After years of seemingly nothing going on, the attention of the Charismatic world has turned once again to Lakeland, Florida. For those who remember, Lakeland had the first signs of what became the Toronto and Brownsville movements under the ministry of Rodney Howard-Browne. At that time, the church was pastored by Karl Strader and called the “Carpenter’s Home Church.” Years later, and after some drama, Karl’s son Stephen began pastoring a much smaller revival-oriented church called “Ignited Church” in a refurbished hardware building.
In Toronto and Brownsville, pastors brought in outside evangelists for short conferences which then extended indefinitely after God started doing something special. In this instance at Lakeland, Stephen Strader brought in the intense Canadian evangelist Todd Bentley for a series of meetings at the beginning of April. For those who are not familiar with Bentley, he was a rough young drug addict who was radically saved at age 18. Not long into his journey, however, it became clear that Bentley was not the average conversion. Reaching out to whomever he could on the streets, he was soon speaking at youth meetings with mass salvations and attracting the attention of a larger constituency. Hungry for more of God, he began to pursue God in an intense season of prayer, which led to significant breakthroughs in healing and the word of knowledge. One of his mentors was Pat Coking, now known as Patricia King. After only a little time however, the power of God on Bentley’s life began to speak for itself and he was soon traveling the world in a crusade style ministry. After several years in that ministry, Bentley went through a “midnight of the soul” where God dealt more thoroughly with unresolved issues from his very difficult childhood. This was a very hard time for Bentley who had to withdraw from ministry, release staff and face some very challenging issues. He even had a heart attack during a crusade in Africa. Only recently, perhaps in the past year, has he emerged into a new season. Regardless of what one thinks of Bentley’s ministry style or the events in Lakeland, at a fundamental level Bentley should be an inspiration to all Pentecostal Christians because his life demonstrates that not only can God save a man radically, but he empower him for incredible supernatural works of service in a short time. Bentley’s heroes include both Paul Cain and Jack Coe, both of whom he is reminiscent of. Cain because of the power demonstrated in his youth and pursuit for more of God, and Coe because of his relentless, driven, and aggressive ministry style.
Even without being present, it is easy to say that God has been doing something at the first set of meetings in Lakeland. Let’s consider the circumstantial evidence:
- Bentley himself: An evangelist like Bentley has a very full schedule which he would not break unless there is good reason. Moreover, he is accustomed to the miraculous in his meetings and something significant would have to be happening in order to warrant a schedule change.
- The pastor and the people. Unless you are in a cult, you cannot get people to keep coming to meetings after about the third day unless God is doing something special. Secondly, given that the Charismatic movement is given to hype, you need more than hype to create an international sensation. God has to do something.
- Resistance from the devil. I find it no coincidence that just days before the revival, the eyes of the nation were turned toward Lakeland because of a demonically inspired savage beating of a young runaway. Moreover, Hank Hannegraff tends to only make effort to criticize a revival if God is actually doing something
The personal evidence:
- Watching people testify in the meetings, it is clear that most of these people are normal sincere people who are getting touched by God.
- I’ve had several friends who have attended the meetings. One who was at Brownsville said of the first Lakeland meetings, “The presence of God is definitely very strong, possibly even more than what we experienced in Pensacola.” Another urged me to go and described them as very powerful. Another sister, younger in the Lord, and never having been in a powerful meeting, came back and said she had never felt the presence of God so strongly.
So I clearly believe God is doing something in Lakeland. I think questions arise when we discuss the specific ministry style in the meetings, and the larger phenomenon of “revival” among Charismatics. Another friend of mine was recently at the meetings and said that while he also felt the presence of God in a strong way, he was glad he had not taken his unbelieving family members because of the style. In Toronto and Brownsville the issue was drawing undue attention to “manifestations.” In Lakeland, I haven’t seen that personally. The concern I have in Lakeland is that the search for a miracle may have taken precedence over the desire to help individuals.
Front and center is the typical problem of expecting people to fall out every time they are prayed for. Now, let me say that people do get slain in the Spirit, and I’ve seen some clearly get hit by God in the Lakeland meetings I’ve been watching. But my experience tells me that even in a powerful prayer line not everyone falls out. Sometimes the Lord will knock over almost an entire congregation, but that’s fairly rare too. I think a lot of what we see today is a mixture of “courtesy drops” and people getting nudged or outright pushed, because somehow this validates to everyone that God is really doing something great. In reality, anytime we inflate what God is doing, it ultimately has the opposite effect. Skeptics feel confirmed, people who want to believe feel that they have to examine to see when God really did move, and the unquestioning end up believing that things which are not really God moving actually are.
This, and other nuances, like saying “Bam”, cutting people short who clearly need more help, and telling the crowd to do prophetic gestures, I think encourage the wrong atmosphere among the people. So do I think God is doing something in Lakeland? Absolutely. Is it the revival that I desperately want to be a part of? No. But you know what, it could be the first link in chain, like it was the first time around. In both Toronto and Brownsville, people took the initial flavor of the revival and brought it into their own contexts. The original Lakeland revival was very different than Toronto, which was very different than Brownsville, even though they were all from the same fountain at Karl Strader’s church. And as for Todd Bentley in the new Lakeland setting, even given my stylistic considerations, I still think he’s a great man of God who should be commended for going after God in a way that most people only talk about (and getting a hold of Him). I do not put him at all in the same category with men who just want fame, money, and hype. Perhaps it is just that sometimes he wants a miracle too bad. 🙂