Pastoral Ministry in a Non-Revival Age
America has experienced significant revivals in her short history. Most notable among them are the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings (18th and 19th centuries)—revival scholars such as J. Edwin Orr name several others as well, including the Pentecostal and other significant moves of God in the early 20th century.
These revivals were characterized by large numbers of people repenting of their sins and confessing faith in Christ. Whole regions were radically affected by this turning to God. Taverns closed, divorce rates declined dramatically, violence and murder waned, drunkenness decreased. Churches filled up, with a notable hunger for prayer, Biblical preaching, and Christ centered evangelism. (For a brief history of revivals in America, readhttp://www.peacekey.com/1-1-a/OSAS/Revival_Prayer_1.HTM).
While not an American revival, the Welsh revival is famous for its sudden and dramatic impact. Evan Roberts was one of its main leaders. His message to believers or professing believers hit home with great power. Summing up his message in four parts, Roberts emphasized the following points:
1. Confess all known sin.
2. Deal with and get rid of anything ‘doubtful’ in your life.
3. Be ready to obey the Holy Spirit instantly.
4. Confess Christ publicly.
Let’s fast forward to our present day. In some parts of the world, revival-like conditions exist. Perhaps even in the U.S. there are pockets of revival in a few places. But overall, we who minister in the U.S. are ministering in non-revival conditions. Evan Roberts’ four points do not generally describe the way things are in our churches. When these things are seen today (in individuals or in small groups of individuals), they are viewed as exceptional … definitely not the norm for 21st century American Christianity. Confession of sin? Sins are renamed and are viewed as mistakes. Getting rid of things that are doubtful? Today’s believer wants his/her liberty, and wants it now. Instant obedience to the Holy Spirit? Hardly. Confess Christ publicly? Most believers never share their testimony or the gospel. With anyone.
I hope I’m not jaded, but that’s how it seems to be, at least to me. According to one author’s intriguing bookNot a Fan (Kyle Idleman), Jesus has lots of fans, but not too many followers. He writes about a guy who had been attending the church where he pastors. This fellow sent in an email asking to be removed from the church membership. His stated reason? “I don’t like Kyle’s sermons.” Curious, the pastor found this man’s phone number and called him. “Hey, this is Kyle Idleman. I understand you’re leaving the church because you don’t like my sermons.” After a brief silence and some rambling, bumbling words, the man complained like this: “Well … whenever I listen to one of the messages I feel like you are trying to interfere with my life.” Bingo! As Idleman says (representing what we pastors are supposed to do), “Yeah, umm, that’s kind of like my job description.” This ex-church member was a fan of Jesus, but not a follower. Of course Jesus interferes with our lives! That’s the core and essence of discipleship.
My question has been (and still is) … how do we do pastoral ministry in a non-revival age? I’ve some suggestions, maybe we can banter this around a bit.
- We need to start praying for revival, begin a prayer movement.
Revival accounts that I have read all say the same thing: no revival ever occurred without what J. Edwin Orr calls extraordinary prayer. “What do we mean by extraordinary prayer? We share ordinary prayer in regular worship services, before meals, and the like. But when people are found getting up at six in the morning to pray, or having a half night of prayer until midnight, or giving up their lunch time to pray at noonday prayer meetings, that is extraordinary prayer. It must be united and concerted.” (http://www.pastornet.net.au/renewal/journal1/orr.html)
- Live for Christ myself.
Recently, I listened to the audio reading of David Platt’s radical book, Radical. It moved me. I need to be that guy. Not David Platt, but the radical disciple. I need to be an authentic Christian. I need to live in the new covenant. I need to confess sins, a lot. By living this way I’ll be more understanding, gracious, truthful, and intentional in my ministry to Christ’s people.
- Preach and teach the whole Bible.
Only a whole Bible can produce a whole Christian. Teach and preach the Bible book by book, chapters and verses. Tough to dodge vital issues like sin, repentance, and confession when going through the entire Word.
- Continue to emphasize the need for a focused, personal devotional life.
Those who are seeking to follow Christ need to learn to become self-feeders.
- Go on short term missions trips to places where revival is happening.
There are such places in the 10/40 window, sub-Sahara Africa, and Central and South America. I frequently recall something G. Campbell Morgan one wrote, “The value of distance is perspective.”These trips help me to think on the way things ought to be, rather than on the way things are.
- Make disciples.
Work with pockets of teachable, malleable people. Do 2 Timothy 2:1-2. Not everyone in our churches is cold toward Christ. Those that are hungry and truly thirsty—we should work with them. To do so, we have to drop our expectations of how they’ll fit into our church programs. Instead, we must point them towards reciprocally abiding relationship with Christ … the believer in Christ, Christ in the believer.
- Aim high.
We must raise the bar, not lower it. No sermonettes for christianettes. If I’m raising the bar in my own life, I’ll know the difference between the heights of that bar. For example, I recently stopped listening to Sports Talk Radio while driving around. It’s not a law for me, just something I felt I needed to do. It was an unnecessary weight (Hebrews 12:1-2). I’m amazed at how much richer my walk is, now that I’m free to converse with and worship the Lord, and listen to His voice. So also, we need to challenge our people. Interfere with their lives a bit.
- Get around peers in ministry that are en el fuego (Spanish for “on fire” … learned that on Sports Talk Radio).
Seriously, iron sharpens iron, we greatly encourage each other as we talk outreach, church matters, ministry challenges, and the rest.
- Find ways to be healthy … spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
It’s easy to dive into depression, I know because I’ve been there. But if I go there, I’m of no use to anyone. I’ve got to be strong in the grace of God which is in Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:1).
- Remember that faithfulness is what Jesus requires of me, not results.
If I’m results oriented, I’ll get easily discouraged. If I focus on daily obedience in faith, I’ll be living as Jesus lived, in wholesale dependence upon His Father. Jesus was the faithful Son over His own house, listening daily for the Father’s instructions (Hebrews 3:1-6; Isaiah 50:4-5). Just before Calvary, Jesus told His Father that He’d glorified Him on the earth and finished the work He’d given Him to do (John 17:4). Jesus didn’t do everything that was within the realm of the possible—that which could have been done, but He did do everything the Father directed Him to do. Faithfulness is the key.
Recently, we had a word of prophecy from a young woman … it was in an afterglow service during our recent Northern and Central California pastors and leaders conference at Mt. Hermon. The word had to do with revival … that it was coming. I sure hope so. If you have read and agree with Joel Rosenberg’s recent bookImplosion you believe that revival is the only hope for the United States. But imagine ministry in a revival atmosphere! It would be a completely different animal, on so many levels. I’m sure you can imagine…
Following that prophecy was a word of wisdom. The word went like this. I’m paraphrasing, and may not be exactly right: “Pray for revival. Prepare for revival. And when (if) revival comes, give God the glory for everything that happens in the revival.”