Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The Singing that Ended the Dance


Modelling the growth of the church in times of revival is fraught with difficulties as the work of the Holy Spirit is so unpredictable: “The wind blows where it wishes”, John 3:8. Social modelling of the sort I do in church growth depends on the reaction of people being predictable when large enough numbers are aggregated together. But when the Spirit cannot be predicted, neither can the reaction of those whom He moves. “The wind blows where it wishes ….  so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit”.

Lewis Revival 1949-1953

To illustrate the point, I want to take you back to an incident during the revival on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland that occurred on 1st February 1950 [1]. Duncan Campbell the revivalist told this story of the parish minister of Carloway, Murdo McLennan, who went to a young people’s dance, the nightclub of their day, and sang psalms until the Holy Spirit fell. To quote from one of Campbell’s sermons: 
A minister standing there turns to his wife and says,  “Look there are the two pipers that were to have played at the concert and dance in our parish tonight. There they are crying to God for mercy. So we'll go home to the parish, and we'll go to the dance, and we'll tell what has happened.”
So off they went. And arrived at the dance about eleven o'clock, the man who met them wasn't at all happy at seeing them there. Why had they come to disturb the night of amusement? But the Parish Minister claimed the right of parish ministers to walk in, and he walked in, and during a lull in the dancing he stepped onto the floor and said, “Young folks, a most remarkable thing has happened in Barvas. You know the pipers that were to be here are crying to God for mercy in Barvas. You advertised that they would be playing, but they're crying to God for mercy.'                 
And then he said, “Would you sing a Psalm with me?” “Yes”, said a young man, “if you'll lead it yourself”.
So he gave out Psalm 50 where God is depicted as a flame of fire. Also they sang, I think it was at the second verse when the power of God fell on the dance. The schoolmaster, who was at the head of the concert party, cried to God for mercy. Young people fled from the hall, and went to their buses and in the buses they were crying to God. One young boy, the youngest boy saved in the revival, twelve years of age, is now the parish minister of Kinlochbervie. [2]
Other versions of the account say that it was 3.00-3.30 in the morning when the Spirit fell, and that other psalms were used [1,3]. It is also said that some were the worse for wear because of drink. The hall being used for the dance was next door to the minister’s residence in Carloway, and he and his wife briefly went home to have a cup of tea and pray before entering the dance [4]. He entered the hall though a side door, without paying, which was one of the reasons the dance organizer was not happy with him [4,5,6]!
It turned out all bar three of the people at the dance were converted [7]. They were not all converted at once, but all came under conviction that night and were subsequently converted over the coming days. Such incidents were typical of the Lewis Revival, and many other revivals as well.

Enthusiasts

Let me try and relate the Carloway incident to my limited enthusiasm model of church growth. The hypothesis behind the model is that there is a sub-group of Christians called enthusiasts whose faith is infectious, and are thus responsible for conversions though contact with unbelievers. Some of those converted unbelievers become enthusiasts who also pass on their faith, and so it continues, as long as enthusiasts keep reproducing themselves. In this case the minister, Murdo McLennan, was clearly the enthusiast. But how exactly did he pass his faith on? How much of what it means to be a Christian was picked up late at night in a dance, under the influence of alcohol, when only a limited message is given, and a psalm, which mentions God, but not Jesus?

Context

The reality is that there is a context. Firstly most people on the Isle of Lewis would have known about Christianity, the shorter catechism of the Westminster Confession was taught in schools. As children they would have most likely attended church, as there was nothing else happening on a Sunday, which was (and still is) a Sabbath in those parts. Thus once under conviction, they would have known where to turn to find peace. Thus the effectiveness of the minister as an enthusiast is heightened by the religious background.
Secondly, there is the knowledge of the revival itself, which although not heard of in much of the UK, would have been very well known to people on the west of the Isle of Lewis. Thus there would have been a fear among unbelievers that they could also be so affected. The mere knowledge of a revival can bring back to mind other things, already heard prior to the meeting, that could all be used by God in the conversion of the person.
Thirdly, there were the pipers, who were known to many of the people there. Their services were called upon all over the island. If they could be converted, what hope was there for those in the dance? However the pipers do not class as enthusiasts in this instance. Their prior conversion sets the context, but it is not the point of contact that brings conversion.
Fourthly, there was the boldness of the minister. He was quite prepared to break all social conventions and challenge people in their own place. One of the main reasons the modern church fails to grow is a lack of boldness.
Fifthly, there is the Holy Spirit, who can bring the things of God into the mind and spirit of a person that were not communicated by any human agent. There was an outpouring of the Spirit on Lewis, a revival, a move of God. Things happen in people’s hearts that cannot be explained by any other means.

