Our congregation had been crying out to God with a singular prayer: “Rend the heavens and come down” (Is. 64:1, NIV). And then it happened! On Sunday, June 15, 1997, Covenant Centre International received a remarkable and electrifying visitation of the Holy Spirit. During the morning service’s ministry time the Spirit began moving powerfully among people. As in the days of John Wesley and Charles Finney, those in the room spontaneously wept, cried out to the Lord with renewed fervor and fell to the floor under the Spirit’s power.
We didn’t leave the building until around 3 p.m. Clearly, something fresh and powerful was occurring, and we could sense a hunger among our people for more of God. But as I left that afternoon I felt a mix of excitement, alarm and trepidation. What I had desired for more than 20 years was finally “coming to pass.” Yet I was admittedly fearful in the midst of this exuberance. I knew the church’s core leadership was on board with what was happening, so I wasn’t concerned about them. Instead, I was uneasy about many in the congregation who may not understand what God was doing—or worse still, may not want it. In all honesty, I was worried that we would lose people and finances.
It didn’t take long for these fears to dissipate as God’s movement in our church continued to activate us toward greater kingdom living. True, there were a few who immediately disassociated themselves from Covenant. Others didn’t understand what was happening yet still integrated with the Spirit’s move. I believe that’s what made it such an exciting time—seeing so many welcome it even though it wasn’t “church as usual.” Although this revival came accompanied by some unusual manifestations, overall the church completely embraced it. Just as importantly, the intensity of our love for God became abundant and contagious.
Riding the Waves
Though they aren’t intended to run this course, revivals can often come and go like a hurricane, leaving a local church to pick up the pieces—that is, if the church is still intact. Fortunately, in the case of Covenant, the fire and power of God not only continued from that first Sunday, but also increased steadily after. Miracles, healing and salvation occurred continually as the ministry accelerated. In fact, for the last 11 years we have been experiencing the ongoing move of the Holy Spirit among us, and our lives have been forever changed.
One of the keys to this longevity has been our perspective on what these moves of God are about. I have found that true revival always strengthens your faith and spurs you to seek societal transformation. Although critics often say revivals are too emotionally based and scripturally weak, real revival includes the emotional, intellectual and spiritual—while also propelling God’s people to social action.
Revival is like the waves of the ocean: God comes in regular intervals, breaking upon our lives with a freshness and vibrancy that sustains us and propels us onward as we engage in advancing His kingdom. For Covenant, revival was our opportunity to learn how to ride the waves. And as a pastor, I learned—and continue to learn—several key lessons on leading people through those waves of revival. Here are at least five of them:
1. Understand that you’re not just pastoring a church but also a movement. As the revival at Covenant grew, I had to expand my role into one that fathered something bigger than just my church. My main challenges didn’t necessarily involve logistics but rather leading and involving people in what God was doing. Unfortunately, I found few contemporary models for this kind of revival. I had to learn how to respond to what critics told me was fanaticism, while also resisting the temptation to be a “superstar” since the anointing was so great. In revival, the last thing you want to do is try to lay claim over what God initiated.
2. Administratively make room for God. Covenant’s staff was tremendously impacted by this life-changing experience. For the first year, we had to continuously adjust our “church routine” according to God’s movement. It wasn’t unusual for revival services and lively prayer meetings to begin spontaneously—which meant we had to change our schedules and adapt accordingly or risk snuffing out the revival fires.
This wasn’t always easy, mind you. We soon learned that we needed an anointing for administration as well. Our lives continued to change as we were being equipped to move into the kingdom realms outside of “church.” This often meant we’d experience the revival fires of God during regular work hours, which made taking care of our daily responsibilities more difficult. As any church experiencing revival discovers, there must be sound administration to sustain the move of God.
3. Keep your core team refreshed. How many revivals have burned on while the personal lives of those in leadership stretched so thin that it eventually cost them their ministries, marriages, families, etc.? While God was bringing refreshing to Covenant, the physical strength of our core staff waned from leading multiple nights through the week—in addition to being typically overwhelmed by God’s manifest presence at these meetings. To avoid fatigue, our team had to grow and include trained lay ministers who could minister on alternate nights. Team ministry became imperative as we incorporated more people to assist with every aspect of administering revival.
4. Establish an environment of freedom by setting safeguards. As I adopted new ministry philosophies as the lead pastor, I chose to err on the side of freedom rather than trying to control everything that was happening. God spoke to me from 1 Thessalonians 5:19 to guard the “Spirit’s fire” (NIV) so that revival fire would continue. I set safeguards and boundaries, but within those safeguards there was freedom to experience God.
5. Pray, pray, pray. Just as the waves of revival increased, so did our need for spiritual graces and disciplines. We practiced confession, repentance and forgiveness, believing that getting rid of the sin in our lives opened the door for more of God’s movement. We made worship and pouring over the Scriptures priority in our private lives. We learned to pray—and then pray more. In fact, every time we did not know what to do, we prayed and repented, and the river of God always deepened.
Now, 11 years later, we are still experiencing the outpouring of God, although the manifestations of God have changed. We have moved beyond being a local church that grapples with issues of justice and reconciliation that can lead to societal transformation. Instead, I believe we’ve entered into a revival season that enacts these things with Spirit-filled power, honed in the fires of revival.
Revival is meant to be more than a local church movement. It is a kingdom movement that propels the church into the world, bringing remedies and solutions that have yet been experienced, while multitudes of people come into relationship with Jesus.
Norman Benz is the lead and founding pastor of Covenant Centre International (covcentre.org) in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
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