Here’s the secret to revival
Graham Hill says it’s not what you are thinking
We are living in a broken world. Families are struggling. Addictions are rising. Immorality is increasing. Racism and sexism abound. Royal commissions uncover shocking corruption, abuse of power and exploitation of the most vulnerable. This a broken world, full of conflict, pain, fear, immorality and injustice.
The Billy Graham crusades to Australia of 1959, 1968 and 1979 were perhaps the closest Australia has ever come to a revival. In 1959 alone, more than 130,000 people made a commitment to Christ. The social affects were astonishing, including drops in alcohol consumption and crime. Thousands of people responded to the call of God to plant churches, go to the mission field, and train for Christian ministry.
The secret to revival is practices that enable the church to truly share the love and gospel of Jesus Christ.
We need another move of God in Australia and, of course, in North America and throughout the globe. Crusades are valuable and worthwhile; I will never talk down how God has used them in the past and may, by his grace and power, use them again. I pray that people will come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ by all means possible.
But the secret to revival isn’t crusades. The secret to revival is practices that enable the church to truly share the love and gospel of Jesus Christ.
Revival happens when Christians pursue practices that bring healing and hope to a broken world. These practices include developing a lifestyle of prayer, living as daily witnesses to God’s grace and love, welcoming strangers to our homes and tables, being repentant and humble, living with integrity and protecting the weak and the vulnerable, and loving our neighbours and communities. This means being in the kinds of loving and holy and peacemaking fellowships that people want to be a part of. These practices mean living out the gospel of Jesus Christ with great passion and humility, and expressing that in our peace, justice, reconciliation, truthfulness, compassion, welcome and life together.
Transforming practices revive our churches and society
I grew up in a suburb and family full of craftspeople and tradespeople. These were people skilled in a range of functional, decorative, or specialised crafts and trades. They included carpenters, tailors, stonemasons, builders, bricklayers and electricians. They also included floorers, landscapers, plumbers, roofers, welders, truck drivers, automotive mechanics, architects and cabinetmakers. Each plied their craft with skill. They made commitments to apprenticing one, two or three others in their craft or trade. Each honed their expertise. They saw their craft or trade in the light of the broader community of artisans. They worked together, building or renovating houses, sculpting landscapes, restoring automobiles, or fashioning garments or pieces of furniture.
I learned the importance of discipline and practice, both personal and in community.
The finished product was rarely the result of one craft or one artisan working alone. At times, these tradespeople or craftspeople were skilled in only one area. But, often, they were multi-skilled: carpenter-floorers, plumber-electricians, architect-landscapers, truckie-mechanics or teacher-builder-electricians. My father restored houses from time to time – including my own house, after my wife Felicity and I moved to Sydney. When he did this, he used an array of carpentry, electrical, plumbing, construction, architectural, roofing, flooring and landscaping skills. And he called on the skills of others he trusted.
In that environment, I learned the importance of discipline and practice, both personal and in community.
A person becomes a highly skilled craftsperson or tradesperson (or dancer, musician, theologian, pastor, writer, and so on) through many years of hard work and personal discipline. This person, and the community they are a part of, performs important, disciplined practices countless times, over many years. These practices form them personally, build their life together, and shape the fruit of their lives and shared efforts. This is a community of discipline. It is a practising community. These practices shape their life together and often lead to extraordinary and beautiful results.
The church will only see revival when it pursues transforming practices that revitalise the church and renew the world.
My co-author on my new book, Healing Our Broken Humanity, Grace Ji-Sun Kim, has a teenage daughter, Elisabeth, who’s an example of the power of disciplines and practices. Elisabeth has been taking ballet lessons since she was three years old. When she turned eight, her dance became more and more serious and she had to focus and become a disciplined dancer. She goes to ballet four to seven days a week. When there are performances such as The Nutcracker or a Spring Dance performance, she will be at her ballet studio for three to five hours a day to warm up, stretch, rehearse and learn new routines. It takes skill to dance but also lots and lots of practice to become a good dancer.
