In his book, The Sense of His Presence (Word Books, 1988 pp. 171-174), Dr. David Mains shares a vivid and stirring description of how he envisions a movement of spiritual awakening in North America. When the book was originally published, Dr. Mains was the radio host of “Chapel of the Air.” This piece continues to strongly encourage my spirit regarding what still could be. Enjoy! -TW
At my office at The Chapel of the Air, there’s a large National Geographic map stretched across the top of my desk under the protective glass. It includes most of Canada, all the United States, and the top portion of Mexico. I’ve become familiar with it because I do so much work at that desk.
When I work at home, my small study is in the very center of our house. The room is only seven by eleven feet, but I like it. The best feature is that, by closing the study door, I can shut myself off from the demands of my more immediate world and just be alone there with the Lord. Everyone should have such a room—a prayer room, a family chapel.
Sometimes in the study at home when I close my eyes in prayer, the outline of the map from the office desk returns to mind. Then it is as though, when I kneel to pray, I’m viewing all of North America, and my normal concern is intensified for this massive geographical area into which we broadcast each day of the week but Sunday.
Often I visualize dark, angry clouds hovering over much of our continent. Even so, I am able to discern what appear to be tiny fires in various places. Unfortunately there aren’t many, and they’re widely separated. While some barely flicker, the last embers of a once-bright blaze, others still burn with great constancy. But the longer I pray, the more tiny flashes I’m able to find. This is not unlike observing the heavens at night; the longer one looks, the greater the number of stars which van be seen.
In my vision of this strategic part of earth, I’m aware that these bright lights are churches where the life of Christ is manifested. “But can’t there be more?” my heart whispers. Those threatening clouds will extinguish some of the weaker fires.
As if in response to my prayers, some flames actually leap up and burn more brightly—small in number, yes, but intense and pure. Alas, the adverse elements begin to move in concentration against them. Watching this dark power forming and knowing what is soon to be unleashed, I become discouraged. “Why even pray? These burning testimonies haven’t a chance.”
But wait! Beneath the onslaught of foul winds, sparks now dance out from the flames under attack. Here now, over there again, and then in new places they spring up. Defiantly the little fires seem to shout to the storms, “All your blustering will be counterproductive, utterly self-defeating, only fanning holy flames.”
This imaginative development encourages my intercession. “More fires,” I pray. “God, if we just had more fires—hundreds, thousands of them, even tens of thousands. With more fires, the possibility for holy flame in these lands becomes reachable.” I strategize: “There need to be ignition points everywhere, each catching and spreading and feeding one another, so many there won’t be enough clouds and contrary winds or hostile rains to extinguish all the blazing lights.”
Then, as if in response to my thought, which hardly takes long enough to be called a prayer, numbers of areas blaze brighter—more starlike points flame, north and south, east and west—further increasing my faith. “Look, it’s happening, Lord!” I cry. “Please keep the miracle alive.”
Come and pray with me.” I call in my prayers to unseen friends—brothers and sisters. I don’t know many of them by name, but I do know our hearts and minds are as one. “Do you see what I’m seeing?”
In my spirit I hear their voices join with mine; soon their intercession can be observed. For the first time a concentration of flames combines with another nearby. The action is dramatic, lighting the area with intense heat. Cheers unite our prayer vigil. All of us are caught up with the intense work of intercession, and in some strange way we know that what’s happening is fueled by a force totally beyond us.
I attempt to identify cities which might be involved. Denver. Minneapolis. Toronto. Isn’t that Baltimore? This must be Phoenix down here. Oh, if only a true phoenix is alight—a flaming new spiritual life rising out of earlier ashes.
The warfare intensifies. A great hostile wind now whips and blows against an area representing several counties, and the strong fires burning there dim. But when the contrary force has spent itself, the incendiary fellowship flares again. Before long it is brighter than before and noticeably expanded.
With this a turning point has been reached, a key defeat wielded against the haters of holy fire. And suddenly, as tough a signal has been flashed, there is a dramatic acceleration of flame. New burning torches appear, brighter ones, everywhere on the continent—Canada, most of the States, even areas of Mexico.
