PREFACE: ARE YOU READY FOR THE COMING REVIVAL?
I can remember a time when I sensed God was very upset. The Bible says we are not to grieve the Holy Spirit, but on that day, I was with hundreds of Christians who, apparently, collectively caused him much grief.
I went to a meeting in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, sometime around 1979. Three hundred pastors and Christian leaders gathered that day. There had been much prayer before this gathering, and then it happened! The Spirit of God descended on all of us in a way I have seldom experienced before or since. There was spontaneous confession among those pastors present. People were deeply in prayer, aware of the presence of God, seeking him with all of their hearts. God’s Spirit filled the room.
Then someone got up and made a statement that initially sounded good to me and probably to others as well. What he said went something like this: “Let’s organize this and see it happen all over New England!”
It was a warm day and all the windows were open around the meeting hall. Before the man finished speaking, it seemed to me that the Spirit of God left us, as though blowing out through all the open windows. The sense of holiness and the fire of God’s revival presence disappeared like a mist and was gone. We sat together in an empty room.
“God,” I asked, “why are you so upset? Is it wrong for us to try to keep things going when you pour out your Spirit?” What seemed like the beginning of a revival ended just as suddenly as it had come, and I know of no long-lasting fruit or further developments from that event, powerful as it was.
How had we grieved the Holy Spirit? Did God get upset because of some small statement that one man had made? Was there something wrong with our trying to keep the fire burning? Can we ever get it right?
The Quiet Revival
I can tell you about another recent New England revival that lasted longer than the two-hours in Sturbridge. This revival has burned steadily now for about forty years, and during this time has not only transformed Boston, but has affected the region and the world. Yet, no one has stepped in to control it or organize it, because no one realized it was happening until long after it started.
Research conducted by the Emmanuel Gospel Center in the early 1990s showed that we were in the longest and most aggressive period of church planting the city had ever seen. There had been fifty percent growth in the number of churches since the 1960s, despite a sharp decline in the number of mainline, established Protestant churches whose spires once defined the Boston skyline. No one had expected this. Even those of us working in the city were unaware of the extent of what God was doing. Today we call this phenomenon the Quiet Revival. The movement continues today, not only in Boston, but it has emerged in different expressions in many urban communities worldwide.
The fact that this all happened under the radar may be part of God’s strategy. What if we had said at its outset, back in the mid-1960s, “Look at the great revival in urban communities! Now what can we do? How do we keep this going? How can we make this spread to other groups as well?” But we didn’t have the opportunity even to ask those questions because we didn’t know it was happening. It was almost as though God kept the revival a secret from us Christians so we wouldn’t ruin it! It was as if he couldn’t trust us! Is it any different now?
What’s Next? Revival?
The churches born in the early years of the Quiet Revival have matured. Though churches may die, merge, or move, today there are nearly twice as many churches in Boston as there were at the start of the revival. Today, one of every six churches in Boston and neighboring Cambridge has services in Spanish. Today, across New England, there are more than 420 Brazilian congregations as well as strong church systems in many other communities. For the first five years of this decade, from 2000 to 2005, a new church opened in Boston on average every twenty days, and it appears that the trend continues for the last half of this decade as well. We have seen revival! So today, I ask, what’s next for Boston, our region, and beyond?
I honestly believe God wants to do something new and major in Boston, and I really believe that this time he wants his church to be involved. He does not want to do this behind our backs. As a father draws his children into his work, he is longing for a partnership with his church, his own sons and daughters. He wants to hang the sign outside his shop: God & Sons & Daughters, Unlimited.
But are we ready for the coming revival? What would he have to do to get us ready? If we have a tendency to ruin what he is doing, if he can’t trust us with his work, how must we change? How can we learn to fit in?
A Letter from Jesus to the Western Churches
I think I have found, in Scripture and in life, a process that God can use to transform us from being people who are in the way, ineffective, inept, unfruitful, and out of step, to being people who are aligned with Christ, effective, bearing much fruit, in step with him, and ready to be a part of kingdom growth as God does his work.
Judy and I have had the privilege of visiting developing countries, and living in the global city of Boston gives us opportunity to get to know lots of folks from many cultures of the world, but I write from the perspective of a Westerner. I see a reflection of my Western church in the pages of the Bible, and I hear God speaking to our culture when I read Jesus’ letter to the Laodiceans in Revelation chapter 3. It starts out, “To the angel of the church in Laodicea,” but pretend with me for a moment that the words are: “To the angel of the Western church in the twenty-first century write. . .”
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Rev 3:14–22)
I do believe this message is as true for us Westerners today as it was for them. Our Lord has carefully, and lovingly, I might add, observed our deeds and found us wanting. Like the Laodiceans, our dependence on our riches, knowledge, and technology has made us proud and self-sufficient. We become like rulers. And that is not the role Jesus has mapped out for us!
Thankfully, Jesus offered the Laodiceans the way out of their ineffective life and he offers the same to us. In the pages that follow, I will use this little letter as an outline for sharing some of the principles I have learned in over forty years of ministry. I believe these principles will help you, too.
I have great hope for my culture and my Western church and I have great hope for you, whatever culture you are from, that together we can overcome the Laodicean problem, and that we can discover secrets to effective ministry that God has hidden right in front of our faces. May God give us all eyes to see what he is doing, ears to hear what he is saying, and the courage to obey him when he calls.
Douglas A. Hall
(text excerpted from The Cat and the Toaster, pp. xi–xx)