If a church is small, does that mean God’s favor isn’t there or that the pastor has failed? Not always.
Given a choice, I’d attend a large, impactful and vibrant church. That’s simply a preference of mine, though I understand why many others prefer smaller churches. Additionally, given a choice, I’d prefer to lead a large, impactful and vibrant church instead of a smaller one. The key words are impactful and vibrant. Over nearly three decades of ministry, however, I’ve learned that large does not always equal successful, small doesn’t always equal failure and a lack of numeric growth doesn’t always equal stagnant. It’s time we overcome the stigma of the small church.
Like most young church planters or pastors, my vision for the church I was leading included explosive numeric growth. That seemed to be the non-negotiable, obvious part of the ministry plan that required no explanation. Starting and developing a church clearly demanded attracting people to the mission as a core strategy. In fact, the Ekklesia is defined by three distinct marks: People. Leadership. Instruction.
The Ekklesia is a gathering of people in the region under governmental authority in order to receive apostolic instruction. More simply, it’s people coming together under God ordained leadership to fulfill a mission. So, yes, people are needed if you want to lead a church.
Some of my most memorable church planting moments include an empty 700 square foot room in Manitou Springs, Colorado where I’d pray, usually alone, in the early stages of our church launch there. Eighteen years have passed and a lot of lessons have been learned, but those hours on my knees or pacing around that room were the foundation of my church planting experience.
I’ll eliminate the countless remarkable stories, miracles, supernatural encounters and other happenings that spurred the church development process, both there in Manitou Springs and also in Detroit where we planted our second church. I’ve written about these miracles and wonders in some of my books (www.burton.tv/resources), but suffice it to say, I’m humbled at how God moved. In fact, I’m stunned at just how much God did. I and many others will never be the same, and for all eternity we will be able to praise God for what he did in those seasons.
To this day I wonder if my two church planting exercises were massive tests—for me. I know for sure that both contained many tests, but my question is about the comprehensive experience. Did God call me to plant two churches mostly to develop me personally and to test my heart? Certainly there were enough stories of impacted lives to fill many books and countless articles, so I don’t question whether the ministry was legitimate or not. I’ll be forever wrecked by the transformation that resulted in people in those two regions, in those two seasons. Watching lives supernaturally transformed before my eyes caused tears to flow.
Yet, as God truly branded many people with his fire in those many years of ministry, I do wonder if God was mostly testing me. Would I be more interested in growing my legacy, my ministry, my church and my reputation—not to mention my bank account—or, was I truly in it for love and to minister to the heart of God?
In both Manitou Springs and Detroit we saw the churches grow. People to this day count those years among the best of their lives. God was drawing people together and we were contending for revival together.
In both Manitou Springs and Detroit, God tested my heart. It was difficult to say the least. Crushing even. To simplify what he was doing, he called us to go deeper and to raise the bar higher. The cost of consecration and the call to fervent intercession became a much greater focus (and we were already known for being an edgy, intense ministry). While we had amazing people in both churches, I knew the decision to become even more revival focused, even more intercession driven and even more devoted to a consecrated, holy lifestyle would result in many people disengaging. I knew it. I was troubled. God was calling me to “intentional failure.”
I’ll never forget the key moments in both places when God nailed me to the ground and directed me to surrender all, including my reputation. There were many cries and questions during the many hours of prayer in those two defining seasons in Colorado and Michigan. If I obeyed God and introduced a new wine, reformation church that was very unique and specific to our particular mission, those who were mostly invested in the church experience for reasons other than revival, reformation, intercession and revolution would most definitely jump ship. That would be almost everybody. Literally. No exaggeration.
I was right. That’s exactly what happened. I could have stayed the course and watched the churches continue to grow and “thrive,” possibly into several hundred in number. I have no doubt that I could have chosen growth over God, and that freaks me out. It would have been very easy to spiritualize my decision and avoid the pointed fingers and accusations of failure by continuing on the way we started. And I would have failed some of my most critical tests. I would have satisfied people and rejected God and the church would have grown. That is absolutely terrifying.
Attempting to transition a passionate, Spirit-filled, fiery church into a church that’s even hotter, more costly and one that results in a terrifying tremble in our spirits is not for the feint of heart. You see, there are many who absolutely love to warm themselves by the fire, but very few who are willing to lay across the fire as it consumes their flesh as a sacrifice to the one they love.
If small churches have a stigma attached to them, and failure has a stigma attached to it, failed churches most definitely have a stigma attached! But why?
Stop and think about it. Pastor, I want you to be free from the finger-pointing and cruel accusations if you struggle to grow your church or if you fail altogether. Has anybody figured out why failure in this manner is such a negative for some people? Failure in man’s eyes means little. The question is, are you growing in God? Are you truly obedient to God even if such obedience results in people presuming you are weak? (By the way, we are all weak!)
Here’s a portion of an article based on my book Piece of Cake, which deals directly with the stigma of failure:
One of the greatest fears man has is that of failure. It invites scrutiny, accusation and mocking—but society’s greatest leaders embrace a culture of failure!
The goal isn’t to look like you know what you are doing, the goal is to experiment, try, fail, try again, grow, have epiphanies, gain knowledge, fail again and ultimately succeed!
Success doesn’t develop experts nearly as well as failure does.
Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.” (attributed to Thomas Edison)
If we understand the scope of our project, it’s actually quite insane to presume we will accomplish it without significant and repeated failures.
Yes, you are going to fail. Go ahead and wrestle with it now, you can’t avoid it. I don’t mean ultimate failure, of course. But, I do mean that you will pray much, do your best to gain insight from God, consider your best options, seek wisdom from others and then move out with at least a measure of confidence—and you will experience failure!
Failure should not intimidate you! People will presume you to be inadequate, confused or immature during your experimenting.
Most young ministers crave for others to see them as successful and steady with a pipeline directly into the command center of Heaven. The reality? We see in part. We understand little. We have clarity on a small part of the big picture, and when we initiate action, others will watch as we stumble and struggle. Are you OK with that?
THE STIGMA OF SMALL CHURCHES
I’ve heard it said that small is the new big. I believe that is true for many, though we have to be careful not to use that as a cop out. There are some leaders out there who have what it takes to grow a large church yet their lack of personal growth, faith and surrender is standing in the way. Small is the new big only if God has called a particular ministry to be small. There are a lot of silly excuses pastors give for having a small church, just as there are many compromises pastors make to have a large church.
I know we could have easily seen our churches grow moderately large, but I also know I’m probably not gifted enough to lead anything in the thousands. But, in reality, if I honestly analyze God’s mandate on my life, I may not be able to stay true to God’s call while leading more than a hundred—if that. Twice I have traded my ability to grow a church for God’s mandate for a small army of zeroed in warriors. You have no idea how thankful I am that I didn’t fail those tests (though I’ve certainly failed a bunch of other tests over the years! I’m thankful for God’s grace and mercy!).
