What Does Revival Look Like?

As it is the week leading up to Pentecost, I wanted to post on my thoughts on something I have struggled to communicate with my churches: revival. It touches on thoughts I expressed last week (Hooked). I hear the word revival bandied about a lot in Methodist conversations with little to anchor it to any definition. I hear it expressed by church leaders and our General Secretary, Martyn Atkins, wrote a whole book on it (Resourcing Renewal). Most often, I hear the word thrown out in conversations where we are discussing the decline of the church and the challenges it brings. So, while we are looking at the future which brings questions of number of buildings, the use of buildings, shortage of ministers, how ministers gifts/graces are used (or not used), etc., someone will invariably say, ‘But, God may bring revival!’

This is the trump card played that is awfully hard to argue with. Of course I believe that God can (and will) bring revival, but trying to continue the discussions tend to make me seem like someone who doesn’t. The bigger question I wish we would spend more time on is, ‘What does revival look like?’ I think it would tease out what people think they mean rather than assuming it is obvious to everyone. I have a suspicion that what people mean by revival is that God will bring a flood of people into the church, thereby saving 1) the church itself, 2) the way of life/being church that has continued, and 3) from any changes. It will look like what it did 20-50 years ago (or, at least what people think it did). Hoping for revival to bring us through this absolves us from the work that God calls us to participate.

Is this overly cynical? Perhaps. The problem is that I don’t know because we don’t ever ask the question (though I believe I am not far off). I began this by saying I struggle talking about ‘revival’ with my churches. It’s not that we don’t – the word has come up. The problem is that we are all using the same word, but we attach a different meaning to it (much like talking about a ‘rubber’, which has a completely different context in American English and simply mean  an ‘eraser’ in British English).

From my perspective, it is easier to say what I believe revival is not (which may account for the perception that I am negative or depressing). I do not believe that God is going to bring back the ‘good ole days’ when the church was full on Sunday and people were sat in their pews with their hymn sandwich services (not that I am saying the hymn sandwich killed the church). Could God do it? Sure. But this is the God of Isaiah who promised to do a new thing.

Where I see revival heading is a much deeper movement than bringing more people back to church. It’s a chance for transformation – not just in the individualistic sense (but that is part of it), but in the church community itself. It’s asking why do we want revival at all? Is it really to get people through the door? The problem is that talking about transformation doesn’t speak to the question that people fear – what if my church building closes. So, those questions about who to do do get them through the door/increase giving dominates.

So, if I post on revival, I would like to hear what anyone thinks what revival looks like. I am quite interested in how I can bridge the gap between myself (and others who want to think about revival differently) and others who want to see revival as a return to lost of folk in the church.


7 thoughts on “What Does Revival Look Like?

  1. Hi Bryan,

    Well, yes. On the surface, I don’t have a problem with hoping for revival. It’s teasing out what is meant by revival. I sometimes get the feeling that these British Methodists are somewhat Calvinists in this area – if God is going to bring about revival, then God will do it when God is ready and there is nothing we can do about it but wait!

    But, what concerns me more, and this is born out of just believing that God will just bring revival, is questioning what does it look like? John Wesley likely brought revival to England by accident, or at least he probably didn’t see that what he was doing would gain the momentum it did. He was trying to organise people to live out the revival God brought in people and it ended in a movement.

  2. Will,

    I wish I could find this now. John Wesley had a critic once who said that he should wait for the Lord to bring people to conversion because it is the Lord’s grace that does it. Wesley replied that he believed we should work as hard as we can – as if it depended entirely on our own human efforts – and then let God’s grace work where it will. The ordinary mean by which God works revival and conversion is the human way.

    Doesn’t the word revival come from roots that means something like “return to life”? I may be wrong. I have not looked it up. To me, that is the idea at its root. It is a bringing back to life something that was dead or dormant. A churched revived many scoop up new members, but it could just as easily be close to the same size, but full of a new Spirit and energy.