I gasp, “Lord, another holy conflagration that won’t burn out for years to come. O may it be so!”
The time is crucial. To insure victory, I and my prayer partners must stay at our prayer posts. “Before too long,” I tell God, “it should all catch. It’s going to be impossible to stop what’s happening. Come now, you foul winds, blow some more! You only fan our flames!” And then—
Well, the phone rings. Or someone opens the study door and says, “Dad, did you remember I need a ride to my lesson?” Or I hear, “Sweetheart, can you please feed the dog tonight? I did it yesterday.” – And I’m back, back into the more immediate of the two worlds in which I live.
But I don’t forget. I don’t ever forget what I saw when my eyes were closed and I knelt over North America in my prayers. I cannot forget this vision of what still could be.
It has been observed that every great movement of God has been preceded by a movement of prayer. I encourage you to join with other brothers and sisters in Christ and begin to faithfully invite God to pour out his Spirit across our nation in a movement of spiritual awakening. -TW
A worldview is the framework from which we view reality and make sense of life and the world. It is made up of the fundamental assumptions we hold regarding reality and how the world works. Our worldview informs the ethical choices we make, the causes we support, and the way we spend our money. Our politics, our values, our work ethic, our friendships, and our sense of purpose are all informed by our worldview.
A Christian worldview is based on the belief that the Bible is the infallible Word of God. A biblical worldview allows what the Bible reveals regarding the reality of the triune God, the nature of man, and God’s redemptive plan for mankind to be the foundation of a persons attitudes and actions.
A distinctly Christian worldview of the Church allows the New Testament to provide the basis for our understanding of the nature of the Church and views the biblical instruction of Jesus and the Apostles regarding the Church to be our solemn mandate and method for advancing Kingdom ministry.
The New Testament vision for the Church in a city context (Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, etc.) is one unified Body of believers. The apostle Paul consistently addresses the collective Church of the city in his epistles (See Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:2; 2 Thess. 1:1). All of the commands to love, forgive, be devoted to, honor, and more are, therefore, incumbent upon the Church of the city and are not merely to be applied on a congregational level. There were certainly multiple gatherings of believers throughout the city but they were all an expression of the one collective body of Christ – the City Church. City Church Unite seeks to nurture the spiritual vitality and visible unity of the “City Church”. A “City Church Worldview”, therefore, based on New Testament principles is not in agreement with the Western cultural norm of multiple local churches functioning within a city, largely independent from and indifferent toward each other. Jesus declared that unbelievers would recognize his followers based on their love for one another (John 13:35) and he prayed for their unity as a means of drawing a watching world toward belief in himself (John 17:20-23). The teaching of the New Testament regarding the nature of the Body of Christ, our being members of one another, and our essential oneness based on our relationship with Jesus simply does not allow us to passively accept the distorted and inconsistent expression of the local church that we commonly find today. A biblically informed City Church Worldview calls for a robust and respectful reformation of our understanding and practice of Church.
A City Church Worldview sees each local gathering of believers, manifest in various sizes and expressions, as being part of a larger spirit-birthed organism. In obedience to the relational “one another” exhortations of the New Testament, each local expression of the City Church views the broader Body of Christ with a heart of love, honor and devotion. While there are many expressions of the Church within a given city, each local church recognizes they are part of the whole collective body of Christ and, as such, they are compelled to love, honor, forgive, and be patient with one another as they “stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel”(Phil. 1:27 NIV). Jesus will not be honored as he desires nor the lost drawn to him in faith as he prayed for apart from local churches repenting of their selfish independence and humbly choosing to walk and minister in the love of Christ with each other.
Such a reformation of our concept and practice of the local church will require nothing less than spiritual awakening in the hearts of current pastoral leadership. Having served in pastoral ministry for over thirty years I have a profound appreciation for, both, the humanity and insecurity of pastors. It is completely human for pastors to believe they already rightly understand the nature of the church and to resist changing their view. The idea of risking their reputation by championing a fresh approach to ecclesiology, no matter how theologically sound, quickly surfaces the insecurity and fear of most pastors. The same movement of the Spirit that transformed the disciples from timid fishermen to bold gospel martyrs will be necessary for pastoral leaders to embrace a City Church Worldview and bring transformation to their city.
