How This Renewal Changed our Church
Recently, I pulled a folder from my file cabinet labeled “Renewal” and spent the morning reading through the many articles I have collected on the “Father’s Blessing” over the past six years. Several articles written early in this move by leaders of various associations of churches described what the writers felt this renewal should do. Several of these articles suggested that it should lead to works such as feeding the hungry, evangelizing the lost, discipling new believers and church growth.
The new move of the Spirit has created all of the above in our local church. We’ve started “The Father’s Pantry,” a food ministry to the poor. Our congregation has grown from 120 to 275 average weekend attendance. Hundreds of prodigals have returned to first love passion, and we have recorded 508 decisions for Christ. In addition to all of this, hundreds of people have given testimony to physical and inner healings that have taken place during our services. Our Friday evening renewal meeting will be starting its fourth year this November. Every Friday night people drive from all over Fresno, California and as far as one hour away to attend this modest little watering hole called The Father’s House. The fruit of the “Father’s Blessing,” which some people think they need to see, continues to multiply in this place.
THE REAL FRUIT
But frankly, if none of the above had happened, I could still write a book on the fruit of the renewal. The fact is that many people hindered and even killed the new outpouring in their local assemblies by trying to make it turn into something you could validate with tangible results. I remember people saying early in the outpouring that it was time to get up off the floor and “take it to the streets.” Having been renewed in the Spirit, they now returned to the very thing that caused them to need renewing in the first place, good old-fashioned human effort to accomplish that which only comes as Spirit-led disciples cooperate with the Father.
All fulfillment of mission flows from this river of delight.
Let me describe the fruit I have witnessed in two categories: the fruit of His presence in my life as a child of God, and the fruit of His presence in the congregation I pastor.
THE PASTOR ENCOUNTERS GOD
In October of 1994 during the Catch the Fire conference in Toronto, God touched me. I had been raised in Pentecostal churches, and although I had witnessed others being touched by God’s power and had wept before the Lord and flowed in the gifts of the Spirit, I had never felt the overwhelming power of His presence myself.
The love and passion I now had for Jesus far surpassed anything I had ever experienced before.
The second day of that conference, two people prayed for me. Within 20 seconds an “unseen force” raised me about eight inches off the ground and knocked both of my feet out from under me. I landed in front of “the catcher” solidly on my back unharmed. For the next 45 minutes I relaxed on the floor while both of my hands and arms began to shake. I saw a vision of oil flying off my hands and onto the people of our congregation. When I got up off the floor, I was a brand new person spiritually. The love and passion I now had for Jesus far surpassed anything I had ever experienced before.
HE REVOLUTIONIZED ME
That experience, along with Mike Bickle’s teaching from the Song of Solomon at that conference, changed my life. It was the beginning of my pursuit of intimacy with the Lord. Before this experience, I was a pastor who believed that God had posted a “Help Wanted” sign. I thought that He had saved me because He had work for me to do, and I was answering the ad. Now I realize that He saved me because He wants me to delight in His presence.
In his book, PLEASURES EVERMORE, Sam Storms writes, “God is most glorified in me, when I am most satisfied in Him.” The renewal, for me, is about God teaching me to delight in Him by the power of the Holy Spirit. All fulfillment of mission flows from this river of delight.
I have learned how to wait on God and enjoy the eternal pleasures of His presence.
My renewed passion for Jesus has resulted in a fresh hunger for the Word and for reading and studying about Him. I graduated from Bible college in 1974, but in the twenty years from 1974 to 1994, I am ashamed to say that I did not read one book regarding the person and work of the Holy Spirit and had only skimmed a few books on Christology. Most of my reading was regarding pastoral leadership and church growth. Within two months after the October conference, I had read four books on the Holy Spirit written by people such as John White, Charles Kraft, Jack Deere and William DeArteaga. I am still reading.
Perhaps the most profound impact of the “Father’s Blessing” on me and our church has been what we now call soaking in His presence. For most of my Christian life prayer had been man-centered to me. It involved a lot of striving to get God to do things, such as send revival, or trying to get him to bless the work I was doing. As such, prayer was loud, but not much fun! I was from the tradition that assumed God had lost His hearing and therefore prayers needed to be screamed out loud, interspersed with tongues and binding lots of things. Now, I have learned how to wait on God and enjoy the eternal pleasures of His presence. It is now the fuel for my ministry.
I am so very grateful for the joy that has come and for the holy laughter! Someone wrote a book implying that fire is more important than laughter, but my first experience with holy laughter lasted for over an hour strengthening and healing me and giving me fire.
PASTORING IN THE SPIRIT
Before God changed my heart in this outpouring, our congregation suffered weekly under the tyranny of the well- run church service. I planned and rehearsed every moment, every song and every word I preached, but now I’ve had to relax control so that God can touch people. My first Sunday back from Toronto, all the manifestations I’d seen there suddenly broke out in our morning service. The people didn’t even know I had been to Toronto. Immediately God began to bring my vision to pass of the oil flying off my hands onto our congregation. Our Sunday morning worship gathering went from a 70-minute quasi- Pentecostal/Charismatic gathering to a more than two-hour gathering of hungry, radical worshipers. We began to give time to the Lord to see what He wanted to do during the service.
My wife and I, with the help of a local pastor, quickly developed a ministry team, and we began to pray for people during worship and after the service. God began to touch people and change lives, and He’s still doing that today.
I believe a pastor must oversee the congregational gatherings and pray that God will use the services to meet the needs of the people who are there. Over the six years of renewal, we have had to learn to step back to wait on the Lord to see what He wants to do next. One Saturday afternoon I heard the Lord say, “There will be people in attendance tomorrow with hurts so deep, nothing you do can heal them, not the best prepared worship or sermon. They need My touch.” Allowing God the time it takes to touch people requires that we get out of the way and wait on Him, and we are still learning how to do that.
Just last weekend at all three of our gatherings, the presence of God came in a powerful way. People were in awe of God as He refilled us with His Spirit once again, and it’s beginning to have a more powerful effect.
Before 1994 our congregation had little or no impact in our community. Since the Holy Spirit has come, it could be said without exaggeration that thousands have attended our conferences and renewal meetings, and have been refreshed in their relationships with the Lord and energized to fulfill their missions.
The outpouring of the Spirit has not been a panacea for our ministry that always prevents problems. Sometimes it creates new ones. We still experience the pain any pastor feels when people leave, and we still have to deal with our fleshly reactions to this. When renewal breaks out in a congregation, people will come with a variety of agendas, things they expect from it. Those who come still wounded over hurts experienced in a congregation they’ve previously attended will cause trouble if they do not receive healing from them, but this is true with or without revival. Nevertheless, the past six years have been the best of our 23 years in full-time ministry because the Holy Spirit keeps coming among us.