It's great while it lasts. We need to learn to not take control from Jesus so they do last.

When viral Jesus movements (also called revivals) happen they are exciting, powerful and fruitful. They can also be surprisingly fragile. God begins many of these but they are killed because of inappropriate human activity. I want to discuss this activity so that none of us are ever a part of killing a movement of God.

The Wrong Wineskins

In my book Viral Jesus I note that what I call partial Jesus movements normally last twenty years or less. By partial Jesus movements I am referring to a movement of the Spirit (revival) that gets snuffed too early. I would include in this list the 1st Great Awakening, the 2nd Great Awakening, The Moravian movement, the Welsh revivals, the Azusa Street Revival…I could go on. Here’s the sad point, we have not seen a single viral Jesus movement go for more than about twenty years between the Edict of Milan in 313 AD and the current viral Jesus movement in China in 1949. That’s 1,636 years. Let me be clear, a number of these movements sparked significant lasting change. Both the 2nd Great Awakening and the Azusa Street Revival gave birth to current denominations. But the lasting power and presence of the Holy Spirit was gone, as was the rapid in gathering of souls. The Assemblies of God denomination was born out of Azusa Street. Is the average Assemblies church having a rapid in gathering of souls? Is there a pervasive holiness among members that is any different than say a Baptist church? The revival had long lasting effects but the revival itself has gone.

In contrast, the first viral Jesus movement, the early Church lasted about 280 years. Honestly it was losing its power before the Edict of Milan but that was the largest and last nail in the coffin. The viral Jesus movement which is currently happening in China has been going on since 1949 (63 years and counting). What’s the difference? Put simply the difference is wineskins. The way of doing church which we now think of as standard practice, (congregational meetings in dedicated buildings with a hierarchical leadership structure) is a hostile environment to the Spirit’s powerful work. For specific details of this read the chapters The Crumbling of a Viral Jesus Movement and The History of Partial Viral Jesus Movements in Viral Jesus. How could the early church sustain a viral movement for nearly 300 years? They didn’t have our current church practice. When it finally became formalized the viral movement stopped. How can our Chinese brethren sustain their movement of the Sprit for over 60 years? They don’t follow standard church practice. You can read about that in Thank You Chairman Mao. Following are some of the more specific reasons that our more traditional practices kill viral Jesus movements.

Human Control

The Church was specifically designed to function with Jesus as Lord and his servants to listen to His specific instructions because of the new covenant. In the new covenant Jesus the Lord gives us specific directions to our hearts and minds (Heb. 8:10). Have you ever seen footage of a SWAT team entering a house to make an arrest? It is confusing and chaotic. One guy is yelling POLICE! Another is commanding, “PUT UP YOUR HANDS!” The next is screaming, “GET ON THE GROUND!” Another is saying, “DON’T MOVE YOUR HANDS!” All the while there are flash bang grenades going off. Chaos! That’s what we have now in the Church, thousands of human leaders “leading.” There is so much human noise it becomes difficult to hear the still small voice of the Lord speaking into our hearts and minds. This human domination can also manifest itself in a leader, group or denomination trying to control what happens.

Focus on Manifestations or Avoid Them

In my last post Characteristics of a Jesus Movement I mentioned two current tendencies, to bask in the glow of supernatural manifestations or shun them. Both can kill viral Jesus movements. To encounter God’s supernatural power is wonderful. But God gives this for specific reasons, to change our lives towards holiness, to show his power to the world and spread his Gospel. It is not a spiritual drug for us to merely enjoy. When we focus on the manifestation and not the Master we risk losing both. In the opposite direction we have brethren who are so steeped in secular rationalism that they are offended by supernatural manifestations. They seem weird, inappropriate and distasteful. In fact, to many they seem satanic. I give a sound test to see what is from God and what is from the devil in my post Is This God or the Devil? However, both of these fleshly tendencies create a hostile environment for a viral Jesus movement.

Fail to Become Missional

There have been a number of truncated viral movement in the US in the last thirty years. They started out fine, despite the bad wineskins, but they fizzled. What happened? Two things happened in my opinion. First, people were curious about the supernatural manifestations but weren’t serious about God’s plans. In other words, it quickly became human focused instead of God focused (see above). But the second problem was that there was little focus on allowing God’s work to become missional. In my post Characteristics of a Jesus Movement I noted, “true Jesus movements start out attractional and very quickly become missional.” That happened in the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings, the Moravian movement, and the Azusa Street revival. Currently the tendency is to come and observe, come and experience, come and enjoy; but there isn’t a lot of going unto all the world to preach the Gospel. These truncated movements have died or will shortly if they don’t take God’s purposes in mind and follow Him out into the harvest.

  • Do you see any common factors in these fatal behaviors?
  • Why do you think the form of the wineskins makes so much difference?
  • Why do you think Jesus movement die if they don’t become missional?
  • Why does human control (not the same as human participation) truncate viral Jesus movements?
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