Tag Archives: Awakening

James Petticrew ~ Squeezing Jesus Out of the Church

I’m coming back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about you,
It’s all about you, Jesus
I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it
When it’s all about you,
It’s all about you, Jesus

Some of you may have groaned when you read those words. Many congregations have sung that song to death for over a decade – but perhaps we did it because its words deeply resonated with a fundamental fact of our Christian walk and life as the Church: that the centrality and rule of Christ is something about which we need constant reminding.

I am a year back into pastoring, a year back into preaching regularly to a congregation, a year back into church leadership, a year back into trying to express God’s love to people. And a year on as I reflect on each of those areas and many others, I’m finding myself recalling Matt Redman’s words not as an expression of worship but all too often as a confession. I have come away from meetings, walked down from the pulpit on several occasions, and finished conversations thinking to myself:

I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it
When it’s all about you,
It’s all about you, Jesus

One the main lessons I’m relearning after being out of formal church leadership for a while is simply that church life so easily becomes about so many other things than Jesus, and as that happens our agendas, priorities, and busyness slowly squeeze Christ from the Body of Christ. When Christ is squeezed from the Body of Christ church becomes “all about” other things: budgets, people and their problems and feelings, my self-esteem as a pastor, the quality of weekly worship music, song choice – just about everything except Jesus. I’m not naive enough to claim that some of these things aren’t important in church life; but I am coming to realize that when church life is all about those things, it ceases to be the Church and doesn’t have much life in it. When Christ is squeezed from the Body of Christ by our own priorities and agenda as a congregation or through our busyness as leaders or disciples, what is left is little more than a corpse masquerading as a church.

While thinking about the way in which Jesus so easily gets sidelined in the church, I read these words from Paul:

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” (Colossians 1:15-18)

It strikes me that Paul was writing to a church also in danger of squeezing out Jesus, not by the busyness of church life or the disordered priorities of the pastor but likely by some sort of early Gnostic teaching that sought to diminish Jesus. (I’ll leave the exact nature of the Colossian heresy for budding New Testament scholars looking for PHD topics.) Both Paul’s “Christological song” above and Matt Redman’s 90’s worship song both convey the same message in different ways: it’s all about you, Jesus. Paul writes a theological tour de force in Colossians 1, reminding us of Jesus’ divinity, creative power, resurrection, and headship of the Church; then, Paul sums up the implications of all this truth about Jesus by saying, “so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” 

Perhaps it’s the tendency to diminish and demote Jesus from the place he should have that was behind Christ’s complaint against the church at Ephesus in Revelation: “I hold this against you, that you do not love as you did at first.” (Revelation 5:4) This tendency within the Church to make things other than Jesus supreme seems to be in pastor-theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s aim when he wrote, “Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”

In their book ReJesus, Michael Frost and Alan Hirschoffer a devastating critique of what Bonhoeffer called “Christianity without Christ,” the Body of Christ with Christ squeezed out:

We do not like gatherings [speaking of church services] of strangers who never meet or know each other outside of Sundays, who sit passively while virtual strangers preach and lead singing, who put up with second-rate pseudo-community under the guise of connection with each other, who live different lives from Monday to Saturday than they do on Sunday, whose sole expression of worship is pop-style praise and worship, who rarely laugh together, fight injustice together, eat together, pray together, raise each other’s children together, serve the poor together, or share Jesus with those who have not been set free.

But they don’t just offer criticism, they offer a journey to a remedy, claiming that the church needs to be “re-Jesused.” Simply put, “re-Jesusing” the Church is making church life and disciple life centered on Jesus again. To use Paul’s language, it means deliberately focusing on Jesus having center stage in our church life, not just giving lip service.  I think it means re-turning to Jesus again and again, making sure Jesus is the focus of our preaching, the model for our discipleship, the source of unity in our community, the inspiration for our worship, and the aim of our hearts. “Re-Jesusing” our Church life will surely mean choosing to live by his Spirit in every way, each day. It will mean being utterly committed to becoming like Christ in the desires of our hearts, in what we think and do.

I remember a significant afternoon during my year of Doctorate of Ministry studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. Dr Dennis Kinlaw came to speak to us, but he did more than speak. He shared his heart. He spoke about his then-new book, Let’s Start With Jesus. He made an impassioned plea that as pastors and disciples, in every facet of our life and ministry, we start with Jesus. As I embark on my second year at Westlake Church Nyon, that is my guiding principle. In whatever I do in the life of the church or my own discipleship, I am asking, “what does it mean to start with Jesus?” I want my life to be “re-Jesused,” I want our church to be “re-Jesused.”

What about you? In your life, in aspects of church life for which you bear responsibility, can you really say with Paul that, “Christ has the supremacy?” Has church life become about other things than Jesus?  Are you absorbed by budgets, people, your self-esteem as a pastor, the quality of weekly worship music, song choice – anything except Jesus? Has Jesus been squeezed out of the Body of Christ? Maybe we could allow “The Heart of Worship” to make a brief reappearance in our services, just to remind us that, “it’s all about you, Jesus.”

Brian Yeich ~The Lost Metric of Testimony

The church seems to be obsessed with numbers. We account for professions of faith, baptisms, membership and worship attendance, and these statistics for church health point to a crisis in the present and increasingly dismal view of the future. We seem to count everything. Even the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, made sure that every Methodist could be counted. However, it is my conviction that we have lost a “metric” that the church has relied upon for centuries, not only to demonstrate the health of the community, but to paint a vision of what the Christian life should be. We have lost the metric of testimony.

In his book, Narrative of Many Surprising Conversions, Jonathan Edwards observes, “There is no one thing that I know of that God has made such a means of promoting his work amongst us, as the news of others’ conversion…”1 On the cusp of the Great Awakening, Edwards observed how God was using the stories of people’s conversions to inspire and cast a vision for new life among those where were not yet awakened. As powerful as the Gospel is, the stories of those who have encountered the living God revealed in the Gospel story are also used by the Holy Spirit to encourage, enlighten and inspire people to a living faith in Jesus.