Further, many pastors simply are not equipped or called to lead a large ministry, yet they expend ridiculous amounts of energy trying to fill the seats.
Pastors, if you have a small church, it could be that you aren't gifted to lead a larger one. God didn't give you that ability. Leadership doesn't come naturally to you. The quicker you can admit that, if it's in fact true, the quicker you can shift expectations and pivot into strategies that take advantage of what you are gifted at.
There's such a stigma regarding small churches. People presume them to be failures. Why is that? Numeric growth should not be the barometer of health and success.
The moment you realize it's okay to be small, the stress and pride and anxiety will fall off. Joy will return as you enjoy being who God created you to be.
The truly scary reality is that many people are naturally gifted to lead a large church or ministry, but God has actually called them to lay that on the altar—and they don’t. They can’t imagine the ridicule, the mocking, the accusation and the massive price that would come if they took their church in a direction that few would join them in.
In fact, I wonder how many mighty church growth visions are being fulfilled as Ishmaels instead of Isaacs. I propose churches all over the world be laid on the altar of sacrifice as God brings redefinition and redirection. The revival we are yearning for requires a sacrifice—a surrender of personal ambition and dreams of success. Put it all on the altar. It requires the church is birthed supernaturally, as Isaac was, not naturally as Ishmael was.
I often think about heroes like Leonard Ravenhill. I would imagine if Ravenhill had decided to start his own church, it would probably be initially well attended, and then a colossal failure. His rebukes of the church that he’s so well known for in his writings would most definitely drive the typical church goer away with mocking and accusations flying out of their mouths. You see, if he would have experienced failure such as this, it wouldn’t be his failure, it would be the failure of those who rejected the call to respond.
Leonard Ravenhill received a lot of criticism about his view of the church being weak witnesses for Christ. He sought to rekindle the fire of the church into the devotion that the first century church had. To him, the greatest tragedy was not sinful activities of the world; it was a sick church in a dying world and so he thought, “Save the church and you will save the world!” Leonard Ravenhill was an old time preacher that warned of the wrath of God, hellfire, heaven, the need for repentance, confession of sin, living a life of holiness. ~Jack Wellman
IF I DECIDED TO PLANT MY THIRD CHURCH
I’d encourage you to read an article I wrote about just what my third church plant might look like, should God direct me to launch one: What My Third Church Plant Might Look Like.
Here’s a portion:
We Will Be Intentionally Small
Understand, I'm someone who absolutely loves large-group meetings. I love praying and contending with thousands of people at various conferences and events. I also would have no problem with a church that does in fact explode in number as a result of revival. I believe we will see that.
However, after 26 years, much of that in pastoral ministry developing churches, I no longer value growing numerically for the sake of numbers. I don't get excited when more people show up, unless those people are hungry and ready to engage God with us at an extreme level.
I believe the sharp, offensive messages that will be preached, the call for 100 percent of the people to be invested in supernatural, fervent prayer and the extreme commitment necessary to advance apostolically will repel most people. Only a remnant will be left. It's with that remnant that we can preach what much be preached, pray what must be prayed and do what must be done to prepare a region for revival.
IT’S TIME FOR REMNANT CHURCHES—WHICH MEANS MOST CURRENT CHURCH MEMBERS WILL LEAVE
Large churches can be a serious threat to revival—or a great strength to revival. We cannot measure success by the number of people who are attending. We must measure by the number of remnant Christians who are fully devoted and being equipped and marked by God in the fires of intercession. Again, some leaders can gather a small group of firebrands and some can gather hundreds or thousands. The key is the temperature of the fire and the level of surrender. When the fire gets hot, many will leave.
We have too many churches filled with people who are marginally interested in a move of God. They would be counted among those who rejected the call to the Upper Room. Understand, what happened in that Upper Room resulted in the launch of the church. If we don’t see tongues of fire igniting above everyone in attendance, and we don’t feel the wind of the Spirit of God blowing through the place, we have to know our church is either compromised or not ready.
The call must be so severe that most people reject it. Hundreds rejected the opportunity to be a part of the Upper Room prayer meeting. Those who did respond changed the world and ultimately impacted billions.
So, yes, when I gave leadership to the churches in Manitou Springs and in Detroit, I was so hungry for God to move more in the region than in my own meetings that I refused to pursue church growth at the cost of obedience and the greater vision. Those were painful years that resulted in a lot of tears as people moved on to other places. Understand, I don’t blame these people. Many are great friends who simply had a different focus in their lives. It’s easy for us to presume such decisions are black and white, but they rarely are. People are at all different places in life, and sometimes one crazy and wild church may just not be what God has for them at that time. I understand that.
I blessed those who left, as difficult as it was to see them go, but I knew my heart was pure and my decision to contend for revival and God’s plan instead of growing my church was correct. Would I do some things differently? Of course. But, the final, big decision to say yes to God and no to personal ambition was the only decision that really mattered.
Simply do what God calls you to do. Period. It really is that basic. There are many pastors that would be better served entering the marketplace. Others need to come to terms with the size of their ministry. Others have to mature and develop before they will see the next level. But, don’t allow people’s analysis of your progress control you or impact you emotionally. People, even many Christians, love to capitalize on someone who is down, and they will use that opportunity to elevate themselves. Just let them. It’s okay. Love them and trust God. All eternity will be marked by the way you respond to people and challenges. It truly is a glorious thing to be free from the scrutiny of others as we allow the fear of the Lord to overcome us. He is truly a very good Father who is cheering you on, not stepping on your neck when you are down and broken.
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.
Powerful strategies to eliminate templated, programmed church services
An Azusa Street report:
…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.”
It’s becoming less common for Christians to jump out of bed on Sunday mornings, excited about heading to church. Of course, many do still love their church experience. The worship environment is powerful, the vision is alive and the part they play causes them to feel the fire of the Holy Spirit coursing through them. However, sadly, if we were honest, we’d have to admit that many church services are much less powerful, less anointed and less impacting than we’d like. In fact, a church that looks anything like what was described in the above Azusa Street report can hardly be found.
There is a way to fix that. The end result is an atmosphere that’s placed in the Holy Spirit’s control. I’ll tell you this, it’s impossible to be bored when God moves. Impossible. It can’t happen. It’s possible to be provoked, irritated, offended or troubled, but not bored or disconnected. What this means is that, in many churches, God isn’t moving in real power. It may be hard to admit that, but we must if we want to prepare for revival and an outpouring that will make us say, “I can never do church the way I used to again.”
An Azusa Street report:
All who are in touch with God realize as soon as they enter the meetings that the Holy Ghost is the leader.
