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

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