Extreme reform must come to the out of control prophetic movement.
I believe we must see a radical increase in authentic prophetic ministry. While there are issues and extremes in today’s prophetic movement, the truth is that most churches are woefully shallow or outright resistant when it comes to developing a prophetic culture.
An electric, supernatural and stunning spirit of prophecy should be energizing our church services. The Holy Spirit is moving powerfully and it’s critical that we tap into what he is doing and saying.
“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19–21, ESV)
A CALL TO REFORMATION
The famine of the Rhema voice of God in so many Christians and churches has been a burden of mine for decades. Unfortunately, it seems some have tried to fill that void with either unhealthy, unbalanced or outright unbiblical prophetic practices. Reform is needed.
NO MORE PROPHETIC GUARANTEES
Have you ever heard someone in church belting out a revelation that starts something like, “The Lord is saying to you…” or for some of our more traditional Pentecostals, “Thus sayeth the Lord…”
Yeah, this has to stop.
People are sharing prophetic words as if they are guarantees. They fail to consider the myriad of variables that come into play regarding a prophetic word. People are mortal. They can make mistakes.
Further, prophetic words are always conditional. People have a role to play. A failed response can result in a word that doesn’t come to pass.
Also, hearts can change. Someone can fail to measure up to the demands of the word. They can reject the word. They can fall into sin. On and on.
Prophetic guarantees can do great damage to people’s faith. I’ve known people who have made very costly life decisions because of a prophecy. They have quit their jobs, sold their homes, moved across the country, married the wrong person, and on and on simply because they received a prophetic guarantee. Like I said, this has to stop.
A better way to say it would be, “I sense the Lord is saying,” or “Be sure to pray over this and weigh it carefully. I feel God is saying…”
PROPHETIC WORD SHOULD BE SUBMITTED FOR ANALYSIS
“but test everything; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21, ESV)
The Bible clearly requires all prophetic words to be tested, weighed and judged.
“Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.” (1 Corinthians 14:29, ESV)
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God…” (1 John 4:1, ESV)
It requires humility to invite a thorough critique when releasing a prophetic word. Instead of a prophetic guarantee, we should be submitting our divine revelation for consideration. We should invite people to analyze it, to pray over it and to judge it. If people did this with each word they communicated, it would remove much of the stigma surrounding the prophetic movement.
MINIMIZE FORETELLING, EMPHASIZE FORTHTELLING
Has anybody else grown tired of the circus-like, crystal ball-style fortune telling in so much of the prophetic today?
Understand, I absolutely do believe in foretelling, in revealing future events as the Holy Spirit gives the revelation. The Bible is filled with such prophetic information and authentic foretelling absolutely happens today.
That being said, there has become an unhealthy obsession with gazing into the future. It’s time for a fresh, anointed prophetic climate to emerge that is driven by forthtelling, by a Rhema revelation of timeless biblical truths. We need prophetic preachers who breathe fire as they release oracles from Heaven that erupt right out of the Bible. The Word of God must again be primary.
WE NEED TO QUIT LEANING SO HEAVILY ON PROPHETIC WORDS
As someone who affirms the need for a radical increase of true prophetic ministry, you might be surprised that I rarely get excited or uptight about a prophetic word.
This is true when the word is for me personally and it's true if the word is a public word.
Why? It's simple. Prophetic words take time to unfold. Also, they are often flat out wrong. If they are true, I need to discover what my role is and how I should steward the word. There is process.
It's not like winning the lottery or finding a genie in a lamp.
Does this mean I don't prepare if a prophetic word is given to warn me? No way. I prepare as the Lord leads, but I don't get spun out about the word or overly obsessed with the word.
Does this mean my faith isn't encouraged if a positive prophetic word is given to me? Nope. Faith comes by hearing the word of God. The Rhema, prophetic word of God.
However, you'd be shocked at how many positive, encouraging words I've received that have never come to pass. Good people were attempting to bless me but wrongly labeled their encouragement as prophecy.
Prophecy can be wrong no matter how convinced we are that God said something. We can interpret incorrectly. We may miss the analysis. We may not rightly steward the word. We might wrongly discern the timing.
The prophetic is less like a fortune cookie then many realize.
WE NEED BOTH GRACE AND ACCOUNTABILITY
The Old Testament “stone them if they are wrong” mindset needs to finally come to an end. In the New Covenant prophecy is markedly different. While a prophetic word can certainly be extremely weighty, it’s never complete. In fact, prophetic data comes not in the form of a bellowing, clearly heard and perfectly understood voice erupting out of a burning bush, but rather as abstract, nebulous impressions and sensations.
Consider dreams. They require interpretation. So does every other type of prophetic impression. Today, it’s not difficult to be deeply intimate with Jesus, living a life of prayer, humbly surrendered, wholeheartedly given to God’s call on our lives and also mistaken about a prophetic word. We need to give people grace when they miss it.
Yes, as I have already said, grace will be more easily extended when the prophets stop slapping a “thus sayeth the Lord” on every word they deliver.
And, yes, we also need a more solid system of accountability. What happened to those who prophesied that COVID would be gone nine or ten months ago? What about other failed words that go unjudged and are long forgotten? There’s a healthy way to handle this. Ignoring it isn’t the answer.
QUIT SHAMING THOSE WHO WEIGH AND JUDGE PROPHETIC WORDS
If you hang on to prophetic words without weighing them, and shame those who are in fact weighing, you have no idea how biblical prophecy works.
There is no medal of honor given to those who are unmovable regarding prophetic words. Scripture, in fact, requires that we are flexible as the outcome of prophecies can change depending on many different variables.
There has been a spirit of mean unleashed this past year by those who have white-knuckled grips on prophetic words about the election and other key issues. Dare to weigh the words, as the Bible commands, and question them in the slightest, and you better duck. Some uber-spiritual people will launch assaults questioning your faith, your spirituality and even your salvation. It’s disgusting.
REJECT WORDS NOT BIRTHED FROM THE FURNACE OF PRAYER
If the person delivering the word isn’t burning hot in the furnace of intercession day after day, their word cannot be trusted. Throw it out. If it’s truly a word of God, it will jump right back into play and it will be undeniable. However, I’ve found it to be quite rare that a prophecy can be truly trusted if it’s not birthed from the place of intercession.
There are other measures we can take to see the prophetic become healthy and effective, but if we can start with the above, the prophetic culture this nation so desperately needs will become vibrant, anointed and accurate again.
This should be the shock to the system that pastors need, or the next pandemic just may take the church out.
You'd expect the church to respond very differently than the world in the midst of crisis. Sadly, this hasn't always been the case. Social media is filled with freaked-out Christians who are absolutely terrified, spending their energies seeking out natural solutions to a supernatural situation. The fact that they can't disinfect their hands or wipe their, well, you know, has sent many into a frenzy. Something is terribly wrong and church as usual is no longer an option.
If ignoring, minimizing or seeking a natural solution to a demonic threat brings relief, don't presume you have won the battle. The entity is merely resting alongside you, thankful his foe has refused to fight.
The response is a glaring indictment on the church, and without question, the church must not ever allowed to go on as usual. This pandemic may be the catalyst to reformation the remnant has been crying out for.
THE CHURCH ISN'T READY
7 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)
In an age when so many Believers are merely concerned with their personal eternal security and so many others are sitting back waiting to be raptured before the trouble comes, it's clear that the church is far from ready for the end-time waves of crisis that are crashing down.
Global traumas like the coronavirus very well may play a part in determining the wheat and the tares. Who will rise up in great, unmovable faith and who will shrink back in fear? Those who know God will respond very differently than those who are mere pretenders.
32 …the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits. Daniel 11:32 (NKJV)
So, the question for pastors and every Believer in the midst of trial is, how can we prepare? Yes, there are natural precautions we should take. There are spiritual reactions that are necessary too. Many are suggesting adopting house church/small group models. That very well may come into play, but that's a functional shift. There are spiritual shifts that are much more important.
TEN WAYS EVERY CHURCH MUST RESPOND
INSTITUTE STRATEGIC PRAYER
The days of simply attending a Sunday morning service where we worship a little, pray a little and listen to a sermon before heading back into the world for a week must come to an end immediately.
The primary focus of every legitimate Christian church must be fervent, passionate, powerful and strategic intercession. The days of simple prayer lists and prayer chains are over as the call to groans and cries of spiritual prayer explode out of the saints.
