Many pastors and ministry leaders would erase the years 2020 and 2021 from history if it were possible. Middletown Seventh-day Adventist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, however, could not be more grateful for what those past two years have brought to their congregation. Through a series of divinely orchestrated events, my wife, Pam, and I, with our church members, experienced a spiritual transformation by allowing the Holy Spirit to fill us every day. It is my humble desire to share our experience as encouragement for others who may be struggling to find hope amid arduous spiritual battles.
A divided church
During twenty years of pastoral ministry, God has allowed me to experience the shadow of spiritual valleys, yet this past one seemed the darkest. By mid-2020, our congregation was experiencing unprecedented dissension and turmoil. A faction from within the church was actively seeking to change its nature, a young member was vocally challenging leadership and biblical standards of marriage and family, and in early March 2020, COVID-19 shut us down, forcing us to find alternative ways to worship and maintain fellowship. Around the same time, social and racial unrest erupted in Louisville, eventually seeping into our church and creating more tension and discord in a congregation comprising 26 nationalities.
By June 2020, I felt overworked and overwhelmed. I knew that if God did not intervene, my ministry and the spiritual lives of my congregants would be forever damaged.
A desperate prayer
In my distress, I cried to the Lord for help. Our elders and I gathered to pray together. Pleading with God from the depths of our hearts, we acknowledged our powerlessness and inability to find any lasting solution and claimed the promise that wherever two or three gather, the Lord will be present (Matt. 18:20).
One evening as I was praying with Pam, I felt prompted to call my cousin, Dorina Green. I had not spoken with her directly for more than a decade, but it occurred to me that she and her husband, Ed, an interracial couple, might offer insight on how to navigate the escalating social and racial tensions in our congregation. Rather than giving me political or civic suggestions, Dorina boldly implored me to call upon the Holy Spirit, both in my life and on behalf of my church. With desperate and eager ears, I listened, and my cousin “preached” to me, the pastor, for forty minutes on the role of the Holy Spirit in Christian life and ministry. She also shared her testimony of healing through the power of the Holy Spirit a decade prior and how she has lived her life walking in the Spirit ever since. Her conviction broke through to my battered heart, and I began to feel hope again.
After closing our conversation with prayer, I decided to immediately follow her advice, surrendering all my life and ministry and asking for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. While I knew that true spiritual success did not come through power or might but by God’s Spirit (Zech. 4:6), so many times, I had tried to solve such issues with my own wisdom and methods.
With renewed hope, I excitedly shared with Pam what I had just learned. My enthusiasm and conviction were contagious, and she jumped at the opportunity to join me. The following day, I prayed again and called Pastor Dennis Smith, whose writings and ministry had been the foundation of my cousin’s transforming spiritual experience. That divinely orchestrated conversation with Smith led to buying the whole series of his books, and at his counsel, Pam and I began reading 10 Days: Prayers and Devotions to Experience the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
A divine intervention
At first, our initiative met with increased tensions and attacks from Satan in our personal and spiritual lives. Were it not for the support of Pam, I would have quit completely. Yet we persisted in prayer and daily surrender, receiving divine peace and victory by allowing the Holy Spirit to fill us every morning. We knew we needed revival and God’s power, and that comes only through prayer and by the presence of the Holy Spirit. As our excitement grew, our joy began to spill over into every sermon and conversation we had. One Sabbath morning, we invited members and friends to join us on our spiritual journey, and to our astonishment, more than 50 people signed up for small groups. At the end of one full year, we still had 43 active participants engaged in small-group Bible studies on revival and the role of the Holy Spirit. In all my pastoral experience, we had never maintained such a percentage of retention.
I had always dreamed that my church would experience revival and the outpouring of the latter rain and that we would all come to know God and each other in an intimate way through unconditional love. Now the Holy Spirit made it happen. The small-group participants vowed commitment and confidentiality. Our people flourished in this safe space, openly sharing their struggles, and a sincere vulnerability bonded them to one another. As a result of such spiritual intimacy, judgment and criticisms diminished and empathy increased, eventually spreading through the whole congregation and uniting them.
This new safe and unified atmosphere attracted newcomers, and during the pandemic, when other churches shut their doors, Middletown, though a small church, remained open and had an average of 10 to 15 nonmembers attending every week. Visitors streamed through our doors from all kinds of places and circumstances. One cancer patient I had met on a hospital visit attended for several months with her husband until she was too sick and closed her eyes in Jesus with His love and peace in her heart.