Not only do the stories of people’s conversions inspire, as Edwards suggests, but also the stories of overcoming struggle, of the ups and downs of life. When new believers or even non-believers can see how God is working through the lives of disciples, they catch a vision for what God might do in their own lives.

Why does testimony seem to be ignored as a valid metric in our day? Have we lost the metric because God is not at work? Have we lost the metric because we are not pursuing the least, last and lost in our communities?

Metrics Today

Most denominations today rely on metrics such as professions of faith, baptisms, attendance, and membership to gauge the health of their congregations. It is likely that these metrics are favored because they are relatively easy to collect and they do provide some indication of how a congregation is doing. However, these numbers can be far from encouraging. Worship attendance across denominations, according to most sources, indicates that fewer people are gathering in our places of worship each week than in years past. Professions of faith are down in many denominations including those that would identify as evangelical. In my denomination, it has become standard practice for conferences to require churches to enter data on a regular basis in a “dashboard” that tracks these metrics and others. While these numbers can provide some insights into what is happening in the life of a local church, they can also have a negative impact. Focusing on “getting people in the pews” can be an unhealthy focus for pastors and congregations. 

Several years ago I was engaged in leading a church re-start. In the first year of our efforts, I was approached by a former denominational leader and encouraged to “poach” from another, struggling congregation so that we could more quickly achieve the critical mass needed to sustain the church. I have been tempted in my ministry to play the numbers game and have many times succumbed to that temptation. However, the words of this leader shocked me into a realization about metrics. A focus on numbers may tempt us to simply rearrange the deck chairs on a sinking ship rather than seeking to reach people who have not heard or had the opportunity to respond to the Gospel.

Even though we say, each of those numbers represents a person,” I believe it is difficult to keep our focus when the numbers are the metric. Metrics like professions of faith or conversions, baptisms, or membership tell us something about the state of the congregation. In fact, if the church is alive and healthy, those numbers should reflect that reality. But while these numbers tell us something and they do represent people, we don’t hear the stories through the numbers. The fact is that numbers cannot tell the story of transformation in the lives of human beings. Yes, baptisms and professions of faith are significant moments in that transformation, but those numbers are only a waypoint on the person’s journey.

So, why does testimony seem to be ignored as a valid metric in our day? It may be because of the ease of counting worship attendance and baptisms as compared to collecting the stories of transformation among a congregation. And while the value of such stories may be recognized, that is not the data that is being most sought by denominational leaders. This is an unfortunate break from those who have gone before us.

Metrics in Early Methodism

As the founders of the Methodist movement, John and Charles Wesley knew the power of people’s stories. In fact, they solicited the conversion stories of Methodists, many of which were published. Bruce Hindmarsh notes that these written narratives were expressed in a person’s own words soon after their experience of conversion and typically shared with others in a band meeting.2  The Wesleys saw the same value of testimony and narrative that Edwards observed on his side of the Atlantic. When people read the story of ordinary people encountering an extraordinary God, a hunger and thirst were stirred up and many of those hearers of the story came to saving faith in Jesus Christ. These were not cute, sentimental Facebook posts but were raw stories filled with the challenges and obstacles to faith as well as the triumphs.

Hannah Hancock wrote to Charles Wesley about hearing John preach on Romans 6:23 (the wages of sin is death). She describes the conviction she experienced and shared that she, “had sweet communion with God for two months…” However, she also shared the challenges which soon cropped up when she wrote, “then the enemy came in as a flood upon me telling me I was in a delusion.”  It could be comforting to know that the challenges they were experiencing were not unusual, nor were they insurmountable through the power of the Holy Spirit. Without such a testimony, a person could continue wallowing in self-doubt and perhaps even lose their faith.

Many of these conversion stories made their way into the Arminian Magazine, a publication started by John Wesley in 1778 to encourage and inform the Methodist movement. In addition, Wesley published the stories of lay preachers whom God had raised up as leaders in the movement. While these published stories are significant, it seems more significant that people were encouraged to share their stories in class meetings and bands. It was in the context of community that the “metric of testimony” impacted the movement. As persons shared their stories and listened to the stories of others, God also spoke into their lives by his Spirit and people were empowered to, “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling.”3

While publishing was significant, as Hindmarsh notes, the primary space in which these stories were shared was the band meeting. Persons would gather in very small groups and share their lives with each other. Methodists would confess their sins with one another, share their triumphs with one another and then encourage and admonish one another to continue to pursue holiness of heart and life.

Shortly after Wesley’s death, the 1798 Book of Discipline of the Methodist Church in America indicated the value of such testimony that can take place within a band:

There is nothing we know of, which so much quickens the soul to a desire and expectation of the perfect love of God as this. For there little families of love, not only mutually weep and rejoice, and in everything sympathize with each other, as genuine friends, but each of them possesses a measure of ‘that unction of the Holy One,’ (1 John ii. 20.) which teaches all spiritual knowledge. And thus are they enabled to ‘build up themselves [and each other] on their most holy faith,’ Jude 20. and to ‘consider one another, to provoke unto love and good works,’ Heb. x. 24.4

In these groups, life was shared in its raw form – the ins, outs, ups, and downs of a person’s walk were shared and as the community heard the stories, they were inspired by the Holy Spirit to offer a word of encouragement, admonishment, or exhortation. In addition to these groups, bands would come together periodically for a “love feast” in which testimony to the amazing work of God would be given and the community would celebrate and be encouraged by the stories.

Have we lost the metric because God is not at work? I certainly do not think so. God is still in the life changing business and people are being transformed by the Holy Spirit just as they were in the days of John and Charles Wesley. However, I am afraid that we seldom hear their stories and that we have not done a good job of making space for people to tell their stories – warts and all. So how do we recover the lost metric of testimony?

Recovering the Metric of Testimony

Perhaps it is obvious, but for someone’s story to be heard, they must have the opportunity to share what God is doing in their lives. In some traditions and at certain times congregations have practiced testimony services or other gatherings in which people could tell their stories, similar to the love feasts of the early Methodists. A modern twist on the testimony service is using video to share stories of faith in a worship service. However, I am not certain that either of these is an adequate way of addressing the loss of testimony as a metric, and more importantly, as a spiritual practice. 