But what if the Spirit moved in just such a way? What if Senior Pastoral Leadership embraced the biblical imperative to minister the gospel to the whole city through strategic partnership with the whole Church of the City? What if pastors, elders, deacons, bishops, overseers, leadership teams, boards, and councils were awakened to the truth that there is only one Church in their city and they yielded in obedience to Jesus Christ, the supreme head of the Church? What if church leaders came to a fresh realization that they are stewards of Christ’s Church and that their primary responsibility, as stewards, is to carry out the commands, wishes and desires of the Master? Imagine the transformation that would begin to take place within a community if the pastoral leadership realized that “building up the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith”(Eph. 4:12-13) is their primary responsibility, not only in their local church but in the Church of the city. What might that look like?
The following model is offered as a way to envision the structure of the Church of the City, utilizing the current forms already present within our communities. This is not an attempt to pour new wine into old wineskins (Mark 2:22), rather it is an invitation for the Body of Christ to fulfill it’s calling and design by simply connecting the dots.
This model openly depends on a movement of God’s Spirit upon God’s people within a city. In the beginning there may only be a few churches who choose to partner together in visible unity. However, as the number of pastoral leaders and church families who are awakened to God’s desire to manifest himself through the Church of the City increases, this model can expand, providing a conceptual way to envision the ministry impact of the City Church in your community.
Hub churches are the recognized leading ministries within the city. Each city will have multiple Hubs. Hubs typically have strong pastoral leadership, ministry specialists, and facilities. Hub congregations can serve the collective body of Christ by providing resources (soft and hard) to enhance the spiritual vitality and visible unity of the City Church. Hub church senior leaders who have been gripped by Christ’s vision for the unity of his people will seek to build supportive relationships of trust with ministry colleagues from other Hub churches in their community. Core biblical truth and devotion to Jesus will become the basis for ministry partnership – not worship style, Holy Spirit issues, or denominational affiliation. As City Church alliances grow, representative Hub pastors, along with other pastoral leadership, can serve on a Pastors Advisory Council to help coordinate ministry priorities, resources and initiatives.
The majority of local churches across America are vital ministries of 200 people or less. They typically have a pastor, sometimes more, and rely heavily on volunteer service. Many have modest facilities but frequently lack resources for specialized training or events. As an expression of unity within the City Church, congregations within the community will freely align themselves with Hub Congregations in order to share resources and maximize ministry impact. This alignment might be the result of a pre-existing relationship or ministry style affinity. The leaders of the Hub church and aligned congregations will intentionally build supportive relationships which fuel ministry passion and creativity as well as provide a model for church members to follow.
Whatever the label – house church, missional community, or cell church (20 to 25 people) – the future expansion and sustainability of the Church demands a return to an organic model of ecclesiology that empowers the sheep and elevates the role of spiritual gifts. Saturating our cities with the gospel and making maturing disciples of Jesus cannot depend upon a model of church growth that requires purchasing more property and spending millions to build more buildings. In his latest book, Letters To The Church, Francis Chan writes:
“If it’s possible for a church to fit in a home, then we have an infinite number of potential churches no matter where we go. Going small is our best shot at getting big. If we don’t consider the possibility of multiplying smaller churches, we have given up on the big cities.” (p. 186)
This City Church model calls for Hub Churches and congregations to embrace the strategy of Kingdom expansion through Cell Church multiplication. Living organisms reproduce. The health of Cell Church multiplication will be seen as 2nd and 3rd generation Cell Churches become common. Cell churches would enjoy the transformational environment of being in healthy relationship with Hub churches and congregations. Specialized ministries (youth, men’s and women’s) and facilities (classrooms, gymnasiums, meeting spaces) could all be made available to the City Church community. The pressing needs of the city would benefit from the coordinated focus of the shared leadership, shared giftedness, and shared resources of the unified Church of the city. The world has yet to see the transformational impact a united City Church can have on a city. This is what Jesus said would cause a watching world to “believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).