SEVEN SURE-FIRE STRATEGIES TO END BORING, PREDICTIABLE CHURCH SERVICES
1. Lead in lengthy sessions of corporate praying and singing in tongues.
True Christian leaders will confidently, passionately and continually lead people in fervent and supernatural prayer. Lack of a powerful prayer emphasis on Sunday mornings is an indicator of a lack of a powerful prayer discipline throughout the week. When we are burning in intercession throughout the week, there is an explosion that simply must come on Sunday mornings and any other time the saints meet together.
Nurturing an atmosphere where everybody is praying in tongues and singing in the Spirit simply cannot disappoint. How easy would it be, in the midst of worship, to spend fifteen or twenty minutes pacing around the room, laying out at the altar or finding a place to pray in tongues with a zealous spirit? I recommend integrating this into every church service, understanding that the wind of the Holy Spirit may blow the program for the rest of the day well of course.
In fact, it would be valuable to bring the worship team down off the platform on occasion during this part of the service so they can be free to let the groans and cries of their heart out. Often, worship team members find a comfort spot behind their instrument or microphone. You’d be sadly surprised at how many people who have been entrusted to lead us into the Holy of Holies don’t operate from a burning, overwhelming spirit of prayer.
6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. Acts 19:6 (ESV)
An Azusa Street report:
Singing was sporadic and in a cappella or occasionally there would be singing in tongues. There were periods of extended silence. Attenders were occasionally slain in the Spirit.
2. Embrace a vibrant prophetic culture. Invite people to submit prophetic words during the service.
In order to stay right on track with the order of service and to ensure the focus of the day isn’t threatened, definitely do not promote a prophetic culture! Unfortunately, too many pastors have embraced that advice by eliminating or rejecting prophetic ministry on Sundays.
I’ve always believed one of the best ways to promote an absolutely electric church service is by allowing God to speak. When people are trained in the prophetic and are also given an outlet to reveal what God is desiring to communicate through them, the supernatural energy in the room spikes. I often wonder how many sermons have been delivered and how many church services have been conducted in such a way that God’s plan for the day was entirely missed.
As we effectively equip people in prophetic ministry, and facilitate an environment that affirms and promotes prophetic expression, God will blow through the saints and the atmosphere will shake under the weight of God’s Rhema word.
1 Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 1 Corinthians 14:1 (ESV)
An Azusa Street report:
…devotees of the weird doctrine practice the most fanatical rites, preach the wildest theories and work themselves into a state of mad excitement in their peculiar zeal. Colored people and a sprinkling of whites compose the congregation, and night is made hideous in the neighborhood by the howlings of the worshippers, who spend hours swaying forth and back in a nerve racking attitude of prayer and supplication.
3. Have open mic intercession. Invite people to pray 10-15 second prayers, to make decrees and to stir the atmosphere.
Praying in tongues corporately will naturally lead to some incredibly potent revelation stirring within the people. I believe it’s extremely valuable to invite people, in that Holy Spirit infused moment, to release that in the form of short prayers and decrees.
Simply open the microphone and watch the line grow as hungry, passionate saints of God prepare to lead the people in intercession, one after the other. Imagine twenty or thirty people or more shocking the atmosphere with Holy Spirit driven decrees! Not only is it powerful corporately, but it also empowers people individually to take ownership of what God is doing within. As they all respond to the impact of the Holy Spirit, they become stronger and the service will definitely be marked with fire.
15 The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry. Psalm 34:15 (ESV)
An Azusa Street report:
There was spontaneous preaching and altar calls for salvation, sanctification and baptism of the Holy Spirit.
4. Invite people to make biblical declarations.
At another point during the service, open the microphone again. Invite people to release biblical declarations. The Word of God is alive, and when that sharp sword pierces the atmosphere as people read it and then call everyone to come into agreement with it, it will result in supernatural shockwaves.
5 Your decrees are very trustworthy; holiness befits your house, O LORD, forevermore. Psalm 93:5 (ESV)
An Azusa Street report:
…in most services preaching consisted of Seymour opening a Bible and worshippers coming forward to preach or testify as they were led by the Holy Spirit.
5. Promote prophetic art, flagging, dance and other expressions during the service.
It’s disappointing that prophetic expression such as art, dance and flagging are almost extinct in the church today. I suggest we allow the dancers to dance! There’s serious prophetic power when anointed people flag, paint, dance and contend in the Spirit.
Put up the easels and allow the artists to draw or paint. Provide whiteboards for people to write down prophetic words anytime during the service. Celebrate the dance and encourage the flaggers. God has given them important gifts and it’s a mistake to shut them out.
I know many pastors would argue that they can be undisciplined. They might steal attention as they exhibit their gifting during the service. My question would be, what have you done to guide and equip them? Have you invested in them by training in protocols and equipping in prophetic ministry? If not, you can’t blame them if they don’t know exactly how to respond when their God-given desire to function in ministry is stirring within.
20 Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. Exodus 15:20 (ESV)
6. Have prayer for deliverance, healing and freedom.
When’s the last time you saw someone vomit at the altar? Yeah, I know, that’s a funny question. I personally don’t prefer to clean up the mess! (I love that some pro-deliverance churches have “bucket brigades!”) The point is valid, however. When is the last time deliverance has happened on a Sunday morning?
The weight of God’s glory should be so intense that demons easily manifest and deliverance commences right there at the altar. I’ve had demons react in some intense ways in services I’ve been in. It’s actually a thrilling adventure, not something to be shut down for the sake of keeping nice, quiet and sanitized order. When we know who we are and the authority we walk in, deliverance is something we should all get excited about.
As we contend for deliverance, healing and freedom on Sunday mornings, the order of service will often have to be violated. I’d personally rather see people free than hear the prepared sermon or get out of the service on time.
17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; Mark 16:17 (ESV)
An Azusa Street report:
Among first-hand accounts were reports of the blind having their sight restored, diseases cured instantly.
7. Expect manifestations of the Holy Spirit and don't shut them down when comfort levels are threatened.
How is it we can worship God, preach about God and gather together because of God but shut God out when he starts to interact in a supernatural way? Manifestations of the Holy Spirit should be expected. If God’s not moving, something is wrong!
I remember a meeting many years ago where God was moving in extremely intense power. People were absolutely rocked. God was touching people for at least two hours before the preaching even began. When the preacher was bringing the message, one lady was laughing and crying, under the power of the Holy Spirit. Some in attendance kept looking her way as God ministered to her. The preacher became agitated and said something like, “Can you not hear me? Should I have the sound crew turn my mic up? Pay attention. Do you really want me to shut down God’s ministry to that lady just because you can’t stay focused?”
That was a powerful moment indeed. One I’ve remembered for over two decades.