For years I've been campaigning for services that are marked by people laid out at the altars from start to finish as the Holy Spirit broods over them. Deep, guttural groans of intercession will be heard throughout the sanctuary every Sunday (and ultimately, every day of the week).
I am absolutely convinced that a church filled with tongues of fire will do more than any other single activity to make everybody ready for the coming storms.
1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Acts 2:1-4 (ESV)
DEAL DIRECTLY WITH SPIRITS OF FEAR
It's astonishing how a very dark spirit of fear has blanketed the church. Fear results in unsettled, nervous reactions while faith results in a confident, peaceful, calculated response.
Pastors must introduce deliverance into their churches as a primary ministry. The spirits that are tormenting Christians have been exposed all over the world during the pandemic. I believe nearly all Christians need or have at one time needed deliverance. The enemy is especially attracted to children of God as he seeks to find open doors to latch on and destroy.
We cannot afford a scared, timid people who shrink back at the sight of their own shadow. This end-time season requires mighty warriors, an army who has annihilated fear and who will stare right through the darkness and expose the enemy and send him fleeing!
In fact, it very well may be time to allow those who are afraid to step back so the church can finally do what God has ordained it to do—fight and possess the land!
3 Now therefore, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and afraid, let him turn and depart at once from Mount Gilead.' ” And twenty-two thousand of the people returned, and ten thousand remained. Judges 7:3 (NKJV)
DEVELOP A PROPHETIC CULTURE
Possibly a primary source of fear in the camp is the lack of foresight, the absence of prophetic revelation. Imagine how different everything would be if God's people were made ready in their spirits as God prepared them with all sorts of prophetic communication.
Dreams, visions, God's still small voice, words of wisdom, words of knowledge and other divine impressions are extremely powerful and necessary if everybody in the church is to weather the storm.
Every Christian must be both equipped and activated prophetically. The church needs to hear God's ever-present voice now more than ever. To have some people who are not tuned in compromises the camp and gives the enemy a very powerful and secure foothold.
19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies. 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20 (NKJV)
GROW IN POWERFUL FAITH
There is an angry crowd of “Believers” who are demanding we “USE WISDOM!” regarding this crisis. I wish they'd shout “USE FAITH!” It's much more effective.
It's disappointing to see very little difference between the world and the redeemed in time of trouble. For so many, the initial and most powerful reaction is natural protection instead of supernatural advance. On social media I've run into an angry Christian crowd that snipes anyone who suggests peace, faith and authority over the schemes of the enemy are the answer. They see such counsel as a minimization of their human efforts and a threat to that strategy. I wonder just what counselor they are listening to.
They love to promote “wisdom” but tend to see faith as haphazard and even some sort of nonsensical supernatural voodoo. A life of true biblical faith is so foreign to them that the extent of their belief system is a cop-out by simply “trusting that God will do as he pleases.”
True faith looks nothing like that. It's confident, authoritative and declarative.
Pastors have no option but to repent of their silly anti-faith positions and to actually embrace some of the teachings they previously dismissed. Whether you appreciate the whole of who Kenneth Copeland (or similar ministers) is or not, you cannot deny the powerful truth on the subject of faith that he carries.
38 Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.” Hebrews 10:38 (NKJV)
GO DEEP IN THE WORD
The world needs pastors who have the smell of fire on them as they emerge from the prayer rooms and stand with great anointing and authority behind the pulpit. The low-level milk of Bible teaching must cease as the Spirit of God reveals the deep mysteries of Scripture.
The people of God must be students of the inerrant Word, allowing the truth to radically transform them. Times like this require a spiritual response, and the foundation of God's wisdom is found in his timeless Word.
The tired Sunday School style sermons must cease as earth-shaking revelation from God's Word shakes us to our core, and equips us as mighty end-time soldiers.
12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)
DEAL DIRECTLY WITH SIN
The greatest debilitating factor in the church by far is unaddressed sin. A church that isn't pure, holy and consecrated is a liability, a breeding ground for demonic manifestation and a magnet for God's judgment.
Hellfire preaching must return to the church and a call to intense consecration is simply mandatory if we hope to endure to the end.
The Bible clearly instructs certain people to be removed from fellowship, but it's rare to find a leadership team that is willing to follow those orders. I propose it's either an attempt to extend more mercy than God himself is, or the leadership are steeped in the same sins themselves.
11 But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner–not even to eat with such a person. 12 For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? 13 But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.” 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 (NKJV)
5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 1 Corinthians 5:5 (NKJV)
TEACH ON THE END-TIMES
I believe the church's greatest hour will be during the Great Tribulation. I understand that many others don't believe that at all. Eschatology is a volatile topic, but we can't afford to ignore it any longer.
It's laughable to think the church is ready to endure such a terrible Tribulation period, even though God's wrath won't be expressed on his true church in that season. The measure of protection we'll have will be enough for us to have an opportunity to stay true to God and to proclaim his truth.
Yet, today, with a comparatively very minor crisis in the world, the church is failing miserably. The church isn't ready. We need leaders who will emphasize the trials that are coming, whether they occur during the Tribulation period or not. We are in the end-times, and the end itself draws nearer every moment.
I believe a casual approach and the thought that we'll be raptured away is detrimental and will cost potentially millions of Christians their very salvation. The falling away will be very great as countless Believers fail the test and don't endure to the end. Their blood will be on the hands of the pastors for failing to prepare them.
EQUIP IN SIGNS, WONDERS, HEALINGS AND MIRACLES
I've been sadly stunned at the number of professing Christians who have little to no confidence in God's supernatural ability, and have even less confidence in their authority to move in wonders themselves.
Training in signs, wonders, healings and miracles can't be delayed for another moment. We need a supernaturally charged people who are fiercely opposed to the illegal activity of the enemy. This includes fear, sickness, poverty and other assaults of the devil.
The church needs to learn the difference between God-ordained pestilence and devil-initiated attacks. From that place, the church can rise up and function in absolutely remarkable signs and wonders as a traumatized world looks on and witnesses God in action. Hope will flood in and countless desperate lost people will be saved.
29 Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, 30 by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness. Acts 4:29-31 (NKJV)
KEEP ETERNITY IN FOCUS
The fact that Christians pay little attention to eternity and that their gaze is on the here and now has never been more evident in this generation than it is today. Instead of having peace and confidence about spending an eternity with Jesus, and being excited about that, so many are fearful and anxious about a virus that, in their minds, has the power to kill.
It's time for our preaching to be zeroed in on eternity and to prepare people for the place they will be living forever. I am personally gripped by forever, by the expectation of the glories of the age to come. Do I want to die before my time? Of course not. But, I place myself in God's hands, and I battle the enemy's attempts to bring destruction to me and I trust that I will go not a second before or after my designated time.
55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? 1 Corinthians 15:55 (KJV)
PREPARE TO GO UNDERGROUND
As easy as it was for our government to force everybody indoors, and to cancel everything from sporting events to church services, and to threaten imprisonment for those who defy the orders, we better be preparing the people to go underground.
We can't presume the internet will be available. We can't expect to be able to freely gather. There will come a time when we will have to choose to obey God rather then men and gather, illegally, to worship, pray and unite as Believers.
Read this passage and be ready to expect a very similar scenario as the end draws near:
27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” 33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. Acts 5:27-33 (ESV)
The call is for pastors to embrace a mighty shift in the church. Church as usual is no longer an option. We must see the people equipped as mighty men and women of great faith, fervent intercession, workers of miracles and prophetic instruments in the hands of God.
An overnight fix is available for the church, but is anybody willing to implement it?
So much of today's church is drunk on all the wrong things: growth, notoriety, busyness, endless programs, marketing, visitor assimilation and more. It's no wonder pastors are spinning out, members are disgruntled and stress is overtaking most. While there's a deep reformation necessary, there are a handful of simple, quick steps we can take to kick-start the shift.
Release pastors and church leaders to give themselves to prayer and the Word.
2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:2-4 (ESV)
It seems many of today's senior leaders are doing everything but spending hours in intercession and study of the Word. They are expected to visit people in homes and hospitals, counsel the hurting, attend birthday parties and other celebrations, clean the church, befriend members, assimilate visitors, develop programs, raise funds and so much more that is sucking the very life out of them—and out of the church.
