My last post Lee University’s Statement About the “Revival” On Its Campus has garnered a good deal of interest. Since that gathering is “just around the corner” and my situation in the Church of God and Lee is strong, last evening my wife and I ascended up to the chapel on campus and experienced what is taking place.
Pentecostal churches have had to rise to meet the pastoral challenges that come with worship in the Spirit, and have done so since the beginning of the movement over a hundred years ago. Those lessons were not transferred to many Charismatic groups in the 1960’s and 1970’s, which is one reason why the movement had structural and leadership problems. Some of that was made worse by the stand-offish attitude of some Pentecostal churches and ministers. One notable exception was Paul Laverne Walker, long time pastor of the Mt. Paran Church of God in Atlanta (not far from the Church of the Apostles) and later Presiding Bishop of the Church of God. His son Mark is now President of Lee, and that background has held him in good stead in this situation.
Because of this heritage, as a Church of God institution Lee is better positioned than most to have such an event in its corporate life. That was evident when you walk into the chapel. Although many reports emphasise the spontaneity and lack of structure in the event, underneath the surface things are well in hand, something you don’t always see in a denomination which isn’t much on “organised” religion. Lee’s Campus Pastor, Robert Fultz, is best described as its facilitator, keeping things on track. Ushers find and direct you to an available seat, just like in church. As a result of this the flow of the Spirit is very smooth and not sidetracked by organisational problems.
Since this is an event where the students have taken the lead, Lee has some advantages there too. Many were raised in the Church of God, product of its youth group system. That has been disparaged but in this case its products have risen to the occasion. They all know the same worship choruses and some older hymns, they’ve worshiped like this before in one form or another. Making things better is the fact that Lee has a very deep bench of musicians, many of which have done so in church. What is special about this gathering is that people who have been prepared for this without having the opportunity to lead suddenly step out and do it. In a society which tends to hold adulthood in abeyance, this is really important.
If the praise and worship aspect sound like the big thing here…well, it is. There’s an altar open for prayer (for more of what this is about, click here) but in reality it’s an extended praise and worship session. Every so often someone will get to give his or her testimony of how God has moved in their life. Beyond all of that the whole object of a gathering like this is to experience God, and that’s something one does during this meeting. The Spirit is very sweet here.
In his message to the “Lee family,” Dr. Walker was reluctant to call this a “revival.” After having been there, I can see why. There are many different ideas of what constitute a revival, but one element is conspicuous by its absence: a leading preacher. From the days of Finney to the Toronto and Pensacola revivals, most–but not all–have been preacher and sermon led. In a church where “bishops and other clergy” rule the roost, what’s going on is exceptional, and that may in part explain Dr. Walker’s reluctance.
From my own standpoint, the problem with things called revivals is that the rhetoric surrounding them always ends up with a “Pickett’s Charge” mentality: starting with this event, we’re going to mount our spiritual steeds, rush and wipe out God’s opponents, and win the victory. The problem with this is that, like the last war we fought with cavalry, it’s too easy for the enemy to “empty the saddles.” What this needs to be is the beginning of a marathon. We didn’t get into the mess we’re in overnight and there’s no reason to believe it will be solved in a short period of time. In men’s ministries, one of our biggest challenges was to transition from an event-driven ministry to a sustainable discipleship based one. That’s what’s in front of us here: we need to move from an event to spread the joy through discipleship and Christian living.
What is happening at Lee is beautiful, and my prayer is that this beauty can be poured out on the earth.