Traveling ministers and the pastors who invite them most both welcome correction.
The money changers’ sin was simple—they attempted to use God’s temple for personal gain. They were focused on making a profit. This resulted in one of Jesus’ most violent reactions, and I believe a similar reaction is coming to a corrupt ministry scheme today. ~Snake Oil MinistryOf my nearly three decades of ministry, I've spent many years as a pastor inviting guest ministers in and I've spent many years as the guest minister, traveling to serve a pastor when called. Wholesale reform in this exchange must come if the impact we are hoping for is to be realized. Of course, there are many humble and pure-hearted itinerant preachers and many local church pastors who are godly and ridiculously amazing. And, of course, there are many who are not. Caught in the middle, I suppose, are many more who are simply unaware of what appropriate itinerant ministry looks like. My hope is that we can shine a light on the issue and call for an adjustment.
REVIVAL CAN COMEI propose the reasons for inviting in a guest minister are few. The underlying desire should absolutely be to pursue an outpouring and to stimulate the fires of revival. A move of God is the motivating factor. The guest minister will certainly carry something the preachers of the house don't. Their ministry should be valued and given room to bring impact. Again, revival is the goal. However, in order for this greatest of pursuits to have even the slightest hope of kindling, we need to see significant change come. Listen to the podcast…
HOW ITINERANT MINISTERS MUST CHANGE
Don't travel unless you are truly carrying the burden of the Lord.If you don't have a burning message from God seared into your spirit, you should question whether you should accept an invitation to minister. Today we have too many professional guest speakers who are regurgitating messages that may have held impact years ago but are now nothing more than spiritual information devoid of anointing or timely weightiness. I propose you pray and seek God for a heavy, transforming word for the people you are about to minister to. The pastor and the people are paying greatly (or, they should be) to bring you in. Anything less than full investment is dishonoring to them. Bring the new wine and a “now word” of God, not a collection of lifeless notes from yesteryear.
Get out of the green rooms.If a guest minister isn't engaged with passion in the worship service and is instead hiding away in the green room or the pastor's office awaiting the perfect moment to make their appearance, they should stay hidden away. Go away. Don't take the microphone. If revival is the goal as it should be, the itinerant preacher has no option but to be right in the middle of the flow of the service. They should be interceding, discerning the atmosphere, declaring breakthrough, engaging in spiritual warfare and worshiping with abandon.
Stop with the marathon money grabs (I mean, offering times).It's the pastor's job to ensure you are very well taken care of financially (we'll get to them in a moment). Leave that part of it alone and focus on the job at hand. You are called to preach and to ignite the fires of revival, not breaking in the middle for 30 minutes to receive (or, actually, take) an offering. Becoming a distracted money-changer when you should be flowing in an overwhelming anointing for breakthrough is dishonorable. Oh, and if you attach their breakthrough to their giving in that service, I fear for your soul.
Weep with the people.If you can't feel the hearts of the people and if you aren't invested deeply in their freedom, you have no business standing behind another leader's pulpit. It's easy to know when itinerant ministers are simply professional public speakers. They confidently deliver their well polished message and are already thinking about selling some books, heading out to lunch and jumping on their flight to their next destination. We need those who will be in the moment, people who will weep when the people weep and dance when they dance. Develop relationships, fight for their breakthrough and go to battle for their souls!
Stop the embarrassing theatrics.Quit pushing people over at the altar. Quit measuring success by how many people come to the altar. Quit hyping up an atmosphere. Just quit. Many times when I travel and minister I won't have an altar call at all. I won't attempt to create some sort of faux energy or stimulate a hypnotic atmosphere. While I'm all for wild and bizarre manifestations of the Holy Spirit, I'm certainly not going to manufacture it. Preach with passion. Fight from the platform. Engage the enemy. Welcome the Holy Spirit. Respond accordingly and get out of the way. You may not have an Instagramable pic of people flooding the altar, but that's okay.
Be submitted in a local church.Itinerant preachers, be they prophets, apostles, evangelists or whatever, must be covered in a local church. They should be active members and in a position of learning as they sit under another's leadership. Itinerant ministry is not a promotion out of the church. It's an expression of the church. I personally wouldn't be comfortable inviting in a guest speaker who isn't locked into a local church. I've done it in the past and much of the time there was a strong, prideful, independent spirit at play in their ministry. Pastors can't afford for their people to be infected with that.
HOW PASTORS MUST CHANGE
Be prepared to give a lot of money to your guest.
Itinerant ministers aren’t being paid for only one hour of preaching. They have given more than that. They have invested much by leaving their family, expending energy as they travel, paying for their food on the road, sleeping in unfamiliar beds and, possibly most importantly, stepping out in faith believing that God would provide their every need. If their monthly family budget (you know, money to pay for their teenage monsters to devour entire sides of beef, braces for crooked teeth, Christmas presents, car payments, vacations, toilet paper, shoes, etc.) is $6000 a month, that means anything less than $1500 puts them in a compromised position. It’s usually their spouse who is handling the bills and taking care of precious and wild kids who gets hit the most when the finances aren’t coming in. Being an itinerant minister is an extremely challenging life and I want to do my best to relieve the financial pressure from them and their family. ~Snake Oil MinistryI personally believe $1000 per time your guest speaks is a bare minimum, and, by all means, send them home with the honorarium. Don't expect them to be happy about your lack of preparation when you tell them you'll have to send it to them in the mail the next week. Remember, I'm coming at this discussion now from the perspective of pastors, not the itinerant minister. Traveling ministers travels must be willing to do what they are called to do for nothing. But, pastors shouldn't put their guests in that position. They should also have integrity with the offering:
I have found that people love to give, especially when I tell them 100% of the offering will be going to the guest speaker (after expenses are covered). If one million dollars comes into the offering, the church receives nothing and the guest is now a millionaire! I believe this approach deals with any scrutiny that may be in people’s minds when giving. They love the fact that they are able to have 100% of their gift go directly to the guest! ~Snake Oil MinistryI've had some cringe worthy experiences as a traveling preacher. While the vast majority of visits have been amazing, there are a handful that still make me shudder! I'm going to battle for traveling preachers everywhere because I know that leaving after a grueling, tiring weekend filled with long travel and uncomfortable situations with only a few hundred dollars can be tough.
Give them room to minister.If revival is the goal, you can't expect even the most anointed guest speaker to move everybody in that direction in 30 minutes. The people should be well aware that it's a special day and what is normal in their culture is about to be violated. You should have done your homework before you invited them in, meaning you are fully comfortable with their ministry and you can confidently release the reigns. Let them know they are free to preach as long as they'd like about anything God puts on their hearts. No limits. Now, back to the guest speaker for a moment: if you are boring, losing the crowd or if it's just an off day, stop the bleeding and put the people out of their misery. Get off the stage and head off to lunch with everybody else.
Get them a nice hotel.I'll sleep on the floor if necessary to bring the burden of the Lord to the people God is sending me to. That being said, I can't express how blessed I am, and relieved, when I hear my host is putting me up in a hotel instead of a host home. Staying in a place where I can be alone to rest, study and pray is priceless. While many host homes have been amazing and I've had a lot of fun spending time with the host families, it's almost always better to stay alone. For example, I stayed in a beautiful home with an absolutely amazing family many years ago. I can't express enough how impressed I was with them and how much I enjoyed hanging out. However, I was unable to rest as my calendar was filled up with activities and my sleep schedule was disrupted as I was served an incredible 7am breakfast. The problem? I don't eat breakfast and I stay up very late at night. I was exhausted. I know that sounds like a silly or even a selfish, thankless complaint, but the cost of that scenario is a de-energized preacher who isn't able to pray and get alone with the Lord in preparation for the services. Just get them a hotel and ask them what schedule they'd like to keep.
Don't try to undo what they did after they leave town.Again, the purpose of bringing in guests is to be catalysts for an outpouring. They are supposed to do things differently than the pastor and local leadership. They carry a different anointing and they can break through things in a different way. Many are called to disrupt, to trouble and to initiate a great shaking. Allow that process to happen. Unless clear heresy is being preached, don't try to set back up what the preacher has been called to upset. I once heard about a pastor who tried to put the people back at ease the week after I preached with fire, sending God wanted to remove them from their ease. It was a fearful message of holiness and salvation, and, unfortunately, the pastor encouraged the people, correcting what I said and ensuring that they were nice and saved and should not be concerned in any way. Honestly pastor, if you are going to do that, don't waste my time. It's costly enough to preach a message like that without it all being undone the moment I head for the airport.
