Tag Archives: Revival

Unexpectedly: The Holy Spirit around the Globe

I received what was called a local preacher’s license in 1952, when I was only 17 years old. That means I have been at this business of preaching for 68 years. I have been the pastor of nine local churches and the organizing pastor of three of those nine. You may wonder why I’m sharing that…and you may consider it a bit boastful. Not so, not so at all. I share it as a part of a confession. The question really is, what sort of church did I plant?

Our scripture lesson – Acts 2:1-14, 42-47–tells the story of the first church plant in Christian history.  At first blush, that certainly was not a good way to start a church. There was the disturbance of a roaring wind that would drown out any speaking. Then uneducated people speaking in languages they had never heard. And not only a roaring wind, and strange speaking, but what was described as “tongues of fire” resting on each of them.

Unbridled excitement and strange acting. What a way to start a church! The question has to be, what was happening here, anyway?  And that is what my sermon is all about: what was happening here?Let’s think about it.

The first is this: God came unexpectedly, which of course is nothing new. God seems to make it a habit of sneaking up on the human race. Appearing unrepentantly, when no one is looking or knows what is going on, God is in their midst.

The kind of thing that happened at Pentecost had happened before. Moses was out in the field alone, taking care of his father-in-law’s flock. And there it was – a burning bush, and a voice coming out of the bush, and Moses was called to lead God’s children out of Egyptian bondage.

And now, here at Pentecost, is this little band of frightened disciples whose leader has gone off and left them; they are stunned, confused, and unable to figure out what to do. The only instruction they had was, “stay, just stay in Jerusalem, until you receive the gift the Father has promised.” What gift, they must have wondered! Then along comes God unexpectedly when they were not even looking.

Friends, I remind you: that kind of God action has not ceased. I have seen dramatic witnesses of it.  One of the joys of my life was to chair the Evangelism Committee of the World Methodist Council for 20 years. This gave me opportunity to travel the world and meet extraordinary Christians. Two of those were Nelson Mandela and Stanley Mogoba. You know about Mandela, the man whose life and witness led to breaking the back of that awful oppressive system of apartheid. But you probably have not heard of Stanley Mogoba. He was the first Black person to be the presiding bishop of the Methodist Church of South Africa.

About the time Nelson Mandela was sent to prison, Stanley met with a group of angry students and sought to dissuade them from violent demonstration. Just for that – trying to avert violence – he was arrested and imprisoned for six years on the notorious Robben Island.  Mandela was already in prison there. He and Mogoba became friends there in prison.

One day someone pushed a religious tract under Mogoba’s cell door. Parenthetically, don’t ever forget: most people become Christian not by big events, but by relationship and simple actions like a person putting a tract beneath a prison cell door. By reading that little tract and responding to the Holy Spirit, Mogoba became a Christian. He quoted the words of Charles Wesley’s hymn to describe his experience:

“Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
my chains fell off; my heart was free,
I rose, went forth and followed thee.”

God showed up, in a prison and in a simple gospel tract, and something unexpected happened. A person who was to lead the Methodist movement in South Africa was converted.

Are you listening? God who came unexpectedly at Pentecost continues to show up today…in prisons, on the streets, in person, in the Church.

Yes, in the Church. And that leads to the second thing I would say. Pentecost was a missionary event. Jesus made it clear that he would send the Holy Spirit to empower us for ministry. Listen to Acts l:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

It shouldn’t surprise us, friends, when the Holy Spirit comes roaring through our lives and our communities; change will happen, people will be called to minister. People who have never known Jesus before will come to the altar to praise him.

How and why? Because God is a missionary God, and the Holy Spirit is the chief evangelist. Hold that tightly in your mind. The Holy Spirit has the power to create joy in the midst of sorrow and dancing in place of mourning. The Holy Spirit has the power to bring healing for our anguish and rescue life from the jaws of death. The Holy Spirit of God signals a time of restoration, awakening, and revival.

Pentecost was a missionary event. Remember, I asked you to hold tightly in your mind. The Holy Spirit is the chief evangelist. I believe revival is coming, because I believe the Holy Spirit is alive and active in our day, and we are moving toward a global Methodist church, an orthodox, evangelical, Wesleyan, Methodist Church.

