We have radically misunderstood the purpose of the church—and the Gideon principle is the shock it needs.
Pastors, quit getting excited when your church grows in number.
Quit getting depressed when it declines in number.
Quit selling your soul to compel people to join you on Sunday mornings.
Numeric church growth is not the goal—mission completion is—and the people you are wooing just may be your downfall.
CHURCH AS WE KNOW IT
As one who has planted two churches and spent many years in church leadership, both as a staff pastor and senior leader, I have had a front row seat to the American church reality. There’s much that has been absolutely amazing and much that is radically disappointing.
Church as we know it, however, doesn’t take years of leadership experience to analyze. It’s simple: we gather together once or twice a week and worship a little and pray a little (usually very little) and listen to teaching. After saying hi to friends and small talking with others we head out into our world until next week.
Pastors are heroes, in my opinion. Superheroes in fact. However, even mighty men and women of God must step back at times and truly analyze their motives and ministries. I suggest part of that analysis must include reckoning with an unhealthy desire to see the church grow numerically. Pastors tend to get weighted down when the seats are empty, and then, miraculously, they perk up and have an extra jump in their step when the roar of the crowd is louder. It’s human nature. Unfortunately, it’s human nature that is threatening the church and the lives of people it’s called to impact. We need to adopt supernatural wisdom as we move into the next generation of the church.
I shared a prophetic word at a city pastor’s gathering in Detroit several years ago. I don’t believe it was received well as most remained silent after I shared it and then they moved on to other business. I do believe it was the Lord, however. It was a word of warning and a strategic call.
I saw an ocean beach on a sunny day. There were many people on the sand, a good number splashing in the shallows and a handful of people swimming in deeper waters.
Those who were on the sand were mostly happy building sand castles, tanning and enjoying the afternoon sun as the cool mist from the crashing waves blew over them. Some were curious about the water and even took off their sandals and walked where the waves met the sand. Others would slowly venture out and start splashing in the shallows, but most were satisfied just where they were.
The people in the shallows were having a good time. They were together, jumping, splashing and swimming. They were in waist high water and were able to stand on the sandy bottom. They were also satisfied.
I then looked out at the small number of people who were in the deep. They couldn’t stand as the water was well over their heads. They were so hungry to explore the wide-open seas. It made no sense to them why anybody would be satisfied experiencing so little. However, these people had nobody to lead them into the deeper waters. You see, the people on the sand, in the shallows and in the deep all represented a single local church.
What I saw next brought clear, obvious revelation to the situation.
I saw a man, the pastor, in khaki pants, a dress shirt and a tie. His shoes were off and his pant legs were rolled up. He had one foot in the water and the other on the sand. He was not dressed for the deep. In fact, he wasn’t dressed for the shallows or the sand either. He determined to remain anchored between the sand and the shallows where the majority of the people were, yet unable to really reach any of them.
The pastor was under great stress as he would look upon those on the sand, then those in the shallows and he’d then squint as he saw those who were drifting out to sea. His eyes continually darted between the three groups, attempting to maintain some sort of control over the spiritually diverse congregation. However, he couldn’t. Those in the deep became a nuisance. He found it easier to allow them to go and to focus on the sand and the shallows. He
knew those in the low water would not go deeper and those on the sand were safe, and maybe, some day, they would jump in and splash around with the others.
3 Going on eastward with a measuring line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits, and then led me through the water, and it was ankle-deep. 4 Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was waist-deep. 5 Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen. It was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through. 6 And he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?” Then he led me back to the bank of the river. Ezekiel 47:3-6 (ESV)
9 And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. Ezekiel 47:9 (ESV)
26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” Matthew 7:26-27 (ESV)
THE CALL TO THE DEEP
I believe the strategy of the church must radically change. The pastor, the leader, must be in the deep ahead of the people. The priests are called to step into the waters and to lead people into miraculous situations.
14 So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, 15 and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), 16 the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. Joshua 3:14-16 (ESV)
The evangelists are called to minister to those on the sand. Prophets can call them into the waters. The local church’s apostolic leaders must focus on the deep, calling people to advance into impossible waters as they seek to encounter the wonders of God and to take new ground. They announce the need to live consecrated lives as they prepare for God to move in power.
5 Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.” Joshua 3:5 (ESV)
Seeker churches are well known for focusing on the people on the sand. The beach goers have been affirmed in their position by this regrettable church movement. Further, the poison of seeker ministries has soaked into the soil of the greater American church foundation. Today, most churches may not identify as seeker sensitive, but seeker principles are adopted and adapted to fit their local expression in hopes of attracting the very same sand dwellers and shallow splashers. Those yearning for the deep are minimized and ignored—often because of the pastor’s own lack of depth—and commonly because of the pastor’s devotion to growing a larger church.
THE GIDEON CHURCH GROWTH PRINCIPLE
Churches have too many people, or at least they have the wrong people. Church missions have been compromised.
Please understand, I do believe in numeric church growth. We see in Scripture how thousands were added. I believe we’ll see stadiums filled with Christians interceding and contending for revival. The harvest will come in. There absolutely are and will continue to be anointed, surrendered leaders who have been graced to lead large numbers without compromise. There are “churches of the deep” that are diving into unseen realms and growing mighty disciples. In fact, if given a choice, I’d rather attend a large church like this than a small group of unified zealots—though I do value both.
With that in mind, most churches and pastors will benefit from applying the Gideon principle, though it will be scary, painful and humbling. Death to self, rejection of selfish ambition and mighty faith are required. I believe God is about to invite leaders into divine wrestling matches as they renounce their fabricated and confused identities and adopt their divine callings and discover their identities in Christ instead of success.
12 And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.” 13 And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” Judges 6:12-13 (ESV)
God also believes his pastors and leaders are heroes. He addressed Gideon, a leader who had yet to step into that identity, as a mighty man of valor. It would do us well to honor God’s men and women in the same way. While many will reject the call of God to shift, some will hit their spiritual rock bottom and cry out from their caves of desperation. God is raising up warriors like this, and we should celebrate the process.
Whenever we are out of sync with God a common complaint will be, “God, where were you? Why have you forsaken us?”
Today pastors are gazing up into the heavens wondering why God isn’t bringing growth. Where is he? Why is his presence so rare in their local church? What is going on?
This is a good prayer as long as we are ready for God’s reply.
14 And the LORD turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” Judges 6:14 (ESV)
Go in might. I have sent you. That’s God’s reply.
15 And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” 16 And the LORD said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” Judges 6:15-16 (ESV)
If we allow God to truly search our hearts, this is where the divine wrestling match begins. We may honestly feel unworthy, unprepared, weak and the least of all. What a contrast to God’s identifying decree: You are a mighty man of valor, I will be with you and you will be victorious—but the victory depends on radical surrender and wild faith. Pastor, will you allow this Gideon principle to take over your church and your life?
The process included Gideon seeking God, looking for confirmation, hearing his voice, discovering his new identity and emerging as a true leader. It would do us well to cry out for a similar process to initiate in our own lives.
EMERGING JERUBBAAL LEADERS: DESTROYING ALTARS AND ADVANCING IN VICTORY
25 That night the LORD said to him, “Take your father’s bull, and the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it 26 and build an altar to the LORD your God on the top of the stronghold here…Judges 6:25-26 (ESV)
The next step is critical. We must destroy altars of old. We must differentiate between God-given mantles and God-opposed altars. God absolutely will grace us with the water from the wells that our fathers and their fathers dug years ago. There are mantles and rich, godly traditions that have eternal value. However, there are unholy altars that have become normal in the church today that must be torn down. Traditions of man, selfish ambition, the pursuit of notoriety, becoming drunk on money and pride must be crushed. Annihilated.
28 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. 29 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.” 30 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.” 31 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.” 32 Therefore on that day Gideon was called Jerubbaal, that is to say, “Let Baal contend against him,” because he broke down his altar. Judges 6:28-32 (ESV)
Are you ready to be renamed? Are you an emerging Jerubbaal? When we tear down ungodly altars, we step into a promotion in the spirit. We will be known as one who has stared evil in the eye and is unafraid at the threat of demonic backlash.
When we have proven ourselves to possess the obedience and fearlessness necessary to stand against the prevailing religious culture of the day by tearing down altars that so many hold so dear, we will be ready to advance in the mission—by allowing most people to leave.
THE PEOPLE IN YOUR CHURCH MAY BE HINDERING YOUR MISSION
Remember, we are called to leave the sand, to leave the shallows and to lead into the deep. Most people will not remain when you allow God to shift your church into a “deeper water” ministry. Your mission requires the right laborers be with you and those who are resistant to be let go. It doesn’t mean we don’t love them. It means we understand those who leave will pale in comparison with those will be set free through our obedience.
2 The LORD said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ 3 Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.’” Then 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained. Judges 7:2-3 (ESV)
Pastor, when you cast this renewed vision of going into the deep, most in your church will, most likely, be afraid of such a venture. It will not be what they signed up for. They wanted you to occasionally wave at them as they soaked up the sun on their beach blankets. They wanted you to splash with them if they ever decided to test the shallows. This new, awakened leader will be an irritant to them. Most will leave. That’s okay. The mission is for all who are fearless and surrendered to Jesus. The choice is theirs. If Gideon would have refused this filtering process, the entire camp would have been decimated. The enemy is ready to decimate our churches too. We need Jerubbaal to emerge and lead with the mysterious, illogical wisdom of the Holy Spirit.
4 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)
6 And the number of those who lapped, putting their hands to their mouths, was 300 men, but all the rest of the people knelt down to drink water. 7 And the LORD said to Gideon, “With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.” Judges 7:6-7 (ESV)
God knew who was needed to get the job done. 300 out of 32,000, less than one percent, were called as the church, the Ekklesia, a governmental people with determined unity and a fearless disposition, to rout the enemy.
AN UNCONVENTIONAL CALL
The result of applying the Gideon principle for church growth will most probably result in an extreme decrease in numbers but a supernatural increase in power.
An unconventional man, Gideon, was called.
An unconventional army, only 300 in number, was gathered.
An unconventional method, banging jars and shouting, was used.
The result was glorious victory.
20 Then the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars. They held in their left hands the torches, and in their right hands the trumpets to blow. And they cried out, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” 21 Every man stood in his place around the camp, and all the army ran. They cried out and fled. 22 When they blew the 300 trumpets, the LORD set every man’s sword against his comrade and against all the army. And the army fled as far as Beth-shittah toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath. Judges 7:20-22 (ESV)
ACCUSATION WILL COME
I’ll conclude this article with a key point that could easily have been ignored.
1 Then the men of Ephraim said to him, “What is this that you have done to us, not to call us when you went to fight against Midian?” And they accused him fiercely. Judges 8:1 (ESV)
When God calls you to destroy religious altars, and to advance mostly alone in your region, you will absolutely be accused by other pastors and leaders. Who are you, after all, to presume you know what should be done in the city? Your answer? You are Jerubbaal.
While I appreciate it when pastors in a city meet together and attempt to unify and support one another, it’s rare for them to truly promote revival in a region. The reason? They presume their efforts to affirm one another and support one another are the goal. It’s satisfying. Somehow, unifying around this low level commitment feels spiritual. It’s nice, but it can be threatening to the greater mission. When God calls you to tear down altars they have built, or that their fathers have built, then what? When God calls you to advance in the city without them (due to their own choice), with a small army of radicals, how will they respond? Many will accuse.
This doesn’t mean, by any means, that we go rogue and function in an independent, rebellious spirit. God will crush that fast. He resists the proud. God will, however, awaken key people to do what few others will, and what most will flatly reject. This Jerubbaal leader will threaten religious structures. Their humble surrender and bold resolve to obey their God at every turn will threaten those who have their religious culture carefully defined.
Who are you? What is your identity? You are a mighty man of valor. God is inviting you as a Jerubbaal. He will rally an army around you to assault the enemy and to advance the Kingdom of God. Those who leave, and those leaders who aren’t consulted, will most certainly accuse you.
That’s okay. Go in this spirit of Jerubbaal and see God move in some of the most remarkable signs, wonders and miracles the world has ever known. You are invited, mighty man of valor, to be an instrument in God’s hands in a dark and desperate world. This hour is yours.
People are leaving the church in droves, and most fingers are pointed at the senior pastor.
