Winds of Renewal
A surge in student-initiated worship movements have elevated God's heart for the nations and forced a number of people to ask, "Could this be the foreshadowing of another Student Volunteer Movement?"
Encouraging is a good word. But it is simply not strong enough to convey what is happening amongst young people across the nation today. Set aflame might be a more apt description of the hearts of young people who are consumed with the greatness of God, yearning to linger in His presence and increasingly passionate about His purposes.
Hope College (Holland, Michigan) provides but one of numerous potential examples of renewed spiritual fervor. Looking at Hope in the early '90s, one might have been inclined to describe the school as post-Evangelical. Voluntary chapel attendance was dismal for the school of 2,500meetings averaged 20 to 40, with numerous reports of just two, three or four in attendance. Those who were there remember it as a quaint time, but certainly no pillar to hold up the spiritual foundations of the school.
A brief glimpse of today's chapel meeting at Hope reveals a larger image of between 800 and 1,000 fervent worshipers who make their way to the chapel four times a week. Frequently, there's standing room only in the hall that seats some 1,050. After their Sunday evening meeting, it's not at all uncommon for up to 75 percent of those attending to continue in praise well into the night. Dwight Beal, full-time worship leader at Hope, says these are the opportunities for the students "to linger in God's presence, really dig deeper and just hang out till 10 or 11 or 11:30--however late it goes. They want all they can get," he says, "they want to come to the waters and drink deeply."
"Because God is seeking worshipers of all peoples, I desire to magnify Him among the nations. I actively commit my life and energy to participation in His global purposes in my generation."
Fifth Tenet in the "268 Declaration" used by the Passion conference.
These recent results at Hope's chapel are believed by Beal and his co-laborers to be the direct fruit of a small cadre of students who gathered regularly for prayer in the Spring of '94, seeking God's favor for their campus that was then (by many measures) spiritually stagnant. Ben Patterson had recently taken on the newly created position, Dean of the Chapel. He told Beal he was convinced that "if we can develop a core of worshipers, then the impact will be felt campus-wide."
Indeed, ripples from this initial cadre of pray-ers have been felt campus wideand beyond. At the fall '98 Summit conference at Wheaton College, a group of Hope Students ushered attendees from 20 other campuses before the throne. After the long, full day of sessions concluded, Hope's praise team gathered on the steps outside Wheaton's cafeteria for a spontaneous session of praise that filled the humid Chicago air until midnight.
And they were at it again the next morning.
At Bethel College (Minneapolis) students are certainly no strangers to entering into the Lord's presence through corporate praise. Their Vespers servicea voluntary, Sunday night, student-led meetinghas seen a surge in enthusiasm of late, with attendance doubling in the last two years to today's typical crowd of 1,700. The current coordinator of Vespers, Jenni Turner, conveys their sense of awe, "We stand back and look at it and say, 'Wow! how in the world did it get this big?'...The bleachers are pulled out and if you tell them to sit down, they can'tit's standing room only."
Estimates are that up to half of those attending Vespers are not Bethel students at all, but a sizable crowd from the University of Minnesota, Northwestern College and other young people, including high schoolers.
Complementary winds of spiritual renewal can be felt in the South as well. In 1989, one young Aggie (Texas A&M, College Station) sophomore had a stirringalong with his three roommatesto open up their apartment for a small Bible study. Starting with just twelve folks they embarked, however informally, on the book of First John. Maybe it was the Apostle's captivating expose' on the love of God that stoked this early fire, but Greg Matte, who teaches what is now called Breakaway, says "The twelve became twenty, and the twenty would turn to thirty, and on and on."
When they had some fifty in their apartment (with furniture completely stacked off in the dining room to make space), one friend exhorted Matte to move to a larger facility so the study could extend its reach.
"Thanks for your help," Matte quipped. "I appreciate it, but I got this thing covered. Don't worry about it."
Matte has moved out of that apartment and is now married, but his home is still a bit undersized for today's crowd of 3,500 students that gather at the Central Baptist Church every Tuesday night for an evening of worship and Bible Study. Suzannah Ince, a senior at Texas A&M who serves on Breakaway's praise team, says there is an air of "huge expectancy" each Tuesday evening. She's seen Breakaway growing in maturity, with students concerned about God's ultimate glory and increasingly concerned about His ultimate purposes"more than a desire to be prosperous or anything."
