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Spirit of revival where it is needed

Updated: February 11, 2013 7:25AM

The summer night breathed with the sounds of a tent revival in the open air.

Beneath the glowing big top a few years ago, members of the black Baptist congregation on the West Side sat in folding chairs. A fiery preacher spewed the word of God. Nearby a blue light camera also flickered high above a light post — a symbol of the times and also an effort to help sanctify these streets.

The amens and hallelujahs rose like the illicit rap music that poured from passing cars with pulsating bass that made them rattle.

I remember wondering: Is the church’s message as penetrating? Is it reaching those who thirst for the refreshment of Living Water?

Is “the church” making a difference — tangible or invisible?

Is the church effectively reaching lost souls today? Or is it merely preaching to the choir?

Was this even a picture of revival? Real revival?

Or has this and other church-service-oriented “revivals” become an exercise of repetition or redundancy — outdated and ineffective in this era of technology and social media, and amid evidence of growing apathy toward the institutional church?


For me, a Pentecostal son, grandson of a pastor, revival as a child meant engaging in a monthlong ritual — usually each January — involving evening church services, fasting and prayer and a visiting evangelist who dripped with anointing. It meant “tarrying on the altar” for the Holy Ghost. For our Baptist cousins, revival meant sitting on the “mourners’ bench.”

Usually, I watched from the pews as the sweat and tears of seekers flowed like a waterfall.

As a child, we studied the Azusa Street revival from which American Pentecostalism was born. I later read about Martin Luther, about John Wesley, about the so-called Great Awakenings that drew the attention of the secular world.

I have long attended revivals at churches and also underneath tents, where the sick claimed to be healed, their lives transformed, and people testified to having experienced “true” revival.

What I later came to believe about seasons of revival was that the required ingredients for any manifestation of an outpouring from God were not music, or clapping, or song. That it didn’t matter whether one was Baptist or Methodist, Lutheran, Catholic, or Church of God in Christ.

More than anything, it was this: The earnestness of the seekers, their belief in the Bible as God’s authentic word, and the faith that if they sought him with their “whole heart,” with a heart of repentance, then he would answer.

The real question was whether one was prepared to submit their life, heart, soul and will in exchange for the breath of holy resuscitation.

I also understood that the point of revival was never about increasing our church’s membership rolls, but winning souls. The evangelist was not a celebrity but the humble bearer of the Good News, of prophetic warning rather than prosperity doctrine, echoing a call to return to God.

The only question has always been: Are we ready?

In my mind, it still is.

This much is also clear: That if ever there was a need for revival, the time would be now, particularly in poor black and brown communities, where homicide, a predominance of female-headed households, crime, gangs, drugs and despair thrive. It is exactly the kind of place where a little hope and resurrection might go a long way.

That summer night, the message of revival filled the air around the tent nestled securely in the church’s fenced parking lot.

Out on the street, a black man and his two sons passed by unfazed, walking toward home, in the darkness.

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