Triggered. That’s the best way to describe a lot of people when the topic of “going to church” is brought up. You see, there’s a group of ex-church goers who are so angered by their previous church experiences, that any suggestion of support of the local church triggers them. I’ve had interactions with many people who tense up the moment I start a discussion about the church and the importance of being rightly aligned and connected with leadership.
Let me be clear: I’m a fierce advocate of the local church. I’m also a passionate visionary. I see well beyond the current structure and I regularly rock the boat and challenge systems, motives and traditions that exist within the local church. I believe we should stay connected, submitted and tender hearted within the church while we are, with wisdom and honor, advocating for reformation.
Sadly, many who share my passion for revolution within the church have gone the route of abdication, accusation and hibernation. They have abandoned their post while pointing fingers at pastors and leaders who didn’t measure up to their standards. They end up spiritualizing their decision to stop going to church so they can, as they say, “be the church.” The problem? You can’t be the church if you don’t go to church. I dealt with that in my article: You are NOT the church : The scattering movement.
I also address the abandonment of the church in my book Covens in the Church. People are leaving assignments and putting the church at great risk. It’s a movement of witchcraft and rebellion in the name of God.
A key reason why people are so disenchanted with the church is simple: Their expectations of what pastors are supposed to do and how the church is supposed to function are wrong.
MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT THE ROLE OF PASTOR AND THE CHURCH
THE PASTOR IS SUPPOSED TO BE MY CLOSE, PERSONAL FRIEND
There are many disappointed people who expected the pastor of the church they once attended to become a close, personal friend. While it’s true that pastors will have friends, and it’s possible to be counted among them, that should not be the goal or the expectation.
In fact, it’s a bit ludicrous to presume the pastor has to squeeze time, emotional energy and attention to you into his very busy and important life. The pastor’s role is not to be your close, personal bud. It’s to be a faithful leader and to watch out for your soul.
Stop and think about this for a moment. Do you have unlimited time and energy to give to literally everyone who chooses you as their new friend? How would you do it? Would you go out to lunch with them every day? What about hundreds of others who have the same demands? It simply doesn’t make sense.
We need to honestly understand just why pastors may choose not to be our close, personal friend. Here are a few:
His mandate is mostly to pray and study the Word.
1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:1-4 (ESV)
It’s concerning today that pastors, instead of spending loads of time on their knees and in the Word, are being pulled in every direction to visit people in the hospital, meet with visitors to the church, answer the phone at all hours of the night and meet the needs of everybody in the congregation.
One of my favorite stories about Mike Bickle of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City brings clarity to this point. A person of great influence was flying through Kansas City and wanted to meet with Mike during his layover. Mike was unavailable. The layover was during Mike’s daily scheduled prayer time. He politely declined the meeting.
We need a new breed of leader that will install a team who will take care of the people and then focus on meeting with God, getting wrecked in his presence, gaining powerful revelation in the Word and, as a result, stand behind the pulpit with fire in their eyes and a tremble in their spirit.
He may not have sufficient time or emotional energy to invest in another close relationship.
Related to the point above, pastors are busy. Really busy. Even those who lead small churches can’t be expected to be best friends with everybody. I’ve heard people say that if they can’t be close friends with all, they should resign from ministry. Ridiculous.
Further, do you know how many ministry families are being torn apart because of the pastor having absolutely unreal, unnecessary demands placed on them? Burnout is real. Pastor’s kids are often neglected. Pastor’s wives often live with great resentment against the church and those who are crushing her husband under the weight of their demands.
This study by Robin Dunbar is revealing:
Is there a limit to how many people you can actually be friends with at a time?
According to psychologists, the answer is yes. A study by Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at University of Oxford, shows the average person can only manage five close relationships at a time.
So, if your church has more than five people attending, chances are the pastor simply won’t have room for another close friend.
He may not like you.
This one may sting. I’m confident you don’t have a blast hanging out with everybody. You have your favorites. So do pastors. It’s natural. It’s normal. Your personalities might not match. You might be clingy, weird, co-dependent, high maintenance or unbalanced. He'll be most effective ministering to you from afar.
This doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you. It doesn’t mean you can’t be friend at a less intimate level. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about you. He just isn’t going to take you on vacation or hang out in his PJ’s watching football with you.
You have yet to prove yourself or invest in the ministry.
Smart leaders will invest mostly in those who have proven themselves faithful. Jesus devoted himself to twelve, and then at a closer level to three. Pastors will hang with those who share his vision, who are fierce defenders of the church and who don’t exhibit selfish tendencies. The pastor has a serious call of God to lead the church into an impossible vision, and he needs people around him who will empower that vision.
If you are dead weight, they will love you, pray for you and do their best to awaken you, but they won’t—and shouldn’t—be close friends with you.
God told him not to get too close to you.
There have been a number of people over the last two plus decades of ministry that I was specifically warned about. God told me not to befriend them. Some had devious intentions. Others would be a time-suck. Others would want to be inappropriately close to my family and me. Healthy boundaries were necessary.
Sometimes, my wife would be the one to wave the red flag of warning about an individual. It’s always wise to listen to a discerning spouse! And, often, God didn’t tell me exactly why I should keep my distance. I simply had to obey.
Other reasons God may keep you from a close personal relationship with your pastor abound. God may want you in a desert season. He may want you to pass the test of rejection. He may want you more focused on God than man. The list goes on and on.
You would be better served connecting with others in the church.
While a pastor’s charisma and maturity may be appealing, they may not be the best fit for friendship. It would be best to honor their role in your life as teacher, intercessor and leader while enjoying deep relationships with a few others in the church. The fit would simply be much better.
You wouldn't be able to handle his strong leadership in a close relationship.
Good leaders will slice and dice you in love, challenge you to the extremity of your limits and rebuke you, again in love, for deficiencies that remain unaddressed. Most people can’t handle such a direct approach. Their skin isn’t thick enough.
A well known, influential senior pastor of a huge mega-church met with my wife and me in his office one day. I had ministered with him in prayer events and, while we were not close friends by any means, we were friends. He had access to my life. At this particular meeting, he reached into my soul, pulled it out and threw it against the wall. He challenged me. He was very direct and the meeting was extremely upsetting. My wife cried on the way home—and several times thereafter. We were rocked, but we took his counsel to heart, though I didn’t know if I agreed with everything, and I felt he was quite harsh about simple philosophical differences. I was troubled.
The next week we had another scheduled meeting. We were anxious to see him again in hopes of asking some questions and gaining clarity. We were also a bit uptight as we didn’t know what else he may challenge us with.
To our surprise he looked me in my eye and simply said, “You passed the test.” Then he hugged me.
He went on to explain that he was intentionally pushing me to my limit, challenging things he knew I held dear in ministry and wanted to see how I’d respond. He said other pastors and leaders have stomped out of his office in pride and indignation after similar confrontations.
Though I admittedly was angry after the first meeting, I also understand that’s the culture within structures led by leaders with strong personalities and cutting-edge leadership abilities. They don't play around.
He is mostly focused on connecting with his leaders, who, in turn, train others to connect with the body.
Pastors should be spending most of their time and energy on a small number of leaders, not the entire body. Those leaders will then multiply what they received into others.
Do you think Moses could be best buds with every one of the millions who left Egypt? That’s ridiculous. It’s also unnecessary. There’s a better way to ensure people in the church are connected.
18 You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. 19 Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, 20 and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. 21 Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 22 And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. 23 If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.” Exodus 18:18-23 (ESV)
THE CHURCH IS SUPPOSED TO MOSTLY FOCUS ON MEETING MY NEEDS
This possibly may be the most destructive belief about the local church.
People who are disenchanted about the church are usually upset that their needs haven’t been met. In fact, for many it’s a strange thing to hear that the church isn’t mostly there for them. Instead, they are to be there for the church.
Churches should not be started in the hopes of drawing in people and simply ministering to them. But, this is the extent of the vision of many church planters and pastors. Churches should be started when there’s a powerful, God-given vision for advance. For example, if God speaks to a man about transformation and revival in a certain city, it might make sense to start a church and gather the laborers. Those laborers will be trained for the sake of running the specific race God has given that church.
Yes, churches should absolutely reach out to widows and orphans. They should be centers of healing. When there are needs, the church should do what it can to help (though, it can’t always help in every way at all times). That being said, those who have been trained, healed and equipped should understand the church needs them as laborers, as intercessors, as financial givers and as champions of the vision.
Most of the spiritual needs we have don’t require the involvement of the pastor. We can easily grow in the Word on our own. We can seek out deliverance through others. We can learn to lean more on God than man.
If our churches were strong militaries where everyone signed up to give to the mission instead of making demands, the world would be turned upside down.
RELATIONSHIPS ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT THING
If there one thing that troubles me, it’s when people gather together in the church to meet with friends and then lose passion when they are called to invest in the vision. I’ve seen this happen many times. People who want to connect relationally will stay involved until that well runs dry. Then, the pastor and leadership are accused of not having a loving church or facilitating friendships. While relationships are important, they aren’t the goal. The pastor’s job isn’t to develop a friendship club. The mission of intercession and Kingdom advance should be their focus.
I heard a story, again about IHOPKC, that speaks to this. Long ago, they instituted small groups. They started to flourish as people focused on developing relationships and satisfying that desire to make friends. That’s good. However, the primary, foundational purpose of IHOPKC was compromised. The main reason the ministry was founded was to gather people to pray and worship night and day. The prayer room started to empty as the small groups grew. They put an end to the small groups. It wasn’t until years later that they reinstituted them using a different model, one that ensured the small groups empowered the prayer room instead of threatening it.
This is one reason many churches today focus on small groups, visitor assimilation, pot lucks and connecting events—as the call to prayer goes silent. That’s what will fill the church, and kill the very reason we are to gather in the first place. To pray. Prayer is to be the main thing in every church.
17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” Mark 11:17 (ESV)
WE SHOULD ALL BE ALLOWED TO MINISTER DURING THE SERVICE
26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 1 Corinthians 14:26 (ESV)
This is the famous verse many disgruntled people use when they share their frustrations about the church. They want to minister in the service and they don’t like just sitting there and listening to one person teach. They attempt to spiritualize their irritation.
This argument is often a manifestation of a spirit of rejection. Their ministry has not been given a place and they took offense. As one who has led churches for years I don’t apologize for disallowing certain people from ministering in the service. My role is to protect the sheep. If someone desires to minister, but it’s from a wounded heart, it can do great damage. But, let’s leave that alone for a moment and deal with the crux of the matter.
Shortly after Pentecost, the early church had, as some estimate, over 10,000 Christians. There would be, of course, no way for all of them to teach a lesson or deliver a message in tongues, and then wait for an interpretation. It’s impossible.
The reality is there were two complimentary expressions of the church, the large group meeting and the small group meeting.
In the small group meeting, spiritual gifts could be exercised. A variety of people could share a message. Various songs could be sung. However, this is not the only expression of the church. In fact, I’d argue the large meeting just might be the most important. This is where God’s ordained leader would gather the people and bring mature, focused instruction. In fact, the Ekklesia best defines the large group meeting. It’s a secular term that indicates a governmental gathering where leadership gives instructions to the people.
Paul did this. Peter did this. God reveals key information to pastors and leaders regarding the mission of the church, the culture, the hour and the resistance of the enemy. The pastor must then have the attention of the people so they can rightly respond.
WE AREN’T SUPPOSED TO BE SPECTATORS
Let’s deal with this two ways. First, I believe at times we absolutely are to be spectators, meaning, we sit at attention and listen carefully to the teaching. We can’t diminish the value of this, as I revealed in the previous point. Second, it’s true that we all have a role to play. The pastor has no obligation to allow us to minister any way we choose. When I was a youth pastor in a large church in Texas, the pastor assigned some ministry assignments to me that I despised. My ministry was to clean all of the bathrooms between services and to spend 8 hours every Friday in the scorching heat mowing their massive lawn. Oh yeah, I got to do some youth pastor stuff too.
I guarantee, those who are truly serious about not wanting to be spectators will have many opportunities to serve in the church! In fact, I bet if you ask your pastor where you can serve he’ll give you at least two or three options.
