If the church will begin to walk in humility and
repentance then the world will see God’s glory.
Lord, we are desperate for you.
When Baltimore pastor Bart Pierce cried out for more of God in January 1997, he had no idea the Holy Spirit would change his life-and his congregation-forever.
Bart Pierce will never forget the day the Holy Spirit fell at his church in the rolling suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland. It wasn’t gradual, nor was it subtle. God showed up during the Sunday morning service on January 19, 1997.
Pierce, pastor of Rock Church in Baltimore, and his wife, Coralee, had just returned from a pastors’ retreat in St. Augustine, Florida. Pierce says he went to the retreat with “a desperate, deep hunger for more of God.”
While there, he heard Tommy Tenney recount an event that occurred in a Houston church a few months earlier. Without warning, during the early morning service on 20 October, 1996, God had sovereignly split a Plexiglas pulpit in two before the amazed congregation (see Charisma, June 1997; Renewal Journal #10, page 14; Flashpoints of Revival, page 144). Afterward, an unusual movement of repentance broke out at the Houston church.
Tenney, a third-generation travelling evangelist, told the gathered pastors that the drama of the split pulpit was totally eclipsed by the awesome presence of God that filled the sanctuary immediately after the supernatural event. “The revival,” Tenney told them, “was characterized by a deep sense of humility, brokenness and repentance.”
While Tenney spoke, many of the pastors, including Pierce, fell on their faces weeping. Pierce spent much of his time at the retreat prostrated and weeping before the Lord. When it ended, he asked Tenney to come back to Baltimore with him for the weekend.
On the 18-hour drive home, Pierce, his wife and Tenney had “an encounter of God as we talked about what God was doing and what we believed,” Pierce says.
“We would sit in the car and weep,” recalls Tenney. They reached Baltimore on Saturday night, filled with a hunger for more of the Lord.
Turned Upside Down
The next morning Pierce knew something was up as soon as he got to the church building. “Two of my elders were standing inside the door weeping,” he says. “We started worshiping, then people began standing up all over the building crying out loud.” Some came forward to the altar; others would “start for the altar and crumple in the aisle.”
Even those outside the sanctuary were affected. “Back in the hallways, people were going down under the power of God. We never really got to preach,” Pierce says. Tenney and Pierce were supposed to be leading the service, but both were too overcome by the intense presence of God to do anything but cry.
“There was a deep sense of repentance that grew increasingly more intense,” Pierce recounts. At 4 p.m. there were still bodies lying all over the church floor. Pierce and Tenney tried several times to speak, but each time they were overwhelmed by tears.
“Finally,” says Pierce, “we told our leadership team, ‘We’re going home to change clothes.’ We were a mess from lying on the floor and weeping.”
The two men went home and changed. When they got back to the church at 6 p.m., people were still there, and more were coming. That first “service” continued until 2 in the morning.
Monday night, people returned, and the same thing happened. It happened again Tuesday night.
“Many people simply crawled under the pews to hide and weep and cry,” remembers Pierce. “At times the crying was so loud, it was eerie.”
Pierce noticed new faces in the congregation. “We didn’t have a clue as to how they knew about the service, because we don’t advertise at all,” he says. When he asked, some of the visitors told amazing stories.
One man said he was driving down the road when God told him, “Go to Rock Church.” Another woman said she was sitting at her kitchen table when she got the same message. She didn’t know what a “Rock Church” was, but she found a listing in the phone book. After the service she tearfully confided that she had been planning to leave her husband the next morning.
“God had totally turned her heart,” says Pierce. “She and her husband have been totally restored.”
For the first few weeks, Pierce says, “every ministry at the church was turned upside down.” The church has always been known for its mercy ministries – its homeless shelter for men, its home for women in crisis, its food distribution program, which moves 7 million pounds of food a year, and its ministry to revive Baltimore’s inner city.
But when the revival started, everything took a back seat to what God was doing. Pierce would find his staff lying on the floor in the hallways or hear a thump against the wall and find someone lying on the floor in the next room, crying uncontrollably.