Averaging

Thus in this incident one enthusiast saw scores of people converted, and thus had a massive conversion potential, even if he saw no one else converted in his life [8]. His reproduction potential will have been large as well [9]. We definitely know of one of “his” converts who became an enthusiast, the 12-year-old boy who was converted, who in time became a minister himself and used in revival. Very likely other converts spread the word and saw the fruit of conversion also. In most revivals reproduction potentials are generally between 1 and 2. So how is this one potentially so big?
Ministers, especially a parish one with so many contacts, will see many converts, however ministers are only small in number compared with all the other enthusiasts in a revival. Typically an enthusiast is a person who invites an unbeliever to a meeting, where they get converted, but it is the person who brought them, not the speaker who brings about their conversion, who is the enthusiast in the model. Thus when averaged together the ministers’ reproduction potentials are lost in the figures. However ministers are a very important part of the spread of revival if they can be encouraged, like Murdo McLennan, to keep their face-to-face encounters with unbelievers.
What is unusual about the dance in Carloway is that it is not in a church meeting, or a one-to-one encounter where someone gets “led to the Lord”, but an encounter on “enemy territory” where God uses the boldness of the believer and the background of the people to achieve in one evening what normally takes the church a year! This is where enthusiasts, and especially ministers, are at their most effective. It is wonderfully hard to model as it is impossible to predict the outcome on the basis of the past experiences that are tied up in the averaging process. But strangely enough it is more typical of the type of incidents in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.

Today?

So is the church missing something? Should it be attempting, with God’s help, this type of encounter, or is such a thing impossible in our post-Christian and post-modern landscape?  (As I write this I can hear the words in my head “Nothing is impossible for God!”)
Well this post did not come about by accident. Only a few weeks ago a Richard Taylor at the Cwmbran Outpouring said he would love to get up in a nightclub when a DJ is playing and sing “Jesus, Jesus…” just to see what would happen [10].
So is the context that different? There is the boldness of the minister in going into non-religious territory. There would be plenty of converts to go with him, some of whom would be know, or if not known would be their type of people. If this were tried in Cardiff it is unlikely there would be much knowledge of the outpouring among non-churchgoers, but in the area around Cwmbran that knowledge is growing fast. The knowledge of Christianity of course is light compared with the Isle of Lewis, but that will not stop someone coming to Jesus; it just means it will take longer to disciple converts to become more like Him. And of course the Holy Spirit has not changed!
Conversion is ultimately a supernatural act. If God can do it in Carloway in 1950, then he can do it in Wales in 2013. It may take more than a few days to see fully-fledged and converted disciples, perhaps months or years, but it must be worth a go! The whole essence of a move of God is it gives his people boldness to encounter unbelievers outside of the church context. Murdo McLennan was “infected” with the revival when he entered the Carloway dance to sing his psalms back in February 1950, and the infection was caught by the dancers. May we see many Christian singers invade the nightclubs today and take the current Holy contagion with them! Watch the Spirit blow where He wishes!

John Hayward
Church Growth Modelling, churchmodel.org.uk

References

[1] Sounds From Heaven, Colin and Mary Peckham, Christian Focus, 2004, pp 48-49. 
[2] The Lewis Revival, taped talk of Duncan Campbell, The Faith Mission, transcribed on a number of websites, such as 
http://www.born-again-christian.info/scottish.hebrides.revival.duncan.campbell.testimony.htm
.
[3] The Lewis Awakening: 1949-1953, Duncan Campbell, The Faith Mission, 1954.
[4] Duncan Campbell: A Biography, Andrew Woolsey, Hodder & Stoughton, 1974, p136.
[5] I met one of the converted pipers in 2002 in his house in Upper Siadar on Lewis. He gave his own colorful version of the event, though of course he was not at the dance due to his prior conversion!
[6] The incident is alluded to in a recent song, The Ballad of the Revival, by Mairi Campbell, granddaughter of Duncan Campbell,
http://www.mairicampbell.co.uk/ballad-of-the-revival/
[7] Revival in the Hebrides, taped talk of Duncan Campbell, 1968, transcribed on a number of websites, such as the Revival Library:
http://www.revival-library.org/pensketches/revivals/hebrides.html 
[8] The Conversion Potential is the number of people one enthusiast would bring to faith, see converted, during their entire enthusiastic period, if all the people they contact were unbelievers. In the models it is averaged over all enthusiasts.
[9] The Reproduction Potential is the number of people one enthusiast would bring to faith and make an enthusiast, during their entire enthusiastic period, if all the people they contact were unbelievers. In the models it is averaged over all enthusiasts. The reproduction potential must be at least one if enthusiasts are to reproduce themselves. The actual number made enthusiasts drops as church grows, as there are less unconverted people to contact. Growth stops because the actual number of people made enthusiasts drops to a point where enthusiasts do not reproduce themselves. 
[10] Victory Church Cwmbran, Outpouring Day 88, Saturday 6th July, 2013. Available by podcast from Itunes store. See also my blog: A Bad Night for Foxes: A Meeting at the Cwmbran Outpouring.

