The hope of revival for the twenty-first century is reinforced by the dramatic preparations for it. Here’s one way to say it:
The attempts of the contemporary church to fulfill the Great Commission form nothing less than a prelude to revival. The great increase in local churches among the nations, the potential in resources and workers, the comprehensive strategies for world evangelization, the cooperation among Christians to complete the task—all this and more cry out for fulfillment through the empowerment that revival brings. Clearly God is setting the stage worldwide for a new advance of Christ’s kingdom. If this is his work of preparation, he will not fail to bring it about. We can seek revival with confidence that it is coming.
As we’ve seen, God is at work throughout the earth to bring everything to consummation in Jesus Christ. So it should not surprise us that in the face of the dark prospects overshadowing this generation and despite any paralysis that temporarily renders the church ineffective in serving Christ’s global cause, mission leaders worldwide testify that God is setting the stage for an extraordinary new advance of Christ’s kingdom. As we’re about to discover, the extent of the preparations going on in this hour to accelerate world evangelization require nothing less than an extraordinary outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church. Only in this way can God’s people adequately exploit the amazing opportunities he is setting before us.
Dramatic preparations are evidenced by the nature of current progress in world evangelization even prior to a full-orbed world revival. George Otis Jr. observes, “About 70 percent of all progress toward completing the great commission has take place since 1900. Of that, 70 percent has occurred since World War II. And 70 percent of that has come about in the 1990s alone.1 While church growth in the U. S. seems to have stagnated, there’s an explosion of spiritual harvest around the world such as the church has never seen before. Many believe this great turning to the Lord worldwide is simply the first fruits, a sign of all that God is getting ready to do through the coming world revival. They believe the reports of spiritual awakening in certain parts of the church (such as Eastern Europe, China, Indonesia, Argentina) are merely preludes of what is to come. They are God’s wonderful way of preparing his church to understand what revival is and how to work with it toward his missionary cause as he unleashes full revival on the whole body of Christ.
Seen from one perspective, even the dark prospects may actually be dramatic preparations. How so? God’s mercy to the nations is that he is forcing us to acknowledge our utter bankruptcy as we face the sheer magnitude of the crises before us. South Indian missionary leader Sam Kamaleson calls them “creative instabilities.” They move mankind toward Jesus Christ and his indestructible kingdom because they leave us with no other adequate hope but this. If, as E. Stanley Jones explains, the universal sickness is “homesickness,”2 and if these instabilities and crises are simply intensifying that homesickness, then every single dark prospect could be interpreted as God’s megaphone, his wake-up call inviting earth’s people to turn toward home.
Can the Fire Be Far Behind?
As modern-day missiologists describe world developments and particularly the ongoing expansion of the missionary movement, some say we are on the “crest of the wave.” Others speak of the “sunrise of missions,” suggestion what we are seeing now is but the faint light of dawn breaking over the horizon, by comparison to all that is coming.
I describe it in terms of a fireplace. As I see it, in each of these dramatic preparations, it’s as if God is building a fireplace brick by brick for the ultimate purpose of projecting the heat and light of Christ’s kingdom to the ends of the earth. If God is building this fireplace, the fire of world revival be far behind? If God is preparing at so many levels to advance his gospel worldwide—even to the fulfillment of the Great Commission—should we not expect that close at hand waits an extraordinary empowerment of the church to help us effectively enter that mission? And should we not all be praying for this with unstoppable hope?
Appendix 3 gathers together illustrations of dramatic preparations. Take a peek—you’ll be amazed! God is moving so rapidly to set the stage among all nations, however, that it is virtually impossible to stay abreast. Even so, let me try to interpret the hope provided in these stories by presenting here nine arenas of dramatic preparations. You can continue to fill in your own stories under each category as God adds more bricks to his fireplace in the days to come.
When you look at appendix 3 and the nine arenas below, ask the following questions:
- In the coming revival, how will preparations like these insure that such revival can have the greatest possible impact for Christ’s global cause?
In what sense are such highlights clear evidence that national and world revival cannot be very far off?
- In what practical ways should these preparations help to shape how we seek and prepare for revival, both individually and as churches?
- How should these preparations change the way we believe and pray for revival?
