by Bryant and Jonah Sims
When I began to hear rumblings about a move of God taking place on the campus of Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky, I was hopeful and filled with joy. It didn’t take long before I received word that Bill Elliff, the Pastor/Church Director for OneCry! A Nationwide Call for Spiritual Awakening, was headed in that direction. Bill facilitated a solemn assembly for the South Carolina Baptist Convention in May of 2022. While he was in town, my son Jonah and I had an opportunity to spend some meaningful time with him. It didn’t take me long to realize that he possesses a deep passion for prayer, revival, and the next generation. So, I was anxious to see what his thoughts were about this outpouring at Asbury. I was elated to read as Bill relayed via his blog (https://billelliff.org/blogs/news) that “This is real, God is present. The unity and worship are heavenly. No pretense, pride, or show. No manipulation. You don’t want to leave. The Scripture was read this afternoon for a long time by multiple people, washing over the congregation. After each Scripture, the response was, “The Word of God, and we believe it!’ “
I forwarded Bill’s post to Jonah, a sophomore Christian Studies major at Anderson University here in South Carolina. It wasn’t very long before he began hatching a plan to find his way to Asbury. I texted Bill and asked how long he thought this might last and he assured me that things were just getting started. After I fulfilled an obligation at Camp McCall on Monday, February 13, Jonah met me there and we headed to Wilmore. We arrived in town around 10:00 PM and headed to the chapel. You could see people ascending and descending the staircase along the front of the building from the other side of the street. I’m not really sure what I was expecting when we reached the front door, but you could hear robust singing and worship before we even opened it.
I think it might be interesting if Jonah joins me for the rest of this. We will use a (B) to identify my comments and a (J) to identify his.
(B) As we walked through the door, the building was aflame with passionate, heartfelt worship. We quickly found two seats on the floor level. I just stood looking and listening for the first several minutes. I have been to concerts where a lot of people were singing loudly and passionately but this was different. It was simple, just voices and a piano. It was beautiful. (J) Upon first entering the room there was something truly different. Some people were hugging and fellowshipping while some were sitting in reverent prayer. Some were singing loudly while others were gently ad-libbing, gently lifting praises to God. It was a purely authentic worship environment.
(B) As the evening progressed, at about midnight, a young lady from the university took the stage. She announced that things should begin to move in a more prayerful, reverent direction. She called on a professor from a university in another state to step forward with the students accompanying him. This believing professor rented a bus and brought students from their school to see what was happening. Standing in the front of the building the entire group of them was commissioned to return to their campus as missionaries proclaiming the gospel boldly. (J) The prayer was simple yet very bold. She prayed that through the witness of the young people there, as well as their professor, they would see their classmates, school staff, and even their city turn to the light of the gospel. It was a prayer for revival.
(B) We returned to the chapel on Tuesday morning at about 9:00 AM. The building was about 75% full and the students were still worshiping in warm gentle tones. By 9:30 there were no seats left. (J) It was shocking to find that after a complete 9 hours, the same level of reverence, worship, confession, and repentance was still present in the room. Then I remembered that this had been going on for over 100 hours already. I was full of awe at the Holy Spirit’s work that morning.
(B) At some point, one of the campus leaders took the stage and emphatically stated that some principal values were driving their stewardship of this time, radical humility, honest purity, and an authentic hunger for Christ. He spoke of dying to self and being crucified with Christ. (J) The biggest theme that seemed to be lingering in the room was the idea of making yourself lower so that Jesus could be made higher.