Monday, 15 July 2013

A Bad Night for Foxes: A Meeting at the Cwmbran Outpouring


The Cwmbran Outpouring, aka Wales Outpouring, has been running five nights a week since April 10th 2013, at Victory Church which meets in a converted warehouse in Cwmbran [1]. I have written a number of blogs on this outpouring from the perspective of church growth and revival. This time I want to describe one of the meetings I attended recently, July 6th 2013. With the growing number of Internet testimonies of people’s experiences of the services, I felt it was time to add my own [2].

The title of this blog looks confusing, but it is based on the sermon that night from Song of Songs 2:15: 

“Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards,
 for our vineyards are in blossom.”

It was indeed a bad night for foxes, but a good night for everyone else!

Queue

I arrived at 6.15pm and joined the queue. Only once have I not had to queue for a meeting, and that was early May! The queue is always interesting as I can chat to the others waiting. There was a couple from Shropshire, a lady from Devon who had driven that day and was staying overnight, and a family with young children from Stratford upon Avon. There were a number with children that night, more than I have seen before, perhaps because it was a Saturday. As ever I met many English people here, as well as the members of Victory church, but where are the Welsh, those from other parts of Wales?

The Start

The doors opened at 7pm prompt. The seats were filled in an orderly way, assisted by church members. The stewards in the church and the car park are brilliant, courteous, friendly and efficient. Despite all the hard work they are clearly enjoying this outpouring.  As we entered the first song was underway – “I Exalt Thee”. It was followed by a few recent worship songs, led by a team with a more mature than usual worship leader on keyboards. He led superbly. This night the founding pastor Richard Taylor was back and he led the meeting, occasionally coming up on stage to help lead the worship.  He clearly loves worshipping.

At some point Richard started to pray as the worship quietened down. However the prayer turned into a Gospel message as he moved from speaking to the Lord to speaking to the congregation. He then instructed people to shut their eyes and asked for a salvation response to the message. A number of hands must have gone up based on what happened next. He then asked those who responded to go to the front to receive information to help them start their Christian life, and for prayer. Quite a number went forward – well into double figures. I think some may have come through Victory’s own outreach. We were all asked to pray the prayer of turning to the Lord. Recommitment does us all good!

I think there were more songs again – but it was now difficult to be sure as the presence of the Lord was so heavy and my attention, as I expect with others, was on Jesus not the service. This is the chief characteristic of all the services, even though they differ in many other ways.

Sermon [3]

Richard’s message was from the Song of Songs, 2:10-15. Indeed he started by saying “I want you to open up your Bibles tonight to…”. There is an expectation that we will be preached to and that we should have a Bible. Interestingly, and refreshingly, he went for an allegorical approach to the passage which would have brought a smile to the old Puritans. Initially the message was applied to the outpouring, thus:

2:11 behold, the winter is past;  the rain is over and gone. 
The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come,

For us in the outpouring the winter of waiting has past, the flowers of conversions and his presence are appearing. However he majored on the “little foxes” that try to spoil this:

2:15 Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards,
 for our vineyards are in blossom.”

There are people that love to spoil other people’s enjoyment of what God is doing, criticising everything that happens. I thought he was going to give a defence of the outpouring, but instead he widened the application to the effect in our heads of people who criticise us for the things we do for God. He said that they say their words and think no more about us, but their words hurt us, sink deep in the mind, and ruin our enjoyment of God. These are the “little foxes”. So our lives, through our minds, become dominated by the people that hurt us. He then apologised to animal lovers and said there is only one solution to such little foxes – shoot them!

I had to take a deep breath at this point. When churches deal with issues of past hurts the message generally majors on the need for the hurt person to forgive those who hurt them, in order to obtain release. This can be quite difficult to do when the forgiveness is not linked to repentance on the part of the one who caused the hurt, nor a restoration of relationship between the two parties. The wider church is a past master at making victims feel guilty because they can’t forgive. Usually after this type of message the hurt person remains hurt, but is now worse because they can’t be a “proper” Christian and forgive! The message at Victory that night was so different – shoot them! That is shoot the effect they have left in your head not the actual people who caused it!  

From the congregation’s audible responses, the message was well received. This was a serious message, with a light humour delivery. Richard’s humour is very disarming and it helped drive the message home.

Visitors

He then asked where people had come from and just under half admitted to coming over 100 miles. The furthest was a lady who had come from Australia. She came to the stage and explained she was seeking to pick up something of the spirit of the 1904 Welsh Revival. The sign for her to come was that her shed blew down and its insurance money paid for the air ticket! You could not make this stuff up, it is so real!

