Renewing the Vision

Charles C. McCabe was the Director of Church Extension for the Methodist Episcopal Church as well as a brilliant strategist.  In the spring of 1881, he was riding a train in the Pacific Northwest when he saw an article about the National Convention of the Free Thinkers of America.  The newspaper included the text of a speech delivered by prominent atheist Robert Ingersol.  As McCabe read the speech he became quite angry.  Ingersol had said, “The churches are dying out all across America. They are struck with death! By the dawn of the 20th century, churches will be but relics of a bygone day”.  McCabe got off the train and fired off a telegram to Mr. Ingersol in Chicago.  It read,” Dear Bob, We are building more than one church a day for every day of the year and propose to make it two a day!”  The story got out and someone composed the following chorus:

The infidels, a motley band, in council met and said,
“The churches die throughout the land the last will soon be dead.”

When suddenly a message came that filled them with dismay,
“All hail the power of Jesus’ name, we’re building two a day”.

We’re building two a day, dear Bob; we’re building two a day!
All hail the power of Jesus’ name, we’re building two a day!

Charles McCabe clearly shared the vision of Methodism’s Founder, “to reform a continent and to spread scriptural holiness across these lands.”  Methodism envisioned itself as a reform movement.  A vision that propelled the Methodist church to the forefront of outreach and pioneer evangelism in America until it could be said   that the Methodists owned the 19th century!

Despite the multitude of stories telling of the Church’s transformative impact on cities, countries and civilizations, there has been no shortage of hostile voices predicting her demise.  Yet even while the scoffers scoff  the Church of Jesus Christ steadily penetrates a darken world like yeast penetrates a loaf of bread “until the whole be leavened”  and will continue to do so until that day when “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”. The future of the Church does not hang in the balance!  Victory for the Church of Jesus Christ is inevitable!

The truth in the paragraph above stands without equivocation.  However, any thinking person who reads the above statement and then simply looks at what is happening in the vast majority of churches in North America and Europe today would have cause to question the veracity of what I wrote. It is true that the Invisible Church of Jesus Christ is and will be triumphant.  It is not true that every part of the visible church on earth experiences that same conquering spirit.  While the Church is harvesting a bumper crop in Asia, Latin American and Africa the harvest seems to be rotting in the field in Europe and North America. The problem is certainly not with the Lord of the Church or with His power to prevail.  The problem lies with a Laodicean spirit that has gripped the visible church of North America and Europe.  The problem is not new!  Read Paul’s words to a church that was not yet twenty-five years old! Take a moment to read again the first three chapters of the book of The Revelation.  Take a literary walk down the pages of church history reading the stories of the Reformers and the Revivalist and you will see what I mean!

A willingness to acknowledge historical fact and present reality about certain parts of the church should not turn us into pessimist. One does not have to join the “church is dead” movement to be able to admit that the visible church has at times lost her way, backslidden, become unfruitful and needed major reformation and revival.  As a matter of fact, I believe the church in America is in such a time right now.  James MacDonald says the evangelical church is experiencing a time of “epic failure.” He further says that, “Until we acknowledge that the church in North America is failing, we won’t take the steps necessary to see that trend reversed.”  MacDonald’s word to the evangelical church should be taken to heart by the Conservative Holiness Movement as well.

The Call to Resurgent Hope

                I along with the faculty of God’s Bible School and College have the greatest appreciation for and the deepest commitment to that part of God’s Church identified as the Conservative Holiness Movement.  This is the tradition that GBS has lived and worked within long before there was such a name designation or a movement identified as such.  The “Call to the Conservative Holiness Movement” was written by our faculty as an attempt to restate the strengths of that tradition, to acknowledge its weaknesses and to dialogue on how to restore what is vital to its future.  By the very nature of such a call we are acknowledging problems, struggling to find answers and humbly offering solutions. The last section, Article X, in the Call to the Conservative Holiness Movement is a call for Resurgent Hope.  The CHM needs a renewed vision for its future.  It lacks a “grand idea” to marshal its youth and to propel it forward. The absence of such of vision has caused the movement to become disoriented and allowed it to drift away from its historical landmarks – the things that made it special in the first place.  However, the key to a renewed vision or a new vision altogether begins with a willingness to acknowledge apparent problems with an eye to corrective measures.

There is an Elephant is the room!

            It has been obvious, for a long time, to many of the leaders within the CHM that the movement is in a state of serious decline.  It has failed to grow numerically by means of new conversions while membership roles in some of the largest and oldest denominations have decreased as much a 60%.   Unfortunately too many key leaders have simply ignored the obvious.  You could say it is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about!  To reinforce my own observations with facts, I had a third party survey conducted.  The survey was conducted among the eighteen  denominations that identify with the CHM. The leadership of each denomination was asked to identify their top two churches so that the pastor of these churches could be interviewed. (It should be pointed out that using the top churches in each group heavily weighted the survey towards a more favorable outcome).  Fifteen of the groups cooperated with the survey which allowed us to question the pastors of 30 of the top churches in these denominational groups. I then surveyed four of the largest independent churches in the CHM and added the results to this survey.  The pastors were asked three questions. (1) How many conversions of unchurched people have you had in the last five years that have been discipled to the level of membership? (Not yet a member but ready to be)   (2) How many conversions of unchurched people have you had in the last five years that have been discipled to the level of maturity that allows them to be involved in ministry?  (3)  How many third generation Christians do you have in your church?

