“Revival in a Plain Brown Wrapper” First of All… Prayer
Carlton L. Coon, Sr.
Some gifts are wrapped with gaudy paper, the paper more attractive than the gift. I’ve lived some revivals that were gaudier than substantive. As a child, observing G.A. Mangun as he led the Pentecostals of Alexandria, one thing stood out: the impact and growth was a product of consistency.
Nothing gaudy . . . everything steady!
Days ago, Foreign Missions Director Bruce Howell told me revival in El Salvador was not sudden or flamboyant, but constantly having people receive the Holy Ghost—week after week. Bright paper is nice, but it shouldn’t outshine the gift. Over the next few Communiqués, we will talk about revival. A different kind of revival…
Revival in a Plain Brown Wrapper!
Revival is vital to the New Testament Church, and we can all have it. But, an inaccurate perception of what revival looks and feels like can mean we are having a revival and not even know it. Revival in a plain brown wrapper does not have the “sizzle” we tend to enjoy. Let’s talk about revival—revival in a plain brown wrapper!
Revival with no self-promotion.
Revival without fanfare.
Revival in places we may not have heard about: Thibodaux, Louisiana; Lumberton, NC; Ottawa, Ontario; Bethel, Alaska; Madison, Wisconsin; Temecula, California; downtown Tampa; San Antonio; urban Chicago; Murfreesboro, Tennessee; Gillette, Wyoming; Amarillo, Texas; Los Angeles; and hundreds of other places.
Today—all over this land—God is doing a grand work, and it seems He is wrapping it in a “plain brown wrapper.” Would you like to participate? This is an invitation to participate in the unelaborated experience of revival in a plain brown wrapper.
I’m not sure about everything preceding our time in Springfield, Missouri. On arrival, morale was low, conversions few, and some elementary things were not being addressed. A church that became a productive vine seemed a bit “dry.”
Change began in a small way. We never had what some define as earth-shaking results. To my chagrin, no 1,000-soul revivals took place. Our model was less about the “big deal” and more about the “steady deal.” At times we’d have new people born again for weeks on end. The most ever baptized in a single service was eight. In spite of no “big” numbers, we constantly added disciples. We had what everybody can have—revival in a plain brown wrapper:
Our model is not the only model, nor is it the most appealing, but it is likely the model that fits more of us than does any other.
In my experience you can’t go to the second thing until you address the first thing. There is no need to teach algebra if the kid can’t add. For church impact, there is no need to spend $10,000 on direct mail if the church isn’t praying.
You’ve heard the classic quotes:
“The Church never will be wholly for God until the pews are filled with praying men.” (E.M. Bounds)
“The man who can get believers to praying would, under God, usher in the greatest revival that the world has ever known.” (Leonard Ravenhill)
“The man who mobilizes the Christian Church to pray, will make the greatest contribution in history to world evangelism.” (Andrew Murray)
My first message as pastor in Springfield took 1 Timothy 2:1 as a text, “I exhort therefore that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions . . . be made for all men.” First of . . . all prayer became a benchmark to always rally back to. In times of duress, the message “First of all prayer” recurred. It became part of the culture and climate of the “plain brown wrapper church.”
“First of all . . . prayer”—make it work?
1) Expect prayer—For us participation in pre-service prayer was non-negotiable for all service participants. It was simple—they just had to be at pre-service prayer. If a soloist ran late, his/her song could be used another time. It wasn’t punitive; it was just the way it was and everyone understood the priority. On occasion we sang a cappella while musicians who could not make it to pre-service prayer sat in the audience. How important is prayer? Athletic coaches expect every player to be at the pre-game meeting. If the athlete isn’t where he is supposed to be, even because of a flat tire, someone else starts the game. So thirty minutes before church on Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and mid-week, the platform personnel joined me in prayer. It was just expected!
2) Participate in public prayer—Pastor, you can’t just preach prayer; you have to be seen participating in it. On Sunday evening at 5:30, Anthony Mangun is not in his office. He is in the men’s player room. Each time I preached for General Superintendent David Bernard, he was at pre-service prayer.
Jesus’ disciples comprehended the priority of prayer because they saw Him pray. They then asked, “Lord, teach us to pray?” Sir, your participation in the prayer program of the local church is also a non-negotiable.