Set them free. I believe we will skyrocket towards revival if pastors drop almost every ball they are juggling and give themselves to hours and hours of prayer and study in the Word every day. Let them be the preachers God called them to be. No more endless meeting, projects or programs. Pray, study and preach. Repeat.
Stop expecting a single local church to do it all.
The competitiveness in the Kingdom must cease. It's time we understand that a single local church plays a small part in the larger scheme of the city church. In Scripture the church was designated by city, not by street corner.
I propose adopting a culture that encourages people in our local churches to also connect faithfully in other churches and ministries in the region. As a church planter and senior leader for many years I was keenly aware of my strengths and my weaknesses. I was also determined to run in the very specific vision and mandate that God entrusted to me, which meant that I would intentionally, by design, minimize or fully eliminate other seemingly obvious programs and ministries. Needs would go unmet. This meant that I had to trust other leaders in the city to minister to those needs. I encouraged the people to connect in several places each week and to take responsibility for their own spiritual growth.
In fact, I so embrace this mindset and I so believe that city ministry is the healthiest and quickest path to an outpouring in the region that I had an open hands policy with people in my church. I let it be known that any leader of any church in the region could, without fear or reservation, approach anybody in my church and invite them to leave to join their ministry. They could recruit my biggest givers, my best leaders, my favorite worship team members, my most faithful workers and my best friends. I understood they wouldn't be leaving my church, but rather they would simply move from one department of the city church to another. Their positioning is more important than any selfish desire to keep them close.
Immediately stop with the church growth madness.
Two realities will threaten local church growth:
- The regional church that I wrote about in the above point.
- The call to gather the remnant.
As we “catch and release” those who venture into our church, believing for the right positioning in the region and as we focus on the hungry, surrendered, on-fire remnant who will gather and contend in prayer for revival, the numbers will most often diminish.
I wonder if pastors understand the severity of the stress and the deep cost that is being paid because of the seduction of numerical and financial church growth. Let it go. Simply enjoy going into the church every day to meet with Jesus and to relay the burning revelation that he pierces you with.
Quit trying to herd cats. Stop with the gimmicks. Repent for compromising the message in an attempt to attract the moderates. Simply pray, lead, equip and celebrate with people when they leave your church for another and stay faithful to the call with those who remain.
Reassign pastors and the entire five-fold ministry.
Pastors are typically best suited for nurturing people, not leading movements. I believe we need to see pastors resign senior leadership positions as prophetic, apostolic leaders step in to advance more powerfully. They are gifted to lead while many pastors will be most successful and satisfied in smaller settings where they can connect one-on-one with people.
Many pastors will remain as the senior leader of churches, and this can absolutely be okay if they embrace their role in the broader city church model. Their churches can remain very small as they minister to their congregations, however it's extremely important that they are strategically connected to apostolic ministries in the city.
They will need to attend city church meetings and encourage everybody in their church to join them. As they do this, the greater city church will continue to expand and people will be connected more appropriately. And, leaders will see the joy of ministry return as unnecessary tension is eliminated.
Eliminate most every program except prayer meetings.
I believe this may be the most significant, powerful and immediate trigger of revival of everything I have shared so far.
I am serious when I suggest most every program, focus, strategy, service and function of the local church should be dropped for a significant season to do little else but pray.
Instead of our typical, mostly predictable and often extremely boring Sunday morning church services, transition it into a fiery, passionate eruption of intercession. As people walk through the doors they would hear groans and cries of desperation fill the sanctuary. The musicians would be right there with them for the first hour or so, at the altar, contending for an outpouring. At some point the worship team can start playing in the background as the choruses of Heaven-shaking prayer continue to erupt from hungry hearts.
Intermix short declarations of Scripture and allow for potent prophetic revelation to be released to all. Encourage people to release short prayers on the mic. Leaders can give appropriately timed messages that will take the atmosphere to an even higher place.
Remember, the church isn't a house of fellowship, a house of teaching, a house of visitor assimilation, a house of evangelism or a house of worship. It's a house of prayer and prayer must be the driving force, the main thing and the dominant activity of all.
Are we ready for such a dramatic shift?
I believe we could take a giant leap overnight toward great corporate strength and an outpouring that will rock nations if we embrace and adopt a mighty shift in the church. Understand, these are preliminary steps that will make us ready for an even more costly, troubling and important reformation that must come to the church. Baby steps.
These are simple though very costly steps that every one of us are able to take, but few probably will. I want to encourage you to prayerfully consider the reality that revival is withheld and that the church, in general, is quite weak and compromised. Do you want to live your entire life outside of the shock and awe of God's glory? He wants to move, but the church must transition dramatically if we want to see it happen in our cities and in our lifetimes.
“I just can't sit through one more church service!” This is the cry of our current remnant generation. Pastors, are you listening?
My wife and I were so excited to reconnect with a couple of friends yesterday. This couple has been invested in the prophetic and in the local church as powerful regional leaders for years. We spent the evening talking about the state of the church, and how the new wine simply must come, yet the church is far from ready.
One of them simply stated, “I just can't sit through one more church service!”
Such a simple statement yet it resonated powerfully in my spirit. I can't either.
Listen to a powerful podcast on this subject…
This afternoon I talked on the phone with another regional leader, a pastor who is more done with church as usual than any I've ever met. He's longing for God to identify like-minded pastors and leaders who are absolutely desperate for reformation and revolution in the church. He's crying out for revival and he is discovering it's challenging to find remnant leadership, fiery, broken and hungry pastors who no longer care about growing their church, adding programs, gaining notoriety, raising funds or seeking after “success.” His passion is to connect with others who are done and undone and longing for a pure, holy move of God.
PEOPLE ARE LEAVING THE CHURCH IN DROVES
Research by Ryan Burge, an assistant professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University, reveals:
In the early 1970s, about 38% of Americans attended church nearly every week or more. A third rarely or never attended church, while the rest attended once in a while. That all changed in the early 1990s, when the rarely/never attending category began a slow and unmistakable climb. Today nearly half of all Americans attend church once a year or less, and only about a quarter attend on a regular basis. A similar number attend once in a while.
I believe the bottom line is that a growing number of people see little purpose for the church. To them, the value of participating is greatly diminished. Why even go?
The last thing we need is a natural, logical solution to this problem. I believe it's critical that we function as the church, and gathering together as the ekklesia is commanded in Scripture. However, more programs, minor tweaks, practical adjustments or gimmicky ideas is not what is needed.
24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)
We need a full deconstruction of today's model. Full-blown reform is required.
Today's powerless, predictable, boring church service simply must go.
SO, WHAT IS CHURCH AS USUAL?
When I talk about church in this article, I'm mostly talking about the gathering, the local, regularly scheduled church service that most usually takes place on Sunday mornings. Yes, I know the church isn't a building. That drum has been beat to death. The church must gather, and it's usually nice to do so indoors out of the heat or cold, rain or snow.
Most anybody who has attended church in the last several decades has a good idea of what it looks like. Greeting, worship, announcements, sermon, prayer, dismissal. Repeat next week.
In this context, there are key reasons why so many are leaving the church. It's true that a good number of those are leaving for selfish reasons. They are misguided or simply immature. They are pouting and leaving.
There are also many remnant Believers who, like my friend so clearly articulated, “can't sit through another church service!”
They are yearning for more. They can't handle another perfectly crafted, wonderfully produced, humanly orchestrated mess with just a sprinkle of supernatural flavor for good measure. They are done.
Specifically, I believe the remnant is fed up with a few things that should be fixed, like yesterday.
Pastors, we can learn what you are attempting to teach us from much more gifted preachers and through brilliantly written Bible resources online. I'm not trying to be cruel, I'm trying to make a very important point. People don't want your regurgitated Bible info forced on them over an agonizing 45 minutes. They want to smell the aroma of the Holy Spirit radiating from you!
The real point isn't boring preaching, it's a lack of fire and revelation due to a nonexistent spirit of prayer. When pastors spend most of their time on their knees right in the middle of the furnace of intercession night and day, the flames of anointing and revelation will rage out of them when they stand behind the pulpit. Weeping, groans of intercession, cries of repentance, an uncontrollable tremble and the brooding of the Holy Spirit will mark messages birthed in the prayer room.