Fortunately, there are movements among Christians that are seeking to bring back, not the 18th century of John and Charles Wesley, but rather the spirit of the Methodist movement: a way of life marked by a commitment to grow in faith, a focus on spiritual disciplines, a passion to engage the mission of God in everyday life, and a covenant of life together in small groups of spiritual friends. One such initiative is the Inspire Movement which was begun in the United Kingdom in 2008.

The Inspire Movement is “an international network of Christians who are committed to developing mission-shaped discipleship in the leadership and life of the church.” Since its founding, Inspire has spread from England to Ireland, the United States and beyond. Inspire seeks to engage Christians in a way of life marked by longing for more of God, staying connected to God’s grace through spiritual disciplines, following God’s lead in mission and investing in spiritual friendships. Fellowship bands are the catalyst of this way of life and are groups where people share life deeply and help each other pursue this way of lifeInspire has developed missioner teams who work with churches and leaders to train and enable Christians to develop bands in their respective contexts. In the context of bands people share their stories of how God is working in their lives, and as they learn to tell their stories to each other, they are learning how to share this testimony with others in their church fellowship and beyond.

People need to tell their stories perhaps as much as people need to hear them. Focusing on numbers without the opportunity to share testimony of God’s work robs people of the opportunity to share what God is doing in their lives and prevents those who could hear the testimony from experiencing its impact. The recovery of the metric of testimony through community and bands could help individuals and congregations pursue a richer, deeper life of discipleship.

Faith Parry ~ What Is an Awakening?

“[An awakening is] a renewing work of God, a fresh inbreaking of the Spirit’s love and power, and an abundant ingathering of the reborn into the church” — David Thomas, To Sow for a Great Awakening



In 1730, there was a spiritual movement called the First Great Awakening that lasted until around 1745. At the heart of this movement was John Wesley in England. It then stretched to Scotland with Jonathan Edwards, and George Whitfield spread it throughout the American colonies.

Then the Second Great Awakening started in Lexington with the Methodists again, spreading to Tennessee during the Revolutionary War. Churches multiplied four-fold.

But what is an awakening?

It’s when God’s Spirit moves and causes amazing results that can only be attributed to God. Communities are changed through God’s acts and transformed. This movement of God’s spirit is contagious.



“Travailing prayer is not the only thing we do. But it is the first thing, and the most important thing.” — David Thomas, To Sow for a Great Awakening

David Thomas explains in his book To Sow for a Great Awakening that “how” is the question he spent six years trying to answer. In the end, the answer was simply prayer.  Well, not quite that simple.

Consider words from the writer of Hebrews: “While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God.” — Hebrews 5:6, NLT



Thomas explains that we must pray to God for others in earnest and that we must travail. He explains that travail is, “a kind of burdened, focused pressing—seems closer to the throbbing core of prayer in Scripture. He explains that scripture doesn’t describe causal prayer anywhere, but always about prayer that is a person emptying his or her heart to God of whatever emotions are there. 

If we pray publicly in prayer meetings for the unchurched earnestly, it can be the most powerful witness for God’s love. We need to show people that our hearts agonize over the souls that are lost.


Would you be willing to take up the call to pray with earnest and travail for the unchurched? Could you let your prayers hit your heart on an emotional state? Will you express your compassion to God on their behalf?

Awakening is messy and costly to people who love it and long for it. Reputation is the first thing to go in this kind of praying and leading. Jesus taught that our seeds have to die before anything will grow (John 12:24). And maybe it comes to mind what it is you may need to die for awakening to spring up: distraction, pride, an attitude of expertise, self-sufficiency, being hip, affluence, avoidance, ease. — David Thomas, To Sow for a Great Awakening 

I’m willing to take up the call if you are.



This article originally appeared at www.faithparry.com and is reprinted here with permission.

Pete Bellini ~ Methodism on Fire

It is no revelation that the United Methodist Church is facing an uncertain and problematic future. The second largest Protestant denomination in the United States is deeply divided over human sexuality and as a result it is divided over its language in the Book of Discipline (the denomination’s manual on agreed-upon life together) and is divided over decisions made by the Judicial Council, several Annual Conferences, and Boards of Ordained Ministry regarding human sexuality. In response, the Council of Bishops proposed The Commission on a Way Forward to address human sexuality and the Book of Discipline. The proposal was approved by the 2016 General Conference. The Commission has been given the Herculean task of proposing a way forward that will maintain unity among stretched and strained denominational differences. When its work is complete, the 32-member commission will report to a special session of the General Conference in 2019.

Amidst the uncertainty there have been many voices from both sides of the divide that have also speculated on a way forward. Several refreshing responses have come under the banner #nextmethodism. Recently, my colleague at United Theological Seminary, Dr. David Watson, wrote an article entitled “The Four Marks of the Next Methodism,” in which he forecasts what God has in store for the weary people called Methodists. Watson’s second mark declares that “the next Methodism will be Spirit-filled.” I think my friend is onto something. Rather, I know the Holy Spirit is onto something.1

The Holy Spirit is always at work in the world and in the church regardless of the problems that we face and regardless of the darkness that seems to prevail. God is a missionary God and has always been moving upon the earth carrying out God’s work. In John 14:26, Jesus promised that the Father would send the Holy Spirit in his name. The Spirit of Truth would bear witness to the person and work of Christ. In Acts 1:8, the disciples were invited to receive the power of the Holy Spirit to be witnesses of Jesus Christ. This invitation to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit is not just for the disciples of that generation but to their children and to their children for all generations. Acts 2:38 promises that all who repent and are baptized will receive forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit.

The mission of God (missio Dei) involves the sending of the Son, but it equally involves the sending of the Spirit. The Spirit is the primary agent of salvation in terms of our appropriating and experiencing the work of God’s grace in Christ. The Spirit draws, witnesses, convicts, enables repentance, justifies, regenerates, assures, sanctifies, quickens and inhabits the sacraments, constitutes the church, empowers for mission, works justice, heals the land, and much moreEarly Methodism understood these operations of the Spirit. Methodism today may benefit from further sound teaching on the person and work of the Holy Spirit and from further strategic opportunities to be filled with the Spirit and to serve in the power of the Spirit.