WE CAN WORSHIP AND GROW IN THE WORD ALONE OR IN SMALL GROUPS
Yes, we absolutely can grow alone. In fact, we should grow alone and in small groups. As I explained above, the small group expression of the church is valuable. Additionally, we should all be students of the Word and in prayer all by ourselves. Our prayer closets can’t hold more than just one of us.
However, don’t forget, the purpose of the church isn’t primarily to meet our personal needs, be they spiritual or natural. It’s great that you can grow better on your own than by sitting in the pew on a Sunday morning. That’s exactly what’s supposed to happen. But, remember, the purpose of the church is to be a house of prayer for all nations. You are needed as a soldier to show up for duty. You are needed on the wall. The church isn’t there to load you up with Bible knowledge or to act as a bridge between you and intimacy with God. You can do that on your own. The church needs you to meet it’s needs.
THE CHURCH ISN’T A BUILDING
Somebody needs to shout this loud and clear: Stop saying the church isn’t a building!
This argument is most often a passive aggressive attempt to devalue the Sunday local church gathering. People say this to validate their decision to disengage from the local church and to just “be the church.” Yeah, no. That doesn’t work.
As far as I can tell, people who leave “the building” to meet in homes are still meeting in buildings. Homes are buildings. Further, buildings are really great when it’s snowing or raining outside. I’m a big fan of buildings.
They may also argue that they don’t want to invest money in the maintenance of a building when they can simply meet in homes instead. This argument doesn’t work either. As I shared above, there must be two expressions of the church. The large group gathering is important. What happens if the church grows beyond 50 or 100 people? Some would say to multiply out and start new home groups.
This might work at times, but very often it doesn’t. We forget that God will specifically call a man or woman to lead a work. It’s important that we have the opportunity to sit under that person’s leadership, and that will most usually require a large venue.
When I was a part of IHOPKC, it was important for me to be in services with the entire community to hear Mike Bickle teach, share vision and give direction. It was invaluable. It required a large auditorium to do that.
WE ARE ALL EQUAL AND PASTORS SHOULDN’T BE ELEVATED ABOVE US
Nonsense. God absolutely favors people differently and he calls people differently. Some are able to teach, and some aren’t. Some have the gift of leadership and others don’t. We all play a part, but every single part is different.
Throughout Scripture, God called specific people to give leadership over others. Moses, Joshua, Paul and many others were put into leadership roles. Their function was not the same as others. Their maturity was not the same. Their gifting was not the same. Their anointing was not the same. None of that was equal.
Of course, God is no respecter of persons when it comes to his love, his passion for their lives and the fact that he died for them. But, you’d have to be biblically blind to say he favors and positions everybody equally.
We must understand there is rank and order in God’s government. God has generals, captains, privates, and, sadly, a bunch of people who have gone AWOL because they don’t affirm this leadership in their lives.
Give double honor to spiritual leaders[a] who handle their duties well. This is especially true if they work hard at teaching God’s word. 1 Tim 5:17
I’d encourage you to recalibrate your expectations of the church and of pastors with Scripture. God hasn’t called us into rebellion against his precious church. We need the large and small group gatherings. God’s leaders must spend their time in prayer and the Word. The church isn’t mostly about feeding you, it’s about equipping you as a soldier in a war. When we all get unified in prayer and mission, the church becomes both a beautiful bride and a potent weapon in the hands of God.
John Crist slams critics of Lauren Daigle and John Gray. Is he right?
Oh look, a can of worms. Let’s open it!
John Crist, an absolutely hilarious Christian comedian who regularly posts both humorous and provocative videos, recently posted something that was more provoking than funny.
John tells critics of Christian worship leader and musician Lauren Daigle, who recently refused to publicly condemn homosexuality to “just shut up.”
Critics of Pastor John Gray, who recently came under scrutiny for buying his wife a Lamborghini, was slammed by John Crist who told them to “shut your mouth.”
Is John Crist right? Many are celebrating his bold response to Christian culture’s latest controversies. Others are calling him out.
I personally land somewhere in the middle, though, I must admit, I’m more concerned than ambivalent, more troubled than neutral.
AN EMERGING AND DANGEROUS PHILOSOPHY OF SIN
First, let’s talk about the situation with Lauren Daigle and John’s primary argument against her critics.
Regarding Lauren’s reluctance to clearly renounce the sin of homosexuality, John uses an argument that many other people are also using today in this and similar situations. He attempts to downplay the power of sin by emphasizing the idea that everybody sins. It's common among all and no one particular sin is worse than any other (which, I dealt with in a two-part Charisma Media article titled, The Deadly Argument That Could Wipe out an Entire Generation of Christians and No, Not All Sin Is The Same—Here's Proof).
In his video, John says that he, “probably did 27 things yesterday that if you would have witnessed, you would be like ‘Wow, I thought he was a Christian.’”
The dangerous philosophy that is on the rise today is this: If you have sinned recently, you have no right to deal with sin in our culture or in other people's lives. Shut up. Stop preaching. Remove the pulpits. Keep truth silenced. Refuse to remove the spec in another's eye. Let them remain blind.
The message John Crist and many others seem to be conveying is: we cannot promote biblical standards of holiness if we have ever failed ourselves. We cannot expose darkness as Paul commands us to do in the Book of Ephesians.
Now, John is absolutely right if his intent is to correct those who are shaming, attacking and attempting to do harm to Lauren Daigle due to her position (or lack thereof) on homosexuality. I’ve seen enough of that behavior on social medial to cause me to wonder if some people should be banned from Facebook and Twitter until they pass an elementary test of kindness and decorum. People who act like that should be embarrassed.
However, there is an appropriate—and necessary—way to respond when the spirit of the age is being promoted, especially within the construct of Christianity. If we remain silent on these issues, millions are put at risk of Hell. How many easily influenced young seekers or Believers now deem homosexuality appropriate? Such a belief, when acted on, puts eternities in jeopardy. This is coming on Lauren's watch.
In fact, I’m stunned that an influential Christian worship leader stating that homosexuality may not be sinful is being dismissed as a non-issue. Shocked. What if the next up and coming Christian artist were to admit that they don’t know if abortion is wrong? What about lying? Theft? Pornography? Murder? Will we continue to support them, arguing that their sin is no worse than any other?
Understand, if someone were to struggle with sin, if they were to admit that they are broken and desperate to find freedom from alcohol or anger or homosexuality, you better believe we should rush to their side, love and support them and, of course, refuse to throw stones. However, they must also be benched for a season while they work through their issues.
This is not what is happening with Lauren Daigle. She took it to an entirely different level, and she has not been removed from public ministry. She also hasn’t recanted what she said.
Just what is that “entirely different level” I'm referring to? She refuses to renounce sin. She is making room for the support of homosexuality in the lives of Christians. Innocent seekers and new Believers all over the world are most certainly entertaining the idea that homosexuality isn't sinful. This, friend, is a very serious situation. This is why we must say something. I have a hard time believing her music is still being played on Christian radio stations and sold in Christian stores. Again, what if she said that she wasn’t sure if sexual assault was a sin? Would the reaction be different? It absolutely would be.
John Crist seems to be communicating that cutting someone off in line at the Taco Bell drive-thru is the same as promoting immorality. What he's communicating is that yes, both are bad, but both are no big deal. If we yell at the guy who cut us off in traffic or are wrongly angry or impatient, we have somehow been disqualified from ever preaching truth or standing for righteousness, even if we have repented and asked for forgiveness. If this were the case, we would have no preachers and none of us would be able to share the Gospel with anybody.
The two verses that are used almost exclusively to defend the argument that we should not address the sin in others are found in the books of Matthew and John:
3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:3-5 (ESV)
7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8:7 (ESV)
First, in Matthew, the instruction is NOT to ignore sin. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite! We must rightly address the sin! We must first ensure we are not being hypocritical by living in the same sin as the other person. When we are certain we are living a pure life, then the prohibition of action becomes an expectation of action. We must remove the spec from the other person’s eye. Why would leaving them blinded by their sin be a good idea? It's not. It's foolishness. Somewhere along the line it has become a bad thing to help people in this manner. This error must be corrected if we hope to rescue those who are deceived.
Second, in John, we need to deal with two points. First, Jesus was exposing the darkness of their people's hearts. Their intent was violence driven by accusation and hatred. We can be sure that Jesus will deal with us if we assault others who have been caught in sin with such motives. I’m sure John Crist is mostly attempting to communicate exactly this. Quit being hateful jerks and learn how to love. I appreciate that message. The right response is to say, “forgiveness is yours, now stop sinning.”
But, there is a second point in the text to consider. The analysis of that verse in John chapter eight doesn’t stop there. Check this out from Adam Clarke’s Commentary:
“He that is without sin,” meaning the same kind of sin, adultery, fornication, etc.
The argument that we must shut our mouths when others are involved in or promoting sin just doesn’t pass biblical muster. Our past failures don't disqualify us from attempting to set others free or from proclaiming truth. However, if I’m a thief, I absolutely better not rebuke another thief. If I’m committing adultery, I have no authority or right to speak into the life of another adulterer.
Similar to the passage in Matthew chapter seven, it's our hypocrisy that God is addressing. He is absolutely not endorsing radio silence on the issue of sin. Quite the contrary, he is looking for preachers and prophets who will sound alarms!
Committing a sin doesn’t remove our responsibility to act. We must both endeavor to live in holiness and to deal with the sin in our culture. If a Christian is promoting sin, we simply can’t stay silent. Our past sins don’t require we abdicate that responsibility.
So, no, I don’t agree with John Crist. Lauren Daigle can’t be given a pass just because she leads people in worship and impacts millions in a positive way. There have been many pastors who have done many good things and impacted many people for the Kingdom who have also fallen. They have failed. They can't be given a pass but must instead be corrected and introduced to a path of restoration. The first step in restoration is acknowledging and renouncing their error. Repenting. The world is still waiting for Lauren Daigle to do just that. When she does, we will all celebrate with her.
I implore you to read my timely articles that were released shortly prior to the Lauren Daigle controversy: Worship Leaders Must Take a Stand Against Homosexuality and Is Worship Music Lucifer's Next Great Battleground?
SO, WHAT ABOUT PASTOR JOHN GRAY?
The point I’m trying to make in this article is that we must stand for holiness. While the Lauren Daigle issue is a very serious one, as she refuses to take a stand on something that is clearly sin, the John Gray situation is different. What sin has he committed?
So, John Crist is probably right by calling people out for attacking the pastor.
I’m not going to take time in this article to deal with the message of biblical prosperity, though we should at least know that it’s God who gives us power to create wealth. If he gives us the power, we have to at least agree that acquiring wealth can’t be universally renounced. Also, nowhere in Scripture does it say we must give it all away. Our validation as Christians or as ministers isn’t gauged by how little money we can live on each month. A poverty spirit does nobody any good whatsoever.
The following verse affirms God’s role in acquiring wealth, and also an accompanying warning:
18 You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. 19 And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. Deuteronomy 8:18-19 (ESV)
If Pastor John Gray has wealth, we should celebrate. If he uses the wealth to go after other gods, he will certainly pay.
Of course, Scripture deals quite a bit with impure motives in the area of money. The love of money, as we all know, is the root of all evil. But, money itself is not evil. It’s benign. It’s a tool.
I know, people are tired of ministers flaunting their wealth. I get it. The arrogantly presume to know better ways the money could be used, and they would love to share their wisdom with everybody who uses money for personal enjoyment.
As I recently heard someone say, when you let me tell you how to spend your money, I might let you tell me how to spend mine. Honestly, it's remarkable how presumptuous people can be regarding another's money.
I’d encourage you read two articles that deal with the biblical money issue: 10 Things to Consider Before You Judge Jesse Duplantis for Believing for a $54M Jet and Why Giving Large Portions of Our Finances to Church Might Require Disobeying God.
But, again, specifically regarding John Gray: He committed no sin! At least none that we are aware of. It is fully irresponsible to renounce a man who has done no wrong! You may not like the way he is spending his money, that, as we currently understand, was earned with integrity. If the IRS doesn’t have an issue, why are we assaulting him?
Should it come out that he acquired the money immorally, that would change everything. But until that happens, we should be quiet—and be careful.
