After speaking to a number of people that I respect regarding this post on the Sarnia Revival, I’ve come to believe that some of the things I said were not said gracefully, or at the very least could easily be misinterpreted as ungraceful. I want to publicly, like I wrote the original post, apologize for my tone and style of the post. I don’t wish to cause disunity or dissension in the kingdom by my approach of how I disagree with things. Please forgive me. Bethel you will always be in my prayers and I pray that God will continue to use you to accomplish his purposes.
Since this post, I’ve been receiving a fair amount of e-mails and comments. I’m going to continue to change/edit my post so it reflects the truth and not just my rants so keep re-reading it to look for changes or something that I probably got wrong. Any additions or corrections have been italicized. Also keep stay updated on the comments section. If you don’t want to publicly leave a comment feel free to e-mail me here and it will be kept in private.
I want to attempt to review my experiences at Bethel for one of their ‘revival services’ as fair and gracefully as possible. I am not looking to attack anyone nor discourage anyone from attending them. I am simply offering some words that could serve as a sincere rebuke and also hopefully an encouragement.
As soon as I walked into the Bethel service on Saturday night I was flooded with a number of memories. There were probably seventy-five people or so at the altar area jumping up and down to a hip worship song. They looked happy. They looked excited. I really appreciate their enthusiasm. There were a few things however that I think could be addressed and maybe thought twice about with the whole Bethel Revival and hopefully I can do it in a way that is graceful.
When we pulled into the parking lot there was two men with bright orange reflecting gear ready to direct traffic as the masses flowed into Bethel. The only problem was there was no traffic, it was sort of a dead night and many people did not hesitate to tell me that the numbers were quite larger on other nights. Looks like I showed up on the wrong night to experience the best part of revival. As soon as I saw the two parking attendants (something that I don’t recall seeing once in all my 12 years at Bethel) I knew that Bethel was desperately trying to fit into what a revival was supposed to look like. I’ve seen Bethel have over 800 people packed in there and they never needed parking attendants, it seems as if they are trying to fit some sort of quota for what revival should look like.
Since I’ve posted this part, I’ve had a friend tell me that these two men volunteered to be out there to help any guests that might show up at the services and it wasn’t an attempt to just look cool or full. So props to the guys for wanting to make guests feel welcome, it seriously is an important part of any church community in making sure from the get go that visitors feel welcome.
Do overflowing sanctuaries and full parking lots means a successful revival? Revival push number one was a failure. They didn’t need parking attendants. This was more of a humorous observation than a serious one, but nevertheless, I feel bad for the two guys that had to miss part of the revival service.
The night that we showed up seemed like no different than any other Sunday night at Bethel all through my years of being there. Lots of happy people, jumping up and down, speaking in languages with no interpretation, a three point sermon, a three point altar call (always the last one going out to everyone to assure everyone comes to the altar) and constant clichés from the microphone. Doug Nixon spoke, and I thought it was a pretty decent message. He did will at the exegesis of the text and encouraged people to continue to seek after God. He said that it should be normal to have services like this every night.
In the middle of the music segment, I found myself catching up with some old friends that I haven’t seen in a while. I looked at my best friend Darryl a few pews ahead of me and he was chatting happily with a youth leader sitting up on the top part of the pew with another friend of mine. As soon as the youth leader left, I saw Pastor Tim (the senior pastor) leave his original position (front of the altar on the far East side) and walk all the way to the back of the church on the far West side where Darryl was. He tapped Darryl and said “can you get down from there [remember he was sitting on the pew improperly so he could talk to his friend], that isn’t very reverent to the Lord.” Darryl said sure and got down. I’m not sure why Pastor Tim found the need to leave his worshipful stance at the front of the altar at one side of the church and walk all the way to the other (its quite a large church) just to tell Darryl that he was bring irreverent to God and to get off the pew and fail to see the person that was sitting beside Darryl who he had to pass doing the exact same thing. Especially since, more than once, I have seen Pastor Tim jump up on to stand on pews to pray for people that he could have easily walked around to. How in the world he was being irreverent to God is beyond me? Does he have it out for poor little Darryl?
A few minutes later Pastor Tim found himself at the front of the church with the mic in his hand. Praying, speaking in tongues, shouting and encouraging (kind of like a Chinese Pep Rally when you don’t understand Chinese). Then he started praying for the youth. And he said this to the youth.
“sitting on the pew isn’t going to get you there tonight”… he continues, “i saw some young people tonight who have been up at the altar praying and worshipping this week, and now that your friends are here, you’re back sitting with them, but you should be here to worship the Lord, not worship your friends, don’t let your friends determine how you’re going to worship…etc”
Every youth was at the altar expect for Darryl and I and a few youth who happened to be sitting with us. I’m not sure why he just didn’t say their names and point them out blatantly. So for only being there for a few hours, we were rebuked for being irreverent to the Lord and indirectly for causing others to backslide and being the source of worship of people who were sitting with us. I’m glad we are seasoned veterans at Bethel, because if that was a unbeliever or a new Christian, they probably would have left.