Here is what we found:

  1. 80 % of the top churches in the CHM have had no unchurched person converted and discipled to the level of membership within the last five years.
  2. In the six largest churches surveyed only one had unchurched people converted and discipled to the level of membership in the last five years.  Only two had converts discipled to the point of ministry involvement.
  3. The churches with the most third generation Christians tended to have the least number of unchurched converts, while churches with the least number of third generation Christians tended to have the most unchurched converts.
  4. The majority of the churches surveyed had at least one convert that had been discipled enough to use in ministry but was still unable to be considered for membership.
  5. There were three churches that I considered “outliers” and set them apart in the survey results.  Together these three churches had 180 converts of unchurched people in the last five years.  60 of these converts were discipled to the level of membership.  120 of these converts were discipled to the level of ministry.  All three churches had a combined total of only 24 third generation Christians (that is an average of only 8 each).  These churches are exceptional and have something to teach us!

The survey highlights a number of problems. First, most CHM churches are not reaching the unchurched. Second, when a CHM church does see unchurched people converted it rarely retains these converts.  This problem of attrition has several contributing causes but it is primarily because the average CHM church has failed to address the process necessary to grow these converts and to assimilate them into the core fellowship of the church (the process of becoming and belonging).  Hence most of them backslide or go to another church.   Third, the survey revealed something else that I had only surmised.  It revealed that churches with high numbers of third generation Christians do the poorest job of reaching the unchurched.  This is true despite the fact that many of these operate impressive ministries to that very population.  It is alarming to see that these large churches, that are resource rich, can operate impressive outreach ministries and never truly “reach out.”  This is the elephant in the room!

How do you eat an Elephant?

            Occasionally one of my colleagues or students will share with me what seems to them to be an insurmountable problem. I will listen carefully then ask them this question, “How do you eat an elephant?”  While they are looking at me in absolute bewilderment I will answer for them, “One bite at a time!”   All of our problems, no matter how large, can and must be addressed “one bite at a time.”  For the CHM the process of addressing the serious problem of decline will be a long-term deliberate strategy that must be implemented “one bit at a time.”

Success in eating the elephant means that the CHM must avoid the danger of two extremes.  The first extreme is to do nothing.  Since the elephant is so big and the challenge is so overwhelming the danger is that we just ignore it and do nothing at all. On the other hand, we must avoid the other extreme of trying to eat the elephant in just a few bites.  Massive and sudden change can divide, demoralize and possibly destroy a church or movement.

Doing nothing is not acceptable!

            However insurmountable the problem may appear to be doing nothing is not an option. Like a man paddling across the Atlantic with a hole in his boat, we can neglect the problems of our movement for a while, but if not eventually addressed we will certainly sink.  Complacency can be one of our biggest enemies. It is sometimes hard to spot complacency because it can hide its failure to act behind impressive rationalization.  Complacent leaders and pastors will pose the argument that true success cannot be measured or quantified.  They say that such measurements are the world’s way of evaluating a successful ministry and that simply counting conversions, members, offerings, buildings, etc . . . is not the way God measures success.   They contend that the only true criterion for ministry is faithfulness.  There is so much truth in this argument that it is difficult to debate.  There is much to be said from the Word and from practical ministry about faithfulness.  It is extremely important in both the eyes of God and men.  However, holding up faithfulness as the final measure of true success can be a “cop out” for failing to do the hard work of reaching people.  Even if that isn’t the case, it is certainly an oversimplification. I agree with Timothy Keller when he says that there is a more Biblical gauge to evaluate ministry than either success or faithfulness – it is fruitfulness (John 15:8).

If complacent leaders and layman can comfort themselves with an appeal to their faithfulness (one that has certainly been uncoupled from the concept of fruitfulness) then that may prove to be a strong enough “sleeping potion” to keep them from addressing the true barrenness of their particular denominations and churches.  I am afraid that as long as the various groups that make up the CHM can afford to hold the annual IHC, operate their own annual campmeeting and give respectable offerings to a foreign missions program they will remain complacent – even accepting of the failure of the local church to be fruitful and reach its surrounding community.

The importance of Vision Renewal for the CHM

            If you have ever driven a car with misaligned wheels you know that it is difficult to keep the car in the middle of your lane – it constantly wants to pull to one side.  That is what it is like to be in a movement, church or organization that lacks vision.  Everyone may be very busy doing something but they are continuously pulled off center – away from the main thing.  Without a compelling vision to motivate, energize and direct, people will wear themselves out with meaningless activity. Any church or movement that is engaged in such activity becomes the breeding ground for skepticism, criticism and a host of “rabbit trials” that take it away from its main objective.

In greyhound racing there is a little mechanical rabbit covered in fur that    sits on the end of a long metal rod that circles the track ahead of the dogs.  The operator of this mechanical rabbit always keeps the rabbit ahead of the dogs so as to keep them running but never allowing them to catch it.  In one race, while the dogs were hotly pursuing the rabbit, there was a short in the electrical system that caused the rabbit to explode.  With no rabbit to chase the dogs didn’t know what to do.  Some of them went crazy jumping through the fence. Others just wandered aimlessly around the track.  Still others laid down on the track and howled at the spectators.  Not one dog finished the race.  Without a vision to pursue: dreams fade, people drift and once-vibrant movements slowly die.