Weekend praise-oriented conferences have been flourishing across the nation as well. Texas hosts one of the sweeter examples, the Passion conference (http://www.passionnow.org)a three-day eventwas held most recently this January 1-4 at the Fort Worth Convention Center. The sell-out crowd of 11,000 students was held captive to keynote speakers such as John Piper and Bill Bright. This year's attendance more than doubles last year's crowd of 5,000 (see News, p. 51).
Passion seeks to supplement and build unity amongst the growing number of quality campus ministries they have seen developing across the nation. To this end, they've encouraged attendees to make a lifestyle decisionthe "268 Declaration" (inspired by Isaiah 26:8). It is a five point commitment to be part of a "generation that lives for the glory of [God's] name."
Passion is clearly seeking revival, yet the fifth tenet of their declaration confirms that energy generated at these gatherings is not intended to be spent on the North American Church alone. It recognizes that "because God is seeking worshipers of all peoples, I desire to magnify Him among the nations. I actively commit my life and energy to participation in His global purposes in my generation."
The founder of Passion, Louie Giglio, is adamant that the declaration is not "a clever conference theme, rather it is a life-long challenge to a lifestyle of glorifying God by being salt and light, in love, wherever we live."1
There is a tremendous hunger amongst young people today to experiencecorporatelythe very presence of God. In various regions of the country, in a variety of settings, in Christian colleges and secular universities one unifying force drawing college-age youth together is worship through song.
"Is worship then therapy?" asks one missions professor, concerned that the experience in song with peers may reveal more heat than light. Considerably less uneasy, Beal believes music is simply the language of today's youth. Missionaries should be the first to understand Beal's conviction that, "We have to speak their language. If you're going to do missions in Central America you're going to learn Spanish. If this is an MTV generation, then what's going to capture the imagination of an MTV generation?"
Matte, who carries the mantle of Bible expositor at Breakaway, is not particularly troubled (or threatened) with the increased role of corporate praise. Seeing it as a shift towards an integration of the spiritual life, he notes that song has now moved beyond the role of warm-upsomething that's done just to "get in the mood." Today, Matte says, it is more like, "We're going to worship through song so that we can then worship through the Word."
At a number of venues where corporate praise is flourishing, young people are making deliberate efforts to fuse messages into every part of the servicemessages centered more intentionally on God's glory and His ultimate purposes. Matte has recently steered the Breakaway crowd from the oft-asked question, "What is God's will for my life?" to the ultimate query, "What is God's will?" Matte's answer resounds with implications rich for world evangelization: "To know God and to make him known."
Wheaton's World Christian Fellowship (WCF) makes a deliberate effort for their Sunday evening meetings to be dominated by a grand vision of God and a world-sized faith. "I am not the center of the universe, God is," says Brad Jones, who is currently serving at Wheaton as Interim Director of the Office of Student Outreach. As up to 800 students enter WCF every Sunday evening, there's no questioning that this God is, in His very essence, a Missionary God. Whether it's the song selection or the prayer topics or the message interludes between songs, students are brought face to face with an exalted God who desires to affirm His magnificence in a particular way:
"My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations," says the Lord Almighty. Malachi 1:11
Wheaton and a number of other campuses that were part of God's work in 1995 recognize that they are deeply indebted to seeds that were planted prior to the arrival of many who are experiencing the blessing today.
It was 1995 when WCF hosted a group of Howard Payne College students who had experienced tremendous revival and cleansing on their campus.
After hearing of God's workings, Wheaton, too, hosted five dramatic days of spiritual outpouring that are still reshaping their spiritual landscape. Meetings lasted 'till two and three in the morning. Long lines of students awaited the cleansing opportunity of public confession. Late night calls by individuals with estranged relationships resulted in countless displays of Christian reconciliation.
By the last night of the revival, crowds exceeding 1,800 forced them to move the venue to College Church, adjacent to Wheaton's campus. Lyle Dorsett, professor of evangelism at Wheaton College, writes that, "Without equivocation it can be said that revival came to Wheaton College.