We have been in a tumultuous time, contending with a mysterious virus; then came massive and widespread demonstrations calling us to racial justice. Our nation is politically divided, and hatred is blatantly present across the land. At the same time, we are also struggling with a painful divide in our United Methodist Church. It is a tough, heavy time.  Discussion of separation is rampant, and I do believe separation is coming. Please hear me now. Separation doesn’t have to be bitter and angry. It can be redemptive. In fact, I believe it is going to be redemptive. That was signaled in a Holy Spirit event on December 17, 2019.  Leaders from different perspectives of the church – from the most liberal to the most conservative – signed a “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation.” I believe that if we had not had to cancel the General Conference that was to happen in May, that protocol would have passed and we would be on our way to a new global Methodist church.

People who know me and my history in the United Methodist Church are sometimes surprised about my position on some issues and my confidence that revival is coming. Some are surprised that I now believe separation is essential and can be redemptive. For decades, I have worked as hard as any lay person, minister, bishop or other leader in the church to preserve unity as we have struggled. So, let me share how I have come through the struggle to the place I am now in. The bishops called a special session of the General Conference in 2019 because the denomination was on the verge of implosion. We traditionalists prevailed at that General Conference in preserving the authority of Scripture. However, when we had done that by standard procedural vote, the conference deteriorated into a shouting match of anger, hateful accusations, and debate. I left the conference feeling with the psalmist, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?”

That was my state, when two weeks later I went to Cuba. I had visited Cuba twice before, and I knew revival was taking place, but I was not prepared for the robust power of the Holy Spirit being demonstrated in the church there. My time there was redemptive. It was a spiritual time of recovery in the wake of the General Conference experience.

The Church in Cuba is not affiliated with the UMC, it is the Methodist Church of Cuba. Bishop Pereira is a dynamic, Spirit-filled, Spirited-guided leader. Normally he would have attended our special General Conference, but he was needed at home. The communist government was seeking to change the legal definition of marriage. The government wanted to change that to simply a union between two persons. The bishop of the Methodist Church of Cuba had stayed in his country to lead his church in opposing what the government was proposing.  I had come from a meeting in which I and others opposed a part of our church, including many bishops, seeking to do what would have resulted in the same thing the Cuban government was seeking to do. It was the church in Cuba, not the government, that prevailed.

Our missionary God has sent his primary evangelist, the Holy Spirit whose power cannot be denied. I’m going back to Cuba as soon as Covid will allow. I want to be encouraged by the hundreds of little bands of Christians that are being formed every year. The government will not allow the building of churches. So these little groups meet in homes, house churches being established all over. And one day, that government will discover that Holy Spirit power is more dynamic than anything they can design and impose on the people.

In Havana, there is a statue of the Risen Christ towering over the city, almost as high as the famous Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. Not far from that statue is Che Guevara’s house, the companion of Castro as he seized leadership of Cuba in 1959.

Our small group shared communion at the feet of Christ, literally, as we gathered at the base of the statue on the morning we were leaving Cuba. There we were at the feet of Jesus, with his shadow falling over the city. When we took the bread and wine, we knew and proclaimed who is Lord, and that one day, he will claim the kingdoms of this world as his own.

More than ever, I believe that Holy Spirit revival is coming, and I pray regularly the prayer we pray during our Walk to Emmaus weekends:

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and kindle in them the fire of Thy love. Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created, and You shalt renew the face of the earth. Amen.

Featured image courtesy Hasan Almasi for Unsplash.

Julia Foote and the Geography of Witness

What do you know of Zanesville, Ohio? History buffs might enjoy its distinct Y-shaped bridge or explore its history as part of the Underground Railroad or recall it for its well-known river and locks. If a spiritual pilgrimage were traced across the tilts and rolls of Ohio’s farms, rivers, and valleys, Methodists might mark a gentle circle around Zanesville. It’s not unique for towns that sprang up across the Midwest to have Methodist fellowships woven through their roots; but those Methodist fellowships in the mid-1800s were not without profound flaws. In the autobiography of Julia Foote – happily available for download through First Fruits Press – readers are confronted with this reality. On joining the local Methodist Episcopal church (in the state of New York), her parents, both former slaves, were relegated to seating in one part of the balcony of the local church and could not partake of Holy Communion until the white church members, including the lower class ones, had gone first.

Julia A. J. Foote (Public domain)

Eventually, Julia Foote would become the first woman ordained a deacon in the AME Zion church, the second woman ordained an elder. Before that, she was an evangelist, traveling and preaching in a number of places, starting before the Civil War. At times, congregational conflict emerged when she visited a town, sometimes because Foote was Black, sometimes because she was a woman. But the testimony of her visit to Zanesville is different.

