On February 22nd I made a day-long visit to Asbury to experience first-hand what has been happening there since February 8th. The spontaneous, student-led worship that began in earnest and has continued unabated for two weeks is coming to an end today. At least, that is the plan. During my time I was able to meet with some administration staff, a professor, students, and sit through a portion of the evening service. Here are a few observations, in no way conclusive or exhaustively researched.
- There is a gentle, sweet spirit here.
I sensed nothing but a genuine spirit of worship. The genesis of this revival was a chapel service about the hurts and the healing of a young MDiv student. Spiritual healing, the quest to be made whole by God, was a theme that came up over and over. There are no signs of Christian triumphalism but rather humility and concern that the situation is not overrun by false or unspiritual motives. The testimonies are mostly focused on personal holiness (no surprise given the roots of Asbury’s founding as an institution of the holiness movement), and the services are simple with singing and prayer. There was a message during the evening I attended. It felt very organic.
- The leadership is spiritually mindful of stewarding this well.
The hype that surrounds an event like this (Fox News was reporting live from the campus when I arrived) paves the way for problems. Celebrity Christians have offered themselves up for service but were politely turned away. The student-led focus has been protected. There was no feeling that school administrators were seeking to control what has been happening. That said, intervention was necessary to manage the rising number of outsiders coming in. Overflow worship space was created (that was where I joined in), and local police were a part of the measures to control the flow of people. Keep in mind that Wilmore is a very small place dominated by the school and seminary. Thousands of visitors have an effect. As the revival entered its second week, students needed to be in class and together they anticipated that God would bring this to conclusion soon.
- This is not a missions movement… yet.
I wanted to understand if there was much of a global or missionary emphasis in this movement. Past missionary movements (like the Student Volunteer Movement) were started by students receiving a fresh dose of the Spirit. Could this be another one? One student, when I asked if there was a global angle to the revival, flatly said, “No. This is about personal holiness.” Another mentioned that the genesis of the revival came from the prayers of a missionary sent to the US (more on this below). My conclusion was that this was a response to the broken-ness that students in our culture feel. Many have come of age in the era of single parent homes, pornography and abuse, and a culture that places self and issues of identity above community. This generation is wounded. They are seeking spiritual wholeness. Will missionaries come out of a revival like this? I imagine they will, but that will be an outcome more than a purpose of what God has been doing here.
- You get what you pray for.
Some years ago, a man from Malaysia came to Wilmore and felt that God was encouraging him to pray for revival. He walked the streets of the small town and the university encouraging students to seek God. Others I spoke with similarly talked of a yearning and praying for revival. Asbury has a history of spontaneous movements like this. One happened in 1950 and another in 1970. Could it be that this has happened because they have prayed for it? I think so.
- This was for Asbury students.
There were thousands of visitors. Some were like me, seeking to understand better what was happening. Others wanted to taste what the students were experiencing. There were expectations that this would spread across the country. Other campuses have experienced similar outbreaks of worship. Yet, what I saw was happening among the students. It was never intended to be for somebody like me. Creating a larger meaning or movement from it feels forced. That might yet happen, but for now I am content to see this as an Asbury revival. Yes, there is a spiritual questing in the West. The reaction of secular media and the desire of some to travel around to the world to join in are signs of this. Yet, we need to be cautious about seeing it as more than it is.
The message l heard was about the next steps that students will be taking. The speaker (the same MDiv student who spoke on the first day) spoke about the busy-ness and tiredness of young people today. They need rest and that rest is in Christ. It was a good reminder that this has been an intense moment in time. What comes next is to see how the direction of these student’s lives will change.
Now the rest of us should commit to praying for them.