    I tend to think that any revived church will grow as a work of the Holy Spirit. God adds to the numbers of living churches. But that is more of a theory than a hard and fast law.

  3. John, you are correct. The biblical word for revival means “resuscitation” and in some cases, “resurrection.” It presumes that something has died. Historical revivals have happened when the CHURCH gets revived by the Holy Spirit. I think that some churchfolk hope that God revives all the heathen out there and then brings them in without any doing on our part. Revival comes to dead Christians first, then the resurrected go out to proclaim life to the world.

  4. Will:
    I’ve been visiting UMC churches in my city for the last year. I’ve visited 8 so far. If you don’t mind I’d like to have a frank and honest discussion about the state of the UMC. Of course my perspective will be from an outsider who is new to denomination but who is very much interested in the UMC. What do you think?

  5. Brother Will,
    thanks for your question but I would ask also: What does the revival look like in the beginning of the methodist movement 1939? I think there are several things among others:

    1. I think maybe it all started with the New Year Party on »Mon. JANUARY 1, 1739. — Mr. Hall, Kinchin, Ingham, Whitefield, Hatchins, and my brother Charles, were present at our love-feast in Fetter-Lane, with about sixty of our brethren. About three in the morning, as we were continuing constant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, in so much that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of his Majesty, we broke out with one voice, “We praise thee, O God; we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.”«. (Extract from John Wesley Journals)

    2. There was according to conference minutes of some late convesations between Rev. Mr. Wesleys and others (Bristol 13. 05. 1746) a sound doctrine about the Original sin:
    »Q. 1. Call an unbeliever (whatever he be in other respects) challenge anything of God’s justice? A. Absolutely nothing but hell. And this is a point which we cannot too much insist on.
    Q. 2. Do we empty men of their own righteousness, as we said at first? Do we sufficiently labor, when they begin to be convinced of sin, to take away all they lean upon? Should we not then endeavor with all our might to overturn their false foundations? A. This was at first one of our principal points: And it ought to be so still. For, till all other foundations are overturned, they cannot build upon Christ.
    Q. 3. Did we not then purposely throw them into convictions; into strong sorrow and fear? Nay, did we not strive to make them inconsolable, refusing to be comforted? A. We did. And so we should do still. For the stronger the conviction, the speedier is the deliverance. And none so soon receive the peace of God, as those who steadily refuse all other comfort.«

    This was and is still a traditional pessmistic Anthropology in revolutionary times of glorification of the human dignity. I would call it the concept of »Soli deo gloria« with the intention to bring the human selfrighteousness in sorrow and fearful conscience.

    3. The New Birth in life of John Wesley (1738) and the Sermons about this experimental knowledge of Jesus Christ as Saviour according to the New Testament.

    Your Brother in our Lord Jesus Christ from UMC in Koleshino (Macedonia, Europe)

  6. John: I agree, and have heard about Wesley’s arguements that he made against the Quakers that make a similar point. It reminds me of what our General Secretary has said, ‘We perform certain actions to show to God that we are open to renewal and allow his Spirit to work through us.’ I think Wesley would agree!

    Mark: Thanks for your comment, and I quite agree. The problem is that so many have this idea that church is the ‘faith thing’ we do in the week. If the church closes, then what becomes of the faith? So, try as we might, the conversation will eventually turn back around to the size of the congregation and how we will fund it.

    Bryan: I will be honest and say that my knowledge of the UMC is a little shaky, since I am a British Methodist now. I left 6 years ago. I would recommend John’s blog (above) and Alan Bevere’s blog, who daily posts links from around the ‘Methoblogosphere’ that are discussing the questions you ask. That said, there are many growing United Methodist Churches that seem to be going against the grain of the nationwide decline.

    Mirche : Thank you for your comment, and of your digging through the early Methodist documents. Methodism in Britain resembles little of the early Methodist movement, and I think we need to relook at it closely (as some are actually doing).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s