People reported supernatural events in their homes, too. One woman’s unsaved husband had a dream in which everyone spoke Chinese. He came downstairs and found his wife lying on the floor speaking Chinese. His son, who was supposed to be getting ready for school, was lying on the floor in the living room, weeping and crying. That day, the man got saved.
One night a boy from a local gang came forward weeping while Tenney was still preaching. “He came to the front, looked up at me and said, ‘You’ve got to help me, because I just can’t take it anymore,'” Tenney recalls.
“This type of brokenness is what draws God’s presence,” he says. “God will never turn away from a broken heart and a contrite spirit.”
Pierce agrees. He believes the congregation has “opened the heavens somehow by our crying for him. He has become our pleasure.” Both he and Tenney say they have “turned to seek his face, from seeking his hands,” meaning they are seeking to know God intimately rather than seeking him for his benefits.
The Power of his presence
“We don’t have any agenda,” says Pierce. “We come in and begin to worship, and his manifest presence comes in. It is overwhelming. Sometimes there is nothing any of us can do. We have turned from trying to control the meeting to letting him be the object of why we have come.”
Tenney calls it “presence evangelism.” He explains, “We understand ‘program evangelism,’ where you pass out tracts or put on an evangelistic play or host Alpha classes. John Wimber helped us understand ‘power evangelism,’ where people encounter the power of God as you pray for the needs in their lives.
“But what happened in Houston and what is happening in Baltimore we call ‘presence evangelism.’ The presence of God becomes incredibly strong to where people are literally overwhelmed. They are drawn to his presence. They aren’t drawn by the preaching; they aren’t drawn by the music; they are drawn by the presence of God. It is hard to talk about without weeping.”
The church doesn’t keep figures on the numbers of people who have come to faith in Jesus since the revival started because they encourage people to go back to their home churches. Many pastors bring their people to the services in Baltimore because they know that Rock Church won’t steal their flock.
In contrast to the Toronto Blessing services that have drawn people by the thousands from all over the world to the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship in Canada, most of the people who have come to the Baltimore revival services have been from the local area, including pastors from other churches. “On any given night we have 12 to 20 pastors from the Baltimore area,” Pierce says.
Still, some do come long distances. One night they looked out and saw 47 Koreans who had chartered a plane to come. Another time a group from Iceland was there. They have had visitors from Britain, Germany, the Ukraine and all across America.
Before Easter, the church put on a play about heaven and hell called Eternity. Crowds filled the 3,000-seat sanctuary. Some nights several hundred people had to be turned away because there was no more room.
And during one two-day period, more than 700 came forward to give their lives to Christ. The church originally planned to host the play for two weeks, but they continued an extra week because of the tremendous response.
A dual pull on the Spirit
Tenney believes there is “a connection between what the Rock Church has traditionally done” – meaning the church’s strong ministries to hurting people outside the church – and the way the heavens have opened in Baltimore.
“It came to me one day that when Jesus was in Bethany he was always at Mary and Martha’s house,” he says. “Mary cared for the divinity of Jesus, while Martha cared for His humanity. Martha made sure the bed was clean and the food was there.”
Mary chose the better part – sitting at his feet – but that didn’t mean Martha’s part didn’t have to be done, he says.
A church that does both – sits at Jesus’ feet and ministers to the needs of the hungry and hurting – exerts “a dual pull on the spirit realm,” Tenney says. “There is a special visitation of God that accompanies it. When Mary and Martha called Jesus, he came and raised their brother from the dead.”
Today, services in Baltimore are quieter and gentler than they were during the first few months of revival. But the worship music is powerful, and the singing draws the congregation to Jesus. Most of the songs were written by people in the church after the revival began.
After an hour or so of worship, Tommy Tenney takes the microphone and begins to preach. He asks the audience to worship Jesus in a way they never have before – to worship Him the way Mary did when she broke the alabaster jar, poured the ointment on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair.