THE BOTTOM LINEHave a pure heart, contend for revival, give largely, honor deeply and give God a lot of room to move. Revival has launched through the ministry of guest preachers before and it can happen again, but I believe it's clear we need reform in this area before we can legitimately expect it to happen.
Here are four reasons why much of today's evangelism is actually hurting the advance of the Kingdom.
The Great Commission is such a serious mandate that we have no option but to get it right. In fact, with Hell growing larger and innumerable people are flooding into that unspeakable place every day, we must sound the alarm, preach the truth and rescue the perishing.
I'd like to strongly encourage you to listen to the powerful story of Frank Jenner's simple yet wildly anointed life of evangelism. You may cry. You will be awestruck. It's called “The Man From George Street.” Listen HERE.
Yes, evangelism is critically necessary—if done rightly.
Listen to the podcast:
FOUR WAYS EVANGELISM CAN DO MORE DAMAGE THAN GOOD
ONE: IT LACKS A SPIRIT OF PRAYER
I was flown into a church in a large city many years ago to help with some video work. I had some free time the night I arrived so I decided to check out the church and to see if they had anything going on. I was happily surprised to see a sign announcing a prayer meeting that was underway. I was saddened by what I saw as I stepped into the large sanctuary.
There was no spirit of prayer at the prayer meeting. In fact, there were only a few people standing around in that massive auditorium. It was dead, which was markedly different from what I expected based on the size of the church and the fact that it was a Spirit-filled congregation.
I quickly learned that prayer was not job one in that place. Evangelism was. I've never been in a church that emphasized soul winning to such a degree, and one would think I should have been thrilled. I was not.
As I spent time with people and pastors in that church I witnessed very well intentioned but awkward, forced, scripted and manipulated Gospel presentations to anyone who would listen. While it's true that God's Word can work wonders with no additional help from you and me, it's also true that our delivery of the Word can be dead or alive, weak or powerful, tainted by our human spirit or anointed by the Holy Spirit.
Evangelism efforts that don't emerge from the white-hot furnace of intercession will most often be dead, weak and tainted. Those who hear what we are saying will most often resist, sensing no vibrancy or activity of the Holy Spirit at all. People who could have surrendered all if evangelism was done rightly, delivered with a burning unction, results instead of people being repelled by whatever stench just emerged from our souls.
TWO: THERE'S NO MENTION OF SIN, REPENTANCE, HELL OR THE CROSS
Much of today's prophetic evangelism zeros in on how wonderful God thinks people are to the exclusion of acknowledging their depravity. They are awakened to the possibility of love without understanding the radical surrender that's necessary.
It's quite possible many of these people are saying yes to the invitation and begin following Jesus in an unsaved condition. They don't understand how deadly their life of sin was because the evangelist didn't mention it. A false-grace theology can drive Gospel presentations like this, presuming a revelation of God's love is sufficient to draw people out of their old life and into the new. That's not biblical evangelism and it puts the hearers at great risk of adopting a compromised religion.
It wouldn't surprise me if multiplied millions of people who have “gotten saved” this way are currently lost, seduced by a version of love that's not legitimate. They are convinced that God's love is what seals their position when it's actually their radical response that is key.
THREE: IT BECOMES PRIMARY FOR EVERY CHRISTIAN
There are many verses in Scripture that make it clear that we should be ministering, sharing truth and advancing the Kingdom. Yes, we are to do the work of an evangelist, however, that verse makes it clear that not everybody is an evangelist. It would do us well to understand this.
The church I mentioned above put strong pressure on everyone in the body to evangelize always, in every environment. The problem? Evangelists are wired, gifted and anointed to do this. The rest are gifted in other areas and they should be free to minister mostly according to how they are put together by God.
Teachers, for example, are called by God to mostly reveal powerful truths to Believers. Their anointing will be most pronounced in that realm, and it would be smart to allow them to study and relay what they discover to the church.
On the contrary, if you put some evangelists behind the pulpit you may cringe as they attempt to communicate scriptural truths beyond the mission to win the lost.
Simply, we all have our calling. Yes, there is cross-training involved and we should be “instant in and out of season,” about to “do the work of an evangelist” and to preach truth in any setting. However, outside of the call for all to pray as a primary life focus, everybody has a different gift mix and calling.
FOUR: IT DISPLACES THE FOCUS ON REVIVAL
I personally believe the fasted route to the harvest is revival. Just as I shared in point one that it's important to start in the prayer room, a focus on revival will lay a foundation that can withstand the influx of hungry, repentant people.
It's not either/or. It's both/and. However, if we focus initially on prayer and revival, and if we prepare the people in both of these disciplines, the anointing to do the work of the ministry, including evangelism, will be electric.
Evangelists often (not always) struggle with the idea that the primary call is to pray. An evangelist who had the most tender heart and who could be found on the streets witnessing night after night asked me, “John, your church is so focused on prayer. Where will I bring people when they get saved? I can't expect them to come to such an environment.”
I challenged him. I said this is precisely the environment they need to experience the moments after they meet Jesus! This supernatural, vibrant atmosphere where the Holy Spirit is brooding and moving will result in baptism of power they will never forget!
Simply, we want people to meet Jesus in the place of raging, searing, life-altering revival!
You might argue, “Well, at least people are doing it! At least they are sharing the Gospel!.”
I get it. That makes sense. And, again, I do want to applaud those who are taking those bold steps to share truth. However, I believe it's okay, in fact it's important to analyze our motives and methods. After all, we are dealing with human lives and their eternities very well may be determined by our ministry. We should feel the sobering, weighty intensity to that reality.
We absolutely need a vibrant, active spirit of prayer when we are talking about Jesus.
We need to communicate the truth of sin, Hell, repentance and the cross.
It's important to appreciate and activate people in their specific gifts and offices.
And, by all means, a mass movement of revival will result in an introduction to Jesus that will be conducted by the Holy Spirit with supernatural, otherworldly precision.
Are you willing to let your church die for the sake of Kingdom advance? Or, are you so locked in on local church growth that the region you are assigned to suffers?Is it possible that the high majority of churches in our nation are dead-end churches? As you continue to read, you'll come to understand that many of the most vibrant, focused and Spirit-filled churches would be considered to be dead-end churches, or it's cousin, cul-de-sac churches. Millions are assessing the current state of the church in America and the Western world—and they are right—it's in trouble. The church is so far off course that one might wonder if there's hope at all. Listen to John talk about dead-end churches on his latest podcast… While these millions are correct in their analysis, many of them are wrong in their response. They have left the church they have deemed to be in violation of God's design and have isolated themselves and self-identified as “the church” presuming their action moves them closer to revival. It doesn't. (Read my article that addresses this fallacy, “You are NOT the Church : The Scattering Movement.”)
THE GOVERNMENTAL CHURCH IS THE KEY TO REVIVALI often write and teach on the church, and my reasoning is simple. It's not because I am advocating for a better, more vibrant and impacting church experience (though I wouldn't be opposed to that). It's because the regional church, and the local churches that make it up, are the governing bodies and the way they function is critical. The church is the authority in the region and unless it's setup correctly, the hopes for revival can begin to fade away. I'm not saying that a spark of revival can't ignite through small groups of Believer's who are going deep in prayer and crying out for an outpouring. It absolutely can. Historically it has happened more than once. However, that small group can't govern, can't administrate and can't facilitate the outpouring. While you may argue that no man has any business governing a move of God, you'd be wrong. God has set up the church as a governmental authority that not only has the responsibility but also the ability, if truly consecrated, to push back the enemy, to make room for God and to create healthy, Spirit-designed systems that both protect what God is doing and promote his activity throughout the region—and beyond.
