South African native Rodney Howard-Browne and his wife, Adonica, moved to the United States in December 1987 with $300, four suitcases and three young children. Having spent years as a pastor, Bible school teacher and traveling evangelist throughout Africa, he believed the Lord had called him as a missionary to the U.S. He quickly launched into a stateside tour with the intent of stirring people's hunger for a move of God. Since then, Howard-Browne has been instrumental in sparking revivals both here and around the world, while his gatherings often have been marked not only by salvations but also signs, wonders and miracles.
Though commonly known for his calling as an evangelist, Howard-Browne and his wife have served as pastors of The River at Tampa Bay Church for 11 years in Florida, where their ministry, Revival Ministries International, is headquartered along with River Bible Institute and River School of Worship. Last year the couple embarked on a series of "Great Awakening" tours, concentrating on once again ignited the fires of revival throughout America.
Ministry Today: You have a unique perspective on God's global movement. How do you incorporate that vision into the local church?
HOWARD-BROWNE: America is a nation made up of nations. When God sent us as missionaries to America and told us to start The River in Tampa, it was not something we had planned to do. I used to joke and say I'd never pastor again—and if the thought ever came to me, I'd take two Tylenol and hope it would leave. However, a pastor is a shepherd, and a shepherd is one who loves people. That's the whole point of ministry—to love the people, feed the people and touch the people. That's what Jesus did. He loved, fed and touched. My job is not to feed everybody, because I can't. I can't touch everybody. But the ones He gives to us, I can.
Our church is a little different than most. We see it as more of a family. You can have guests, but the question is whether the family is in the house when you're done. There are family tiffs and quarrels. There are differences—but a family's family. And the family's made up of every tribe and every tongue and every nationality. We tell people when they come to our church, "If you walk in the door and you feel at home, then this is your home. If you don't feel at home, we're glad you came to visit us." I think where people go wrong is they try to make those people part of their family, and they're not.
Ministry Today: Throughout your revival campaigns this year, it's been a struggle to get churches within the same city to work together to evangelize the lost. Why do you think that is?
HOWARD-BROWNE: Many times people can't see the forest for the trees. They get so caught up in what they're doing that becomes their main focus. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that, but the fact is God will bring into our cities from time to time ministries with different perspectives, outreaches or gifts that are only going to help us because as more people get saved, they'll funnel into the local church.
The biggest problem we have is that people don't see America as the mission field; they see South and Central America, Africa, Asia—but not America. Along with this, we often encounter people who respond like, "We're already doing everything, why do you need to come in and help us?" Everyone needs a fresh set of eyes, people who don't know the status quo who can come in and just do what is different. Because doing what is different is what's going to break open the realms that will bring revival, soul-winning and the harvest. That's what we feel God has told us to do: to ignite a fire across the United States for the lost. It's time to get outside the four walls of the church.
Ministry Today: What, then, is the church's role when revival is sparked?
HOWARD-BROWNE: The upper room was not a hotel where you checked in and never checked out, which a lot of charismatic-Pentecostal churches have become. They're like hotels in that you just come for the feeling, like a drug. You come, get your high, go sit in the corner and say, "Wow."
On the day of Pentecost the fire fell to bring in the harvest. Jesus said, "You'll receive power to be My witnesses." A witness is a demonstrator, somebody who's willing to die for what he believes. So when we walk into town as witnesses, we don't just speak a dead word, but we actually demonstrate by His power that He is alive. The same power that rolled away the stone is right there with us.
Ministry Today: How does a pastor stir up spiritual hunger within his congregation that's been doused in an entertainment-driven culture all week?
HOWARD-BROWNE: The pastor has to have it himself. The pastor must be under the spout where the glory comes out. The pastor has to press in. It's easy as a pastor to get up, look at the crowd and then pull yourself down to that level where the lukewarms are. In every congregation you have those who are radical and on fire; then you have a group of people who are just lukewarm; and then you have the cold. The question every pastor must ask is, "Do I want to cater to the cold and the lukewarm? Do I bring the church level down to that?" The people who are going to make the difference within the local church as far as soul-winning and new life are going to be the radical and on-fire. They're going to be the people that pray, those who give financially.
There has to first be a cleansing of the house in bringing people back to their first love. The pastor sets the tone for that. If he's cold, they're going to be cold; if he's lukewarm, they'll be lukewarm. But if he's on fire, they'll be on fire. So I always say to pastors, "Don't let the lukewarm or the cold put out your fire." That can happen after five, six or seven years in the ministry when a pastor is ready to throw up his hands and go with the crowd. But a live salmon goes upstream; a dead fish floats downstream.
Ministry Today: What challenges do you see particular to the American church in the midst of the Holy Spirit moving so powerfully in other parts of the world?
HOWARD-BROWNE: Very powerfully elsewhere. And powerfully outside of the church. But God is moving in America in an amazing way too. People would be shocked if they knew how God was moving outside the church context. A lot of religious leaders can't see that because they're only in their circle.
The problem is everything here has become a formula. If you build the church, get the demographics, find out where to build the church, what the people want—whether you should have put the latte maker in the lobby ... the whole thing is to cater to the needs of the people. It's like a Disney World-type experience. Most churches abroad don't have the resources to do all that, though many of them are breaking through now and seeing the blessings of God. Still, if they don't have the presence of God, they don't have anything.
I think of the typical church in China with 50 people sitting cross-legged on a cement floor. It's damp, there's one Bible amongst them. There's no air conditioning—in fact, it's very cold. They read the Bible, they cry, and they sing for hours. But here it's in and out in an hour—"Sorry we kept you so long." There's a difference. In the foreign field, it's often life or death; here it's just an added thing—"Yeah, I don't think I'll go to church today, I think I'll go to the lake."
Ministry Today: Would you chalk that up to a lack of spiritual hunger?
HOWARD-BROWNE: I think when things are desperate, you have to turn to God. You can wake up in the morning and it could be your last. I'm not saying it's not that way in certain areas, like within the inner cities of America. It is that desperate in certain situations. But God is often looked at as an additive here. We've got all these things here, and, oh by the way, there's God too. In America an intellectual-type gospel can survive because there are enough people that just want their intellectual thought processes stimulated. But in India, Africa and other places like that, if you don't touch the heart, you're not going to get anywhere.
Let me say it again, though: Overseas is here. You don't have to move; just look at what you have in the city. Hungry people, desperate people are the ones who are going to press in to the things of God. And they're here. America's very hungry; there are a lot of hungry people. They're desperate, at least in the areas I'm going. They're crying out, they've had enough of the same ol', same ol'. They want something that's real. People are fighting for their lives. There's desperation out there.