“We have turned our churches into a ‘bless me’ club where people come to get something,” he tells the crowd. “They are always wanting to receive. They fall with their blessing-of-the-month, then get up and continue on as though nothing has ever changed.”
As Tenney continues to speak, people begin to cry, most quietly, but some more openly. He invites people to come forward. Almost everyone does, either kneeling or lying with his face on the floor before the altar.
“Just for one night in your life, worship Him,” Tenney encourages them. “He wants to manifest himself to his people. For once in your life set aside what you want from God, and give him the glory.”
Those looking for dramatic supernatural displays won’t find them here. But they will feel the intense presence of God.
The impact of the revival is seen in the lives that have been changed for eternity. There have been physical healings, healed marriages, burned-out people empowered to follow God, prodigals returned and hundreds of people who have found Jesus for the first time.
“Extreme celebration can come only after extreme repentance,” Tenney cautions. “The world is tired of us calling them to repentance when we are standing in hypocrisy. We need to repent.
“It is not for us to point the way to a lost world. It is for us to lead the way. If the church will begin to walk in humility and repentance, then the world will see his glory.”
Reprinted with permission by Charisma, July 1998. Strang Communications Co., USA.
Resting in his presence
Church member David Jehl, an engineer, sent these e-mails reports in July and September 1998.
Baltimore: For the last decade the Rock Church in Baltimore has sought to care for the ones nobody wants; the homeless, the hungry, the unwed mother, the prisoner, the sick. In this search to provide hospitality for the unwanted, God has been teaching us how to entertain his presence. Learning to minister to humanity and divinity, like Martha and Mary, will cause Lazarus to come forth.
There’s something about the format of Monday and Tuesday meetings in Baltimore that transforms the sanctuary into an entertainment center for the Lord’s presence. The worship team seeks to entertain him rather than a crowd. In the meetings there is no hype but an opportunity for an encounter, no pressure but wooing from God’s Spirit to yours.
First time visitors’ expectations are sometimes shocked by the format of the meetings. There are no introductions of speakers or important visitors. The Lord is the one we have come to meet. There is no agenda for the meetings, no announcements, no distractions to stop you from going deeper and deeper into his presence.
Tommy Tenney has not preached a traditional sermon in Baltimore, but encourages and facilitates people to a place where they can have an encounter with the manifest presence of God. After a long period of worship, Tommy will quietly take the microphone and begin to explain how to get closer to God. The worship team will sometimes sing the same song for a very long time. This helps the congregation move from corporate praise and worship to a place where each person finds an individual expression of worship and conversation with God in a personal encounter.
The meetings have been characterized by deep repentance, changed lives and a strong overwhelming presence of God. Many people report that as they approach their seat, they are hit by waves of His glory and presence. As they stand and begin to sing they become breathless, humbled in His presence. No longer able to sing, they sit down, unloading all the concerns of the day, all the appointments of tomorrow, and now they are swept to a place beyond the church building. Now at the feet of Jesus, the chair melts away and it only seems right to lay prostrate on the ground before a Holy God.
This place of an intimate individual encounter with the manifest presence of God is where Tommy Tenney loves to lead people. It’s a true breakthrough, suddenly people find themselves in the garden of the Lord, in the throne room of God, in the third heaven, or at the feet of Jesus. They don’t get a word of wisdom from Tommy, nor a bless me prayer from the prayer team. They get a meeting with God, an opportunity to worship him and talk to him. This contagious hunger and strong presence of God is not limited to time in the sanctuary, but can be found by those who seek him in prayer time at home, at work, or in the car. Visitors take it with them around the world. It takes repentant worship and sacrifice to sustain it.
