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Postmortem: lessons from the Lakeland revival

Here’s a final postmortem on the Lakeland Revival. It burst onto the national consciousness like a skyrocket, and then fell from sight just as suddenly when its leader stepped aside due to moral failure.   J. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma, did a great job in analyzing the lessons we can le…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
Here’s a final postmortem on the Lakeland Revival. It burst onto the national consciousness like a skyrocket, and then fell from sight just as suddenly when its leader stepped aside due to moral failure.
J. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma, did a great job in analyzing the lessons we can learn from the whole thing – here’s an excerpt from his column:
Lakeland was a painful chapter in the history of our movement, not just because such a highly visible preacher made such embarrassing moral choices but also because Christian leaders never agreed on what went wrong or how it could have been avoided. Now that the accident scene is in our rearview mirror, I wonder if we can agree on at least some points. Here are some lessons I hope we have learned by now:
Lesson #1: Accountability. Accountability. Accountability. I wish just saying the word over and over could impress the concept in our minds. Leaders must live according to biblical standards. Period. Bentley’s board admitted in their statement that after the Lakeland meetings went into full swing, Bentley developed troubling behavior patterns. That would have been the right time for someone with apostolic courage to demand that Bentley step down for a season until he got his spiritual life in order. If we really want New Testament miracles and New Testament impact, maybe we should embrace New Testament discipline.
Lesson #2: The one-man show is over. New Testament ministry is about teams, not hotshots. Paul shared the workload with Barnabas, Phoebe, Clement, Priscilla, Aquilla and many others. And he protested when people tried to make him out to be a god. When will we learn that the superstar syndrome actually thwarts genuine revival because it causes audiences to focus on man instead of Jesus?
I know there are those who insist that Bentley didn’t want people to notice him. But if that’s true, why did he cover himself with tattoos a few years ago, when he was in the ministry? I’m not a stickler about tattoos, but in Bentley’s case they definitely should have been a red flag. Anyone who craves that much attention needs counseling before they get on a stage.
Lesson #3: Chill out. The Fresh Fire board, in last week’s statement, admitted that one of their biggest mistakes was allowing Bentley’s meetings to go on week after week without a break. Bentley tried to preach continually without rest, and as a result he burned out. Most likely his staff burned out too. No Sabbath, no time for family, no time to unwind. No human being can keep such a schedule without imploding.
Isn’t this also true for the American church scene? Our rule has become, “The show must go on.” We are driven to keep the seats full and the money coming in. The more we work, the more we grow-so we have to work harder to maintain the growth and pay the bills. The pace becomes more and more frantic until the engines fail and the wheels fall off. Building God’s way requires patience, pacing, regular maintenance and plenty of downtime to receive His ongoing guidance and grace.
Lesson #4: Character is more important than anointing. Some revival groupies disagree with me on this. They’re so desperate for a display of miracles that they’ll take a zap from someone who has questionable morals or shoddy values. They don’t mind who lays hands on them as long as they are thrown to the floor while the crowd cheers.
I love revival too, and I’ve spent time on the floor soaking in God’s presence. I love the anointing. But please: Can you show me in the Word of God that character is not required of leaders? The Bible says imposters who work miracles will spend eternity in hell. Working miracles does not win anyone brownie points with God. Ministers of the gospel need both godly character and powerful anointing. Why did we ever settle for the idea that we should have one without the other?
Lesson #5: Lay hands on no man quickly. Many of us are still grieving over the fact that a large number of charismatic leaders stood on a stage in Lakeland in June and publicly commissioned Bentley. Some praised him for his integrity and humility while others prophesied about the nations he will evangelize and the increased spiritual influence he will wield. Today those proclamations (readily available on You Tube) seem hollow and embarrassing.
Some who stood on that stage insist that God told them to do a public commissioning service. One recently hinted to me that it was a mistake. I’ll let them sort that out. Personally, it saddens me that our movement has been tarnished by what appears to be a serious lack of discernment. In the crazy world of independent ministries-which already lack proper accountability-leaders should take the time to investigate a preacher before commending him on international television.
Lesson #6: You can’t have revival without repentance. The word “revival” is thrown around loosely these days. If a few people fall on the floor, get goose bumps or see gold dust, we are ready to christen it a revival and put it on television as soon as possible. After all, if large crowds gather, it must be God!
I’m tired of imitations. History shows that genuine revival is more than a bunch of blessed bodies in a pile. We need more than angel feathers, emotional euphoria and limp pep talks about getting high on Jesus. We need the strong Word of God that convicts hearts, demands repentance, slays sin and has the power to produce converts who will withstand temptation.
With Lakeland behind us, let’s celebrate the testimonies that came out of it, enjoy the songs we sang during it and pray for the restoration of the man God used to start it. Then, let’s learn from our mistakes and press on to better things.

Comments (16)

  • I am so thankful that God always prooves himself to be faithful. I pray that I will trust only Him. Thanks for the update.