The Holy Spirit irrefutably has transformed our church and is still healing many believers in our community.
A deepening experience
We added more small groups in January 2021. Our aim was prayer, revival, and the outpouring of Jesus’ promise of the Comforter. More and more, the fruit of the Spirit began manifesting itself in the Christian experience of the members, resulting in numerical church growth. In 2021, Middletown added nine individuals through baptism during a time of pandemic restrictions.
In August 2021, we invited all revival group participants to the first-ever “Hope-Healing-Commitment-Holy” retreat for the purpose of deeply experiencing the holiness of God and His divine healing. The retreat began Friday night as Pastor Dennis Smith joined us virtually to introduce the concepts of emotional healing and spiritual deliverance. Sabbath morning’s messages included “Experiencing God’s Love,” “Emotional Oppressions,” and “God’s Will to Heal.” Later, in small breakout groups, participants shared their deepest failures, frustrations, and fears. A beautiful footwashing and Communion service preceded an awe-inspiring personal testimony of healing and deliverance by my cousin, Dorina. We then guided participants through prayers of forgiveness and how to claim deliverance from emotional pain and besetting sins. The Holy Spirit moved 16 of the 20 attendees to come forward for healing, and we anointed them in a Spirit-filled, Spirit-led service.
Praises for deliverance and emotional healing lasted for nearly an hour amid spontaneous prayers and songs to the Lord! Everyone present testified that it was by far the most moving spiritual experience they had ever been a part of in any church setting. Instead of conflicts, tension, and division, there was now peace, unity, and a sense of God’s presence working among us.
The following week, the church conducted its first-ever Revival and the Holy Spirit Sabbath, with the entire Sabbath service dedicated to teachings and testimonies about the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian’s life. The small group and retreat participants shared what they had learned during the past 14 months, told of their miraculous transformations, and recounted the blessings of living a life filled and led by the Holy Spirit. Pastor Stephen Farr, the guest speaker, related his congregation’s transforming experience with the Holy Spirit.
At the end of the service, he extended an invitation to the whole church to take part in the revival experience. This new season of the revival groups would be based on the study of Pastor Dennis Smith’s 40 Days: Prayers and Devotions to Prepare for the Second Coming. Seven new groups formed that day, with a total of 63 people, of whom about one-third were nonmembers. God’s presence and power showed us that He knows no boundaries and can prevail over any challenges we might face.
Author Ellen White reminds us, “Since this [the Holy Spirit] is the means by which we are to receive power, why do we not hunger and thirst for the gift of the Spirit? Why do we not talk of it, pray for it, and preach concerning it? The Lord is more willing to give the Holy Spirit to those who serve Him than parents are to give good gifts to their children. For the daily baptism of the Spirit every worker should offer his petition to God. Companies of Christian workers should gather to ask for special help, for heavenly wisdom, that they may know how to plan and execute wisely. Especially should they pray that God will baptize His chosen ambassadors . . . with a rich measure of His Spirit. The presence of the Spirit with God’s workers will give the proclamation of truth a power that not all the honor or glory of the world could give.”1
A transformed church
The Holy Spirit irrefutably has transformed our church and is still healing many believers in our community. He has led us to an intensive study of the book of Acts to learn from the post-Pentecost early church. New small groups have formed to study all aspects of Holy Spirit living. I felt inspired to start small groups for men committed to living life with integrity to the fullest, called Oxygen Fellowship for Men. In it, they learn from each other, support each other, and pray with each other as in no other church group. The only requirement for participation is a desire to be daily filled by God’s presence—spiritual oxygen for their souls—and revived by the power of the Holy Spirit.
During our second year of walking in the Spirit and studying the book of Acts, we employed a guide adapted from Mark Finley’s Ten Days in the Upper Room. We concluded the ten-day study with a midweek Pentecost prayer service in which more than half of our Sabbath service attendance showed up for a fresh baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Members and friends of Middletown will forever testify to the power of daily Holy Spirit baptism. It has transformed their lives—and our church—from the inside out. We thank God not only for His divine deliverance through trials but also for giving us a new Holy Spirit-filled church that is spiritually alive and eager to take the gospel message to all the world.
- Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), 50.