Vision Obstacles

            The CHM is resource rich!  It has a wealth of talented people who are deeply committed to their faith.  It possesses what it takes to move forward with the work of vision discovery, renewal and implementation.  Yet it does have some major “vision obstacles” that it will have to be overcome.  Things like:

 Reluctant Leadership – So much rises and falls around leadership.  The CHM struggles to be open to the kind of visionary leader that has the capacity to lead it from where it is to where it needs to go.  Even where that kind of leadership exists, it has too often bowed to the politics of fear or lacked the resolve to push beyond the obstacles.

 Pietistic Pride – The CHM battles with a strange paradox.  On the one hand it struggles with an inferiority complex while on the other hand it struggles with pietistic pride.  There are times when our opinion of ourselves is too exalted. So much so, that we tend to look down on the rest of Christ’s body as “not quite where we are.”    This sanctimonious arrogance needs to be replaced with a little sanctified humility.  After all pride made the Devil the Devil!

Pre-occupation with the Past – When CHM folks get together you will hear far more talk about our “holiness heritage” than you ever will about our “holiness future.”   Our Methodist Holiness history is fascinating!  But it is still history!  The past must serve as a guide post not a hitching post – it should be the rudder on the ship not the anchor.  God consistently reveals Himself as One who is forward looking.  He is primarily interested in where we are going not where we have been.  It is the Devil who wants us pre-occupied with the past!   Movements and churches that have been mightily used of God in the past, and for one reason or the other get stuck there,  will be set aside and someone else or something else will be raised up to take their place.

Resistance to Change – Continual change is the reality of our time. The church is not an isolated island from the rest of society and by its very nature it cannot be. It too is changing. As a matter of fact, change is not new to the church.   For those of us within the holiness tradition, John Wesley and the early Methodists serve as an example of innovative and creative change to meet the ministry needs of their time. The CHM has proven quite resistant to change in methodology, technology and organizational structure even when it is apparent that change could advance the kingdom without any compromise to the message.

An Unhealthy focus on Single Issues – Churches were never meant to have a single focus like Pizza Hut or Jiffy Lube.  The church must be fully Biblical and properly balanced in all its priorities and emphasis!  To be a healthy body it must be a whole body.  Too many CHM churches are known for one thing – the lifestyle positions they embrace.  When this single focus prevails it can hurt the church both internally and externally.  Biblical holiness does in fact have behavioral consequences that impact my lifestyle.  But it also cast them as a part of discipleship and growth where they are lived out in an atmosphere of relaxed self-discipline and humble dependence on God – never as the main thing.

Fear Driven Decision Making – Movements, churches and pastors who constantly test the winds of “what others might think” end up neurotic, paranoid and pathetically immobile. Fear has been the catalyst for many needless rules and regulations.  The fear of what others “might think” has killed many positive outreach initiatives.  A man fearing spirit and the general fear of change has hindered churches from needed adjustments that would have positioned them to better serve their own people as well as those they might reach.

Vision begins with God!

            God is more than willing to help a struggling or failing church or movement to regain its footing, but He will not climb over the impediments of no vision, poor planning, weak execution, horizontal thinking and a lack of faith.  Leadership must take seriously the work of vision casting.  For me to propose a vision or even attempt to restate a vision for the churches, the denominations and the organizations that make up the 21st century CHM would push the boundaries of arrogance or ignorance (I will let you decide).  The work of vision casting and mission development is not a “cut and paste” moment achieved by a few hours of “goggling” all the good web sites.  Vision comes from the Lord!  It comes when leaders and laymen seek God, find a divine burden, and mold it to their situation!  Vision is not some mystical dream detached from reality.  Whatever vision God gives a church it will have some parallel to the mission and vision laid out for us in the book of Acts and duplicated throughout the centuries by the church.  Vision is anchored in one’s core values, grows out of one’s main reason for existence and fits perfectly within the context of one’s ministry situation (gifts and resources).  Vision is birthed when someone has a heart that aches so badly to know how to advance God’s Kingdom that they are willing to get alone with God long enough to say, “speak Lord for your servant heareth” and then stay still long enough for God to speak to their situation. Vision is not solely owned or produced by one person but I do believe that God normally puts the vision for a church, an organization or a movement into the heart of a one person and not a group of people.  I also believe that He confirms and refines that vision as the leader shares it with a small group of elders or spiritual leaders to whom he is accountable or with whom he shares oversight of the ministry.

Vision Components

            A vision statement explains where a church or denomination is headed and helps to formulate a picture of what it will “look like” as it accomplishes its mission.  I can’t author a vision statement for the CHM or the individual churches that compose its membership but if I could the following components would be a central part:

UpReach – I believe prayer and worship are two core elements that are struggling to survive in ways that truly impact the CHM. We live in a post-Christian culture where not only do men sin with no sense of remorse but where anti-Biblical values and anti-Christ views are entrenched at the highest levels of the institutions that undergird and govern our society. Only prayer can break such a stronghold.  We must once again become a praying church.

The culture we are called to win is one that is lonely, empty and materialistic.  They are desperately seeking for something they do not have – something transcendent.  They are crushed by the disappointment that they cannot create happiness for themselves beyond the momentary.  They have a deep longing in their soul to know, to experience and to worship God.  The church that provides an experience of unashamed worship, marked by the presence of God, is the church that will never lack for people. We must return to the kind of worship that is marked by God’s presence.  This may be our greatest need!