FEAR OF MAN
Please pastors, stop with the careful wordsmithing and unoffensive sermon points. It's time for the troublers of Israel to arise! Preach on fire and shake the casual out of their stupor!
Say what needs to be said and let the big givers storm out with their money still in their pockets. Preach! Tear down strongholds, confront wickedness and scare the pretenders out of the holy place God has called you to steward.
It's time self-focused, semi-interested people are no longer given the opportunity to demand what they are looking for in a church. It's time to close up the welcome centers and put away the welcome gifts. When presented with the unmistakable burning only a supernatural church can offer, their decision to stay or leave will be immediate. ~It's Time to Start Scaring Visitors Away From the Church
TIRED ORDER OF SERVICE
Disenchanted remnant Christians are longing for church services that start with choruses of intercession, are filled with prophetic utterances and eventually end with decrees and declarations!
Eliminate the time for handshakes and Christian side-hugs, the painfully irritating announcements that interrupt the flow of the Holy Spirit, the unnecessarily invasive offering sermonettes and the perfect timing that ensures everything fits within a two-hour window.
Pastors, let go of the structure! Open the mic for people to pray with passion! Cancel your lunch reservations! Fill the service with fiery intercession, prophetic decrees and exhortation of powerful truths of Scripture as the Holy Spirit ebbs and flows in perfect violation of human order!
NO REVIVAL EMPHASIS
If there's one thing I can discern it's the spirit of revival. I've heard pastors talk about revival, but it's rare to find one that truly gets it. You'll know they don't get it when their revival talk centers around the hopes for their own church to grow instead of contending for a regional outpouring that has little to do with their local church.
I believe we need to see prayer and revival centers launch in cities all over the world. These are prophetic centers of intercession that burn continually for a move of God. They couldn't care less if the outpouring is centered in their own ministry or not. Their prophetic and apostolic assignment is much greater than that.
Churches and ministries that will draw the disenfranchised remnant are those that are fully devoted to partnering with the Holy Spirit in the region. They have no desire to find a nice local community where they can connect with new friends as they hold hands and sing some songs as they “do life” together. Nope. These are warriors. They aren't in it for the benefits. They are in it to the death, and they are ready to lay it all down for the sake of revival.
THE PROPHETIC IS MINIMIZED
19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20 (ESV)
I personally believe that churches that don't embrace prophetic ministry are significantly out of line. Without an active, vibrant prophetic culture in the church, it will feel dead, be misguided and it will muzzle those who have a mandate to release critical revelation to the body.
A prophetic culture will result in an electric, urgent and supernatural atmosphere that is fueled by a constant spirit of prayer. The body will watch the leadership function from their knees with a tremble in their spirit and will model that lifestyle. Prophetic unction will flow from all, and the release of revelation will powerfully mark the corporate gathering.
FOCUS ON CHURCH GROWTH
The focus on church growth must cease. The remnant doesn't care about a larger building or a growing population. Of course, they are consumed with passion for souls, but this is the difference between today's typical church strategy and the one today's revival minded people have adopted.
Typical church leaders equate success with a larger crowd. They argue that more people in the church equals more souls in the Kingdom. This is not usually the case. It's an immature and unrealistic strategy.
The remnant church, however, values the presence of God over the presence of people. They would rather gather together with twenty or thirty firebrands who have been marked by the Spirit of God instead of five hundred spiritually curious people. They want the Upper Room 120, not the thousands who were too busy to truly invest.
The strategy is prayer induced revival. When the small group of fully surrendered and sold out remnant revivalists pray on fire together, they are building a foundation for the harvest. They aren't looking for an extra few hundred people in their meeting, they want the millions!
In fact, growing with people who are not raging on fire for Jesus will only result in a watered-down experience where all sorts of compromises are made to ensure the moderates are satiated. Remnant Christians are done with such foolish distractions.
NO SUPERNATURAL ACTIVITY
A church without signs, wonders and miracles, without dreams and visions, without the glory of God, is a church without a strategic, powerful and supernatural prayer culture. A prayerless church is no church at all and remnant Believers refuse to waste their time with such a humanistic endeavor.
I hear about people scrutinizing churches that are functioning in the supernatural. I have often suggested that churches that do not operate in the invisible realm where the wonders of God manifest should be questioned. Why is God not moving in your midst?
As we cultivate a prayer-infused church where everybody prays with tongues of fire and prophesies and contends against the darkness, we'll have a church on fire that is driven by the winds of the Holy Spirit. People are so hungry for this but it is exceptionally rare to find a church that flows this way.
CONTROLLING AND RESTRICTIVE LEADERSHIP
Pastors, we must raise up people to outshine us! Get out of the way and celebrate the callings and gifts in others. Allow God to move mightily through them and step aside when God is ready to use them.
We need revival churches that are raising up sons and daughters and releasing them into the world! We need revival leaders who will drop the reigns and allow the messy, unpredictable and supernatural to happen!
I've known pastors who are completely lost without a perfectly timed order of service. They need to step off the platform and hit the altar and let the Spirit of God rage!
NO LEGITIMATE VISION
Why are we even gathering together? What is the vision? What's the point?
When many pastors are asked about their vision, they often share their ministry goals. The two couldn't be more different. You may have goals to add a certain number of people to the pews or to build a second campus, but that is not vision.
Vision is a supernatural infusion of the impossible. It's the burning purpose of the ministry. It's the very reason the leader is gathering people together. True vision will grip the pastor night and day. It's costly. It's deeply personal yet the body is invited to participate.
Revival-minded people want to run with a leader who has had their hip taken out by God, who has no other reason for living than to fulfill their mandate. The vision is alive, burning, raging, all-encompassing and humanly impossible to fulfill.
MISPLACED EMPHASIS ON WORSHIP
In many churches that consider themselves to be supernaturally motivated, a spirit of prayer has been replaced by a strategy of worship. Emphasis has been placed on an excellent musical experience, believing that it's the highest form of supernatural expression and the quickest route to fulfilling the goal of introducing a spiritual element into the service.
A sixty-second prayer as the worship team members hold hands in a circle on the platform is usually followed by an hour or so of practice.
I'll say this as clearly as I can: a spirit of true worship cannot come without a spirit of fervent prayer leading the way.
Some of my favorite worship experiences have been in churches with a single, ragtag guitar playing leader, sometimes with other musicians and sometimes not, who just bleeds intercession. You can see it. You can feel it. They play spontaneously, in the Spirit, with no song list, no script, no karaoke sing-a-longs. Intermixed are songs in tongues, tears of passion and powerful prayers and declarations. The people are undone, rocking, trembling and deeply hungry as the Holy Spirit whips through them like a mighty wind.
Compare this with highly polished, well-orchestrated worship sets with surface-level, manufactured exuberance that any discerning remnant Believer can pick up on with their eyes closed and their hands tied behind their backs.
Again, no spirit of prayer, no spirit of worship. Period.
Remnant Christians can't stand one more church as usual service. We are done!
It's time for unusual church. It's an unscripted, spontaneous, risky, messy, open-ended, explosive and often offensive environment where God blows in with might.
My pastor friend's plea is real. He wants to connect with pastors and leaders who are yearning for an unusual church experience. I do too.
My prophetic friends who last night cried out for anything but church as usual are not alone. There are many remnant Christians who are desperate for the new wine. I hear from people all over the world on a very regular basis asking me if I know where they might find such a church, an unusual church on fire. Sadly, I must confess most of the time that I do not. This must change.
Come on pastors, no more church as usual. For real this time.
Are you willing to let your church die for the sake of Kingdom advance? Or, are you so locked in on local church growth that the region you are assigned to suffers?
Is it possible that the high majority of churches in our nation are dead-end churches? As you continue to read, you'll come to understand that many of the most vibrant, focused and Spirit-filled churches would be considered to be dead-end churches, or it's cousin, cul-de-sac churches.
Millions are assessing the current state of the church in America and the Western world—and they are right—it's in trouble. The church is so far off course that one might wonder if there's hope at all.
Listen to John talk about dead-end churches on his latest podcast…
While these millions are correct in their analysis, many of them are wrong in their response. They have left the church they have deemed to be in violation of God's design and have isolated themselves and self-identified as “the church” presuming their action moves them closer to revival. It doesn't. (Read my article that addresses this fallacy, “You are NOT the Church : The Scattering Movement.”)