The moment we reject the principle of biblical prosperity in another, we reject that principle in our lives. Poverty becomes our reality and Mammon our master. I've actually found the spirit of Mammon to often be much stronger in people who lack than in people who have wealth.
In fact, if you are so opposed to prosperity, would it be okay for people to pray for poverty to visit your household? Is that more in line with your biblical paradigm? I pray it isn’t. I pray the financial breakthrough you are seeking actually does come. It will come more quickly if we bless those whom God blesses.
I’ve talked with several people, including pastors, who have revealed how nervous they were to buy a new car or a new home or to go on a vacation. They knew other Christians would be calling them out, accusing them, judging them, wondering if they really needed something so nice. Pastors have revealed that people will decrease or withhold tithes and offerings to make a statement if they felt the leadership of the church was too prosperous. That behavior is preposterous. We should be rejoicing when others are financially blessed! Again, what’s the alternative? Poverty?
Remember, I'm not talking about people who acquire wealth immorally. We would both agree this is a sin that does great damage. I'm talking about those who have gained wealth via the power of God and who give, and keep, according to what God speaks directly to them.
IT’S ALL ABOUT HOLINESS
I understand that John Crist is tired of people dog-piling on other Christians when they are down. We should all become defenders of those who are unjustly treated. However, there is a right way to deal with sin and error. There is true justice. We need preachers and prophets to deal boldly, in love, with those errors for the sake of all. We need to be preaching truth today without apology. We must assault the darkness and reject the destructive worldviews that so many Christians are adopting.
Homosexuality has become normalized because the church has been reluctant to call it out and to address it as eternally poisonous. The same is true for lust and pornography and other common sins of our day. Instead of calling them sins that threaten where people will spend the rest of their lives, they are presented as minor issues that pose little threat.
Many Christian leaders are either falling into the sin of homosexuality or boldly endorsing it. In recent years people like Jen Hatmaker, Rob Bell, Vicky Beeching, Jennifer Knapp and others have left Christianity for another form of religious practice, though they still identify as Christian. This is the problem caused by the church's failure to address this cultural phenomena head on. The resulting confusion is wounding a generation. Lauren Daigle has added to that confusion, but she can be a champion of truth should she make clear just what the Word of God states.
We can love people while refusing to compromise. We can call out immorality. We must. If we don’t, the world will presume the church is totally okay with it.
What about the “freaky stuff?” How concerning is it when supernatural manifestations are rare in the church today?
My four-year-old daughter Eva just said something as I’m sitting here writing this article at a Starbucks in Branson, Missouri. While scanning through cartoons to watch on Netflix on her tablet, she zeroed in on one.
“I want to watch this one. But I don't. It's freaky and I love freaky stuff. But I also hate freaky stuff.”
I just had to laugh. In a way, that might sum up the tension of the Christian heart. Discerning good and evil is important for all of us. I’m proud of Eva at her young age!
Further, from an entirely different angle, it may also be the way many people think about the supernatural. Church experiences widely range from absolutely stoic and dead to bizarre and flamboyant. Freaky.
I think there are many mildly hungry yet cautious Christians out there in the middle who are intrigued by the “freaky stuff” but, then again, are tired of the ridiculous manifestations in many churches that aren’t Spirit-driven at all. It's just people acting strange in the name of freedom. Too often, they default to calm and safe instead of wild and risky. Many pastors fall into this category as well.
America needs to take a bold, confident step toward wild and risky. We need the freaky stuff in the church to emerge as it did at Azusa.
On Friday evening, March 1, His mighty power came over me, until I jerked and quaked under it for about three hours. It was strange and wonderful and yet glorious. He worked my whole body, one section at a time, first my arms, then my limbs, then my body, then my head, them my face, then my chin, and finally at 1 a.m. Saturday, Mar. 2, after being under the power for three hours, He finished the work on my vocal organs, and spoke through me in unknown tongues. (http://www.scrollpublishing.com/store/Azusa-Street.html)
Another local paper reporter in September 1906 described the happenings at Azusa with the following words:
…disgraceful intermingling of the races…they cry and make howling noises all day and into the night. They run, jump, shake all over, shout to the top of their voice, spin around in circles, fall out on the sawdust blanketed floor jerking, kicking and rolling all over it. Some of them pass out and do not move for hours as though they were dead. These people appear to be mad, mentally deranged or under a spell. They claim to be filled with the spirit. They have a one eyed, illiterate, Negro as their preacher who stays on his knees much of the time with his head hidden between the wooden milk crates. He doesn't talk very much but at times he can be heard shouting, “Repent,” and he's supposed to be running the thing… They repeatedly sing the same song, “The Comforter Has Come.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azusa_Street_Revival)
WE NEED MORE THAN EXPLOSIVE CHURCH SERVICES
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:26-27 (ESV)
It’s true that I firmly believe we need a massive shift toward “groaning churches” with atmospheres of searing hot intercession that cause the building to shake. I’ve been in many, but nowhere near enough, such services that have left me in tears, trembling and under the influence of fire, drunk on something out of this world. The supernatural moments, in very legitimate ways, forever marked my life and my relationship with Jesus. When you add authentic experience to life-changing truth, you can’t help but be transformed from someone who is simply “devoted to Jesus” to someone who is raging in love, undone, undignified and suddenly alien. Everything changes through authentic encounter with Jesus. Nobody can remain the same.
Too often we presume we can achieve such an electric atmosphere in our church services through charisma, exuberance and a decent dose of exciting worship and expressive prayer. This is common in your more “alive” churches. People are just deep and hungry enough to “jump a little higher than before,” as the song goes (which, at some point becomes humanly impossible. Insert grinning emoji here.).
The point I’m making is this: It takes a leadership team and a zealous people who are setting a culture of deep and extreme prayer, sharp spiritual discernment, and who are wildly prophetic to experience breakthrough into the supernatural.
Natural and predictable church services are the result of spiritually lazy and naturally minded people who are not moving into the realm of the invisible.
FREAKY STUFF WILL SET THE STAGE
My life in ministry has been shaped by unusual and powerful supernatural conflicts and encounters. I say that not because it’s really cool, but because I’m really dumbfounded. A simple man praying fervent prayers has somehow triggered invisible entities into manifesting in the natural. As I started witnessing more and more, I began to understand how absolutely critical it was to live, walk, breathe and legislate in the Spirit—especially for those engaging in a dark world with an apostolic assignment.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:10-12 (ESV)
How many Christians are actually confronting evil forces as a part of their ministry strategy? This takes way, way more than simple prayers. We must go deeper than ever. When we do, the fight is on and it will absolutely manifest in the natural realm. Get ready for some wild church services!
Definition of Authority: the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience; a person or organization having power or control in a particular, typically political or administrative, sphere.
Check out this breakdown of a powerful passage of Scripture:
Ephesians 3:14-21 (ESV) 14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power (MIRACULOUS FORCE) through his Spirit (PNEUMA: BREATH, WIND, SPIRIT) in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend (SEIZE, POSSESS, APPREHEND) with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (DOESN’T EXIST IN THE VISIBLE REALM, OR EVEN IN THE DREAM REALM), that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (WOW! FILLED, FULLNESS OF GOD!) 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power (MIRACULOUS FORCE) at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Paul was praying for the Ephesians to be awakened to the reality of the power that God has given them. Growing in that revelation is key for anybody assigned to a church (that’s all of us). We must know our assignment and we must be equipped to conquer via the Spirit of God. When we are assigned by God in a region, as an authority, we have the power and right to give orders, to enforce obedience in the spiritual realm. This is a governmental, supernatural call.
One key principle I discovered years ago was invaluable. God will establish authority in regions, and it’s absolutely mandatory that those governing leaders learn how to discern in the spirit and conduct business in the spiritual realm.
Shortly after my wife Amy and I planted Revolution Church in Manitou Springs, Colorado, we started experiencing some powerful and revealing things. Our primary ministry method was prophetic intercession. We’d prayer walk that quirky town day after day. We’d receive fresh prophetic revelation and instructions by the Holy Spirit. After it was all said and done, I bet those streets had been prayer walked thousands of times. One particular target of our prayer was a specific church, the largest of five churches in Manitou Springs. This church was part of an apostate denomination and led by a man many considered, including the police department and City Hall, to be the pastor of the city. This man admitted to someone in my church that there was no Hell and demons didn’t exist. He refused to participate in a ministry alliance in the town because he didn’t want to offend his “pagan and Muslim brethren.” Clearly, this individual walked in unholy authority and had significant influence in the spirit in Manitou Springs, and that reality demanded a confrontation.
Our young family moved into an old home in Manitou Springs near the beginning of our ministry time there. Instantly I started discerning something very heavy. Every morning I’d wake up with a distinct “taste” or feeling in my spirit. It was demonic, disorienting and honestly a bit debilitating. Strangely, I couldn’t pray it off or shake it off, but as the day wore on, it would dissipate. This happened every day.
Some time went by, and I received an invitation to meet the pastor of the apostate church. The church building was just beyond the back yard of our house, so I walked there one afternoon for our meeting. The heavy oppression that I woke up with every day had worn off that by then and I was eager to connect with this city leader. I wasn't prepared for what was about to happen. The moment I walked through the doorway of the church, the EXACT same taste, the same distinctive oppression that I had experienced for so long every single morning, slammed me with force. I pulled myself together, put a smile on my face and shook hands with the pastor. We sat down and engaged in small talk. I mentioned to him that their church was very close to my house. He asked me to describe the house. I told him what it looked like and where it was located. We then compared notes on what it looked like inside. What he then said rocked me. “Oh, yes! My family and I lived there for years!”
I didn’t have to be a math genius to put two and two together. The demonic anointing the pastor walked in lingered. I bet those demons were quite surprised when a man of God on assignment moved in. After that fateful meeting with the pastor of the city, the oppression stopped. God communicated what I needed to understand. From that point on I was able to govern in the Spirit with precision. The spirits that were anointing that man’s “ministry” were uncovered.
Rumor has it that past city officials have also lived in that house. It was clear that, for whatever reason, authorities had lived there and I needed to consider what my apostolic, governmental responsibility was. I sensed in the Spirit a baton had been passed to me and our team. That revelation was invaluable as I truly understood God had our back and we could be confident in our advance.
WE CANNOT SURVIVE AS A CHURCH WITHOUT THE SUPERNATURAL
From that time, our prayer and apostolic strength increased. We would pray on the top of Pikes Peak and in caves under the earth. Many undeniable supernatural happenings would stun us time and again. We’d confront witchcraft and watch God work wonders. Demons would come out in the middle of services leaving visitors wide eyed. One deeply resistant and demonized young man vomited in the parking lot the moment we were praying for him with his girlfriend in the church. Moving in authority brings a shift to the atmosphere as demons can’t help but respond in obedience.
And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” Luke 4:36
Is our ministry causing people to be amazed? If not, go deep into the spirit and, as it happened at Azusa, you won’t be able to stop the presses. Word will get out and the amazement and mocking will both commence! Some will run to your church. Many will flee.
And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” Acts 2:12-13 (ESV)
The message I’m attempting to communicate is that we must go extremely deep behind the scenes. We have to stand in our authority. We must learn how to decree and declare and legislate in the Spirit. Leave the prayer lists and prayer topics behind. Defer to tongues and prophetic intercession when you don’t have a theme to focus on. Let revelation drive your prayer meetings. Lean not on your own understanding.
As I look back at my time in Manitou Springs I know it would have been impossible to break through and do what we were called to do without constant prayer meetings, prayer walks, engaging the enemy, moving in the Spirit, stimulating a prophetic culture, having dreams and visions and moving in great authority.
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:19
My recommendation is to avoid trying to manufacture a vibrant atmosphere. Many worship teams and charismatic preachers are very skilled at this, but those who are sharp spiritually can see right through it. Let’s just stop the production and go deep Monday through Saturday and come into our Sunday services rocked and shocked by the revelation of Jesus and the spiritual battle we’ve run to. Live a life that provokes demons and angels. Expect the supernatural to happen. Shake Heaven and Hell. Enlist people who know how to groan and intercede night and day. When that happens, the lid will blow off our Sunday meetings. Whatever you do, DON’T PUT THE LID BACK ON! Let the supernatural scare away the resistant, awaken the sleepers and activate the remnant!
