Imagine sitting down one morning at the kitchen table, coffee in hand. The sun streams across the room, inviting you to another ordinary day. You open the local paper, anticipating nothing but more depressing stories about economic woes, international conflict, crimes of various varieties, and more political punditry. Suddenly, a riveting headline arrests your attention:
- From USA Today: Churches Across the Nation Grow in Unprecedented Fashion. Leaders Cannot Explain Why.
With curiosity on high-alert, you grab your smartphone and begin a search for similar stories. Unexpectedly, the news reports leap off the screen. Your heartbeat accelerates. You can’t believe what you are seeing. You have prayed for this, although not always in faith. You have longed for this kind of breakthrough in your church, wondering if it would ever come. But you are reminded that, in recent days, you have seen an unusual uptick in prayer and fresh stirrings of the Spirit in your congregation…and pondered. But now this…
- From Miami: Jewish Priests Leave their Synagogues to Worship in Christian Church after Dramatic Conversion
- From Minneapolis: Dozens of Islamic Leaders Renounce their Faith to Join Christian Movement
- From Orange County: Local Buddhist Priests Cause Stir by Declaring that Jesus Christ is God
- From Utah: Mormon Leaders Discard Extra-Biblical Documents to Embrace Bible Only
- From Boston: Recent Surveys Show Sale of Bibles up 200% at Barnes and Noble
- From New York: Bill Maher Leaves HBO After Professing a Born Again Experience
- The Wall Street Journal: Leading Atheists Issue Public Apology to Christians after Embracing the Historical Reliability of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Could it Be?
Could these things really happen? In essence, they did happen in the early church – and they can happen again.
Acts 6:1-7 portrays what I describe as the greatest “revival” moment in the early church. The church in Jerusalem was growing exponentially. The devil was counterattacking at every turn. In chapter six the enemy sought to disrupt when a hiccup occurred in the widow-feeding program. A complaint arose which threatened to distract the leaders and divide the people.
The apostles responded with a wise plan to appoint seven godly men to take care of the issue while they resolved, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). This two-fold focus by the leaders preserved and promoted an environment of spiritual health and expectation. The result was a revival. Read the description:
And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
Did you catch the impact of this account? We know by doing the math from the first five chapters that scores of thousands are now being reached with the word of the gospel. Disciples had been added (by the thousands) to the church for the first five chapters. By the opening line of chapter six, the disciples were “multiplying.” Now, “the number of disciples multiplied greatly” (6:7). Put away the calculator. The movement has gone viral in powerful impact.
But note the third descriptor: “A great many priests were becoming obedient to the faith.” Truly amazing. Truly God! The Jewish leaders who conspired in the crucifixion of Jesus and had been persecuting the church are now converting in droves. This profound advancement of the work of the gospel can be labeled as nothing less than a revival. It is the kind of revival we desperately need today.
Pastor J.D. Greear stated, “The key to a new movement of the Spirit of God will not be in a new technique, but in the ‘old paths’ of Gospel proclamation, earnest prayer, and yearning for the Spirit.”[i] Os Guinness wrote, “The church always goes forward best by going back first.”[ii] Our great need in the church today is to make the next new thing the first old thing.
Present Drift – Future Sift
Dr. Richard Mayhew noted, “Arguably, no time in church history has more closely approximated the first-century beginning of the church than now. Our ancient brethren faced a pagan pre-Christian culture. Similarly, the contemporary church encounters a pagan, post-Christian, and postmodern world. The essential biblical model of ministry of the first century has never been more appropriate than it is today.”[iii]
Mayhew is right in more ways than we might want to acknowledge. Unlike the early church, our current gospel impact is drifting. But, like these early believers, who were about to encounter a wave of severe persecution, the American church is in the early stages of a necessary “sifting.” The persecution in the Acts account would disrupt their world but exponentially advance the gospel. We need the same gospel-propelling result.
As Mayhew stated, “The essential biblical model of ministry of the first century has never been more appropriate than it is today.” What is this core model? It starts with leaders who relentlessly devote themselves to “prayer and the ministry of the word” to cultivate the environment and expectation of something truly supernatural for the glory of Christ. By returning to the “old paths” we could indeed experience “new power.” As we prepare for an inevitable unleashing of increased hostility and come to terms with our decreased influence, we cannot keep trying to “figure it out,” but must follow Jesus in the old paths of true gospel success.
Next month my new book, Old Paths, New Power, will issue a clear and compelling biblical call back to the Acts 6 model. My friend, John Dickerson, author of The Great Evangelical Recession, wrote a special segment for the book. In his own words, he summarized it well:
My hope for you, chosen servant of the King, is that this book equips and ignites you to fan into flame such a movement of prayer, beginning in your own closet, then continuing to your staff or disciples, and beyond into other believers. Together, let us be threads in a nationwide fabric, a movement of believers who humble ourselves before the Lord, who pray as if God’s moving is our first hope, our last hope, our only hope. If the struggles of the American Church shake us, awaken us, then they do us good. The hope of the Church has never been its cultural footing; the hope of the Church has always been the resurrection power of Christ. The power of the Church has never been within its measure of people, but always in its measure of the Holy Spirit.[iv]
This devotion is adapted from the new book, Old Paths, New Power – Awakening Your Church through Prayer and the Ministry of the Word, set for release by Moody Publishers on June 7, 2016. DOWNLOAD A FREE EXCERPT here: http://www.strategicrenewal.com/old-paths-new-power/
Copyright © 2016 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.
[i] J.D. Greear, Jesus Continued – Why the Spirit Inside You is Better than Jesus Beside You (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014) 203
[ii] Os Guinness, Renaissance – The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times (Downers Grove, Ill., InterVarsity, 2014) 132
[iii] Richard L. Mayhew, Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry – Shaping Contemporary Ministry with Biblical Mandates by John MacArthur and the Masters Seminary Faculty (Dallas, Word Publishing, 1995) 5
[iv] John S. Dickerson, Revival or Recession? An article appearing in Old Paths, New Power – Awakening Your Church through Prayer and the Ministry of the Word (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2016)