Nine Arenas of Dramatic Preparations
- Bases of Operation Are in Place
There is an unprecedented increase in the number of Christians and churches worldwide, providing the Spirit of God with new launching pads for kingdom ministries such as we’ve never seen before. Worldwide over eighty thousand people become Christians every day, and over two thousand new churches open their doors every week. There are currently nearly three million “worship centers” around the globe, people gathered weekly in local churches.
The potential for completing the Great Commission can be illustrated by looking simply at the five hundred thousand churches in the United States alone. If each church focused on reaching one of the approximately nine thousand unreached people groups still unpenetrated with the gospel, that would be fifty congregations for every unreached group. If we included churches worldwide, there would be over three hundred focused on each individual people group. If even 10 percent of these churches were thoroughly revived, it is reasonable to expect the completion of the Great Commission within this generation. The same kind of logic can apply to future ministries to the urban poor, to the world’s universities, or to other dimensions of mission.
We also know there are over one million Christians already sprinkled among most of these unreached people groups (even if churches have not yet been planted among them). Prior to any new missionary penetration from the outside, these Christian minorities, freshly empowered out of world revival, might accomplish far more to advance the gospel among their own people than we ever dreamed possible.
Can the fire be far behind?
- Available Workers Await Redeployment
There are at least 500 million Christians worldwide who are committed to sharing their faith with others. When we compare the present workforce with what we had at the beginning of Christianity, we see how God is poising the church for what some have termed “the final push” in world evangelization. Although the human population today is over thirty times larger (6 billion) than when the church began (181 million then), in terms of the growth of the church there are over four million times more potential workers than when the church began (500 million versus 128). The current ratio of new Christians to Bible-believing Christians is about 6.81 to 1, the lowest in history. And when we consider what the Spirit of God accomplished in that first-century revival, as recorded in Acts, and how well God has set the stage for total world evangelization in this generation, we must have hope.
One historian surveys the tremendous potential in a coming world revival this way:
When the broad mass of the laity in American churches continue to be exhaustingly absorbed in the rat race of business life, at least a portion of their finances is being diverted to furnish a substantial economic foundation for a remarkable missionary program abroad. One cannot help but wonder what the result would be if this mass of lay people could be spiritually released from their servitude in the American success system and reoriented to channel their major energies toward building the Kingdom of God. Foreign missions would be enriched with a new flow of personnel and resources . . .
If American were . . . to be “born again” for a generation as England was “born again” during the second awakening; if America were to become a showcase of justice as well as liberty; if Christian opinion were visibly to compel the sharing of America’s resources to feed and train the whole human community; if the network of multi-national corporations were tamed and brought into service as a rail service for the Gospel, as the Clapham leaders tamed the British Empire and used it for world missions; then “the Great Century” of missionary expansion, the nineteenth, would in all likelihood yield to an even greater successor.3
Can the fire be far behind?
- Mission-Sending Structures are Rapidly Multiplying
Currently there are 3,970 mission agencies worldwide, fielding 250,000 career missionaries and 180,000 short-term missions, backed by 400 missions research centers. This includes 49,000 missionaries out of 1,000 agencies in the Two-Thirds World alone. In fact, the non-Western missions movement is growing five times faster than the Western movement.
Of course none of this must ever overshadow the massive potential that exists in organized lay outreach invading the marketplaces of world societies, who through their own professional outlets can penetrate segments of the human family who have yet to be exposed to the gospel.
Can the fire be far behind?
- Unparalleled Global Cooperation Has Arisen
There is an intentionality toward cooperation in world evangelization such as we’ve never seen before. This is true on both international and regional levels.
On the international level we have the formation of a number of worldwide networks that are mobilizing the resources available to the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole need of the whole world. Groups such as the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, the a.d. 2000 and Beyond movement, the World Evangelical Fellowship, and the International Charismatic Committee for World Evangelization are just a few of the networks forming. There are also informal networks developing, such as among Christian relief agencies focused on specific areas of world disaster and world hunger.
Unified ministry can also be seen on regional and national levels. Recently in Nigeria, for example, over 11,000 pastors from 2,150 denominations and forty-five African countries gathered to lay the groundwork for cooperation to fully reach their continent by the twenty-first century. It was the largest such gathering of pastors in history, and it was specifically for the purpose of working toward the fulfillment of Christ’s global cause in their region.