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. John 6:66 (ESV)
If you don’t stand in your authority, how will the church advance? If you don’t pray non-stop, how will you have strength and insight to advance against witchcraft and all that the enemy is bringing against you? Most curses and strategies that witches and others are targeting local churches with go unnoticed. People have no idea there are demonic beings wrapping their arms around the congregation like a vice.
I could share story after story of shocking and bizarre and absolutely critical encounters in the invisible realm we’ve had over the years. We must learn how to see in the Spirit. What is happening? How should we contend in prayer?
The American Spirit-filled church simply isn’t Spirit-filled enough. We are barely touching the surface. We are too concerned with keeping the visitors. A church full of those who would be scared away if God showed up is a church full of false-positives. Those particular people in the pews may very well not even be saved. We can’t just have happy services with laughing and dancing and handshakes and presume all is well. There is warfare raging and spiritual forces to be exposed, confronted and taken out.
I’ve said many times, I refuse to tone down the activity of the Holy Spirit out of respect of those less hungry. Supernatural, messy services that break human control must come. The only way human control releases is if those humans encounter God day after day. God has to convince them.
When we dig deep and uncover the demonic roots in our regions, and invade the darkness, and refuse to ask the Holy Spirit to “settle down,” the church will experience powerful advance.
It’s time for the freaky stuff to return to the church.
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20 (ESV)
Everywhere I turn I hear someone angrily calling out controlling pastors, and it has to stop.
I often hear people use the term ‘spiritual abuse’ when sharing about challenges in their church. It seems to lend a clearly valid reason to leave a church, right? Not necessarily.
I do understand that there are some horrible, selfish, mean spirited, controlling pastors—and congregants—out there. My heart is broken over situations like that. However, actual abuse is quite rare.
I recently had a conversation with someone regarding spiritual abuse, and here’s my response when it was argued that spiritual abuse is rampant in the church:
I think it's tragic when rejection causes people to flee the church when it was rejection that caused Jesus to die for the church. Jesus was abused, hated, physically destroyed… yet he served the church. He forgave.
We have people today who are leaving churches because of the most ridiculous reasons. When they don't get what they want, they accuse the pastor of control. Whenever accusation is in the mix we know someone has embraced a demonic anointing. He is the accuser of the brethren… and we should not be.
I also believe that abuse of people towards leaders is extremely rare. My wife and I have been in ministry 21 years… and we've experienced some very difficult things. Very cruel people… gossip, division, mistreatment, etc. But we've never been close to being abused.
I used to work for a 10/40 Window ministry. I've met Christian leaders in those nations who have been imprisoned in horrific conditions… stories of abuse like having a shotgun put in someone’s mouth because they didn't renounce Christ… they pulled the trigger and she lived. I could go on and on… pastors murdered in front of their congregation… another stripped naked and abused as he preached. I've seen piles of burning Christian bodies that were killed and torched by terrorists.
So, no, I haven't seen abuse much at all. I've seen bad stuff. Tough stuff. Inconvenient stuff. Emotionally difficult stuff. Unfair stuff. My heart goes out to those who have been treated poorly by pastors. And my heart goes out to pastors who have been treated poorly by people. But, I won't call it abuse if it's simply a very bad trial.
As I said, I understand what it is to endure extremely unfair actions by leadership that were emotionally painful and that resulted in trauma and hardship in our family. Going through these seasons are so painful, however as I look back I see just how important they were in our development, in our training, in our pursuit of love and humility. It’s easy to love everybody when you are celebrated. The real test comes when you are are treated wrongly. I believe this is a test that God will allow us all to take. Unfortunately, too many people take on a victim mentality and run away from their church assignment hurling accusations and screaming about abuse. Test failed.
False-expectations can easily lead to offense. As part of the church, too many presume it’s the pastor’s job to coddle them and to jump through their hoops. In fact, it’s our job as the congregation to serve the mission of the church. It’s not the job of the pastor to serve ours. It will do all of us a world of good if we lay down our expectations and simply minister to God with passion!
I’ll never forget a powerful moment when I was ministering in Connecticut several years ago.
I was speaking at conference. After one of the final sessions, one that I was not speaking in, I was approached by a lady who presumed I was a pastor at the church. I told her I was simply visiting as a guest minister, and apparently that was okay with her. I was someone she could talk with.
What she told me shook me to the core, and my definition of spiritual abuse changed forever.
She told me her discussion with me was the final step in a process of healing for her. I didn’t understand, but I continued to listen.
Several years ago she attended a church in the area. She went on to describe her experiences with Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA). I won’t describe the grotesque abuses in this article, but simply know it’s enough to make you cry uncontrollably…and vomit. The fact that this lady regularly was abused in this manner in a church, by a supposed pastor, was beyond what the human mind could understand.
After years of being emotionally incapacitated, God met her. He gave her an assignment of forgiveness and healing. She set out to do everything God prescribed her to do, and she was not at her final step. She drove to the city where the abuse took place, the city where I was ministering, a place that she never returned to. She avoided it like the plague (to her it was) for years. So, there she was, standing before an unsuspecting visiting minister releasing forgiveness to her abusers, decreeing her own freedom and finding healing. It was a spine-tingling, absolutely remarkable moment.
This lady was abused. I hope you can now see how most accusations of abuse will never even come close.
SPIRITUAL TESTS ARE DIFFERENT THAN SPIRITUAL ABUSE
Am I unsympathetic toward those who are treated poorly? No. I’m really not. But, I must admit, I actually expect God to put people in those situations. So, I don’t immediately rush to judgment of the pastor and I don’t immediately attempt to rescue them from their pit. It’s there where character is built.
Joseph was wrongly thrown into a pit, sold into slavery, cast into prison…and ultimately made the second most powerful person in the nation. Why was Joseph welcomed into the palace? Because he passed the test of the pit and the prison. He forgave and loved his brothers, the very ones who tried to destroy him.
I wonder how many people who are leaving churches, hurling accusations against their pastors, realize they are doing great damage to their lives. The palace that God has for them a couple decades down the road (Joseph waited over 20 years between being thrown into the pit and seeing his brothers again) may never be enjoyed. A failure to bless those who curse will result in a failure to fulfill your life calling.
I’ve met many people who are so disillusioned by the church that they are attempting to form doctrine that neuters leaders of their authority. They don’t believe in any measure of rank or hierarchy and are quick to assault those who do. Many are leaving the institutional church and forming house churches. They cite 1 Corinthians 14:26 as evidence that leadership is unnecessary and even unbiblical while ignoring Hebrews 13:17. I’ve heard people say that pastors and leaders should not be designated, they should not be preaching, they should not even be there at all as everybody is at the same level and everybody can bring ministry equally. This is not true, friend.
What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 1 Corinthians 14:26 (ESV)
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Hebrews 13:17 (ESV)
Many house churches are fully biblical and ordained of God, but many are movements of rebellion, full of wounded and disillusioned people who are rejecting leaders who have failed them instead of welcoming them to the table as Joseph did with his brothers.
I write more about this in my book Covens in the Church. I’d encourage you read that, especially if you have been tempted to leave a church.
The truth is that God will supernaturally impart grace to endure seasons of testing. There will be many tears and many questions…and you can absolutely ask those questions! But, do so with a humble heart.
Don’t attempt to figure out who is right and who is wrong? Why? Your leadership may most certainly be wrong, but that’s not the point of focus—your response is. Will you respond in love and humility, or will you become an Absalom, demanding attention is given to your particular problem or point of view?
God is well able to give you supernatural strength to endure the pit, the test. The focus is not on who was wrong, but on how we respond when wronged.
Is there ever a time to leave a church? Yes, but it's much less often than you'd think. If God leads you to leave a church, it's not a decision you make alone. Your pastor must play a part, and significant process must take place before you move on… with a blessing.
You can order Covens in the Church and other resources at www.burton.tv/resources.
God is raising up passionate people of fervent and strategic prayer. Why aren’t they flocking to church prayer meetings?
I’m a prayer freak. I met God in the prayer room and I’ve experienced the shock and awe of his glory there many times over the last 27 years. I can’t separate the ideas of salvation, being a Christian and knowing God from a vibrant life of burning prayer. For me, if there’s no unction to pray, everything else is weakened, compromised and at risk. The thought that someone wouldn’t want to pray causes me to scream inside! The wonders of God are revealed in very unique ways in the prayer room.
If God is awakening people to the power of prayer, why aren’t the prayer rooms full? If there is a growing remnant of people who yearn to encounter God and to contend for the passions of his heart night and day, why do pastors have such a hard time compelling them to come together for corporate intercession? It’s a great question. I believe I have a handful of answers.
TEN REASONS INTERCESSORS AREN’T ATTENDING YOUR PRAYER MEETINGS
1. LACK OF ANOINTING
Those who are living and walking in the Spirit, living a life of impactful intercession and who are in tune with the heart of God can easily discern whether there’s anointing in the prayer meeting or not. Sadly, most prayer meetings I’ve participated in simply do not have a strong anointing. The wind of the Spirit isn’t blowing through them. The tremble isn’t there.
And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Acts 2:2 (ESV)
If there isn’t anointing, I want to make two points:
First, it’s on the pastor. The senior pastor must be so bathed in prayer daily in his personal life that when he steps into the prayer meeting, the entire atmosphere ignites. It’s critical that he regularly comes out of encounters with God that results in a tangible simmering in his spirit that can’t be denied.
Second, as the 120 did in the Upper Room, if the anointing isn’t there, if God’s presence isn’t blowing through the room, understand that little can be done until it does. Wait and pray. Cry out. Pray for tongues to land on everyone. When it happens, you can have an effective prayer meeting.
2. LACK OF A PROPHETIC ATMOSPHERE
One way prayer, from us to God, will drain the energy right out of the room. If we aren’t nurturing an environment where God is constantly speaking in the prayer meetings, frustration and boredom will quickly set in.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27 (ESV)
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20 (ESV)
In most prayer meetings, the majority of the time and energy is spent relaying to God what we want him to do. We need to see that reverse. God should be releasing prophetic words, scriptures, inner revelations and other data in our corporate prayer meetings so we can all come into agreement with what’s on God’s agenda instead of what’s on ours.
I love to have whiteboards in my prayer meetings so people can write words, draw prophetic pictures and share what God is revealing to them. Then, we allow them to grab the mic and declare what was revealed to them corporately. Can it get weird at times? Sure, but if there’s a strong leader in the room that can keep everybody moving in the right direction, that never becomes an issue. The Bible clearly tells us not to quench the Spirit and not to despise prophecies. Unfortunately that happens all too often in our prayer meetings (and church meetings) today.
3. PETITION AND PRAYER LISTS
If you want to kill a prayer meeting, bring out the prayer list. Praying through prayer topics, no matter how amazing and important those topics may be, will drain the life right out of the room. This is why stewarding a prophetic culture is so important. Out of the ten or twenty prayer points the prayer leader might bring into the meeting, one or two at best will hold the attention of the intercessors. They are usually obvious, humanly discerned and devoid of God’s revelatory realm. Intercessors just can’t stay in that realm and thrive. Really, nobody can.
When I was leading our school of prayer and revival in Detroit we had a rule for the students. No prayer lists allowed in the prayer meetings. They must go deep, connect with God’s heart and release corporately what they received from him. I can’t tell you how immeasurably powerful those meetings were!
There’s a place for petition, but we can’t live there. We can’t use petition as the driving force of our prayer meetings. We must get feedback and then release oracles from Heaven! We must decree and declare the solution instead of camping on the questions.
Elizabeth Nixon said it this way:
The English definition of decree is “a statement of truth that carries the authority of a court order.” For example, when a defendant is convicted of a crime and sentenced to prison, he cannot ignore that sentence because the authority of the court order is such that upon conviction, he has no further say in the matter.
The same is true with decrees in the spiritual realm. When we decree God’s provision and blessings over our lives, then anything purposed against our provision and blessing can have no further say in the matter.
We declare blessings, we plead the blood, we prophesy truth, we call forth breakthrough, we decree abundance. We must stand in our authority and cause things to happen. That’s a lot more effective than simple petition!
4. NO TONGUES OR GROANS
I’ve said for years that praying in tongues with groans of intercession filling the room for an hour, with no other prayers offered, would launch a prayer movement that would shake the entire planet. The level of electricity in that movement would shock the world.