Before arriving in Zanesville in the early 1850’s, Foote had been in Cincinnati and Columbus, then visited a town called Chillicothe. Her time in Chillicothe was fruitful but not without controversy. (The following excerpts retain Foote’s own original language, a reflection of the time in which she lived.) She wrote,

In April, 1851, we visited Chillicothe, and had some glorious meetings there. Great crowds attended every night, and the altar was crowded with anxious inquirers. Some of the deacons of the white people’s Baptist church invited me to preach in their church, but I declined to do so, on account of the opposition of the pastor, who was very much set against women’s preaching. He said so much against it, and against the members who wished me to preach, that they called a church meeting, and I heard that they finally dismissed him. The white Methodists invited me to speak for them, but did not want the colored people to attend the meeting. I would not agree to any such arrangement, and, therefore, I did not speak for them. Prejudice had closed the door of their sanctuary against the colored people of the place, virtually saying: “The Gospel shall not be free to all.” Our benign Master and Saviour said: “Go, preach my Gospel to all.” (Julia A. J. Foote, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch, First Fruits Press: 102-103)

Whether or not the good Baptists of Chillicothe today know that their forebears ousted a pastor who objected to a woman evangelist, the Methodists may be unaware that their forebears invited a Black woman to preach – but only if people of color were excluded from the meeting. And yet, in spite of these local controversies, Julia Foote wrote that in that town, “we had some glorious meetings,” and “the altar was crowded.” Like John Wesley, Foote sowed grace outside church buildings, even if she could not sow grace inside church buildings. Like the Apostle Paul, she proclaimed the Gospel to those who would welcome her.

But then, she went to Zanesville. And here, readers see a different move of the Holy Spirit. What was the difference? Foote wrote,

We visited Zanesville, Ohio, laboring for white and colored people. The white Methodists opened their house for the admission of colored people for the first time. Hundreds were turned away at each meeting, unable to get in; and, although the house was so crowded, perfect order prevailed. We also held meetings on the other side of the river. God the Holy Ghost was powerfully manifest in all these meetings. I was the recipient of many mercies, and passed through various exercises. In all of them I could trace the hand of God and claim divine assistance whenever I most needed it. Whatever I needed, by faith I had. Glory! glory!! While God lives, and Jesus sits on his right hand, nothing shall be impossible unto me, if I hold fast faith with a pure conscience. (A Brand Plucked, 103)

Foote labored for any and all for the sake of the Kingdom when she arrived in Zanesville. While there, for the first time, Methodist worship was integrated. So many people came, hundreds had to be turned away. Despite the crowds, there was no controversy or dispute. And – “God the Holy Ghost was powerfully manifest in all these meetings.” There was no segregated worship; the Holy Ghost was powerfully manifest.

This is powerful testimony reverberating down through the soil, through the generations, through the Kingdom. Sitting today in a different part of the state over 150 years later, I read the words of Julia Foote and see the rolling hills of Ohio differently. I’ve been in Cincinnati, and Columbus, and Chillicothe. I’ve read those names on road signs. I’ve seen church buildings in those places. Through her words, I hear the voice of a mother of American Methodism, particularly the holiness movement, calling across the rivers, the years. She was pressed, but not crushed; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. Her eyes too saw this rural landscape in the springtime; heading from Zanesville on to Detroit, she also likely saw Mennonite and Amish farmers along the road. She sowed grace into this landscape before my great-grandmother was born. Before the Wright brothers followed the birds skimming along air currents, Julia Foote learned how to glide on the wind of the Spirit: “whatever I needed, by faith I had.”

Today, in the yard outside my window, irises are blooming that I did not plant; someone else planted, another watered, and I enjoy the deep purple unfurling from the bud. Reading of Foote’s ministry, I am given a window onto the grace planted by faith, the results of which would have shaped the spiritual life of a community for decades. But it does not let me rest on what came before; her labor calls out across the rivers, the years, questioning: how are you tending to what others planted through the Spirit? She endured great hardship to proclaim the Word of God in this landscape. I would not rip out or mow over the irises carefully planted by another; how might I help to care for what she was bold enough to sow? Decades later – and yet not so very long at all – where is the Spirit brooding, full, like a thundercloud full with rain, ready to burst?