About the same time another meeting took place called the European Leadership Consultation on Evangelization, sponsored by the Lausanne Committee, and involving 160 Christian leaders from thirty-six countries in Europe. Convened at Bad Boll, Germany, they developed a written commitment (the Bad Boll Declaration) that articulates much of the vision to be found in many of today’s efforts of regional and global cooperation. Their commitments include:
- To be open to God to experience more rapid and radical change than we have experienced in the past. We will express this in the intensification of individual and corporate prayer and action for the healing of our nations and the advancement of the kingdom of God in our world. We will convey this conviction about a new day dawning in all the churches and fellowships from which we have come.
- To work in concert with other Christians to reach and serve all the many neighborhoods, communities, and groups in our countries.
- To advocate and practice maximum cooperation among evangelical churches and organizations as critical to the essence of our call to preach the Gospel
- To mobilize local congregations and all the people in them
- To do all these things with a sense of urgency, knowing that we do not have time to do them in a leisurely way or with any perfectionist attitude. We believe that we are here for such a time as this.
Can the fire be far behind?
- Extensive Financial Resources Are Available
Never before has the church enjoyed such financial resilience to press the world missionary enterprise among all earth’s peoples. Worldwide, Christians have a total annual personal income of about nine trillion dollars, according to David Barrett. However, we are barely beginning to tap the potential. Christians spend only about 1.5 percent or 140 billion dollars per year on their churches and home ministries. An even more dismal 0.1 percent goes to foreign missions. Think what God could do if in world revival 500 million committed Christians would be willing to simply tithe their incomes. We would be pushing near to one trillion dollars! And even a tithe of that would unleash 100 billion dollars towards ministry to the nations. Why has God put such massive resources in the hands of his people at this hour? Certainly not just for our benefit!
Can the fire be far behind?
- Wide Open Doors Stand before Us
Much of the world’s population is accessible as never before to Christian witnesses coming in some capacity from the outside. In fact, right now there are far more doors open than there are laborers or resources released to enter in. Further, research indicates more individuals and more segments of populations are receptive to Christ now than at any time in the last two thousand years. This has been the discovery of a recent thrust into the former Soviet Union and among peoples of Eastern Europe by a multi-organizational cooperative effort called CoMission. They are currently seeking to mobilize hundreds of lay couples who would be willing to spend two years sharing the gospel with thousands of former Communists.
One way God is opening doors is through the process of worldwide urbanization. It is projected that by the twenty-first century 80 percent of the world will be living in major cities. “The emergence of a worldwide urban culture is setting the stage for the world’s first truly global awakening,” whites John Dawson. “From China to Brazil, cities are becoming more and more uniform in culture . . . this global unification of mission fields, especially among youth, represents a significant new development”.4 Ray Bakke concurs: “Today at their own expense vast numbers of people are flocking into every city of the world. The potential for a twenty-first century Pentecost is unmistakable.”5
Can the fire be far behind?
- Technological Sophistication Is at Our Disposal
In addition to urbanization we are experiencing the globalization of the world in a way that enhances global access to earth’s peoples. The church is poised to capitalize on this unprecedented proliferation in methods and sophisticated technology, such as the use of mass media, computers, anthropological and linguistic sciences, and high-level management sophistication. Of course, Christian mission is ultimately incarnational. Servants Christ must lay down their lives daily among the people of the earth if they are to truly disciple them according to Jesus’ standards in Matthew 28:18-20.
But never in the history of humankind has it been as possible to communicate the gospel to the whole earth as it is today. Surely God intends for us to exploit these advantages for his glory. Over the past ten years, for example, with one simple tool, The Jesus Film, millions of people in almost all major languages have been confronted with Christ as portrayed in the Gospel of Luke, with hundreds of thousands coming into the kingdom as a result. And now teams of missionaries are following up many of these conversions, establishing discipleship groups and house churches.
There is a legion of other tools just waiting to be taken up in similarly creative ways.
Can the fire be far behind?