Early Methodism was no stranger to experiential religion and to the work of the Spirit. A case could be made that one of the greatest outpourings of the church age following the first century began with the Great Awakening and early Methodism. Revival fire lit up England and spread across the ocean and helped give birth to what Kenneth Scott Latourette called the “Great Century,” referencing the vast influence of Christianity in the nineteenth century. The Second Great Awakening, the healing movement, the holiness movement, the modern mission movement, the abolitionist movement, and a host of social and educational institutions all were significantly influenced by 19th century Methodism.2

Going into the 20th century, even the earth-shattering Azusa St. Revival from 1906-1912 was fueled by Methodist, former Methodist and holiness leadership. Wesleyan holiness theology reworked from John Wesley and John Fletcher was instrumental in igniting the passion and drive for entire sanctification and the baptism of the Spirit that launched Azusa St.3  The intense and permeating impact of Azusa’s eschatological pneumatology on the passion and push for missions catapulted North American Pentecostalism globally where it either ignited the fires of existing holiness work or networked with existing indigenous outpourings. Together these spiritual torrents helped to generate the seismic movement known as the Global South Shift. Could one of the greatest outpourings of the Holy Spirit in church history that began with Methodism come full circle back to Methodism?  

The fact is that it is already happening in many parts of the world. Global Methodism is burning with the fire of the Holy Spirit on virtually every continent. At United Theological Seminary, where I serve as Associate Professor of Evangelization in the Heisel Chair, many of the faculty, including myself, have witnessed revival in Vietnam, Korea, the Philippines, Sierra Leone and Cuba. Churches have been planted. Thousands have come to Christ. Many are healed. Signs, wonders, and miracles are accompanying the preaching of the Gospel in Global South Methodism. My colleagues and I have been blessed to witness personally the mighty work of the Spirit, and yet the amazing growth of Global Methodism is much greater than the limited experience of our faculty. In Africa alone the church is increasing by 220,000 annually while the United Methodist Church in the U.S. is losing around 90,000 annually.4 Of course, the growth in African Methodism is not an anomaly either but is occurring wherever Global South renewal is diffused, and the character of these movements are usually charismatic in nature, as Philip Jenkins has documented in his now-classic, The Next Christendom

The good news is that God longs to move in American Methodism in the same manner. Many who are crying out in prayer for renewal are already experiencing a foretaste of it in certain oases, like Aldersgate Renewal Ministries, New Room Conference, the Holy Spirit Seminar, Change the World Conference, and in the classrooms at United Theological Seminary and in other places. The examples that I have cited hardly scratch the surface, as people in local churches, training events, and conferences across Methodism are seeking God’s presence over institutional programs. We have marveled at the Methodist machine long enough. We have tinkered with its parts. We have polished the brass until we could see our reflection. Though the Methodist machine is indeed a marvel, in many ways, it has become a body without the Spirit. The body without the Spirit is dead, and the dead need a resurrection.  

The picture of Methodism today is similar to what Ezekiel saw in the thirty-seventh chapter of the book that bears his name. The Lord gave the prophet a vision of a valley of dry bones that were once supporting a body that was filled with life. Of course, the valley of dry bones pointed to Israel in captivity. The Lord had a plan to renew and restore his people. He would breathe his ruach upon the dry bones, and they would live again. God set the prophet apart to prophesy resurrection and life to those dead bones.

I believe God has similar intentions for the people called Methodists. In our decline, division, and defeat, we are down for the count. Yet our denomination still exists and carries on as if something less than a divine move of the Spirit of God, such as programs or polity, will get Methodism off the canvas and on its feet again. In this sense, we are like the living dead. Like the Church at Sardis (Rev. 3:1), we have a name seemingly indicating we are alive, but we truly are dead.

However, like in the time of Ezekiel, in these days God is raising up prophetic voices that are called to speak new life to the Church. They will prophesy to the dry bones that they will live again, and there will be a great rattling among the bones. There will be political rattling, theological rattling, doctrinal rattling, and spiritual rattling among the bones before they are gathered together and restored. Then the prophets will speak to the four winds of the Holy Spirit that will blow over the dry bones of Methodism, and the Spirit will resurrect and revive the descendants of John Wesley. I concur that the next Methodism will be a Holy Spirit Methodism, a Spirit-filled Methodism.

In the places where I have witnessed and beyond, many in our Methodist family are already experiencing a spiritual refreshing, as they are encountering the transforming power of the Spirit with signs and wonders and the manifestation of the charismata (the gifts of the Spirit) for the first time. I believe that the acts of the Holy Spirit and ensuing semeia (signs) found in the New Testament that are experienced in the Global South will be experienced in Western Methodism, if we are humble, open, and willing to repent and receive. Of course, the power of the Spirit is not an end in itself but rather is intended to empower the church for mission and witness. Increased fruitfulness and the spread of the Kingdom will indeed be the product of such an awakening.

Yet I believe more than just a charismatic “next Methodism,” God desires a sanctified next Methodism. Like Isaac in Genesis 26:18, we are called to redig the old wells, in this case the old wells of Methodism. Wesley declared that God raised up Methodism chiefly to spread scriptural holiness across the land.5 Key features of early Methodism will be revived in a sanctified “next Methodism,” such as holiness of heart and life, salvation as therapeia (healing and wholeness), empowerment and release of the laity, transformative discipleship, fresh sacred songs and poetry from heaven, and homiletical authority or preaching that facilitates conviction and conversion.

As we cry out to be set on fire with the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit and to be sent out to be good news to a world that needs hope, the Lord will send a blaze from heaven that will consume sin and fill us with holy and perfect love. A sanctified “next Methodism” will serve as a balance to a charismatic “next Methodism” holiness and power. Power without holiness, charisma without character, and gifts without fruit can lead to excesses in our lives and ministry that will be detrimental to the life and witness of the church. May our hearts’ cry be for the full manifestation of the Spirit.

As a Professor who teaches courses on church renewal and the Holy Spirit, I am often asked by students, “What can I do to have more of the Holy Spirit in my life?” This concise list of ten exhortations to understand the gift of the Holy Spirit and to cultivate the life and ministry of the Spirit may be a good place to start.