THE GOVERNMENTAL CHURCH IS THE KEY TO REVIVAL
I often write and teach on the church, and my reasoning is simple. It's not because I am advocating for a better, more vibrant and impacting church experience (though I wouldn't be opposed to that). It's because the regional church, and the local churches that make it up, are the governing bodies and the way they function is critical. The church is the authority in the region and unless it's setup correctly, the hopes for revival can begin to fade away.
I'm not saying that a spark of revival can't ignite through small groups of Believer's who are going deep in prayer and crying out for an outpouring. It absolutely can. Historically it has happened more than once. However, that small group can't govern, can't administrate and can't facilitate the outpouring. While you may argue that no man has any business governing a move of God, you'd be wrong. God has set up the church as a governmental authority that not only has the responsibility but also the ability, if truly consecrated, to push back the enemy, to make room for God and to create healthy, Spirit-designed systems that both protect what God is doing and promote his activity throughout the region—and beyond.
A DEAD-END CHURCH DEFINED
As I explained above, dead-end churches can be full of life, active in outreach, aggressive in their mission and growing. In fact they can sometimes become very large, which very well may be a false positive for spiritual health. Growth and vibrancy aren't the problem. It's the vision and/or the implementation of that vision that can become poisonous.
Simply, if the focus is local church growth ahead of regional Kingdom advance, they have become compromised.
The pastor or governmental leader of that local church must have clarity on the vision, and it absolutely must be centered on regional impact. What this means is that their own desires for local church growth must be set aside as they give their energies to revival in the city God assigned them to.
Drawing and keeping visitors, growing in influence, developing local programs and ministries and other in-house focuses are put on the back burner, or sometime back on the shelf entirely, as their mandate has them focused regionally. A move of God in their city becomes the main thing.
A CUL-DE-SAC CHURCH DEFINED
A cul-de-sac is a dead end too, but it has a different vibe. While a dead-end church may be extremely focused on (misguided) vision, a cul-de-sac church is focused on family. Relationships. Togetherness.
Imagine a nice neighborhood with a safe and lively cul-de-sac. The kids are out playing, neighbors are talking amongst themselves, barbecuing, laughing, eating and everybody is truly enjoying spending time together.
I am more convinced then I've ever been that “family style” churches need to give way to true, apostolic, Spirit-filled movements made up of warriors who are contending for fire. The church is a military, not a vehicle for friend building. The call is to surrender all, to die to self, to cry out for God to move and to advance with a fervency that will cause the enemy to shudder.
It's in the foxhole of Kingdom war where true friendships are forged. Simple social gatherings won't cut it. We are under attack and we need warriors to assault the kingdom of darkness with ferocity. This, friend, is the church.
LET YOUR CHURCH DIE
Pastor, you have to be okay with letting your church, in its current form, die.
Two times in my nearly 30 years of ministry I made a conscious decision to let my church die. Both in Colorado and in Detroit I had heart-wrenching meetings with God as he instructed me to go deeper, to pray more intentionally and to invite the people on the journey with me.
In Colorado, we were in a time of momentum and I'm convinced, as were others, that we had what took to grow the church to 500 people or more if we stayed the course. Understand, our church was intense and alive. The gifts of the Spirit were in play. The passion and vision were powerful. We weren't a dead church by any means, but we were on our way to becoming a very vibrant dead-end church. The only way to avoid that was for me as the pastor to allow my vision and everything I was contending for to die, even if it meant my church would die along with it.
I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I had a clear choice: continue as we were going and grow the church to 500 and beyond or obey God, become zeroed in on intercession and revival and drop in number possibly by 50-90%—or more. I knew I'd probably lose my salary and may have to find outside work. I knew people would be upset at the change in direction. I knew people who misunderstood my heart and calling would laugh and mock. I knew I was creating a very difficult situation for myself and my family. I also had peace. God wasn't interested in my ability to grow a large church. He wanted my heart and my obedience.
In Detroit God gave me a directive to take people deeper, to come up against some destructive theologies and belief systems that many in the global church were adopting, and to focus on holiness and consecration, all from the furnace of intercession. I knew most people wouldn't be interested in such a lifestyle, but I had no choice. Again, I had to obey God. Overnight we lost a large percentage of the people in the church and we shifted into exactly what God had for us—an army of warriors, small in number yet zealous in spirit, who weren't looking for numerical growth, happy worship services or church as usual, a people who wanted nothing less than to be in the middle of God's blueprint for our region. The thoughts of revival consumed us.
The point? Church growth, local church vision, a family style focus, financial strength or attracting and keeping visitors isn't the goal. All of that, quite frankly, can compromise the goal of being a vehicle for regional Kingdom impact. Frankly, the hundreds of people you are seeking may very well threaten your ability to fulfill God's call on your life and for your church.
I would never change the decisions we made in Colorado or Detroit, even if it meant we would have grown a church of thousands. The model of a successful church has become quite skewed, and it's time we let those ideals die and capture the heart of exactly what God is calling us into.
MARKS OF A DEAD-END CHURCH
ONE: The pastor/leader doesn't connect and regularly collaborate with other churches and ministries in their region. Their energies are given almost entirely to their local church, misunderstanding the importance of their local expression of the city church. They don't realize that the church in Scripture has a regional designation attached to it. The church defined is the regional body of Believers who function under regional apostolic authority. Within that context, there are smaller, local churches that are never to be self-identified, but rather are to strategically connect and often yield to the regional expression. This is why it was so important for me to give leadership to two prayer movements, one in Colorado Springs and one in Detroit. We would visit a new church every Friday night and pray in the Spirit from 10pm until midnight. We visited over 100 churches in Colorado and over 70 in Detroit. That regional connection was invaluable.
TWO: The pastor doesn't encourage people in his church to connect with other churches and ministries on a regular basis. When I was leading churches I realized the immense value of other churches and ministries in our area. I'd let my folks know that they should definitely consider becoming faithful to other churches throughout the week, as we were but a single department of the city church. Other departments, other local churches, were important in the grand scheme and they would benefit from joining with them. In Detroit, I cancelled most everything in my church for a month as I led the people out of our church and into another about 45 minutes away that was experiencing a powerful move of God. We were there every single night for 28 days (I actually missed one night, reluctantly). My passion was not the growth of my local church but rather in fanning the flames of revival in my city.
THREE: The pastor has a competitive spirit. We need to kill that nasty spirit once and for all. I propose one way to do that is to invite other pastors and leaders to recruit anybody from our church that they would like. I'd let other leaders in the city know they could freely connect with my best leaders, my worship team, my staff and anybody in the church, and see if they might be interested in leaving us to serve with them. That eliminates competition and any threats of sheep stealing. They can't steal what I don't own and what I freely make available to them.
FOUR: The church has contagious and aggressive vision for local church growth, yet they rarely talk about regional revival. They emphasize the goals, the strategies and the determination to grow their church, to develop their ministries, to increase in number, to outgrow their building, to attract visitors or to focus on what benefits them on a local level.
FIVE: If they have a prayer emphasis at all, it's almost entirely directed toward their own local endeavors. They pray for all of the stuff I mentioned in the point above while having little zeal for an outpouring in the city. They don't understand that the revival may not even launch in their own local church, so they focus on a move of God happening in their own body while forsaking the call to intercede for regional transformation. Instead of groaning and crying out for God to move in their city, for wickedness to be exposed, for other churches to come alive, for an earth-shaking outpouring, they are praying for internal ministries, for their own tent pegs to expand and for local increase.
SIX: Money isn't sowed into their region. They use finances internally to grow their own local church. While they may have earmarked funds for missions and benevolence, the idea of sowing into regional revival is foreign to them. Further, when dead-end churches do give to outside ministries, it's almost always churches within their own denomination.
SEVEN: They rarely if ever bring in guest speakers who are leaders in other local churches in their region. They want to control the narrative and they don't want people to be influenced by a more dynamic speaker or someone who might connect better with people in their church. They fear losing those people. They fear their nice, tidy local family being disrupted. They also fear another leader behind their pulpit who carries a more potent vision for the region than they do. With all humility I can say that as a visiting guest minister in regions I've never previously been to, I've often had more vision for that city than the pastor of the church. It's crazy. I've also boldly coached pastors not to undo what God is about to do in the meetings. When God calls me to speak in a church, a lot will be confronted and exposed and a firestorm of God's loving reformation will be in the room. Pastors, have the guts to embrace someone who won't simply affirm what has been built, but will call the people higher.