17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; Acts 2:17 (ESV)
An Azusa Street report:
Soon the crowds became very large and were full of people speaking in tongues, shouting, singing and moaning. Many people would continually shout throughout the meetings. Finally, the front porch collapsed, forcing the group to begin looking for a new meeting place. They shouted three days and three nights. It was Easter season. The people came from everywhere. By the next morning there was no way of getting near the house. As people came in they would fall under God's power; and the whole city was stirred. They shouted until the foundation of the house gave way, but no one was hurt.
The attendees were often described as “Holy Rollers“, “Holy Jumpers”, “Tangled Tonguers” and “Holy Ghosters”. Reports were published throughout the U.S. and the world of the strange happenings in Los Angeles.
CHURCH SHOULD NEVER BE BORING
While I’m not at all proposing that church should entertain us, I am saying that it’s just not possible to be bored in an environment where the Holy Spirit is moving, touching, engaging, healing, delivering, wrecking and encountering the people.
I’d challenge every pastor to initiate all seven of these strategies. The result will be a church on fire that draws in a hungry, passionate remnant that is ready to release the oracles of God…and shake the nations.
An Azusa Street report:
Christians from many traditions were critical, saying the movement was hyper-emotional, misused Scripture and lost focus on Christ by overemphasizing the Holy Spirit. Within a short time ministers were warning their congregations to stay away from the Azusa Street Mission.
Proud, well-dressed preachers came to “investigate”. Soon their high looks were replaced with wonder, then conviction comes, and very often you will find them in a short time wallowing on the dirty floor, asking God to forgive them and make them as little children.
Most presume my book Covens in the Church addresses witchcraft, curses and attacks against the church. They are correct, but they misunderstand just what type of witchcraft I’m dealing with until they read the book—and are shocked.
I deal with (among other things) those in the church who are spiritualizing their manipulation, control and rebellion by abandoning the local church, rejecting authority and church government and launching home churches without blessing or qualification. When birthed out of a heart that resists authority, home churches are little more than coven meetings. I have been a bold advocate for what many call the institutional church while shining the light of scrutiny on the exodus to house churches.
It’s important for all who read to understand I’m a staunch supporter of local church pastors and any movement that attempts to circumvent biblical government must be exposed and renounced.
I also want it to be clear that I actually do agree with many house church advocates on many points. They have legitimate disagreements with the way the local church is functioning today, and their issues have been largely ignored by pastors and those who are in leadership. Their evacuation out of the institutional church and into house churches may be the wrong move for some of the right reasons. There are serious issues to deal with, and pastors, it’s time to wake up and lead the church into the new wine skin.
The institutional church is at great risk of irrelevancy and extinction. However, I’m not convinced house churches are the best move if they develop at the expense or exclusion of the local church.
WHY ARE SO MANY REJECTING THE LOCAL CHURCH IN FAVOR OF HOUSE CHURCHES?
I asked a question on Facebook earlier today:
What are some reasons people are choosing home churches over the institutional church?
It didn’t take long for comments to start flooding in. It’s obvious to me that the anti-institutional church sentiment is unapologetic and passionate. The reasons they shared demand some analysis.
I should make it clear that there are most definitely house church movements, when rightly aligned in the government of the city church, that are biblically appropriate and full of fire and power. I’m not anti-house church. I’m anti-rebellion.
Before I get into the reasons people are leaving the church in favor of home churches, I wanted to share a reply that I just received from someone who read my Facebook post. It comes from a pastor’s wife. She gave me permission to publish it. As we continue through this local church/house church debate, let’s keep in mind just how precious God considers his pastors and leaders to be, and how many are laying down their lives for what God has called them to:
As a third generation pastor, who has seen both my parents and grandparents pour themselves out for the local church, selflessly giving and loving the body of Christ it saddens me to see so many abandon what so many paid such a steep price for in faithful service to the Lord. I get it. No church is perfect. Be it a home church or an “institutional“ church. Let me tell you though, it is not easy being a pastor in this day and age. Everyone has instant access to the greatest and best preachers and teachers out there via social media. I know for myself and my husband we are revivalists. We desire a move of God, and give space and place for the Lord to do what He desires. I see many people post online how they’d love to find churches that do that but then in real life we have people come in, decide it’s too steep a price, and go to an easy believeism church or someplace they can be hit and miss with no accountability. The reality is that for the presence and the glory of God to invade an atmosphere it’s because someone has paid a price for it. In intercession, fasting, years, faithfulness.
Just to be honest, as a pastors wife, sometimes reading these kinds of posts adds to the feeling of discouragement. ~Debra McBride
Here are ten reasons people are leaving the local church in favor of house churches:
They desire genuine community.
It’s true that people can get lost in a larger church, especially if they are gathering people together just an hour or two a week. The Sunday service typically doesn’t provide opportunity for people to authentically connect and develop relationships.
Those who are yearning for deeper friendships can feel their frustration grow every week as they shuffle into a row and sit through a programmed service, only to shuffle right back out and into the parking lot.
I agree that godly relationships are valuable, though I believe people’s frustration can be misplaced. I affirm the desire for relationships can be overwhelming, and loneliness can eat away at us if we don’t handle it rightly. However, the purpose of the church, the Ekklesia, is not mostly to make friends. It’s to gather together as Believers under apostolic leadership and vision to pray and prepare for Kingdom advance.
Relationships will never be developed on a Sunday morning. There’s no way. They aren’t supposed to. And, pastors, please abandon all attempts at trying to fit them in. The three-minute window you give people to walk around and greet one another is a sad and unnecessary attempt at nurturing togetherness. The right approach is to admit the Sunday services are meant for prayer, worship and apostolic instruction. The fellowship can happen at other times and in other places. Any attempt at fellowship on a Sunday morning is misguided.
For those disappointed because the pastor won’t connect closely with you, I have some news for you. Your pastor isn't supposed to be your best friend. He's probably not going to be your friend at all. He may rarely connect with you personally. It may never happen.
His job is to pray, study the Word and facilitate an atmosphere of intercession and equipping. His relational energy will be reserved for just a few, just as Jesus modeled. Those who are prone to rejection, or those who presume the church is supposed to be ultra-relational, will suffer in such environments.
I don’t know when it became the church’s job to become matchmaker, developing circles of friends and facilitating the relationship building process. If people want to hang out, let them connect in the prayer rooms and on the mission field and then head out for coffee or initiate a Bible study on their own time. It doesn’t have to be organized, and it shouldn’t distract from the greater mission.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the local church hosting small groups. They can be enriching and very good. The problem is when the living room instead of the prayer room becomes the glue that holds the church together. Relationships are actually critically important, but they can’t be the premier goal. The church has a much greater purpose. There’s a world to change. There’s revival to pursue. If people trusted that process, they would develop life-long friendships from the fox hole of ministry. The first church was birthed just like that.