- Commitment to Evangelism Is More Radical Than Ever
The commitment to evangelism is seen in the phenomenon of martyrdom. The church has always been a suffering church, but more so today and ever. According to David Barrett, in the 1980s 270,000 died every year as Christian martyrs. By 1990 the number was 325,800. And it is projected that there will be 500,000 martyrs annually by the turn of the century.6 If the “blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” then the Spirit of God must be sowing for a magnificent harvest.
In addition, world missionary leaders are taking a much stronger stance on the need to engage Satan and his dark hosts as we seek to reach the billions locked away in sophisticated religious systems under deep-seated demonic bondage. Perhaps never before has the global church been so ready to unflinchingly engage the principalities and powers and to do so despite the cost. Currently networks are forming worldwide that bring together scores of ministries recently raised up for the specific focus of what some call “spiritual mapping” and “spiritual warfare.” Much healthy discussion is underway as we seek theological and tactical balance in this approach. But there is a hop determination to uncover the biblical realities of satanic work among unreached peoples and to dislodge these forces of darkness by Christ’s direct intervention through a revived missionary movement. All of this exploration appears preparatory for the strategic battlers up ahead as the gospel is powerfully unleashed out of a twenty-first century revival.
Can the fire be far behind?
- Pools of Renewal Are Poised to Become Rivers
Pools of renewal are made up of those who are drawn together with like heart and passion to seek God’s face in prayer for world revival and to work together in holy, obedient preparation to serve wherever revival takes them. (I discuss them in more detail in chapter 10).
These pools are found not only within individual local churches, but even in whole denominations. They are also identifiable in a most exciting form in the united prayer movements emerging in many cities. God is even now digging trenches between the pools (often through these movements of united prayer or through coalitions for evangelistic activity) to bring them together to create grand reservoirs of renewal. In turn, they will become mighty rivers of renewal, empowering all kinds of cooperative efforts in world outreach.
For example, countless pools have been dug worldwide by the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. The last decade has witnessed a rapid increase in this renewal as it has spread throughout all 156 major ecclesiastical families or traditions of the Christian world. It is estimated that there are 372 million Christians now identified with this movement and with its strong emphasis on recapturing both the spiritual gifts for building up the body and spiritual power for witness to the world.
Digging pools at a whole different level, most predominantly within the Catholic church, are the “base ecclesiastical communities.” Base communities are small groups focused on the fundamentals of Christian prayer and witness. They began among the poor in Latin America but have spread throughout Africa, the Philippines, and other parts of Asia. Each community consists of ten to twelve families. They meet once a week primarily for prayer, first for themselves, then for their families, and finally for their cities. David Barrett estimates there will be one million base communities worldwide by the year 2000 enabling the poor to be world evangelizers in their own right.7 Richard Lovelace remarks that the base-community renewal movement “may be more pervasive worldwide than the Charismatic renewal.”8
Wherever they come from and whatever they are called, two fascinating characteristics about today’s pools of renewal make them unique. As opposed to previous “great awakenings,” they are pervasive throughout all parts of the body of Christ. Secondly, they are focused preeminently on renewal in the body for outward advance on all fronts of Christ’s global cause. In other words there appears to be a shared expectation that world revival is coming to bring closure to world evangelization and the consummation of all things. Never to this degree has this characteristic so dominated prayer movements of the past.
Come, for Everything Is Now Ready
Who has dug these pools of renewal? Can the river be far behind? Who is shaking the church out of apathy and hopelessness? Can the earthquake be far behind? Who has put all these bricks into place? Can the fire be far behind? “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion . . . (Phil. 1:6).
The implications of such preparations are simply staggering. What if, in fact, among the over one billion Christians, God is preparing to raise up a revived church galvanized for biblical action on a whole spectrum of global issues? (Even 20 or 30 percent would be an awesome army!) When if massive revival would come to the church to such a degree that there would be an unbreakable solidarity among Christians in all parts of the body to labor together for the fulfillment of the Great Commission among the remaining three billion unreached people of the world?
What a panorama of challenge and hope this puts before us! Have we any other alternative but to join in a movement that prays and prepares for nothing less than national and world revival, and to do so with confidence? Hear the Father say, in the words of Jesus’ parable, “Come, for everything is now ready” (Luke 14:17). The hope is at hand.