  1. Be Christ-centered. Focus on Jesus. The Spirit primarily bears witness to Christ.
  2. Be immersed in the Scriptures. Have a scriptural basis for all you are and do in your life and ministry. The Spirit speaks the language of Scripture.Be aware of exalting your experience over Scripture.
  3. Be presence-based over program-based in life and ministry. Expect and cultivate the presence of God wherever you are.Let life and ministry flow from there.
  4. Make faith your primary epistemologicalinstrument. Reason is essentialbut meant to be subordinate to faith. We are justified by faith and not justified by reason.
  5. Have a passion for holiness, Christlikeness. “Holy” is the Holy Spirit’s first name.
  6. Cultivate humility as a virtue. The Holy Spirit does not speak of himself (John 14-16). The Spirit is humble and is attracted to humility. God resists the proud.
  7. Learn to hear the voice of the Spirit and teach your people likewise. Give the Spirit the solitudeneededto speak to you and expect to hear specific guidance from God.
  8. Have an open heart to serve others especially the poor, the stranger, and the outcast. The Spirit loves to adopt.
  9. Create opportunities and structures for all types of prayer. If we want the fellowship of the Spirit we must communicate in the Spirit.Look for both worship and mission to flow from a life of prayer.
  10. Create an expectancy for the gifts of the Spirit in ordinaryand extraordinary ways and settings.

Carolyn Moore ~ Lord, Bend Us

In 1903, Evan Roberts was 25 years old. He was a Christian, coal miner, and student who began to pray for God to fill him with the Holy Spirit. In the midst of this season of prayer, Roberts found himself at an evangelistic event where a man named Seth Joshua was preaching. Roberts heard Joshua pray, “Lord, bend us,” and at the sound of those words the Holy Spirit grabbed him.

That’s what you need, the Spirit said.

Roberts wrote: “I felt a living power pervading my bosom. It took my breath away and my legs trembled exceedingly. This living power became stronger and stronger as each one prayed, until I felt it would tear me apart. My whole bosom was a turmoil and if I had not prayed it would have burst … I fell on my knees with my arms over the seat in front of me. My face was bathed in perspiration, and the tears flowed in streams. I cried out, ‘Bend me, bend me!!’ It was God’s commending love which bent me … what a wave of peace flooded my bosom … I was filled with compassion for those who must bend at the judgement, and I wept. Following that, the salvation of the human soul was solemnly impressed on me. I felt ablaze with the desire to go through the length and breadth of Wales to tell of the savior.”

After that experience, Evan would wake up at one in the morning and pray for hours, invaded by an intense love of God and a deep desire to see others come to Christ. He began to pray together with a few others: “Bend us, Lord.”

A few weeks later, after seeing a vision of God touching Wales, he predicted a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit. He began preach across Wales and within about nine months, over 100,000 people had come to Christ. Five years later, reports say 80,000 of those people were still in church. The effect on the culture of the country was profound. Bars emptied out. People used the money to buy clothes and food for their families, pay back debts and give to the church. People became kinder; there was a wave of forgiveness.

Sadly, Evan didn’t last. Like firewood that wasn’t ready for burning, his own personal fires fizzled quickly. Losing his mental health, he became arrogant and short-tempered; his sermons filled with condemnation. He moved in with a woman who distorted his message. He spent a year confined to bed, pretty close to insane. He lived to be 72 years old but preached his last sermon when he was in his twenties.

Lord, bend us.

David Thomas has studied great awakenings and revivals and has written: “There is this built-in self-correcting, reanimating capacity in the Christian movement due to the Spirit’s residence in the Church. Christian history is in many ways the story of successive seasons of awakening. We love it. We yearn for it. We need it, desperately, more every day — in our culture, in our churches, in our families, in ourselves. We want to be in on awakening, to be in on a work of God in our day. Again, we have a soft spot for this, a longing for this: we want to be about sowing for a great awakening. But what about that sowing piece? … Where does it come from? Where does awakening start? How do we sow for a great awakening? … I’ve come to believe that the true seedbed of awakening is the plowed-up hearts of men and women willing to receive the gift of travail. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy (as it says in Psalm 126). Prayer is the precursor to the work of God … always the anticipating act of awakening.”

Lord, bend us.

Thomas says that a call to travailing prayer isn’t a call to feel guilty about how little we actually pray. It is a call to become more open to awakening, and to let that desire make us less casual in our prayers. “I wonder what it would take for us to move in the direction of travailing prayer,” Thomas writes. “How bad it will have to get … if we’re not there already?”

I wonder, too. Who among us is ready to take God at his word? Who is ready to spend time in repentance, time in surrender, time in confession of faith? Who is willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ, to be moved to their knees?Who is ready to cry out, not just for ourselves, but for the effectiveness of the Church, for the effectiveness of the gospel flowing through us, for the gospel’s power to renew the world?

Lord, bend us!

Featured image by Vincent Creton on Unsplash.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Where There Is New Room

Sometimes we need a space where there is new room for the Holy Spirit: space in our lives, in our schedule, in our church building, in our preaching, in our house.

For me, luckily enough – except it never seems to do with luck where new room is involved – this has been at the New Room Conference. In an age when marketers hope and pray that their ad campaigns will go viral, the Holy Spirit has seen that challenge – and raised it. It’s a potent reminder of how a little backwoods religion “went viral” all around the Mediterranean around 2,000 years ago. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has nothing on the Third Person of the Trinity.

This September the gathering saw just its third birthday. Every year, it has doubled in size, causing organizers to have to change venues. Last year, with participants numbering around 800, it wasn’t too hard to find someone you wanted a quick word with. This year, at around 1,500, it was a bit harder, though the conference still managed somehow to have an intimate family feel – which is pretty remarkable, given that its participants represent a blend of denominations and regions.