OutReach – Many holiness churches began as store front missions. They located where the sinners were because they believed it was their main job to see sinners saved, sanctified and established in the family of God. It seems that the CHM no longer believes that this is their main mission and unfortunately the statistics support such a conclusion. The CHM has become primarily a preservation movement. However, that can change!  A renewed vision for the CHM should make the Great Commission a vital part of its main mission so that we might “reform a nation and spread scriptural holiness across this land.”

InReach –  According to Dr. Brian Black, there are approximately 3000 churches in the USA that in some way  identify with the CHM (compare that to the  North American church numbers for the: Nazarenes – 4800, Wesleyans – 1710, and the Free Methodist – 957).  With all these churches and all the individual talent within the CHM one would think the movement could and should be doing something significant for the Kingdom of God.  However, we are resource rich and cooperation poor.   We have miserably failed to reach within – join hands – and unite for the greater good of advancing the work of God in church planting, education, printing, missions and compassionate care. Instead of one or two strong mission organizations there are thirty-one struggling ones. Instead of one or two strong colleges there are eight struggling ones.  Instead of one strong holiness church in town there are four “family controlled” struggling ones. Cooperation for stewardship reasons alone would free up millions of dollars to further the Kingdom and the message of scriptural holiness!  No movement on earth could gain more from just simply working together than could the CHM.

DownReach – The CHM has a wealth of Biblical, theological, doctrinal and practical teaching that is not being passed down to new Christians or to younger generations. The CHM needs a renewed commitment to discipleship, mentoring and preaching. Discipleship is the perfect arena to “teach” many things that should not and cannot be adequately “preached.”  Mentoring is the key to helping our immature converts and young people maneuver the choppy waters of life successfully.  Just keeping the few converts we do have coupled with saving our own would double our population numbers within a few years.  Preaching as it is being done in many CHM churches is passionate exhortation with the goals of inspiration, motivation and evaluation. Preaching in today’s world needs to be passionate explanation with the goal of transformation and application.  The post-modern mind today doesn’t want someone “yelling” at them.  It wants someone explaining the Bible and giving them ways to apply to their life right now!

Someone has got to see it!

          Francis Asbury saw an American frontier evangelized for Christ and the Circuit Rider was born. William Booth saw the poor of England sinking in despair and the Salvation Army was born!  Martin Wells Knapp saw a school to train a new generation of Christian soldiers and God’s Bible School was born.  Rev. Eber Teter saw the state of Alabama without the message of heart holiness and the Friendship Wesleyan Methodist Church was born – at whose altar I found saving grace.  Someone must see what can be before it can or will come to pass!

The founder of Disney World, Walt Disney, died five years before Disney World was completed.  On opening day in 1971 someone said to director Mike Vance, “Isn’t it too bad Walt Disney didn’t live to see this?”  To which Vance replied, “Oh, Walt did see it!  That’s why its here.”

Somebody has got to dream and envision a renewed holiness movement. I long for a movement unified in purpose – linking arms in mission and message!  Martin Luther King saw an America where racial inequality was abolished – “He (God) has allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!”            I too have been to the mountain top and I’ve seen on the other side!  The CHM just needs more mountain climbers who will get above the fog at ground level and see what “can be” in our tomorrows!

Resurrection – Touchstone of the Christian Faith

William Sangster, the venerable British preacher of yesteryear, was stricken late in life by incurable muscular atrophy.  As the merciless disease advanced, rendering his muscles useless and robbing him of his voice, Sangster was eventually forced to surrender his pulpit and retire his anointed pen.  However, he did manage to find the strength one Easter Sunday to feebly scrawl these words in a letter to his daughter, “It is terrible,” he wrote, “to wake up on Easter Sunday and have no voice to shout, ‘He is risen!’”

With these words Sangster underscored the dynamic of the Christian message, the death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Indeed, it is the fulcrum upon which turns every other Christian doctrine.  Without resurrection, the divinity of Jesus is in jeopardy.  Without divinity, Christ sinlessness is debatable.  If He is sinful, Calvary loses its atoning merit.  Robbed of its atoning merit, the cross—indeed the entire gospel story—is a sham.  Or, as Paul expressed it centuries ago, “if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins” (I Cor. 15:17).

In his book, Reality of the Resurrection, Merrill Tyney notes that many aspects of the Christian faith are echoed (if only vaguely) in non-Christian religions.  For instance, some religions claim, as does Christianity, to have divinely inspired writings.  Muslims boast of the Koran; the Mormons of their “Golden Tablets.”  Similarly, many pagan religions offer their followers the promise of life after death.  Like Christianity, philosophers and religionists of all eras have proposed various systems of ethics for the governing of the human race.  However, Tyney rightly declares that the distinctive attribute of the Christian faith is its belief that “the supernatural power of the living God was manifested historically by the resurrection of Christ from the dead.”

The resurrection marks Christianity off from all other religions, past, present and future.  No other faith underpins its belief system with the doctrine of a risen Saviour.  To the Christian the Resurrection: authenticates scripture, validates salvation by faith, provides the power for victorious living, and sustains the promise of our future resurrection!  It is the cardinal doctrine among cardinal doctrines.   It was central to the preaching of the early church.  It sustained the hopes of first-century martyrs, and it is a message that has been faithfully transmitted across the centuries and entrusted to those of us who number ourselves among the followers of Jesus today.  The resurrection message is non-negotiable.  It must never be surrendered or compromised.

