Like almost every church leader, I’ve been watching the revival at Asbury University in Kentucky.
News about the 2023 Asbury Revival, which started in the Hughes Auditorium following a chapel service, started spreading on social media through TikTok and Instagram, is now a global phenomenon with major news outlets like the Washington Post reporting on it. It even has its own Wikipedia page.
And the revival (still surging as I write this post) has spread to other campuses around America and into a simultaneous overflow and a proposed wind-down at Asbury.
What surprised me is how quickly people jumped on what they saw, evaluating it, asking whether it really was a ‘revival’, criticizing it, offering all kinds of opinions on it, and even ‘trend-jacking’ for the purposes of boosting their own messages, in most cases without having been in the room.
Some are questioning whether you can even call it a ‘revival.’ And even Asbury Theological Seminary President, Timothy Tennent, offered a helpful, measured commentary six days into the phenomenon, preferring (at that point) to call it an ‘awakening.’
For the purposes of this post, I’ll call it the Asbury Revival because that’s how it’s widely being described. But I appreciate Tenet’s nuanced and thoughtful reflection.
Sadly, the critics have made a field day of what’s happening, offering everything from generational critiques (can Gen Z be trusted?) to checking it down to the minutia for theological orthodoxy.
Shane Pruitt summed it up well:
All of this leaves the question: What are most church leaders to do about it? Most of us won’t fly into Kentucky to be part of it (I haven’t), but you will get a lot of questions from people in your church and other leaders.
Here are five thoughts that I hope pastors and church leaders can find helpful.
1. Be More Curious and Open Than You Are Closed or Critical
We live in a highly cynical age, but if God is indeed moving, this is no time to be cynical.
The Asbury Revival is a great moment to be more curious and open as a church leader than close or critical.
Your church may not be from the charismatic or revivalist movement (and, for the record, neither is Asbury), but that’s no reason to discount it. (At the same time, there’s a reason charismatic churches are some of the only denominations experiencing growth right now).We live in a highly cynical age, but if God is indeed moving, this is no time to be cynical. Click To Tweet
And when nonstop worship has been happening, and many are reporting an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, especially among university students, why criticize? What if this is a generation-transforming event?
If you’re worried about ‘orthodoxy,’ re-read the New Testament. When God was at work in the early church, there was confusion, chaos, and a wide variety of opinions. Uncertainty may not always be a sign that God is absent, but perhaps an indicator that God is present and moving. The church is more diverse than what you think, or I, think.Temporary confusion and uncertainty may not be a sign that God is absent, but perhaps an indicator that God is present and moving. Click To Tweet
The early church wasn’t perfect. No one was 100% sure what was going on. And God still used it.
It is so much easier to criticize than it is to contribute.
Even worse, critics rarely contribute beyond their opinion.It is so much easier to criticize than it is to contribute. Click To Tweet
2. Don’t Worry About Taking a Position
You don’t have to have an opinion about everything or publicly announce your ‘position’ on everything that’s happening. That’s especially true for pastors.
Besides being hopeful and deeply encouraged, I don’t have a nuanced or definitive ‘opinion’ on what’s happening in part because, like 99.99% of the people reading this post, I haven’t been there. The story is developing.
I agree with Timothy Tennent when he says, “It is always better to stand in awe of something than to talk about something.”
Perhaps that’s enough for now. Watch. Wait. Pray. Expect. And see. And be hopeful.It is always better to stand in awe of something than to talk about something. @timtennent Click To Tweet
3. Resist the Temptation to Imitate What’s Going On
Getting to the practical things church leaders struggle with, you may have already had people who have asked you, “Why don’t we do something similar?” Especially because the revival has spread to a few other campuses as well.
A sincere question I’m sure, but one that might be missing the point.
Although churches have planned or ‘scheduled’ revivals for years, by all accounts, no one planned this one. Some college students continued after the worship service was over, the presence of God was palpable, and things continued from there.
So, does that mean you can’t do anything?
But from my understanding, seeing God move is as much about positioning as it is about anything.
You can position yourself for what God might want to do, but you can’t force it.
You can open yourself, but you don’t know the outcome until it happens.Seeing God move is as much about positioning as it is about anything. You can position yourself for what God might want to do, but you can't force it. Click To Tweet
If you’ve preached more than a handful of messages, you know sometimes you think a sermon is going to land and the heavens break open, and then not much happens. Other times you think it really didn’t go well, and God moved in powerful ways.
To position yourself in confession, humility, openness, and a willingness to be used by God is the best you can do. Hold a night of prayer.
Conduct your normal services, but perhaps approach them with fresh humility. Don’t just go through the motions of three songs and a message. Really surrender. And be open. (Please hear me: I’m not saying you usually go through the motions, but again, if you’ve led a church for a while, you know exactly what I mean here.)
When it comes to revival, you never know what might happen, but you can’t make it happen.When it comes to revival, you never know what might happen, but you can't make it happen. Click To Tweet
4. Don’t Feel Generationally Threatened
Although I try to read the critics as little as possible, I’ve seen a few disparage what’s happening because Gen Z is at the heart of it. The basic contention? They can’t be trusted theologically.
I wonder if there’s another dynamic at play, though, and that is that the generations currently in leadership have no control over anything that’s happening.
The Asbury students, of course, might say neither do they.
Control in leadership is a significant problem, especially for church leaders.
Just because something amazing is happening and you’re not a part of it doesn’t mean God isn’t in it. The Holy Spirit is free to move however the Spirit wants.Just because something amazing is happening and you're not a part of it doesn't mean God isn't in it. Click To Tweet
5. So…Maybe Watch and Give Thanks?
Who knows when or how this will end, but as a mentor of mine often says, you can be a student or a critic.
Without quoting scripture out of context, Gamaliel’s words from Acts 5 appear to offer timely counsel. If what’s happening is a human thing, it will fade quickly enough. If what’s happening is from God, no one can stop it.
And when it comes to seeing what God is doing in the next generation, perhaps the best perspective to take as a leader is to have an open heart and an open mind.
That posture would benefit the church in many situations, including this one.