When we release everyone in the prayer meeting to find a place on the carpet, or to pace around the room and cry out in tongues, the spiritual vibrancy in the atmosphere simply erupts.
Of all the ministries and churches I’ve launched or given leadership to, by far the most satisfying and thrilling was our Friday night prayer events. In Colorado Springs and Detroit, we ended up in nearly 200 different churches where we’d pray in tongues for two hours, from 10pm until midnight. While many of the pastors of those churches looked lost as we rushed in with fire in our veins, the people came alive! Oh how I wish pastors were more comfortable in such an environment!
At The International House of Prayer several years ago, I’ll never forget a young lady who I prophesied over as she walked through the door at the internship my wife and I were directing. I told her she would be fully healed during the internship. I had never met her before. I had no idea that she was chronically and terribly sick. She could barely make the airplane trip to Kansas City. The intense seven-day, three-month schedule was overwhelming her to tears. Then, one day, as she was praying for an hour in the “prep rooms,” which was a requirement of the internship, she was suddenly and very dramatically healed. I wish I could do justice in this article of how deep and powerful that moment was, but it’s impossible. The truth is, however, that tongues and groans in a small, crowded prayer room resulted in divine intervention that could not be denied.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:26-28 (ESV)
5. NO COMPELLING VISION
Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint…. Proverbs 29:18 (ESV)
If there is no overwhelming, God given vision that is driving the prayer meeting, you should probably call off the meeting. If there’s no vision, there will be nothing for the people to lock in to. They will scatter and will have no desire to come back together to pray.
When I talk about vision, I’m not talking about logical goals or ministry campaigns that need our attention. I’m talking about revelation. What is God wrecking the pastor or leader with that must be communicated with the people? What is burning within that requires a rallying cry for the intercessors to grab hold of it and push it through in spiritual warfare and governmental, apostolic advance? When we lead prayer meetings, we should be so enraptured by what God is revealing to us as leaders that the congregation is shocked and rocked into action!
6. A FOCUS ON PERSONAL OR LOCAL CHURCH ISSUES
I don’t know that I’ve ever been in a prayer meeting that focuses on local church plans and issues that has caused me to come alive. For me, such a focus is usually laborious and even a waste of important time. The corporate prayer meeting must mostly be focused on regional advance, revival, and on what God is revealing on a broader level.
Additionally, we want to avoid spending too much time praying for Sister Martha’s upcoming surgery or Brother Bill’s financial struggles. There definitely is a time for body ministry. From time to time we’d have “hot seat prayer” where we’d spend quality time praying and prophesying over an individual. People would go to war for them, they’d fight the enemy’s stranglehold on their lives, powerful prophetic words would be spoken into their spirits, they’d release decrees over them. Twenty minutes or so later, we’d move from that into commanding the same type of deliverance over our region!
7. IT’S DISINGENUOUS
Honestly, who wants to go to a prayer meeting that’s almost an afterthought while the primary Sunday service is given nearly one hundred percent of the energy, creative planning, marketing dollars and careful organization? Add to this the insult of a nearly prayerless Sunday experience that is evidence of the lack of importance of intercession in the mind of the leadership.
The worship team practices endlessly, leaders must arrive early and stay late, visitors are attended to with passion and the entire Sunday experience is geared toward drawing a crowd. The prayer meeting? The pastor may not even show up. Leadership teams aren’t required to attend. The worship team definitely doesn’t have to participate. Nobody’s coming early or staying late. The experience is not geared toward drawing a crowed but rather marking something off the to do list.
no one understands; no one seeks for God. Romans 3:11 (ESV)
8. PRAYER ISN’T THE MAIN THING IN THE CHURCH
Related to the previous point, intercessors will discern immediately if the church is not a house of prayer for all nations, as Scripture reveals it is to be.
I’d rather have a Sunday church service that is filled with an hour of praying in tongues as anointed music plays in the background, followed by decrees and declarations with powerful snippets of apostolic instruction and key prophetic revelations filling the room than the predictable services we have today.
The church isn’t a house of teaching, a house of evangelism, a house of fellowship or a house of anything other than a house of prayer. How strange is it that Sunday services aren’t driven by Spirit-filled intercession. Sure, some are sprinkled with prayers, and musical worship has a prayerful feel at times, but where’s the burning, contending, governmental cries, decrees and prophetic releases?
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 (ESV)
9. PEOPLE CAN’T PARTICIPATE
The closest many prayer meetings get to allowing individual participation is asking them to lead a prayer on a specific topic. We must create a culture where everybody can prophesy, all can cry out in intercession, with nobody excluded. Some may want to come and find a dark corner and meet God there, and that’s great. I love to do that myself quite often. But there’s also a time to release publicly what has been received!
There are ways to encourage participation without losing control of the prayer meeting. Encourage “rapid fire prayer” where people line up and take turns releasing a ten-second prayer or decree on the microphone. Use the whiteboards I mentioned previously. Allow people to text words to a specific number during the prayer meeting, which allows leadership to consider it for public release. Get creative. Have an occasional fire tunnel when focusing on personal impartation. Release everybody for a 15 minute prayer walk around the neighborhood and then to pray what they discerned on the mic when they return.
The bottom line is that people want to be an active part in the apostolic advance that the prayer meeting is driving!
When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 1 Corinthians 14:26 (ESV)
10. IT’S SIMPLY NOT ATTRACTIVE
The bottom line is that even the most passionate prayer warriors won’t come to your prayer meeting if they aren’t attracted to it.
I know we can attempt to coerce people to attend, but it just won’t work.
“Could you not pray for one hour!” My response to that question from a frustrated pastor who is attempting to draw people to his prayer meeting might be, “Could you make it not boring? If you prayed like Jesus did you might get a better response!”
Is prayer always compelling and exciting? No. It’s not. Should we have some discipline in our call to prayer. Yes. Absolutely. That being said, we don’t have to intentionally cause our prayer meetings to be boring and ineffective. The truth is, pastor, the intercessors want to attend your prayer meeting, but they won’t compromise their calling to intercede if your environment will quench the Spirit that’s praying through them.
Watch a video on this topic below:
Pastors must allow God to awaken them to the call to regional revival.
I regularly hear from people who are done with church, are frustrated with church leadership and are ready to abandon the weekly gathering, if they haven’t done so already.
I agree that there are significant issues. However, I relentlessly support God’s ordained leaders and encourage as many as I can to stay connected in life-giving churches. Now is not the time to abandon ship, even if we agree that reformation is necessary. This reform must come from within. The new wine skin is coming, and we need everybody in position and ready to serve the revival that results.
Since it’s critical for everybody to remain locked in to their assignments in this “all hands on deck” season, we need today’s leadership to shift toward the apostolic and become more regionally minded than locally minded.
SIX WAYS PASTORS ARE HINDERING REVIVAL
ONE: They don’t pray.
So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:2-4 (NIV)
The daily schedule for pastors should be mostly devoted to fervent intercession and study of Scripture. Sadly, most pastors don’t even lead corporate prayer meetings much less hide away in their prayer closet.
There is no way they can discern the spirit of revival if they aren’t given to a life of intensity in prayer. It’s extremely easy for me to discern whether the spirit of prayer and the spirit of revival is in a church. I travel all over the nation and I explode with life when I walk into some sanctuaries that have been bathed in prayer. You can feel the tangible presence of God. You are impacted by the weighty atmosphere that could only be the result of a praying pastor.
Praying pastors can’t help but to weave Holy Spirit fueled intercession throughout the Sunday service. Tongues of fire rest on top of the congregation, groans erupt from the saints and people are laid out all over the room. Not only does a praying pastor refuse to shut down such an atmosphere, he initiates it. God’s presence becomes a key driver of their ministry, and the goal changes from church growth or visitor attraction and assimilation in their local church to a raging fire in their region. If the pillar of fire emerges in a local church across town, the revival-minded, intercession-driven pastor will cancel everything at his home base to lead the people into the presence of God in the region.
TWO: They don’t embrace the prophetic.
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20 (ESV)
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 1 Corinthians 14:1 (ESV)
Too often pastors are leading their local churches logically, using church growth methods instead of facilitating a prophetic culture. It’s one thing to point your ship in the direction you want it to go. It’s something altogether different to put up your sails, allowing the wind to take you where it wants to go.
We must hear God’s voice continually in our churches and the pastor is the one to encourage the growth of prophetic ministry. God will connect pastors with prophets (and other offices) so God’s specific mandates can be heard and heeded. Additionally, every person in the congregation must be equipped and released to prophesy. If a vibrant prayer culture has been developed in the church, you won’t be able to keep people from releasing oracles from Heaven! God will be continually communicating to everybody!
THREE: They don’t release people to follow the fire.
And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. Exodus 13:21 (ESV)
It grieves my heart and I’m certain the heart of the Lord when pastors refuse to release people under their care to follow the fire. The call of the church is to equip disciples and then to release them! We as leaders should have open hands, not tight fists. If a move of God launches in another church in the city, the pastor absolutely must encourage people to run to the outpouring! Better yet, he should be leading the way!
God will move geographically, and the fire most likely won’t ignite in your church, even if you are contending for it. If the outpouring is elsewhere, if you hold any value for revival, you will drive every day to that pillar of fire with a convoy of your congregation following behind!
FOUR: Their focus is on building their own ministry instead of the regional church.
…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV)
It’s time to stop expending energy mostly on building local ministries to the detriment of the regional church. It’s good and right to develop what God has given us to steward, and it’s right to have vision, even locally. However, the end goal must not be local church growth. It has got to be a regional outpouring. God will heal the land, the region, not the local gathering.
It’s time we start hearing pastors crying out for a move of God in their city versus in their local church. If the prophetic ministry is sharp and active, you will hear words that focus on God’s plans for the city much more than you will his plans for the local church.
FIVE: Their focus is on attracting seekers instead of training and releasing disciples.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, Ephesians 4:11-12 (ESV)
Numerical church growth in our American church culture has overtaken more important goals. It’s true that everything healthy grows, but sometimes the growth is deep instead of wide. The strategy of local churches must shift from growing in number to training remnants in prayer, ministry, revival and leadership. Then, the goal is actually to shrink in number instead of growing in number as these disciples are released as apostolic men and women of God.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that the local church can’t still grow. It can, but it’s not a metric to be measured. It’s simply the overflow of an effective ministry that is regionally focused, prayer-driven and discipleship-minded.
SIX: They overestimate their role and leadership ability.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV)
Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. Exodus 18:21 (ESV)
This one might sting.
Most pastors don’t have the God given ability to lead a regional revival. They have been called to nurture a small group.
God will raise up a leader or leaders who have the gifting to apostolically give leadership to a massive movement, and it’s important that everybody else in the city assumes their positions in support of the revival.
During an outpouring in Detroit several years ago, I was honored to be asked to lead the prayer emphasis. I wasn’t called to host the revival in my church, so I led the charge as many in my church drove 45 minutes every night to the outpouring. The fact that I wasn’t asked to lead, or that my church wasn’t the focus, or that any of the offerings weren’t coming to me, didn’t bother me in the least. How could it? I was in an outpouring!
In the city church, when a regional outpouring hits, God will utilize the willing pastors in the city in various roles. Humility will be required. Jealously will have to be killed. If that doesn’t happen, the revival is sure to die out as fast as it ignited.
We are changing our Friday and Monday strategies in Branson.
In addition to a couple prayer events last year, I’ve enjoyed the Friday late night prayer meetings in various churches in the region and our recent Monday revival events. It’s been absolutely amazing connecting with pastors and leaders in this area.
However, due to a lack of traction I’m going to press pause on both the Friday and Monday events and see how God might redirect our local focus. Tonight was our final Friday prayer event and our last Monday event will be this coming Monday at 7pm. I want to make sure resource and energy is given to the area that is most effective. Our Monday and Friday events didn’t hit the bulls eye as participation and excitement surrounding them wasn’t strong.
The vision is intense and I’m excited about running with a burning remnant here in Branson. We’ll see how that will develop over time.
I’d like to see regular revival events that draw all of the pastors, intercessors and revival minded Christians in the area. I believe such events will go far in preparing a regional outpouring in Branson. It will take quite a commitment, but if we can all agree to gather in the fire, we would be forever transformed!
