Editorial Note: A local elder wrote asking some searching questions of a pastor concerning revival. This sparked the response on the part of the pastor that we are sharing here, along with the letter.
I am writing you at the request of Pastor _____ of the _____ district as respects an article in the January 14th issue of The Review and Herald by John Hancock regarding the revival taking place in our Adventist colleges and academies.
As we observe Laymen's Year, we are made even more aware of the need for a revival in our churches. While the Review article reports on the results, it gives precious little information on the methods. While the Holy Spirit must be given credit, it is also a fact that the Holy Spirit will not force His will on anyone.
Would you please tell us how this revival was initiated? Was its beginning spontaneous, or were human agencies used to trigger this awakening? Elder Hancock speaks of teams going to other churches. How were they able to carry this revival with them? The article speaks of prayer, witnessing, and "the power of group dynamics." How were these employed to bring about the desired result? In other words, how was the ground prepared that the seed might germinate and what human methods were used to fertilize it?
Bearing in mind that I am now considering a local church rather than a school and that the membership is spread out over a radius of up to twenty miles, we would appreciate any suggestions you might have on how these methods might apply to these conditions.
I thank you for whatever help you can give us, and I pray that God's Spirit may continue to work to a greater extent as the days go by.
DEAR BROTHER ______:
Your letter confronts me with a rather awesome task for, as you have suggested in your letter of inquiry, revival is the work of the Holy Spirit and its fruition in reformation is, likewise, the work of the Holy Spirit. We believe that what has taken place on our campus, in the mainstream of its expression, is a genuine opening of hearts and lives to the Spirit's work. We are praying that this experience will, individually and collectively, find root, blossom, and bear fruit in continued changes in the life and continued concern for souls.
You mention a concern for Laymen's Year as it relates to the witness of your church. Your question is, How was the ground prepared that the seed might germinate, and what human methods were used to fertilize it? Permit me to suggest that God prepared the ground in many ways. There was a hunger and a concern for revival in the hearts of some faculty and students here. During the summer months preceding the opening of school there were isolated, but significant, in stances of conversion where radical changes were wrought in the lives of students who, the preceding year, were problems on our campus. There was the witnessing impact of student evangelistic teams, like the Gymnics and Collegiate Action for Christ, who visited our camp meetings during the preceding summer. The result was a large influx of freshmen who brought with them a basic openness to spiritual things. These were but a few of the things that helped to prepare the soil.
Now you ask, How was this soil fertilized? In answer to your question I would like to say that a context was provided at the Campus Concern Retreat during the second weekend of the school year where those who wanted to seek God through an experience in prayer could take time from their studies to do just that. The retreat experience highlights a key concept essential to revival in your church. An environment must be provided in which there is time to place the priority on spiritual concerns without distractions of any kind. This is a must and has Biblical precedent in the experience of the disciples, who were instructed by Jesus to return to Jerusalem and wait until they would receive power from on high. When the Spirit was poured out on them, they were all together with one accord in one place.1 We live in a busy world, but a time must be provided in which people can learn to know God and one another better if revival is to occur. A retreat provides an ideal setting for this, but it can occur under other circumstances on a special weekend or Sabbath in the church, or even a fellowship in a home but a time and space context is a must.
The Dynamic of Prayer
A second vital consideration is that such a venture must have a specific objective related to knowing God and one another better through some spiritual dynamic. In our case, it was prayer; this was the theme of our retreat. Care was taken to invite a man to lead us into this experience who could not only give a Bible study on prayer, but who had a prayer experience in his own life, Elder E. L. Minchin. I am of the opinion that his prayer relationship with God was of greater importance than the back ground of his experience as a minister of the gospel. In many churches there are spiritual giants who could speak out of their own experience concerning their relationship with God in prayer, and in many cases it would be possible to invite a minister to present this emphasis. Other spiritual concerns to which such a group might address itself could include a study of the Holy Spirit, openness to the Word of God, the urgency of the unfinished task, the role of the Holy Spirit, et cetera.
A third factor that allowed the Holy Spirit to open channels to bring this blessing to us was the dynamic of shared experience. An environment free of distraction is important; a specific spiritual concern and thrust is vital; but it is equally important that this climate allow for a free exchange, or sharing, of experience in the area of concern. This should take place one to one, in small groups, and in larger testimony services. It can spill over into church services. Ellen White suggests that the social meeting, or the shared experience, is one of the most effective means that God has to win souls.2 While it should never take the place of Biblical preaching, the pattern can be varied from time to time to include it. It is a dynamic that will keep the church alive as these experiences are shared in the church worship services. If you seek revival in a context provided for that purpose, it is imperative that provision be made for people to openly and honestly share what God means in their lives and at their level of response and commitment to Him. The gospel became a spreading flame in the early church through an exercise of this dynamic of shared experience.
