In 1991 I was prompted by the Holy Spirit to begin a mission for leaders and churches that would pursue the wide-scale renewal of Christian faith and practice. This work was called Reformation & Revival Ministries. We published a quarterly journal by that name while I was still a Wheaton pastor. I taught, wrote and traveled widely across the U.S. and abroad. I was blessed to speak to some wonderful conferences, churches and people. That ministry was growing beyond my wildest dreams. But something was happening from the very beginning that I did not understand for nearly ten years. Let me explain very briefly. My last Sunday in the pulpit of my church I preached from John 17:20-26. My heart was powerfully moved by the prayer of Jesus for our being “one.” It was two years later (1994) that I was arrested by the Spirit while saying the Apostle’s Creed. The words “one holy catholic church” floored me. I heard God asking me, “What are you doing with what I gave to you back in May of 1992?” I took a small step in this direction but soon realized that my wider ministry was not focused on this vision. I justified doing very little about this while I watched the mission I began grow beyond anything I could have imagined.
In 1996 we had our first national conference in Wheaton. Almost 1,000 people registered and our ministry was growing even more. Soon I was in demand and preaching to thousands many weekends. Several successful years followed this first national conference until I took my first public step toward the message of unity. In 1999 our conference theme was: “One Holy Catholic Church.” We invited some great speakers and it was a truly wonderful event but the crowd went from 800-1,00o to less than 400. I could see with my own eyes what was happening. I was deeply fearful. I saw ruin and financial trials ahead if I followed this course. But I also knew that this theme was my passion and to this mission God had called me. Within a few more years this conference ended with an event on evangelism at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. We had a crowd of less than 200 for some great speakers and topics. The handwriting was on the wall.
From the year 2000 I saw the bottom drop out on Reformation & Revival. I sought to explain what I was saying, over and over again. Most were not listening, or at least not accepting what I said. Things went from bad to worse. Most of my audience, though thankfully not all of it, abandoned me between 2000 and 2002. By 2003 we had all but shut down Reformation & Revival. Our nice office was gone, our staff of seven was laid off and we gave away our furniture and physical assets. I worked alone out of my home. I often felt deeply discouraged, even depressed. Yet in this context God would meet me again and again. Sometimes he even spoke to me in dreams and visions. At many other times it was just a word rightly spoken by someone who had no idea what I was facing day-in and day-out. God promised me that we would not only survive but that we would thrive again but this would not happen for a decade. This is exactly what transpired. For more than ten years we struggled. We had to cut salary again-and-again, take on financial debt that was often crippling. I faced the cancellation of speaking engagements and read many angry and terribly inaccurate things about me and my vision for unity. During this period of time we changed our name to reflect these new directions.
ACT3, which stands for Advancing the Christian Tradition in the Third Millennium, worked well for what we were called to do and explained our vision for the whole church. Plus, it was an acronym that had no baggage that required us to explain what it “did not mean.” In 2008 my wife encouraged me to “tell my own story.” She said, “Others have told your story and they have told it in ways that are wrong.” She added, “Why not write a book and set forth your heart and faith in regard to unity and mission?” I began to write and in March of 2010 my book, Your Church Is Too Small, was published by Zondervan. But still we had to wait. In 2011 I received a surprising invitation to visit Rome. Then in 2012 Francis Cardinal George read my book and wrote to me. He invited me to visit him at his residence in Chicago. I then invited him to join me for an evening at Wheaton College where we would discuss unity in public. You can see this evening on our web site. It is located under the tab Resources and the title is: “A Conversation on Unity.”
Since March of 2012 my world has profoundly changed. I am back in the kind of work that is deeply satisfying. My invitations and opportunities, quite frankly, surprise me beyond words. I do not preach to throngs but my opportunities are both strategic and amazing to me. God has opened the gates of blessing. My only fear now is that I would do something to mess this up since this is clearly what he gave to me to do for the remainder of my life. I turned sixty-five on March 1 and an say that I have never had more clarity of vision and purpose in my mission than I do right now. Finally, I am writing a new book day-to-day. It is titled Our Love Is Too Small. This book is much harder to write than the last one. I feel challenged to my core as I write. I want to give a message to the church for our time – God loves you and me and he does have a wonderful plan for the church if we will allow his love to penetrate our life again. If we receive his amazing love, in Spirit-given transforming power, then we will once again have a true deep and wide ministry to the dying world around us. The Great Commandment and the Great Commission are at the center of God’s renewing of the church in our time.
I think I have come full circle in regards to this simple truth. I am (once again) speaking directly to church renewal. If you haven’t watched the new video that I have included above in this blog please do so. It is very short and allows you to hear my heart and to see why I need your help in this “new” work that God raised up out of the ashes of the older work he removed by his severe mercy. After more than a decade in the desert I can now say that our God is faithful, all the time. You can trust him even if he takes everything away, or if it seems as if he has taken everything away. In the end he will not take away what matters, his love.