Why Revivalists Tarry, Part 1 (Some Very Good News for Every Saint Who Longs for Revival)

By David Servant

The title of this article is, of course, a play on the title of the late Leonard Ravenhill’s classic book, Why Revival Tarries, in which the famous evangelist points out what needs to change in pulpits, pews and prayer closets if the church is to ever regain its God-ordained purpose in the world.

E-Teaching graphic with title, "What Revivalists Tarry, Part 1"

In this article, however, I’d like to speak to the Little Leonard Ravenhills out there—whether they be faithful-yet-frustrated pastors, meeting-less evangelists, friendless Facebook preachers, or lonely out-of-church Christians—who all long to see a move of God like those that have occurred many times throughout history. They are fighting discouragement and are wondering if they will ever see such a revival before they die.

Every once in a while, someone from their circle hosts a revival conference, but it amounts to preachers taking turns preaching to the choir. When it is all over, there is still no revival. So everyone returns home to continue hoping and praying. The revivalists continue to tarry.

If you can relate, I’ve got very good news for you. You don’t need to tarry any longer, because revival has been breaking out all over the world. I’m talking about New Testament, Spirit-driven-and-empowered, biblical-gospel-centered, repentance-and-obedience-based revival. The real thing. Millions of people are being swept into the Kingdom in some of the spiritually-darkest places in the world. The earth’s harvest has never been riper. There has never been more opportunity, or need, for harvesters.

So tarry no longer! All you need to do is get involved in the harvest. But first, you’ll have to start practicing what you’ve been preaching to others, which is to obey Jesus! Take note: He commanded His followers not to waste their time trying to reach unreceptive people (and no wonder, when He knows there are millions of receptive people waiting):

Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces (Matt. 7:6).

Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead (Matt. 8:22).

Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet (Matt. 10:14).

These passages, and others like them, should not surprise us. If God loves everyone, then so should we. If we only focus our efforts on unreceptive people while there are groups that haven’t yet had a chance to hear the gospel, how are we imitating God?

And if we really believe that “God so loves the world”—the whole world—”that He gave His Son,” and if we are sincere when we pray that God’s will be done on earth—the entire earth—as it is in heaven, then our spiritual focus should not be just on our friends and relatives, our city, or our nation. Our focus should be on the entire world. And when we do focus on the whole world, we soon discover that revival is breaking out in hundreds of places, among Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, animists and others. Every believer who believes John 3:16 and prays the Lord’s Prayer should be involved on some level.

A Case Study

Let me give you an initial example of what I’m talking about. The story I’m about to tell you is true. I recently spent five days listening to someone who witnessed the events first hand. In fact, that person and his wife were the human catalysts to the story I’m about to tell you, a story of a revival that has swept a million Chinese people into Jesus’ kingdom. And it was not by means of shortwave radio broadcasts, Christian satellite TV, or stadium crusades. It was by simply doing what Jesus told us we should do. That is, make disciples who make disciples who make disciples.

Southern Baptist missionaries Curtis and Debie Sergeant moved to Hainan Island, off of China’s southern coast in 1991. At that time, the Hainanese were an unreached, unengaged people group of almost 7 million. Their language had no written form. There were less than 100 known Christian believers who worshipped in unregistered churches (that is, hidden from the government). Curtis writes, “Historically, this island was where the Chinese government exiled criminals and those who had fallen out of favor. It was a poor, resentful and violent place. It was, literally, ‘the ends of the earth.'”

Curtis realized that if he was able to master the language and then win one person a day to the Lord, by the time of his retirement, he would have won only 15,000 Hainanese people to Christ, just a tiny drop in the bucket compared to the population. And because of population growth, even if he won 15,000 Hainanese people to Christ, by the time of his retirement, Christians would be even a smaller percentage of the population than when he started.

So Curtis started thinking. And he realized that if he planted just one church of true disciples of Jesus, and that church would multiply every year, and each daughter church would multiply every year, there could be churches in every village in Hainan Province within 17 years. So that became the strategy Curtis adopted. He focused on making disciples who would multiply, and who would develop their spiritual life in simple house churches.

Curtis’s strategy was very reasonable and biblical, as Jesus told His disciples to make disciples, teaching them to obey all that He commanded them (Matt. 28:19-20). So naturally, one of the commandments that Jesus’ disciples taught their disciples was to make more disciples. This simple concept is one that is essentially missing from the Western church model (as we are still recovering from the Dark Ages). But it couldn’t be more biblical. Paul wrote to Timothy:

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2).

Note that there are four generations of disciples mentioned in that single verse: Paul, then Timothy, then “faithful men” and then “others” whom the “faithful men” could teach.

Of course, Timothy was just one of the “many witnesses” who learned from Paul. They, too, would be expected to entrust what they learned to “faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” That is multiplication, and it helps us to better understand passages like Acts 19:9-10:

But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people, [Paul] withdrew from them [he didn’t keep casting his pearls] and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.

