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“Will you not revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you?” – Psalm 85:6 (NRSV)

Our family of churches has roots in a series of revival movements. The Stone-Campbell movement in the late 1700s was a unity and revival movement to find unity in scripture, to be “Christians only, but not the only Christians”. It was refreshing and spread like wildfire.

Beginning in the late 1960s, during a time when young people were going through a time of immense social change, Campus Advance, a movement within the Churches of Christ to have informal Bible studies in dormitories and apartments to reach out to college students, effectively inspired large numbers of students to follow Jesus with “total commitment”. Forgiveness, the lordship of Jesus, and contagious evangelism characterized this revival movement.

From the late 1970s into the 1980s the Campus Advance movement evolved into a “discipling movement” or “the Boston movement”, characterized by a revival in international missions.

Today, many in our family of churches are looking for another revival. The movements of the past changed directions, lost steam, or collapsed under their own weight due to systemic problems and humanism.

The Stone-Campbell unity movement fragmented over the course of time around issues of cooperation, worship style, and governance. One branch of the Stone-Campbell movement, the Churches of Christ, divided and fragmented repeatedly around a myriad of issues. The unity movement became a disunity movement.

The “total commitment” movement was a revival of evangelism and enthusiasm, and it was in that era that I was reached out to as a first-year student at Duke University in 1978. We were evangelistic for sure, but most of our energy and conversation was about learning to follow Jesus/walk with God. Our campus ministry was characterized by an eagerness to know our Bible, a desire to be equipped to answer the tough questions our friends would ask, learning how to pray, and helping each other stay and feel close to our God. Our evangelism was organized, but it was secondary to and an overflow of our growing love for God.

The total commitment campus ministries were embedded in Churches of Christ that were prone to divide and fragment, so after a decade or so, the revival flames began to flicker.

The “discipling movement” molded in Boston was characterized by a zeal to train ministers and plant churches around the world. This inspiration and zeal became a unifying force for many from the total commitment movement, and once again fanned the flames of revival. Many in their 20s and 30s were inspired to go into the ministry and train to be missionaries. There was tremendous energy and sacrifice that also got the attention of folks in other corners of the Churches of Christ. This revival gained steam for about 20 years before collapsing under its own weight for a variety of reasons.

{Note: Gordon Ferguson, Douglas Foster and others have written more thorough articles and books about this history; my intent here is to lay out a short runway for the thoughts to come. I have therefore been very general, highlighting only themes and progressions.}

As stated earlier, many in our family of churches are looking for another revival. There is a range of views about what this would look like, but I think most would talk about commitment, evangelism, and numerical growth – with a desire to inspire what was good about prior revival movements while avoiding the problems.

God Revives

When you look at the context of the introductory scripture in Psalm 85, the overall prayer is to ask God to act. God shows favor, forgives, restores, revives, shows his love, and grants salvation. There are some things he looks for in us, which we will discuss later, but it is remarkably clear that God is the one who revives.

One of the ills of the discipling movement was that it became too human, and that humanism is a strand of DNA in our leadership thinking. We want to push people to do more, crank up our evangelistic efforts, and force a unity. Our language implies a belief that we grow the church. While it is acknowledged that spiritual formation, or the quality of our walks with God, is important, there is often a reticence to focus on it too much as it might encourage people to be too inward and not focused on evangelism. I have been involved in several discussions with experienced ministry leaders who hold this position quite strongly. In other words, we put the responsibility for revival squarely on our own shoulders – i.e., we need to revive our churches. A human approach to the need. Is it working? I think not.

Some questions I have therefore are: When will God revive us? What needs to happen? What do we need to learn, and who do we need to be, or become?

Zeal to Know and Love God’s Word

“My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to your word” – Psalm 119:25

I am incredibly grateful for my early experience as a follower of Jesus. I was a campus student, and in learning mode, but I was immersed in a church culture that valued learning the scriptures – information, context, understanding, and application – and with a spirit of continually learning. That is, convictions developed, grew, and even changed over time. I learned how to learn, and began a lifetime of loving to read, better understand, and more faithfully live out God’s word. I would describe it as a zeal to know and love God’s word. His word revives me and will revive us. If personal and corporate Bible study is simply a supporting tool to promote our agenda or inspire behavior change, and is not the lifeblood of each disciple’s faith, revival will not happen. How much effort do we make to help the flock learn how to read their Bibles, and to find revival in God’s word?

Know the Lord

“Come, let us return to the Lord,
for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us;
he has struck down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.
Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord;
his appearing is as sure as the dawn;
he will come to us like the showers,
like the spring rains that water the earth.” – Hosea 6:1-3

Knowing the Lord is more than Bible study. It is a relationship. We can talk to him, listen to him, observe him, hide from him, return to him, and press on to know him. In the person of Jesus, we can know the Lord in seeing the way that Jesus lived, taught, and interacted with others. Knowing is not just having knowledge about, but it is a close, intimate relationship.

For me, knowing the Lord involves emotional intimacy, a foundation of my faith that gives perspective to my day, my work, my relationships, and church life. I am sensitive to how I feel about God and imagine how he feels about me. Sometimes in the morning I pull up a chair and imagine Jesus sitting in it, looking at me, and then we talk. I look down in shame, I cry, I smile, am grateful, and just talk about what is going on – and then listen to hear his voice, which is usually a scripture, the recollection of an insight or something someone shared with me, or a new insight.

There can be no revival without knowing my Lord.


Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you….10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.” – 1 Peter 5:6, 10

If God is not yet reviving us, we should take a long hard look at our humility or lack of it. We still have a hierarchal, command and control strand of DNA in some of our leadership. As a seasoned, but non-staff brother in my church, it is a rare occasion that someone on staff or serving as an elder is genuinely interested in my observations or insight. (Not to toot my horn, but I have been a devoted disciple for 44 years and am continually learning and growing. I have been around a few blocks.) Communication tends to be more about teaching, training, and directing, not listening and learning. This does not bother me too much because I am always looking to listen and learn, but it makes me wonder about the others’ humility and willingness to get input or learn from someone who is not senior to them. I have a very fond memory of seeing my friend Scott Green at a conference in Berlin in 2000. Scott was overseeing the missionary efforts in China and God was working amazing miracles. When Scott and I spoke for a few minutes, he was warm, curious, and humble. He did not want to talk about himself, but asked me what I was learning, and took great interest, a rare quality for someone of his influence at that time.


“Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.” – Psalm 63:3

David’s infatuation with God’s love compelled him to praise him. Knowing God’s love for me, and falling deeply in love with him, changes my heart in a way that commitment, evangelism, and perseverance are an overflow of my understanding of God’s love for me and my love for him. People trying to change my behavior without those in place will exasperate me and themselves. Someone trying to change the behavior of a group or a church through effort and programs, getting back to basics, or running a tighter ship, without a collective foundation of relationship, scripture, a close walk with God, humility, and a deep love for God and his kingdom will fail.

So, what do we do?

  • Ask God to revive us and to expose all that is needed to bring that about.
  • Have a zeal to know and love God’s word and help all disciples to do the same.
  • Make knowing God, spiritual formation, our walk with God a supreme focus of our ministry.
  • Be humble. Leaders will be judged more strictly by God (James 3:1), so what am I missing? What do I need to learn?
  • Marinate in God’s love for me and fall deeply in love with him. Watch this overflow in my love for others. Help others have this same experience.

Finally, pray and sing the old hymn:

“Revive us again, fill each heart with thy love.
May each soul be rekindled with fire from above.

Hallelujah! Thine the glory, hallelujah! Amen!
Hallelujah! Thine the glory, revive us again.”