(Author’s Note: This piece was written on assignment for Southeastern College of the Assemblies of God in Lakeland, FL when I was a faculty member there. The college sent me to a ministers’ conference to observe the revival and report my observations. Since then, historians like Dr. Lester Ruth of Duke University have consulted my paper as a contemporaneous witness to this significant event. At this time (May, 2020) the 25th anniversary of the Brownsville Revival approaches so I thought this work might be of interest. SRP)
TOUCHED BY THE POWER
A Witness to the Pensacola Outpouring
Rev. Stephen R. Phifer
Associate Professor of Music
Southeastern College of the Assemblies of God
The meetings at Brownsville Assembly of God reported on in these pages were those of the Pastor’s Conference in November of 1996. I attended the Tuesday through Friday night revival services as well as daytime teaching sessions. Much of what transpired was aimed at pastors, but as the week progressed, the revival took on the characteristics of any other week.
I am not a casual observer. I paid close attention to the events unfolding before me, but I had to participate. I had needs of my own that I wanted to bring to the altar. It is my deep conviction that revival is in God’s plan and I am looking for it. I went to Brownsville wanting to believe that this is true revival. I could not just observe.
I admit to a strong bias toward worship in spirit and truth. Prior to the current worship renewal, congregational worship had been virtually eliminated from Pentecostal church life. “Spirit” (worship) had been replaced by “truth” (preaching). With the worship renewal now underway around the world, congregational worship is being restored to its rightful place alongside preaching. This “spirit and truth” worship is what the Father is looking for. This conviction is the result of 16 years of function and study as a worship leader and teacher. It seemed everywhere I turned at Brownsville, my study of worship was confirmed.
My views of this moment in Assemblies of God history (as well as other Pentecostal / Charismatic groups) are centered upon an understanding of generational forces at work in the church as well as in society. The World War II generation has held the reins of leadership for more than 50 years now. A large part of what we see in this revival is a generational shift as younger leaders bring their concepts of the Kingdom of God to the church. I also believe that the significance of this revival stretches far beyond Pensacola and this present moment. This could well be the “Azusa Street” for a new century of Spirit-led ministry. Or, this could be the revival that brings the coming of the Lord. Either way, or if it means something beyond my vision, this meeting is significant to Southeastern College. Because it is essential that the college be in tune with what “the Spirit is saying to the churches,” we must understand both this meeting and our personal responses to it.
CAUSES OF REVIVAL
One of the first statements made by the leadership of this revival is that it is not a “sovereign move of God.” They believe this outpouring is the response of God to the prayers of the church. This was not said in any way to take any credit for the meeting, but as a word of encouragement to other pastors. In the leaders’ view a “sovereign move of God” is an act of random Divinity (my terminology) one can enjoy but which does establish a pattern for others to follow. Indeed, the recipients of such a move can cite nothing they did to bring this response from the Lord. The Brownsville Revival is certainly marked by the sovereignty of God–He is doing what He wants to do at Brownsville. But why? Is the reason lost somewhere in the unsearchable counsels of the Godhead or is there a pattern here, fully supported by Scripture if not by tradition, that we are all meant to follow?
In the following section I want to explore causes of revival that I observed. They are:
- prayer by the whole church as directed by the Holy Spirit;
- team ministry;
- a strong worship priority;
- an equally strong Word priority;
- substantial structure and organization; and
- the continuing leadership of the Holy Spirit.
I am sure there are more but I will leave them to others.
Prayer by the Church
I believe that revival has come to First Assembly of God in Brownsville because the church prayed for it, at the direction of the Holy Spirit, in a powerful and unusual way. Two and one half years before Father’s Day, 1995 the morning the revival broke out, Pastor Kilpatrick set aside Sunday evening services as prayer services. The church broke with the traditional pattern of an evening evangelistic service. The structure of the service was: praise, worship, prayer, and the Lord’s Supper. The pastor identified a number of prayer needs, many reaching far beyond the local church and had a banner made for each need. The Holy Spirit evenly divided the church around these needs. (I recommend the story, published through the church, of how this came about.) They all prayed each week for all the needs, but each congregant felt a special responsibility toward a particular need. The leaders consider the advancements made by the people in these spiritual skills (praise, worship, prayer) as essential elements to the revival. Growth in their appreciation for the Lord’s Supper as a means of grace is also considered an essential. I agree with them that the revival that has come to them is a result of boldly following God’s plan for their local church even though it went against tradition.