All this is just my experience with that night in particular, none of it surprised me because I experienced it for twelve years going there. I didn’t even mention the youth that prayed fire down on the mosque, Jehovah witnesses and Mormons (still not sure what kind of fire he was talking about) and if I was part of any of those religions it wouldn’t be much of a revival for me. But I won’t get into that.
Outside of the service, I am also a subscriber to the Sarnia Revival e-mail list. They, within a few weeks, had purchased a new domain name at www.sarniarevival.com and had audio and video links on there as soon as possible. E-mails were getting sent out by the dozens with healing reports and number reports of how God was moving in a mighty way at Bethel. I’m not sure why they feel the need to market the revival. Seems odd to me that if God was moving that they would have to market it like a new and exciting product for sale at Wal-Mart. It scares me a bit, because I know marketing and consumerism pretty well and I know that the advertisement is never as good or as honest as the real thing. And I don’t know what the obsession is about telling everyone repeatedly on e-mail and apparently a lot of the services where people are coming from. Did you know people have come from Ohio (4 hours away) to “experience this mighty move of God” and a “pastor from Calgary, hungry for a move of God, has made contact with our office and has altered his vacation schedule to take in revival services!” I guess you can add to the list now that a university student from York University has come to find out what all the revival is all about from Toronto, Ontario.
Also, Bethel has had a number of commitments that since the revival they have backed out on. When revival first started they had a sign on front of their lawn that said that the Uganda Fundraiser was cancelled (which I’m sure would have raised money for the team going there, but I was informed that they still took an offering and they were still able to raise money). It sucks that when God moves, he makes you break commitments to good causes.
Since I’ve made this post, a friend of mine left this comment (you can read it here) which explains it in a lot more and accurate detail.
Bethel has also backed out of hosting a night with a bunch of other churches in Sarnia because, well revival is moving. They have also cancelled out on another commitment within the city or with some other church (which I now know is the Annex, a local drop-in center); I’m not sure about the details.
Bethel prides itself that in the last 25 or 26 days, they have had services for about 24 of them. I will hand it to them. Some of my very good friends have been healed at their services, and I don’t discredit God’s hand whatsoever there. They are saying also that people are getting saved every night there. Thank-you God.
I’m not sure why having a service every night for a long period of time is seen as a major accomplishment. Yes there are good things happening, but I think that these good things should be happening in people’s homes within neighbourhoods and around kitchen tables. Why do they have to bring it out to where no one lives to a big scary building? Why can’t they bring it into the lives of the people that are by definition supposed to be revived? They wouldn’t need flashy websites and new domains, and big e-mail lists and large number reports if they didn’t have services and each person involved in the revival simply took it back to their workplaces and their homes.
If Bethel is trying to reach the unsaved of Sarnia, retreating to a big building where 95% of the people in that building are Christians and aren’t speaking the language of Sarnia I don’t think the results are going to be very good. I am not saying God won’t move. I am not saying he hasn’t. I’m saying that they need to stop worrying about what looks like a successful revival and prepare to fail by numerical statistics in a sanctuary and start bringing this fresh excitement into the houses of everyone around them. Stop having services every night and keeping people away from their neighbours and away from their young children who can’t be out late every night and give people a chance to bring this revival to Sarnia, a city I am and I know they are in love with.
So Bethel, a church that I still consider my church home, a church that made me into the Christian and Christ-follower I am today in many ways, a church that I spent twelve years of my life at learning what it was like to be Jesus, I think that while this revival is certainly exciting and God is doing amazing things you need to stop hogging it all to yourself. Cancel your services that are intimidating for your neighbours to go to and instead do something that your city will love and want to participate in with you. Live life with your city, stop running away into your building, singing your songs, listening to your messages and speaking your tongues for no greater reason than to just do it all over again. Bring these healings to them. Be in the streets and homes of Sarnia. Befriend the prostitutes and the poor and show them what revival is all about. Stop marketing a product of revival and begin to usher that revival into fruition with your lives and into the lives of the people you live with. Don’t worry about if your sanctuary gets full or not. Worry if God’s Kingdom is advancing or not. There is no direct parallel between the amount of people in your sanctuary and the amount of people working with God in the Kingdom. You can’t count people that raise their hands and say a thirty second prayer, instead count people who are now using their lives to invest back into the Kingdom in Sarnia. I’m not saying that no one is doing that at Bethel, but I just think there is way too much emphasis on what God is doing in your big building than what God is doing in Sarnia. Stop trying to bring people to church and starting bringing the church to people.
I love Bethel. I love Sarnia. I want to see them work together and I want to see Bethel being a church that serves Sarnia and not themselves. I want to see Bethel be a church that is excited about the Kingdom, not their services. So Bethel, I pray that you would heed my comments and not take them as an attack but as an encouragement to take the amazing gift that God has given you and starting bringing it into the streets and lives of those in Sarnia. You are blessed to be a blessing and I’m excited to see how God blesses Sarnia through you.