A DEAD-END CHURCH DEFINEDAs I explained above, dead-end churches can be full of life, active in outreach, aggressive in their mission and growing. In fact they can sometimes become very large, which very well may be a false positive for spiritual health. Growth and vibrancy aren't the problem. It's the vision and/or the implementation of that vision that can become poisonous. Simply, if the focus is local church growth ahead of regional Kingdom advance, they have become compromised. The pastor or governmental leader of that local church must have clarity on the vision, and it absolutely must be centered on regional impact. What this means is that their own desires for local church growth must be set aside as they give their energies to revival in the city God assigned them to. Drawing and keeping visitors, growing in influence, developing local programs and ministries and other in-house focuses are put on the back burner, or sometime back on the shelf entirely, as their mandate has them focused regionally. A move of God in their city becomes the main thing.
A CUL-DE-SAC CHURCH DEFINEDA cul-de-sac is a dead end too, but it has a different vibe. While a dead-end church may be extremely focused on (misguided) vision, a cul-de-sac church is focused on family. Relationships. Togetherness. Imagine a nice neighborhood with a safe and lively cul-de-sac. The kids are out playing, neighbors are talking amongst themselves, barbecuing, laughing, eating and everybody is truly enjoying spending time together. I am more convinced then I've ever been that “family style” churches need to give way to true, apostolic, Spirit-filled movements made up of warriors who are contending for fire. The church is a military, not a vehicle for friend building. The call is to surrender all, to die to self, to cry out for God to move and to advance with a fervency that will cause the enemy to shudder. It's in the foxhole of Kingdom war where true friendships are forged. Simple social gatherings won't cut it. We are under attack and we need warriors to assault the kingdom of darkness with ferocity. This, friend, is the church.
LET YOUR CHURCH DIEPastor, you have to be okay with letting your church, in its current form, die. Two times in my nearly 30 years of ministry I made a conscious decision to let my church die. Both in Colorado and in Detroit I had heart-wrenching meetings with God as he instructed me to go deeper, to pray more intentionally and to invite the people on the journey with me. In Colorado, we were in a time of momentum and I'm convinced, as were others, that we had what took to grow the church to 500 people or more if we stayed the course. Understand, our church was intense and alive. The gifts of the Spirit were in play. The passion and vision were powerful. We weren't a dead church by any means, but we were on our way to becoming a very vibrant dead-end church. The only way to avoid that was for me as the pastor to allow my vision and everything I was contending for to die, even if it meant my church would die along with it. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I had a clear choice: continue as we were going and grow the church to 500 and beyond or obey God, become zeroed in on intercession and revival and drop in number possibly by 50-90%—or more. I knew I'd probably lose my salary and may have to find outside work. I knew people would be upset at the change in direction. I knew people who misunderstood my heart and calling would laugh and mock. I knew I was creating a very difficult situation for myself and my family. I also had peace. God wasn't interested in my ability to grow a large church. He wanted my heart and my obedience. In Detroit God gave me a directive to take people deeper, to come up against some destructive theologies and belief systems that many in the global church were adopting, and to focus on holiness and consecration, all from the furnace of intercession. I knew most people wouldn't be interested in such a lifestyle, but I had no choice. Again, I had to obey God. Overnight we lost a large percentage of the people in the church and we shifted into exactly what God had for us—an army of warriors, small in number yet zealous in spirit, who weren't looking for numerical growth, happy worship services or church as usual, a people who wanted nothing less than to be in the middle of God's blueprint for our region. The thoughts of revival consumed us. The point? Church growth, local church vision, a family style focus, financial strength or attracting and keeping visitors isn't the goal. All of that, quite frankly, can compromise the goal of being a vehicle for regional Kingdom impact. Frankly, the hundreds of people you are seeking may very well threaten your ability to fulfill God's call on your life and for your church. I would never change the decisions we made in Colorado or Detroit, even if it meant we would have grown a church of thousands. The model of a successful church has become quite skewed, and it's time we let those ideals die and capture the heart of exactly what God is calling us into.
MARKS OF A DEAD-END CHURCHONE: The pastor/leader doesn't connect and regularly collaborate with other churches and ministries in their region. Their energies are given almost entirely to their local church, misunderstanding the importance of their local expression of the city church. They don't realize that the church in Scripture has a regional designation attached to it. The church defined is the regional body of Believers who function under regional apostolic authority. Within that context, there are smaller, local churches that are never to be self-identified, but rather are to strategically connect and often yield to the regional expression. This is why it was so important for me to give leadership to two prayer movements, one in Colorado Springs and one in Detroit. We would visit a new church every Friday night and pray in the Spirit from 10pm until midnight. We visited over 100 churches in Colorado and over 70 in Detroit. That regional connection was invaluable. TWO: The pastor doesn't encourage people in his church to connect with other churches and ministries on a regular basis. When I was leading churches I realized the immense value of other churches and ministries in our area. I'd let my folks know that they should definitely consider becoming faithful to other churches throughout the week, as we were but a single department of the city church. Other departments, other local churches, were important in the grand scheme and they would benefit from joining with them. In Detroit, I cancelled most everything in my church for a month as I led the people out of our church and into another about 45 minutes away that was experiencing a powerful move of God. We were there every single night for 28 days (I actually missed one night, reluctantly). My passion was not the growth of my local church but rather in fanning the flames of revival in my city. THREE: The pastor has a competitive spirit. We need to kill that nasty spirit once and for all. I propose one way to do that is to invite other pastors and leaders to recruit anybody from our church that they would like. I'd let other leaders in the city know they could freely connect with my best leaders, my worship team, my staff and anybody in the church, and see if they might be interested in leaving us to serve with them. That eliminates competition and any threats of sheep stealing. They can't steal what I don't own and what I freely make available to them. FOUR: The church has contagious and aggressive vision for local church growth, yet they rarely talk about regional revival. They emphasize the goals, the strategies and the determination to grow their church, to develop their ministries, to increase in number, to outgrow their building, to attract visitors or to focus on what benefits them on a local level. FIVE: If they have a prayer emphasis at all, it's almost entirely directed toward their own local endeavors. They pray for all of the stuff I mentioned in the point above while having little zeal for an outpouring in the city. They don't understand that the revival may not even launch in their own local church, so they focus on a move of God happening in their own body while forsaking the call to intercede for regional transformation. Instead of groaning and crying out for God to move in their city, for wickedness to be exposed, for other churches to come alive, for an earth-shaking outpouring, they are praying for internal ministries, for their own tent pegs to expand and for local increase. SIX: Money isn't sowed into their region. They use finances internally to grow their own local church. While they may have earmarked funds for missions and benevolence, the idea of sowing into regional revival is foreign to them. Further, when dead-end churches do give to outside ministries, it's almost always churches within their own denomination. SEVEN: They rarely if ever bring in guest speakers who are leaders in other local churches in their region. They want to control the narrative and they don't want people to be influenced by a more dynamic speaker or someone who might connect better with people in their church. They fear losing those people. They fear their nice, tidy local family being disrupted. They also fear another leader behind their pulpit who carries a more potent vision for the region than they do. With all humility I can say that as a visiting guest minister in regions I've never previously been to, I've often had more vision for that city than the pastor of the church. It's crazy. I've also boldly coached pastors not to undo what God is about to do in the meetings. When God calls me to speak in a church, a lot will be confronted and exposed and a firestorm of God's loving reformation will be in the room. Pastors, have the guts to embrace someone who won't simply affirm what has been built, but will call the people higher.
MARKS OF A CUL-DE-SAC CHURCHONE: It's all about family. As I said above, I believe the family style church is a threat. Many of these types of churches could fit into the “seeker sensitive” category of churches. Many others emphasize the grace and love message in excess and, while there may be praying in tongues and dancing in the aisles, it all comes back to relationships. The thoughts of a vertical experience where people lock in with God and contend for him to move is something they would struggle with if it interferes with their desire for horizontal connections. It can be both vertical and horizontal, but in a cul-de-sac church, preference is given to personal, human relationships instead of aggressively advancing in the Spirit. TWO: Their definition of revival is off. They see a growing number of people who are enjoying God and one another as the prime goal. While nobody can argue that growing in intimacy with God and that developing Kingdom relationships is wrong, it's the focus and the priorities that send cul-de-sac churches into the wrong direction. Instead of a supernatural war they value a growing, happy family of people who are enjoying God together. They would call that revival, and it's a far cry from it. They misunderstand the severity of the battle and don't regularly engage at the required level. THREE: Positivity rules. They are adverse to anything that would be a downer to their block party in the cul-de-sac. They want their people encouraged, happy, stress-free and at ease. Topics such as Hell, sin, eternity, repentance, correction, expectations or anything negative are avoided like the plague. They refuse to speak to the national cultural crisis, politics, the end-times, wickedness such as abortion and homosexuality or any other issue that would be divisive, challenging or confrontational. Just as people advise others to avoid the topics of religion and politics around the Thanksgiving table for the sake of civility and keeping the peace, cul-de-sac churches avoid anything that would cause any measure of disturbance. FOUR: Connecting with other churches, especially those that are aggressive in the pursuit of revival, holiness and a supernatural manifestation of God, is a no-go. They are happy within the four walls of their family gathering and they don't want any outside influences threatening that.
