Upper Room. The Upper Room wasn’t changed, programs weren’t added, the time there wasn’t shortened, the pace wasn’t easy, the cost was high. The pretenders had excuses and the remnant was surprised by supernatural power that turned the world upside down.
Yes, we need Upper Room churches in America, and fast.
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.
Listen to 7 new conference teachings including how to develop a culture of prayer in your life and church from Jasper, Alabama!
Listen to this FREE conference series from Cornerstone Church in Jasper, Alabama online right now!
The first two sessions were specifically for regional pastors and leaders. I taught on how to develop a culture of prophetic prayer in their church. This teaching was based on my recent Charisma Magazine article that can be read HERE.
Here’s the full list of teachings:
- How to Develop a Culture of Prayer in Your Life and Church (Part 1)
- How to Develop a Culture of Prayer in Your Life and Church (Part 2)
- Spiritual Authority
- Revelation Driven Life
- Your Impending Adventure
- Fire From Heaven (Part 1)
- Fire From Heaven (Part 2)
King’s Chapel is our host Friday from 10pm until midnight!
We continue our regional, corporate pursuit toward revival in the Ozarks FRIDAY at 10pm!
We will be meeting at the Old Stone Church and will be praying with King’s Chapel and other people hungry for a move of God in our region.
Forward this email, invite everybody you can, come hungry and let’s encounter God in an atmosphere of fire!
The Old Stone Church
Fourth and Pacific, Branson, MO 65616
See a map at www.prayerteam.tv/events.
REGIONAL REVIVAL EVENTS
Watch a short info video, learn more about the vision and see the schedule for upcoming Monday evening revival events in Branson at www.thefurnace.tv/branson!
Join us in Branson THIS WEDNESDAY for a night of glory, fire and training!
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for directions.
I can’t wait to see you Wednesday at 7pm!
Assisted Suicide—This powerful dream was first shared in my book The Coming Church.
I recently had a dream that really shines the light on the coming battle in the Church. As I’ve said, the Church is to be a House of Prayer. Any other dominant defining attributes than intercession dilute and compromise the Church’s mission.
The Church isn’t to be a house of teaching, a house of friendships or a house of evangelism. It’s a House of Prayer, a place that facilitates a lifestyle of night and day intercession. We are all called to pray at that level, not just some mystical, elite group of prayer warriors. The coming Church will be a Church on fire. No longer will we gather around a fire to warm our flesh, but rather we’ll lay across it as burning ones who allow the Consuming Fire to do just that—consume us.
As we pray and live on fire, much trouble will come. We will threaten those who don’t choose to pray, those who don’t see the need. There are already strategies and theologies that are opposing and assaulting the prayer movement, and my dream brings clarity to that reality.
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’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” Mark 11:17
Assisted Suicide—The Dream
In the dream, I was walking up a dirt hill where my dad was. In the dream, my dad represented the prayer movement. In the Branson, Missouri area he gave leadership to a significant regional prayer effort called the Uninterrupted Prayer Team (the UP Team).
My dad was on the top of that dry, dirty hill for a very specific reason. He was going to be executed. It was a public execution. I was shocked at how passive my dad was. He was on a bed, like a hospital bed, and he was submitted to the demand that he die.
I sensed that the forces were too strong for me to fight against them. He was to be executed, and there seemed to be nothing I could do about it.
I asked my dad what in the world was going on. He was pleasant in his demeanor, and in fact, most of the people around him who were helping facilitate the public execution were casually going about their day, and they were good friends of my dad. They were “good Christians” who were focused on having a great day and did what they could to eradicate anything that would threaten that.
My dad said, “John, this is going to be an assisted suicide.”
I couldn’t believe it! The pressure of the Church as it opposes the prayer movement will be so great, that many will be overwhelmed and will lose hope that their mandate to pray will have impact. The prayer movement is at risk of agreeing with its own death!
The Church today is threatened by the prayer movement, and it will do much to embrace the spirit of the age and execute the spirit of intercession.
As the dream continued, I then left his side and walked down the dirt road in deep, troubling thought. I looked down and saw a lighter, that looked like it was broken. I picked it up and I understood that if I could only get it to light, the execution would be called off.
If we pray, the fire of God will burn, and the opposing spirits will lose their strength.
Believe me, this is a very real situation. Someone actually contacted me online recently and arrogantly told me that they and others in a local church were actually praying for a local house of prayer to close down—and it did close down.
It’s absolutely stunning that supposed Christians can oppose prayer with such zeal that they actually pray against the prayer movement!
