Church Leadership Strategies, Church Revival

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Strategies for Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal



Part of the ministry resources on Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal.

Introduction – The Nature of Revival in the Church

Ray Ortlund tells of a speech he heard in seminary by the renowned Christian scholar,  J. I. Packer, who conveyed with “haunting persistence” that ministers “not neglect the revival dimension in ministry.” (When God Comes to Church, 15) While not all those interested in church renewal will see their situation through the eyes of revival, Packer’s words are a reminder of its importance.

Church Revival is a unique and unusual occurrence, both in scripture and Christian history. Revival in the church should not be confused with protracted meetings of emotionally charged preaching and manipulative pleas for public repentance and re-dedication. It also is tragic to mistake biblical revival for the celebrity-promoting religious marquees dotting the American landscape, or even the fare of self-anointed messiahs who monopolize Sunday community television. Instead, revival is God’s answer to the fervent prayers of men and women who ache over the eclipse of God from the consciousness of his people, the overpowering presence of sin and unrighteousness, and the lethargy of Christ’s church in their place and time. In answer to this longing and prayer, God, in his time, and often in surprising ways, brings about a rebirth of the teaching and preaching of scripture, and the Holy Spirit moves mightily in the receptive hearts of listeners who repent sorrowfully and confess their sins, seek God’s forgiveness, experience God’s mercy, and powerfully rededicate their lives to him in ways that literally transform their surroundings. In genuine revivals, whole communities, cities, and nations may experience the mighty presence of God among them. affirms the validity of church revival. Admittedly, those trained in biblical interpretation and theology may have to develop a taste for revival literature. Those who can extend gracious latitude, however, may come out more blessed than they anticipated.

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The Nature of Church Revival Literature

Just as church revival is a unique phenomena, so revival literature is its own genre. It focuses on the movement of God in bringing about deep transformation in individuals, churches, and whole groups of people. It tends to take scripture quite literally, and does not maintain a scholarly distance from the text. Instead it emphasizes the power of the Holy Spirit to bring about a “fresh encounter” with God resulting in repentance and reformation. Harkening back to biblical revivals and historical epochs such as the First and Second Great Awakenings, revivalism describes the departure of man from God, the judgment of God against rebelliousness, the role of godly men and women as instruments God uses to call his “backslidden” people to return to him, the consequences for those who reject, and the blessings for those who receive.

Literature on revival in the church is not without its critics. It describes the work of God in very sequential, patterned terms, and spells out specific steps individuals and churches must take in seeking and experiencing revival. Some may not like this formulaic, “direct encounter” approach. Others may not appreciate the highly emotional experience that is characteristic of revivals. Also, authentic revival occurs in times and seasons that require a prophetic voice focused on conviction of sin, repentance, and restoration. It is not the best choice for those who need encouragement and consolation. Some messages comfort the afflicted, but revival literature afflicts the comfortable. Both have their place. Critics raise some legitimate concerns, especially as they relate to select phenomena often associated with so-called revivals. On the other hand, criticism may at times mask the spiritual lukewarmness indicative of the need for genuine revival.

It is impossible to deny the occurrence of genuine revivals in scripture and world history. The important task in appropriating God’s work in revival, however, is to distinguish between true and counterfeit phenomena. The first step toward this is to understand how God brought revival in biblical history, and then to let these episodes serve as benchmarks for the current day.

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MINISTRY RESOURCES ON CHURCH REVIVAL looks at revivalism more appreciatively than critically, and suggests resources in the following categories: 

Revival — Biblical Themes

These works look at the biblical record to see how God has used revival to bring people back to himself. They also provide biblical, theological, and formational benchmarks for authentic revival.

First Reads:

Other Popular Works on Revival: Though the volumes referenced above are sufficient guides to understanding biblical phenomena, the authors below are frequently referenced and may be good supplements. They are not summarized on, but are linked directly to Amazon.

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Revival — Historical

Most church leaders who follow a revival theme encounter names such as Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, John and Charles Wesley, Charles G. Finney, and Francis Asbury. It helps to understand the history behind the First and Second Great Awakenings of which these men were a part. Church histories help us in this task.

First Reads:

Other Popular Works:

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Classic and Modern Revivalists

These resources concentrate on key figures in the First and Second Great Awakenings, as well as others in more modern times whose works are consistently referenced in the interest of revival. They are listed in historical order, starting with the oldest.

Critique of Revivalism

It is important to note these are not critiques of biblical revival, but of various religious phenomena that present as revival.

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