June 5, 2009
Could the revival happening at Saddleback spread nationally?
"The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy."
Psalm 126:3 (NIV)
Dear Saddleback Family,
In January, during my "Recession or Revival?" weekend series, I pointed out that history often demonstrates the fact that difficult times are fertile ground for spiritual awakenings.
Whether in biblical days or in the past 400 years, when people feel like giving up, some look up to God. I announced that we needed to prepare ourselves for the possibility that God would send revival in our midst during this recession. We now see it happening at Saddleback! In the past 60 days, our church family has experienced the greatest period of revival in our 30 year history.
Revival is an often misused and misunderstood word. Many so-called "revivals" are just emotional spectacles fueled by promotion with little biblical basis or result. So let me explain and illustrate some (not all) of the marks of true revival:
TRUE REVIVAL BRINGS SALVATION & TRANSFORMED LIVES!
In April, we averaged over 40 people EVERY DAYcoming to Christ for salvation! Like the first church in Jerusalem, "the Lord added DAILY those who were being saved." Over 1,200 new adult believers were baptized in April alone! Saddleback members witness to their unsaved friends like no other congregation in America.
Recently I baptized over 800 adults on a single afternoon, spending nearly five hours in our baptism pool! I wish you could have heard the testimony of each transformed life.
TRUE REVIVAL BRINGS REPENTANCE & HOLY LIVING
The stories of confession, reconciliation, and commitment to the biblical disciplines of prayer, daily Bible reading, and humble acts of service have thrilled our hearts. Who will ever forget watching thousands of people nailing their lists of sins to a cross at our weekend service?
TRUE REVIVAL BRINGS SPECTACULAR GROWTH OF THE CHURCH!
Recently, over 2,600 people joined our church on aSINGLE DAY, committing to our membership covenant, and attending our four-hour Membership Class 101. We've offered Class 101 every month for 30 years and usually about 100 to 200 people attend and commit to our membership requirements. Imagine a membership class with 2,600 joining on one day!
50,334 people worshiped at one of our 46 Easter services. 45% of these people (not including the children in AllStars) were under 39 years of age. Pundits erroneously speculated why I cancelled two TV interviews with George Stephanopoulos and Mike Huckabee on Easter weekend, but I was simply overwhelmed with our 46 services and needed to conserve energy!
TRUE REVIVAL LEADS TO MINISTRY IN THE COMMUNITY
During these days of revival, 20,000 grocery bags were given out and you returned over 40 TONS OF GROCERIES to feed the poor, the widows, and orphans around us. During this recession, you've once again been a beacon of hope to our community. I wish you could read the thank-you letters from people who have never previously attended a church.
Over 30,000 of you are now ministering to your neighbors through our 4,000 plus small groups across 146 cities of Southern California. Our weekend series on "The Jesus Model" and our small group curriculum series, Wide Angle: A Christian Worldview, that Chuck Colson and I taped for you are reaping more changed lives in our communities.
TRUE REVIVAL LEADS TO GREATER MISSION AROUND THE GLOBE
No church in history has ever sent more members on mission around the world. On our recent 5th anniversary of the PEACE Plan we celebrated the 8,292 Saddleback members who've served overseas in the past five years. Saddleback mission teams have now served in 134 nations!
Then last weekend, 2,908 more families signed PEACE Commitment cards to GO and GIVE in the next 18 months. This will enable us to complete our 10 by 10 goals, including being the first local church in Christian history to literally obey Christ's command to "go to EVERY NATION" by the end of next year!
Why does God continue to bless Saddleback in unprecedented ways, and what would it take for this local revival to spread nationally?
Many factors contribute to God's continued blessing of Saddleback. Some are unexplainable, like God's sovereign grace, and others are the result of choices God's Spirit has led us to make. Obedience brings blessing. I could list a dozen factors but I'll only mention a couple:
WE REFUSE TO BE DISTRACTED FROM JESUS' PURPOSES FOR HIS CHURCH
For 30 years, we have kept a laser focus on the five biblical purposes of worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism. We refuse to be distracted by secondary issues, legalistic bickering, misinformed accusations, or envious critics. "Avoid foolish arguments, stupid controversies, spiritual quarreling, quibbles, and conflicts. These are pointless and worthless" (Titus 3:9). "Anyone who lets himself be distracted from the work I plan for him is not fit for the Kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62). While others debate the church, we just DO it!
We have a BIBLICAL plan & PROCESS TO CARE FOR AND DEVELOP DISCIPLES TO full MATURITY, AND TO MOBILIZE THEM FOR MINISTRY & MISSION.
When God wants to bring a bumper crop of new baby believers into the world, he looks for the warmest incubator he can find. Most churches are unprepared to care for large numbers of new believers. Saddleback has a proven discipleship process that has brought tens of thousands to maturity. Most churches believe in discipleship but their only plan is to preach it. Since people forget 90-95% of what they hear within 72 hours, it takes far more than listening to exposition to develop a mature disciple. A national study by Lifeway revealed that churches using the Jesus Model discipleship process we learned from Jesus (from "come and see" to "come and die") are healthier, produce far more mature members, lead in generosity, and send more out on mission than just teaching churches.
WE DEEPLY LOVE LOST PEOPLE THE WAY JESUS DOES.
We are not afraid to associate with unbelievers or people we disagree with. You cannot win your enemies to Christ; you can only win your friends. So we purposefully build bridges of love to people so Jesus can walk across that bridge and save them. We don't view unbelievers as "the enemy" in a "culture war" rather we see them as the mission field and as people Jesus shed his blood for. We do not compromise our biblical convictions, but we do apologize if we act or saying anything in unloving ways.
We also do not expect unbelievers to act like believers until they have the power of Christ inside them. Laws and politics cannot transform hearts, which is why we refuse to be political activists. Jesus said "I did not come to condemn the world, but to save it." We want to have a Christlike ministry, which means we will be called "the friend of sinners" and will be attacked by modern day Pharisees and those who view everything in political terms. But the results are worth it: Over 22,000 new believers have been baptized in the past 10 years and we will spend eternity rejoicing with them!
Today I read again these words from my friend and mentor, John Stott: "The mistake the Pharisees made was worse than being a mistake about the meaning of holiness. It was actually a mistake about the very nature of God. They thought he avoided sinners, whereas God doesn't avoid sinners at all. God loves sinners. He comes after them! He went after them to the desolate agony of the Cross. He has come after them in the Holy Spirit, and he is pursuing them himself today!"
WE TAKE RISKS IN FAITH
While others splash around safely in the shallows of their comfortable church culture, you Saddleback members have always been willing to launch out into the deep where the big fish are. Our 30-year history has been one of attempting in faith what others fear to do. But where God guides, he provides. This year, we launched a risky new distribution channel to provide Bible study curriculum to church small groups nationwide. This "curriculum by subscription" (the 21st century version of the Sunday school quarterly) is The Purpose Driven Connection magazine. In a year when every other magazine is cutting back staff, we launched one - in a never-done-before format. The result? Churches worldwide are receiving solid small group materials and our second issue WON A PULITZER PRIZE for an article!
Friends, genuine revival is our only hope. Nothing else can heal our hearts, our families, our land, our world. That's why we're making an enormous effort to serve other churches this fall through a National Life's Healing Choices Campaign beginning in September. The eight principles of the Beatitudes of Jesus are the true path to recovery - whether personal or national recovery. Pray that other churches will join us in humbly following the path our Master has laid out in the Beatitudes. And pray that our efforts to serve other churches and small groups with this quarterly curriculum will result in transformed lives for the global glory of God!
It is a privilege to be your pastor. I love you with all my heart.
Purpose Driven Network