MARKS OF A CUL-DE-SAC CHURCH
ONE: It's all about family. As I said above, I believe the family style church is a threat. Many of these types of churches could fit into the “seeker sensitive” category of churches. Many others emphasize the grace and love message in excess and, while there may be praying in tongues and dancing in the aisles, it all comes back to relationships. The thoughts of a vertical experience where people lock in with God and contend for him to move is something they would struggle with if it interferes with their desire for horizontal connections. It can be both vertical and horizontal, but in a cul-de-sac church, preference is given to personal, human relationships instead of aggressively advancing in the Spirit.
TWO: Their definition of revival is off. They see a growing number of people who are enjoying God and one another as the prime goal. While nobody can argue that growing in intimacy with God and that developing Kingdom relationships is wrong, it's the focus and the priorities that send cul-de-sac churches into the wrong direction. Instead of a supernatural war they value a growing, happy family of people who are enjoying God together. They would call that revival, and it's a far cry from it. They misunderstand the severity of the battle and don't regularly engage at the required level.
THREE: Positivity rules. They are adverse to anything that would be a downer to their block party in the cul-de-sac. They want their people encouraged, happy, stress-free and at ease. Topics such as Hell, sin, eternity, repentance, correction, expectations or anything negative are avoided like the plague. They refuse to speak to the national cultural crisis, politics, the end-times, wickedness such as abortion and homosexuality or any other issue that would be divisive, challenging or confrontational. Just as people advise others to avoid the topics of religion and politics around the Thanksgiving table for the sake of civility and keeping the peace, cul-de-sac churches avoid anything that would cause any measure of disturbance.
FOUR: Connecting with other churches, especially those that are aggressive in the pursuit of revival, holiness and a supernatural manifestation of God, is a no-go. They are happy within the four walls of their family gathering and they don't want any outside influences threatening that.
MARKS OF A KINGDOM CHURCH
Instead of a list of attributes of a Kingdom church, I'll draw this article to a close. I believe it's easy to deduce just what makes up a Kingdom church by reviewing the opposing views above.
The bottom line is that we absolutely must see a massive correction come to what we know as the church today. Regional and national revival is greatly hindered by a lack of true, Kingdom churches that are in existence not for themselves, but rather for the advance of, well, the Kingdom.
Pastors, let your vision die. Let your church die. It's okay. Let the stress of growing your own little spiritual experiment in a tiny little petri dish fade away. Even more importantly, get on board with what God has planned in your city. Let your personal endeavors go, as great as they seem to be, and contend with others in your region for an outpouring. Just gather together somewhere, anywhere, with governmental, Kingdom leaders and other revival-minded people and press into God's heart and intercede and advance exactly as God reveals to you as a part of the regional, governmental body. That's church. That's a Kingdom church. That church will turn the world upside down.
GRACE IN THE SHIFT
In closing (for real, this time), I want to encourage you not to get jaded. Don't point fingers at churches or pastors. Understand that they have a mega-burden, and even if they aren't advancing the way reform demands, pray for them. There must be love and grace in the process and in the ultimate shift. Also, understand God is diverse and there are many different types of people giving leadership, and they have varying levels of ability, experience, gifts, offices, prophetic revelation and understanding of the purpose of the church. In fact, many will disagree with this article. That's okay. This doesn't mean we can't contend for transformation in the local church, but it does mean we must have grace in the process.
I want to strongly encourage you to read a related article that is sure to provoke you to urgently considering the need for severe reformation in the church: “Nine reasons we may have to choose: Grow a large church or contend for revival.”
Even today's most Spirit-filled churches must embrace radical reformation.
Listen to a short podcast as I describe the 2 Chronicles church model, a revelation-driven, prophetic model, that must come to the church, and fast. Then, read this article. It's time for revolution.
TODAY'S SPIRIT-FILLED CHURCH EXPERIENCE
Like most of you, I have quite a memory bank full of church experiences, many of them phenomenal, many of them poor, but most of them quite average, not memorable, good, but honestly disappointing and unsatisfying.
There is a collective roar sounding over our nation, a bellowing cry for an end to church as usual. (By the way, here's the definition of bellow: emit a deep loud roar, typically in pain or anger. I think that fits.)
People are no longer impressed by a skilled worship team, a perfect flow, professional preaching or big dollar theatrics. They want a mighty move of God.
If you listened to the podcast, you'll understand that I'm attempting to bring distinction between today's very good Spirit-filled church experience and the radical reformation that must come. We are all familiar with the Sunday ritual:
- Be welcomed by greeters, friends and maybe the pastor.
- Acknowledge the refreshing presence of the Holy Spirit while worshiping for 30-40 minutes or so.
- Shift into a time for the offering and announcements.
- Listen to a decent message.
- Possibly spend some time at the altar as God touches your heart.
- Shake some more hands and then head out to lunch.
- Repeat next Sunday
This is a good experience. However, it's not the experience that can call down fire, usher in revival or shake the nations. Massive reformation must come to some very good Spirit-filled churches.
1 As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. 2 And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD’s house. 3 When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the LORD on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” 2 Chronicles 7:1-3 (ESV)
I believe a mark of revival just might not be full buildings, but rather empty buildings.
Prayer and sacrifice resulted in fire coming down from heaven and the glory of the Lord filling the place! When that dramatic, supernatural event impacted that building, nobody could enter. They all hit the pavement and worshiped and declared God's goodness! This is the church experience the remnant is crying out for!
Pastors will have to fully stop their pursuits of numeric church growth and shift their efforts to facilitating a white-hot atmosphere of intercession, groans, tongues of fire and prophetic unction. Understand, the church isn't a house of teaching, a house of friendships, a house of evangelism. It's a house of prayer. If a church isn't praying in the Spirit as the very foundation of their ministry, then all of the rest is compromised. Powerless. Out of order. Every person in the church must be fully devoted to praying in tongues and allowing the groans of the Spirit to burn through them.
Instead producing an order of service that expects more people to be drawn in, pastors must raise the bar, turn up the temperature and contend with the remnant in otherworldly prayer—fully expecting most others to be repelled. The pretenders will be identified, but so will the faithful and hungry. You will find your remnant when you start offering what the remnant is longing for.
We must have a 180-degree response to the ultra-damaging seeker-sensitive movement of recent decades. We can grieve the Holy Spirit no longer by keeping him on a leash, tied up outside of the sanctuary. For too long, people have been expected to leave the Holy Spirit (and the manifestations he brings with him) outside the church building, though they were certainly free to untie him and take him home with them if they so chose. Ichabod churches are numerous and God is absolutely grieved. We should be too.
But, let me bring this back to center. It's easy to identify the spiritually dead or the supernaturally resistant churches. This message certainly can target them, but more specifically, it targets the spiritually vibrant churches that I identified above.
There are many such churches that are great places to raise a family, to connect with other Believers and to worship and grow in God. But, again, I'm sounding an urgent alarm—this church experience is insufficient. In fact, such churches can become breeding grounds of mediocrity. It's easy to attend such churches and to be casual in our relationship with Jesus. It's easy to be active in sin. It's easy to hide in the shadows.
On the contrary, churches that are marked by fire, with everybody praying in tongues, groaning in the Spirit, crying out for revival and contending for holiness, you cannot hide.
When everybody is praying, walking, crying, living and groaning in the Holy Spirit, when the fire of God sears them, when the challenge is intense and the atmosphere intentionally aggressive, impurities, sins and resistance are exposed. I've seen it time and again.
Sundays must quickly shift. Now. In fact, we are way behind schedule.
Instead of shaking hands and greeting visitors and meeting with friends, people will walk trembling into the sanctuary as a roar of intercession explodes throughout. People will be on their faces with deep supernatural groans erupting out of them. Others will be pacing, repenting, kneeling, crying out or exalting God with great passion.
Instead of sing-a-longs and sermons, a revelation-driven church will be filled with prophetic decrees, biblical declarations, groans of intercession and messages that shift atmospheres, all while people are shaking, hungering and crying out for fire to fall and for the Holy Spirit to come.
