J. Lee Grady
January 13, 2006 2006: The Best of Times, the Worst of Times When charismatic leaders gathered this week to assess the future, they looked at the good, the bad and the ugly sides of American ministry. Quote: “There is a dimming of the gospel taking place in America.” –-Steve Hill When revivalist Steve Hill took the microphone this week at the annual meeting of the Charismatic Leaders Council, he asked a woman in the back of the conference room to dim the lights. After speaking for a few minutes he asked her to dim them even more. “This is what is happening in today’s church,” Hill told the group, which included healing evangelist Benny Hinn, Baptist broadcaster James Robison, theologian C. Peter Wagner and missionary statesman Dick Eastman. “There is a dimming of the gospel taking place in America. We’ve got to start preaching the Cross again,” Hill said. The impressive group of Pentecostal and charismatic church leaders met in a hotel ballroom in Dallas on Jan. 9 and 10. Convened by veteran Pentecostal pastor Jack Hayford and Charisma’s publisher, Stephen Strang, the group listened to four panels of speakers that included Bishop T.D. Jakes, Argentinean pastor Claudio Freidzon, Jane Hansen of Aglow International and John Dawson, president of Youth With a Mission (YWAM). Hill’s sober warning was underscored by Ron Luce, founder of Teen Mania, who delivered an impassioned plea for renewed focus on youth ministry. Luce rattled off a list of depressing statistics about American teens that made some people squirm. Included at the top of his list was the fact that only 4 percent of today’s teens are or will be evangelical Christians—the lowest percentage of Christians in any generation of American history. “We are losing,” Luce said bluntly. “What sort of world will our children and grandchildren grow up in?” Several panel members lamented the fact that charismatic church leaders are faltering, either by lack of integrity or by failure to pass the baton to younger leaders. Other participants expressed concerns that American churches are watering down the gospel and making their message seeker-sensitive in order to attract crowds. Said Seattle pastor Casey Treat: “I am excited about ‘relevant’ ministry. But have we become so relevant to the world that we’ve become irrelevant to God?” Not all the talk in Dallas was negative. Many panel members said they were hopeful that genuine spiritual revival is around the corner—just in time for the 100th anniversary of the Azusa Street revival that launched the Pentecostal movement. Korean-American pastor Ché Ahn of Los Angeles, for example, reminded the group that God has heard the prayers of American Christians during recent hearings to confirm Supreme Court Justice John Roberts. And missionary spokesman David Shibley noted that although American teenagers have not been evangelized in large numbers, a greater percentage of them are going to the mission field today. “Out of our constriction and confinement, a new thing will emerge in 2006,” predicted healing evangelist Mahesh Chavda, who said his North Carolina church is fasting and praying for a spiritual awakening this year. Bible teacher R.T. Kendall, former pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, said he has sensed for years that true revival will erupt in the United States, but only when evangelicals and charismatics dissolve their differences and link arms. “The church will not begin to make an impact until these two camps come together,” Kendall predicted. James Robison, who is more often identified with Baptists than charismatics, surprised everyone in the room with his passionate pleas for Christian unity. Admitting that he cannot wear the charismatic label, he begged everyone else to take theirs off. “We cannot let our theological beliefs nullify love itself,” he said. Several voices also reminded the group that God is doing a new thing among women by calling them not simply into ministry but also into church leadership. In one of many candid moments during the event, Hayford lamented the fact that some leaders in his own denomination—the Foursquare Church—are resistant to the concept of women in top pastoral positions. YWAM’s Dawson told the group about 25-year-old Brianna Esswein, a vivacious missionary nurse who died in Nigeria in December when a truck plowed into her van. He expressed hopes that Brianna’s story will inspire a new generation of women to head to the mission field. Perhaps the most hopeful and positive signals given at the conference came from international and ethnic voices. Hispanic church planter Sammy Rodriguez, who is affiliated with the Assemblies of God, reminded the group that Hispanics and other immigrant communities are the fastest-growing segments of the American church. Ahn, whose father started the first Korean Southern Baptist church in the U.S. 47 years ago, said Asian charismatics in this country are using their wealth and education to transform society. Myles Munroe, a Bahamian megachurch pastor and international speaker, chided the Americans for being too narrow—noting that our sport of baseball celebrates a “World Series” that is for American teams only. Said Munroe: “You must develop a global focus.” J. Lee Grady is editor of Charisma and an award-winning journalist. He participated in the Charismatic Leaders Council in Dallas this week
By James Robison Founder and President, LIFE Outreach International January 10, 2006 It was an honor to be with you yesterday. I’m sorry I was unable to attend this morning’s session. When I left last night, I continued to pray and did so this morning. I feel impressed to share the following insights and areas of concern. I think we all heard the Lord. It is critically important that we interpret, understand and properly apply it. If not, we will mistake a clear word from God, act according to the flesh, produce another Ishmael and miss the promised Isaac or, at best, delay the birth. I continue to relate to all visible and labeled parts of the Evangelical community and even representatives in the Catholic community. Sadly, we are a divided family, wasting much time defending experiences and beliefs. I caution all attendees to beware lest we find ourselves caught up in, participating in and even promoting a labeled movement, rather than fanning the flames and yielding to the fresh move of the Holy Spirit. The issue at hand is not to defend or even define the Holy Spirit—but to demonstrate His person and power. Be prayerful, be careful. His Spirit is to be poured out on all flesh and, certainly, every part of His body, His family. Correctly understanding His kingdom purpose and dominion must not be taken as “rule by power” or forced control of society. I don’t think last year’s statement concerning dominion was a misinterpretation, but a careful attempt to emphasize the true nature of the kingdom. Remember, the disciples wanted Him to establish His earthly throne, and they were arrogant enough to request a seat on either side. I think kingdom dominion, clearly demonstrated throughout the book of Acts and the entire New Testament, was typified when Paul and Silas were held in the Philippian jail, bound in stocks. They had such supernatural dominion they sang praises to God. They were abiding in peace and, as Paul said, “content in whatever state or condition they were in.” Their clear demonstration of true kingdom dominion impacted the guard entrusted with their watch-care. Previously fearing their possible escape, he was suicidal. But after experiencing supernatural conversion, he marched them down main street in front of the whole world and right into his house. He was delivered of all fear, freed within and joined the apostles in demonstrating kingdom dominion. Let’s beware, lest we misinterpret the holy vision, as did Constantine when he saw the vision of the cross, heard the words “by this conqueror,” and sadly set Christianity on its heels by taking up the sword of the flesh rather than the sword of the Spirit. He created another Ishmael by trying to conquer in his own power rather than through the liberating power of the Holy Spirit. Because of this Ishmael, as with the first Ishmael, we are still reaping the tragic results even today. Those of us gathered in that room, along with many others who may never attend such a meeting, have been entrusted with the glorious opportunity and privilege of exposing a world in darkness to the liberating light and power of God’s transforming love. Theological clarification will follow, but it is my firm belief that our personal heart commitment must be that of Paul: “I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified…And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:2-5, KJV). Grace and peace to all…and glory to God!