Outreach is the fuel for revival

Without ongoing community impact, revival is short-lived and self-absorbed

Commentary | Mike Jones

Without ongoing community impact, revival is short-lived and self-absorbed

Calls for revival coming from our denomination's leadership are gratifying, but we must never forget the importance of outreach.

I'll never forget a revival that swept my home church back in 1969 in Worthington, Ohio. I had just left the ranks of cultural Adventism, having made an adult decision for Christ at the age of 30. Adventist businessman-turned-revivalist Emilio Knechtle had become my mentor, and at my suggestion, the church invited him to hold a weekend series of meetings. The result? A revival broke out.

That revival resulted in our launching approximately a dozen small prayer-study groups. Some groups studied various books of the Bible, while others used Christ-centered books such as church co-founder Ellen G. White's Steps to Christ. A new spirit permeated the church and lives were changed for the better. It was wonderful. For a while.

But a year later, our revival had mostly ended.

Why? Because our focus was mostly on us. We wanted to strengthen our walk with Jesus -- a good thing. But, regrettably, we weren't doing the works of Jesus -- not a good thing. You see, outreach is the fuel that keeps revival fires burning, and outreach wasn't happening with us.

There's nothing new about this. White once reported on a revival that happened in Battle Creek, Michigan in 1893, which faded when the students didn't engage in outreach. I will never forget the revival that swept the campus at Andrews University in 1971, my first year as an instructor there. It was powerful, impacting both students and faculty. But it didn't last, either.

Jesus underscores the importance of outreach: "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons," he says in Matthew 10:8. But those ideas simply weren't on our plate back in 1969. We weren't impacting our community. We were so happy enjoying our sweet little revival and the new closeness many of us had with each other that we didn't do much else except maintain our groups.

Regrettably, it wasn't long before we were back in our Laodicean twilight zone. We liked what had happened and didn't want to lose it.

Jesus warned in Mark 4:18 that "the cares of this world and...the desire for other things" would, if permitted, choke the Word, causing it to be unfruitful. That's what happened to us. Over time, some of us even left the church, including me.

Today I'm back and believe I have revival in my life. But outreach is what's keeping it alive. As I encounter people in my church and community with fractured relationships, some homeless and others mentally ill, among other issues, I come face to face with a huge problem. I'm not up to the task. I'm inadequate.

But that inadequacy is proving to be quite a blessing. Because my sense of inadequacy these days drives me to my knees and to God's Word. Every morning I tell Jesus, "It's your son Mike down here in the war zone of Planet Earth, and I am desperate for your presence in my life." As I pray, I plead for God's power and wisdom and grace (His adequacy) to be manifest in my encounters.

Without a doubt, the one-two punch of prayer and Bible study, when combined with outreach, is what fuels the fires of revival.

"But I'm not good at outreach," you may say. "I wouldn't even know where to begin."

Let me help you.

You can begin by asking people questions, even ones you don't know. Perhaps it will be the bank teller. Or the cashier at the super market. Or the guy at the car wash. Or someone in the pew in front of you.

"How are you doing? How's everything going in your life?" you ask. Then you simply listen. More than a few will tell you about some pain in their life. You'll hear, "My mother died last week," "I'm recovering from a stroke," or "Our house is in foreclosure."

You'll think, Yikes, what can I say? And all you may be able to say is, "I'm so sorry. I'll be praying for you." And so you will, keeping in mind you'll try to connect with them again.

Even if you're not preaching an evangelism series in a far-away country, I assure you these kinds of seemingly small encounters -- listening to someone's pain -- will drive you to your knees, where revival takes place. It's also evangelism of the highest kind.

The great theologian Francis Schaeffer said it well in replying to his teenage son, Frankie, who had asked him his secret for turning so many people's lives around. "It isn't what you say to someone that matters so much. Knowing how to listen to people is what helps them."

If listening to people in pain is a key to keeping revival alive, then let's start today.

What do you say?

--Mike Jones is a seminar leader on how to reconnect with missing church members (reconnectnow.org). He is also author of the re-released book Help, Lord, I Blew It Again (2010, Pacific Press).