However, the greatest danger in the Christian community may not be the temptation to erase the doctrine of the resurrection from the time-honored creeds of Christendom.  In fact, any suggestion to alter this tenet would immediately be voted down in most of our conference meetings or our academic forums.  Rather, the greatest danger in our circles is that of relegating this basic doctrine to the dusty archives of church history.  Having been hammered out on the anvil of controversy by our forefathers, the resurrection story tends to become so commonplace that it is by sheer neglect demoted to second place in our thinking.  The resurrection and its manifold implications have become supplemental themes that we take off the shelf once a year.  Sadly, they seldom maintain a central place in the perennial preaching and teaching of the Church.

Sangster lamented to his daughter that he had no voice with which to shout the resurrection message.  But he then added these searching words, “It would be more terrible still,” he concluded, “to have a voice and not want to shout.”  Join with me in the centuries old anthem, “He is Risen!  He is Risen indeed!”

Developing Deep Christians

If you had the opportunity to attend a public event at the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY you would see an impressive group of young men and women who are being prepared to go anywhere in the world, under any circumstances and swing into action the minute their boots hit the ground.   They are military officers in the making. Upon their graduation they will be commissioned as “leaders of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, and Country . . . prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the Nation as an officer in the United States Army”.

Is there any similarity between what happens at West Point and what happens at your local church?  Does your local church have a systematic process that produces mature Christian disciples who can pray, share their faith, explain the Bible, defend their doctrine, put the wellbeing of others ahead of their own, stand up under persecution or  do whatever they need to do for Christ’ Kingdom wherever their feet hit the ground?

You don’t have to answer that question because we already know the answer.  The church is struggling to produce men and women who fit the biblical standard of spiritual maturity. We are failing to produce people of depth – deep in spiritual character, deep in faith, deep in prayer, deep in love for God and others!  This process is actually called discipleship and it is not happening in the average church.

The Call to the Conservative Holiness Movement speaks to this in Article VIII.  It decries the fact that we have, “largely abandoned our Methodist system of spiritual formation and forgotten how to fulfill our Lord’s command to make disciples. We have sought revival without preparing to preserve its fruits. We have emphasized spectacular conversions and neglected the biblical necessity of disciplined growth in faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love”.  The end result is that the CHM suffers from too many shallow Christians.

I felt the “push back” and irritation from a lot of conservatives as soon as that last sentence formed on the page in front of me! But alas it must stand!  Conservatives face the normal fallout of failing to disciple their people.  However they also face another subtle danger – that of appearing to be deep rather than actually being deep! It is very easy for us to look spiritual while actually being as shallow as the carnal Corinthians.  Being deep is more than just knowing and honoring the Bible in visible ways (especially those that make us look spiritual in our setting).  That can happen while failing to demonstrate the character it commands. One can be meticulous, even legalistic, about his tithe and yet fail ever to develop the spirit of generosity. One can dress modestly and still have a sensual spirit. Sheer knowledge of the Bible doesn’t make one godly. The mere application of a few visible commands doesn’t mean we have cultivated holy character. One can read the Bible daily, acquire significant amounts of Biblical knowledge, adopt standards of dress and behavior, yet have no straight-line correspondence between that and real Christlikeness.  One can embrace the conservative creed, adopt its life-style principles, and learn the language of the “old fashion way” and still be shallow.

Many conservative leaders readily admit that the CHM is not getting the job done when it comes to the discipleship of new believers.  Some recognize that we also are not taking the second step and engaging in the lifelong mentoring process that creates deep Christians.  However, few if any are talking about the problems that result from not discipling – a problem that Thomas Bergler calls the “Juvenilization of Christianity.”   When converts are not placed on a deliberate trajectory toward spiritual maturity, the character traits of duty, discipline, scriptural living, holy habit, holy affections, denying oneself, sacrificial loving and giving – all traits of mature Christians – are decoupled from normal adulthood and moved down the road to some future time that may or may not arrive. The shallowness that is left is a self-centered, emotionally driven and intellectually empty faith that is focused more on “being fulfilled” than on “being faithful.”

Discipleship the only Cure!

            New believers do not develop into deep Christians on their own any more than a little boy playing soldier becomes a great general on his own. We know this from church history and from personal experience. More importantly, we know this because the Bible gives us examples of how God Himself develops deep people.  Jesus chose to spend the majority of His time discipling His twelve disciples.  With only a three year public ministry, I think it remarkable that He made a limited number of public appearances and preached relatively few sermons while investing the vast majority of His time in the men who followed Him.   Watching this process unfold in the Gospels, it looks like just three years of walking, talking and eating with them.  But in reality Jesus was building character, teaching them how to think as He thought and reshaping the spiritual parts of their lives in such a way that would prepare them to live, suffer and die for His Kingdom.  This three year investment had such exponential results that we still feel its effect today!

Christians who are spiritually deep people have gone through God’s discipleship program.  Whether it is Moses, Paul, John Wesley or John Doe, all deep people have three things in common.  Each has been cultivated by God through direct encounters, experienced the character development made possible by difficult circumstances, and has been exposed to deliberate mentoring by resourceful people.