(B) Three things have stayed with me since returning home. 1) Most of us are guilty of not having enough margin in our lives for God to move. These students are going to class, studying, loving the Lord, and seeking His face. Martha is frustrated that Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet while she is busy with so many tasks. When she voices her frustration, Jesus tells her there are a lot of things calling for our attention, but Mary has picked the most important thing. When was the last time you just sat and worshiped and loved Him? 2) We may be living in the age of the church in Ephesus. You know, the one that lost its first love? These students weren’t living in Ephesus. The building wasn’t fancy, there were no personalities, no production, and no pretense. Just an honest, humble seeking the Lord. Timothy Tennant, President of Asbury, said, “We must embrace what it means to really live as Christians in the midst of a church culture which has largely domesticated the gospel beyond recognition.” 3) Recognizing the beautiful ethnic and generational diversity of the room, I read Revelation 7:9 and acknowledged in my heart the picture of heaven that was being presented in the room. I was moved to realize that there must be an awakening and the calling out of a new generation of missionaries to the nations for this to be fulfilled. I don’t know that that will be the result of what has started at Asbury, but I hope and pray that the Lord is preparing to send out workers because the fields are ripe.
(J) In the late 1960s and early 1970s, on the brink of The Jesus Movement, there was a generation that was seen as a lost cause. That generation was seeking their joy and worth in psychedelic drugs, false religion, and tearing down tradition. That same generation was used as a catalyst for our country’s last great spiritual awakening. Today, Generation Z is seen as a lost cause. My generation’s biggest problem is not psychedelic drugs, it’s not false religion, and it’s not even tearing down tradition. Generation Z is having an identity crisis. “I am (blank): depressed, bisexual, anxious, transgender, gay, straight, lesbian.” These are words my generation sees as their only viable options to describe themselves. What they must see is that they are children of the King. What is happening at Asbury is simple: students believe they are children of the King so they seek and they find Him, and when they find Him there is an abundance. When we ask our Father in Heaven for bread, He doesn’t just give us a rock. The Bible tells us He gives us much more (Matthew 7:11). That being said, here are my final thoughts on returning home from Asbury. (1) I’ve been following Jesus for what seems like quite some time now and I’ve never felt more freedom in my worship in a corporate setting than I did in this room. This is because there are very few spectators who are questioning and judging how others worship. Instead, there is simply a room full of worshippers pleading for revival before the throne. (2) The worship is very stripped back. There are no lights, no screens, and sometimes the instruments weren’t run into the sound system. Gen Z is not seeking a show, we are seeking an authentic experience of worship with the God of all creation. (3) The staff at Asbury is being very clear and wise not to call this a revival as a revival is defined by its fruit, but instead to acknowledge how the Spirit is moving in hopes that this will lead to true revival on their campus and to the ends of the earth. Here are the motives behind what is going on at Asbury spoken from the stage: “radical humility, purity, holiness, dying to self, hunger for Jesus, getting lower so He can get higher.” (4) Regardless of what comes from this pouring out of the Spirit at Asbury I’m sure of one thing: Generation Z is not a lost cause, and we never were; not because of how great we are, but because of how great the Savior is. That’s something we can all hold to, and I believe if we do then we can see movements like this all over the country, not just at Asbury. Where God is sought, He will bring revival. But He must be sought.
(B) In closing, how should we respond to what is happening on the campus at Asbury? PRAY. The first response must be expectant prayer. History will be the judge of what is taking place there. We shouldn’t engage in criticism and questioning. We should simply pray that God truly will bring about a revival in our day. PREPARE. Next, we should begin to create a margin in our lives for God to move amongst us, too. If He showed up at our churches would we welcome Him even if it meant changing the calendar, the order of worship, or our daily routines? PROCLAIM. Finally, we should embrace Gen Z and every other generation. I could not agree with Jonah more, they are not a lost cause. As I worshiped and prayed in the chapel at Asbury and I pondered what heaven would look like, I realized that God must call out a new, hungry, generation of missionaries to accomplish His purposes. Most of those kids are far from God today. Many of the future leaders of our churches and missions agencies are lost today. Our mission is not to tear them down and marginalize them. Our mission is to seek them out and proclaim the love of God through the gospel into their lives. This generation is hungry for Jesus. They need encouragers, guides, and mentors on their journey of faith.
Bryant Sims serves SCBaptist as the Director of Denominational Relations and Jonah Sims is a college student at Anderson University.