Only time will reveal the extent of the fruit.... A spirit of reverence and praise engulfed the college."2
The immediate fruits of these meetings were sweet and substantialboth for Wheaton itself and the broader student world. Feeling compelled to share their blessing with a greater portion of their peers, Wheaton sent teams of students to other campuses sharing what God had done. Jones saw the student teams as the "blessed to be a blessing" principle at work. Among the numerous other campuses that received similar outpourings were Gordon College (Boston), Northwestern College (St. Paul, MN), Iowa State University, Hope College and Multinomah School of the Bible (Portland, OR).
Gordon College's Spring of '95 is described by the then Sophomore Kirk McClelland as "an electric time." But he recognized it as a preparatory work, laying a foundation for much of what is happening today. "That entire semester the Lord was cleaning us up...getting the sin and a lot of the garbage out in order that God might use us as His vessels," he says. He had never seen himself as a missionary before. Today he's targeting India. That semester in '95 is remembered by him as "the Spring that rocked my world."
And as to the long-term fruit, Jones is also convinced that "there's an immediate connection" between that initial revival and the fruit that is being born todayboth at Wheaton and the host of other campuses that benefited from God's work in 1995.
The centerpiece of the message at WCFGod's glory and proclaiming it among the nationsmay indeed sound like a "missionary'' message, but Jones shares the sentiment of quite a few with his aversion to the very word. To him, "missionary" carries heavy connotations of "a poor speaker coming in, telling stories about the poor, and showing pictures of the needy and then passing the hat and doing everything you can to get everybody to feel guilty." Jones presents the missions world with a stinging indictment of the poverty-mentality so prevalent in what may otherwise be noble attempts at faith missionary service.
Instead it is this theme of glory, not duty, guilt or obligation, that is resonating with those whose heart's desire is to serve in the fulfillment of the Great Commission. While duty plays its part, service for the sake of God's glory strikes a much deeper chord. "More than anything else," Ince sums up Breakaway, "there is a desire to prove the greatness of God." When there is passion for the greatness of God, the sacrificial sort of passion necessary to advance God's mission to the uttermost parts has not been found wanting.
"I sense the rumblings of another Student Volunteer Movement happening again," was how Amy Barstad, current president of the International Society for Frontier Missiology opened her comments at 1998's annual meeting. Jones, as well, has observed that "participation in short-term trips is going off the charts across the country."
Hope College has students camping out overnight on the lawn in front of the registration office in order to insure themselves a spot for Hope's Spring and Summer short-term trips. Prior to coming to Wheaton's Summit conference (which moves to harmonize the elements of worship and mission), Beal says, "We'd already seen the desire and hunger for worship, and we'd already seen the numbers of our Spring-break mission trips quadruple."
Upon returning from Summit, Hope's chapel team integrated prayer and praise for the nations into its repertoire. They began praying for the unreached and singing songs declaring God's passion for being known. When they reach the portion of "Ancient of Days" that quotes : "Every tongue in heaven and earth shall declare your glory, every knee will bow at your throne," Beal says, "it just kind of blows the roof off the place."
"We're just trying to keep ahead of the wave so we don't get pounded and sucked under," is how Paul Jenkinson, Director of World Outreach for Campus Crusade's midwestern region, has described their efforts to accommodate Crusade's recent surge in short term interest.
Jenkinson has been involved with promoting the Crusade's STINTS (Short Term International Service). At 1997's year's-end conference, they laid out a challenge: "1000 by 2000"that 1000 students would give their Summer up for foreign service by the year 2000. Crusade's leaders were expecting some 150 or 200 to take the challenge. When response cards were counted, Jenkinson was invigorated by 700 who made the Millennial Pledge.
"It overloaded the system," Jenkinson says. "With this many people wanting to go on STINT this fall we had to totally redesign our system." Campus Crusade recognizes the long-term significance of the interest in short-term: At least one-half of those who go on these short-term trips end up in full-time Christian service.
At a recent tour of Pioneers' sparkling new Spanish villa-styled facility in Orlando, they illustrated a similar point: They cannot think of any of their full-time missionaries who were not recruited as a direct result of short-term foreign exposure. Agencies (like Pioneers) that are flourishing have been contemplating how best to integrate the short-term work into permanent, field-based initiatives while recognizing that short-term exposure is an indispensable component of recruitment for younger North Americans who crave authentic experience.
Matte has recently returned to Breakaway from a short-term trip to China, his first cross-cultural missions experience. While he'd like to say he has been leading the way in missions work for Breakaway, he admits "My trip to China was me trying to catch up with my students."