Sister Julia issued this challenge: Sisters, shall not you and I unite with the heavenly host in the grand chorus? If so, you will not let what man may say or do, keep you from doing the will of the Lord or using the gifts you have for the good of others. How much easier to bear the reproach of men than to live at a distance from God. Be not kept in bondage by those who say, “We suffer not a woman to teach,” thus quoting Paul’s words, but not rightly applying them. What though we are called to pass through deep waters, so our anchor is cast within the veil, both sure and steadfast? (A Brand Plucked, 112)

The gifts you have, for the good of others.

It is the Holy Spirit who transforms history into testimony, the same Spirit who was “powerfully manifest” now bearing down, laboring again. In the original introduction to her work, Thomas K. Doty wrote, “Those of us who heard her preach, last year, at Lodi, where she held the almost breathless attention of five thousand people, by the eloquence of the Holy Ghost, know well where is the hiding of her power.” (A Brand Plucked, 7)

What do you know of Zanesville, Ohio? That Julia Foote preached there in the 1850s, sowing grace? That Methodists there rejected segregated worship, joining together, and the Holy Spirit was “powerfully manifest”?

What do you know of the Holy Spirit, today? What do you know of those who planted and watered while God gave the increase, long before you saw the buds?

Sisters and brothers, we do not walk into ministry alone today. Wherever you are, someone has gone ahead, sowing grace ahead of you. If the rivers could speak, they might gossip to you about the ones who went before; who crossed rivers when no plane had yet crossed the sky.

What do you know of Zanesville, Holy Spirit? Hearts there once were soft.

What do you know of the Holy Spirit, Zanesville? Once, the Spirit was powerfully manifest in your midst.

Holy Spirit, where are you brooding now? Give us the grace of readiness.

Phoebe Palmer and the Day of Days

A while back, a well-known pastor made remarks about a female pastor that were distasteful and offensive. While respecting the pastor’s different viewpoint knowing full well that not all followers of Jesus agree in all areas of doctrine, I was disappointed with how the view was expressed regarding women as pastors. I have three daughters and I want them to know that God loves them, wants a relationship with them, and will empower them to do amazing things when they fully surrender their lives to God, just as God will use men when they do the same. For me, this includes the belief that God calls women to be fully ordained pastors. (This reflection is not meant to give a verse-by-verse biblical defense of women in ministry. If you would like more information on that, I encourage you to click HERE.)

Instead, I’m highlighting a female historical figure, one I have discussed with my oldest daughter: a woman named Phoebe Palmer, who was a prominent female pastor at a time when women were not allowed to vote. We discussed Mrs. Palmer after my daughter showed a desire to experience mission work and went on her first international mission trip. She just so happened to go with a group from a denomination that does not support female ministers. I was troubled when she messaged me and said, “I have already been told several times that God would never call me to be a pastor. How could I be a missionary if God doesn’t let me preach?” Then, after she heard the comments by the pastor I mentioned above, she asked me again about being a woman and what freedom she will have to preach and teach.

If you do not know anything about Phoebe Palmer, I encourage you to discover more on your own. She was born into a strict New York Methodist home in 1807. She eventually married a respected physician named Walter Palmer. During the first ten years of their marriage, they experienced the devastating loss of three young children, the third of whom died tragically when gauze curtains near the cradle accidentally caught fire. (1)

Rather than this experience causing her to turn away from God, eventually, she came to completely entrust her life to God. Palmer spent many years as a private Bible teacher, but she began to feel a longing for a deeper experience of faith. On July 26, 1837, God filled her with a special sense of the Holy Spirit that she would call “the day of days” for the rest of her life. (2)

Because Palmer lived in a time when it was not common for women to preach, she was hesitant at first to share her experience with men until a Congregational minister named Thomas Upham received the fullness of the Holy Spirit under her guidance. After that, she chose to set aside the social convention of the day and spoke to anyone who would listen. (3) Palmer spent the rest of her life as a writer, preacher, teacher of holiness, and social justice warrior. It is estimated that her influence led to the salvation of at least 25,000 people and helped thousands more learn how to live out sanctified lives. In A Global History of Christians, Paul Spickard and Kevin Cragg say of Palmer, “She was more than a preacher. She exemplified the nineteenth-century Protestant synthesis of evangelism and good works. She was the moving force behind innumerable urban social service projects. The most widely known was the Five Points Mission in New York City, which provided housing, education, and religious instruction for poor families.” (4)