1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. Acts 2:1 (ESV)
They are tired of unnecessary hype, productions and programs.
Every few weeks it seems there’s a new project or ministry focus that is instituted just to prove the church is getting bigger and better, is alive and moving forward. People can see right through these attempts and, quite frankly, are tired of investing so much money, time and energy for such a small return. They have had enough of the “bigger is better” mindset and simply want to give themselves to simple, organic church life.
The stage productions, expensive programs, lights, smoke and Hollywood style video presentations might look good, but the house church crowd is rejecting them wholesale. The vision the pastor might have for such a ministry isn’t shared by them.
I’ll be the first to argue that we need to shut pretty much everything down and simply gather together to pray. Filling the calendar with ministries, groups, programs and other endeavors without clear vision and buy in from the people is simply not attractive or, in most cases, effective.
Pastors, it’s time to get back to the basics. It’s true that those who have been conditioned by media and today’s culture might reject the basics, but we aren’t here to pander to culture. We are here to shake the nations.
So, does this mean the pyrotechnics, media and high production value are inherently evil? Absolutely not. Those who are abandoning churches simply because a church has implemented such tactics need to re-evaluate their heart. It’s not okay to abandon ship just because you don’t appreciate this style of ministry, but I can’t deny that’s it’s your right to be troubled if the theatrics veer the ministry off it’s proper course.
I’ve often said that I despise hype and exaggeration. When we employ such psychological methods to project our efforts beyond where they actually are, we limit God to our own imagination. We get overly excited about what we can produce instead of allowing God to blow our minds!
20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21 (ESV)
They want to be released to minister according to their giftings.
This argument is common. People are discouraged because they cannot function according to the gifting God has placed within them. They are chomping at the bit to be activated. They were created for a purpose, yet, so often in the local church, they are not released to move in their ministry.
As one who has planted and given senior leadership to churches for years, I’ll be the first to come to the defense of local church pastors. Just because you have a gift and calling does not mean you are ready to function in it in the church. There are a lot of broken, immature, untrained, prideful or simply weird people out there who should not be given a place in public ministry—until they have been made ready.
There is significant process involved in the ministry development incubator. If you aren’t willing to submit to authority and give yourself to the process, and allow significant time to pass as you die daily and gradually grow stronger, your ministry cannot be validated.
Many people are launching house churches because their ministry was not confirmed in the local church. This is where a lot of immature people are launching premature ministries. Their authorities have determined they are not ready, but they turn aside from that counsel and move out in childish rebellion—all in the name of spiritual freedom.
That being said, pastors, you must do a better job at equipping the saints. While there are many pastors and church leadership teams that excel at this, most don’t.
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children… Ephesians 4:11-14 (ESV)
The church only goes as deep as the majority will allow.
The house church crowd is typically a spiritually hungry one. We can’t deny that most local churches simply don’t go deeper than the majority will allow. I’m not talking about seeker sensitive churches, I’m referring to Spirit-filled churches that promote exuberant worship and devotion to Jesus.
There are many churches like this that will just go so deep. There’s a limit. They know if they get as passionate and as supernaturally infused as the zealots in their midst, the majority will leave.
Pastors, you must wake up! Let the pretenders leave! It’s time to bring the fire, the shock and the awe back into the church! How can you fault people who desire to leave because they want to experience Jesus more than you do?
For those who are hungry for the deep, I won’t pull any punches. This alone is not a reason to leave a church and to start your own. You can go as deep in God as you want regardless of how far your church goes. I challenge you to burn hot, pray without ceasing, stimulate dreams and visions and raise the temperature of every atmosphere you walk into.
Will God eventually move you on to another church or to build a new ministry yourself? He most certainly may. Just make sure you handle the move with integrity and honor. If your current church is apathetic, you can be sure God will bring resolution one way or another without your intervention.
15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. Revelation 3:15-16 (ESV)
Being guilted into serving more, giving more and building the church.
House church people generally are more interested in Kingdom activity than the local church. They are more passionate about God’s expression among a people in a region than a local ministry. They are tired of building a single man’s kingdom by giving and serving and enhancing that local church instead of investing in the advance of the Kingdom of God.
Again, as one who has been involved in the church for decades, I understand. There’s so much pressure today to grow big ministries, to be successful and to keep everybody active and on task. Leaders want people to take ownership. In our American culture we are individualistic and laser focused on whatever project we deem most beneficial to us. The problem? There is much more that needs our focus than a single local church.
I believe it’s healthy and important for people to have a home church while also engaging at a high level in other local churches, ministries and Kingdom activities. When I was giving leadership to churches, I would strongly encourage people to frequent other ministries in addition to our own. Investing in the city church is more important than the local church.
I started this message by mentioning my book Covens in the Church. That book as directed at those who wrongly abandon assignments for the sake of pursuing their own spiritual endeavors. This point requires I highlight the follow up book titled, Pharaoh in the Church. This book was written to pastors who are so focused on building their own ministry that the people are wrongly used, expected to continually serve, give and sacrifice for that never ending project.
In the words of Brian Ming, “God forgive us for building kingdoms of man on doctrines of demons in your name.”
Pastors, right or wrong, this is another reason people are leaving your church for the more efficient, simple and authentic house church.
The power of God isn’t there.
I’ll admit that I’ve been to some small group meetings that are electric! The Holy Spirit was blowing through that living room or office space like a wind and a fire! When you gather people who are all likeminded and hungry for Jesus, you can’t help but to see God respond.
I’ve been to local church meetings like this too, but they are rare. How often do you leave an institutional church remarking about how powerfully and supernaturally the Holy Spirit moved? Some of you reading this are truly blessed, and you’d respond by saying, “Nearly every Sunday!” Most would have to honestly admit that it’s extremely uncommon or nonexistent.
Understand, I’m not talking about a great worship experience or an encouraging message. I mean, when is the last time the supernatural presence of God flooded the place to such an extreme that people were trembling, crying, and laying out all over the place? This should be the norm for the church. Pastors, until you can steward this call and facilitate a white-hot atmosphere of Holy Spirit power, it will be easy for people to be disappointed in your church.
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)
Services are predictable, overly structured and polished.
People who are hungry for authentic encounter with Jesus are done with perfectly orchestrated worship sets and precisely ordered services. House churches offer an opportunity to ditch the set lists and eliminate the clocks in favor of spontaneous, unpredictable and untimed worship, prayer and teaching along with a fervent pursuit of an ever increasing tangible presence of the Holy Spirit.
Instead of the spit and shine, they long for the messy, unpredictable, uncontrollable move of God that simply won’t allow for manmade organization.
