At 9 p.m. on a Saturday evening, a pastor and a small group of deacons met to ask God for a revival in their church. Their church was struggling. Church members felt spiritually dry and weak. Few people were coming to faith in Christ. Month after month that small group of deacons sought God together every Saturday night, and He began to work powerfully in their lives. One evening the pastor challenged the men concerning unconfessed sin in their lives. Something changed in the atmosphere of the room. In tears, the deacons began to reconcile with one another and the pastor. God was making His presence real to those men as they persisted in praying together.
Five years later in 1971, revival came to the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Saskatoon, Canada, pastored by Bill McLeod and prayed over by that faithful group of deacons. The rapidly growing crowds forced the services to relocate multiple times. Finally settling into the local civic auditorium, the revival meetings continued for seven weeks as over four thousand people gathered together each night. Affecting the entire city, the revival would go on to influence churches throughout western Canada. However, this was not the first time God had used deacons to transform a church and its surrounding community!
Revival and the Forerunners of Deacon Ministry
People were upset. Hurtful words and accusations were exchanged. The church was dividing into two factions, and the community was watching. The very next step would determine whether the church would die or thrive. Sound familiar? Except this story isn’t one of many unfolding weekly across our country, but rather it describes a critical moment in the early church (Acts 6:1-7).
At the direction of the apostles, the church chose seven men to step into the conflict. As the forerunners of deacon ministry, “The Seven” were respected, wise, Spirit‑filled men. Ministering to individual members of the church, they were a catalyst for healing and spiritual growth within the body of Christ. The change was so profound, that the entire community noticed and became extremely receptive to the gospel. New Christ-followers were pouring into the church (Acts 6:7). When the early church experienced their first revival, spiritual awakening soon followed!
Far from being extraordinary, revival and spiritual awakening became normal experiences among the first Christians. Revival usually refers to an experience within the church, while spiritual awakening describes the impact of a revived church on the surrounding community. God never intended that His people would live and accomplish His mission apart from Him. When believers begin to think of the church as a human‑powered institution, rather than a supernatural body with Christ the King as their head, they will miss God’s plan and purpose for them as a church. A church without the presence of God may appear to be doctrinally orthodox and relationally healthy, but in fact, they have abandoned their first love (Rev. 2:2-4).
Revival is a fresh encounter between God and His people. As their hearts begin to align with His heart, individual Christians are renewed in their desire to please Him in everything. Repenting of sinful and selfish pursuits, believers rediscover His beauty and long to enjoy His presence every day. The apostle Peter taught that access to the presence of God was the birthright of every Christian when he said, “. . . repent and turn back. . . that seasons of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…” (Acts 3:19-20 CSB). Notice the word “seasons” is plural – referring to more than one experience. God desires that you encounter His presence many times! The church draws her life, her direction, and her power from the presence of Jesus Christ.
Deacons as Instruments of Revival
Does your church need a fresh encounter with the presence of God? What can you do as a deacon to pursue the presence of God in your life and in your church?
Feed on the Scriptures. The church recognized “The Seven” in Acts 6 as men who were full of “wisdom” – their approach to people and their problems stood out from the crowd. Where does wisdom come from? Wisdom comes from God alone. In the wilderness, manna from heaven represented God’s daily provision of nourishment and life for His people. Just as your body needs physical food, Jesus stressed that your spiritual life depends entirely on your intake of God’s Word (Mt. 4:4). Like a hammer, the Bible will shatter and reshape your worldview. As you absorb the truth into your mind, the Holy Spirit will cause you to become wise – a man who is able to “see” God, yourself, and your world from His perspective.
Draw Near to Him in Personal Prayer. When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He stressed the importance of being alone with Him (Mt. 6:6). When we draw near to Him, He has promised to draw near to us (Jas. 4:8; Heb. 11:6)! Prayer is your pathway into His presence – a time to love and enjoy the Lord Jesus – and an opportunity to unburden your soul at His feet (1 Pet. 5:7). However, a sustained effort to draw near to Him will expose impurities in your life, forcing you to choose between secret sinful behaviors or a heart-level devotion to Him (Is. 6:1-5). Your continued journey into His presence depends on your readiness to repent of any sin that is blocking your way forward into His presence.
Cultivate a Sensitivity to the Spirit. As one of “The Seven,” Phillip was known for his sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. By depending on the Spirit to guide him every day, Phillip knew when it was time to leave a busy ministry assignment to go out in the middle of nowhere, only to discover a man who was ready to receive Jesus as his Savior (Acts 8:26-38). We grieve and quench the work of the Spirit when we ignore His promptings (Eph. 4 :30; 1 Th. 5:19). As we grow in our sensitivity to Him, the Holy Spirit will reproduce the life and ministry of Jesus in us (Gal. 2:20, 4:19).
Pray Together as Deacons. Because Jesus promised His presence to any group of Christians seeking Him together, the early church made prayer a primary activity in all of their gatherings (Mt.18:19-20). Prior to any revival or spiritual awakening, God stirs the hearts of His people, opening their eyes to the need of the church, and drawing them to call on God for a fresh outpouring of His Spirit. In the process, the praying ones often experience His presence long before the larger body of believers. When deacons pray together over time, their faith will grow, their relationships to one another will deepen, and their church will be changed.
Can you imagine being part of a church where – every Sunday for five years – someone was saved or joined the fellowship? Where marriages were being transformed and prodigal children were coming home? Where God was clearly at work every day? I can. I was part of a church like that many years ago.
The church had a vibrant Sunday School and an anointed preacher, but the “secret” to what the church was experiencing did not lie in their quality programming or personnel. What they had were groups of men and women who prayed every day, and the deacons encouraged prayer by their example. In a typical deacons meeting, the men might discuss their “business” for a few minutes, but they would quickly move into a season of prayer. Recording needs on a dry erase board, they would spend the bulk of their meeting time on their knees. Jesus came and took over from there!
Deacons are more than mere participants in revival. They have been God’s chosen instruments of revival in the past. Is your heart being stirred to pray with your pastor and fellow deacons? What you do next will affect the future of your church for years to come.
For further reading:
Blackaby, Henry T., Richard Blackaby, and Claude V. King. Fresh Encounter: Experiencing God’s Power for Spiritual Awakening. Nashville, TN: LifeWay, 2009.
Catt, Michael. Power of Surrender. Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2014.
(Written to encourage deacons, this article was originally published as “Deacons, Revival, and Spiritual Awakening” in the Winter 2018 issue of Deacon Magazine, a publication of LifeWay Christian Resources.)