Her ministry influenced the perception of women in ministry. “By the end of the 1850’s, Palmer had reached the high point of her preaching career, as both men and women viewed her as a leader. She not only brought the sexes together in worship, she also advanced the role of female preachers. She had become a prominent religious figure at a time when very few women rose to positions of power in America. Other women involved in leadership roles performed their services in their homes. Palmer was one of the few who took her message on the road and in the process, became the recognized spokesperson for the Holiness movement.” (5)

The story of Phoebe Palmer has given my daughter faith and boldness to believe that if God could empower Mrs. Palmer in such a powerful way, God can empower her as well. Additionally, Mrs. Palmer’s story shows men and women alike that whatever God calls us to do, we are to humbly but boldly obey, regardless of the social conventions of the day. I told my daughter, “How sad it would have been if Mrs. Palmer chose to stay quiet in fear of the men who would speak against her. Her ministry would not have eternally influenced thousands of people. How sad it will be if God calls you to preach, and you stay quiet. If God calls you to speak, then speak, and trust God to give you the courage to stand firm no matter what.”

1. “Phoebe Worrall Palmer,” Encyclopedia, 2019. https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/history/historians-miscellaneous-biographies/phoebe-palmer

2. Mark A. Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 182-183.

3. Paul R. Spickard & Kevin M. Cragg, A Global History of Christians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 290.  

4. Spickard and Cragg, A Global History of Christians, 290.

5. “Phoebe Worrall Palmer,” Encyclopedia, 2019.

Featured image from a volume contained in Southern Methodist University Bridwell Library Special Collections and Archives.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Reckoning Before Revival

There is a reckoning unfolding that we would avoid if we could – unless we are one of the people who have been crying out for it, praying for it, watching the horizon for it.

But the people who pray for revival and the people who pray for reckoning aren’t always the same.

In the open air of summer camp meeting, I watched with child’s eyes as adults around me responded to altar calls from evangelists. Most of the people sitting on rough wooden pews were not atheists; they were looking for sanctification. Often, they were looking for release – catharsis, tears, freedom in individual hearts and minds. Preachers cautioned against returning home without living out the work claimed to have been done in the heart kneeling at the altar rail. I lost count of the times I went to the altar to pray.

Good was done in those camp meetings. When revivalistic Protestants speak of revival, it almost always entails looking back and looking forward – back to something that was, forward hoping to see it again. A lot has been written in the past few years that helps to puncture the yearning for a supposed golden time or the vague chase for nebulous revival.

Exploration of travailing prayer looks at the presence of focused, laboring intercession preceding spiritual awakening within the footprints of church history. Travailing is childbirth language; it is the language of being in labor, experiencing the pain of contractions. Rather than lament the absence of an idealized past with varying descriptions of revival – rather than hope wistfully to experience those descriptions of revival if God chooses to allow it (as if God is preoccupied on the phone rather than willingly pouring out the power and presence of the Holy Spirit) – discussions of travailing prayer highlight the rhythms of awakenings around the world the past few hundred years. Through this, we find helpful posture and practices for those hungry for spiritual awakening. A willingness to engage in travailing prayer should precede scanning the horizon for signs of revival.

Discussions on travailing prayer seem to be a necessary and pivotal counterpoint to any approach to revival that reduces awakening primarily to a personal experience of subjective emotional response. If we do not accept the burden of laboring in travailing prayer, we cannot complain of the need for awakened revival.

But I would say today, on a cool spring morning in the early years of the 21st century, living and breathing on American soil, that the people who pray for revival and the people who pray for reckoning aren’t always the same people. But they may be praying for the same thing.

People who pray for revival may want Holy Spirit power; people who pray for reckoning want the power of God to flip the power of oppressors upside-down.

People who pray for reckoning are people who are already used to praying travailing prayer, because they don’t have to go far to find themselves groaning in spirit.

The power of God may be poised, waiting to see whether the people accustomed to praying for revival will awaken to the deep-seated memory that revival and reckoning were never separated in the first place.

Reckoning came before the glory of the Lord would be revealed. The apocalypse – the uncovering – the unveiling – the revealing of God’s glorywould not occur without reckoning.

The people of Israel learned and forgot this time and again.