Many people there have some kind of connection to Asbury Theological Seminary, but not all. (Seedbed Publishing, which sponsors New Room, is itself sponsored by the seminary.) Still, speakers and attendees came from a spectrum of experiences. Presenter Danielle Strickland hails from The Salvation Army (I couldn’t help but be thankful that she left her uniform at home). Andrea Summers has spent her ministry in The Wesleyan Church. Many other speakers were from the United Methodist Church, though Brit Pete Grieg is known for his work with the 24/7 prayer cs9xnhlxeaefnfgmovement. Bishop James Swanson preached a mighty sermon, though the presence of the Mississippi United Methodist underscored an area for growth: while there was racial and international diversity in the speaking line up, many (not all, but many) of the participants were noticeably Caucasian. If New Room truly wants to “sow for a great awakening,” it will inevitably find itself in a conversation on racial reconciliation at some point, because there is no awakening without the whole Body of Christ represented. We simply cannot receive it without each other. The Spirit won’t do it without all of us seeking healing together, in a posture of repentance and confession.

Yet the seeds are here: Dr. Prabhu Singh from the Wesleyan Methodist movement in India spoke a powerful word. A panel of global representatives shared about what God is doing in different places around the world. One woman spoke about her ministry through mental health services to victims of ISIS brutality.

And I saw scholars, professors, pastors, worship leaders lying flat, face down on the ground in prayer. A prayer and worship service that was scheduled to be 90 minutes long went on for three and a half hours. It didn’t feel that long. Organizers handled it sensitively: there was ordered progression to the service, but flexibility as well. At one point someone leaned over to me and whispered, “this wasn’t on the schedule,” as Pete Grieg hopped up on the stage and exhorted everyone in the simple, powerful prayer, “Come on!” – asking the Holy Spirit to “come on,” to come down and transform lives, the world; goading our hearts to “come on,” to respond to God and wake up; and urging each other to “come on,” to keep going in the faith, to move forward together. It was during that service that somehow God plopped the desire of my heart in my lap, stringing together a nearly-impromptu covenant group that somehow seemed to just happen without a great deal of clarity about how it came together. Creating new room for the Holy Spirit, indeed.

The differences between New Room and other conferences are numerous, but one of the most pivotal differences in my estimation is the readiness to translate learning and growth at the conference into daily practice throughout the year, with its fostering of Wesley bands and its online platforms for group study that allow fellowship and growth to flourish regardless of geographic location. In this sense, it’s unique.

S0 – are you creating new room in your life for the Holy Spirit? Has your life created spiritual clutter? Do you need to sort and toss, mop and box up, or even just shove aside a pile of detritus to make just enough room to lie flat in prayer? Claim some space, now today: it doesn’t have to be much. Just enough time, or attention, or space to pray, “Come on, Holy Spirit…Come on…”

Wesleyan Accent ~ Excerpt: The Sound of Revival

Wesleyan Accent is pleased to share an excerpt from the recently published volume, “The Sound of Revival,” compiled by Rev. Kelcy G.L. Steele. Consider these words from Bishop W. Darin Moore:

As much now as ever, there is an urgent need for the clarion call of biblically sound, prophetic preaching. Everything around us is rapidly changing while leaving many confused and discouraged. This reality issues a challenge to return to the basics of preaching the Gospel of Christ in a way that is both countercultural and yet deeply relevant. Simply dusting off old sermons and sermon styles of the great preachers of bygone days won’t work. We need preachers who are able to exegete the Scriptures and the culture, seeking to proclaim the Gospel of liberation and redemption in the language of this generation. That’s prophetic preaching at its best!

The term “prophetic preaching” has different meanings for different audiences, so it’s important to clarify what those of us within The Freedom Church have in mind when we use it. Prophetic preaching is not fortune-telling, prediction of future events or even necessarily issues dealing with eschatology (end things). Rather than fore-telling, prophetic preaching is “forth-telling.” It is speaking forth God’s word to and for our community. This type of preaching is not motivational speaking or self-improvement lectures, it is preaching that calls people to live into God’s vision for justice, peace, and liberation. It names and confronts structures in whatever form they may be made manifest that marginalize, oppress, or devalue God’s creation.

Far too often our pulpits have been plagued with ritualized mediocrity and substance-less emotionalism that serve to entertain but fail to address the systemic and critical issues our people are struggling with.

Dr. Marvin McMickle issues to every preacher the challenge to rise up and boldly accept the mantle of prophetic preaching, declaring with the Prophet Isaiah, “Here am I; send me!” (Isa 6:8) “It is still our task to call people back from the worship of Baal and other idols, but we will need to attach twenty-first century identities to those false gods. It is still our task to demand that society care for ‘the lease of these’ among us, but we will have to attach twenty-first century names and faces and conditions to those persons.” He summarizes his proposal by claiming, “we need an understanding of prophetic preaching that matches the times in which we live: a postmodern, nuclear-terrorist, politically polarized, grossly self-indulgent age, in which all the world’s citizens reside in a global community.”


Bishop W. Darin Moore is a Bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion church.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Camp Meetings and Revivals in 21st Century North American Methodism

A couple of generations ago in North America, camp meetings and revivals were not uncommon in many Wesleyan Methodist traditions, flourishing in part from their popularity in the 19th century across frontiers. Outdoor meetings or camp meetings or week-long revival series held in local churches perhaps helped to pave the way for Billy Graham’s famous evangelistic crusades that inhabited tents long before he ever filled a stadium.

An engraving of a Methodist camp meeting from 1819, almost 200 years ago.
An engraving of a Methodist camp meeting from 1819, almost 200 years ago.

Not all Methodist practices included this revivalistic streak: there were plenty of downtown First churches with more formal liturgy, and to an extent there were some class delineations – though camp meetings and revivals were never restricted to blue collar folks, and the towering downtown First churches themselves had their roots somewhere in early circuit rider preaching. But most Wesleyan Methodist denominations have links to some kind of regional campground, even if it’s used mostly for the kids and youth.

