This is certainly a season of change. Change in our habits, our work, our church activities, and almost every aspect of our lives. Things have been turned upside down for our families, and especially our children and the unpredictability of how school will look for them.
So, I propose another layer of change that will soon show up in our church life. We may have even swept it under the ecclesiastical rug and pushed it into the back of our minds. However, we are still facing the division of the United Methodist Church. When the delayed General Conference happens around the middle of 2021, the world-wide UM denomination will no longer exist as it does today. We must be prepared, not only as a restructured church organized in a different way, but we must prepare ourselves spiritually.
As we divide structurally, we must view this separation as an opportunity to be a part of a new movement based on scriptural holiness much reflective of the initial Wesleyan Movement that swept Europe and America. The key word then and now seems to be “revival.” At the heart of the Wesleyan revival was the “rediscovery of the pure apostolic doctrines and practices of the early church.” John Wesley took these doctrines and practices and created a disciple-making movement that empowered and encouraged multitudes of people to join God’s vision.
This can happen again if we are willing to lead in making it happen. In this time of cultural, political, denominational, and across-the-board relational upheaval, the time just may be ripe for a spiritual movement that begins in the hearts of people and spreads to church and community. We, as a church and as transformed disciples, can be the spark that drives a new movement, a revival that transforms and gives hope to those who are starving for the true Gospel.
Winfield Bevins is director of church planting at Asbury Seminary. He proposes six essential marks of the early Wesleyan Movement, and suggests they are relevant in revival and movement in today’s world. I have taken these six marks and paraphrased Bevins, adding my reflections.
Changed Lives- Movements begin as people’s lives are changed by an encounter with our living God. It may begin by a personal conversion experience that spreads to another person and then another person. Revivals and movements are not about slogans and numbers, but about lives that are radically changed and spilled out into the lives of others. And then there is a “tipping point” in which the personal transformation begins to cause social and cultural change. If what we are doing as a church isn’t changing the lives of people and giving them the nurture to grow into the full nature of Jesus, we are wasting our time. We are just another service organization with good intentions.
Contagious Faith- The reason movements and revivals spread is that a simple, life-changing message is shared by ordinary people. Sure, Wesley and other leaders spoke to large crowds, but it was the lay folks who spread the gospel of transformation across the world. The passion of one person telling their story to another can become contagious. Conversations, one person at a time, over maybe an indefinite period, was the most effective means of witnessing then and continues to be effective today. Just telling the story and listening to their story!
The Holy Spirit- The Spirit of God acting within the power of God’s written word becomes an agent of personal heart change and transformation. The desire to live a holy life reflective of the life of Jesus becomes top priority. This creates a passion to tell and show others a “better way of living.” The Holy Spirit must become the guiding force of personal and church vision. This is why revival originates in the devotional life of disciples who keep a clear path into the presence of God through the “means of grace” (prayer, meditation, study of Scripture, meeting with like-minded persons, Holy Communion) and the power and involvement of the Holy Spirit.
Discipleship Systems- Soon after John Wesley’s preaching ministry began, he realized that preaching was not enough to sustain spiritual growth in the lay people who heard the Gospel, especially the first time. They needed continual support, community, and some sort of structure to help them along their journey. Wesley organized the people into class meetings and bands according to their level of spiritual maturity and the desire to grow their faith. Spiritual practices (means of grace) were the foundation of these groups and reflected the transformational purposes of these small groups and the entire discipleship system.
Apostolic Leadership- Movements and revivals draw their vision from the model of the early church, mobilizing all of God’s people for work in the kingdom. So, this idea that lay persons can lead a movement was not original to Wesley, it was how the early church operated especially during the first two centuries preConstantine. The apostolic emphasis seen in the early church and the Wesleyan movement was to “empower and release every member of the body of Christ to use their gifts and talents for God.” Wesley worked to empower thousands of laity, who became leaders of the movement. This can and must happen again in our world today as the need for a transformational movement is so evident.
Organic Multiplication- Movements and revivals can be referred to as organic because they have a ground-level, from-the-roots, and laity-led focus. There is an excitement among the people and a strong desire to look outward into the surrounding community and tell the story of Jesus and to demonstrate the transformation that He brings. A movement will grow as disciples are made, lives are changed, and new ministries are formed. The Holy Spirit moves among the efforts of His people and multiplication takes place. I sincerely believe that the time is ripe for revival in our hearts and the life of the church. The pandemic, the restrictions, the social and political unrest, denominational division, and even the uncertainty with our children’s education all contribute to a season in which God works His best. By intentional prayer, personal heart change, and desire to tell others, we can focus on revival: an inward look followed by an outward focus.
In Christ, Pastor Tim
Rev. Tim McConnell Pastor of Congregational Care Tim.McConnell@LongsChapel.com