How often are the people in the pews crying out for the pastors to get out of the way and to let the Holy Spirit move? It’s time we admit that our messages really aren’t that great, and our worship sets aren’t that special. Let’s move aside, hit our knees and let the Holy Spirit run our services! I’ll tell you this, when it happens, people won’t be frustrated and disappointed, fleeing the church, they’ll be flooding out from wherever they are to the place where the fire is burning!
The truth is it can be easier to fan the flames of revival in a small house church than in a local church simply because local churches aren’t typically focused on the remnant. They want the bigger crowds and are willing to compromise to ensure the people stay connected. Those in house churches aren’t focused on numbers or on drawing the seeker. They simply want God. Period. They have no order of service. They pray. They cry out. They minister to God and to each other.
While I acknowledge this reality, my belief is that we need to see such a remnant focus in the local church! I believe apostolic hubs, houses of prayer and house churches have emerged because local churches have abdicated their responsibilities to be centers of prayer and Kingdom advance. They have become fully local to the detriment of the city vision. Prayer has taken a back seat because most resist such a devotion.
I love houses of prayer, apostolic hubs, para-church ministries and even healthy, rightly aligned house churches. I also love the local church and am campaigning for it to break out of the old, tired and predictable in favor of a Holy Spirit who cannot be controlled.
13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ …Matthew 21:13 (ESV)
Pastors who are functioning out of ability, creativity or charisma instead of anointing.
Stage shows seem to be overtaking much of the church today. Instead of contending for hours in the prayer rooms, pastors are often functioning from their creativity and charisma. The anointing simply isn’t intense. They haven’t been branded by the fire that can only be found at the altars.
How rare it is to see the man or woman of God trembling behind the pulpit after emerging from an encounter with almighty God in the prayer room.
Leonard Ravenhill said, “Pastors who don’t pray two hours a day aren’t worth a dime a dozen.”
People can see right through pastors who are operating out of gifting instead of anointing. It’s leaves a very bad taste in their spirits. They want to be led by people who are continually encountering Jesus, people who aren’t so confident in their giftings that they simply put together “creative” programs, conferences, sermon series and whatever else they can orchestrate.
That being said, house church friends, I challenge you to re-read the appeal from Debra at the beginning of this article. Have enough compassion for God’s leaders that you don’t rise up in pride, determined to be more spiritually driven then they are. In fact, I bet most house church people are no more spiritually devoted than most local church pastors.
17 pray without ceasing, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (ESV)
A lack of focus on the greater church.
House church folks don’t like to be limited in their church experience. They don’t value, and actually devalue, the demand many pastors have to commit fully and only to their specific local church. It stinks of personal kingdom building instead of truly being Kingdom minded.
As I said above, we need to encourage people to invest in a variety of churches and ministries in our region. In fact, pastors should be very active in supporting other churches and ministries. Lead the people in your church to conferences, prayer events, special church meetings, revival services and strategic Kingdom happenings in the region.
House churches can easily become equally unhealthy when they become inward focused and disconnected from the greater city church. In fact, many, many house churches regularly fall into this trap.
Out of one side of their mouth they confess to being “Kingdom focused” while on the contrary they never visit and lock arms with other local churches, ministries or functions in the region.
46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes… Acts 2:46 (ESV)
They are plain bored with the old wine skin.
Church as we know it is done. This is the driving message behind my book The Coming Church. I’ve preached about this, written about this and led movements with this in mind. The old wine skin must give way to the new. The house church, for many, seems to be a logical step out of the old and into the new.
The reality is that the new wine skin looks nothing like anything we see in local or house churches.
However, one key component that many house church enthusiasts may not be too excited about in the new wine skin is: authority. The government of God will be firmly established and the five-fold ministry will be foundational. No longer can people just do as they please presuming that God is their only authority. We will function within Kingdom government, and we must acknowledge the various leaders in the region.
22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” Mark 2:22 (ESV)
HOUSE CHURCH OR LOCAL CHURCH?
Both. Neither. Actually it’s the city church we should be advancing. Local churches are important as larger groups of people lock in to contend for revival and advance the Kingdom. Smaller churches that are more keenly focused will exist in homes along side the rest of the church of the city. Apostles, prophets and other leaders will serve with sobriety and boldness.
The key is having pure motives, honoring all and being faithful to the calling and the process God has given you to steward whether it’s in a local church, house church, apostolic hub, house of prayer or other community of faith.
We all want revival, or, rather, we all think we want revival. We crave God’s presence. We want the fire. But, let’s all be challenged. When the fire comes, will we honestly allow it to consume us? Will we stay devoted, humble and surrendered? Or will we rise up in pride, dissatisfied with the way things are unfolding and move out in rebellion to start an alternate, individualistic, isolated, coven in the church?
Many are working hard to attract the wrong crowd on Sunday—and the result is an Ichabod 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! The force from Heaven, the celestial asteroid, is going to impact the Church, and most pastors and people will resist with everything that’s within them. Man-made support systems will be removed. People’s financial and relational structures will be threatened by this strange new spiritual invasion. The human wisdom and natural common sense that have been involved in the development of the current church structure will not be usable in the new. Those who walk by sight are in danger. ~The Coming Church, John Burton
I've met countless pastors and others who say they are focused on revival, but who are misguided on exactly what it is. Their focus is on attracting people to the church, on people getting “saved” and on other church growth strategies.
The problem? The foundational pursuit of revival has nothing to do with church growth or the lost. It has everything to do with the church awakening, contending in intercession and attracting the fire of the Holy Spirit.
The lost didn't show up in the Upper Room. Marginal followers of Jesus were repelled by the Upper Room.
Revival isn't marked by a full house. Revival starts in a room that reveals the remnant. The revival that erupted in that roomful of remnants resulted in explosive church growth and Kingdom advance.
Premature church growth will result in a multiplication of lukewarm, dead and dying people who have no idea what it feels like to have tongues of fire igniting over top of them.
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. Acts 2:1-3 (ESV)
VISITORS SHOULD BE SHAKEN BY WHAT THEY SEE IN THE CHURCH.
The pure Christian message of surrender, repentance, holiness, intercession and rescuing souls from Hell has been replaced by a self-centered gospel that boldly affirms a focus on benefits without cost, on personal gain without sacrifice, on freedom without consecration. The Church has been unapologetically and boldly focused on how to have faith to receive while forsaking the call to have faith to give. The spirit of the age infiltrated churches long ago—and now, all too often, that demonic spirit is the primary counselor. ~The Coming Church, John Burton
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. I’ve often said that one indicator of the Holy Spirit moving in power is that bystanders will do one of two things. They will either marvel or they will mock.
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)
When naturally minded people walk into a furnace of intercession, a place that is electric with supernatural activity, they should be radically unsettled, yet so many church assimilation teams today attempt to make the environment as familiar and comfortable as possible.
