"The Meat is in the Streets?"
I was totally helped by your comments on the "praying for revival" post, in that some of you (I'm looking at you, Ellen) have, as it were, "been there," where I've only read about revivals. So I can have starry-eyed hopes for some new revival based on distant historical accounts of the Welsh Revival or more-recent accounts like the Jesus Movement or even the promotional work of the Sentinel Group with the Transformations videos (although some of those have been discredited by subsequent researchers--to Ellen's point). (Although--a second although!--there is that picture of Brian Odom with the giant carrot--note yesterday's post--which is a direct reference to a revival mentioned in one Transformations video.) But I haven't been there.
Except once, and it does speak to each of your objections.
During the Toronto wave that swept through Vineyard churches in the early 90s, my then-prosperous (averaging maybe 600 on a Sunday) Vineyard church in San Francisco (I was an attendee and led a small group, but was not on staff) began holding nightly renewal meetings that drew more than our Sunday attendance each night. Our pastor was very excited about this presumed wave of the Spirit and encouraged us to come as many nights each week as we could. Was this revival?
And so I came to my first meeting, with Grace. And it was memorable. The buzz about "Toronto-style" connection with the Holy Spirit was that people would fall over when you prayed for them (they famously had "catchers" for each person prayed for) and would often lose some inhibitions (laughter was common, and occasionally more outre responses as well). And so I got prayed for, somewhat churlishly, as losing inhibitions, believe you me, has never been something I'm eager for.
A friend of mine on the staff prayed for me, was clearly pressing against my forehead until I went over, and so I finally obliged him, though pissed off. I recounted that story to Grace on my way home, to which she responded, "Just to say, I watched him praying for you and he never got closer than a couple of feet to your forehead. He never touched you." So that made an impact, and I went back the next night. (With no kids, we could do such a thing.)
That next night, laying there on the floor, I had flash memories of mean boys from my high school days whom I hadn't thought of in many years. I found myself forgiving them and praying for wherever they now were in life. It felt very healing.
We went back several times over the next month, and then quit going. The main reason we quit was that this seemed like an incomplete view of discipleship (of growth in the things of Jesus). Was the point of following Jesus that...for the rest of time we should come to church meetings as often as we could and lay on the floor "soaking" in the Spirit (the vernacular of the time)? Surely that couldn't be it.
And indeed the meetings themselves, though they drew hundreds of people a night for the first few months, petered out themselves soon enough, as such things tend to do. It's perhaps unrelated or perhaps not to note that the church itself shrunk dramatically not that long thereafter.
A few years later, the national Vineyard leadership distanced themselves from the Toronto gang, which led to a few dozen churches leaving the Vineyard and affiliating with the "revival" in Toronto. The observation I heard a few years later was that a noteworthy percentage of those churches had since shut their doors.
And so, to my mind, there we have our quandary. On the one hand, three cheers for anything that seems to invite the powerful work of God's Holy Spirit into actual human lives. I enjoyed the meetings I went to and, as I mentioned, did experience some helpful things. On our drive from San Francisco to Boston to start the church I now pastor, Grace and I stopped in Toronto for a few days to experience the phenomenon firsthand and very much enjoyed our time there. And we're friends with the Bakers who have done such remarkable things in Mozambique and who attribute a lot of the good things that have happened there to the renewal of their faith and experience of the Holy Spirit that happened for them in Toronto. Two of our staff members here feel as though their marriage and their faith were restored by their experience in Toronto. It's hard to be upset about results like that.
But, as to Ellen's point, yes.
Clearly this sort of renewal experience is seductive and risks being very damaging as a view of life and of following Jesus. It strikes me as, by definition, needing to be a brief waystation rather than a place one camps out in. The popularizer of Vineyard churches, John Wimber, had a gift for folksy aphorisms. On occasion he'd be asked by disgruntled parishioners where the "meat" was in his teachings, and his response would be, "The meat is in the streets." Meaning that there IS no "meat" of what God is offering that comes from sitting in a house of worship. It could only come as we interact with people ouside those doors and we see if any of this stuff applies there, if the world and not just people who go to renewal meetings multiple times a week could benefit from what God hopes to offer.
I was invited to a really wonderful gathering of worship leaders recently and, in praying for them, I found myself saying, "Your wonderful worship leading isn't meant for church people. It's meant for all people. What's your plan for offering it to non-churchgoers?" I mentioned that to Dan Littauer, who moderates this blog, as if that was some sort of profound insight and he looked at me blankly for a moment before saying, "Of course. Who would possibly think differently?"
But that's just it. A lot of church people would think differently. I know several churches full of great, faith-filled people, who see their role as "serious" followers of Jesus as being to go to church meetings and pray to be filled with the spirit several times a week. It would be the brave non-churchgoer who could ever find their way into such a meeting and happily stay.
So: A long preamble to today's question. Presuming that receiving a fresh dose of God is often very helpful for those of us who do go to houses of worship, how do we balance what we need from God with realizing that our life isn't lived with house-of-worship people; it's just lived with people (some of whom, of course, may go to a house of worship)?