"I can't tell you the number of students I've talked to just this week that God is calling to go abroad," Matte says. He notes, with enthusiasm, that a number of students are taking the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course. "I definitely see God turning up the temperature in the missions world," Matte says.
The explosion in short-term enthusiasm has clearly served to shift the life-long career objectives of many. And the theme, again, is not humanitarian, altruistic or dutiful. Instead, the motivating chord is glory, the building of God's good name. Justin Taylor, a recent graduate from Northern Iowa University had his heart set on the pastorate. That was prior to a journey through a 30-day prayer guide on Islam and two short-term tripsone to Latvia and another to Syria. After witnessing throngs of Muslims who may very well never hear the clear Gospel, Taylor was struck: "I was realizing how offensive it was to God that these people were dishonoring Christ."
He now is setting his sights on full-time cross-cultural service to the Muslim world. In clarifying his motivation, he says he has "a heart and a passion to see Christ honored among Muslims."
These large, corporate sessions of praise ought to be seen more as symptom than ultimate substance if this move of spiritual renewal amongst young people scattered across the nation is to be understood. Speaking about Breakaway's role in the spiritual milieu of greater College Station, Matte insists that there are a slew of other college ministries that are "growing like crazy." Suzannah Ince reports innumerable small groups meeting formally and informally, seeking God's heart for revival.
Michael Schwartz, associate publisher of ECHO (http://www.echomagazine.com), a discipleship magazine for this generation of youth, points out that young people today want it both ways: They desire the intimacy and accountability of a small group, but they thrive off the experience found in corporate praise. The corporate session of praise offers them some sort of foretaste of heaven: The scene in Revelation 7 is, after all, large groupvery large groupworship through song.
The small group accountability and prayer that is flourishing offers young people the relationships that they desireand are a necessity for what they're yearning for: true Christian community. Both the flowering of small groups (formal and completely informal) and the hunger for the experience of corporate praise reflect a shift away from a more individualistic Christianity. Schwartz argues that this is a truer sense of Christian community: "...people interactingin the midst of life and prayer and worship and witness and outreachin the broader context of community and family."
Beyond attempting to understand the recent spiritual hunger along strictly generational lines (Baby Boomers, Generation X, etc.), Schwartz, among others, sees the greater shift in Western thoughtfrom modern to postmodernas a better explanation of young people today and the themes that are attractive to them.
While David Wells3 has warned us well of the pitfalls in postmodern relativism, many themes that resonate with the upcoming generation are not particularly troublesome. The shift away from a purely individualistic faith is a closer resemblance to faith demonstrated in Scripture; the desire of young people today to "experience" Christ may well serve as an antidote to a generation of evangelicals more inclined to err on the side of cognitive assent to truth. And their desire for a Christian faith more explicitly "spiritual" is not, at face value, cause for alarm.
A bit of simplistic comparison may help illustrate the shift of how Deity is understood and appreciated today. For thirty-odd years we have emphasized the humanity of Christpresenting Him as our best friend, a Jewish carpenter, emphasizing his immanence and offer-ing a "personal relationship."
These qualities are still present today, but they exist in a broader view of God that is more obviously transcendent, more immaterial, omnipotent and mysterious. This generation's disillusionment and pain born from human authority has made young people a little less infatuated with a "God like me." "We're looking for something that we can have awe and respect for," Schwartz says, "something that is dignifying, something that we know won't let us down. That will be mystical, it will be non-human."
This may be exactly where the move to market church and de-mystify Deity to the point of commonplace may well have missed the markboth in being faithful to Scripture and effective in the current age. If, as it could be argued, it is contextualization, it may be contextualization gone awry. Schwartz says that the seeker-sensitive model of Church as it exists today is "not attractive at all to my generation, not even in the slightest bit."
John Piper offered an alternative view at a plenary session of the November '98 meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Orlando. Rather than facing a tame, user-friendly God not too different from themselves, he is convinced that people need to be brought face-to-face with God in all his majesty. "What all those seekers need, more than anything else, is to be blown away by the holiness of Almighty Godand then they would come back, they would come back!" he preached. "Our people," he continued, are starving "for the majesty of God."
Piper's message of Christian hedonism (the joyful enjoyment of God) has given legitimacy to the desire of followers to take pleasure in God. His harmonization of worship with mission has fueled a vision for the nations and brought young people to the recognition that God is increasingly glorified as more peoples worship Him, explicitly uttering His good name in praise.