  • I remember reading a book by Juan Carlos Ortiz when I was a teenager. He talked about a tree in there. He said you can’t blame a tree for not having Omega watches hanging off its branches, but you can blame a tree for not growing apples. “Eagerly desire the spiritual gifts” say Paul, but never at the expense of fruit.

    I think those two got a little mixed up in the Lakeland thing. People kept telling me to look at “the fruit” meaning the miracles, the healings, the claims of raising from the dead. But that isn’t fruit. That’s the grace gifts of God in miracle. Fruit is stuff you grow, painstakingly, deeply and after a lot of repeated seasonal pruning.

    I would love to see revival, but in honesty I don’t believe I ever have yet. But given the choice, I would rather see a church of integrity, characterised by humility and obedience with leaders who spend more time on their knees than on a platform.

    Thanks for this, Seth – it makes interesting reading.

  • What a GREAT blog, Seth! I hope ppl look past the fact that Todd is in there and actually receive the lesson in it. I stand with you in prayer!

  • St. Mark of the Cross

    I agree wholeheartedly with the heart cry here. I want to add to all of those who are bashing the “movement” or anyone a part of it…when Jesus said “…you without sin, cast the first stone…” Yeah, it is what many quote to avoid accountability, but it is also a dire warning from Jesus not to get too high minded. Over my last 34 years in Christ I have seen many ministers fail, some never to recover; however, we have to face this problem. And, only by Christ Jesus himself can we all repent, restore, and recover. Hopefully, we can walk in the light, without fear and rejection which are the root of the problem that keeps ministry and the body alike continuing in sin. We need to learn how to teach repentance by modeling the humility of it, which will create a new accountability. This new accountability, filled with brokenness and mercy will arise because the mercy of God is everlasting.

  • “You can’t have revival without repentance” I have to say I was almost shocked to read it, but wholeheartedly agree. Of course, we don’t want thousands of people to just have an experience and still end up in Hell….we want folks to Repent & Trust only in the Blood of Jesus Christ for the remission of sin…and their lives to be changed forever….and their destination changed to Heaven.


  • I think it’s funny that we think that was revival… that was renewal and the Church needed/needs it – revival won’t come over cokes and latte’s – it comes with suffering, brokenness, and repentance… let’s move on.

  • Lee Grady’s second point is what stands out to me the most and that is “New Testament ministry is about teams”. After reading your blog this morning God led me to read 1 Corinthians 12 because I am still trying to figure out how God would have renewal/revival look so it glorifies God. From my reading this morning I learned that instead of building up and unifying the Corinthian church, the issue of spiritual gifts was splitting the church. Spritiual gifts had become symbols of spiritual power and if I am undertanding it correctly there was a misuse of spiritual gifts and a mususe of power. Seth, could this have been similiar to what was happening at the Lakeland Revival or not? Was there a misuse of spiritual gifts and a misuse of power? I know we must never use gifts as a means of serving our own interest and I know that basically spiritual gifts are given to each person by the Holy Spirit to build up and unify the church and they are the same Spirit. I want to know more about Lee Grady’s second point that New Testament ministry needs to be done in the context of teams. When we see prophesy, healing, teaching, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in tongues, etc. I know God wants them properly used in the church today and somehow in context of one another. How should we practically see all these gifts being used in our body and church today in light of this team concept?

  • As I read charisma article I think well this is a good article , in some ways I wish they would have looked at writing the article from a different angle. we are all of aware of Todd short comings and the mistakes those in authority made. And all we have to do is read through scripture to see how over and over again those in leadership failed but it was Gods continual grace and love that pushed those on through. “In our weakness He is made strong”
    Each day we wake up to the news stating the negatives of the todays world,finances, crime, injustices,disease,hunger,war, and the list goes on and on..and through all that negativity we begin to become a world without hope. It slowly sinks in , the enemy gains footing.
    so when I read this article in a Christian magazine it saddens me to a point that here again is oh look here these are all the things done wrong at the revival and yes we should learn from our mistakes but Im pretty sure that each and everyone of us have already known what went wrong. But wouldnt have been a greater article of hope and love and grace if the article was started the way he ended it instead of vice versa. Lets celebrate lakeland and the revival. Lets write that although sin entered and wordly ways entered.None of that was a surprise to God, but how we insult Him making the failure of the revival our conversation headlines instead of saying but look how God showed up..Even through mans shortcomings and failings God showed up. And how hopeful would the article have been if all the reasons he stated for the fall of the revival was changed to all the life change and healings that took place. What if he gave hope to the people in saying God took care of what was not of Him but still poured out His blessings to those who love Him..What about what romans 8:28 says. He will bring all good out of those who love Him.. Wouldnt that have been a great title for the article instead..I dont want another article saying look again how man messed up with I want to read is how hungry man is for God and despite the failings of lakeland, I think Gods first thoughts were not look at todd and all his mistakes but look at my people how hungry they are for me. My people are seeking my presence.I want to read how people where challanged to really believe that God is alive and desires so much more us. And that His will is for us to do far greater things. Lakeland showed how hungry we are as a nation and a world for Gods presence to me thats where my Hope lies and thats what I want to read headlining a article. Its just a shame he chose to end a article the way it should have started the article giving God the Glory due to Him.