Each and every day God’s people, members of His City Church, are strategically distributed by God throughout every “domain” of city life – Government, Family, Marketplace, Education, Arts/Entertainment, Medical, and Media. The Church has its greatest influence, not so much when it is gathered, but when it is scattered throughout every level of every domain of our culture. In boardrooms, classrooms, and breakrooms throughout our city, Christians from a variety of churches are working side by side. The same “one another” commands that apply within local churches and between local churches, are also incumbent upon believers between one another in the workplace. Realizing this, the collective Body of Christ is in need of a corporate “Ah-ha” moment! Since unity and oneness between believers in the workplace, from different local churches, is to be the biblical norm, then those local churches should also be diligently “preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” between each other throughout the city (Ephesians 4:3f).
I began by acknowledging that this model depends on a movement of God’s Spirit upon God’s people within a city. Pastoral leaders and members of the Body of Christ need to be set free from the blinding influence of our western church culture in order to envision what a fresh obedience to the Church’s biblical mandate could look like. The following thoughts are given in the hope of stirring further creative dialogue toward the journey of seeing a City Church Worldview begin to transform cities across America and around the world.
1) We must begin with a renewed commitment to obey God. Obedience to the great commandment to love God and one another (Matt. 22:36-40) will provide the relational grace needed to enable men and women from different traditions and ministry styles to unite over their common love and devotion to Jesus.
2) Strong unity is based on commitment to core truth and choosing to be gracious on lesser matters. Orthodoxy must not be compromised, but neither should the biblical commands and the essential truths regarding the nature of the Church on earth be set aside because the implications are difficult or inconvenient. Historic declarations of truth like the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed can serve to provide a basis for uniting around core truth. See CCU Statement of faith.
3) Prayer is essential. In every city there are already groups of pastors who are regularly praying together for God to move powerfully in their city. These groups, perhaps, can provide the nucleus that is necessary to begin gaining traction on nurturing the health and visible unity of the City Church.
4) Creativity and innovation are resident within the members of the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit desires to express himself through the multi-faceted gifts of God’s people. Scripture reminds us that there is a whole realm of reality that has never entered our imagination (1 Cor. 2:9). As more people begin to interact over the City Church Worldview, I have no doubt that there is so much more creativity yet to be birthed.
City Church Unite exists to nurture the spiritual vitality and visible unity of the collective Church of the city. Thoughtful questions and theological interaction are invited. Please contact CCU to begin a dialogue or to schedule a speaking engagement. Contact CCU.
Last night, Debra and I experienced an unexpected, remarkably invigorating expression of Christ’s Church. We knew we were going to meet with other believers to pray for spiritual awakening in the city of Los Angeles. If you had asked me ahead of time I would have affirmed that, yes, as a gathering of believers we will be an expression of the Church. What caught me off-guard and turned a time of fellowship into an interactive encounter with Jesus was the readiness and spontaneous willingness of everyone there to be sweetly responsive to the prompting of Christ’s Spirit.
21 of us were gathered in a modest apartment in the heart of downtown L.A. Many of those present only knew one or two others in the room. The common link to our group was our friendship with the convener, Dustin Lang (RevivalLA.org). We began with simple, heart-felt, solo guitar worship of King Jesus. Dustin shared a brief message on Christ’s observation of a plentiful harvest but the need for additional laborers (Matthew 9:35-38). What happened next transformed our gathering from a group of friendly strangers into members of Christ’s family who were passionately devoted to one another.
Dustin invited all of us to stand. There were five of us present who serve the Body of Christ in pastoral roles. Dustin, one of the five, invited the other four of us to stand in the center of the small living room. Prompted by the Holy Spirit, Dustin informed the group that the five of us were going to circulate around the room and spontaneously pray for different ones. He then prayed a brief prayer and released us to minister.