After hundreds of repetitions and practices of the same movement, the students come to learn the move.
Elisabeth takes her classes and rehearsals very seriously. In class, the dancers are not allowed to talk unless the instructor asks them a question. It is a strict class where the dancers are expected to quietly follow directions and practise the new moves. There is a lot of repetition as the instructor makes them do steps over and over again until they have mastered them. The teacher will point out what they are doing right or wrong and then also do a hands-on approach to lift or stretch their legs or arms in a correct manner. After hundreds of repetitions and practices of the same movement, the students come to learn the move.
Furthermore, after Elisabeth’s dance classes and rehearsals, she will go home and do her homework and study for her tests. Then before bed, she will spend another 30 minutes stretching and exercising before she goes to bed. She is also very careful about what she eats. She will do her best to stay away from fatty foods and eat fresh fruits and vegetables. She avoids junk food and processed food as she recognises that a healthy body is needed to be a serious dancer.
These practices are crucial to becoming a dancer. They have become part of her lifestyle. Her classes, routines, rehearsals and healthy lifestyle are all practices that are essential forms of discipline needed to be a serious dancer.
For the rest of us, whether we want to become a dancer or a faithful disciple of Christ, we need to engage in life-giving and transforming practices. The church will only see revival when it pursues transforming practices that revitalise the church and renew the world.
American theologian Stanley Hauerwas makes this point strongly by drawing on the metaphor of bricklaying. He says the church needs to learn to lay metaphorical bricks and to make disciples. Learning to lay bricks involves “learning a myriad skills, but also a language that forms and is formed by those skills.” It’s about learning the craft from those who have gone before. It isn’t primarily about crusades or being relevant or learning more Bible and theology. This is about practices shaped through discipline, love, faith, patience, character and community.
This is how the church makes disciples and sees revival: through life-giving and gospel-honouring practices.
Nine transforming practices that bring revival
My passion for the nine transforming practices covered in my new book, Healing Our Broken Humanity, can be traced back to the 1990s. I was speaking at a conference in Manila in the Philippines. I was staying in a backpackers’ hostel at night and speaking at conference sessions during the days.
One morning, I was woken by the sound of sobbing. I looked down from my bunk to see an elderly man sobbing beside his bed. During the week, I got to know this remarkable man. He was an elderly Vietnamese pastor who had planted a church of a dozen people in his home 30 years earlier. That church had grown to tens of thousands of people. He told me stories from this Vietnamese church that sounded like something from the Book of Acts. These were stories of miracles, lives transformed, persecution, and a growing, vibrant, underground church in communist Vietnam.
I started wondering about the thousands and thousands of stories that are never heard.
But during the week I noticed something. All the speakers at the conference in Manila looked like me – white men. So, I started thinking about the injustice of this. Why weren’t people like my elderly Vietnamese friend asked to speak, or at least to tell their stories? I started wondering about the thousands and thousands of stories that are never heard – Christians whose voices are ignored, silenced, or marginalised. How do we start to hear these voices? How do we hear their cries for (and stories) of justice, peace, hope and reconciliation?
These nine practices include repenting together, rediscovering prayer, renewing lament, restoring justice, reactivating hospitality and reconciling relationships
I also started wondering how do we learn from Christians where the church is growing and thriving? What do they teach us about new habits and practices that transform the world? How will these practices heal our broken world?
That was the beginning of my journey. These nine transforming practices come out of listening to thousands of Christians from all over the world talk about the practices that they know bring revival and renewal, and heal our broken world. These nine practices include repenting together, rediscovering prayer, renewing lament, restoring justice, reactivating hospitality and reconciling relationships.
Our churches need new, transforming practices that revitalize the church and its mission, and that transform the world.
Graham Hill teaches at Morling College, Sydney.