MARKS OF A KINGDOM CHURCHInstead of a list of attributes of a Kingdom church, I'll draw this article to a close. I believe it's easy to deduce just what makes up a Kingdom church by reviewing the opposing views above. The bottom line is that we absolutely must see a massive correction come to what we know as the church today. Regional and national revival is greatly hindered by a lack of true, Kingdom churches that are in existence not for themselves, but rather for the advance of, well, the Kingdom. Pastors, let your vision die. Let your church die. It's okay. Let the stress of growing your own little spiritual experiment in a tiny little petri dish fade away. Even more importantly, get on board with what God has planned in your city. Let your personal endeavors go, as great as they seem to be, and contend with others in your region for an outpouring. Just gather together somewhere, anywhere, with governmental, Kingdom leaders and other revival-minded people and press into God's heart and intercede and advance exactly as God reveals to you as a part of the regional, governmental body. That's church. That's a Kingdom church. That church will turn the world upside down.
GRACE IN THE SHIFTIn closing (for real, this time), I want to encourage you not to get jaded. Don't point fingers at churches or pastors. Understand that they have a mega-burden, and even if they aren't advancing the way reform demands, pray for them. There must be love and grace in the process and in the ultimate shift. Also, understand God is diverse and there are many different types of people giving leadership, and they have varying levels of ability, experience, gifts, offices, prophetic revelation and understanding of the purpose of the church. In fact, many will disagree with this article. That's okay. This doesn't mean we can't contend for transformation in the local church, but it does mean we must have grace in the process. I want to strongly encourage you to read a related article that is sure to provoke you to urgently considering the need for severe reformation in the church: “Nine reasons we may have to choose: Grow a large church or contend for revival.”
Even today's most Spirit-filled churches must embrace radical reformation.Listen to a short podcast as I describe the 2 Chronicles church model, a revelation-driven, prophetic model, that must come to the church, and fast. Then, read this article. It's time for revolution.
TODAY'S SPIRIT-FILLED CHURCH EXPERIENCELike most of you, I have quite a memory bank full of church experiences, many of them phenomenal, many of them poor, but most of them quite average, not memorable, good, but honestly disappointing and unsatisfying. There is a collective roar sounding over our nation, a bellowing cry for an end to church as usual. (By the way, here's the definition of bellow: emit a deep loud roar, typically in pain or anger. I think that fits.) People are no longer impressed by a skilled worship team, a perfect flow, professional preaching or big dollar theatrics. They want a mighty move of God. If you listened to the podcast, you'll understand that I'm attempting to bring distinction between today's very good Spirit-filled church experience and the radical reformation that must come. We are all familiar with the Sunday ritual:
- Be welcomed by greeters, friends and maybe the pastor.
- Acknowledge the refreshing presence of the Holy Spirit while worshiping for 30-40 minutes or so.
- Shift into a time for the offering and announcements.
- Listen to a decent message.
- Possibly spend some time at the altar as God touches your heart.
- Shake some more hands and then head out to lunch.
- Repeat next Sunday
1 As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. 2 And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD’s house. 3 When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the LORD on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” 2 Chronicles 7:1-3 (ESV)I believe a mark of revival just might not be full buildings, but rather empty buildings. Prayer and sacrifice resulted in fire coming down from heaven and the glory of the Lord filling the place! When that dramatic, supernatural event impacted that building, nobody could enter. They all hit the pavement and worshiped and declared God's goodness! This is the church experience the remnant is crying out for! Pastors will have to fully stop their pursuits of numeric church growth and shift their efforts to facilitating a white-hot atmosphere of intercession, groans, tongues of fire and prophetic unction. Understand, the church isn't a house of teaching, a house of friendships, a house of evangelism. It's a house of prayer. If a church isn't praying in the Spirit as the very foundation of their ministry, then all of the rest is compromised. Powerless. Out of order. Every person in the church must be fully devoted to praying in tongues and allowing the groans of the Spirit to burn through them. Instead producing an order of service that expects more people to be drawn in, pastors must raise the bar, turn up the temperature and contend with the remnant in otherworldly prayer—fully expecting most others to be repelled. The pretenders will be identified, but so will the faithful and hungry. You will find your remnant when you start offering what the remnant is longing for. We must have a 180-degree response to the ultra-damaging seeker-sensitive movement of recent decades. We can grieve the Holy Spirit no longer by keeping him on a leash, tied up outside of the sanctuary. For too long, people have been expected to leave the Holy Spirit (and the manifestations he brings with him) outside the church building, though they were certainly free to untie him and take him home with them if they so chose. Ichabod churches are numerous and God is absolutely grieved. We should be too. But, let me bring this back to center. It's easy to identify the spiritually dead or the supernaturally resistant churches. This message certainly can target them, but more specifically, it targets the spiritually vibrant churches that I identified above. There are many such churches that are great places to raise a family, to connect with other Believers and to worship and grow in God. But, again, I'm sounding an urgent alarm—this church experience is insufficient. In fact, such churches can become breeding grounds of mediocrity. It's easy to attend such churches and to be casual in our relationship with Jesus. It's easy to be active in sin. It's easy to hide in the shadows. On the contrary, churches that are marked by fire, with everybody praying in tongues, groaning in the Spirit, crying out for revival and contending for holiness, you cannot hide. When everybody is praying, walking, crying, living and groaning in the Holy Spirit, when the fire of God sears them, when the challenge is intense and the atmosphere intentionally aggressive, impurities, sins and resistance are exposed. I've seen it time and again. Sundays must quickly shift. Now. In fact, we are way behind schedule. Instead of shaking hands and greeting visitors and meeting with friends, people will walk trembling into the sanctuary as a roar of intercession explodes throughout. People will be on their faces with deep supernatural groans erupting out of them. Others will be pacing, repenting, kneeling, crying out or exalting God with great passion. Instead of sing-a-longs and sermons, a revelation-driven church will be filled with prophetic decrees, biblical declarations, groans of intercession and messages that shift atmospheres, all while people are shaking, hungering and crying out for fire to fall and for the Holy Spirit to come. You might be surprised at how many visitors actually are drawn to such a life-changing and legitimate move of God. You might also be surprised at how many elders, Sunday School teachers, staff pastors, worship leaders, ushers and pillars of the church run for the exits with complaints and curses in their mouths. This reformation will shake everything that can be shaken, but we can delay no longer. May the supernatural church arise and the stigma of Ichabod be decimated as the Holy Spirit manifests in supernatural wonder again.
Pastors are called to lead you to the furnace of intercession. Stop resisting.Why is it so rare to find churches that are baptized in fire and saturated in the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit? So many long to walk into a church on a Sunday morning where people are laid out all over the room, others pacing in prayer and many trembling under the weighty glory of God as the fire of the Holy Spirit burns over everyone. I'll give you a one reason, and it might not be what you want to hear: Manipulative and controlling people.