I immediately motioned to my wife, Debra, to join with me (I love partnering with her) and we instinctively moved toward a young couple. Ann and John are in a dating relationship. They care deeply for one another but it’s too soon to know if they will be life partners. Debra and I prayed for them as individuals and as a couple. Topics of prayer on their behalf flowed freely – their personal spiritual vitality, male models of devotion to Christ for John, expressions of creativity and compassion in ministry for Ann, and that they would protect each other’s purity so that regardless of the outcome of their relationship there would be no regrets. As Debra and I prayed for this sweet couple I became aware that the apartment was alive with fervent prayer conversations. The room was filled with vibrant ministry huddles of intercession. As prayer concluded in a huddle, there seemed to be a Holy Spirit orchestration of rotation as pastors moved from person to person and group to group. At any given moment you could hear words of prayer, sounds of laughter, and see tears of tender appreciation. As Debra and I transitioned from Ann and John we both knew who God wanted us to pray for next.
Hannah is a vibrant young pregnant woman who is only a couple weeks away from her due date. She and her husband, Jason (another one of the pastors), have already named the little girl in her womb, Elizabeth. Debra and I joyfully prayed for Hannah and Elizabeth. Again, the prayer topics flowed – rest for Hannah in these final weeks, a safe delivery and health for little Elizabeth. Knowing that God knew and named Elizabeth before the foundation of the world, we were prompted to pray that Elizabeth would place her faith in Jesus at a young age and fulfill the calling of God on her life.
Next, Debra and I were able to pray for Jennifer Lang (Dustin’s wife). Jennifer and Dustin are a choice ministry couple. We prayed for Jennifer’s unique giftings of creativity, hospitality and compassion as she partners with and encourages her husband who is a dynamic Kingdom visionary and proclaimer of God’s truth. Dustin and Jennifer have a calling on their lives to raise up 15,000 revivalists who will pray for and proclaim the gospel to the city of Los Angeles. (Now you know why I am so drawn to this couple. Our hearts resonate with the same desire for spiritual awakening and visible unity of Christ’s Church.)
The prayer ministry ended with the five pastors standing in the center of the living room, surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ who were joyfully and appreciatively inviting God’s blessing on our lives and empowerment for the ministries he was calling us to fulfill. As the evening drew to a close, there was a strong sense that, just as Hannah was pregnant and soon to deliver … that apartment had been a spiritually pregnant place and something wonderful was being birthed in our time together.
I have experienced the same vibrantly alive ministry dynamic I have sought to describe on one other occasion in my life. It was in 2014 at the World Wide Conference of a ministry organization that is having a global impact. The shared traits of that group of 500 and the apartment gathering of 21 in Los Angeles are exactly the same. People coming together who share: 1) A deep love for Jesus. 2) A willingness to spontaneously engage one another in prayerful personal ministry in a way that turns friendly strangers into passionately devoted family members. And 3) A fervent desire to see Jesus exalted and for lives (marriages, cities, nations) to be transformed. That is Church!
I came away from the gathering last night with the exact same thought in my mind I had in response to the ministry night in 2014 – “This is what the church is meant to be! This is what every local gathering of believers is meant to experience on a regular basis but rarely ever does.”
I’m writing this blog as a testimony of gratitude and praise for how Jesus moved in our midst last night. I’m also writing in the hope of stirring a hunger and desire in the hearts of God’s people to pursue Him and be willing to spontaneously engage one another in prayer and ministry in response to the Spirit’s prompting. God desires that our personal oneness with Christ and our corporate unity in Christ not only transforms our lives, but fuels our hearts to passionately engage one another in the shared pursuit of seeing Jesus lifted up and all people be drawn to Him. That is Church!
It has often been suggested that if you gave a man on a deserted island a bible and asked him to read it from Genesis to Revelation, he wouldn’t come away from that exposure to God’s truth with the same view of Christianity that many have today.
