It’s 6 at night as I arrive home from a long day at work. I flip on the TV to catch the news. The commentator rattles off some of the day’s headlines: “The American economy is in serious trouble! President Obama and the Republicans can’t agree on the solution. With the declining economy, crime is increasing and poverty is on the rise. Internationally: Iran is threatening to destroy Israel ... the violent North Korean dictator has just died, leading to greater global uncertainty ... Egypt has turned violent ... There’s a growing threat of civil war in Iraq, and immorality seems to be at an all-time high.”
My heart wrenches with anxiety as the stories unfold. Get us out of here, Lord, I pray silently. Then suddenly, without warning, a thought stands erect like a brave soldier on the battlefield of my mind:Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Before I can process that verse, more soldiers begin to take their stand on the war-torn sands of my imagination; “Arise and shine for your light has come. The glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold deep darkness covers the earth, deep darkness the people, but the Lord will rise upon you. His glory will be seen on you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising!” In a matter of seconds, other soldiers emerge, shouting their commands into the foxholes of my heart, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth; therefore, go and make disciples of all nations!”
Courage slowly seeps into my soul as I am reminded of our mandate and mission. We were never placed on this planet to reflect the culture; we’ve been called to transform it. The kingdom of God is to be cultivated within us so that it infects and affects the kingdoms around us, until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God.
Equipping an Army
The question is, how does the church equip an army of radical, relevant revivalists and effectively deploy them to carry out this mandate to the darkest places on the planet? This was the challenge that pressed against us and became the catalyst for the launch of our Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry more than 14 years ago.
The school began with 37 students and has grown to more than 1,600 full-time students to date. Let me share with you a couple of the things we have learned along the way through many mistakes and some successes. First of all, we realized that it is very difficult to be ready for the jungle of life when we train in the zoo of riskless living. As leaders, it’s important that we equip our people in a way that prepares them for the place of their deployment. Therefore, our ministries must transition from safe “cribs” to militant Holy Spirit training centers: boot camps where the saints learn how to destroy the works of the devil.
Developing a R&D Culture
At Bethel, we have discovered that in order to successfully dispatch high-impact believers who have a powerful influence on their culture, it is necessary to develop a twofold core value system: one, which I will call “zero defects” for our character, and another, which I will call “R&D” (research and development) for our ministries.
Let me illustrate these core values by giving you a business example. The product sales industry has two competing core values. There is the manufacturing division, which typically has a “zero defect” core value, and the R&D division, which has a “discovery by trial and error” value system.
For example, when Apple Corporation went to market with its new iPhone, the goal of the manufacturing department was to have no defects whatsoever in the phones being sold. But the research and development department, which invented the iPhone, probably made hundreds of mistakes in the process of developing the product. If Apple tried to apply the same core values to the R&D department as it did to the manufacturing division, it would never have invented any products. Mistakes are the inevitable process of invention, but they are the demise of production.
In the ministry, our character and relationship with God and man are the things that belong in the “manufacturing department,” so to speak. These are the areas in which we should endeavor to have zero defects. The R&D departments of the church should include ministering in the gifts of the Spirit, healing the sick, casting out demons, attempting the impossible and so on.
The problem is that taking risks creates messes, exposes flaws and many times teaches us what doesn’t work. But this is the process that leads to true spiritual maturity and powerful, effective, transforming ministries.
God Is a Risk Taker
When we look at the beginning of creation, we see that God Himself is a risk taker. He didn’t childproof the Garden of Eden; instead, He planted two trees there: the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The latter would kill a man within 24 hours of eating its fruit. God gave man the chance to live forever, but only at the risk of the death penalty.
Let’s look at another great example of risk in the kingdom. Jesus went to a wedding and after they had celebrated, they ran out of wine. Mary pressed her Son into making more wine. I have always wondered how Mary knew Jesus could make wine, unless He was doing it at home. When the headwaiter tasted the water, which had become wine, he said to the bridegroom, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now” (John 2:10, NASB).
The words “drunk freely” in this passage is the Greek word methuo. It literally means to be intoxicated. Jesus made wine for people who were already drunk! There is no way the Lord wanted people to get drunk—the Bible makes that very clear—but God doesn’t control people. In fact, He actually provides options and then empowers them to make choices. Why, you ask? Because the only way you can get a reward for doing the right thing is to have the option to get it wrong.
The Tramp and the Prince
When I met Bethel Senior Pastor Bill Johnson more than 33 years ago, I was a broken young man who had lost his father at age 3, and had two stepfathers who didn’t like me. I didn’t trust anybody. To make matters worse, I was in the midst of a nervous breakdown, which lasted more than three years. I was brash, impetuous, outspoken, reckless, careless and often uncompassionate.
My soul has known the pain of heartbreak and betrayal. I have staggered my way through years of abandonment and abuse. I’ve experienced the humiliation of poverty, and the intense pain of being the only kid on the field with no one cheering for him. I have pleaded for attention, only to be locked outside all by myself. I have hid for hours while my stepfather was on another drunken violent rampage with my mother, locked in a room as he beat her. I grew up in a culture of intense fear.