2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. Romans 13:2 (ESV)I wonder if the typical church goer understands the extreme warfare revival and prayer-minded pastors and church leaders experience every single day. The swirls of demonic activity blows violently around them and their families nonstop, and the wickedness that provokes this assault is very often initiated from those who are supposed to be holding up their arms. Christian witchcraft manifesting through hand raising, Bible reading, tithe paying, small group leading members of their church is suffocating—and sickening. Listen to the podcast: I remember my core intercession teams both in Colorado and Michigan would frequently cancel curses over my family and me. They'd stand in the gap. I was often in the hot seat receiving protective prayer as they broke off the arrows shot into my back, weapons of warfare that were wielded by people who shook my hand and smiled as they entered the church each week. This was a distraction to the mission, and it impacted our ability to deal with the curses and attacks from actual witches and warlocks that had us on their Satanic prayer list as a target. To be hit from outside and from within is a smart strategy of the enemy. He's out to kill ministries, to destroy them. He's all too ready to use selfish people who demand they are heard and obeyed. I know from the testimonies of other pastors and from my own experience, dealing with troublemakers, resisters and manipulators is absolutely draining. Distracting. Grieving. Visionary leaders are single-minded. They are advancing, calling surrendered people to run with them as they are focused on assaulting the kingdom of darkness. They are Gideons. They are looking for those who are full of faith, who are humble, faithful and who won't shrink back as they run toward the enemy's camp. I've heard from many people who are disgruntled with pastors, and some for good reason. But, how often do we hear about pastors who are just fed up with the witchcraft in their midst? It must stop! Read the story of Korah. Read it slowly. You do not want to be counted among the resisters. Do you have any idea how serious God is about protecting his leaders and his mission? I know, many of you might be triggered at such a bold defense of men and women of God. I cannot apologize. It's time God's ordained end-time revivalists are supported and encouraged as they contend for an outpouring and the advance of the Kingdom of God.
11 Therefore it is against the LORD that you and all your company have gathered together. What is Aaron that you grumble against him?” Numbers 16:11 (ESV) 31 And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. 32 And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. 33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. 34 And all Israel who were around them fled at their cry, for they said, “Lest the earth swallow us up!” 35 And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men offering the incense. Numbers 16:31-35 (ESV)
THE RESISTERS NEED TO REPENT OR LEAVEIf you are resistant to revival, the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, to groans of the Spirit and tongues of fire and to an atmosphere of desperation, depth, freedom and extreme hunger, and your church is attempting to pursue and affirm these things…just leave. Disappear. Stop being an irritant and a pain to the pastor you are supposed to be honoring and supporting. Quit with your manipulation, control and witchcraft. Stop presuming your opinions and insights are so important and that your voice must be heeded. You are hindering the Holy Spirit and those who are passionate about Jesus. The enemy is using you and you need to either move on or repent in tears. I can't imagine being the one that stood in the way of a move of God. Grieving the Holy Spirit is a serious violation and I pray the fear of the Lord grips you. Pastors, I pray you have the guts to power through the threats and spirits of control in your midst and refuse to hold back. There are masses waiting for you to help initiate a move of the Holy Spirit that will transform their lives and change where they spend eternity. It's on you! I'd encourage you to read an article I wrote about the need for the manifestation of the Holy Spirit to return to our churches. Pastors, you must lead the charge. It's time for reformation. It's time for fire. Read the article here:
A move of God in Jesse, West Virginia has left many wondering—how could any pastor promote seeker sensitive ministry?
This is what revival looks like. Surrendered hearts, Holy Fire, relentless worship. Intercession. Chains broken, healing happening, persistent people who are hungry for more. Firebrands. Revivalists. Reformers. Revolutionaries. Pursuing the face of God and His heart. Different states, different intercessors, all coming together with one voice: a cry for the fire of God and revival to hit this land and shake the world. May the flames of intercession never go out in Appalachia! ~SarahI'm back home in Branson, Missouri after a weekend of indescribable fire. I was somewhere near the middle of nowhere in Jesse, West Virginia, and I'm still trembling in my spirit. The anointing and stirring of the Holy Spirit is radiating through me. The power of God descended in that remarkable mountain revival town and many are testifying that their entire lives have been transformed. They can never go back to life or church as usual! I experienced a church that actually had the guts to turn the Sunday service into a prayer meeting. I wrote about this in one of my most popular Charisma articles titled “5 Major Changes Coming to the Church.” Sunday services being transitioned into prayer meetings was one of the major changes I addressed. It happened in West Virginia that morning. I had the honor of ministering alongside the man, Pastor Jay Morgan, who craves God so deeply, that unbridled, uncontrolled fire on Sunday mornings is his only option. It was an amazing weekend at Appalachia Prayer Center Ministries which also featured Doug Abner, who was instrumental in a mighty move of God in Manchester, Kentucky. Read about that remarkable story in a Charisma News article HERE.
PRAYER-DRIVEN SUNDAY SERVICESSo how can we shift the Sunday service to a prayer-driven event? It's quite simple: At the church in Jesse, the service started with intense intercession, followed by a couple powerful worship songs. People were dancing, waving banners and blowing shofars. They were ready. Then, as the musicians played over the people, we moved into decrees and declarations for revival in the Appalachian states. People were at the altar crying out, dancing and groaning in the Spirit. More prophetic intercession for revival filled the atmosphere and then, at least two hours into the service, I brought a powerful and challenging message. I ministered for the next hour and a half. A life-changing altar time followed and then people very slowly and reluctantly started heading home at around 2:30pm. The presence of God in that unhurried Sunday morning service was simply indescribable. When the order of service is eliminated and you just don't care whether people like what's happening or not, God takes over and clocks disappear. During the God explosion that Sunday morning, I asked the people, “Who would rather have a mix of prophetic worship, prayer, decrees and the freedom to hit your face on the carpet for an hour or two instead of an hour of predictable, karaoke style worship?” They all shouted! Yes! Pastors, it's not hard to do this…AND it will cause the pretenders to finally leave your church. Those who are resistant to the depths of the Holy Spirit and the supernatural interruption to their comfort zones will leave, and you'll finally be able to advance toward an outpouring in great unity. Pastor Jay transitioned his church from a seeker sensitive ministry to one that couldn't be more opposite. The spirit of intercession in that place is rare, and I believe it's a model that we need to pay attention to. I was wrecked watching that humble man of God lead the people as he was most definitely under the influence of some glorious new wine. The drunkenness was real and it was holy. He couldn't leave the sanctuary after the first night of the summit, and remained in God's presence there until 6am. When is the last time your pastor was so radically surrendered that he was saturated by God himself, fully drunk in the Holy Spirit? (I'm sure the religious crowd will be triggered by this question. That's okay. We need to provoke the resisters and invite them into the river!) You can listen to the two messages from the summit in Jesse, West Virginia below, plus a raw podcast I recorded in my hotel room. I must warn you though, if you can't handle an aggressive, offensive message, you should skip them and go find some milk to drink.
SEEKER MINISTRY MUST COME TO AN ENDThe reason seeker style ministry seems valid to some pastors is simple: they are attempting to introduce people to God the same way they know him. It's a low level, relational, logical and mostly natural connection. When those leaders have an authentic, supernatural, indescribable, all-consuming encounter with the Holy Spirit, it becomes laughable and fully impossible to ever lead a seeker sensitive church again. I have proposed many times before, and I am doing so again—shut down the programs, quit focusing on visitor assimilation, give up the idol of church growth and eliminate everything that stands in the way of fervent, strategic and continual intercession. Our churches must become furnaces of Holy Spirit activity, supernatural houses of prayer and unapologetic champions of revival. This shocking, shaking move of the Holy Spirit should be the norm for us as Believers. We don't want anything invented, imagined or exaggerated. We are yearning for the weighty manifest presence of God to rock our churches again! Pastors, it's up to you: do all you can to ensure everyone in your church is baptized in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues! The groans of the Spirit can be silent no longer!