When the Word Became Flesh and walked around revealing God’s glory to untouchables and undesirables and overlookeds and underfeds, reckoning thundered in his wake; the same God spoke the Truth of God and to some it sounded like blessing and beatitude and to others it echoed of woe and dread.

To desire God’s glory without submitting to God’s reckoning is to desire the benefits of God without the costs of the way of Jesus.

Judas wanted to be near power and glory. Judas was near power and glory. Judas could not submit to the reckoning that occurs in the presence of God who was walking around eating fish and raising the dead and sitting in the houses of imperial collaborators.

Judas acted out of self-preservation and then regretted it; but the apocalypse – the uncovering – the unveiling of his own heart and motives became a further moment of reckoning for the rest of the disciples. In the face of the crucifixion, they also faced the revelation of Judas’ actions. Gospel readers know that before Judas tried to bolt as a disciple, he embezzled from the treasury box – a box funded by wealthy women supporting Jesus’ ministry.

In Acts 1, about 120 men and women – disciples of Jesus – gathered together earnestly praying, before Pentecost – before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In the midst of this travailing prayer, before Pentecost, they face what Judas has done – “he was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”

Reckoning comes before revival.

Had the wealthy women disciples noticed discrepancies in the treasury and prayed for God to reveal the truth of what was happening?

Had Judas stolen from someone who’d given their last two mites, their five loaves and two fish? Had someone powerless seen his quick, hidden dip into the group funds? Had someone prayed for reckoning? Someone who was dismayed but not shocked to learn about Judas betraying Jesus?

We cannot pray for revival without being willing to face the reckoning. If we submit to the reckoning, we may or may not see revival, but we will have submitted ourselves to the justice, mercy, and power of God – “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)

An impoverished unmarried woman prophesied in a time when her homeland was occupied by foreign forces:

“And Mary said:

‘My soul glorifies the Lord
     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.'”

This ferocity from the mother of Christ celebrates the fact that for many, reckoning means hope.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
” She rejoices because God has been “mindful of the humble state of his servant.”

Her suffering had not been overlooked; her humiliation had not been forgotten or ignored; the injustice experienced by her people was being answered in the arrival of the revelation of the Son of God – the God of jubilee and freedom, hope for widows and welcome for strangers.

People who pray for reckoning are people who are already used to praying travailing prayer, because they don’t have to go far to find themselves groaning in spirit.

There is a reckoning unfolding that we would avoid if we could – unless we are one of the people who have been crying out for it, praying for it, watching the horizon for it.

But the people who pray for revival and the people who pray for reckoning aren’t always the same.

Where in the Book of Acts can I find the Holy Spirit pouring out on groups of believers easily characterized by shared race – when that race is so predominantly represented because congregations and traditions sprang up geographically in places that less than a lifetime ago had Sundown signs posted at city limits? How can I say I long for individual and corporate spiritual awakening if I pray for revival in a room dominated by other white Americans?

Predominantly white towns and regions did not happen accidentally. Thousands of American churches are predominantly white because decades ago explicit signs or implicit laws made them that way and kept them that way.

Some of the oldest, storied, traditional Black Methodist denominations exist because white Methodists kept them out. Consider the AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Zion Church:

“The origins of this church can be traced to the John Street Methodist Church of New York City. Following acts of overt discrimination in New York (such as black parishioners being forced to leave worship), many black Christians left to form their own churches. The first church founded by the AME Zion Church was built in 1800 and was named Zion; one of the founders was William Hamilton, a prominent orator and abolitionist. These early black churches still belonged to the Methodist Episcopal Church denomination, although the congregations were independent. During the Great Awakening, the Methodists and Baptists had welcomed free blacks and slaves to their congregations and as preachers.”

Revival and reckoning had gone hand in hand – during the Great Awakening, Methodists and Baptists had welcomed “free Blacks and slaves to their congregations and as preachers.” But in the wake of the awakening, hearts closed; decades before the Civil War, the debate within the Methodist Episcopal Church over accepting Black ministers led to the official formation of the AME Zion Church.

Sitting in the humidity watching adults fumble down the aisle of the open air tabernacle toward the altar, crickets and cicadas loud against the singing of “I Surrender All,” almost every face around me was white.

How can God take seriously the prayers – even the travailing prayers – for revival and spiritual awakening that are prayed distracted from the cries, laments, and groans of those praying for reckoning?

