Editor’s note: This article was first published Feb. 14 by Bill Elliff on his website’s blog. Elliff is the founding and national engage pastor of The Summit Church in North Little Rock, Arkansas. He also serves on the Prayer Task Force at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.
A radio host asked me today how I would describe revival. I answered with what I heard Richard Owen Roberts say once. “I can answer that in one word: God.” The history of revival is one long story of God. God’s mercy. God’s gracious intervention and initiation. It is God bringing His people to desperation. It is God initiating unceasing prayer. It is God letting us see the evil that comes when we don’t walk with Him as a church. It is God, in great graciousness, opening the windows of heaven to wash and purify His church and set her back on mission. And then God awakening lost sinners and ushering them into His kingdom.
Richard Owen Roberts describes revival as “The extraordinary movement of the Spirit of God that produces extraordinary results.” God is always moving, but in times of revival and awakening, the work of God is dramatically accelerated. First, reviving the church, then exploding in spiritual awakening among the lost.
In the First Great Awakening, 15% of the population came to faith. (If that happened in the Dallas/Ft.Worth area, it would be 1.2 million people. Nationally, it would be 5 million people.) In the 1857 revival, 1 million came to faith out of a population of 30 million. Only God could do that. No program, no plan.
Reports are now coming in that multiple campuses across America are beginning to experience similar movements like Asbury (which has now filled all three auditoriums on the campus). We are also hearing reports of churches experiencing, last Sunday and this week, extraordinary stirrings of God’s presence.
So, as pastors and spiritual leaders, what do we do?
SHEPHERDING IN THE MIDST OF GOD’S MOVEMENTS
Please don’t think that I am writing this as an expert. I have observed, firsthand at Asbury the last few days, the wise leadership of the Campus Pastor and others. In 2011, God broke into a normal service at our church. The service went for hours and then extended, completely unplanned, for five weeks, every night except Saturdays. I was involved as the pastor in leading with our other pastors.
What I observed happening at Asbury was almost identical to the mercy drop we experienced. Leading in those times can be confusing. None of us have ever been in a moment like (I believe) we are about to experience. So, this is merely a humble attempt to give some thoughts to us as leaders.
1. LET THE SPIRIT OF GOD LEAD HIS CHURCH
The Holy Spirit is a great leader! Perfect, in fact. But we rarely let Him be in charge. We plan the program and then work the plan. The results are insipid and often utterly contrary to what God desires.
Wise leaders in these days will know that they must lead with humility, prayerfully and carefully listening to the Spirit and following His promptings. During the 2011 revival in our church, I never knew what was going to happen 10 minutes later, but I always knew exactly what I was to do in the moment (that is not an exaggeration). Don’t be afraid to let Him lead.
This requires that we are personally right with Him and listening to Him. You will be surprised how many on your team do not understand this or are ill-equipped to lead by God-initiation. If you are not right with God, go to the altar. Ask Him to cleanse you. Confess all known sins. Lay aside every doubtful habit. Clear your conscience with others and be filled with his Spirit.
2. GUARD YOUR HEART
The quickest thing to stop revival is pride. Evan Roberts of the Welsh Revival (in which 100,000 people came to faith in nine months) was so afraid of this that he often would not enter a room where they were expecting Him. He was fearful that their attention would be on Him and not God.
Seeing God move in power opens a broad gate to pride if we think it is something we’ve done. Revival is heady stuff. Just look at what happened BEFORE the revival and compare the difference between what we can do and what God does in power. God will not come where leaders are strutting. He knows He cannot entrust His activity to them.
At Asbury right now, the leaders model this beautifully, constantly calling everyone to understand that Jesus is the center of attention—no worship leader, personality, preacher, etc.
3. DON’T EXAGGERATE
Pastors are masters of exaggeration. Exaggeration is lying and is always done to make one look better. It will quench the Spirit (see Ananias in Acts 5). If eight people were saved, don’t “round it up” to 10. State what God is doing very carefully. And give Him all the glory.
Don’t try to make something happen by overstating what is happening. Let your words be few … and accurate.
4. LET THE BODY SPEAK
The hallmark of many of God’s great awakenings has been the unashamed testimonies of His people. When the room is pregnant with stories, open the microphone and let the people bless the Lord! Revival spreads this way. How can we glorify God if we do not hear what He is doing in real-time?
A practical thought is to instruct people about brevity and giving God all the glory. About sharing current stories, not past ones. And it is wise for pastors to shepherd the microphones, sense what God is saying, and follow that testimony with a Scriptural word or a call to prayer or response.