For example, addressing our understanding of the Holy Spirit, Francis Chan writes,
“Perhaps we’re too familiar and comfortable with the current state of the church to feel the weight of the problem. But what if you grew up on a desert island with nothing but the Bible to read? Imagine being rescued after twenty years and then attending a typical evangelical church. Chances are you’d be shocked (for a whole lot of reasons but that is another story). Having read the scriptures outside the context of contemporary church culture, you would be convinced that the Holy Spirit is as essential to a believer’s existence as air is to staying alive. You would know that that the Spirit led the first Christians to do unexplainable things, to live lives that didn’t make sense to the culture around them, and ultimately to spread the story of God’s grace around the world. There is a big gap between what we read in Scripture about the Holy Spirit and how most believers and churches operate today.” (Francis Chan, Forgotten God, p. 16)
The observation regarding the radical incongruity between modern Christianity and a simple reading of the New Testament points to the powerful influence that our cultural setting can have on our perception of biblical norms. We tend to assume that what we have grown up with is the way things are. God typically has to introduce significant disruption in our lives to open us up to consider a different perspective or possibility.
Another firmly entrenched area of our Christian experience based on cultural bias has to do with the way we understand and “do church”. A fresh reading of the New Testament for the purpose of informing our understanding of how the Church is to function will quickly reveal a far different picture of the church than what most individuals and communities are experiencing.
The undeniable teaching of scripture is that Christ’s followers are members of each other through their intimate association with Jesus. The New Testament clearly teaches one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one body, one bride, one temple, one new man, one loaf, one family, one Church. Do you see the essential unity of the Body of Christ implicit in each of those metaphors? Christ’s followers are to love one another … forgive, honor, be devoted to, pray for, be kind to, accept, agree with, be patient with, submit to, encourage, bear with, live in peace with, show compassion toward, live in harmony with, extend hospitality toward, not judge, and not grumble against one another … all as an expression of obedience to Christ’s commands. These commands are not to be exclusively carried out in the context of a local congregation of believers but are incumbent upon the broader body of Christ in the city.
Jesus prayed that the visible unity of his followers would convince a watching world that Christ was sent from the Father and that they were loved by God (John 17:22-23). The Apostle Paul addressed the bulk of his epistles to the collective Body of Christ in Rome, Corinth, Phillipi, Ephesus, Colossae, Thessalonica, and the region of Galatia.
The clear teaching of Scripture regarding the nature and function of the Church communicates something far different from what we typically see throughout our communities today. What will it take to begin meaningful change?
In his book, Forgotten God, Francis Chan asks the probing question, “Do you have enough humility to be open to the possibility that you have been wrong in your understanding of the Spirit?” (p. 46). In a similar way, it has become part of my life message to invite the Body of Christ to embrace a spirit of humility, courageous humility, to be open to the possibility that we have been wrong in our understanding of the Church. McDonald’s, Burger King, Carl’s Jr., Five Guys, and In-n-Out all sell variations of the same product but they are competitors, not teammates. Rather than functioning as a united visible expression of the presence and love of Christ in society we have allowed our transformational impact to be compromised by being culturally conformed into independent religious franchises. Local churches frequently act as competitors, not teammates.
Reformation is essentially a movement of realignment to a standard and is nearly always disruptive. In 1517 the need of the Church was to realign itself with the biblical teaching on the servant nature of leadership and the core truths of the gospel. The outcome of the Reformation was twofold, a gospel movement was birthed that has resulted in untold numbers of people coming to faith in Christ over the past 500 years, and the Church was divided in a way that has yet to be healed. Disruptive reformation.
I believe the Church stands at the threshold of another movement of realignment prompted by God’s Spirit. Today, the need is for God’s people to rediscover their essential identity and unity as members of Christ’s Body and radically embrace the behavioral and relational implications of that revolutionary truth. This disruptive reformation of the Church will be fueled by a desire to align with Christ’s command to love one another. It is my prayer that this motive of love will minimize the disruptive trauma of this movement of realignment.
Two Santa Clarita CA. Pastors, Rusty George (Real Life Church) and Todd Smith (Crossroads Community Church), tell the story of how each Church has graciously met needs on behalf of the other. These leaders model the power and beauty of unity in the Body of Christ and encourage other pastors to do the same. Thank you men. You are my heroes! -TW