THE MANIFESTATION OF THE SPIRIT OF GODAll you folks who are “super careful” and “discerning” regarding supernatural manifestations like falling out in the Spirit, shaking, etc,… it's clear that some of you aren't being honest. Just admit that you don't like it. It irritates you when you see it happen. The thought of it happening to you freaks you out. Becoming undignified is not an option. My heart breaks for you. Further, for those who say it's not God, that it's a demon, that it's another spirit…remember, if we ask for a fish, God won't give us a snake. And, I believe I remember people accusing Jesus of having a demon. I wouldn't want to be those people. The blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is one sin that puts you beyond the realm of possibility for forgiveness. What is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? It's attributing a move of God to a demon. Of course, true Holy Spirit discernment is fully appropriate, but what many call discernment is little more than suspicious accusation in an attempt to control their spiritual experience and to limit others in theirs. Their eternities are at risk because of it. When God moves powerfully and his undeniable, tangible presence, his anointing, his manifestation, hits you, and you can't stand, you are undone, you are wrecked, you are flowing with love and power, you can barely speak, you are shaking, groaning…would you really suggest that it's a demonic spirit that's behind it? And, another question…WHO IN THE WORLD WOULDN'T WANT GOD TO ENCOUNTER THEM LIKE THAT? The answer: Only those who have not experienced God at that level or those who disbelieve that a supernatural, invisible God can manifest in people's lives. God's glory is real! Millions of people have experienced it. Millions more have not. Tragically, many reject it. When asked to describe what it feels like to be overcome by the Holy Spirit, I received many replies. Here are some of them:
I shrunk to the ground on my knees with weeping unable to stand. It was glorious, light and heavy all at the same time. My skin felt like fire but it was beautiful. It feels like I can’t stop shaking… I felt like I went into a bubble. I could see but couldn’t really hear or process what all was going on around me. I was speaking in tongues and had never felt so much love in all my life. It's almost like a cool fire burning right in the center of me. This weekend, at the APC Summit, I had my first fully immersive experience in the spirit where I was entirely consumed. It kind of felt like sleeping, however from pictures and videos posted from throughout the Summit I was actually worshiping and waving flags. I could hear the Father roaring inside of my head. It was the most amazing experience of my entire existence. I was just recently baptized in the Holy Spirit and I screamed and cried for an hour. It was one of the most supernatural experiences of my life! After singing, praising & praying the Lord for a good while, Holy Spirit overwhelmed me. The fiery weight of His presence felt like sustained electric jolt, like touching an electric fence, just without the pain. I had to pull off the road, lay my seat back and allow Him to do His work. His presence felt like it washed over me again and again. I have no idea how long I was there really but was never the same afterwards.And, I simply had to include the following testimony from Brittany. It's a bit long, but please read through it. It will absolutely rock you and drive you to tears of joy! It's true stories like this that keep me contending for freedom in people's lives! Wow!
The first service Saturday was nothing like I had ever experienced, I danced, sang, waved a flag and ran all over the sanctuary. The most unabandoned worship I had ever done! Then all of a sudden as we are listening to our Pastor become overwhelmed with the Holy Spirit, drunk on the Spirit! We started to laugh, everyone! I mean everyone was laughing!! It was said after crying, being sad and angry for so long that laughter was the best medicine. Guess what? It was! Then we prayed and worshiped. A man named Jonathan came up to me, grabbed my hand and said, “that relationship that wasn’t supposed to happen, you have to let it go.” I had never once seen this man, talked to him, he did not know me and I did not know him!!! He was telling me what God wanted me to know! I crumbled to the floor and began to weep the tears that I had been holding onto for the fact I was so ashamed that I had been in a relationship with a woman. Saturday night now was yet again another beast all it’s own!!!!! Hearing prophetic words over our state and the state of Kentucky. Listening to women speak of their states and becoming on fire for revival in our area! Then came John Burton. He was the wake up call I needed, yes I've only been going to church for 7 months, yes my past had always been something I held onto, yes I still have so much to learn. But I have learned so much from the short amount of time I listened to him. That’s why I bought the master collection because I want to fully submerge my life in Jesus. That’s why I also took on John’s challenge and the next 30 days will be nothing but worship music and I’m just cutting out TV all together unless it is faith based. Now onto Saturday night, once John was done speaking he asked if there was anyone that hadn’t been baptized in the Holy Spirit to speak in tongues. I hadn’t, I went forward and honestly don’t remember too much from it other than screaming and crying for an hour! It was the most intense, supernatural experience of my life! When I finally did semi come to I was so intoxicated with the Holy Spirit that I could barely walk, I felt weightless and when I began to think about my life before that moment it’s like it’s a blur. Like it really didn’t happen, no anger, no sadness, NO pain!!!! I can think coherent thoughts and I’m so excited to tell my testimony so I can help others went through similar things and know that there is light at the end of the dark tunnel I was living in! Sunday morning comes, we pray, we worship, we lay on our faces, we dance, we kneel, we intercede, we pray for each other. We listened to yet another word from John and then we prayed, we worshiped, we lay on our faces, we dance, we kneel, we intercede, we pray for each other!! You could tell that no one in the room wanted it to end. We had just spent the most amazing 4 days together in the presence of the Lord!!! Of course no one wanted it to end! I figured up roughly 35 hours of worship, pray, given words, and interceding for me!!! It was the most exhausting, exciting, life changing, life altering event of my life! I couldn’t speak or barely move after it was over but if I had been told I could have 4 more days I would have jumped right in!!!! There was also so much more, so much more happen. I wish everyone could experience this! But now that it is over we had to go back to “normal” life right?! NO!!! These past 2 days I have been just as on fire as it was this past weekend, we are forever changed! We are Firebrands! And guess what?! The Summit NEVER ends for Firebrands!!! ~BrittanyAs we have a resounding “yes” in our spirits, as Brittany and so many others do, for anything and everything that God wants to do in and through us, we will be eager participants in the pursuit of revival. God's glory will overwhelm us. The above testimonies cannot be refuted. The supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit will displace a tepid, natural church experience. Ichabod will be replaced by kabod. Freedom will reign. Fire will rage. Intercession will pierce atmospheres. Holiness will become a cherished gift. With holiness in mind, I delivered a challenge during a powerful time of ministry at the altar this weekend in West Virginia:
- Listen to no music but anointed worship music for the next 30 days.
- Watch no media with foul language, coarse jesting, sexual jokes, nudity, etc for the next 30 days.
NO MORE CHURCH GAMESI burn with a critical message in this end time season. There is no more time for church games. There is a desperate need for awakening and activation, and I desire to be a part of that. However, I have no desire to leave my family and travel to various churches if those churches aren't ready for the deposit I'm called to leave. I'm done with nice Sunday services where the people resist the depths, are reluctant to contend and they are more interested in getting out on time than allowing the Holy Spirit to brood over them. I'm done. I address this awakening in my books, specifically The Coming Church. I encourage you to grab it. Even better, The Master Collection gets you all of my books, several eBooks, over 100 audio teachings and more. Get equipped in fire!
I’m so glad I bought the whole collection of John Burton's books and audio recordings!!! They are blowing my mind! ~BrittanyPastors, train your people to groan in the Spirit. Turn Sundays into prayer meetings. Blaze the trail toward revival. A quick, shallow, predictable sermon just won't cut it. A little worship and a nice prayer is laughable. Cultivate services where people never want to leave! Where are the revivalists? The intercessors? I'm done with church as usual. I have no desire to minister in dead churches, unless they are ready for awakening. So, yes, I'll go where God says go. I'm thankful beyond words that a door opened to link arms with fiery zealots in West Virginia. “Normal church” is over and I have no desire to come to your region to preach if you are still trying to prop up an old wine skin. Where is my tribe? Where are the burning ones? I'm ready to find those pillars of revival fire and contend together for an outpouring. If you are hungry for this, get ready. God is about to blow up your church. If you'd like, book me and I'll serve your church with passion. www.burton.tv/booking
MARKS OF REVELATION DRIVEN CHURCHES
Distinctly PropheticPastors will be given to insane amounts of prayer throughout the week, and they will be supernaturally alert night and day. The result will be leadership that's marked by the incense of the Holy Spirit. Every decision, every service and every message will be branded by the active, Rhema revelation of the Spirit of God. Dreams and visions will be normal among the church staff and members alike. The entire culture of the church will be driven by this critical communication of God.