Divine Encounters

            The journey to becoming a deep person begins with a direct encounter with God.  This is what the church has called a person’s conversion.  No man can or even wants to become a deeply spiritual person who has not had a heart change wrought by the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus was such an encounter. He was not only converted to Christ but given his life’s calling. But there are other encounters with God.  Some are very personal like Jacob’s encounter with God at Peniel.  That was an encounter that gave Jacob a painful insight into his own carnal self and left him with a changed nature, a new name and a life marked forever by an amazing touch from God. Other encounters give us insight into the character and nature of God. Moses’ encounter with God in Exodus 34 is an example of this.  Moses had asked to see God’s “face” (glory) and was told he would be permitted to see God’s “goodness.”  What he asked for and what he received was quite different – a difference that is important.  Dennis Kinlaw clarifies this difference with this comment, “you can have a spiritual experience that is very exciting and yet is contentless or you gain an insight into the character of the Eternal that will change you forever.”  These encounters with God along the path of life are crucial to our development into deep people.

Difficult Circumstances

            A.W. Tozer reminds us that, “It is doubtful whether God can use a man greatly, until first He wounds him deeply.”  In my almost forty years of walking with the Lord, I have been blessed to receive numerous words of appreciation and kindness.  They have encouraged me and strengthened me in my work and walk. However, it has been the difficult circumstances of life; the harsh winds of trial and adversity; the unjust words of a foe; and the dark night of the soul that has done more to shape my character in Christlikeness than almost anything else.  Deep people have been discipled by the character shaping experience of difficult circumstances.

Deliberate Mentoring

            Deep people are not self-formulating.  Their lives are enriched by the counsel and wisdom of others.  All of us need Godly men and women who have experienced life and know God intimately to speak into our lives.  Most often this comes in a person to person encounter. However, it may take the form of books or other spiritual resources. Moses had his father-in-law   Jethro.  Paul had his traveling partner Barnabas.  Timothy had his spiritual father Paul. Wesley had his books, his brother and his Moravian friends.  The early Methodists had the class meeting – a system that produced a steady stream of deep people. Tozer had the writings of the Early Church Fathers and the Mystics.  Deep people will always have someone in their life that affirms, instructs, corrects, and holds them accountable.

The Implications of Failing to Disciple

            The CHM has got to stop using the altar as the primary place of spiritual formation.  The altar can certainly be a place of spiritual transformation and decision.  But spiritual formation and growth takes place in the discipleship phase of Christian living. The work of discipling believers and mentoring deep people can no longer be a point of mere discussion.  It must begin in earnest. Our failure to disciple deep people has already created a scarcity of spiritual leaders who have that blend of maturity, wisdom and balance that is needed to lead effectively.  If we do not reverse the trend, the CHM could well be headed into irrelevance.

Alan Redpath wisely noted that the conversion of a soul is the miracle of a moment, but the maturing of a great saint is the task of a lifetime. Our Methodist fathers understood this and modeled for us the art of making disciples like no one else in the last 200 years. It’s our heritage—it should be our practice—it may be the key to our survival!

Worship

I love the Church!  I love the branch of the church called the holiness movement where God has placed me!   However, neither my love for the church nor that part which I serve has made me blind to the spots and wrinkles of either. The Call to the Conservative Holiness Movement is an attempt to restate the strengths of that tradition, to recognize weaknesses that have developed over time and to dialogue on how to restore what is vital to its future.  Article seven is a call to the CHM to honestly evaluate its present practices of corporate worship. The importance of such an evaluation is underscored by the importance of the act of worship itself.  The Westminster confession reminds us that man’s chief end is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever”.  Scripture teaches us that worship is vital to our “creaturehood” and central to our faith.  If things are not healthy in our worship experience then things are not healthy in our church no matter how well we do other things.

Warren Weirsbe defined worship as the believers’ response of all that they are – mind, emotions, will, and body – to what God is and says and does.  In the best Methodist holiness tradition worship engages the whole person in a well-balanced blend of joyful celebration and reverential awe that is often reciprocated by the manifest presence of God.  When worship succeeds in this fashion, I know of no other worship tradition that enables men to worship God any better.

 CHM Worship Strengths

           Conservative holiness people are singing people.   Praise is central to worship.  Music, in the present day church, is the primary form of praise. So music and worship are inextricably connected. Music marks the worship found in both the Old and New Testaments. It has marked the Church across the centuries and around the world.     Step inside the average CHM church and you will hear warm-hearted, enthusiastic, highly-engaged singing that is often reinforced with expressions of praise like, “Glory to God”, “Hallelujah” and “Praise the Lord.”  Holiness people know how to worship in song!

Conservative holiness people deeply desire God’s presence. All Christians claim the promise, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20).  Holiness people, however, truly expect the presence of God to be evident.  Their zeal and longing for His presence is often rewarded with a gracious visitation of His manifest presence.

Conservative holiness people have a keen sensitivity to the work of the Holy Spirit. In the best Wesleyan holiness tradition order and structure are always present.  But there is also present a willingness to let the Spirit of God set aside the planned program if need be to accomplish His own sovereign purposes.

Conservative holiness people have a strong love for good preaching. The preaching event still takes a very high place in holiness movement worship.  Holiness people read their Bibles and carry them to church.  They want good preaching, respond to good preaching and show sincere respect for the preacher who gives them the unadulterated Word of God.

