Josiah sits with a group of us on campus and hears how Jesus calls us to follow Him and be baptized. He confesses Jesus as Lord, we fill up the bathtub, and his friends baptize him. One day, we all take communion together with some fifty-cent, day-old Jimmy John’s bread and some soda pop (we couldn’t find any juice). Josiah hears, “Now that we have taught you to remember Jesus this way, you now have permission to do this ceremony with others who need Jesus.” Later that week, Josiah goes into the cafeteria, gets some bread and juice and sits with some friends and teaches them to take communion. Yeah, it’s not your conventional church tradition. But it is an unconventional gospel going forth with power to change lives.
Joe walks in to the group of students one day. He had read the Bible a few times as a kid, but really doesn’t have a church background. Students share stories of encounters they’d had with the Holy Spirit. Joe asks, “Can I feel God’s presence, too?” Bear comes over and begins to pray for him, asking God’s Spirit to touch Joe. He suddenly feels a heavy “weight” fall on him, and senses the love and power of God filling him. “What is going on? I’ve never felt anything like this!” he starts laughing, filled with joy at this refreshing from the Holy Spirit. Joe soon joins the group and starts following Jesus with us.
One day a student tells stories of how his roommate is manifesting demons, praying in demonic languages and cursing him for being a follower of Jesus. He is tormented and cries out in his sleep. These are the kinds of issues you face when you’re bringing the gospel into areas where there is a lot of darkness. “For this purpose was the Son of God manifested – to destroy the works of the devil.” When Jesus said, “As the Father sent Me, so I’m sending you,” (John 15) I believe He wants us to destroy the works of the devil in people’s lives as well.
Many times, you’ll only see the power of the gospel shown fully when you take it to where it is most needed. It’s most needed where people don’t have it. When you bring the gospel to darkness, it’s powerful – but people are also gonna have a lot of mess in their lives.
One of my student leaders called me a few weeks ago to confess a sin. He’d stumbled in immorality. I was bummed. I didn’t make light of it. It was serious. But I also didn’t freak out. After all, I’m not discipling people who already have a Christian culture. I’m discipling people who have been broken, abused, beat up, ashamed, drugged, demonized and jailed. My young disciple repented, confessed it, and received prayer for healing and strengthening. Two years ago, he was in bi-sexual relationships and had just come out of jail. This year, he’s led at least ten people to Jesus, seen a number of miracles, and become an emerging evangelistic leader in the church. He’s unstable, but he’s getting more stable all the time. He’s come a long way. He now spends time with Jesus every day and is growing in character. I meet with him at least weekly for accountability and discipleship. I don’t let his gifts “qualify” him, but I don’t let his immaturity hold him back from using his gifts, either. I disciple him, think about him as a spiritual son, and give him discipline (verbal correction and rebuke), love, encouragement, and grace when he fails. It’s tiring. Parenting is. That’s really what discipleship is like sometimes – spiritual parenting.
Paul said to the Corinthians, “You have many instructors, but you don’t have many fathers.” Apostolic ministry has the spirit of fathering.
What do you think Corinth looked like when the gospel was spreading there? Why do you think all these young churches needed apostolic guidance, visits, and letters sent to them (think I and II Corinthians as the letters written to this young church)? Because anytime the gospel starts transforming a pagan culture, there’s going to be a lot of very messy stuff. The gospel transforms darkness, drives out demons, and teaches people how to live in a new Kingdom. When there are spiritual fathers in place and the gospel goes forth, young leaders can emerge in places like Corinth that transform places that seem impossibly difficult.
The more I think about what’s gone on in the student church movement the last three years, I’m more convinced then ever that my personal passion is not revival, at least as I’ve often thought of it. I love revival. I know, love and respect many friends who’s life passion is to seek God for revival. Maybe it’s just semantics and stereotypes– but when I think of revival, I think of stages, shows, large crowds, and emerging Christian “superheroes” who make the next cover of popular Christian magazines and “top-100” lists of most influential leaders. I’m ok with that, I just have no desire to be in that world anymore. What really makes me “tick” is seeing demonized, oppressed, pagan people meet Jesus, start following him and develop into churches that are calling others to follow Jesus. My thrill in ministry is coming home from seeing a new disciple baptized, a new church starting, seeing someone set free from demons, seeing a student realize God is a Father who loves them. My passion is for spiritual awakening – seeing the spiritually dead come to life, live for Jesus, make other disciples, and learn to live in God’s kingdom. As one old pastor told me recently, “I’m for the power of God – absent the showmanship of man.”
Perhaps we need to redefine what we mean when we say, “Revival.” History is full of examples of where “revival” hit, but the gospel never translated down from the stage, the personalities, and the large crowds to transform families, the workplace, and the culture. Without discipleship and giving ordinary people a way to experience Jesus and his kingdom in their everyday life, we’re merely sparking matches — and not equipping people to spread spiritual fires that can burn through a culture.
I’m looking for an army of young people to equip to go to the places of darkness on campuses, in the cities, and in the nations of the world. I’m looking for an army of young people who aren’t afraid to courageously confront the darkness and the demons and their own insecurities to say, “I’m here to call people to follow Jesus and see the kingdom of God come to the earth.” They’re not looking for fame. They’re not looking to be exalted. They’re not looking for a show or a crowd – they’re burning to see the power of God go to places of darkness and transform it.
The last few years, I’ve seen hundreds of student churches start on college campuses. Hundreds of students have met Jesus, been baptized, filled with the Holy Spirit, and healed. Some students have begun to travel to start simple churches with friends on other campuses and in new nations. I don’t know a single one of these student churches that has started through advertising, “officially registering a group”, posting signs on street corners, getting a church logo, or any of the other ways many of us think of for “starting a church.” It’s become a student-led movement. There are older leaders in place, apostolic elders and leaders like myself and my good friends Brad and Pam, the Changs, Ormes and others who are loving, equipping discipling, and providing spiritual parenting – but it’s primarily the next generation who’s running with this vision.
Here are a few thoughts I’m processing this morning:
- Making disciples is how to grow churches.
- Making disciples who make other disciples is how to grow a movement.
- Spiritual parenting is how to guide and grow a movement of churches to reach the nations.
If we need a revival in our culture, our greatest need is not just for a revival shown by conferences, stages, and just renewing older churches. My quest is for a “revival” to the same kinds of creative missions, prayer, disciple-making, spiritual parenting, and church planting that were modeled for us in the book of Acts.
My next post, I’ll discuss some basic ways we’re learning in our movement to form new disciples into teams that follow Jesus together (churches) to see this kind of “revival” spread to the areas people do life together.