I had been the pastor of Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola, Fla., for more than 13 years and was blessed to have the love and trust of our congregation. That made things easier when revival ushered in major sudden changes for our body. There are no handbooks or instruction manuals for revival. Immediately you are stretched beyond anything your ministerial mind can conceive. Yet once you’ve put your feet under the table of a move of God, no other table will satisfy.
I never knew a person could experience the presence and power of God that strong and survive. Our congregation and I had to develop our “sea legs” to be able to stand up and minister under the weighty presence of God. Even today, I can still hear the sounds of revival: the sobs of sinners in repentance, the roar of thousands of voices lifted in praise, and shrieks of delight and unspeakable joy as God would make Himself real to thousands at one time. There is nothing like revival!
I remember a reporter asking me in private before a Friday night service, “Reverend, did you know there are sinners in that line?” “Yes,” I said. “This isn’t a religious festival; this is a move of God.”
“I smelled marijuana in the line,” she stated. “Praise God,” I said. “I smelled alcohol in the line,” she added. Again I said, “Praise God.” I then asked her when was the last time she saw sinners standing in line waiting to get into the house of God. You see, God catches His fish first, and then He cleans them.
A pastor can destroy revival if he tries to conform everything and everyone to his standards or personal taste. At the same time, you cannot condone everything that happens. Sometimes you must bring correction to error and bring other pastoral disciplines. Still, you should never try to control a move of God.
With that in mind, I believe there are seven directives a pastor must keep in place for any revival to have longevity. Whether we find these in historic, contemporary or future revivals, these seven dynamics are essential.
1. Remain in prayer. Brownsville Assembly of God prayed for revival for two and a half years before it came. There was a deposit of prayer to draw from, but unless prayer continued, that deposit would have run out quickly. Prayer brings revival and prayer sustains revival. God never puts revival on sale. He never puts it on the bargain counter. It’s expensive and will cost us what it cost other generations who had to pay the price.
2. Establish trust via proper oversight. Trust is an important component in revival because this isn’t church as usual. Revival will stretch any congregation. When a move of God breaks out, people want to come see, hear, feel and experience revival, but they also want to feel secure and know they are being watched over. Sheep need that watchful eye.
Although visitors who come through your church’s doors during revival are still under the care of other pastors, it’s your responsibility to watch over these sheep as though they were your own. Their pastors must have confidence and trust that their congregation members will come home from the revival with a greater love for God, for the churches they attend and for their pastors.
3. Create open communication among leadership. In my opinion, God could not have sent a more compatible vessel than Steve Hill to be the evangelist at the Brownsville Revival. Steve and I had been friends for years. While he was doing missions work in Argentina we’d often call each other and would weep and rejoice over revival there. We had a great love for each other, as well as great respect. If something bothered one of us, we’d discuss it and shoot straight.
Steve and I would also exhort each other. We kept open lines of sincere and candid dialogue without sulking or hurt feelings. Because we both were brought up under different respected ministers who were mentors and spiritual fathers in our lives, we were comfortable with respected and reputable people speaking into our lives to both exhort and rebuke.
4. Avoid self-exaltation. God does not send revival to perfect people; He sends revival to hungry people. If He sent revival to only perfect people, people who always do the right thing at the right time and in the right way, we could all forget it and go home.
Steve and I always had an abiding awareness that revival did not come because of us. What happened at Brownsville was a sovereign move of God. We intentionally tried to keep all eyes on Christ. We consciously strived to avoid the use of “I,” “my” and “me” to draw attention to ourselves. When we exalt ourselves with these words, they will contain the wheeze of death as far as a move of God is concerned.
My spiritual father often reminded me, “Son, you are never as good as people say you are, and you are not as bad as people say you are.” We must all realize we are average people that God has chosen to manifest His grace through.
5. Preach the Word and sound doctrine. Revival and preaching the Word of God are synonymous. During the Brownsville Revival the Word was declared and set forth with passion, power and boldness every night, almost without exception. The cross must always be the central theme. People always respond to the preaching of the Word, and lives will be changed only by the blood.
Revival runs on the rails of sound doctrine. If the doctrine becomes unsound, revival will derail. It’s just like missing tracks on a rail line. Unsound doctrine can cause biblically grounded Christians to disconnect, leaving only wild-eyed fanatics. We must never allow experience to take the place of sound doctrine.
6. Remember the fruit of revival is souls. Let us never forget the core reason for revival. There are great and powerful things that happen regularly in revival: credible visions, outstanding experiences with a Holy God, calls to the ministry, ecstasy, jubilation, prophecies, and great prayer and intercession meetings. But at the end of the day, you must keep the main thing the main thing—and that is winning souls to Christ!
7. Be a custodian of God’s presence. A minister’s main job is not preaching, visiting, honing people skills or many other things that we tend to feel is important. It’s my conviction that a minister’s main task is to be a custodian of God’s presence. Without His presence, what good is a church service anyway?
The Brownsville Revival lasted five years as millions of people from all over the world came. I am fully aware that they didn’t come because of the worship or the ministers; they came because of the presence. Our main priority in ministry must be to maintain an atmosphere that keeps the dove from flying.