In the photographs I have seen, in the histories related, sadly many of these twentieth-century camp meetings or revival series seem quite monochromatic: Black churches and White churches held their own events. (In the first half of the 1900’s Black Americans still had to travel with reference to the Green Book, a small travel guide noting which towns were safe to drive through, which hotels and restaurants served Blacks, and so on. You couldn’t just get in your car and go: that could leave you stranded, or hungry, or worse. If anyone has records, photos or reminiscences of integrated revival meetings or camp meetings, be sure to let me know.) It wasn’t just White Methodists who enjoyed camp meeting: denominations like A.M.E. Zion have a long tradition of camp meetings. Bishop W. Darin Moore notes in The Sound of Revival,

Bishop J.W. Hood
Bishop J.W. Hood

From the numerous renowned preachers of the Methodist movement including John Wesley, George Whitfield, Francis Asbury, and William E. Sangster, to Zion’s own array of preaching giants, such as but not limited to James Varick, James Walker Hood, Joseph Charles Price, Benjamin G. Shaw, Alfred G. Dunston, and Clinton R. Coleman, preaching has been the heart and soul of personal transformation, as well as community and church renewal.

Recently as we packed to travel to a rural camp meeting – my husband’s great-grandfather helped found it – I mused about whether conferences have effectively taken place of most revival series or camp meetings. On the one hand, conferences could be seen as the Yuppie’s ordo salutis: name tags, name-brand coffee, name recognition speakers. On the other hand, some revival series and camp meetings remain, continuing to attract various age groups and sometimes exhibiting slow but steady growth in more diverse demographics.

The Indiana campground I traveled to as a child had an open-air tabernacle, cabins, RV spots, ancient dorms, and a large, noisy dining room. It was decided the tabernacle should be enclosed and air conditioned, padded chairs replacing the long wooden slat bench pews. Not long after that, attendance dwindling, it was closed down, then sold. Though sad for me on a personal level, much as I detest the heat I hadn’t wanted it changed, in part because it seemed to me that if we had just waited a bit longer, shown some patience, it would’ve come back. These things are cyclical. Now I look at mandolin-playing hipsters who (while enjoying their strong coffee) would see that campground as a kind of authentic get-back-to-nature, learn-about-our-roots experience, and I think I was right, even if they would’ve wanted some artisanal organic snacks sold next to the Cheetos at the concession stand.

I think there’s room enough for conferences, revivals and camp meetings (even if “revivals” are now called “summit” or “spiritual emphasis week” or “Revive:The Awakening” #awakened). For one thing, physically setting apart time in a dedicated space grabs your whole body’s attention: it breaks up your habits, your routine. You physically go somewhere specifically for the purpose of attending to your soul. For another thing, taking several days, or a week, to do so is somewhere between Sabbath and tithing on the scale of spiritual disciplines: you mark to yourself and others that it is important to you in your time, schedule and budget to learn, listen, examine, rest, and receive. Additionally, when it’s possible, families who attend – whether nuclear or multigenerational, adopted or stepparents – families as a unit can set aside time both to be together and to attend to their souls.

That said, our conferences, revivals (#awaken) and camp meetings must morph and stretch. Preachers cannot assume a baseline of biblical knowledge among kids and youth (and adults). More and more children and teens come from broken homes, brought by a grandparent. Elementary and high school ministries are populated by racially diverse participants – is the speakers’ platform? In the technology and globalization age, even middle schoolers have access to extraordinarily hard core explicit material with ten minutes of solitude and a click of a few buttons. They also have instant access to the same tragic headlines about news that adults do, even if they receive it through Snapchat, not CNN. A sweaty fifth grader may be staring back at you from a pew, worrying about whether he’ll ever be in the middle of a mass shooting: after all, some elementary schools have active shooter drills instead of Cold War A-bomb drills. And this is one weakness of the #conference movement: targeted audiences mean the pigeonholing of generations, vocations and sometimes gender. You can’t take the whole family to most conferences, and they wouldn’t want you to anyway.

What’s your experience of multi-generational spiritual retreats? Have you ever been to a faith-based camp meeting or a week of special church services? What did you like or dislike about it? Was it a diverse gathering? How would you describe it to someone who had never before participated?

Kevin Watson ~ The Methodist Band Meeting: Confession Is For Protestants Too!

When was the last time that you confessed any known sins you had committed to another person, or group of people? When I discuss the value of confessing sin, people often seem uncomfortable with a practice that seems too “Roman Catholic.” Did you know that confessing sin was a very important practice that was at the heart of the early Methodist revival? Did you know the band meeting was the most concrete way Wesley put his understanding of sanctification and entire sanctification into practice?

Early Methodists were known for their organization and multiple layers of meetings and groups. In England, early Methodists gathered together in annual conferences, quarterly conferences, society meetings, class meetings, band meetings, love feasts, prayer meetings, select societies (or select bands), and even penitent bands. Historians have often noted the importance of conferencing for early Methodism.

Methodists gathered together because they were convinced that growth in holiness was most likely to happen in community, by “watching over one another in love.” Early on in his ministry, Wesley believed community was so important to the pursuit of holiness that he criticized the isolated individual’s pursuit of holiness as similar to pursuing holiness through the practice of idolatry. He wrote:

Directly opposite to this is the gospel of Christ. Solitary religion is not to be found there. ‘Holy solitaries’ is a phrase no more consistent with the gospel than holy adulterers. The gospel of Christ knows of no religion but social; no holiness but social holiness. (John Wesley, “Preface”; in “Hymns and Sacred Poems, 1739”)

This is the one passage where Wesley uses the phrase “social holiness,” which has so often been misused in contemporary Methodism. The best example of what Wesley meant by social holiness was the early Methodist band meeting.

In discussing the early Methodist approach to small group formation, people often confuse the class meeting and the band meeting. The class meeting was required for everyone who was Methodist and it often included women and men in one group. There were typically seven to 12 Methodists in a class meeting (though they were sometimes much larger). The basic question of the class meeting was: “How does your soul prosper?”