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?
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!
The coming Church will be marked by constant prayer, and there will be a divide along this line. If we don’t pray, I do believe it’s a serious issue with eternity hanging in the balance. If we truly know God, we will understand the desire and need to connect with him in prayer.
A CHURCH ON FIRE
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. Keep in mind, there’s always a spirit giving leadership in a service—the spirit of man, a demonic spirit or the Holy Spirit.
I told God one day many years ago that if I responded to his extreme call to facilitate a white hot environment of prayer in our church I would lose my reputation. People would sever relationship with me and hurl accusations my way.
God said, “Good. My Son was of no reputation, why should you be?” I was rocked. It was that day, many years ago, that I stopped trying to look good and build a ministry and make people happy about running with me. Selfish ambition died that day. The moment we make decisions based mostly on attracting people, keeping people or raising money is the moment we have failed as leaders.
…but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:7-8
I’m not trying to build a ministry—I’m devoted to obeying God and delivering the messages he has given me. I know these messages will directly hit theologies and ideals that so many hold dear. That’s the point. I crave people’s freedom from those harmful ideals! I desire the truth of Jesus to invade everybody’s life!
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. Matthew 10:34
One reason I’m OK with this divisive strategy (that Jesus affirmed above) is that it clearly reveals who’s for and who’s opposed. I’d rather make the message clear and know who I’m running with than to tone it down and have those who are opposed to it in our camp. So, we love and serve everybody in the camp, but we can’t get sidetracked from our mission for the sake of their comfort.
Trust me, the resulting remnant of burning ones will rejoice at such an atmosphere of clarity and fire! Those who are lukewarm today just may awaken and burn tomorrow—if we have the courage to preach the very difficult, costly truth and call every person to the fire of continual prayer!
I’m sure there are some who translate boldness and refusal to soft step issues as arrogance—but I do not apologize. Yeah, I know that sounds arrogant! The reason I don’t apologize is because I wrestle with the call to humility continually, and I check my heart non-stop. The possibility of pride and arrogance is there, without question, and I take that very seriously. I check my heart to ensure I’m humble and full of love. It’s wisdom to receive insight from your critics, at least to a point!
People that are close to me do know my heart—and they know I’m broken before the Lord. My call is to aggressively sound alarms, gather people around the mission of revival and provoke people to pray night and day. It can’t be a soft spoken suggestion if we hope to awaken a great end-time army!
Several years ago in Colorado, the Lord directed me very urgently to learn how to walk in extreme humility and extreme boldness at the same time. It was a full year of intense prayer and discovery—a personal school of the Holy Spirit. In that school, I learned much, including this—I was not to attempt to appear humble, I was to be humble. Why was this important? Because the Elijah-level boldness that is required to impact a region would often look like anything but humility. It would appear as arrogance and selfish ambition.
We are not in a season where we need to gather around a table and water down the message in the hopes of finding common ground that results in handshakes and smiles. The message of the hour will overturn that table with violence.
I endeavor to love every person deeply, but I refuse to affirm systems, methodologies, theologies and lifestyles that are an offense to the Word of God. I will, in humility and boldness, be relentless in provoking the sleepers to awaken and those given to a lukewarm life to be shaken. Prophetic threats against human systems and unholy altars results in accusation, gossip and resistance.
When the men of the town rose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was broken down, and the Asherah beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar that had been built. And they said to one another, “Who has done this thing?” And after they had searched and inquired, they said, “Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing.”
Then the men of the town said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has broken down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah beside it.” But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Will you contend for Baal? Or will you save him? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down.” Judges 6:28-31
I know the accusations will continue, but you need to know that, if you are bold, you will provoke. You must be OK with that! Love people deeply, hate the enemy powerfully and know there will be a crisis in the middle as God, people and demons step into the ring. Don’t wrestle against flesh and blood! Be innocent! But don’t presume a passive spirit is the same thing as a humble spirit.
The assault against the prayer movement is extreme and we must advance against the spirit of the age with fire in our veins and tears in our eyes.
15 spots remain! Burning ones are gathering together in Branson, Missouri TOMORROW, Friday, August 14th for a night of FIRE!
It’s finally here!
Tomorrow is going to be a night to remember as we burn hot, contend for revival and encounter the LIVING GOD together in Branson!
There are 15 spots left if you would like to register.
We are limited to the first 120 registrations due to the venue size, so if you plan on attending you MUST register. The registration form will be removed when all spots are filled.
Register here: http://www.carriersoffire.org/unusual