Last week I jumped on a plane and flew over five thousand miles to visit a church. I’ve wanted to visit Bethel Church, in California, for some time now. It is a church with significant influence, well known for pursuing miracles and the supernatural. Their music is widely used in churches across the globe, and their sermons are watched and listened to by thousands of people every week. Several of my friends have spent time at Bethel, specifically at their School of Supernatural Ministry, a one to three year full-time programme which trains people to live like Jesus and carry on His ministry.
What has impressed me about people coming from Bethel is their complete and total confidence in the goodness of God. In my experience they have great faith for miracles, therefore pray lots, and seem to see God do some amazing things. In theological terms, Bethel Church is known for having a very realised eschatology, that is the understating that in every situation, the outcome can and should be ‘as it is in Heaven.’ This especially shapes how they approach sickness and pain.
So I went to “Leaders Advance” conference at Bethel Church and had an amazing time there. I hit three services on the Sunday, visited the school on Monday, then it was the conference Wednesday to Friday.
Since returning a number of people have asked me how it was and what struck me the most. My reflection is simple… they really love Jesus.
That’s what hit me the most; they love Jesus. Their worship times are rarely under an hour, they’re never rushed, and they go for it. I’ve led worship in churches for many years, and since childhood worship has been a significant way in which I have engaged with God, but I feel like I’ve been schooled in worship again by the people at Bethel.
Bill Johnson, Pastor of Bethel Church, teaches that as Christians our primary ministry is to God, not for God, and they really seem to live this out. I heard anecdotally that if Bill feels like the congregation hasn’t fully engaged in this ministry he will lead them acapella in a few songs before speaking, because the priority is worshipping God not listening to him talk about God.
And it is special. Since having kids I have become a bit of a crier, but it was still a surprise when on more than one occasion I found myself crying during worship. There was something so beautiful about what was happening, such passion for God, but also a real sense of God’s presence every time they gathered to worship. Psalm 42 talks about deep calling to deep, a sense that my inner most being is crying out to God, and that’s what it feels like there.
In my Alpha group two week ago, someone asked a good question; why, if God is so loving, are we expected to worship Him? Surely a good father wouldn’t expect his children to worship him. A couple of people responded, then I suggested that one approach might be to think about what worship does to us… Does it make you feel closer to God, or further away? More hopeful or less hopeful? Build faith or squash faith? Increase your joy and your peace, or decrease them? Raise your expectation for what God might to or lower it? Lift your eyes to Heaven or keep them on the challenges you’re facing?
When Jesus told us that the greatest commandment was to love Him with everything we are I don’t think it was just for his benefit, it’s because living in love with Jesus is the best way to live. It’s the way that leads to life, increases intimacy with God, and makes us the people who just might change the world.
So what am I challenged to do having gone to California to visit the miracle church? I’m challenged to love Jesus more, to take time in worshipping Him, and to minster first to Him and then for Him.