Next a family from Scotland were invited up. They were on a week’s holiday that they deliberately booked so they could experience God in the outpouring. At this point there was a major distraction as the keyboard player, who had been quietly playing throughout the sermon, collapsed over the keyboard in a fit of hysterics. Now I know some people may say this is like the Toronto blessing of 1994, but Richard does have a very disarming style of humour and his interview of the Scottish family was genuinely amusing. After all, these testimonies were really unusual and I think he was finding it hard to take it all in. Another keyboard player took over.

The man and woman in the Scottish family were worship leaders, so Richard asked for all worship leaders in the room to stand to have the “little foxes” in their minds that have affected their ministry shot. As a worship leader who has come across my fair share of foxes I appreciated them being shot, and I tried really hard not to think of the actual people who caused them hanging up bagged! The messages in this outpouring are so down to earth. This is Welsh Valleys’ Christianity at its best.

The family on the stage were prayed for and quite affected. Richard felt there was a blessing to be had and invited people forward. About 80% of the packed house went forward! Richard asked for other pastors to help but none seemed to be around at that point. Some are at the church plants which have Saturday evening meetings.

Prayer and Worship

I am a bit hazy at this point, but a little boy had come to the stage. Despite all that was happening Richard made time for him, pointing out to us the damage church has done by excluding children. He invited him up on to the stage to have a go at the keyboard (with parental permission)  and the second keyboard player was asked to stand to one side. Richard gave his usual line to keyboard players, “play anything you like, in the key of G!” I have seen so many slick church operations in outpourings, conventions, and fashionable modern churches, but I could not imagine any one of them ever allowing this to happen. This was so real it has to be of God not man! Down to earth, yet full of Jesus’ Glory and Grace.  So picture the scene: People being affected by the Holy Spirit, hundreds packed around the stage expectant, and a 6 year old playing random notes on the keyboard. And of course a pastor who did not know what to do next! But God was in the house!

Things could have gone very wrong at this point, the sort of things that went wrong in the Toronto blessing days, and to some extent in the Welsh 1904 revival where control by the crowd was confused with the control of the Spirit. But after some more people were prayed for, Richard started singing old time gospel songs, such as “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene”, and the very expectant congregation joined in. The little boy had now switched to drums, looked after by the regular drummer.

There was this wonderful mixture of Jesus presence, conviction, and yet a reality, almost a lightness, as the ways of Man were brought down to size by the boy helping out on the instruments as the pastor led worship. The worship had shifted our attention away from what was happening to people and back to Jesus. The whole meeting came alive through a worship style that could have been in Ira Sankey’s days – no reliance on a modern worship culture. Eventually the first keyboard player came back, and we moved on to some old Pensacola favourites such as “Enemy’s Camp”. Richard was now moving among the worshippers, praying for people – but people’s eyes were now on the LORD. Eventually some modern worship songs came, but the songs were secondary, the presence was everything.

I may well have missed things in my account, and have some of the events in the wrong order, but when Jesus is so present it is very difficult to be clear. Despite the humour and masses of unorthodoxy, God was very much the centre of attention. Despite the charismatic personality of the pastor Richard Taylor, he never distracted people away from the Lord [4]. It is God, not Man who dominates these meetings and did so that night. At each point where things could have gone astray, the meeting was brought back on course without quenching the Spirit.

The End

Eventually people started leaving. I tried to leave on a number of occasions but could not drag myself away. I needn’t have worried; when I finally left Jesus came as well [5]! This type of meeting is difficult to end “properly”, because God does not stop working, so the church allows people to stay as long as they want.

Conclusion

I have read about amazing events in past revivals, but nothing I have read gave me any frame of reference for this meeting. I have been in churches where the presence of God was overwhelming: from the likes of the Anaheim Vineyard California to a free church on the Isle of Lewis, but none of them could have prepared me for that night in Cwmbran. Outpouring day 88 was unique.

There is a contagion to catch. However if other churches start their own “outpouring” meetings as a result, I think they may have missed the point. The meat is on the street. When this contagion is caught we will have a passion for souls, to see them saved and discipled. The call is not so much to more meetings but more hard work in the lives of people who need to be rescued, taking God’s presence to them. The “outpouring” is the outreach; the meetings are the icing on the cake – but what an icing!

John Hayward
Church Growth Modelling, churchmodel.org.uk


References

[1] See Victory Church http://www.victorychurch.co.uk/.

[2] Recently there was a report of a Cwmbran Outpouring meeting on the Ship of Fools website, from the “anonymous worshiper”,
An Internet search will discover many others. 

[3] The sermon is available from the Itunes store Outpouring Day 88.

[4] The outpouring meetings are taken by different people each night; the church has a number of pastors. I have been to quite a few meetings and this is the first one I have been to that the senior pastor led.

[5] See my blog, When the Presence of God Persists