The Open Heart
Fourth, an attitude of openness to God and to one another must be encouraged. This is not to say that the revival context becomes a confessional, or sensitivity session. God has given us guidelines; but there is a proper exercise of group dynamics where we can find fellowship with one an other because we learn to know one an other as brothers in Christ, learn to pray together, and learn to be concerned for one another, and bear one another's burdens. It is my conviction that the Holy Spirit is waiting to come in when God's people, individually and collectively, take the time to create an environment in which they address themselves to the basic concern of how to know God through prayers that are honest and open. When people begin to do this and" share the results with one another, revival comes. These four points that I have outlined in the above paragraphs rep resent the human initiatives that were taken. They are initiatives that can be adapted to nearly every situation. These are the principles that our students share when they visit churches and academies and engage in their missionary endeavor with people who are not members of our church. "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another."3
Can the Experience Last?
You may be wondering if there are principles and dynamics that will sustain such an experience in the life of the individual, the group, and the church at large. I believe there are. They are four in number. Before listing them, however, let me suggest that the dynamic of openness to shared experience with God and man is expressed in two dimensions: one vertical, the other horizontal. The vertical must precede the horizontal. It is quite possible that we have been attempting to do, as a church, at a horizontal level what can only happen when we open ourselves to a shared experience with God in the vertical dimension. What do I mean? The first two of these four principles, or dynamics, for sustaining a revival experience, or a relationship with God, express the vertical relationship be tween God and man through prayer and a proper approach to the study of God's Word. When I step into a devotional life that is vital, open, and honest with God, this makes the horizontal dimension possible because I know that God loves and accepts me and is willing to give me room to grow. I can now share this with others in a way that was impossible before. My witness becomes powerful and persuasive. The same methods and the same words that were used formerly are now vested with the power of God's Spirit. It is thus that openness to a shared experience with God leads to openness and shared experience with my fellow man. It expresses itself in the church in fellowship, and out of the church in a concern to witness.
The importance of fellowship cannot be overemphasized. We have been richly blessed on the campus and in this community as students and adult members of the church have formed prayer fellowship circles. A few guidelines are helpful in the formation of these circles. The pastor of the church should be aware of their existence, and should be welcomed into them at his discretion. These should not be discussion groups in which fine points of theology are debated. They should be for the purpose of knowing God and one another in a personal way. This should be the objective for these groups. Shared experience should be the emphasis. One thing that helps is for the group to select a devotional book such as Steps to Christ, The Ministry of Healing, or some writing of the New Testament that each member of the group will in his personal devotions read during the week. Then when the fellowship group meets, the emphasis is on shared experience that may include what they have read from their devotional book, answers to prayer, requests for prayer, and concerns of the group that the Holy Spirit brings into focus. No one individual should monopolize or guide in these shared experiences. They should not be study groups; the study should be done individually in the personal devotional life. They are groups for sharing experience with Christ. The groups should be cautioned that this is not an occasion to build ego, nor to tear it down, but simply to be open and honest in giving God credit where it is due, expressing a willingness to trust Him where we have needs.
These groups have been greatly blessed as they have learned to pray conversationally. This is a prayer where God is approached through the opening of the heart as to a friend. His presence is acknowledged in the group in such a way that there is no need to go right around the circle, or to be unduly formal in the prayer. There may be periods of silence, the group may want to follow a thought that is introduced in this kind of common prayer. One individual may enter the circle a number of times with his prayer. The whole, if approached with reverence, is something that draws the group closer to God and closer to one another. The Holy Spirit then shows individuals and the group areas for outreach or witness. These may lie in the structured program of the church, or they may be special needs that come into focus to which the group, or individuals in it, will respond. Thus every area of God's work is strengthened and moves forward in the power of prayer.
This is the essence of what has happened in many lives on this campus. This is basic ally what our students are sharing in their outreach trips. If I can be of further help to you in answering questions you may have, do not hesitate to correspond. None of the things mentioned in this letter are new; all of them are scriptural, and no one of us has a corner on them. They have been there all the time, and God has been waiting for us to open our lives to their exercise. We need your prayers and your fellowship, and we are hopeful that God will bless your church and your community.
1. Acts 2:1.
2. Christ's Object Lessons, pp. 299, 300.
3. John 13:35.