The ministry of ACT3 Network was legally incorporated in 1991. Four men joined me in our home in Carol Stream for the purpose of founding a non-profit teaching mission that would seek the renewal of the church through impacting the lives of pastors and leaders. At the time this ministry was incorporated it was called Reformation & Revival.
But the real beginning of this ministry goes all the way back to 1981. A pastor from England had been in my pulpit and home for several days. He asked me about my influence upon area pastors and how I could use this to impact others. He suggested I begin a ministerial fellowship that would stress the intellectual, spiritual and doctrinal aspects of deep faith. The first such group met in 1981 in the basement of my church in Wheaton, Illinois. We called it the Whitefield Fellowship, naming it after the British evangelist of the eighteenth century. I picked this name because I loved George Whitefield for his heart, his incredible zeal for God and needy people, and his deep love for all Christians. His Calvinism was both catholic and robust!
At the first meeting we had twelve ministers. I presented a paper on the need for modern reformation and another minister presented one on the need for revival. As you can see this is how I later picked the name of the organization ten years later when we legally formed Reformation & Revival Ministries.
In May of 1992 I left my pastorate of sixteen years in Wheaton to serve the work that was actually begun in 1981 with twelve ministers. I was being invited to speak more widely to ministers and small groups. I also began to receive preaching invitations to churches, both in the U.S. and abroad. I had entered the world of writing/publishing and the idea of a quarterly journal, rooted in the papers that came from these Whitefield Fellowships, also developed, thus what was called the Reformation & Revival Journal for sixteen years. I then sensed a growing desire to serve in what some have called an “apostolic” context. I saw my role as giving vision and Spirit-given insight to the wider church. My tradition did not have a place for such a ministry, at least not a ministerially recognized one. Yet on my final Sunday as a pastor in Wheaton (I was a pastor for twenty years) a group of ministers and friends commissioned me to go where God led me to spread this message of renewal, growing Christian thought and genuine piety. My first assignment took me to Great Britain where I preached and taught in Wales, Scotland and England. It was a transforming time for me and this vision developed as I served in scores of new places.
By 1994 the vision of John 17:21-23 had developed in me so deeply that I felt the whole of my vision was transformed by this prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ. I tell more of this story in my book: Your Church Is Too Small (2010). I sought to share this ecumenical message in the same context into which I had served from 1981 onward but many of those who embraced my Reformed theology rejected my “new” ecumenism. (For the record, this was not all of my friends by a long shot. Many followed this journey with me and these profoundly encouraged me as I began to go deeper and deeper into this vision of oneness!)
After a few years I realized I could not serve in some of the contexts I had been involved in during the late 1990s. To remain in place was to struggle with friends and my mission was not to contend with “flesh and blood.” I wanted to spread the good news of the gospel as widely as possible. I believe this good news includes the message of unity in Christ’s kingdom thus I followed the course that I believed the Spirit had opened up to me.
In the early part of the last decade my world got much, much smaller; at least for a time. God took me to a “desert” place for a decade. In this place he shaped me, and this vision, and then called me back into the broad places to speak the truth that he taught me in those days. From 2000 until 2010 everything changed. During this time we changed the name of the ministry to ACT3 because this name better reflected our passion to “advance the Christian tradition in the third millennium.” (Thus our name, ACT3, is an acronym – Advancing the Christian Tradition in the Third Millennium.)
Tomorrow: The Whitefield Fellowship – Making a Comeback in 2014