My radar is on and I’ll be connecting with others in the pursuit of revival, wherever that may be in Branson!
In the mean time, I’m going to continue in prayer, keep writing and ministering in churches. You can see my ministry schedule at www.burton.tv/events.
If you’d like to book a ministry event in your church, anywhere in the world, I’d love to come! Go to www.burton.tv/booking and fill out the form. I’ll be in touch!
THIS MONDAY will be our final prayer and revival event at The Victorian Village Shops. Come out and enjoy God’s presence with us! It’s going to be great!
Stay tuned…a lot more is coming. Stay in prayer…let’s see what God has planned for Branson!
Thanks to everybody who has been running this race with me lately! You are amazing!
Are you among the remnant people who will embrace the firestorm from Heaven that will bring revolution to the church?
We need a reformation in the church of the Western culture—and fast. I’m not talking about a tweak or adjustment, but rather a costly, troubling, invasive, offensive and radical change to what we know as the church. A firestorm from Heaven is coming, and only those who are ignited in that fire will embrace the coming shift. Religious traditionalists and those who are resistant to the deeper call will sadly reject this transition. This is why we must prepare the people under our care now! The Holy Spirit wants his church to be ready!
This great end-time verse has universal application:
Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; Revelation 19:7 (ESV)
Sunday go to meeting church was great for previous generations, but it’s gotten us as far as can go. A revolution must come. That revolution will come from within the local church, however, not in spite of it.
I can’t imagine not attending a local church with a faithful, passionate pastor leading the way. I am an unapologetic, determined supporter of the church in its current form, and I am excited about seeing reform emerge from my view in the pew on the inside. Sadly, too many are disconnecting from their local church, presuming an advance into culture without its restraints is somehow more spiritual. They are hurting, not helping, the cause of revival.
I was talking with my pastor and good friend today about this issue. He affirmed the importance of being a champion of the local church, and I fully agree. More than ever I want to go above and beyond in my communication to ensure everybody understands my heart regarding the local church. Talk of reformation can easily give fuel to the anti-church crowd, and we must avoid that at all costs. Without the local church, we will have little hope of seeing the revival that we so desire last more than a year or two—if it even sparks at all.
Often, my quick, 140 character, social media quips may give the impression that I’m anti-church. Please forgive me if I have done this! That grieves me deeply! That couldn’t be more opposite of my actual belief system and heart! I am contending for powerful local church explosion and the strength and honor of pastors here in Branson, Missouri and in every city around the world! The anti-local church/anti-pastor crowd is doing great damage to the Kingdom and I can’t afford to be counted among them.
So, to clearly communicate my position so there is no misunderstanding whatsoever:
I fully embrace and support the local church, and I endeavor to honor pastors and leaders unreservedly. From that place, with a healthy and pure heart, I also embrace reform.
As we prepare for the coming revolution, we all must be connected in a local church that’s led by anointed, Spirit-driven leaders. That’s non-negotiable. The coming reformation requires we are zealously submitted and devoted as the shift draws near.
That being said, I need to write a raw, unrehearsed message about the growing threat that the current local church wine skin can be to revival. Instead of being a strategic support to city-wide revival, it’s at risk of hindering the cause. As we proceed toward a reformed model and a new wine skin that can hold the new move of the Holy Spirit, the resulting shock will be a catalyst for an immeasurable move of God that has yet to be imagined.
What I’m going to share will certainly require a full blown reformation in the church if we are going to see revival come. Church as we know it must come to an end. God isn’t planning on enhancing the church systems that are already in place—he’s planning on eradicating many of them for the sake of something so otherworldly that few will even recognize it as the church—and many will resist with religious fervor.
The cost will be great and most will reject it, yet God is raising up a hidden remnant that will be a clear and present danger to the religious systems that refuse to bend.
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!
There are over 19,000 cities in America, and not one of them is experiencing revival. Some have pockets of Holy Spirit activity, and certainly there are true moves of God dotted all across the land—but there are no cities that are fully engulfed in revival. No cities have been taken—yet.
In order for us to experience revival in the church, we have to understand that it’s going to occur at the city level, not the local level. Why? The church is Scripture is identified by the city, not by the street corner. For example, we have the church at Ephesus, the church at Corinth, etc.
Instead of hundreds of churches in a city, John identified a total of seven church in all of Asia at the time. They were designated by cities. Certainly there were many local expressions within the city, but they weren’t entities unto themselves. They were a part of a greater whole.
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come… Revelation 1:4 (ESV)
This is why reports of revival that are limited to a single local church must be viewed as a single piece of a much greater movement. Unfortunately, local church moves of God, as wonderful as they are, rarely impact the city, much less the world, and ultimately they die out.
The local church cannot be an end in itself. The local expression isn’t to be the primary experience for Christians. It’s one gear inside of a massive machine. It’s one leg of a table. It’s one organ in the body.
For most Christians, the Sunday service is the epitome of their church experience. It’s the greatest experience of the week. This must change! The church culture they are participating in must evolve from local only to local/regional. The coming fire of God will most likely ignite outside of their local, Sunday experience, and they will need to be right in the middle of it when it happens. This means they must be connected regionally and not only locally.
If fact, when I was giving leadership to Revival Church, I communicated regularly in our services that the spark of revival would most likely not occur in our church. Statistically, it wasn’t probable. Others in the city were contending for fire to fall in their churches too. Why would we presume our church, instead of any of the other hundreds in the city, to be the landing point God would choose for the region? A regional outpouring would gather people together from many churches. That means they’d move out of their local church and into another location with their pastor and others in their congregation to join with the rest of the city church.
When the fire fell in Brownsville, the other churches of the city should have cancelled most of their services so they could have joined others around the fire. The same is true for Lakeland, Florida and Toronto and other places where God moved in a single location.
While we were contending for revival to erupt, we were doing so with the city in mind, not our local expression. The goal wasn’t a move of God in our church. That would be too limiting and even self-serving. I was going after an entire city. The God of the city was on the move, not the God of Revival Church alone.
I explained that, when that spark of revival lit in another church or ministry somewhere in the city, we’d have no option but to excitedly lock arms with that church and serve the work of fanning the flames. At that time, the instruction would be to cancel as many of our services as necessary to join with the movement in the city. If we and other churches didn’t do that, the flame would die out.
To give you a better understanding of why the local church is in such a critical place of either being a hindrance or catalyst to revival, I need to spend a little time explaining what the reformation may look like.
THE COMING CHURCH
What is coming to the Church is not an enhancement or an adjustment. The destruction (or we could use the word deconstruction) will be so comprehensive and total that it will not only remove current structures, but also the faulty foundations (anything other than the foundation of Christ) they were built on. The coming Church will look nothing like the Church we now know.
Disgruntled people are leaving churches by the thousands, frustrated with their experience. These people must not leave the church. They must surrender their desires and lay down their lives for the church! If today’s disappointed Christian can’t withstand this current low level, marginally supernatural structure, what will they do when the fireball from Heaven crushes them fully? What will their response be when they are called into the humbling ministry of nameless, faceless night and day prayer? How will they react to an atmosphere of groans and cries of deep repentance and Holy Spirit intercession that cuts to the heart? What will happen when they are called to lay down their lives for the very system they despise?
In my book The Coming Church, I detail several key changes that are coming to the local church in the reformation. Here’s one:
Local churches will be regionally focused. The level of impact that the rock from Heaven will bring will not be confined to local churches. Pastors and leaders will stop focusing mainly on developing their own local ministry and will instead shelve much of what they did in the old church model and focus on serving the regional mission. The local will give way to the regional as leaders lead the people into encounter, into regional mission and into the greater vision of revival and reformation. The spirit of Pharaoh that focuses on personal goals and keeping people locally focused will give way to the spirit of reformation and Kingdom advance that was manifested through Moses and Joshua. (Read more about this in my book Pharaoh in the Church.)
In the coming Church, we will be entirely focused on God showing up and visitors being troubled, not the other way around. The only way we can impact the people of the world is if we jealously guard the ark, God’s presence. The coming Church will result in a ferocious invasion of God’s presence into the Church, and this will result in a mass exodus of the naturally minded and lukewarm.
The remaining remnant will automatically have a regional, city focus. They will zealously submit to local church leadership while simultaneously advancing with others under apostolic and prophetic leadership on a city level. There won’t be any conflict or competition. The local will serve the regional and the goal of revival will be common among all.
On the other side of the reformation I believe we will see clear, anointed, governmental and biblical leadership on a city level. Pastors will be submitted to apostles in the city, not only those in their denominational headquarters. The church will run with great precision as everybody is on the same page, often in the same place and functioning according to their specific role in a clearly communicated grand design.
AN EXAMPLE OF HOW THE CITY CHURCH MIGHT FUNCTION
As an example, people will be in their local churches on Sunday mornings, as their local pastor leads in fervent prayer and worship and trains for battle after receiving key instructions from city apostles. These wouldn’t be seeker focused events, but rather furnaces of Holy Spirit activity that would result in a tremble in the people!
Sunday evenings the local church pastors and those in their congregations would join with the other Christians in the region in a large venue such as a convention center or possibly the largest church building in the city where the apostles of the city cast vision, instruct and keep everybody on the same page.
Mondays would be devoted to several hours of prayer in the larger venue as the apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers and evangelists publicly lead people into intercession for the region.
Tuesdays could be devoted to teaching specific to what God was revealing the previous two nights. Teachers in different parts of the city would gather people together for a few hours of small group instruction.
Fellowship and personal ministry would fit great mid-week. People could gather together in small groups and simply have fun, pray for one another and encourage each other in the battle. This would most easily function under the leadership of the individual local churches.
Outreach and various ministries could be the focus of Thursdays. Some teams would hit the streets to witness while others would minister deliverance while still others could hold events for children and youth.
Prophetic training and impartation would be an important part of the week. God will reveal key regional strategies to prophets and apostles, and as they communicate that and train people in the prophetic, the city church will grow stronger, more powerful, precise and activated.
All night prayer, from 10pm until 6am, would be attended by all, either in the large venue or spread out in homes and local churches throughout the city.
Of course, days and actual focuses are interchangeable, but you get the idea.
With this model, pastors of local churches don’t have to fulfill every need for the people under their leadership as they release and lead them into other venues for growth and training. They literally only have to lead one or two events per week. The rest of the time they are getting filled, serving in other capacities and supporting the greater regional vision.
Similarly, teachers will have a constant outlet to teach, and they will do so under the leadership of the apostolic leaders of the city. They will train people according to what is timely in the city. The same is true for the regions prophets and evangelists.
This also means most Christians will be involved in regional ministry, in several different venues, under different unified leaders, six days a week. The church will be strong, alert and at the ready.
Additionally, apostles and leaders in the region will have the flexibility to call special meetings, solemn assemblies and other events with the confidence in knowing every Christian in the region will respond.
15 Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; 16 gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. 17 Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep and say, “Spare your people, O LORD, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” Joel 2:15-17 (ESV)
Wow! Everybody had to respond to the regional call to pray. Even those who were nursing infants or getting married had to cancel their plans and gather together for the sake of their nation. No excuses allowed!
We need instant, regional response again today.
SEVEN WAYS THE LOCAL CHURCH CAN BE A CATALYST FOR REVIVAL
ONE: MINIMIZE BUSYNESS
There are a lot of tired pastors and people in churches today because of overstuffed, inflexible schedules. It’s common to fill church schedules with all sorts of programs and ministries, special events and other activities. It’s true that a lot of wonderful ministry occurs at the local church level, and it’s easy to expend a lot of time and energy on those activities.
The problem comes when a call for the church of the city (which is how the church is defined biblically) needs the participation of Christians in the region to support a greater cause.
I propose, with few exceptions, local church schedules should be flexible enough to cancel in a moment’s notice so the people can be released to attend to regional church focuses.
15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Ephesians 5:15-17 (ESV)
TWO: UNDERSTANDING REGIONAL PRIORITY
I was part of a large, city-wide event that was to be held at the Palace of Auburn HIlls in the Detroit area. Unfortunately, the event had to be cancelled because pastors wouldn’t release the people under their care from their Wednesday night church responsibilities to attend.
Not only should the pastor have released his people, he should have led the charge!