Before I heard the story of how prayer came to the church, the most obvious cause of the revival I could see was the recognition of the power of team ministry. A team of complimentary leaders is at work in these meetings. The Pastor as principle leader, structures the service and guides it through to completion. The first hour to and hour and a half of each meeting is in the hands of the worship leader. When the worship leader is leading, the Pastor worships. The evangelist preaches most messages and does the altar calls. There are Bible teachers who teach sessions when needed. Singers and players are stationed all across the platform. A 16 year old girl sings the invitation song every night. A prayer team prays for people for hours every night.
This recognition and release of individuals to minister as teams carries great significance. It is another break with a strong Pentecostal tradition held by many leaders and characteristic of an entire generation of leaders. The World War II generation generally operated by controlling ministry rather than releasing it, effectively linking the effectiveness of the church to the professional ministry. This accounts for several characteristics of the church today:
- the suppression of spirit-and-truth worship since this requires trusting musicians;
- the exaltation of the preacher’s ministry above congregational ministry, since worship is a preliminary in a worship service;
- the limited esteem for the associate ministry since all associate pastors are training to be senior pastors; and
- the limited church growth and prominence of small churches of the period since one leader can only do or control so much ministry.
First Assembly in Brownsville is a complete break with that thinking. This ministry requires a team; each respectful of and committed to the other. This is the pattern of Scripture and of the future. One of the great truths of the Reformation is at work here–the Priesthood of the Believer. When leaders begin to recognize, trust, and release the ministry on the staff and within the congregation, the power will be available to enter into and sustain revival.
Congregational praise, worship, and prayer are essential elements of each revival service. The first part of every service is devoted to ministry to the Lord. The style of the worship will be discussed later. The point not to be missed is that congregational worship is a priority. It is not optional, the first activity to be cut if time runs short. It is primary to the success of these meetings. As Ruth Ward Heflin, one of the teachers at the conference, put it, we must “praise until the spirit of worship comes and then worship until the glory comes.” This is what they do at Brownsville. When we understand that God responds to the living sacrifice of praise with His presence and His sovereignty (Psalm 22:3) then we understand why it is essential that everybody truly praises and worships God for as long as the Spirit leads. These meetings are absolutely dependent upon the presence and rule of God. When He has inhabited the praise and when He is enthroned upon the worship, revival is underway. Oddly enough, this is a break with current Pentecostal tradition and methodology which considers worship as merely a preliminary to preaching but it is consistent with an older Pentecostal tradition from the original revival in this century. In other words the Brownsville revival has more in common with Azusa Street than a Billy Graham Crusade meeting.
Preaching / Altar Call Priority
Worship is not the only priority in the Pensacola Outpouring. The proclaimed Word of God is an equal priority. The reason why the services are five hours long is because there is so much to do: The people must praise and worship God; testimonies must be given; the Word must go forth; and people must respond to the proclaimed Word. This emphasis on the Word is not a break with Pentecostal tradition–it is an affirmation of it.
Substantial Structure and Organization
This revival has come to an extremely well organized and structured church. If anyone believes that revival must be wild and out of control, Brownsville is not the place for them. Pastor Kilpatrick is a long term pastor who has spent years building a strong local structure marked by integrity. Churches like these are the only ones who can handle a revival like this. Pastor Wayne Benson from Grand Rapids Michigan is seeing one of the major offshoots of the Brownsville Revival at his church. The pattern is the same–a long term, solid, structured pastorate where the people have been seeking God for His visitation. Could it be that not only lack of prayer but lack of structural integrity could be holding back revival? Will God send an outpouring of His Spirit to a place where integrity and Scripturally based structure as well personal prayer, are lacking?
Leadership of the Holy Spirit
Just as the Holy Spirit led Pastor Kilpatrick to break with tradition in the way the church sought revival, the Holy Spirit continues to lead every service. I had a sense that there was a broad outline for each service, but not a detailed play-by-play plan the way other large meetings are conducted. I know that my methods of planning 20-30 minute worship times, would not serve the 60-90 minutes Lindall has each night. The services have to be led by the Holy Spirit as they are happening. This is also a throw-back to Azusa Street and to other meetings in early 20th century Pentecost. As the evangelical influence has spread throughout the Assemblies of God, we have become more structured and pre-planned, and less free-flowing and spontaneous. The larger the meeting the more so. But here are meetings numbering in the thousands in attendance that are led like small group services, almost off the cuff. Not by neglect; but by design. The leaders speak of the Holy Spirit as a dove who has come to rest on their building. Their highest aspiration is to not offend the dove. Could this be a pattern for all of us to follow?
