But it’s also clear that Jesus did not consider the crowds coming to His meetings to be the height of His ministry. The Gospels tell us on several occasions that Jesus “sent the crowds away.” In John 6 He even challenged His followers’ motivations for seeking Him so strongly that they all left. After they had departed, Jesus turned to His 12 disciples and asked them if they were leaving as well!
Jesus was obviously not sending out fundraising letters based upon those coming to His meetings. Too often we judge success by the size of the crowds and the feeling of the event. Jesus did not. He sent the crowds away in order to invest Himself in the 12. His teaching and practice show us that He didn’t consider revival or evangelism to be events. Instead, His ministry years verify what He considered the most important part of His life: sharing relationally with the 12.
For years in Christendom we as leaders have either taught or conveyed the notion that revival and evangelism are events judged by numbers and anointing. This has produced several major areas of questioning.
The Numbers Game
Someone once tracked the number of decisions being reported by evangelistic ministries in Ukraine between 1995 and 2000. Their claimed numbers added up to five times the country’s total population! In trying to verify the source of this statement, I actually ran across similar claims regarding evangelism in Russia.
In India, a friend of mine once discovered why his crusades were always packed out: Christians were being bused in to create a crowd. In fact, these believers were even being coached on coming forward in increasing numbers as the crusade progressed to stir up excitement. The partner for my friend’s crusades had reported planting 60 churches out of these evangelistic outreaches, when in fact he did not have a single congregation.
The sad truth is that you can have as large a crusade in India or Africa as you can afford to pay for. Although things in the West may be more sophisticated, the underlying element of “success by numbers” remains. Does media hype create a revival, or does a revival create media hype? Why are miracle stories presented with such conviction onstage yet so hard to verify off it? And why have we become so easily enamored with crowd size in the first place?
Where Is the Fruit?
Few people realize that one of the worst genocides in recent history took place in an area of the world that was also one of the most evangelized. Rwanda sits in the Great Lakes region of Africa, an area that at one point was the most heavily infiltrated with the gospel. Yet it’s since been said that Africa has been over-evangelized and under-discipled—and in this case, I believe the tragic results may confirm it.
Why is it that those areas of the world that have had the largest evangelistic events often continue to have the most corrupt societies? Where is the fruit in changed lives and changed societies?
Recently I was in Ukraine and Armenia and noticed a similar sight in both countries: scores of young people standing in the shadows. Apartments are small. There are no jobs and little money. This equates to hundreds of kids hanging around on the streets.
As I saw this scene night after night, a question lingered in my thoughts: How can we hire these standing idle in the marketplace for the kingdom? When I posed the question to those I was with, they said it was almost impossible since most of these young people had already been through the churches. The kids’ experience had proven the churches to be no different than the mafia or the political culture around them—it existed only for the benefit of those at the top.
My wife and I were a part of the revival in the Ukraine. We had anointed conferences that featured God’s healing and power. We have plenty of miracle stories, and yet much of the “fruit” is back out on the street.
Something is wrong.
A Motivation Factor
Without being too cynical, I think it’s safe to say revival is big business. Host churches quickly expand to capacity and beyond. Revival leaders become celebrities. And sadly, we seem to crave our Christian celebrities as much as the general population does its pop stars.
Why do so many ministry leaders want to make sure they’re seen onsite whenever a so-called “revival” breaks out? Why do our invitations to “come and get some” have such an appeal? And why do we not question the obvious materialism of many of the celebrities inviting us?
The short answer is that we want the ministry fame, celebrity status and lifestyle as well. We want “it” to break out in our ministries and expand our renown and influence. This is a Ponzi scheme. The Christians flock for a while and the world remains untouched.
Does God meet genuinely hungry folks in this process? Of course. Does everyone have wrong motivations? Of course not. I have known many pastors and ministry leaders who were desperate for God to move among His people, who simply wanted refreshment, direction, guidance, healing, etc., and traveled many miles to a revival simply because they were truly hungry for a touch from Him.
But over the last 30 years we have seen several of these “revivals” move through the charismatic church. The church world gets excited. The meetings escalate, reach a new high and then slowly, eventually wind down—while the world remains mostly oblivious to what has happened. Then the church waits for the next big thing.
Obviously, there have been and are exceptions to this. Authentic revival is not a thing of the past. However, we must avoid turning it into a spectator sport. And to help us do that, I believe it’s to our advantage to take notice of what “revival” means in places where God is obviously on the move.
A Different Type of Revival
We know of the revival in China. We’ve heard about the church-planting movements in some of the most radical Hindu and Muslim parts of the world. Those at the heart of these moves can’t do “revival” meetings. They have no TV ministries, no radio ministries, no megachurches, no schools of ministry, no best-selling authors and no leaders with celebrity lifestyles.
Instead, they have martyrs, leaders in jail and leaders on the run. I know because some of them are my friends.
They know that Jesus did not command us to count decision cards, but that He instructed us to make disciples. They know that disciple making is a relational process, not a series of events. They practice discipling unto a decision. They understand why Jesus sent the crowds away and invested His life in a few.
You cannot obey the commands of Jesus from a platform. You can only do so house to house and relationship to relationship. You can’t “love one another” through a TV show. You can share information, but you cannot do life transformation.
Sadly, most of us in leadership fail to recognize that we’ve tried to reduce a face-to-face, heart-to-heart relational process to a performance event. It simply cannot be done! In fact, it could be argued from proof of the lasting fruit and from the New Testament that our Western media presentation is counterproductive or even destructive to building a kingdom culture.
Unfortunately, we don’t want to hear this because it’s a hard truth to swallow. We may know about the revival in China, but we don’t necessarily want to learn its lessons. We prefer platforms and celebrity lifestyles. Few among us want to pay the price in humility and servanthood to do the commands of Jesus, one life at a time.
When you are on the platform, you are the most important person in the room. Anyone in the crowd could leave and never be missed. But when you are in the home of a man of peace in obedience to Luke 10, you are always the servant, and the one you are sharing with is the most important person in the room. That is what Jesus wants to multiply!
Mass movement into the kingdom most often does not come from the center of society; it comes from the fringes. It comes from the edges when we begin to do the “one another” stuff with the least of these. Kingdom multiplication comes when we invest our lives in the few and teach them to do the same.