You might be surprised at how many visitors actually are drawn to such a life-changing and legitimate move of God. You might also be surprised at how many elders, Sunday School teachers, staff pastors, worship leaders, ushers and pillars of the church run for the exits with complaints and curses in their mouths.
This reformation will shake everything that can be shaken, but we can delay no longer.
May the supernatural church arise and the stigma of Ichabod be decimated as the Holy Spirit manifests in supernatural wonder again.
A shakeup in the culture of superstar, itinerant ministry would do us all some good.
We’ve all become frustrated, or even disgusted, with much of what we are seeing in today’s Christian landscape whether it’s on Christian television, at conferences or online. Some of that irritation is absolutely warranted, while some of it may be our own inappropriate judgments based on a lack of information. What I mean is, the way someone comes across publicly may rub us the wrong way due to misunderstanding their motive or not really tapping into their hearts.
We should be careful when arriving at such judgments to ensure our own hearts are pure.
We also need to be discerning enough to know when reform is necessary.
In this article I want to narrow down the focus specifically to itinerant ministers.
We’ve all been in a church service with a special guest speaker at the helm. By and large I’ve been positively impacted by these men and women of God and I can easily endorse their ministry.
However, even while honorable people are traveling from church to church, conference to conference, I’m seeing trends and a developing itinerant ministry culture that leaves me frustrated.
I also travel and am not at all immune to what I am going to discuss here. It’s extremely easy to fall into traps, presuming them necessary to keep the ministry moving forward. Motives can be pretty good while the execution leaves something to be desired.
Some itinerant ministers enjoy a cult following, and they are masters at drawing in the crowds. We need a raw, inconvenient reformation to come to itinerant ministry. God will not be mocked.
7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Galatians 6:7-8 (ESV)
9 NECESSARY CHANGES FOR ITINERANT MINISTRY CULTURE
Stop with the hype
I never want to adopt a suspicious, cynical attitude regarding moves of God, but I have to admit it’s becoming more and more difficult. I absolutely affirm flowing in whatever charisma and stage presence that God has given to us as ministers. I believe that is a gift. What needs to stop is the tired drama and efforts to make a meeting appear more substantial that it is. Folks, it’s a meeting. It will be over in a few hours. Quit making it out to be more than that.
When we hype something we are lying. In fact, we are edging close to a terrifying category of ministers: False Prophet
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1 (ESV)
Of course, many ministers aren’t deliberate in their deception. I understand this. Some are overzealous which is a mark of immaturity. We don’t want to sit under false ministers or immature ministers. If you are in either one of these two categories I’d recommend repenting and growing before you proceed in your ministry.
Become accountable to an apostolic leader who will call you out on your reports. Stay humble. That’s the quickest track to true moves of God that will not need your hype.
“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6 (ESV)
Counterpoint: God will always out perform hype if we let him. We should definitely expect remarkable moves of God in our meetings, and when that happens it should leave us speechless—not hype machines that have to promote something in the hopes that your superstar status grows. If God is moving, by all means, spread the word. But be honest. If you want to use hype I believe you’ll limit God to what you can imagine and are falsely reporting. In fact, God might not hang around for long at all in such an environment.
Huge altar calls aren’t mandatory
Every traveling minister loves to post to Instagram or Snapchat wide angle shots of masses of people responding to their amazing message. Come on preachers, you know it’s true! I can’t deny that it feels great to see people rushing the altars, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. It’s when we manipulate the service in such a way to get that photo op that problems arise.
Altar calls are actually a fairly recent innovation. Charles Finney popularized them. I don’t believe seeing people at an altar is a good measure of truly converted and transformed lives. It can very easily be a false positive.
George Whitefield, who historians identify as the key preacher of the Great Awakening, refused to speculate on how many of his listeners had been converted. “There are so many stony-ground hearers which receive the word with joy,” Whitefield said, “that I have determined to suspend my judgment till I know the tree by its fruits.” Revivals were the sole work of the Holy Spirit, and the test of time either confirmed or disproved these conversions. ~www.christianitytoday.com
It’s actually quite common in meetings I’m leading to forgo the altar call altogether. I often want the weighty message to rest heavy on people as they go home. I don’t want to give an artificial sense of completion to their decision to respond to the message. Some of my most memorable services have resulted in empty altars as people filed out the door and into their world with burning spirits.
In fact, true biblical preaching will often lead many to become angry and to leave! When this happens we may be on to something.
I think we should shoot for services that cause many to be amazed and many to mock. The altars might not be full but the message will shock the city!
12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” Acts 2:12-13 (ESV)
Counterpoint: I’m waiting for the days when people can’t even make it through a heavily anointed message before they rush out of their seats to an altar in repentance. Very big, legitimate calls to the altar are in front of us, so as God leads let the people come in as a flood!
Praying for people isn’t mandatory either
Understand, I’m a prayer freak. I promote prayer relentlessly, so it may come as a surprise to you that I’m suggesting that prayer lines aren’t always necessary.
Something in my gut just doesn’t feel right when people attend a conference or a meeting with the primary motive of receiving prayer from the person bringing the message. Itinerant ministers often use this desire to their advantage as they call people forward, again, for that photo op or Facebook report.
Do I believe in praying for people, laying on of hands and activating the power of the Holy Spirit in their situation? Absolutely. I will never be able to give human language to encounters with God that I’ve had through other people who have prayed for me. However, it only happened when I was pursuing God alone and not some superstar preacher.
I often end services when I’m traveling without an altar call and without praying for people. I can often discern when people are craving some magical touch from a stranger they’ve never met instead of simply hitting their knees and encountering God themselves. I don’t typically like to play into that, unless God gives me the green light.
I’ve had pastors walk up to me after the service on many occasions asking if I’d pray for people. It seems the culture has been set and people are looking for that touch. In honor of the pastor who I am in submission to, I always comply with joy. However, I think we need to be led of the Spirit. Pray for those God highlights. Prophesy over those God points out. Often I’ll have people spread out in the room, find a place to pray and go hard after God alone as we close a service. The pressure to always give people that magical touch needs to stop.
In fact, do we understand that many people who want a touch are living in sin? They are unrepentant and are in search for healing or a prophetic word. The Bible is very clear regarding this:
Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. 1 Timothy 5:22 (ESV)
We can’t bring affirmation to a person’s situation by praying for blessing to manifest when they are unrepentant. There have been many times people have asked me to pray for them and the word God gave me for them had nothing to do with their supposed need. God would reveal a heart issue and their need for a loving rebuke.
I think we need a reformation in the prayer lines. Lets see God really work in power and have the fear of the Lord land again.
The prayer lines that result in people falling over for no real reason need to be dispersed. The circus atmosphere must come to an end. If God’s in it, and prayer is his plan for the service, then go for it. If not, it’s more appropriate to close another way.
Counterpoint: God will most definitely call ministers to pray for people. I’ve spend hours after a service was over praying for and prophesying over every single person in the room on many occasions. If God’s directing it, you have to do it.
Shut down the green rooms
I was a workshop speaker at a conference several years ago. A well known worship leader was brought in, and though I absolutely love her ministry I was disappointed by a complaint she aired to me. She was extremely irritated that there wasn’t a green room for her to hide away in during down time. I was disappointed at her apparent spirit of entitlement. She felt special because her name was on the program.
Now, it is true, it’s a wonderful thing to have a private place to retreat to when you are expending all sorts of energy—physical, emotional and spiritual—when traveling and ministering. The efforts some churches make to bless visiting ministers in this way are really wonderful. The issue is the attitude.
I had no problem, at that conference, with hanging out with the people and resting on the floor or in a chair just like everybody else did between sessions. Why are guest ministers in hiding except when they are on the platform or behind their book table?
It’s time we see guest ministers in pre-service prayer meetings, in the foyer after the service and serving the people with great passion.
We aren’t there just to bring a message or to sing a song. We are there to serve. If there’s a church picnic between services, go to it! If there’s a special prayer meeting, you have to be there! When I travel I do my best to act just as if I were a member of that church. If I attended there, what would be expected of me? I guarantee I wouldn’t be hiding away in a green room.
For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. Luke 22:27 (ESV)
Counterpoint: Traveling ministers do have unique challenges and needs. Will there ever be a time when retreating to pray and rest is needed? Yes, in fact it will be quite common. Hosts need to keep this in mind by not putting too much on their plate. If such an opportunity is given, guest ministers should receive that gift with thanks. If not, jump in with the rest of the body.