Service Structure and Length
Each service has a simple structure:
- Praise and Worship and Prayer
- Instruction / Testimonies / Offering
- Preaching of the Word
- Altar Call (Invitation to the lost)
- Altar Service (Invitation to those wanting prayer)
This conforms to the pattern of worship revealed in the Tabernacle of Moses; God’s original dwelling place in the earth.
- The Gates of Thanksgiving,
- The Outer Courts of Praise and Humility of the tabernacle are seen in the extended time of praise, worship and prayer.
- The Inner Court is seen in the Holy Place representation in Prayer, testimonies. Giving, and the preaching of the Word.
- The Holy of Holies is seen in the extended altar times at the end of the service.
Another biblical model of worship mentioned frequently by the leaders is the River of Life. The progression into the presence of the Lord by Ezekiel is certainly realized by worshipers who begin with
- thanksgiving and praise (waters ankle and knee deep) and
- proceed to worship and communion (waters waist deep and over-the-head).
Pastor Kilpatrick speaks often of the river of the Holy Spirit, as does Pastor Dan Shaefer from Oklahoma City, another church enjoying a similar revival.
These approaches to worship planning and leadership are a great confirmation to me of principles I saw in Scripture years ago and have been teaching ever since. Now I am seeing them come to life before me. God truly will dwell in the tabernacle we build for Him. He will flow through us as a mighty river. And wherever the river goes, everything will live. (Ezekiel 47:11)
As for the length of the services, they last at least five hours. It takes time to build the tabernacle, or to enter the river of life. Perhaps we Americans are too much affected by the industrial revolution. We are thoroughly convinced that time measures everything: 40 hour week, eight hour day, one hour worship. Does the Holy Spirit share our time consciousness? If to really worship in spirit and truth is to enter into the eternal realm of the throne room of God–is there a clock there? Our missionaries consistently report that in cultures less governed by the clock, services generally last for hours. Perhaps we are seeing an exercise of God’s sovereignty over our “civilized” sensibilities.
Worship Music Style
The music is not the music of traditional Pentecost or “Southern Gospel”, or “Integrity’s Hosanna!” It is “Vineyard”(a praise and worship publisher in California) which can be characterized musically as acoustic, guitar-based, and straight-ahead. The texts are intimate and personal, somewhat wordy, but extremely prayer-oriented. From time to time older songs are updated as if to punctuate the content of the worship. For economic reasons words are not provided though the worship leader would like to have them. The music has become a major force in exporting this revival to other churches. The church has recorded two CD’s and both Integrity and Vineyard have produced albums of Brownsville worship music.
Several points of conventional wisdom have been overthrown by this music. Among them is the idea that people can’t worship with new songs. Another is the belief that new songs should not be used at altar times. The conviction that we should praise and worship sitting down because people can’t stand for very long is long gone at Brownsville. The idea that local worship music style excludes people from other areas doesn’t apply to this meeting; people are coming and worshiping from all over the world.
Preaching and Altar Call Styles
Style applies to more than music. Sermons and altar calls are the result of the personal style of the preacher acted upon by the Holy Spirit. The preaching at Brownsville is aimed at the lost and, it nearly always happens. Leaders say that in almost 18 months they “can count on one hand” the number of revival services where the Word was not preached. But there is something different about the preaching. I found it offensive, as if it rubbed my flesh the wrong way. But, as an educated man, I could not elevate my feelings to the place of authority, since they have been shaped by a fallen humanity and society. I had to ask myself why the preaching and the altar calls were offensive. Evangelist Steve Hill preaches hard and handles people roughly, using names in the vernacular. (For example he called people “snots” at one point.) His altar calls are brutal affairs not the least bit comforting.