Tell the story beyond the services. A blessed result of COVID may have been God’s means to prepare us for this through the rise and use of the internet, television, radio, podcasts, and video. The presence of our media resources means that this revival could spread worldwide quickly. The telegraph was invented right before the 1857 revival in America and aided its spread.
5. WORSHIP SIMPLY
We often feel that our best worship must be produced, carefully developed, and perfected. Most seasons of revival have been marked by spontaneous singing, often acapella. It can be off-key, stumbling over words, on your face, hands raised. God wants our hearts to be humbly focused on Him alone. For our praise to be pure. He loves the sound of His children worshiping Him, and the world is amazed at pure worship.
Help your people by providing the easiest ways to worship. Welcome a spontaneous song coming from the seats. Don’t try to manage worship. Listen to the Lord and follow His promptings.
One of the reasons we see little of God is that we do not give Him time. Asbury has been fueled by students who are willing to give God hours, even through the night. There is much in Scripture about waiting on God that we don’t understand because we think everything depends on our fast-paced human work.
Wait on God. He comes to those who wait. Sing quietly, read His Word, and wait before Him in prayer. And in all things, put your attention on Him. Don’t try to manipulate anything in a service, but if you sense God wants to extend the service, invite those who desire to stay to remain and keep going. People will make their choices.
The movement at Asbury started after a chapel service when the pastors invited those who wanted to meet with God to remain. Twenty students stayed. Later they were joined by hundreds and now by thousands. And we pray soon, by millions.
7. EMBRACE THE NEXT GENERATION
The church must be re-birthed and re-discovered by each generation. The wineskins may need to change. There’s nothing sacred about a wineskin. Wineskins are there to hold and release the wine, just as Jesus said.
At Asbury, they are holding the first rows open at all times for students. “We are a university,” one of the leaders said, “And our passion is for these students under our watch to encounter God.” That should be every pastor’s passion. Let go of the past and your particular preferences. The Jesus Movement in the 70s was quenched prematurely (many believe) by pastors and church leaders who did not live for the next generation.
It looks like God has chosen, once again, to begin His best work among students who are willing to surrender fully, live unashamedly, and go anywhere and do anything for the sake of the gospel. God is raising up our next generation of pastors, missionaries, and spiritual leaders, and wise are the leaders who see this and give them room to lead and experience the manifest presence of God.
Revival is fueled by prayer. Pray without ceasing (that’s not an impossibility, by the way, but should be the standard operating procedure for our lives and churches). Pray about everything. Prayer indicates we understand our pride and desperately need God in the equation.
Share about what God is doing in your churches and campus meetings this week. Call the people to cry out to God that He would not pass them by! Wait in His presence, worship Him, read His Word, open the altar for prayer, and don’t look at the clock. It is your worst enemy. There is no clock in heaven.
9. PREPARE FOR SPIRITUAL WARFARE
You must understand the Enemy enough to know that he will explode in activity as revival accelerates. He is not pleased and has many powerful resources at his disposal. Watch out for Sanballat and Tobiah who will try to call you off the wall of God’s great work. Recognize the Enemy’s activity and stop it by God’s authority. He has no legal right to one inch of God’s church and movement. But he will try … and try again.
We must be strong in the Lord, put on the full armor constantly, and pray at all times. As pastors, we must protect our flocks over whom we keep watch, guarding them from the wolves.
You might be very surprised who Satan will try to use. Some will oppose God’s movement, and Satan will constantly be whispering in your ear to stop, to be distracted, or to slow down God’s activity. Resist Him, firm in the faith, and he must flee. Don’t let his temporary attacks divert you from the advance at hand.
During our five-week experience of God’s movement several years ago, one of our staff asked if we could restart some of the ancillary meetings. I reminded him that he might never see this happen again in his lifetime, and we would continue to meet in God’s presence till He directed otherwise.
Revival is tiring, exhausting in fact, but refreshing at the same time. If you are a leader, there is a serious cost, a price to pay, as you give yourself to the many demands of a season of great harvest. You must be willing to persevere. Get rest when you can. Eat when you can but remember that you are in a battlefield advance. Be encouraged by God’s advice …
He who gathers in summer is a son who acts wisely, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who acts shamefully. (Proverbs 10:5).
It’s harvest time! We don’t deserve it, but God does. He deserves a church returning to Him. A new generation rising up to follow Him. Millions of new believers giving Him the glory He deserves. A new missionary advance across the world. He deserves unceasing prayer and attention and full obedience.
He deserves revival and awakening.