I’ve often heard pastors admit they hide the pre-service prayer (for those who have pre-service prayer at all!) in a side room instead of filling the sanctuary with groans of intercession because they don’t want to freak out the soon-arriving visitors. I’ve heard that many, many times and I was grieved every time. There are a few legitimate reasons why prayer might not work in the sanctuary prior to the service in some churches, but that’s not one of them. If we are attempting to introduce people into the wonder of a supernatural encounter with Jesus, why would we, at the same time, work so hard at shielding their eyes? I propose bringing the fire and the groan right into the heart of the Sunday service! Those who remain will be the laborers you need to fulfill your mission.
Many years ago, when I first started Revolution Church in Manitou Springs, Colorado, I worked hard at assimilating visitors. I would excitedly connect with them and share just how much they would enjoy making our church their new home. It didn’t take long for me to start feeling like a used-car salesman; dirty; compromised. My strategy grieved my spirit. The truth was that our atmosphere and our vision were called by God to be driven by intercession and marked by a strong prophetic emphasis. The messages were intense. Revolution Church was not designed for those who would be marginally committed (as no church is}. The “Sunday go to meeting” Christians would, by choice, not remain for long.
The reality was, that by attempting to attract those types of people, I was compromising the vision. The church needed the remnant who would lock in and pray, who would contend for revival and who would endure with great strength. A large group of non-remnant people would be a distraction. Years would be lost. Lives would be at risk. Eternities would be in danger.
So, I shifted. I started literally trying to scare people away from our church.
To the dismay of those who simply want to hear a little worship and listen to good (and short) teaching, services will become more like prayer meetings. This is one of the most critical and most upsetting shifts that will come–and it must come now. Today, most of the energy church leadership teams expend is usually on attracting and keeping visitors instead of training and engaging intercessors. ~The Coming Church, John Burton
A CHURCH ON FIRE
America doesn’t need another bed-and-breakfast church that comforts our flesh (our natural desires). Our nation needs a Church with a volatile atmosphere that explodes, burns human flesh and shocks our culture. ~The Coming Church, John Burton
I knew we were called to lead a church on fire, and that just wasn’t possible with tepid, resistant, lukewarm people.
1 …I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die… Revelation 3:1-2 (ESV)
I was confident that, if I clearly shared the wild, costly, other-worldly vision that God had given us, and how people at our church were called to invest into that vision, that those who would not be interested in such a lifestyle would not return. Understand, my invitation for them to run with us was genuine. Our door was wide open. When I say “I tried to scare them away” I mean I was simply authentic. I stripped off the suit of a salesman and shared my raw, passionate dream of God to advance with a team of zealots for Jesus. Such an invitation was all I needed to see who was deeply hungry for revival and who was not. I would do my best to help those people connect in another local church. I’d give them the names of some churches they might enjoy. While I truly wanted the very best for them, it always broke my heart when they decided against adopting a lifestyle of intercession and revival. That lifestyle is not for a specialized few. It’s for all.
This resulted in a confidence that those who remained were, in most cases, part of our remnant, firebrands who would dig in and assimilate with our tribe of revivalists.
When you spend energy attracting the mildly committed, you compromise your entire vision. Simply, you need soldiers to become equipped and ready to lay down their lives and fight for the freedom of souls in the region.
I believe it’s core to the mission of the church to give opportunity for people to clearly evaluate their commitment and to give room for them to leave. The intensity of the truth demands it. We must call people out of a natural life and into the supernatural, out of a casual place and into radical surrender.
63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” 66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” John 6:63-67 (ESV)
Understand, similar to the way Jesus ministered in the above passage along with other key examples in Scripture, the Upper Room served as a filter. It filtered out those who weren’t radically devoted. Most were repelled by the call to pray. The agenda did not change in the hopes of assimilating more people. The disciples loved them as they went their way…and then they turned the world upside down with the few who remained as a result. What filters do you have in your church, pastor, to call people to a transparent, genuine place of soul searching and decision? You must start and continue with an Upper Room atmosphere and an offensive, flesh-crushing Gospel message.
It’s important to remember that the Ekklesia, the church gathering, was not designed for the lost. So many pastors get derailed on this point alone. The church is a house of prayer for all nations. The predominant church activity should be white hot intercession with tongues of fire atop everyone, with groans filling the atmosphere. It’s a remnant ministry. This call is for all who call themselves Christian.
If you build a church with people who won’t devote themselves to the prayer room, you build your church with those who are disinterested at best and lukewarm at worst. Your church will be a low-water-level church. It will be a place where the fire can’t rage. It will be naturally familiar with distant, elusive, marginally supernatural dreams. Pipe dreams.
Christians who aren’t invested in fervent, supernatural prayer will be enticed by the natural familiarity of Ichabod churches (where the glory has departed). ~The Coming Church, John Burton
WHAT ABOUT THE SEEKERS?
A question I hear from very good-hearted people is this: What do we do with people who are seeking? Do we just turn them away?
We absolutely don’t turn them away! We invite them into the furnace. We do not turn down the fire. We turn it up! Those who are hungry for God must not be introduced to a tepid, natural environment with an image of God that looks just like themselves. Reveal the glory of our mysterious, fiery, living God and watch them collapse to their knees in desperation!
However, as I have stated already, many will choose to leave at the sight of something so alien and costly. That’s a choice they themselves have a right to make.
Again, we must faithfully reveal the cost of following Jesus. We don’t come on our terms. We come on God’s. Too many are interested in warming their flesh by the fire instead of their flesh being consumed by the fire.
23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. 24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” 28 And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” 29 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” Luke 18:23-30 (ESV)
Many will turn away sad. Even the most devoted will feel the severity of a life devoted to Jesus. They will cry out, “Then who can be saved?” That tension will result in a church that is sober and on fire and something that true seekers will give themselves to. Pretenders will certainly go away sad as the remnant church is revealed.
My lifelong commitment in ministry is this: I refuse to tone down the activity of the Holy Spirit out of respect of those less hungry.
That commitment requires everything I do to have the smell of smoke. In fact, pastors, one reason even the most devoted people aren’t coming to your prayer meetings is simple—they are dead, humanistic and boring. They are logically driven. They are simply a rehashing of what the natural mind can discern. As someone who comes alive in prophetic, prayer-fueled environments, I aggressively avoid powerless prayer meetings that are driven by lists of needs and human understanding. I don’t want my soul activated. I want my spirit to burn! I think tired, powerless petition-driven prayer meetings can do more damage than good much of the time. Do your prayer meetings have the smell of smoke? Are tongues of fire resting on everybody? If not, don’t be surprised when the even the most devoted disciples are no-shows.