After several of these appeals, I began to examine my adverse reaction. I asked the Lord to show me what was happening. Here is my conclusion. Most of the altar calls I have given or provided the music for treat people as victims. “Look what Satan has done to you.”, they seemed to say. “You have been deceived, used, jilted, and so forth by the devil. Come to Jesus and let Him take away all that and make you whole.” Steve Hill’s preaching and altar calls allow for no victimization–we are not the victims; we are the criminals. “Look what you have done to God.” Steve Hill seems to say. “You had better get things right with God before it is too late.” He preaches judgment and promises it personally unless repentance takes place. There is a great spirit of conviction in these services and hundreds of people respond each night. Perhaps what offended me was the harshness toward the lost and the backslider. Maybe I was offended because I have bought into the victimization of people that is such a trend today. One thing is certain, people in these meetings must face their guilt and impending judgment if they do not repent. Tens of thousands of people have responded to these altar calls for salvation. The Pensacola Outpouring is characterized by preaching of the Word and a spirit of repentance.
These services are a giant three-decker sandwich.
- First you have a huge slice of grace–two hours of praise, worship, testimony, and prayer.
- Last, you have another huge slab of grace as people are prayer for over a period of 2 hours.
- In between is a thick helping of judgment–four hours of grace and one hour hellfire and brimstone.
To me, this is an accurate representation of who God has revealed Himself to be. In His statement to Moses, God’s mercy is emphasized but His intention to judge the guilty is also revealed. He is a God of grace and judgment. Seldom have I ever seen these two sides of God’s nature so explicit in a single service as I saw night after night at Brownsville.
MANIFESTATIONS AND CRITICISMS
The leaders at Brownsville seem painfully aware of the critics of the revival. It seemed to me that they were almost pre-occupied with them. My instinct was to get on with the revival and not spent too much time defending what is happening. Since returning from the revival I have been reading some of the critics on the Internet. They seem to fall into two camps: non-Pentecostal and Pentecostal/charismatic. It is understandable why non-Pentecostals would have problems with these meetings. They refer to them not as a true revival but as a revival of Pentecostalism and emotionalism. The Pentecostal/charismatic critics are more troubling. They tend to think that this is a grand deception by Satan, that the salvations, healings, Spirit-baptisms, deliverances, and restorations are all allowed by Satan to set up some even grander deception to divert attention from the true revival that God will send. The nature of that true revival, according to the modern prophets, will be the preaching of the Word and a genuine spirit of repentance.
It seems to me that the critics have two things in common. First, they are focusing on the manifestations and not the results of the revival. I’m reminded of the story in Scripture where Jesus healed on the Sabbath. Instead of being thrilled that a man was healed, the Pharisees were upset that one of their traditions was broken. Second, the critics all seem to be threatened in some way by this meeting. They have something to defend. The non-Pentecostals have doctrines to protect. The Pentecostal/charismatic prophets have their veracity to protect, especially if they did not foresee this revival. Many prophets have pronounced “Ichabod” over all denominations. The fact this revival is based in an Assemblies of God church would be troublesome to them. The Classical Pentecostals might be critical of a revival that didn’t look and sound right to them. (This happened during the Charismatic Renewal.) This attitude reminds me of the older brother in the story of the Prodigal Son. He could not join his father in rejoicing over the return of the lost brother because his own position was threatened.
Some charismatic prophets go so far as to say that there is an evil spirit transferred in these meetings. This, according to Scripture, is impossible. The test in I John is to proclaim that Jesus has come in the flesh. The people at Brownsville spend five hours in every service doing nothing but honoring the Lord Jesus as the Holy Spirit leads.
These two mistakes, focusing on manifestations and feeling threatened, are based in one thing–pride. This revival is not for the proud; it is for the desperate. This visitation is for those who have no positions to protect whether doctrinal or ecclesiastical. This is a “Psalm 24” revival. “Who will ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in the holy place? He who has clean hands (repentance of all pride), a pure heart (removal of all vain-glory and political ambition), who has not lifted up his soul to vanity or the idols of religion and tradition, and the one who has not sworn by what is false.” This revival is for those who seek the face of God and are willing to cast aside any behavior or brotherhood to see His face. One critic spoke of what an affront it was to the dignity of the office of preacher to see them lying all over the floor. Such arrogance and pride is guaranteed to be offended at Brownsville.
I saw these manifestations: jerking, shaking, trembling, falling down, falling unconscious, and “angel dodging” (my term for a sudden dipping of the head and sweeping of the arm across the face as if something just flew by at eye level). Our non-Pentecostal friends would add tongue-speaking, shouting, weeping and laughing as part of public worship to the list of manifestations. But we have grown accustomed to these. Some of these things were offensive to me. I found myself wanting the power of God to move without these manifestations.
