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.