What if the Church today has more reason to hope than to fear? What if, instead of being crowded out by competing messages, the Church is on the threshold of a historic move of God?
I believe it is.
When many look at our cultural moment, they see cause for crisis or concern. But I see cause for expectation and hope because the light shines brightest in the dark.
Throughout history, just when cultures and countries and communities thought Christianity was lost, they experienced miraculous outworkings of the Spirit of God. They experienced revival, awakening, or what I call renewal.
Two Forms of Renewal
In the Portland Sessions, a series of talks Mark Sayers delivered to pastors and church leaders, Mark explained that renewals throughout the centuries have tended in one of two directions.
Some renewals were marked by fire, or the release of the Spirit. The Hebridean Revival is one example, where a handful of people committed themselves to regularly pray from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. There were accounts of people being slain in the Spirit and flocking to the church there. This revival was marked by the coming of the Holy Spirit in fire, like the tongues of fire descending on Jesus’ disciples.
Other renewals are built on form. The monastic movement is one instance of this kind of quiet awakening. As the Roman world and civilization were collapsing, godly men and women sought safe harbor in monasteries and nunneries, where they preserved not only Christianity, but Western civilization’s literature, art, and language. They were committed to building a trellis along which the work of God and the Church could grow.
Both types of renewals—form and fire—have weaknesses. Renewals of form are wont to fall into religiosity or legalism. Those involved in such movements can become so focused on the form that they forget about the presence of God. Renewals of fire, on the other hand, are in danger of petering out shortly after they begin. Those involved in revivals marked by the Spirit’s power are susceptible to neglecting the practices that facilitate the Spirit’s ongoing work.
There are other renewals that have been marked by both form and fire, however. Like the revival in early Methodism, these renewals are marked by incredible outworkings of the Spirit of God and practiced devotion to the people and the presence of God. In such revivals, form and fire work together to unleash a powerful, lasting renewal.
Form and Fire Renewal
What we need right now is a form and fire renewal. A renewal marked not only by devotion to prayer and intercession and the power of the Holy Spirit, but also by the best of the Church’s rich wisdom and tradition of spiritual formation.
Better programming and more relevant teaching are becoming less and less effective at bringing people to Christ. Cooler preachers and free coffee have lost their pull in a culture full of people who have a bad taste on their tongues from the name “Jesus.”
What the Church needs now are men and women who realize they are hopeless apart from God to affect any real and lasting change in this world. Men and women who are dedicated to praying for their communities and churches and selves. Men and women who know they are called to raise the dead to life and know they need a miracle to pull it off. Men and women who want more than anything to see God perform his awesome work in our time.
I believe these men and women are being stirred by the Spirit right now. And I believe what will start as small, local renewals will be fanned into flame and sweep across the flattened, digital world as one trans-local renewal powered by the Spirit of God.