Out Of The Chapel: The Problem of Youth Revival

Out Of The Chapel: The Problem of Youth Revival February 20, 2023

The round-the-clock 11 day revival worship in Hughes Auditorium has ended by order of the University President. Thus illustrating a major problem of youth and young adult revivals. The stones did not cry out (not yet at least). I wonder how long the copy-cat revivals will continue. My guess is they will not last much longer than Presidents’ Day weekend. It makes me sad. Call such revivals what you will – mountain top highs, spiritual masturbation, or mass enthusiasm or hysteria – they are a part of our American Protestantism.  We have not seen the last of them.

Revival Now!

The first problem with youth and young adult revivals is they are institutionally approved. Long weekends such as Martin Luther King Day, Presidents’ Day, and Labor Day, are typically set aside for youth and young adult retreats with hopes that the Holy Spirit will move when school is not in session. Pastors and churches praying for revivals in the church or the country is a cliché. The roaming tent revivalist is more of an entertainer than one who brings real change into a people’s lives. By and large churches stopped having revival services when church attendance ceased to be a priority in the lives of most of the members. Church leaders do not argue we need to “hold a revival” but claim the church needs revival.

For The Kids

“Why is it,” my Greek professor asked, “that if the kids like something the adults have to be against it?” Good question. Older church leaders are dismayed when youth and young adults begin seeking to fulfill their own spiritual needs. Most parents in church have important plans for the future of their children. Church leaders play a game then. We will entertain the youth and do a little missional site-seeing. We can do the same for young adults. Parents know how hard the world is being on them. And they want to help their students prepare for it. It is no surprise that a private Christian university would eventually move to squash the revival and get the students back to class. Families are paying big dollars to send their children there, after all, to be educated.

Institutional approval and the desire for revival to be experienced by someone else makes revival rare indeed. Phony revivalism however allows the church to feel good about what it happening. Accounts of spiritual tourists coming to the chapel to feel what was happening during the day when it was full was telling. One account showed the chapel having only about 50 people at 3am. That seems very telling to me about the desire for revival experiences.

Revival In My Image

Here is the most subtle part of revivalism. Pastors and other church leaders want the revival they want. They are not looking for a true spiritual revival. Many of my progressive friends argue the revival was not “real” unless there was some accompanying social action. Again, this is part of the revival story we tell in our history. Evangelical friends want to see people being “brought to Christ.” That is a vague goal whose actual fruit cannot be determined. One person said to me it means “a true salvation experience.” How do we tell? My progressive friends offer an answer to that.

Let’s be honest, though. These prayers for revival have tangible goals built into them. They are our goals not necessarily those of God. We do not treat God as wholly and holy other who does not do things our way. “Not my will, but yours be done” is not the prayer we pray for revival. We have an image of what the world’s kingdom would be if we are in charge. And we have enough hubris to believe our will is Gods. The goals we have are pretty short-sighted. We want better church attendance, more missions, more giving, and more commitment to making disciples.

Was the latest Asbury revival real? Many who attended feel it was. People who posted videos on social media tended to believe that was what being in heaven would be like. Revival is not meant to be grasped onto and never let go. For the Asbury revival to be real requires those who are touched by the experience to be grateful to the institution for providing the space but moving beyond the institution into a new way of being in the world. This is what salvation means.

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