My journey to Asbury was not my idea. I love God, I love spaces and places where God is moving and I live with Christ in me. I don’t need to go anywhere to get ‘more’ of God. Except that is far too simplistic and God consumes my theology with his ways. His ways are higher than mine, way higher, and a few days ago I found myself in Asbury University. What did I see and experience? What do I believe God is doing? And what can the UK church learn?
This outpouring started when a few dozen students started to pour themselves out before God at the end of a very ordinary chapel service. It is students that continue to be at the heart of it, an age group that is desperately lost and broken and that includes many of the students at Asbury. It was heartening to see the wisdom of older mature leaders recognise that they must serve what is happening. Coaching behind the scenes and from the sides they have created lots of space on the platform for 18-25 year olds to lead. It was beautiful to see a lot of ethnic diversity in the room and around 50% were under 25 and from across the US and the world. There was a bias towards letting 18-25s into the venue – they had a separate queue and it was prioritised.
The format is simple and ordinary, it is reassuringly unpolished and the authenticity of the space is one of the reasons why Gen Z have come flocking from across the US and further afield. The main focus is worship with student worship leaders and musicians rotating regularly. At the front of the auditorium there is a stage with a handful of musicians and singers, and behind them on stage are 30-40 students worshipping freely. In front of the stage there is an altar rail but not many altar calls are given. People just go forward and kneel when they are ready or when they can’t not go because there is a pull to sort out their stuff, to confess sin and to embrace the slow and gentle healing that God seemed to be pouring out to shattered and broken souls. There are tears, lots of them. They fall quietly, I didn’t witness any wailing although there was sobbing as deep pain and relief slowly finds its way to the surface and out through tears.
The meeting is punctuated with slots for short testimonies which are vetted by older leaders before students join a queue to hold the mic. Only under 25s are allowed to testify. They ranged from the dramatic ‘last week I tried to take my own life’, ‘I was Satanist’ to ‘I just needed to get right with God’ and ‘I needed to say sorry’. From time to time students are invited to read Scripture verses that mean a lot to them. I witnessed occasional short talks which centred on salvation and surrender and bringing your stuff to God. There was no finger wagging, no coercion, no hype and only moderate intensity. There are no names, it is nameless and faceless, big name worship leaders have been turned down and it is first names only, there is no main leader. The outpouring started not in a response to an individual but a conviction of the Holy Spirit to linger in a space and seek Jesus.
In the Hughes Auditorium where this outpouring began the signs of God at work were evident. It had an atmosphere curated by the Spirit on behalf of a kind Father who was glorifying his Son and gently leading a generation in repentance. The kindness of God was evident all around, the space was carefully held by university leaders, elders and mature volunteers from local churches. They served and served and served, keeping in step with this gentle and transformative outpouring of the Spirit.
The signs were there in the hunger of those who gathered, many who had travelled for long hours and then queued for long hours. These meetings are only moments, they are, however, very important moments. They are a provocation, a sign, an alarm call.
Many Christians have had these moments, moments of encounter and ignition. And over time, many have stopped participating in the work that God has awakened in them. I believe there is a new invitation to the church across the UK to prioritise the work of Christ in us. I believe that this nation is in the grip of a slow awakening and we must pay attention to what God wants to awaken in us.
Joy is bestowed on those who give themselves away. It is not dependant on circumstances and I believe the Holy Spirit wants to empower afresh those in the second half of life to embrace the calling to be spiritual mothers and fathers. Amidst the brokenness and pain of the younger generation is great treasure, waiting to be affirmed, noticed and the glorious purpose for which they were created called out. In Asbury as the older leaders served and ministered the story of one leader was that God ministered into the shattered and broken places in their life, things that they had learnt to live with but God was saying enough. Not the fullness of healing (that comes later) but a significant move of the Spirit that worked in the ashes of broken dreams and disappointment and bestowed joy. A joy that wasn’t holy laughter and one that doesn’t depend on circumstances changing, it is a joy from above and within.
I believe we need this to be more than a moment, we need it to become a movement where those 18-25s having been ignited are equipped to run well for the next 4-5 decades. Around Asbury there are plans to help the students land and transition, off the mountain top, into ordinary everyday life, carrying the fire into what is next. Asbury is a special moment, a sign! It is also something that can happen anywhere and if we are honest must happen everywhere or at least in every college and university location.
One of the phrases I heard was that ‘God is doing what he has always done, only this is more concentrated’. That sounded about right to me. My own experience of personal revival is that it is awkward, costly and at times painful. Our intimacy with God is connected to our surrender and it demands humility. We can learn about that intimacy from students kneeling, humbling themselves, recognising they need help and giving testimony for how God has met them and saved them.
These outpourings sow seeds that we have no comprehension for what they will become. It is too early to label what is happening in Asbury but we can be inspired by it to run our race with a deeper hunger for Jesus.
Now is the time to respond to what God is doing in us and maybe create or visit the spaces and places where we need to humble ourselves and pray.
Come Lord Jesus.