Fueled by IntercessionThe only way to develop and sustain an revelation driven church is to first develop and sustain a furnace of intercession. A large portion of the teaching must be devoted to supernatural, prophetic prayer. People tend to blank out when they are presented with the call to prayer, and the way to meet that reaction is by teaching continually on prayer. People need to understand how to pray, why to pray, how to yield to the Holy Spirit, how to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit, the power of praying in tongues, how to steward prophetic revelation, how to pray the Scriptures, how to develop intimacy with Jesus, governing with authority and much, much more. Then, a culture of raging, expressive, authoritative night and day prayer must overtake the whole of the church. People who don't pray as a primary call must be challenged and given continual opportunities to jump on board and legislate in the Spirit as God has called them to. A governmental body like this will wield great weapons against the spirit of the age and will walk in extremely powerful authority. Understand, this culture must flow from the primary Sunday service. There is absolutely no way to develop a culture of prayer if it's relegated to off nights in a side room. It's time for hours of prophetic prayer to flood the Sunday morning sanctuaries week after week. Those who aren't interested in such a relationship with Jesus will leave—and your remnant will be revealed.
Unpredictable and SpontaneousThe days of predictable, scheduled, ordered church services must come to an end. We have become so enamored with human order in the church that Holy Spirit, biblical order is completely rejected. When the primary service becomes a prayer meeting, with other expressions following, you simply cannot maintain an order of service. Any attempt to do so is laughable. Revelation driven church services will commence with a roar of supernatural intercession as anointed, prayer-fueled musicians and singers play and sing over the people. It won't be unusual for this to last for an hour or two—or more. It will be common to turn the screens that display the lyrics off, as the people shift to mostly praying and singing in the Spirit. The Christian karaoke will come to an end. From this furnace of worship and intercession, leadership will release oracles and give prophetic messages that will be right in step with what the Holy Spirit is doing in that moment. There will be a Holy Spirit orchestrated “dance” where prayer, worship, decrees, declarations, instruction, healing, deliverance and prophetic revelation will fill the room. It will be impossible for any human to keep up, or to give any leadership whatsoever, if they aren't wildly devoted to holiness and a life of never-ending intercession. They won't be able to discern or keep up with what God is doing in the room, and they will attempt to grab the reigns and to do what is naturally familiar to them, quenching the Holy Spirit in the process.
Regionally/Nationally FocusedI believe many would admit there is a deep grieving in their spirits when churches become focused and driven to grow the church numerically. Understand, numeric growth, when done rightly, can be healthy. We see in Scripture that God added to the church daily. However, the compromise that has overtaken the church in order to see this type of growth is truly grieving. Instead of locking in on the growth of their local church, pastors and leaders who are embracing the revelation driven church model will be mostly interested in what God is doing regionally and nationally. Their passion will be to see the church of the city become marked by the Spirit of God and for the new wine of the Holy Spirit to be poured out. They won't care one bit if the outpouring happens in another local church in the city. They will lead the people under their care out from their local expression of the city church right into the place where the pillar of fire and the cloud of God's glory have manifested. Further, their energies will be devoted to confronting the national crisis and in standing as a governmental authority. They will train the people and equip for battle against the deadly, raging spirit of the age that's destroying our nation. If their local church grows or shrinks numerically, their gaze and their assignment will not change. They are locked in, obediently advancing the cause of revival in their city and in the nation.
Everybody ParticipatingEveryone will be governing and impacting the atmosphere through Spirit-fueled prayer. Rapid-fire prayer is one great way to facilitate this, giving everybody a chance to release decrees and declarations in a meeting. Invite them up to pray with passion on the microphone for ten to twenty seconds. As the service continues, include additional rapid-fire prayer sessions and provide a way for people to share prophetic revelation in the meeting. White boards can line the walls, giving people a place to write down prophetic words, to share dreams and visions or to draw prophetic art that God has impressed upon them. Pastors, don't try to “find jobs” for everybody, hoping that keeping them busy and engaged is the answer to keeping them interested in the church. That's honestly a bit condescending. While everybody isn't ready for leadership in the church, most everyone should be given opportunities to pray, prophesy and release declarations of Scripture. We've muzzled people for too long.
Prophetic AssignmentsWhen you successfully steward a deeply prophetic culture in the church, God will be talking—a lot. This prophetic data must be rightly responded to. Prophetic assignments will emerge and the intercessors will have a non-stop job to keep them covered. You will find yourself heading out on prayer walks, making decrees over your city, researching the spiritual history of the land, engaging in high level spiritual warfare, starting prayer movements, challenging systems, developing strategies and journaling it all. You will see the body dynamically moving from season to season, assignment to assignment. Everybody will have a part to play as you advance as a unified army into the darkness and toward revival. You will regularly be uniting with other pastors and leaders in the region as you'll quickly discover you only have a part of the bigger picture. The city church will awaken to it's comprehensive assignment.
Believer's MeetingsChurch services are not to be seeker sensitive. The days of focusing on drawing the lost in as a primary goal are coming to an end. The New Testament church is a movement of Believers who are praying continually and governing with great authority in the region. Of course, the lost can and will come in, but the focus of the meeting will not change. The extreme activity of the Holy Spirit will be maintained and those who decide to say yes to Jesus will meet him in a way that could never be done in a dry, dusty, seeker environment. These Believer's meetings will be white-hot, supernatural and other-worldly. The roar of intercession, the groans, the cries and the military-level strategic advance will produce saints who are ready and equipped for battle.
Focused on Spiritual GrowthThe goal is obedience, impact and responding rightly to the instructions of the Holy Spirit, not numeric growth. As I said previously, growth can and will happen, but it's not an automatic indicator of health or success. I propose many churches must be pruned as they develop into a revelation driven church. It's a rare person who will sign up to be part of this new wine, revelation driven church, so small numbers should be expected. The goal is to go deep and grow spiritually. The challenge of such a church will be rejected by many. The compromise of yesterday to get them into the seats must come to an end. Invite them to leave if they aren't interested in going deep and locking arms with the rest of the well-diggers.
Deep, Challenging TeachingTeaching will be doused by revelation, and the tired Sunday-school lessons of old will finally come to an end. You can tell when a preacher has been pierced with the message they are preaching—and when they are merely regurgitating information. The messages of Heaven will originate in the culture of fiery prayer and will absolutely rock everyone who hears them. Many will reject such an anointing as it demands a costly response, but those who respond will become sharp, full of fire and a mighty weapon in the hands of God.
RISKS OF REVELATION DRIVEN CHURCHES
The Shallow Will RevoltWhen you transition your church into the deep realm of the prophetic, those who have been comfortable and who wish to remain that way will resist. You have to be ready for this. Accusations will fly as their flesh feels the fire of your devotion. An Absalom spirit will very possibly emerge from within the ranks, and the battle will be fierce. You may be accused of promoting elitism, being religious or being careless. Are you ready for the fight against a very focused enemy? Love people deeply but don't entertain the dark strategies of Satan. Those who are shallow have been conditioned by the enemy of their souls, and the risk of the devil losing them to a life of radical surrender is one that won't be taken lightly.
Narrow FocusMany (most) programs, ministries and focuses of old will be let go in favor of prayer and the prophetic strategies God assigns. Those who have found their identity in those programs may become angry, disillusioned and disruptive as you prune what they hold dear. You have to understand that most people have an aversion to vibrant, Spirit-filled prayer, and since you are taking your church into that exclusive, focused direction, these people will fight against the move. HERE and HERE. (I wrote an eBook on it as well. I'd like to give it to you as a FREE GIFT, in this article only. Click HERE to download it.) Of course, there are many other ways the enemy will initiate an assault against you and your church as you become tuned into the Spirit of God as a prophetic people. Ignoring him won't work. You must be alert, discerning, skilled and ready to respond. If you aren't prayed up and if you don't walk in strong governmental, apostolic authority, you will most definitely struggle. It's important to develop a trusted intercession team to surround you as the leader and also to identify governmental strengths in others on the team. You will all need to fight together in great unity.
Other Pastors Will be ProvokedA supernaturally vibrant body will absolutely threaten other pastors in the region. I could tell you several sad (and repulsive) stories of other pastors who were incredibly reactive to ministries that are apostolic and devoted to the prophetic and prayer. You need to love and bless these men and women of God even if they don't support you, and even if they resist you. God will use them to test your heart. God will also link you up with others in the city who are on board with a fresh prophetic advance. You cannot go it alone. Pastors who aren't actively involved with other leaders in the city in an ongoing fashion should cause some red flags to fly.