As prayer became part of the Springfield church culture, the “first of all prayer” mentality became the basis of our prayer ministry and of revival. I intentionally use the term “prayer ministry.” It is inadequate when prayer is not part of a church’s annual plan. For our “revival in a plain brown wrapper,” the prayer ministry came to have these additional ingredients:
1) Family prayer— Each Monday we had prayer from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. There were three levels of prayer: kids, youth and adult. Young people were trained to pray; then they prayed. Children’s prayer trainers taught kids. One of my treasured keepsakes is a binder full of prayer notes from the “Kids of Truth” prayer team. On one occasion, the children and their trainer invited me to their prayer area for the children to lay hands on my head and pray for me. “First of all .. . prayer!” Youth and children prayer trainers freed parents to focus on prayer. Unless life significantly infringed, staff and leaders were to be at Monday prayer. At times the prayer meeting was focused using resources like Warfare Praying by Judy Doughty; praying through the Lord’s prayer; or Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication (ACTS). World Network of Prayer items were always available for use. Family prayer was not measured by volume, but by the pursuit of God. Sometimes the prayer was loud and verbose; more often the family prayer time was a quiet conversation with the Almighty.
2) Monthly prayer chain—eventually on one Saturday of each month we had a 12-hour chain of prayer. It began with one person praying for each of the twelve hours. Some years back it expanded to three people being committed to pray each of the hours.
3) Quarterly Prayer Chain—One week of each quarter we did seven days of 24-hour prayer. This was accomplished in three-hour shifts. For a week before the prayer chain, a “signup sheet” was available at the front. With repeated promotion, about half the prayer shifts would be filled. On Sunday I’d read the commitments and complete what we lacked. This is another area where the pastor and pastor’s wife have to be actively involved. Let me offer a caveat here: before you ask people to pray a three-hour shift, you need to prepare them about what to expect. (Three hours is a long time to spend in effectual fervent prayer or “groaning which cannot be uttered.” Much of the time will be in slow steady conversation with God.) Provide them with resources.
4) Regularly (at least two times each year) preach/teach about prayer. Ask any revival pastor–in every church; key themes must be repeated often enough that they become part of the church’s culture.
Revival in a plain brown wrapper requires us to develop high-commitment people serving God in a low-commitment world. Set a level of expectation. Participate at and beyond that level of expectation yourself. Your practice becomes the foundation of what others do.
Revival in a Plain Brown Wrapper—First of all . . . prayer
Now for reality:
The prayer program of a church of a few hundred does not fit a church plant.
None of what we did worked all the time.
None of it worked well every time.
What worked in Springfield may not work for you.
But … to do nothing to establish a prayer ministry is to not prepare to participate in the end-time revival.
What I’m calling Revival in a plain brown wrapper is beyond personality and charisma. Revival in a plain brown wrapper is not having the right gifts and talents. It is a God-intervention. The revival birthed in “first of all prayer” is available to any church, any size, any place and any age.
Don’t try to do what you cannot do. For most church planters, to schedule a week of 24-hour prayer is unrealistic. Revival in a plain brown wrapper may well begin with averaging one baptism each month. Crawl before you walk. Walk before you run.
1) Analyze your church. Where is your level of revival? Are your people ready for a plain brown wrapper revival—not a short stint of special services but a church culture where disciples are consistently added to the church?
2) Adjust your program to reflect prayer being the foundation of all else. Schedule regular prayer and be in attendance yourself.
3) Declare a renewed focus on prayer. Plan preaching and teaching on prayer. (Your people will understand the importance you put on prayer based on how much they see you practice it and how clearly you voice it from the pulpit.)
4) Honor those who are leaders in prayer. Often the spiritual warriors get overlooked because “first of all prayer” is not particularly loud or flashy. (What gets honored gets repeated!)
5) Make available resources like those cited above, or the abundance of material available from the World Network of Prayer. (www.WNOP.org)
The article “‘Revival in a Plain Brown Wrapper’ First of All… Prayer” written by Carlton L. Coon, Sr. was excerpted from Home Missions, Director’s Communiqué, May/June 2010.