A friend and I went to see the movie, Jesus Revolution this weekend. It’s based on the true story of a San Francisco pastor who let the Hippies into church. But first, God let a Hippie into the pastor’s house. His name was Lonnie Frisbee (played by Jonathon Roumie from The Chosen), and he gently opened the pastor’s eyes. Lonnie points out that young people like him are “sheep without a shepherd, chasing hard after lies,” and the church doors are closed to them.
“There is an entire generation right now searching for God,” he adds. “I know we must seem a little strange. But if you look a little deeper, if you look with love, you’ll see a bunch of kids that are searching for all the right things, just in all the wrong places.”
That really struck home.
As a middle-aged Christian, I sometimes despair when I see so many young people, strung out on the new opiate of the masses, technology, and I fear that our society is still falling for that counter-culture slogan, “turn on, tune in and drop out.” The devil seems hard at work to isolate our kids through headphones and screens, bury them in the false reality of VR and social media.
That’s why it’s so reassuring to see what’s going on at Asbury University. There are still young people seeking God!
After a school chapel service on February 8, where the assistant soccer coach preached on “becoming love in action,” almost twenty undergrads remained to pray; and then one student openly confessed his sins. That’s when “the atmosphere changed,” an eye-witness said. Others came back for this outpouring of the Spirit in true revival style – and the worship service just didn’t end. All day and all night, people prayed and sang, worshipped God and testified. It’s been non-stop “love, prayer, praise and repentance.” As millions watched it go viral on social media, thousands of Gen Z’s came out to experience it – up to 20,000 a day. Gracie Turner, an Asbury senior said, "It kind of felt like God was telling me, 'This is what you've been missing.'"
Love. Prayer. Praise. Repentance. This is what the Spirit asks of us. And it’s been brought back to life at Asbury. Maybe it’s what’s missing in our own churches? Our kids are also searching for God, whether we recognize it or not. Will He be found in our church or in our congregations - in you? Do we need a revival?
A New Old Paradigm for Revival
About 100 years ago, the world wasn’t much different than today. Many around the world turned against religion after World War I, just as many are now. A few Christian men, disenchanted by lukewarm, organized religion, responded with “a life-changing conversion” movement called the Oxford Group. They came up with a healing process that they found lead to personal revival:
It was unlike any therapy, hospital or church (which, if you think about it, are all the same thing). The movement emphasized having an informal Spirit-led structure, fellowshipping in members’ homes for moral support, talking about real life in non-religious terms that anyone could understand. It was especially important to engage in helping others “in order to change one’s own life.”
If it sounds familiar, it’s because it became the basis for Alcoholics Anonymous. You might call this Sinners Anonymous! It’s also quite similar to the format that the Apostles implemented as they spread the Gospel from town to town. Sometimes we really do reinvent the wheel.
I’ve been quietly on a soul journey at New Creation Community, looking for something “real” and meaningful.
Several years back, our church started to workshop means towards a deeper spirituality to counter the lukewarm feeling of latter-day Christianity. We talked about ways to experience Godly awe, like harmonizing in a choir, staring up at the trees or hiking in the mountains. I’d picked up a bunch of religious books from a church flea market, and we started with one (as it turns out) on the spiritual value of AA’s Twelve Steps. We immediately felt we were on to something. Pastor Mike even printed up little bookmarks listing the Twelve Steps as an easy reminder to carry around.
After that, we turned to Richard J. Foster’s, Celebration of Discipline, and sought practical answers to questions like, how do you pray? How do you know when you’ve “worshipped”? What does it mean to be a disciple? We tested tithe and fasting as tools to ramp up our prayer life and watched for miracles. Meanwhile, the Women Sharing Faith Sabbath School – coincidentally – was devouring Priscilla Shirer’s book, Discerning the Voice of God. Something was definitely moving in our church. It’s culminated in a popular apologetics class called Guerrilla Faith.
But for myself, deep study and attending church just wasn’t enough. I was looking for something transformative, and I needed help. New Creation is the fastest growing SDA church in the region, but that’s made it harder to hang onto the sense of community I found so different and valuable here. I needed a buddy-system, and I kept coming back to the Twelve Steps. Wouldn’t it be helpful to have a group of friends you could talk to about any spiritual quandary, confess your struggles, get advice and encouragement from? We tend to dump that role entirely on the poor pastor, who then gets overwhelmed trying to visit all the members. What if we did “visitation” ourselves? And what if we didn’t limit it to our friends or fellow members, but brought people we encountered into our circle?
I looked around for those I thought might be on the same journey of spiritual connection, people I already liked or admired, and I invited them over for Sabbath lunch at my house. I suppose I could have made an announcement in Sabbath School class, but I’m kind of embarrassed of my house, so I didn’t want just anybody in my home. And my cooking wasn’t so hot – but that didn’t matter; the conversation was powerful, and we talked about God for nearly four hours! It gave me a sense of relief somehow, like when Covid restrictions were lifted and we were allowed to be “normal” again. So much of my life and so many of my other friends won’t talk about anything religious, so this group offers a kind of sanctuary. We “encourage and build each other up in Christ” by sharing our spiritual walk – the ups, the downs, the concerns, the insights. It’s affirming to hear people’s amazing encounters with God, enlightening to learn how they personally “hear” God. It’s what I’ve been missing, as that Asbury student said.
This has been going on a few months now, and like an AA sponsor, I can call them up for prayer or encouragement any time, not just when we meet. I now let the Spirit guide me into who I invite, to see where that goes; and we’re looking into ways to be “love in action.” Because that’s where real evangelism and outreach happens – obeying the prompts of God’s still, small voice to become a vehicle for His love. Or as AA puts it, applying the spiritual principle of service. We could counter a lot of hatred towards Christianity if we simply followed Jesus’ example of leaving our pews to heal the sick, dine with the outcast, visit the imprisoned, care for the widows and orphans, feed God’s sheep – even the ones outside the pen. You’d be surprised at the number of opportunities there are each day to be God’s hand or to speak His words of comfort. Sharing your encounters makes you more aware of them.
We’re now talking about each member starting additional groups from their own homes. Maybe this paradigm can go viral, infiltrate other churches, other synagogues, and mosques even. We as Adventists talk about an imminent time when our churches will be legally closed. Perhaps we should start now building those lines of home support, especially the direct line to the Holy Spirit, so we can hear its guidance and teachings. What would a fully Spirit-led church look like? Would it overflow with love, prayer, praise and repentance? Maybe, like Asbury University, it would provoke an on-going revival. All it takes is one sinner to start it.
What are you waiting for?