Something has shifted in the atmosphere of our community.
In the last six months almost 2000 people have come to faith; some in our services, more in gathered environments such as schools, and lots in ordinary everyday moments. Somewhat surprisingly more than 60 percent of those coming to faith have surrendered their yes to Jesus on the streets of our town and surrounding area. The move of God we are experiencing is happening beyond the building. It is not a movement IN the church, it is a movement OF the church.
Like every pastor, I have often dreamt and prayed for such moments, yet stewarding unusual favour introduces unique pressure. It has thrown up exceptional challenges. When the outpouring began we made some intentional decisions simply because we want what happens to bring legacy that lasts. So here, in no particular order, is what we have deliberately chosen to do for now...
(1) resist the temptation to host nightly services. With so many people coming to faith each day and the interest in the community, (not to mention the wider Christian community), it could have been tempting to hold nightly gatherings. We decided not to.
We did so for three reasons:
Firstly, we are modelling something to our families - they are more important than ministry. We don't want brilliant meetings and broken families.
Secondly, we want it to be sustainable. We want leaders with longevity in outpouring. We don't want brilliant meetings and burnt out leaders.
Thirdly, we want this to be about a movement of the Church not just a moment in the Church. We want it to belong to the servants and not the experts. We want scattered servants who are bringing life in their everyday ordinary moments and not special events. With that in mind, we chose not to hold revival meetings.
(2) preach at every service. We want to continue to hold up the importance of Scripture as a value. When things began to shift it was tempting to talk more about what was happening; to share our experiences, tell our stories. The sheer number of people coming to faith meant a larger part of our services needed to be devoted to explanation of what was unfolding around us. I felt the tension of speaking to those who had come to Christ that week, updating our church family on what was happening and how they could engage, and teaching scripture. Fitting it all in to a service was and is challenging. It's why I am so glad we committed in advance to teach Scripture no matter what.
(3) connect individual conversion with city formation. What God does in the regeneration of an individual is the sign and the symbol of the recreation of all things.
As people become more excited about salvation springing up on the streets, there is a danger that leading people to Jesus is perceived to be the real work, or the only meaningful work. We are trying to focus them on how their story, lived locally (in business and relationship among other things) is rewriting the story of our city. We can't all quit our jobs to be out on the streets; nor should we. Through our regular work we are inscribing a story of hope in a broken city.
We want to connect the story of individuals with the story of institutions and industries, economies and families, businesses and colleges; everything, everywhere experiencing infectious life. We want to reach lost people AND lost places. Each individual story of personal surrender points towards the greater story of God making ALL things new.
(4) downplay revival rhetoric. One of the questions I am asked most frequently is ’is this revival?’ We don't think so. It's the entirely predictable outcome of relentlessly showing up in the community over years. Our town experienced revival before in 1859. It was amazing and changed everything as tens of thousands of people responded. Crime was reduced, hope was restored. Everything was different....for a while. Revival is wonderful and we want it with all of our hearts....but we want something more. We want something more sustainable than revival; something our children can carry as a legacy.
We want a story. A living story. A story of how our generation witnessed God at work in our everyday ordinary in exceptional ways. A story that transcends a moment in time and creates a movement of people in all times. A story that does not limit the Kingdom to exceptional moments or religious environments but unleashes holy hope through everyone, on everything, everywhere.
We hope we can steward it; that it grows on our watch and that the grace of God reaching more and more people overflows to the thanksgiving of many.