The band meeting was optional, though highly encouraged, for all Methodists who had experienced justification by faith and the new birth. Bands had about five people in them and were divided by gender and marital status. There were several prerequisites for joining a band meeting. Once you joined a group, five questions were asked at every weekly meeting:

1. What known sins have you committed since our last meeting?

2. What temptations have you met with?

3. How was you delivered?

4. What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?

5. Have you nothing you desire to keep secret? (John Wesley, “Rules of the Band Societies”)

The band meeting was a place of deep vulnerability and intimacy. It was a place where Christians were completely honest with each other about the ways in which they knew they had fallen short of who God was calling and enabling them to be in Christ. When Methodists discussed the rules or organization of band meetings, they nearly always started by stating that they gathered together in bands in order to be faithful to James 5:16, which reads: “Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

The purpose of band meetings was not to shame one another or heap guilt and condemnation on one another. On the contrary, in telling each other the truth about their lives, particularly where they had fallen short, Methodists brought each other to the bottomless wells of God’s amazing grace. They sought to drench one another in God’s healing grace so that they could experience freedom from all that kept them from complete freedom in Christ.

Might this be a practice that God is calling members of the Wesleyan/Methodist family to retrieve? Confession of sin is a means of grace in multiple ways. Confession is a concrete act of repentance. As a result, it is a gracious act that paves the way for a new experience of one’s forgiveness and restoration as a beloved child of God. Confessing sin also expresses a belief in and desire for ongoing growth in holiness. One purges what is not of God to be freed from it, and in order to be further filled with the life of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In the past, revival and renewal within Methodist communities tended to be preceded by humble, forthright confession of sin. This practice is not common in many contemporary Wesleyan/Methodist communities. This fact may say more about the extent of our current desire to hide, to cover up, and to avoid deep intimacy with brothers and sisters in Christ than it says about the ongoing relevance of such a practice today.

May the Triune God enable contemporary Wesleyan/Methodist churches to boldly reclaim this practice. And in so doing, may we find genuine repentance for any sin that lingers in our lives, a new experience of the Father’s audacious and neverending love for us through what has already been accomplished for us in Christ, and a freedom and desire by the Holy Spirit to entirely love God and neighbor, to the exclusion of sin.

Ken Loyer ~ Doctrine and Renewal (Part 1)

What does doctrine have to do with renewal? To those who view doctrine (that is, official church teaching) as an impediment to renewal, or in other words as part of the problem and not the solution, the answer might seem simple: “Nothing!” I don’t see it that way, however, and I want to reflect on why. As a lifelong United Methodist, I care deeply about the UMC. I also care deeply about both doctrine and renewal. In fact, I believe that doctrine and renewal are integrally related and mutually informative.

Before I explain why, a little background information about me will set the context for what follows. I attended seminary at Duke Divinity School and then completed a PhD in systematic theology at SMU. My dissertation dealt with the Holy Spirit and the Christian life in Thomas Aquinas and John Wesley. Since I finished school in 2010, I have been serving as a pastor in York, PA. Since 2011 I have also taught as an adjunct instructor in theology and United Methodist studies at United Theological Seminary and at Wesley Theological Seminary.

I say all that as a preface to the question that I would like to address in a two-part post on doctrine and renewal. The question is this: How, if at all, has the theological task changed in our generation?

From my vantage point, limited as it no doubt is, I sense that there is an increasing awareness of the need for church renewal and the importance of theology and doctrine for the renewal of the church. One example is the John Wesley Fellows program supported by A Foundation for Theological Education; some of the leading scholars and theologians in the UMC are part of that group promoting a recovery of our Wesleyan heritage in the context of classical Christianity. Of course, others are also working in various ways toward that same goal as well, and it is encouraging to see the progress that such groups and individuals have made and are positioned to make in the years ahead. I have also been encouraged by the example of faithful lay people who are hungry to learn and grow in their Christian faith and service. Laity will surely play a vital role in the renewal of our church. Even with these signs of progress, we have our work cut out for us. We have a long way to go.

One illustration of the challenges before us comes from a teaching experience that I had several years ago, when I taught UM history and doctrine at Wesley Seminary. For an assignment in that class, I required my students to choose a sermon by Wesley and respond to it with a summary and outline of the sermon as well as a sermon of their own that was based on or inspired by that sermon of Wesley.

One student reported that sermons like Wesley’s were foreign to her because in his sermons Wesley addressed sin and salvation in specific terms. She further said that in her church salvation and sin were not normally addressed in detail in sermons, but instead were discussed in small groups and Sunday School classes insofar as they were discussed at all. The assignment took this student outside of her comfort zone because she had to preach specifically about salvation!

Her words got me thinking: If we are not preaching in specific terms about salvation, about what exactly are we preaching? What is the content of our message if not salvation in and by the Triune God? Preaching that is not clearly connected to salvation, to our life in God—how often is that the case in churches today? I also began to wonder, “How can I do a better job of staying on message in my preaching and teaching, in offering people bread and not stones—offering them nothing other than Jesus Christ and the truth of his gospel?”

If we are not careful, our preaching and teaching can be reduced to what Kenda Creasy Dean in her book Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church calls moralistic therapeutic deism. Our preaching and teaching might be moralistic in that it calls for people to be good moral people and to think nice thoughts about others. It might be therapeutic in that it stresses that God wants us to be happy and feel good about ourselves (which of course is true but becomes a problem when we lose sight of the cost of discipleship). And it might be deistic in that it presents an image of a “god” who is watching from a distance, looking down on us—no doubt smiling, because this is a nice, happy “god”—but not a God who is intimately involved in the daily affairs of the world, and certainly not a God who becomes incarnate and dwells among us and who suffers, dies, and defeats sin and death for us on the cross and in the resurrection.

Moralistic therapeutic deism—you can imagine what kind of effect this kind of superficial teaching and preaching could have on a church or denomination. That is an impediment to renewal. The neglect of sound doctrine is part of the problem, not the solution. Clearly God expects more from us as pastors and teachers than this, and thankfully we have so much more to offer the church and the world than this!

I believe that Wesley can help us steer clear of the problem of moralistic therapeutic deism, as well as other barriers to renewal, so we stay on track in providing solid biblical teaching and preaching. He can do this with his robust vision of the Christian life, at once grace-filled and rigorous, communal and personal, leading to the goal of Christian perfection in God’s holy love.

That vision is one of the treasures of our theological heritage, which is a heritage that has the power to help renew the church today. So the way forward might be first to go backward, back to Wesley and the broader Christian tradition, and then forward through a constructive engagement with the issues of our day using the best theological and spiritual resources at our disposal. I’ll say more about what that might mean in my second post in this series.