Alongside the paradigm shift in Western thought, the Church in North America is being prodded by a number of voices to come to grips with its diminished role in the public square. The 1998 annual meeting of the IFMA (Interdenominational Foreign Missions Association) had Alan Roxburgh as its keynote speaker. Using Jeremiah as his source text, he challenged the North American Church (and mission leaders) to prepare for what it means "to live in exile,"living with the reality that we are not speaking from the seat of authorityfrom a place of "possession" of the land.
Darrell Guder, professor at Columbia Theological seminary, has recently prompted the Church in North America to see its role at home as missional: A more deliberate recognition that to be part of "the Church" means that we are to be on mission with God. Roxburgh was a contributor to a recent volume Guder edited, entitled the Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. Along with four other scholars, they argue that a grander vision must be fused into the local covenant community (the local church) in North America. Guder demonstrates the indivisibility between salvation and active participation in God's global causes:
We need to learn how worship concretely calls and sends us into Christ's service, and how it is a facet of our mission itself. For this to happen, worship must primarily be the people's encounter with the God who sends. We meet the missionary God who is shaping God's people for their vocation, namely, to be a blessing to the nations.4
As an example of what this more "missional" approach to reaching North America might look like, a glimpse at InterVarsity's (IV) work at the University of Wisconsin may provide a bit of clarity. IV at UW has elevated a new model for reaching the campus, one that, in many ways, emulates missions work abroad. The cornerstone of their new approach is "Witnessing Communities"groups of four or five students who move into dorms together, setting up model Christian bodies that live, work, pray and study daily together on ministry teams.
IV's model, that is now moving nationwide, provides increased accountability amongst leaders, increased opportunity for evangelism through friendships and powerfully demonstrates what Christ-centered community might look like in an increasingly post-Christian Western world. Kirk Spencer, a senior and IV leader at UW, says that ministry has now expanded from isolated evening meetings to becoming "just a part of the way we live."
If the North American Church begins to behave more "missionally" in its role at home, a number of other societal factors could further foster the vision of global mission. Webster has recently denoted Global Village: "the world viewed as a community in which distance and isolation have been dramatically reduced by electronic media." With the globalization of economies, the ease of international communication through e-mail, the access to vast amounts of information via the World Wide Web and the inundation of news from a variety of round-the-clock sources, the world has, seemingly, become a much smaller place.
This has fueled a sense of optimism that believers may be better equipped today to seek the advancement of Kingdom concerns in their hometown while concurrently carrying the needs and working for Kingdom advancement half the globe away.
Some twenty-five CD's, a Bible, a guitar and a dresser full of cloths fill the late-model Chrysler mini-van that has become the on-the-move home for Ryan Elliot. These staple items are the instruments of the vision he captured when he was at Wheaton, a vision that has compelled him to share this blessing with his peers across the nation. While he'd hoped to build a traveling team, or at least get a traveling partner, isolation hasn't seemed to quench his zeal as he moves from campus to campus encouraging his brethren and sharing the revolutionary truths: God-centered worship, God's passion for the nations and the blessed opportunity to "lay down your life for the nations." He speaks with praise team leaders about the vital role they play in God's global cause, introducing God's glory and His renown as the renewing focal point for worship life in Him.
Elliot, however, is not alone in his desire that the winds of renewal that swept through Wheaton and radically altered his life would prove contagious when shared with others. A number of organizationsincluding Student Mobilization, Campus Crusade (Midwest), the recently formed Global Ambitionall are independently resurrecting what was born out of the Student Volunteer Movement and temporarily raised by the Caleb Resourcesthe catalytic role of the itinerant preacher/the traveling team that serves to spread flames of passion and nourish existing movements of spiritual renewal.
In each of these cases, the Grand Vision that they aim to share is one of a Missionary God, a God who yearns for His people to make His name great, a God whose heart weeps for the unreached, a God who is all a Father could be, but is altogether Almighty. Elliot believes that if we come to this God seeking Himand not just ourselvesour worship will inevitably fuel our heart for the nations. Then, he says, if God asks us to lay down our vocational endeavors in the States, uproot and serve Him sacrificially in the uttermost parts of the earth, "it will just be part of our worship."