An agnostic and his Hindu wife walked into a church meeting, saw how much the community loved one another, and said: “What do you people have? We want it!” They got gloriously and transformatively saved–regenerated–as new creations, not as a result of the preaching, or a manipulative altar call with the lights turned down low and soft music playing. Rather, they experienced a tangible quality of agape love that they could not understand. Would you like to be in a church like that? Does that sound like “revival” to you? Well, it is a true story of a family and church I personally know. If this interests you, read on, there’s more!
I have had the privilege of working with a certain local church family for almost twenty years. Their story is long and painful. At one time, it was a “successful” charismatic church of 700-800 in attendance that imploded down to 25 or less for several years. The young man (who was the previous pastor’s son) inherited the remnants. He realized that even though they had seemed “successful,” that they had drifted from what really matters. Jesus, and the purity, simplicity, and power of the gospel had gotten lost along the way as they went “gung-ho” for every charismatic fad and trend that came down the pike.
He determined to make needful, painful, and costly course corrections. In the recovery process, the young man leading this family of God made some very simple determinations:
- to preach only Jesus Christ and Him crucified and the beauty of the gospel of the grace of God,
- and to determinately practice loving one another.
That’s it, and that’s all.
He told me: “Steve, if that is not enough to win people and keep them, I would rather sell cars.”
He was, and is, right.
Just 3-4 years ago, the tide began to turn with the conversion of the couple I mentioned at the beginning. Since then, some of the most remarkable things I have ever been a part of, or have seen, since the height of the charismatic renewal forty years ago, have been happening in, among, and through that small community.
They would be the first to tell you that there are no formulas for what God is doing. Agape can’t be reduced to a formula. They would also assure you that they are neither super-saints nor angels. They are quite regular folks. However, there are specific kingdom values that they have given themselves to, that will always bear kingdom fruit, for anyone, anywhere, at any time.
Can you imagine a local assembly in the United States, where the following is occurring naturally, effortlessly, and normally:
- Transformative, new creation, conversions – with no harping about hell, no altar calls, with the lights on, no soft music playing and with every head up, and every eye open.
- Integrated and effective discipleship – with no teaching about discipleship and no “discipleship classes.”
- Honor and submission – with no teaching about authority.
- Generous giving – with no teaching about tithing.
- Gifts of the spirit – with no hype, fakery, theatrics, and emotionalism.
- Evangelism – with no soul winning programs.
- Character transformation – with no guilt and shame-based, behavior modification.
- Sermons and teaching – without ego and celebrityism.
- Inter-generational interaction – without duty, obligation, mandate, and coercion.
- City/community penetration –without guilt, cheerleading, and heavily administered programs.
- Agape love that unbelievers can see, feel, taste, desire and give testimony to – without sentimental gush.
- You don’t serve the pastor’s “vision” – he helps you with yours.
I can personally attest these things are present in the local family of God to which I am referring.
How Are These Things Possible?
The scriptures tell us that others will know that we belong to Jesus by our agape love one for another–not by the brilliant expository preaching in the sermon, the hot worship team, the mighty spiritual gifts we operate in, the great children’s ministry, the family and young adult ministry, and the great anointing of the senior pastor. The scripture says that if Jesus is lifted up, He will draw all people unto Himself. The scripture says it is the Holy Spirit’s specific job to testify to and of, Jesus Christ, to make Him known. It’s really that simple.
We just don’t believe it and we don’t consistently practice it.
We try to extort revival out of God with our endless begging prayers, while we live in functional disbelief and idolatry. Or, we think that if we change our meeting form and expression–move to a living room sofa instead of a sanctuary pew–that we have realized some great progressive development of spirituality. We have not. If the form of our meetings hinders the expression and power of our agape love, we are to be pitied. A change of geography will never suffice for a necessary change of heart and thinking.
So what does keeping Jesus central, first, and last, always, look like? It means in everything we think and do, we emphasize:
- Jesus – not eschatological schemes and plans
- Jesus – not home church, organic church, or institutional church or any form or method
- Jesus – not Israel and end time speculations
- Jesus – not predestination and freewill
- Jesus – not the “anointing”
- Jesus – not “the presence”
- Jesus – not “deeper life teachings” of the third heaven
- Jesus – not the restoration of Davidic praise and worship
- Jesus – not the restoration of apostles and prophets
- Jesus – not pastors and their rhetorical and oratory abilities
- Jesus – not recovery of Jewish roots
- Jesus – not “five-fold” ministry
- Jesus – not “kingdom”
- Jesus – not worldly politics: right or left
- Jesus – not spiritual mapping
- Jesus – not demons and deliverance ministry
- Jesus – not endless teachings and doctrines
- Jesus – not angels and supernatural experiences
- Jesus – not tithing and sowing and reaping
- Jesus – not authority and submission
- Jesus – not spiritual warfare an spiritual mapping
- Jesus – not gender theology
- Jesus – not the King James Bible
- Jesus – not gimmicky evangelism programs
- Jesus – not speaking in tongues
- Jesus – not gifts of the spirit
- Jesus – not church unity
- Jesus – not theonomy and dominionism
- Jesus – not church growth seminars
- Jesus – not stewardship campaigns for the building fund
- Jesus – not speculations about hell
- Jesus – not abortion and homosexuality
- Jesus – not courtship and dating
- Jesus – not obscure typology
- Jesus – not revivalism (Which is not revival at all.)