I understand what it’s like to be unable to read in high school, and to be called stupid by my leaders. I have felt the pain of being the untalented little boy who no one wants to play on their team … standing on the sidelines, raising my hand, hoping to somehow be chosen. Many times I have stood by silently as my peers argued over who had to put me on their team.
Bill, on the other hand, was a fifth-generation pastor who was adored by his parents and raised to be a prince. He was kind, gentle, compassionate and really wise. He refused to speak evil of anyone, and always looked for the best in people. It wasn’t long before the tramp and the prince became best friends.
Despite my brokenness, Bill believed in me more than I believed in myself. He allowed me to minister to people, and would often boast about the impact of my ministry from the platform. When he would describe me to our congregation, I would often feel like Gideon, whom the angel called a “mighty man of valor” while he was hiding in the winepress.
Yet over time, Bill’s words took root in my heart and began to grow in me. It’s been more than three decades since our lives became intertwined. I am just coming to realize lately that we are saved when we believe in Jesus, but we are transformed when we understand that He believes in us.
The Jesus in Bill called out the gold in me, and rewrote my history. The risk that Bill took by empowering me at times cost him dearly. But he refused to let the pain of my process undermine my prophetic potential. We often look back and laugh at those painful days, and I am reminded that risk has its rewards.
I refuse to be crushed by the circumstances of life, or be deterred by the opinions of the “experts.” I won’t wallow in self-pity or waste my days hating the people who abused me. I reject the spirit of regret, and I will not drive my life by being fixated on the rearview mirror of the past. I have decided that feeling sorry for myself is taking up valuable time that could be used to rescue cities.
My past pain will not dictate my future victories. I was born to win, equipped to shape history, empowered to extend the borders of the kingdom and redeemed to display the unreasonable love of my king to a desperate and lost world. This mandate has become my mission, and with the help of God, I intend to accomplish it.
Learning to Fail Successfully
Faith requires RISK! If you never fail, you haven’t really taken a risk. Risk is one of the main catalysts of a supernatural lifestyle. On the first day of each year at Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, I tell our students that if they don’t fail at least three times during the school year they can’t graduate. (Of course I am not talking about moral failure and I make that very clear).
We need to learn to fail successfully. When we taught our children to ride their bikes, we took them over to the lawn so that when (not if) they fell, they wouldn’t get hurt. We need to develop an R&D culture where trying and failing is viewed as success.
This truth was driven deeper into my heart a few years ago when I met a great leader, whom I’ll call John. He had planted a church that had grown to several thousand people over a short period of time. I sensed that he was discouraged, so I asked him what was bothering him. His eyes welled up with tears as he told me the story of his best friend who had been his church treasurer for years.
John had just discovered that his friend had embezzled more than $1 million from his church. He was really hurting and feeling betrayed. He began to pour out his heart to me. John concluded his story with the statement, “I will never trust anyone like that again.”
I said to him, “John, the Bible says that Judas was a thief and Jesus knew it. But Jesus made Judas the treasurer. Why would Jesus make Judas the treasurer when he knew he was a thief?”
“I don’t have any idea,” he responded, as if it was a trick question.
“Well,” I said, “There are only two reasons I can think of. The first one is that Jesus was trying to make Judas fail. But that doesn’t seem like the Jesus I know.” John nodded in agreement.
“The second reason I can think of is that Jesus developed a culture of faith around him. This manifested in Jesus trusting people before they deserved it. This resulted in 11 men becoming world changers and one man hanging himself. World changers are only developed in a culture of faith. Faith requires risk, and the nature of risk is that sometimes you lose,” I continued. John left our conversation really encouraged.
The truth is if we don’t empower a Judas now and then, we don’t trust people as much as we should, and we are reducing the number of Peters that God can produce through us. If we are going to make disciples, experience the kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven and do greater works than Jesus, then it’s essential that we reform our ministries.
We must move out of the safe haven of institutionalized Christianity that creates co-dependent believers. We have to learn how to develop saints who will live in purity, and yet walk in power. This is heaven’s mandate, and it has to become our mission.
Kris Vallotton is the senior associate leader of Bethel Church in Redding, Calif., and co-founder of the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. He has written several books, including Spirit Wars: Winning the Invisible Battle Against Sin and the Enemy (Chosen Books); The Supernatural Power of Forgiveness: Discover How to Escape Your Prison of Pain and Unlock a Life of Freedom, and Heavy Rain: Renew the Church, Transform the World (both Regal Books); The Supernatural Ways of Royalty: Discovering Your Rights and Privileges of Being a Son or Daughter of God; Basic Training for the Prophetic Ministry; Developing a Supernatural Lifestyle: A Practical Guide to a Life of Signs, Wonders, and Miracles; and Moral Revolution: The Naked Truth About Sexual Purity (all Destiny Image). Kris and his wife, Kathy, have been married for more than 35 years. They have four children and eight grandchildren. Three of their children are in full-time, vocational ministry.