The first explanation I had heard for these things was that these were spiritually weak people who went beyond the Spirit of the Lord. This may explain some of what is observed but it cannot explain all of it. Some of these people are obviously not spiritual weaklings. Their number includes the pastor, most of his leadership team, prayer team members, choir members, and representatives of every ministry in the church. By the time I saw them, some of these people had been in this revival for almost a one and a half years. When were they going to grow out of it? No, there had to be more to it than spiritual weakness.
The Artist’s Signature
As I observed outpourings of God’s grace everywhere I wanted to look, there always seemed to be someone jerking or dodging angels in the corner of my vision. It was like an artist’s signature. The painter will bring all his skill to the process of creating three dimensions where there only two. He will create the image of a beautiful landscape full of trees and rocks and water. Then, in a corner, the artist will scrawl his or her name. The signature has nothing whatsoever to do with the content of the painting; it is not the image of a tree or a rock or a body of water. But the signature marks the work of the master.
And so it is for me with the manifestations. I saw the beauty of God’s artistry everywhere–lives restored, sins forgiven, commissions of ministry, barriers broken down, chains broken off, bodies healed, souls set free, spirits inspired again. Every place my eye came to rest was a landscape of grace–mountains of mercy, rivers of healing, fountains of joy, towers of strength, trees or fruitfulness. And–the signature–some believer momentarily, involuntarily tossed by the power of the painter. God is at work here and I must not be too comfortable with it. I would rather He would move without all the fuss, but that is my pride talking. The same impulse I had as a little boy if my friends were coming to church, “I hope the saints behave themselves tonight!” I believe the manifestations offend our pride. Think how much trouble God would save Himself if the manifestations were not part of it. He must have a purpose in them. When I see them, I have to humble my heart before a God who will always be true to Himself but who will never conform to my limited view of Him. That moment of humility forced upon me by the manifestations which offend me is a moment I desperately need. They are God’s signature on the work He is doing.
What more can you ask of a revival than this? Souls are saved. The Lord is being praised, worshiped and adored. The word is being proclaimed. Souls are being called to repentance. Bodies are being healed. The church is being edified. What more can we ask?
But there is much to learn. This revival is not to be copied. It is an example of what every church must do: find God’s plan and obey it prayerfully. Worship God in spirit and in truth. Preach the Word. Call people to account for their sins. Release people to ministry as God leads and empowers them. Doing these things every church can be touched by the power.
Dr. Stephen Phifer
Stephen Phifer is the founder of The Worship Renewal Center (StevePhifer.com) and The Path of Life Daily Devotional (PathofLifeDevotions.com) two dynamic websites dedicated to worship renewal in the local church and in the heart of each believer. A native of Helena, AR, he has enjoyed a long career as music minister and worship leader with some of the country’s finest churches and now enjoys teaching and writing about worship and worship renewal. His books include:
- Worship that Pleases God—the Passion and Reason of True Worship
- More than Music—Becoming a Highly Effective Worship Team
- Into the Secret Place—Answering the Call to Pray (includes 7 Days of Prayer a contemporary prayer book to be released mid-2020)
- Loose Him and Let Him God—Discipling the Creative Christian
- The Promise of the Star–a Novel of Healing Presence
You can find more than 200 articles at the StevePhifer.com website. He also writes an online daily devotional called, The Path of Life. In 2020 he is telling “The Jesus Story” in daily narrative devotional form.
In addition to his literary efforts, Dr. Phifer is a worship renewal teacher. He is the principle instructor in the Master of Arts in Worship Studies degree program at the University of Valley Forge, Phoenixville, PA. He also teaches in local churches on these and other topics:
- The Power of the Dove Living in the Gentle Power of the Spirit
- Enter In… Biblical Worship Theology
- In the Secret Place Private Worship/Daily Prayer
- Generation to Generation Inclusive Worship
- A Heart of Praise Worship Team Ministry
- A City on a Hill Ministry through the Arts
Dr. Phifer holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education and a doctorate in worship studies and serves as a guest lecturer at colleges and university in the USA and overseas. Steve and his wife, Freeda, a music educator, live in Bartow, FL.
 Stephen Phifer, D.W.S. is retired from being Adjunct Professor of Worship Studies for Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixvill, PA and founder/teacher/ writer of The Worship Renewal Center.