We want revival only inasmuch as we desire to submit ourselves to reckoning, and the predominantly white Protestant Church in the United States on this Eve of Pentecost 2020 has shown nothing so clearly in the past six months as its damnable refusal to submit to anything, much less the convicting reckoning of Almighty God.

We want revival for ourselves and reckoning for our adversaries, rather than reckoning for ourselves and revival for our adversaries. The way of the cross of Jesus Christ welcomes the painful scrutiny of the Holy Spirit upon ourselves and the Holy Spirit’s merciful grace toward literally everyone else.

White Christians who pray for Holy Spirit power need to ask ourselves if we have a history of using power well. If we cannot answer that with a “yes” then we should beg God to spare us from pouring out any holy power on us that would consume us in its blaze. We should beg God to spare us until we have the character to withstand the presence of the Holy Spirit – “our God is a consuming fire.”

Desiring proximity to power and glory without submitting to the reckoning that occurs in the presence of God will place us squarely alongside a disciple – but not the disciple we would wish to emulate.

If revival does not come for you, it cannot come for me. If reckoning is what you are praying for, I cannot ignore it. If my prayers for revival sound trite while you groan for God to hear your pleas for justice, then I must join your groans and prayers for reckoning, sharing in your travailing as I can.

Ferocious Mary, mother of God prayed table-flipping prayers years before her son walked into the temple for a day of reckoning.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

If Christians are baffled at why our prayers are being sent away empty, maybe we should consider that it is because we are avoiding the reckoning while praying for the revival. The arm of God will crash down on us like thunder if we think we deserve the outpouring of the Holy Spirit while avoiding truth; if we think we are entitled to revival while others need to prove their worthiness.

The Holy Spirit of God poured out on women and men, empowering them to speak in different languages. Jews from all different regions heard God calling out to them in their own languages, with their own wordsGod’s heart in the sound of their own accent:

“‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

Pentecost has always only meant that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit means hearing God’s wonders. The Holy Spirit was set loose witnessing to the Resurrected Christ: “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.

If I do not have ears to hear the groaning for reckoning, I do not have ears to hear the wonders of God.

If we justify church leaders who abuse their positions to exploit others, we do not have ears to hear the wonders of God.

If we ignore the groans of suffering people inside or outside the church, we have stopped up our ears to ignore the wonders of God.

If we resist the opportunity to learn our own history and the history of others so that we can better grieve and lament our broken, shared story, then we dim the volume of the wonders of God.

If we scorn the accounts of the hurting out of the compulsion to justify people who remind us of us, we silence the mouth of Jesus; we drown out the wonders of God.

A few months ago, Rev. Shalom Liddick preached on intercession. Anointed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, she testified to this truth:

“I’m your keeper – you are mine. The fact that God came to Cain and asked, ‘where is your brother?’ tells me something. It tells me God will ask me about my community. ‘Hey – where is…?’ It is my responsibility to pray for you. Where are you, friend? We live in a culture where we want to be independent. But I need to make it a point to always present you before God, and you need to make it a point to present me before God.

Remember: you are your brother’s keeper; you are your sister’s keeper. You’re a watchman. And where God has placed you, God has placed you on purpose. Watchmen stand in the middle to communicate, to see, to defend. An intercessor stands in the middle to intervene on behalf of somebody else.

God calls me and calls you to be people who get in the middle and say, ‘God, can you help my sister? Can you help my brother? Can you help my community?’ God is present – in the middle – of everything.”

Reckoning comes before revival, and before we open our eyes on Pentecost Sunday, we must face the question of whether or not we have failed to be each others’ keepers. Whether we have neglected to stand in the middle and intervene.

In John Donne’s classic poem, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” he considers the question not only of inquiring whose funeral a bell announces, but also the dilemma of whose responsibility it is to ring a bell announcing a sermon. Reflecting on funeral bells tolling, he wonders if the bell could ring for himself, if he were too ill to realize how ill he was:

“PERCHANCE he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he
knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so
much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my
state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.

The church is Catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she
does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action
concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which
is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member.
And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is
of one author, and is one volume.”

Can one be so sick they do not recognize the extent of their illness – to such a degree that they do not realize the funeral bell tolls for them? Can our souls carry unseen disease, visible to those around us but hidden from ourselves, so that we do not even realize the reckoning is ours?

On responsibility to ring the sermon bell, he muses that those who realize the dignity of the task will quickly respond to share the responsibility: “The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth.” The bell tolls for the person who thinks it summons them.