How unfortunate that a lesser, local church weekly service kept people away from the more important regional event.
When regional prayer events, revival meetings or other key, strategic meetings are called, it’s critical that the local focus yields.
We must see a time come when every pastor and every Christian in the city shows up at the city events. Solemn assemblies are nearly non-existent today due to misplaced ministry priorities.
Consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD. Joel 1:14 (ESV)
THREE: REJECTING A FOCUS ON SURVIVAL AND LOCAL CHURCH GROWTH
Instead of focusing on the success of the regional church and the advance toward revival at that level, local churches are often focused mostly on growing or surviving themselves.
If we were honest, we’d admit primary reasons we as pastors and leaders might not want people under our care involved in other ministries and churches is because they might leave and take their money with them. I believe this insecurity is a serious violation of the trust God has given us as leaders. We must have open hands and encourage people to move in and out of our local churches easily so they can fulfill their vision, and the city vision, instead of our own.
FOUR: RELEASING RESOURCES
Regional events and ministries often need the people who are part of the various local churches in the city to serve. People, finances, time and energy are often guarded by local churches which leaves regional assignments under-resourced. They often fail.
Several years ago, I knew it was critical to cancel my own church plans for a month so people could be free to serve at a regional revival event about 40 minutes away. It would have been inappropriate for me to keep them focused on our own local church ministries when the fire was lit elsewhere. The regional event needed intercessors to support that move of God, so I eagerly released those precious resources, amazing prayer warriors, along with any finances they wanted to give there, to undergird that regional event.
And having sent into Macedonia two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while. Acts 19:22 (ESV)
FIVE: REFUSE TO GIVE IN TO JEALOUSLY, OVERPROTECTIVENESS AND RESISTANCE
As I stated above, the revival in your region most probably will ignite in a church other than your own. We must avoid the temptation to be jealous if that happens. We also can’t be so nervous about other people, visiting evangelists or other leaders that we resist or avoid what is happening through their ministry.
I’ve been involved in true moves of God that died out simply because leaders were taking a wait and see approach to it. They were nervous about what was happening there—for no reason. They held back and pressured people in their church to stay put. I’ve shared about my experience in Detroit before. God was moving. Pastors were resisting. I’m still grieved about that. Jealousy will kill a move of God, and it will bring judgment speedily.
8 And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him. He said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands, and what more can he have but the kingdom?” 9 And Saul eyed David from that day on. 1 Samuel 18:8-9 (ESV)
The next day a harmful spirit from God rushed upon Saul.. 1 Samuel 18:10 (ESV)
SIX: SUPPORT GREATER GROWTH
If people are limited to connecting at a local church level, their growth can’t help but to be stunted. Today, few are ready for revival because local churches are, by design, only focusing on a limited set of tools they are equipping their people with.
I can’t imagine, as a leader, only sitting under one pastor and being limited in my growth to their awesome yet limited strengths. While we are called to radically support and serve a local pastor and body, we can’t stop there. I believe it’s important to connect in various churches and ministries in a region on a regular basis. Not only can we grow much faster, we can connect local churches together and experience greater strength on that regional level as well.
SEVEN: UNDERSTAND LEVELS OF AUTHORITY
Senior pastors of a local church are not the senior authority in the region. It will take quite a reformation for us to step into city-church government, but we can start now by acknowledging that leaders on a regional level must have the support and participation of the more localized leaders.
Apostles are the gatekeepers of a city, and it’s critical to know who they are if we are to advance toward revival.
Peter Wagner says:
…recognizing and affirming apostles of the city might well be the most vital missing link for seeing our cities truly transformed.
Several years ago I worked as a supervisor at a T-Mobile call center in Colorado Springs. There were over 1500 employees, and it required at least 50 supervisors to manage that many people. I was the local leader, if you will, of my group of 25 employees. It was quite obvious that I was not the senior leader of T-Mobile. I had certain liberties to lead according to my style and local vision for developing my team, however, there were both limits to that freedom and serious expectations. I reported to one of a handful of managers, who in turn reported to the Associate Directors. That small team reported to the Director of the call center. That wasn’t the end of the org chart, but you get the idea.
My job was important, and I had limited authority, and a lot of responsibility. However, I could only function in that authority as I submitted to the greater authorities. The Director of the call center was, in effect, the gatekeeper of the call center. It was an important position.
The authority structure wasn’t there to stroke egos or to build individual departments of the call center. It was there to most successfully impact the world with cell phones!
The same is true for the church, but the mission is much more serious and important.
Today, pastors are often only submitted to denominational leaders that aren’t even based in their city. They leapfrog city authorities, and, in turn, ignore the call for them to lead the people into regional assignments.
I agree that such a reformation that I touched on in this article will be extreme. It won’t happen overnight, or even in a handful of years.
What can happen immediately, however, is that we embrace the shift and come into agreement to serve the city church and to advance toward revival at that level.
A local church move of God will be wonderful, but it won’t last. We must see a foundation built regionally that will support a massive move of God.
Maybe your region will be the first of 19,000 that will see the church of that city set ablaze in revival!
The pursuit of city wide revolution must no longer be resisted by the spiritual leaders.
I’m risking a lot by writing this article, but the grief in my heart is telling me it’s a risk that is well worth it.
I’m beyond disgusted, and I am going to reveal to you the source of that sickness that’s churning in my spirit in a moment. First, since I’m jumping way out on a limb in a way that will make it very easy for people to misunderstand my heart, I have to make some qualifying statements.
First, I am a radical, unapologetic lover and supporter of pastors and leaders. What many of them go through for the sake of the advance of the Kingdom is worthy of high honor. I am quick to defend a ‘wrong’ pastor against a ‘right’ congregant due to the fact that God has ordained them. God establishes all leadership. I absolutely love pastors!
Additionally, I embrace with great passion the local church, even in it’s yet to be renewed wineskin. We must commit to the ministry of the local body God has placed us in with great zeal.
For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me. Psalm 69:9 (ESV)
Lastly, I understand how terribly an outsider can wreck havoc and bring destruction to a local body. We should guard our pulpit from wolves. I’ve been ravaged by wolves in ministry before and, trust me, the knee-jerk reaction is to reject anybody outside of my circle of trust.
However, it’s that last point that brings us to our current crisis. The gun-shy dog syndrome is causing pastors to be tentative at best and outright dismissive and cruel at worst toward God’s circuit riders that are on assignment in their city.
PASTORS DON’T RULE THE CITY
I continue to hear from people that God desires to use to impact a city, people who are outsiders but who carry key authority, messages and ordination to function with apostolic and prophetic strength in a region.
They are rejected, one after another. They are gossiped about. They are murmured about. They certainly aren’t celebrated, as they should be.
There was a particular well known evangelist that came to a city, and God was working wonders. The pastors were few in number at the meetings. The gossip and suspicion and rejection of this ministry was being whispered through the town. That makes me sick. I just can’t hold back anymore. You have to be kidding if you think God is going to bring revival to your city if you treat God’s messengers like this. It’s shameful.
Pastors, you have to get over it. When revival comes to your city, your ministry will be threatened. People may flock to the greater city meetings—and you should too. If I was asked whether it’s best to stay in position in our local church or to rush to an outpouring in the region, with grief I’d counsel the person to stay submitted in their local church. However, I’d probably leave with tears in my eyes and fire in my veins. The pastor of that church should never put that person in such a terrible position. They have to choose between the sudden and timely fire of God in the city or fulfilling their duties in their local church? The pastors should be shouting to everyone of his sheep, “Follow me to the pillar of fire!”
But, unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Rejection is the norm. Evangelists know that in order to get the pastors on board they have to choose a neutral location such as a convention center. If they hold their meetings in a local church, other pastors won’t come. Again, this is disgusting. Shameful.
I’ve experienced this type of resistance myself. Many tears have been shed in the Burton family through the arrows of other ministers. And, by the way, the arrows that hurt aren’t only the ones that are clear, vicious attacks. It also hurts when other pastors in the city don’t encourage and visibly support the mission of revival. Rejection and resistance can be felt by God’s messengers. Silence is loud.
Such treatment is par for the course for prophetic and apostolic people especially. However, don’t worry. We signed up for this. It’s not about us.
It’s not about tending to the wounds of the prophets, but rather it’s about, once and for all, dealing with the rejection of God’s ministry through them.
1 Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. 2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3 So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. 4 But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles. 5 When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, 6 they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country, 7 and there they continued to preach the gospel. Acts 14:1-7 (ESV)
Paul and Barnabas didn’t visit Iconium for a vacation. They were there to lay down their lives for the sake of God’s call on their lives. Instead of being celebrated, instead of leaders rallying around them, they were mistreated. In fact, the leaders tried to kill them—for delivering good news.
So, what did they do? They fled. They went to Lystra. A new chapter and a fresh start was upon them. What happened there? Paul was stoned.
19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. Acts 14:19-20 (ESV)
He was left for dead, but survived. While I don’t want to make it sound like the trials of God’s messengers in America today are at the same level of those that Paul experienced, or of those in other nations that have outlawed Christianity are experiencing today, I do want to offer a parallel. Today the religious leaders, those who don’t want their status quo touched by an outsider with another focus or level of authority or charisma, are attacking them through gossip and other forms of rejection. Often their credibility, their motives, their ministries are assaulted and threatened.
The attacks of supposed spiritual leaders can be relentless.
In fact, the ministry of Paul and Barnabas so incited the region, Jews from Antioch and Iconium actually followed them in order to defame them in their next city!
It would seem that the spiritual leaders, the pastors of today, presumed to rule their respective cities. They banded together and resisted with violence the messengers of God. However, I love how the story continues, without any pretension whatsoever:
21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. Acts 14:21-23 (ESV)
They would not be denied! They returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch! The spiritual leaders of the cities would not dictate whether they would advance the Kingdom of God there or not!
The desire of Paul and Barnabas certainly was to work together with the leaders of the Jews and Gentiles, and to be welcomed in with open arms so they could tend to the difficult assignment God had given them without any unnecessary resistance.
This is the passion of evangelists, prophets and others that God is raising up today to initiate reform in cities. They desire the pastors of the city to rally around them! Don’t be suspicious. Open your pulpits! Let them cast their vision for revival!
It pains me to say this—if pastors won’t honor those God is bringing to labor with them, there comes a time to either shake the dust off your feet and move on, or to power through without their support.
14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. Matthew 10:14-15 (ESV)
What would the Pensacola Revival have been without Steve Hill being received from the outside?
What would Toronto have been without Randy Clark?
Evan Roberts was rejected, and then the Welsh Revival broke out.
William Seymour’s message was rejected and the door to the building he was ministering in was padlocked—so he moved to 214 Bonnie Brae Street. After outgrowing that space, his next stop was Asuza Street.
Until pastors value the pursuit of a move of God in the region more than a move of God in their own local church, conflict, resistance and disunity will reign. Local churches are merely departments of the greater city church and MUST be in sync with what is going on at that level. If revival is being pursued, will doors be padlocked? What happens when the meetings are being held in a church other than yours? Will you still radically support it, lead the people there and honor those God is calling to give leadership to it? It continually grieves my heart when I hear about pastors who refuse to unite at a strategic level with other pastors. God will raise up a lay remnant if today's senior leaders can't lay down their own pursuits for the sake of the greater call in the region.
No, pastors don’t own the city. We must honor them and support them as they work tirelessly in the assignments God has given them. However, I’m done with the ridiculous rejection of people who are paying a great personal price to serve God among them. Visitors to town, people that have quit jobs and uprooted their families to contend for revival in a new place, those who have no friends in the city they are assigned to, those who feel alone and would love to be well received, should be celebrated and encouraged to move ahead with no resistance and with the zealous support of the town’s spiritual leaders.
And, yes, there’s an entirely different article that can be directed at the evangelists and prophets. If they can’t handle the heat, they should get out of the kitchen. But we’ll leave that article for another day.
For now, is it possible even to have revival at a city level? Will pastors finally embrace those who God has called to help facilitate an outpouring? Will they stop building their own little kingdoms for the sake of revival in their city? If not, it’s time to advance in humility and boldness, whether the pastors like it or not. If the pastors don’t yield, love and honor God’s messengers, there’s a remnant waiting to step into position, and their time may be soon upon us.