In two year’s time, all who lived in Asia (modern Turkey) heard the gospel—as a result of Paul teaching disciples every day in Ephesus. We might be tempted to envision a two-year Bible School curriculum that ended with caps and gowns (our Dark Ages thinking again). It is much more likely, however, that disciples were visiting Paul for a few weeks or months during the course of his two-year sojourn, and they were then spreading around Asia what they learned from him. Of course, Paul’s disciples made disciples—it was natural and expected. That’s multiplication. In two years, everyone in Asia heard the gospel.

Note that during those two years, Paul was not exclusively training “future pastors and evangelists, and those who felt God’s call to vocational ministry.” No, Paul was equipping “disciples,” which in the book of Acts is an indisputable synonym for “believer” or “Christian.”

Similarly, note that in 1 Timothy 2:2 (cited above), Paul did not instruct Timothy to entrust what he had heard from him to “God-called vocational ministers,” but rather to “faithful men” who would then “teach others (not “future clergymen”) also.” The gospel was spread and the church grew through the ministries of average, regular believers.

Any true follower of Christ can win others to Christ and disciple those whom they win. The clergy/laity dichotomy is just additional sticky residue from the Dark Ages.

Yes, of course there is a place for apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Paul said they exist “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). How much more clear could it be? The body of Christ is supposed to be built by the work of regular believers who have been equipped by certain God-called leaders. (Of course, if those leaders are to equip anyone, they need to be modeling what they are teaching their disciples to do. Vocational ministers who aren’t making disciples themselves cannot, without hypocrisy, teach others how to make disciples.)

Now let me return to Curtis Sergeant’s story. He employed his strategy of making multiplying disciples with the goal of one simple church in every village in Hainan Province within 17 years. But incredibly, that goal was reached much sooner, and Curtis and Debie realized that their ministry was no longer needed in Hainan. They left in 2002 as generations of disciples continued to be born. By 2008, there were more than 500,000 followers of Jesus on Hainan. Today there are close to a million.[1] Curtis writes:

I quit working there in 1996 because it was already clear that the local believers did not need outside assistance. They were making disciples on their own—and transforming the culture in the process. These house churches were simple; but the members loved God, loved God’s Word, loved each other and loved the lost. God worked powerfully through these simple groups to transform lives of new believers, and to multiply new disciples. Over time, God used these bands of transformed believers to transform the culture.

Just the Beginning

Naturally, what happened through Curtis and Debie got the attention of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptists. They made Curtis Vice President of Global Strategy, which gave him opportunities to share the principles of what were first called “Church Planting Movements” but which now are more often referred to as “Disciple Making Movements.” Since then, those whom Curtis has trained (from a broad spectrum within the body of Christ, not just Southern Baptists) have planted simple churches in 196 nations. At least one of Curtis’s students, a Chinese-American named Ying Kai who served in another of China’s unreached provinces, experienced even greater results than Curtis. His disciple-making movement has grown to 1.7 million believers. (Ying has co-authored a book that details his story and methods titled T4T: A Discipleship Re-Revolution.)

Again, these are not converts who “raised their hands and filled out decision cards” and who are never heard from again. These are people who understand from the start that to believe in Jesus is to follow and obey Jesus, which includes sharing the gospel and discipling those whom they win, equipping them to do the same. This is a far cry from the standard practices and results of Western Christianity!

Disciple-making-movements have been spreading around the world at an accelerating rate, and those keeping track have identified hundreds of them. If the angels in heaven are still in the practice of rejoicing over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:10), they haven’t been getting much sleep over the past decade!

I’ve only told you a single story. Around the time that the Holy Spirit was helping Curtis and Debie Sergeant to break out of the status quo, other missionaries were listening to the same Spirit. A book that tells the story of how hundreds of thousands of Muslims are coming to Christ—one that I’ve given copies of to every staff and board member of Heaven’s Family—is Miraculous Movements, by Jerry Trousdale. I encourage you to get your own copy. You will learn about 6,000 new churches that have been planted among Muslims in 18 nations, of hundreds of former Muslim sheikhs and imams who are now leading Muslims out of Islam, and how Jesus is miraculously building His church through ordinary people. It is inspiring, and especially for discouraged revivalists!

Next month I’ll have more to say on this topic. But to everyone who has been longing and praying for revival, your prayers are being answered! There is no longer any reason for any revivalists to tarry. Everyone can get involved on some level in the amazing spiritual harvest that is being reaped around the world. And it is very possible that what is happening in so many places will also break out in Australia, Europe and the U.S. In fact, next month I’ll tell you about one place in the U.S. where it already has! — David

[1] You can watch Curtis tell his story in this YouTube video