But whether or not we have trained our ears to hear the summons is another matter. And this is the tragedy of Pentecost: “Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.'” We cannot hear what we do not listen for. We cannot hear revival if we believe it doesn’t sound like reckoning.

Every time a funeral bell tolls for someone else, it tolls for me, because their death diminishes me.

“I’m your keeper. You are mine. God came to Cain and asked, “where is your brother?”

The people who pray for revival and the people who pray for reckoning aren’t always the same people. But they may be praying for the same thing.

Come, Holy Spirit.

And let justice, like revival, roll down.

Wesleyan Accent ~ Tune In: New Room Livestream

This week, on your lunch break or between meetings, while you’re folding laundry or recuperating from surgery, the must-see experience is the New Room livestream:

A couple of times, Wesleyan Accent has reviewed this conference that’s only a few years old, with reflections like this, from At Your Table: New Room Deconstructed:

“If you really want to see something odd, attend a gathering where people apologize to each other for things that were said or done years ago. When that happens, you know the Holy Spirit is teasing out the deep places of peoples’ souls. At that moment, pastors and laypeople are willing to lay aside the desire to be perceived as in the right.”

The next year, “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.”

This year, the schedule of speakers promises to be more representative and diverse than ever. We hope you’ll tune in.

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 ~ 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?

Maxie Dunnam ~ Repent But Do Not Whimper

In 1992, distinguished New Testament scholar, Leander E. Keck, delivered the Lyman Beecher Lectures at Yale Divinity School on the theme, “Toward the Renewal of Mainline Protestantism.” He expanded those lectures into a very helpful book, The Church Confident. On the cover of that book was a challenging word. It was not a subtitle—but a sort of personal admonition from the author: “Christianity can repent, but it must not whimper.”

I’ve been thinking about that admonition a great deal lately. Frustration and confusion are crippling us in United Methodism. The possibility of separation dominates the conversation where two or three Methodists (particularly clergy) are gathered together. Though schismatic action has been going on for a long time, that word and the word “division” have become more commonly heard now. The truth is, we are a divided denomination. Thankfully some of our bishops are acknowledging that fact and are fostering helpful conversation about it. Bishop Michael Lowry focuses on the issue in one of the chapters of the book, Finding our Way.

We United Methodists are not alone in the Mainline in this matter of separation. The Episcopal, Presbyterian and Lutheran Churches have already experienced formal division. Keck did not specifically address the dynamics that have led to division in these denominations, but he acknowledged the malaise and impotence of the Mainline, and expressed hope that the British historian Paul Johnson would be proven right in his suggestion that “the current crises of the mainliners is actually the birth pains of the Fourth Great Awakening.”

My prayer is that Johnson is right. The setting is ripe for revival. And the essential response to that possibility is for God’s people not to whimper. Acknowledge our sin, and repent, yes, but not whimper. When we look at the Great Awakenings in our country, with the great Methodist Revival on the heels of them, two things were dominant: one, strong, clear proclamation and teaching of Biblical doctrine and two, passionate, earnest prayer.

Could it be that we are mistakenly centered on institutional unity, when a prior issue is crying for attention: unity in the Gospel. We can have institutional unity without revival, but we can’t have revival without Gospel unity that will come through repentance and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

At the close of His ministry, Jesus commissioned us for Kingdom work:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.

(Matt. 28:18-20)

In response to this commission, the American church in the 20th Century tended toward two distinctly opposite poles. One branch (the Mainline, sometimes called liberal) championed an optimistic commitment to social transformation as the central mission of the Church. Unfortunately, the salvation of souls diminished in priority, thus giving way to what was known as the social gospel. The other branch (often labeled evangelical, sometimes fundamentalist) responded in opposite fashion by stressing personal conversion, the dangers of the world, the centrality of evangelism, and an expectation of a promised place in heaven. One group made converts without making disciples; the other group sought to make disciples without conversion.

The crisis of our time can be the occasion for Gospel revival, where personal conversion and discipleship are integrated. One without the other is not the whole Gospel.

Those last words of Jesus to His disciples represent the marching orders that are to be followed until He returns. There is no more powerful motivational text for Christian mission and evangelistic zeal. And yet, this text is not shaping the ministry and mission of mainline churches. Could that be the primary cause for the crises of our mainline churches, and particularly our United Methodism? If it is so, Keck’s admonition needs to be heeded: we can repent, but we don’t need to whimper.