Stop focusing so much on money
Yes, it takes a lot of money to function as an itinerant minister. Churches, if you are hosting a guest speaker for a day or two, please ensure they are leaving with at least $1500-2000 in addition to their travel expenses if not much more. They have bills to pay that are much greater than you may realize. They should never have to even think about the money. You are hosting them. Be a really great host.
When I was pastoring, we had a very simple rule: Every dollar received in the offering for the guest minister, beyond expenses for the event, would go to them. If we received $10,000 in the special offering, all of it would go to the guest. If it was $1,000,000, the guest would become an overnight millionaire while the church received nothing.
Now, traveling ministers, the way many are approaching finances must change.
Please, stop the offering sermons that are nearly as long as the main message. We get it, you want a lot of money.
We also need to stop determining where we are going to minister based on the number of people there. What if a church of 10 wanted to bring you in? What if you had to sleep on the floor in the church basement? Would you go? I know many would, but many would not. I believe this attitude is shameful.
And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Luke 9:58 (ESV)
Why would you not go? It usually because there would be no notoriety, no crowds, no money. Shameful.
For those who have a minimum honorarium requirement, I’d encourage you to go to the Lord with that plan. If you won’t travel and minister for a few hundred bucks, what does that say about your pride? Trust me, you aren’t all that important.
If it isn’t worth your time and energy to minister for a few dollars, that is extremely telling. Building people up, training disciples and saving souls isn’t worth your investment? Again, shameful.
Counterpoint: I do believe a certain emphasis on financial giving is appropriate. Certainly receive an offering. Communicate truth in the Word as it relates to giving. Share a testimony. It’s good to keep this in front of the people. However, it’s about giving to God and not to your ministry.
Shut up with all of your demands
No, you aren’t a rock star.
If you place a minimum number of stars on the hotel you will stay in, you’ve fallen into a superstar delusion. You have become a prima donna.
a very temperamental person with an inflated view of their own talent or importance.
You don’t need a certain type of bottled water, first class seats on the airplane or anything else that worldly celebrities might demand. Trust me, you aren’t all that special.
If you won’t sleep in a host home and eat what’s put in front of you I question your qualifications for ministry.
Remember, Jesus stayed in a one star hotel as he began his mission to serve all mankind. His accommodations included hay for a mattress in a smelly barn under a bright star.
I’ve stayed in some very uncomfortable places over the years (but nowhere near as uncomfortable as what baby Jesus experienced). I’ve stayed in homes with people that I don’t click with. Rooms I’ve slept in were musty and caused my allergies to go haywire. I’ve eaten meals from a can heated in a microwave. Is that what I prefer? Of course not. But, it’s not about me! I’m not there to be served! I’m there to lay down my life, my demands, my opinions and to serve with unrelenting passion!
You are there to give, to bless, to serve. It’s not the other way around.
43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:43-45 (ESV)
Counterpoint: I believe it’s just fine to communicate what type of food you prefer, what type of accommodations would be most comfortable and other points that would make your visit easier. Just don’t make them into demands. Honor them and don’t require them to honor you.
Quit exaggerating miracles
I know, people will flock to your meetings if they think miracles are happening. That’s unavoidable. What is avoidable is lying.
When reports of healings and miracles get most of the press instead of mass repentance and surrender you should be alert. That doesn’t mean God’s not moving, but it does mean that there may be exaggeration in the mix.
In the Bible we do see people repenting and excitedly reporting about healings and miracles. What we don’t see is Jesus blasting them all over the press of the day.
If healings aren’t clear and obvious, just steer clear. Quit reporting on possibilities.
A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will perish. Proverbs 19:9 (ESV)
If you are called to preach the Truth in your meetings, and you are lying about what God is doing, you should be trembling in the fear of the Lord right about now.
Counterpoint: We should expect miracles! When God is moving we should see great and mighty works before our very eyes. When this happens, shout it from the rooftops! You should find yourself without words to explain exactly what happened instead of wordsmithing something that needs your marketing skills for it to be convincing.
Stop giving the people what they want
Itinerant ministers are avoiding necessary scriptural truths in their meetings for the sake of drawing a larger crowd.
The topics of the hour seem to be prosperity, healing, encouraging words, signs and wonders and personal growth.
16 Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. 17 They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” Jeremiah 23:16-17 (ESV)
We need preachers who will come out of their prayer rooms on fire with a message from Heaven! Preach the room empty with a striking, convicting word for the hour. Preach in such a way that people either hate you and leave with their money still in their wallets or the fall in love with Jesus.
Quit trying to make friends from the pulpit! Stop building your mailing list with admirers! Preach with the conviction of Peter on the day of Pentecost!
22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. Acts 2:22-24 (ESV)
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:37-38 (ESV)
Counterpoint: No, every message doesn’t have to cut to the heart. There is a time to teach on blessing, healing, abundant life and other such topics. In fact, some people are raised up to teach on such topics often. But, there must be the searing Word of God burning through them. Messages of repentance and surrender simply cannot be forsaken.
Stop being dishonest about your meetings
I suppose this is related to the issue of hype. How often do you see posts on Facebook from a traveling minister that go like this:
I preached with passion and am hungry for an outpouring, but this service was a dud. The anointing wasn’t really there. People weren’t impacted. If I were sitting out there I’d be thinking of what I’m going to eat for lunch.
How refreshing a report like that would be! An honest evaluation of an event should lead to an honest report. Come on everybody, God doesn’t always do big things in a service. If he doesn’t, don’t tell the world that he did.
And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. Mark 6:5 (ESV)
How powerful is it that God himself reported on a bad service! (For Jesus, a bad service meant only a few sick people got healed!)
Is it possible your faith, your preparation, your anointing or your skill isn’t up to standards? Jesus was perfect and he experienced a bad service. My guess is you and I will experience many that are much worse…and often it’s because of our own lives and not the unbelief in the people.
Counterpoint: I would say it’s great if we report in faith, without lying. If we communicate that we sense God is desiring to do a great work in the midst of a challenging situation, that is a smart move—if he really said that to you.
The Local Church is a threat to revival? Watch as I continue looking at the threat of the local church.
We must serve the mission of the local church with passion while also contending for a revolution that will help set the stage for a revival in the earth.
John discusses ten clear and present dangers to revival breaking out in a region. If we can diffuse these threats we will be on the verge of a massive city-wide outpouring!
Based on my latest Charisma Magazine article, I discuss key changes that are coming soon to the church.
John discusses a recent Charisma Magazine he wrote dealing with significant changes coming to the church. Much will be introduced and much will be eliminated, and if we aren't ready we risk resisting, being offended or fully rejecting what the Holy Spirit is doing.
Watch the video and check out the Charisma article HERE.
Watch the video: Reformation Churches Part 2—it’s time for the prophetic messengers to awaken the remnant!
FIRST: Don’t miss the last two CoFI Break messages, “Advancing in Your Ministry” and “My Three Motivations.” They are both powerful teachings that will help you stay on fire and advance in your calling every day! Use the series browser on the media player HERE.
REFORMATION CHURCHES PART 2
Revival requires a movement of reformers who will pray with passion and advance as forerunners in the cities of the Earth.
God is awakening prophetic voices to sound the alarm and call people into a supernatural life as we contend for reformation in the church.
COVENS IN THE CHURCH/PHARAOH IN THE CHURCH BUNDLE
Brand new! Order and immediately download this three piece bundle which includes both books AND the full length audio teaching!
Go to www.thefurnace.tv/shop today!
BOOK ONE: Covens in the Churchby John Burton
A nest of demons has gathered to violently assault the church worldwide-all with the church’s agreement.
Join in on a discussion on the issues of unity, authority and mission advance.
As we lock arms in intentional agreement, and refuse to move out of position because of offense or hurt, the church will fulfill its mission of Kingdom advance.
BOOK TWO: Pharaoh in the Church by John Burton
This book is a burning message, an Exodus call that originated in at least a small way like the original Exodus call in a burning bush. Moses experienced the zeal of the deliverer to see His people free to encounter Him. The goal of this book is for you to discover the pounding heart of God in a way that, I believe, will result in a deep and resounding cry of agreement to embrace a radical revolution in the church.