We need a church on fire today more than ever. The lost are being introduced into lukewarm, natural, Ichabod religion instead of a supernatural shaking that can only come from the Great I Am. They are convinced they are saved as they are assimilated into a community of likeminded quasi-spiritual people who would love to see God manifest in their natural realm—yet have no interest in manifesting in the spiritual realm where the Holy Spirit broods.
My challenge to pastors is simple. Risk everything. Allow your church to dwindle, if necessary, to a few remnant people who will live, pray, walk and advance in the Spirit. The world is waiting for them.
You can download a free chapter and order The Coming Church by John Burton at www.burton.tv/resources.
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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.
Do we trust God’s message enough to risk everything to share it?
Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time… Jonah 3:1 (ESV)
We never want to cause God to bring his word to us more than once. Jonah was resistant. We are all familiar with the story. The mission the Lord gave Jonah was a critical one, and he wasn’t about give up over the childish, selfish approach of his prophet. Nineveh needed to hear from God, fast, and Jonah was the man to bring the message. The longer I live the more dismayed I become at the state of preaching and prophetic ministry. While there is a small, raging, faithful remnant that is operating out of the fear of the Lord in these dire end times, the normal approach to preaching in our nation is cautious at best, outright rebellious at worst. Human wisdom has taken over numerous pulpits. Many are trading unchangeable truths in Scripture for a modified version that seems more godly, and less costly. For example, I asked a question on Facebook recently: If a professing Christian was caught in sin such as greed, pornography, gossip or other intentional failures, and they repeatedly refused to repent, what should happen? Many rejected Matthew 18 as too severe. They generally replied by saying we should pray for them, keep them in the church so they can hear the truth, be patient, etc. That sounds good, but it’s not biblical. They are attempting to extend a type of mercy that God never intended them to.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Matthew 18:15-17 (ESV)
Cultural resistance to any hint of judgment has caused many American preachers to go soft and silent. Churches are crawling with immoral people who name the name of Christ, and we as leaders will have blood on our hands if we don’t deliver a sobering message of repentance to our nation. The Bible is extremely clear on this point. We must judge with a heart of love and sobriety for the sake of the church:
But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 (ESV)
The Bible reveals in the end-times, people will call evil good and good evil. While church leadership as a whole isn’t at the point of calling sexual sin good, the lack of action as demanded by Scripture reveals that some leaders are calling evil something less than evil. Weakness. Struggle. Human nature. They wish to extend mercy to those who willfully continue in their deliberate decision to defy God. There comes a time when we must trust God’s wisdom and understand the unrepentant are evil. Period. Boy, that sounds self-righteous, doesn’t it? No, it doesn’t, unless you’ve been conditioned by the politically correct, religiously correct culture we are living in today. In truth, it’s not self-righteous. It’s simply righteous. We can, and must, have a heart of compassion and eyes filled with tears as we witness people rejecting God and his standards. Those tears however can’t result in a failure to exercise biblical protocol. There does come a time when we must act, no matter how terrible the action might feel. God can be trusted.
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 (ESV)
It doesn’t get any more direct than that.
A SECOND CHANCE FOR AMERICA’S PREACHERS
The primary purpose of this article is not to discuss protocol for discipline in the church, though that is a necessary sub-point. The reason I led with that point was to reveal the deep dilemma we are currently in in America. We have gone soft on sin and few are speaking on the crisis. Judgment is not only probable, it’s most likely necessary to ensure more people aren’t contaminated by compromised, carnal, passive, quasi-Christianity. Judgment is God’s method of giving opportunity for those who still have hope to escape the prison they locked themselves into through their disobedience. We need judgment. It’s God moving in both love and severity at the same time, for good cause.
Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” Jonah 3:1-2 (ESV)
This is a message for America. It’s time to call out against it. We have no option but to deliver the message that God gives us. We need great, humble and bold men and women of God to reject fear of man, to stop thinking about the impact on their ministry and reputation and call out! It’s time for a shaking to come to America, and it needs to be initiated by preachers behind pulpits and in front of cameras from coast to coast. We know that Nineveh famously repented, and God relented.
Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. Jonah 3:9-10 (ESV)
We need messengers of God to arise and open their mouths! We must call out against America and cry out for deliverance from destruction.
CALL OUT AND CRY OUT!
I’ve met many pastors who admittedly have surrendered the fiery and unapologetically confrontational message that God had given them years prior for a more palatable message that ensures people keep showing up on Sundays. As an itinerant prophetic minister, I’m often called in to bring a sharp prophetic message, when in reality the leadership should have been bringing it themselves all along. I understand what bringing in catalytic people can do. That is a God designed strategy, and many amazing pastors do that to help bring some fresh revelation and instruction into their situation. But, much of what I and others do can be accomplished without any outside help whatsoever. Call out and cry out night and day! Gather the people to pray! Repent! Refuse to lead a typical American church! Go deep and burn with passion! Call every person to be branded by the searing heat of the Holy Spirit. It’s time! We don’t want to live a Jonah 3:1 life. The second time God is required to speak due to our delay and disobedience is one time too many. Let’s back up to Jonah 1:1:
Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD. Jonah 1:1-3 (ESV)
There we see the original directive. Instead of calling out against Nineveh, Jonah instead went away from the presence of the Lord. Listen closely: Many of today’s prophets and preachers are ministering on the run, outside of God’s presence, in a spirit of self-centeredness. They are evading the hard messages because of unresolved inner issues in their lives. The thought of offending people, losing them from their ministry, losing financial support, losing favor and their pedestal, have all resulted in preachers without an anointing delivering a message born of their own hearts.Judgment is coming—first to the preachers, and then, very possibly to our nation. Remember, it’s God’s love that demands this. It would be the least impactful way to awaken the greatest number of people. Judgment is necessary if repentance is absent.
Being open to God’s voice in our lives will result in a lifestyle of inconvenience, challenge and impossible mandates. It will cause huge, huge problems in our lives, and it will cause damage and bring calibration to our lifestyle. But, as we understand our roles to bring reformation and calibration to the church and to the world, we’ll see that our lives won’t collapse. We will function in power as we hear God and release decrees and declarations! As many of today’s preachers and prophets are running from God’s mandate and asleep outside of his presence, the world is crying out for you to awaken!
So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.” Jonah 1:6 (ESV)
There is no safe place outside of God’s call. Jonah’s disobedience was putting the lives of those around him at risk. They demanded that he wake up and call out to God! I want to encourage you to do the same. Call out to God and then call out against America. Then, cry out for her as intercessors. A great drama is before us, and we must ensure that drama includes the greatest move of repentance in history; a revival that cannot be measured. Preachers, America is waiting for you to arise from your slumber and release the burning messages of God. Like Jonah, this is the very reason you were born.
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Let me know what God is doing in our region.
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