It’s painful to see a church that I love almost completely abandon evangelism, becoming spiritually dry and question the very radicality and community principles that made it so uniquely biblical in the first place. Second and third generation members are the ones that to the largest part try to “reform” the church into a normal, mainline, un-challenging pudding. In fact, I’ve spoken to older church members who were surprised that I was both young and radical – in their context it’s usually either or!
As I’ve spoken to friends about this many have pointed out that this is the usual course of events: revival strikes, people gather around on the blazing cross, a generation passes, their kids think it’s boring, and so revival ceases and has to stir up somewhere else. And yes, I am aware that this is a common pattern. This very thing has happened in the Vineyard, where signs and wonders once used to be normal but nowadays are exotic and sometimes even unwanted. Christy Wimber, the daughter-in-law of Vineyard founder John Wimber, wrote a few years ago:
I have been in service after service throughout the world these past few years where miracles are taking place and the response of the people is one of surprise, not expectation. In fact, I heard a Vineyard pastor say not that long ago that he didn’t really know John, and his model and influence comes from a different Movement. He in fact said he doesn’t particularly like the whole signs and wonders part. And I know this Movement that’s influencing him doesn’t move in the gifts.
That’s fine to me, except it left me wondering as to why he is a pastor and leader in the Vineyard Movement? What is happening now in the Vineyard that he signed up for and bought into?
Should we accept the deradicalisation of revival movements as a brute fact that church leadership simply has to manage rather than trying to avoid? I think not. First, I don’t see this pattern in the Bible. As Moses passed on leadership on to Joshua, miracles didn’t cease and morality didn’t collapse but God’s people remained united and won insanely unlikely victories. After Elijah passed on his mantle to Elisha, prophecies and miracles continued to abound and the apprentice arguably experienced more signs and wonders than his master. And as Jesus handed his mission over to the apostles, they healed the sick, raised the dead and spread the Gospel like never before, expanding church influence rapidly across continents.
Second, I don’t think this “law” of second generation apathy is applicable to for example the Chinese underground church that has experienced revival for over 60 years, or Pandita Ramabai’s Mukti Mission that still is going strong almost 100 years after their founder’s death, or the Congolese church that has seen people rise from the dead and receive Christ ever since the civil war in the 60’s. It seems to be a Western phenomenon, and like everything Western it can change if we are committed to it.
I think that if we build a church stucture that even more strongly ties our lives to radical discipleship and nurtures us in evangelism, pastoral care, Spiritual gifts and equal community we will see less apathy. The Bruderhof is an inspiring example of a church that prevails to be alternative throughout different generations and that young people are happy to be a part of, even though they could expand in their evangelism to recruit new people to the Kingdom. Also, we could use a lot more persecution.