First, the best perspective…
Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?
– Psalm 85:6
I sometimes read about the great revivals of old. The times long gone when men like Jonathan Edwards and Charles Finney preached the Word of God, leading to dramatically changed lives and tremendous changes in towns and cities. These were great times filled with God’s wondrous work in the lives of men, women, and children!
The closest Dee and I came to experiencing true revival was during the eighteen months we were members of West Bainbridge Baptist Church, just after we were married in August 1981. This was a small church standing alone in a valley surrounded by hay fields and a few houses, just west of the village of Bainbridge. The church was led by Pastor David Wood and his wife Janice, who had already served for several years before we arrived. The old building perhaps didn’t look like much, but it’s what goes on once the doors are opened and the people arrive that truly counts.
The old church is closed today. The faithful no longer gather to sing hymns of worship or to hear a sermon filled with hope and challenge from God’s Word. Though there are clear signs of deterioration, the building continues to stand as it has for more than 170 years. This was a place of great ministry.
Those who attended when Dee and I were there mostly came from a rural country mindset – simple in their style of life and simple in their faith, which actually ran quite deep. These were solid Christians who walked with the Lord each day.
But – the revival. Oh, it wasn’t truly the kind of revival we have read about in the history books such as in the days of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield. Nor was it the sort of blessed occurrence that took place when Charles Finney came to town in the 1840s and 50s. This was certainly less dramatic, yet it was clear that Dee and I were led of the Lord to something highly unusual and rarely seen in this day and age.
This was a soul-winning church. Pastor Wood may have been one of the great personal soul winners of our time. I was privileged to go on visitation with him on Saturdays and often watched in great awe as he presented the Gospel to the most hardened of men who suddenly were overcome with emotion, believed the Gospel, and then humbly prayed and trusted the Lord Jesus for salvation. Bible studies were filled with people who had a sincere hunger for the Word of God. The Wednesday and Sunday evening services had times of testimony that would stretch for 30, 35, even 45 minutes, followed by a message of practical simplicity that people were hungry to receive.
We were able to put a very significant addition on the building that included a number of Sunday School classrooms, a gymnasium, and
a new heating system, all paid for by cash as you go. The result was a new youth group ministry and an AWANA program that drew numerous young people.
But there was more! During our very brief time as members of this great church, ten individuals, couples, or families left the church. Not because of some perceived offense or because they were looking for
a new experience – No! These people left West Bainbridge Baptist to enter full-time Christian ministry. Some stayed here in America and others departed to far-away places around the world.
I should mention – this church only had about 125 people attending on any given Sunday. As people left to go into ministry in far away places, or as some just moved away, newly saved people would join the church and step in to fill the roles of those who had departed.
One Sunday morning in the summer of 1982, Pastor Wood gave his usual practical message, presenting the Gospel and an invitation to receive Jesus as Savior, along with a challenge to Christians to walk closely with Him. We sang the song ‘I Have Decided to Follow Jesus’ and at the close, Pastor Wood’s final word to us was that if we were serious about following Jesus, to come forward and stand up front. Immediately people streamed out of their seats and walked to the altar area. The entire church came forward except for two people
who I believe were visiting that day. Pastor Wood gave a very brief statement about commitment and then handed each one a yellow bumper sticker with blue writing: I have decided to follow Jesus –
Join me at West Bainbridge Baptist Church.
These bumper stickers showed up all over town and were visible to the community for at least several years!
Revival – Dee and I experienced a measure of revival during our time at West Bainbridge Baptist Church. We were in the midst of a very special sovereign working of God at that particular time and in that particular place. How it came about and what God did in the lives of so many during those months cannot be explained apart from His great grace.
How can we see this type of ministry in the church today?