- Jesus – not praise and worship
- Jesus – not prophecy, dreams, visions, signs, miracles, and wonders
- Jesus – not prayer and intercession
- Jesus – not attending meetings
- Jesus – not social justice
I am sure you get the idea. Does this offend you? It shouldn’t, but if it does, it makes my point. Can it really be this simple? Could it possibly really work? I am here to tell you, yes it can. I have seen it with my own eyes.
However, it is so very easy for Jesus to get lost among His own, in His own house, when lesser things take preeminence. The lesser things must serve the Greater, and they often don’t. They demand preeminence of time, emphasis, money, and resources. In so-doing, they become subtle idols and hindrances to the revival we beg God to bring to us. If we would emphasize the Greater, the lesser things would fall naturally into place. If we have the lesser things, and miss the Greater, we have missed everything.
How are these things possible? Simple: As the overflow of hearts rabidly in love with Jesus, rabidly in love with one another, and busy loving neighbors and the world. It works.
Sign Me Up!
You might say: “Steve, where is this church? I want to go and visit it!” I am not going to tell you, and there are two reasons why:
The leadership at this church has wisely realized that they do not want to play into the hands of the American cultural ethos of celebrity and success. They don’t want to grow because of celebrity. The only growth they are interested in is growth from the overflow of integrated love, and that is not something you visit and inspect. You either drink of it, or you don’t. In our world the typical advice to that young pastor would be: Advertise! Grow big! Do church plants! Promote your ministry! Get on TV! Plant satellite campuses! Beam your sermons around the world! Become famous! That’s how you “do church” Right? No, it’s not.
I joked with the young pastor. I told him:
“You have a problem!” He said: “What do you mean?” I replied, “Good news travels fast. What are you going to do when word gets out of what is happening here and you grow rapidly?”
I was never more proud of my friend (in his mid-thirties) and his answer. He said:
“When the day comes that I do not know their name, and I cannot feel their pain, we shrink our size and reproduce elsewhere.”
That was the right answer. That was a kingdom answer. That was a Jesus answer, but it is not the answer you will get from your seminary professor in your church growth class, or in ego-driven, celebrity pastor, bigger-is-better, American Evangelicalism. This is an example of what I mean when I say if you want revival like I am describing above there are some value systems to which you may deeply, and perhaps subconsciously subscribe, that have to go. Agape is the commerce of the kingdom, but it can’t be marketed.
“There’s Nothing to See in Bethlehem”
Another reason for not telling you where this is happening is because this is a revival of agape. It is not flashy. Part of the problem in all the prayer, anxiety, straining, striving, and begging God to send “revival” to us is our expectations of what we are asking for. We want revival to look like what it did a generation or two ago. It won’t. Or, we think revival is God endorsing what we are already doing, only making it bigger and better. It isn’t.
There was nothing special about a baby in a manger in Bethlehem. In fact, most of the folks devoted to the big and spectacular were occupied “worshiping God” in Jerusalem and missed the most significant event of the cosmos happening right under their noses. You could pass the church I am writing about and not even think anything special was happening there. Just incarnate love in a people . . . nothing special to see there, just agape. [sic].
This is not about going to visit some place where something special is happening. We can experience everything I have mentioned if we will get serious about it. Agape works. It is just not flashy, and not practiced very often, very consistently, and with much persistence.
We really don’t believe Jesus Christ and Him crucified is enough. We really don’t believe that if the Holy Spirit would help us to lift Him up, that He really will draw all humanity unto Himself. We are, for the most part, unwilling to give up our investment in all those things listed above that compete with Jesus for center stage, let alone our self-centered and carnal distractions. Praying for revival on top of these preexisting conditions is a waste of time and energy.
Finally, we have to come to grips with our unbelief. God has ALREADY GIVEN US everything necessary for life and godliness. We don’t need to beg Him for “more” of “Him,” or “more of His presence” or more of anything. You and I just need to get on with loving well, abundantly, regularly, consistently, and persistently, and we can experience everything I have written here, and we will have as much revival as we can handle, but it might not be appealing to our religious flesh.