 CHM Worship Weaknesses*

            Too many services lack thoughtful planning.  Growing up in the CHM  I was taught to be suspicious of liturgy, only to discover that every church follows a liturgy, either a good one or a bad one, written or unwritten.  This fear or neglect of careful planning produces a worship experience that lacks continuity (is very disjointed and broken apart by things that could be avoided with minimal planning) and is random in its forward movement. It will fail to lead the congregant in a meaningful worship experience.  Churches who have consistently good worship experiences or those where the worship service is thoughtfully planned, intentionally structured, steeped in prayer and executed under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.  Careful planning does not hinder the freedom of God’s Spirit to work.  Actually, it gives Him a reliable framework through which He can inspire worship and minister grace to His people.

Too many holiness churches have stressed feeling and experiencing God to the neglect of worshiping and glorifying God.  Jesus taught us to worship in spirit and in truth.  Worship must have both heart and head.  Worship must engage emotions and thought.  Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy. On the other hand, emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and cultivates shallow people who refuse the discipline of rigorous thought.  Many in a sincere attempt to feel God near have lost this balance and have opened the door to fleshly emotionalism and called it worship.

We have allowed worship to become something we do for our benefit rather than something we offer to God.  Worship has an end – and it is not us! This twist in focus has turned church into a performance event where we are the recipients.  We want the songs to bless us, the prayers to comfort us, and the sermon to help us feel better about our condition.  True worship is not self-centered, but God-centered. In true worship God is the audience and we are the performers!  Robert Coleman said it well, “Worship is the adoring response of the creature to the infinite majesty of God.  While it presupposes submission to Him, to worship, in the highest sense, is not supplication for needs, or even thanksgiving for blessings, but the occupation of the soul with God Himself.”

Prayer is generally fervent but often lacks substance. The offering of prayers has always been a vital part of Christian worship and certainly an important part of worship within the CHM tradition.   Prayer is so intimate and personal that we have been hesitant to critique it.  But as a central part of worship, public prayer should be evaluated.  Public prayer or the pastoral prayer is different from our private time with God.  It should evidence thought and preparation.  I know a pastor who spends a considerable amount of time writing out his Sunday morning prayer. He takes the responsibility of leading his congregation to God seriously. His prayers contain a wonderful balance of adoration, petition and confession.  They are steeped in Biblical language. They have forward movement that is orderly and thoughtful.  But more importantly, they are deep and powerful. On the other hand, unless one has trained himself in the art of public prayer, the average extemporaneous prayer tends to be shallow, directionless and often repetitious.  Careful thought and preparation will not rob us of authentic sincere prayer. On the contrary it will help us truly attain it!

There is a noticeable lack of scripture. We have left scripture out of our present day worship services.  Rarely do you find a CHM church that gives attention to scripture readings, calls to worship, and responsive readings.  Quite often, you do not even need your Bible for the sermon!  Often scripture reading is ignored in the name of “saving time”.  However, I believe we fail here for two reasons: First, we think what we have to say in more important and effective than the public reading of Scripture.  Second, we are poor readers.  One only has to hear a good reader lift up the scripture to know the power of the read word!

 Too Important to Ignore

            There may be something optional about how one worships, but worship itself is not optional. Corporate worship is the exalted purpose and central pulse of every Christian congregation.  If you are not worshiping you are not having church – you are just holding a shabby religious sideshow and calling it worship.  What will it take to motivate you and your church to rebuild the altar of true worship?  Think about it.  There is too much at stake not to!

*I asked a group of Pastors and Church Leaders within the CHM to give me a list of what they believed were the worship weakness of the CHM.  Their lists were remarkably similar and were used to develop the list in this article.

Lighting a Candle in Europe

(My trip to Switzerland to speak in a pastor’s conference this past April has generated a great deal of interest from the GBS and Revivalist families. Enough that I decided to share the experience with you.  Rev. Timothy Keep, who traveled with me, and was also a speaker at the conference, assisted me in writing this article.)

            When I placed the Kwasizabantu Pastor’s Conference  in Switzerland on my web page speaking schedule, I had a number of people ask, “What kind of Christian Minster’s Conference is there in Europe?”  For those who understand the spiritual condition of Europe, the question makes perfect sense. There are many conferences that take place in Europe but not many that are made up of local pastors from Europe.  In today’s Europe less than 8% of the population attends church with only 3% attending regularly.  It is predicted that by 2050 there will be no significant church presence in Europe at all!  To make matters worse, the Muslim population has tripled in the last 30 years. This has given rise to the belief that parts of Europe are beyond being Post-Christian and are quickly becoming Pre-Islamic. So it was natural for people to wonder where you could find enough conservative evangelical ministers in Europe to have a pastor’s conference.  The answer lies in the conference’s sponsor.