You Will be Misunderstood and ResistedAnybody who goes against the stream, who cuts against the grain and who calls out dead, tired systems will be marked as a troublemaker. Troublers of Israel. You must learn to love deeply or you will be taken out by bitterness.
THE CRITICAL NEED FOR REVELATION DRIVEN CHURCHES
New Wine SkinThe old wine skin must be put away. It simply cannot contain the new wine that the Holy Spirit is pouring out. This revival Spirit will offend many and awaken many others. The current system isn't designed to facilitate what God is wanting to introduce.
Boring, Predictable, Powerless ChurchThe predictable church model that we are all too familiar with today simply has to come to an end. They must be replaced by prayer meetings and governmental, apostolic focus.
God Needs to Reveal His PlansI have often wondered how in the world any pastor or leader can lead a church without an intense, continual, comprehensive and saturating prophetic culture. How do you know what to teach? How can you address the plans of a crafty, invisible enemy? How can the people hear God's voice? It's nonsensical. The new wine, revelation driven church must have its ear to the mouth and heart of God so it can respond moment-by-moment to his directives.
A Highly Trained Army is NeededEvery person in the church must have a never-ending tremble in their spirit as they live night and day in the place of intercession. The Spirit of God will train the church in the place of prayer and prophetic instruction. This army will know how to hear God's voice, how to change culture, how to move in authority and how to respond in unity.
Culture is not Effectively ChallengedIt's disgusting how the church has failed to confront the spirit of the age today. Homosexuality has become not only normalized but legalized while people of faith are now at risk of being imprisoned for standing in opposition if certain legislation passes in our nation. Where is the church? Where are those who are highly skilled and who know how to hear God's supernatural instructions on how to advance? The church in its current state absolutely cannot fight this invisible war.
The Harvest Will Have No Patience for Church as UsualThe lost clearly have no desire to integrate into the current church system. The found don't want to integrate either. Both are looking for a church on fire, a power-center in the region. Eunice, a Facebook friend, said this after reading my introduction to this article:
Oh my Lord John Burton have you ever hit the nail on the head. We ARE waiting. We are homeless. We search to no avail. God is opening our voices with a tremendous end time roar. We need this desperately. We feel lost and so out of place.It's time for revelation driven churches to emerge and for the old wine skins to be folded up and put away. The lost and saints alike are longing for a burning, vibrant, Spirit-driven experience that will shock the nations and call down the fires of revival.
Where are the soul crushing, convicting preachers that stir up demons and set the captives free today?
I don’t remember exactly what I was preaching that evening as a visiting guest minister, but I know there was an extremely sober, weighty atmosphere—and the message was hitting hard on repentance, eternity and holiness.
Suddenly, as people were silently, somberly on their knees at an altar, and in the middle of a teaching—no, a preaching—that was demanding a response, a response came.
A disturbed, provoked cry, “Damn John Burton to Hell! Damn John Burton to Hell! I’m going to Hell! I’m going to Hell!” shocked everybody in that church sanctuary. It was shouted, screamed, from the rear of the room, shattering the weighty atmosphere with demonic shrieks. The voice went on with the tirade while escorted to the foyer and then out into the parking lot to be ministered to by church staff. We all heard this person, a well respected part of this church from what I understand, continue in their manifestation as the Holy Spirit was bringing deep conviction to all who were present.
This type of demonic reaction to anointed, convicting preaching should not be rare in the church today, but it is. Extremely rare.
Jonathan Edwards, the central figure behind the Great Awakening and the preacher of the famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, caused quite a stir at Enfield:
An eyewitness, Stephen Williams, wrote in his diary, “We went over to Enfield where we met dear Mr. Edwards of Northampton who preached a most awakening sermon from these words, Deuteronomy 32:35, and before the sermon was done there was a great moaning and crying went out through ye whole House…. ‘What shall I do to be saved,’ ‘Oh, I am going to Hell,’ ‘Oh, what shall I do for Christ,’ and so forth. So yet ye minister was obliged to desist, ye shrieks and cry were piercing and amazing.” (http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/200201/200201_104_johnathan.cfm)
WE NEED HELLFIRE PREACHERS TO RETURN TO THE AMERICAN STAGE
Much of today’s church has been duped into thinking the quickest path to revival is through positive affirmation, encouraging words and happy, middle-of-the-road sermons. The idea is that a non-threatening church culture where God’s goodness and kindness are emphasized will make him appealing and easier for people to warm up to.
This method is woefully inadequate, even inappropriate. The motive of the leaders who employ such tactics is suspect. God’s fearful, weighty presence has been sidelined for a softer, more approachable version.
I recall prophesying over a mother at a service in another church I was visiting. This mom was extremely agitated that her daughter had decided to attend this revival style service and came with both barrels blazing. She wanted her daughter to leave immediately—but God had other plans. She decided to mock the theatrics and jumped right into the prophecy line with her daughter. Big mistake. I prophesied over approximately one hundred people that night, one by one, but something I said to this irritated mother changed her life. I don’t remember what I said (which is usually the norm when prophesying over people I’ve never met before), but after the service she was sitting in the corner, dumbfounded. She called me over and asked me how I knew everything I told her. She explained that nobody has ever known about the things I revealed.
The next night of the week-long event saw this mother and her daughter back in the service. I was preaching a pointed, aggressive message, and right in the middle of it I experienced another interruption. This mother shouted, “What must I do to get saved?!” All eyes darted toward her, and then toward me as she ran to the altar. The enemy thought he was sending her to disrupt a move of God the previous night. This night he lost a disciple to the glorious love of Jesus. The anointing broke her yoke of bondage.
ANOTHER GREAT AWAKENING
During the Second Great Awakening, we saw the following happen:
On the American frontier, camp meetings came to characterize revivals. The first camp meeting revival was in south-central Kentucky. At a meeting in June 1800, Presbyterian James McGready and two other pastors preached for 3 days; on the fourth day, two traveling Methodist ministers officiated and concluded with an emotional exhortation. Many physically collapsed at what they called conviction of sin. People were convinced they were experiencing a visitation of the Holy Spirit such as the early church had known at Pentecost. (https://www.christianity.com/church/the-2nd-great-awakening-11630336.html)
We must see another great awakening come to America! It’s time to shut down the predictable, stale church services and allow the disturbing yet wonderfully freeing messages of repentance emerge!
I was preaching at a regional youth conference, and, again, the message was provocative. Whenever messages like this are delivered, I can discern an intense resistance to it. Sadly, this often comes from leadership. Those who are living compromised lives often walk out. In fact, one person admitted to me that they were indignant and were about to walk out the previous night—until the Holy Spirit whispered to them, “Trust me and stay.” He did, and his life was transformed. He couldn’t stop thanking me and especially God for what had happened in his life.
At this youth conference, I prophesied very directly and precisely that someone was in extreme danger of being separated from God for eternity in Hell. I said this person was involved in sexual sin and I knew who they were, though I told them I wouldn’t expose them. It was up to them to bring their sin into the light. I implored them to repent, and fast.
After the service, the boyfriend of the person God had highlighted to me walked up to me. He revealed he was a youth pastor at one of the attending churches. He admitted that he and his girlfriend were involved in sexual sin and God had broken him that night.
Pastors, do you have any idea how much compromise and wickedness is occurring on your watch? We need to trust the Holy Spirit to lovingly and urgently convict the church. We must see mass repentance and a return to Jesus. Holiness must be preached again. Hellfire messages can no longer be avoided. Revival is an absolute necessity today. Where there is no revival, spiritual death will overwhelm our nation. George Whitefield knew this well:
After a sermon in Lyme, Connecticut, “many had their countenances changed; their thoughts seemed to trouble them, so that the joints of their loins were loosed, and their knees smote one against another. Great numbers cried out aloud in the anguish of their souls. Several stout men fell as though a cannon had been discharged, and a ball had made its way through their hearts.” (http://www1.cbn.com/spirituallife/a-great-awakening-stirs-the-colonies)
We can no longer be silent. Presuming all who hear our preaching to be spiritually and eternally okay is a great mistake. We need a booming shock to the system if we hope revival to come.
“The Christian world is in a dead sleep. Nothing but a loud voice can awaken them out of it.” ~George Whitefield
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.
THE DEEP, THE SHALLOWS AND THE SAND
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.