Thinking I might just be a “home boy” bragging on friends and people I am personally invested in, two years ago I invited a friend of mine who had neither history nor relationship in this fellowship to come and be with me for a weekend at this church. The brother is my age (60+). He has significant kingdom tenure. At the end of the weekend, he took the microphone, and in a trembling voice said: “I thank God I have lived long enough to see a functioning community where Jesus is really enough.”
I feel the same. I feel like Simeon in the temple. I have lived long enough to see things I never thought I would see.
It is amazing what the Spirit will do in, among, and through a people when agape without a personal agenda is determinately practiced through actionable faith. The good news is, it can happen right where you are. It’s just likely to cost you everything you hold dear.
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I have just being introduced today to the teachings of Alan Hirsh Forgotten Ways, Apostolic Genius and the six elements. I was so broken after reading it I had to get up and had leave my office. I felt like I had just found out that my longtime girlfriend was sleeping with another or like when you come home to find you have been robbed. My heart was so heavy. The Spirit told me to call you only to find out you have just posted this article. I am at peace again!
I love it and its the only reason I preach Christ Go Jesus! build your church with fishermen and fools who know how to love!
Thanks, Jose. I guess it was good Holy Spirit timing . . . interestingly, I have been holding off writing this for about three weeks, just felt like getting to it today on a day when I had a bit of time!
So very cool, thank you, Jose.
Stephen, yes, this is probably the most significant thing that you have written. I have a witness, after speaking with this young man, that God is looking for such men and women who are sold out for Jesus, with a heart of humility, and coming with a hunger and thirst for Christ alone, and saying, “not my will but your will be done”.
In 1977 I had been saved a few months. The Lord directed me to go to a nursing home and visit someone. I didn’t know who it was to be. I walked in with bible in hand and walked up to a nurse station. I said that the Lord told me to come here to visit with someone, do you know who that might be? The nurse thought for a moment and then said with excited conviction, “Yes I know who.” She directed me to this little 85 year old lady with white hair named Sister Penny. She had been saved at 5 years old and walked closely with God 80 years. I sat with her often over the coming months reading scripture and praying with her. I discovered that she had been a very close friend and confidante to Aimee Semple McPherson who founded the Foursquare denomination. I thought I was there to bless her as she had no visitors but me. But it was I that was blessed. At the time I was deeply involved in the study of theology. I was so excited to tell her the latest things I had learned about election and predestination, about the Trinity and the attributes of God, etc. She would smile and patiently listen to me go on. Then one day she said to me that all of those things I was learning were good but that they were but stepping stones to the ultimate goal which was a deep and personal relationship with Jesus. To her there was nothing but Jesus. She literally glowed with joy enraptured in her love of Him and His love of her. It was one of the most profound teachings I’ve ever learned since. Maybe you would have to have been there. 🙂
“However, it is so very easy for Jesus to get lost among His own, in his own house, when lesser things take preeminence. The lesser things must serve the Greater, and they often don’t. They demand preeminence of time, emphasis, money, and resources. In so doing, they become subtle idols and hindrances to the revival we beg God to bring to us. If we would emphasize the Greater, the lesser things fall naturally into place.” S. Crosby
“Testament is being displaced by a selfish “I.” Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshippers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become “unity” conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship. Social religion is perfected when private religion is purified. The body becomes stronger as its members become healthier. The whole Church of God gains when the members that compose it begin to seek a better and a higher life.”
Tozer, A. W. (2013-11-28). A. W. Tozer books: The Pursuit of God and Other Classics (Kindle Locations 1193-1198). . Kindle Edition.
Steve, I concur with jpwpcw that this could be the most significant thing you have ever written. The list, showing what keeping Jesus central looks like cuts right to the heart. The longer we are away from the institution, the less important that list of second-priorities is becoming.
Thanks, Chad. I understand.
I don’t know how to say this…but….such an experience of the church which Jesus is building will ruin you for anything less. It is like pure water in the desert. I have been privileged, as well, to have (noet have) experienced the real thing. there is no substitute for committed, real, love that comes from God expressed in love for one another. Our little love family (fellowship) allowed itself to give way to the demands for fidelity to the greater ” organized church”, the pastor and the priorities of Christian religion. Though I morn its passing some 16 years ago, I thank God that I have touched and been touched by this strange fire…the fire of the love of God in and through us. When you see and experience what is real it is easy to understand why the fire spread throughout the known world in the first century. Thanks for sharing this Steve.
Hi George, you have said it well: “It ruins you for anything else . . . “