  • I agree with a lot of points made in your blog. However, if one person’s circumstances were improved then no matter what we choose to call the Lakeland situation it was a success. As for the man himself it was never about him. Personally, I try to remember its about the message and not the messenger.

  • This past Sunday the pastor of my church announced his resignation.(forced) He is bold and courageous at the pulpit delivering God’s word accurately. He has a passion for evangelisim and missions that is well worthy of emulating. He has memorized vast portions of scripture and can quote them word for word, and often does so in conversation when they apply.

    Why was he asked to step down? He was not above reproach. He lacked character in the area of self-control when he became angry. He would fly off the handle. This lack of character overshadowed every other good thing this man did and possesed. What is more, he resisted accountability in this area.

    While in college I had it pounded into me. “My peoples greatest need is my personal purity/holiness.” I know Jesus talked about going after the one and leaving the 99…but we cannot accept sin in our leaders just b/c someone may have been helped by them.

    Leadership is a high calling. Spiritual leadership is an impossibly high calling. It demands accountability. It demands the highest of standards. It demands the filling of the Spirit and a knowledge of the scriptures. The stakes are too high for us to settle. The reputation of Jesus suffers. The reputation of His bride is in shambles. Let us take it back. Let us lead w/ integrity and character. Let us lead w/ love, grace, and humility. Let us demand that of our leaders.


  • Thanks for the good thoughts to chew on that too many Christians are avoiding due to the ‘distaste’ the whole incident left in their mouths. How can we learn and grow though if we are unwilling to talk about it! “But Melinda, ‘Touch not God’s anointed.’” “But Melinda, we need to just focus on the positive rather than adding to the ‘cursing.’ ” Look, I don’t want to curse, but I do want to grow more into the image of Christ, and He was always willing to look face-forward into messes.

    I would emphasize that one of the problems I see on the mission field and in the church too often is us being ‘imitators of the culture at large’ rather than imitators of Christ. I’m not talking about us needing to dress in togas or sandals, but let’s be clear; the celebrity-worshiping culture we live in has infiltrated the church to no small end. And we prop up people on pedestals, because of our need for heroes, while we bury our heads in the sand about their humanness. And the recipients of our attention ride the wave, and then it crashes.

    I recently took a team to Africa, and I was unprepared for what I discovered. I’ve taken hundreds of teams in the past, but this time, I knew everyone on the team, so I thought we were in for an unforgettable trip. Well, yeah, it was unforgettable, but not in the way I was imagining.

    You see, they knew how to ‘soak’, as did I, and they also apparently had a passion for Jesus that I assumed was coupled with ‘depth.’ After all, someone who declares, “Jesus is my crack’ has to be ‘all out for God, right?” But I discovered for many of them, when they didn’t have the ‘props’ they had at home to help them worship God, they floundered. Their hope was not ‘built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness’, but was instead built on the presence of their favorite worship songs and familiar faces. This wasn’t just a case of ‘cultural adjustment’, but a case of character-deficiency. The exaltation of anointing over character is a serious flaw in our present day church, and those faultlines will continue to widen unless the church is willing to face (not deface) issues that are clearly visible to those watching outside the church walls.

    I wrote all this right after Seth posted his blog. In fact, I could have been the first comment if I wanted, but I withheld it, as I felt there was more to add, which didn’t make sense as it was already too long a comment in my estimation. But I understood better tonight when I visited a friend and out of the corner of my eye spotted a Todd Bentley book. This surprised me, for though my friend loves Jesus, she’s not one usually associated with those who know Bentley, so I asked her about it, and unexpectedly but with God’s glorious timing, was reminded about His incredible kindness.

    You see, more than 6 months earlier, another friend took her to the Lakeland meetings, and though she was not expecting much from a man she knew nothing about, she was open to God. So tonight, when I just went over for a casual visit, I heard of how her life was still transformed more than six months later. She told me that her marriage was better, her finances were improved, and her priorities realigned with God, all because of her attendance at those meetings. Understand, this is not a ‘charismatic’ groupie, or someone familiar with ‘falling out’ and other such phenomena from the meetings, but it was simply a lover of Jesus, hungry for more of Him, who was gloriously touched by not a man, but by her Lord. I just thought that made a good footnote to God’s grace in the midst of our messes.

  • “Character is more important than anointing”. This is such a poignant statement and so true, I believe. Unfortunately I have recently been witness to a dear, dear ministry friend and her “fall from grace” and this truth was made painfully clear. We must pray, earnestly and faithfully, for our ministry leaders. Cover them daily with prayers of protection from the enemey’s schemes, not the least of which is often a spiritual blindspot to their own flaws of character that can (and will if not redeemed) bring down their ministry!

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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