Here’s a quote from Charles Finney, Hindrances to Revivals, that will be helpful: “A revival will decline and cease, unless Christians are frequently re-converted. By this I mean, that Christians, in order to keep in the spirit of revival, commonly need to be frequently convicted, and humbled and broken down before God, and “re-converted”. This is something which many do not understand, when we talk about a Christian being re-converted. But the fact is, that in a revival, the Christian’s heart is liable to get crusted over, and lose its exquisite relish for Divine things; his unction and prevalence in prayer abate, and then he must be converted over again. It is impossible to keep him in such a state as not to do injury to the work, unless he passes through such a process every few days. I have never labored in revivals in company with any one who would keep in the work and be fit to mange a revival continually, who did not pass through this process of breaking down as often as once in two or three weeks.
“Revivals decline, commonly, because it is found impossible to make Christians realize their guilt and dependence, so as to break down before God. It is important the ministers should understand this, and learn how to break down the Church, and break down themselves when they need it, or else Christians will soon become mechanical in their work, and lose their fervour and their power of prevailing with God.”
During the 14 July, 1998, meeting, in the midst of glorious worship, Tommy Tenney gave an altar call for “extravagant worship”. Wherever a person stood, there became an altar, each pushing past any visitation they ever had. The dancers danced more, the criers weeped more, each one expressing their love in the most extravagant way. The tangible sense of his presence was stronger than anytime in the past 18 months of visitation. In past e-mails I have talked about heavenly visitors (angels) to our meetings. This time through powerful corporate worship, we became visitors in heaven. Pastor Bart Pierce, sensing a powerful impartation of intercession asked for all to pray. A powerful birthing process began as each prayed for revival in their city, or for their families. I, being a typical engineer type, don’t understand intercession at all, but I felt the call to prayer in my bones.
In Baltimore we spend a lot of time worshipping God, and entertaining his presence, but then we get up from the carpet and go to the worst places in the city to help those in need. We want the revival to go to the streets.
Pursuing his presence
Baltimore – Psalm 27:4-5: “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple. For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion: in the secret of His tabernacle shall He hide me; He shall set me upon a rock.”
In Baltimore, we spend a lot of time doing one thing, worshipping. To get a hold of the one thing, we are learning to get rid of the other things. Prayer time is spent in repentance, cleansing the hands and heart of the corruption of the day. The next things to cast off are the concerns of the day and the appointments of tomorrow. Turn off the beeper, shut down the cell phone, remove your watch, take off your glasses, change your focus from this world to the next, pass from time to eternity.
On Monday and Tuesdays we have a special reservation with the Lord. We spread a table for the Lord and ask him to come. In danger of oversimplification, I would say we spend three hours worshipping, and in the middle somewhere Revivalist Tommy Tenney or Pastor Bart Pierce will spend time encouraging us to be better worshippers. There are no introductions of speakers, no recognition given to famous visitors from, no fancy preaching, no solo singers, no announcements of any kind, no display of a people or their talents. During worship people bring their offering and cast it upon the altar of sacrifice. The worshippers give when they are ready for a breakthrough into radical, intense, repentant worship.
During the 29 September 1998 meeting, Tommy Tenney said, “God is taking away choices till all we have left is one thing. He wants to purify our pursuit till we are after only him. Tonight’s service is about pursuing his presence.” In Baltimore, God is overwhelming us with His Presence. Like Mary, we spend a lot of time pouring our love upon the Lord.
The Martha’s might ask, “Do you spend time helping the needy in Baltimore?” The answer is yes. ‘A Can Can Make a Difference’ moves over six million pounds of free food per year to the hungry, assisting 60 food pantries in Maryland. ‘Nehemiah House’ is the only men’s shelter in Baltimore County and assists 300 homeless men per year. ‘The Hiding Place’ is our seven bed home for adolescent girls in crisis or facing pregnancy; 260 babies have been born through the program. Through ‘Adopt-a-Block’, Baltimore pastors, congregations from different denominations, and businesses, gather to reach hurting communities.
Worshipping and serving together, pastors joined in unity are learning to pastor the city, not just their own local congregations, forming city wide the church of Baltimore.
(c) Renewal Journal 12: Harvest, 1998, 2011.
Reproduction is allowed with the copyright included in the text.
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