The conference was sponsored by the Kwasizabantu Mission that is based in the Republic of South Africa.  The mission was born out of a revival among the Zulu people that began in the 1960’s.  The Rev. Erlo Stegen, who is the Director of the Mission, tells the story of that revival in his book, Revival Among the Zulu’s. A brief recounting of that story is important to understand the conference in Europe.  Rev. Stegen explains that the roots of this revival began with a crisis he faced early in his missionary service. He had been called upon to pray for the deliverance of a young demon possessed Zulu girl but after three weeks of intense intercession her condition remained unchanged.  He writes,

“We prayed day and night for three weeks, but the girl wasn’t healed.  Instead, I was at the end of my strength and close to a nervous breakdown.  The girl sang her satanic hymns incessantly.   Someone advised me to plead the blood of Jesus, which the devil would fear and flee, but to no avail.  On the contrary, the girl began to blaspheme the blood…

“I couldn’t understand it.  We had done what the Bible taught us, but it didn’t work… What was I to do?  Go back to the mother and tell her that her daughter had not been healed?  Everyone in the area knew that we Christians were praying for the girl.  They had heard me preach, ‘Don’t go to the witch doctors, don’t sacrifice oxen and goats to the spirits.  Jesus is the answer to every problem, come to Him.” They were all waiting to see what would happen, and now we Christians had failed.”

In his humiliation Stegen begged God to send him to another place of ministry but the Lord would not.  For six long years he preached while suffering intense spiritual darkness, even doubting the truthfulness of Scripture.  “I deemed it possible that some parts were true and other parts weren’t.”  He struggled to believe the words of Jesus in John 4:13-14, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.”  Through his years of ministry hundreds had come forward to accept Jesus Christ but he knew that most of them still craved the things of this world.  “Perhaps Jesus had made a mistake. Or maybe the authors of the New Testament did – for what I was experiencing was different than what was recorded in scripture.   I had preached the gospel for twelve years and there weren’t even twelve true Christians to show for it.”

Stegen grieved that most of the young people who claimed they had become Christians under his ministry still craved the things of this world and were conformed to its ways.  Something was missing – so he and his little congregation arranged to meet twice a day to search the scriptures, confess their sins and pray earnestly for the kind of revival Isaiah prayed for in Isaiah 64:1-4.  They asked themselves what the life of a person who believes in Jesus should be like.  In John 7:38 Jesus said, “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”  Stegen said that when we asked ourselves, “Are there such rivers of living water flowing out of our lives?” we had to answer, No!  This only made Stegen and his Zulu people yearn for these rivers as never before.

Christmas Sunday came but Stegen’s hunger was so intense and his brokenness so profound that he forgot to celebrate!  As they continued to meet day after day for Bible study and prayer the Holy Spirit began to make them very aware of their sin.  While God was dealing with him in very specific ways he was also dealing with the Zulu congregation.  Church members confessed the sins of bitterness, hatred and gossip.  As their hunger for holiness increased so did their expectation of revival.

One day, when a handful of his most faithful believers were with him for a time of prayer and confession, there was suddenly the noise of great wind.  “Everyone was conscious of the presence of God without anyone saying a word,” Stegen says.  Sinners began to be drawn to the meeting place as if drawn by unseen hands.  People couldn’t sleep as they could only think of their sins. Hundreds came!  Even thousands!  Witches were converted.  Hardened sinners wept like children.  Unbelieving husbands were so amazed by the change in their wives that they too believed. Children were converted and led their parents to the Savior.  Stegen said that, “God had kindled a fire, and it spread through the valleys and mountains, so that thousands were saved in one week, yes, even in one day.”

There were countless accompanying signs and miracles as well.  The blind received their sight, the lame walked, the dumb were given a voice and demoniacs were delivered.  The young girl who six years earlier, in spite of prayer and struggle, had not been healed was brought to a meeting and taken home completely whole!  The work of God among them now resembled what they had read in their Bibles!

Fifty years later the flame of revival still burns in South Africa with people being convicted of sin and converted to Christ every day.  At the same time the spiritual influence of this revival has spread around the world – particularly to Europe.   Rev. Stegen felt he owed something to the continent of Europe.  It was from a revival in Germany in the early 1800’s that missionaries were sent to South Africa.  It was from these missionaries that Stegen’s ancestors heard the gospel and were saved.  Stegen felt that he must give back to those who first brought the gospel to his family by returning the light of revival to what is now a very dark Europe.  Kwasizabantu Mission has established eleven missions in some of the most spiritually barren countries in Europe.

The conference, in which Tim and I spoke, was held at their mission in Switzerland.  It was attended by 550 pastors from 14 different countries.  The majority of these pastors have had very little training in the Bible and almost no contact with the conservative evangelical churches of the West.  I was awed by their hunger for the Word, moved to tears by their pleas for discipleship training and encouraged by their zeal to see a revival spread across Europe.

I was there to share, but more importantly, I was there to witness what the Holy Spirit is doing in and through the Body of Christ around the world.  It is vital to my well-being and to that of GBSC and to the movement it serves to witness what God is doing through His Body.  Isolationism is the tourniquet that brings suffocation and death to both individuals and churches.  In the “Plain Account of the People called Methodists,” John Wesley said,

“The thing with I was greatly afraid of all this time, and which I resolved to use every possible method of preventing, was a narrowness of spirit, a party zeal… that miserable bigotry which makes many so unready to believe that there is any work of God but among themselves.  I thought it might be a help against this, frequently to read, to all who were willing hear, the accounts I received from time to time of the work which God was carrying out in the earth, both in our own and in other countries, not among us alone, but among those of various opinions and denominations.”

I rejoice in the work of the Holy Spirit in these days of both peril and opportunity. I want to humble myself continually before God that the power of the Holy Spirit might rest on my life, this school and this generation as He has rested on others.  Would you join with me in praying the prayer of Isaiah? , “Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence . . . For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.” Isaiah 64:1,4