Christians must invite God to church to get revival, says former SBC President Steve Gaines

SBC President Steve Gaines addresses messengers at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, Arizona, on June 13, 2017.
SBC President Steve Gaines addresses messengers at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, Arizona, on June 13, 2017. | Adam Covington

For Steve Gaines, a former Southern Baptist Convention president and pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church of Memphis, Tennessee, his interest in revival began decades ago.

Back when he was around 20 years old, Gaines was planning a revival worship service, with various church members asking to pray that certain people they knew would attend the event.

“We were praying over people, asking God to bring these people,” the now 66-year-old Gaines recounted in an interview with The Christian Post. “And so, we kept saying, ‘pray for so-and-so, that he'll come to church.’"

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At one point, Gaines raised his hand and suggested that they should "pray for God to come to church, to our revival." The church went silent and then the pastor replied, “Well, we know that He will come.’"

Although the service saw a few people convert to Christianity and others join the church, Gaines told CP he felt it wasn't “a real revival, in the sense of it didn't look like the book of Acts to me.”

Decades later, Gaines is tackling the issue in his new book, Revival: When God Comes to Church, slated for release on May 28 (B&H Books).

The Christian Post interviewed Steve Gaines about his new book on revival, discussing topics like Old Testament revivals, how worship cannot be about putting on an entertaining show, and what he believes are the greatest enemies to revival in the American Church. The following is an edited transcript of this interview. 

CP: Why did you decide to write this book?

The 2024 book 'Revival: When God Comes to Church' by Steve Gaines, pastor and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The 2024 book "Revival: When God Comes to Church" by Steve Gaines, pastor and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. | B&H Books

Gaines: Well, this has been a lifelong study of mine and it’s really the heart of my ministry. I have always wanted to see God move in revival.

When Jesus, in Revelation 3, is knocking on the door at the church of Laodicea ... it’s about Jesus knocking on the door of one of His churches that had locked him out.

I believe that's the way it is a lot of times in our churches today. I believe we are so busy doing our own thing that we have literally locked the presence of God and the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ Himself, out. And I believe the Lord is trying to knock, He's knocking on the door of a lot of churches trying to get in.

I believe revival is when the glory of God fills the House of God.

I wrote this because I have had a lifelong passion for God to really come to our church and I've seen God come to church. I've been in services where the Lord came. I have been in seasons of pastoring. I have been pastoring for over 40 years and I've been in seasons where I saw God come at times for two or three years, and just really rest on a church, and God do miraculous things.

I believe that's revival, and I believe that what we ought to pray for.

CP: In Chapter 2, you discussed the troubling trend of churches acting like entertainment venues rather than sanctuaries. With the recent COVID-19 lockdowns, the number of churches that began to livestream their worship services has skyrocketed. Do you believe this rise in livestreamed services is making the worship-as-entertainment problem worse?

Gaines: I don't know that it is. I think that it’s really at the heart of the pastor and the ones who are leading the worship service. I think that if their hearts are vertical and not primarily horizontal, I believe that is an indication that God is the Supreme One that is being worshiped.

I believe that you can get so focused on drawing people to your church that you don't realize that the main thing you need to do is to get Jesus there in His manifest presence. And that He will draw the people to the church.

But I do believe that sometimes we try to put on a show. I think we want to make sure we've got just the right music, we have just the right style of dress, we have just the right this, just the right that. That's not what church is about. Church is about going after God and attracting Him.

If you attract the Lord, God is going to attract the people. I believe that with all my heart. I believe that what people are hungry for, they're hungry not for just a well-organized worship service or something like that, they're hungry for a God-anointed service. They want the presence of God. Some that don't even know what they want, and they hop around from church to church trying to find what it is that they want.

Whenever they find a church that's really going after God, it doesn't have to have the best music, it doesn't have to have the best preacher, doesn't have to have the best organization, doesn't have to have the best discipleship program, doesn't have to have the best buildings, anything like that. The main attraction is the presence of God, the Holy Spirit. And I believe that that's what's missing in a lot of our church planning, and especially for worship services. 

CP: In Chapter 4, you highlighted a few examples of revivals taking place in the Old Testament. Why did you believe that, in a book centered on Christian revival, it was important to showcase these pre-Christian awakenings?

Gaines: Well, I believe everything in the Bible is for Christians. I think the Old Testament is, obviously, the only Bible that Jesus had, and it’s the only Bible that the early church had. But I'm sure they studied the revivals of the Old Testament.

You can't do away with the Old Testament. I know that some people say, "Well, we've got the New Testament now." But the Old Testament points to Jesus, and the Gospels tell about Jesus and the Epistles tell about Jesus' teaching, they explain that. And then Revelation talks about the coming of Jesus that is yet to come. So, the whole Bible is about Jesus. I don't think that there's any problem at all including Old Testament revivals. I do believe that the main thing we need to focus on is how the Holy Spirit came upon us and upon the early Christians in the book of Acts.

The book of Acts is the primary book on revival in the whole Bible.

CP: In a couple of chapters, you devoted time focusing on major revivals that took place in American history. Why do you believe it was important to showcase this history of revival?

Gaines: I believe that one of the reasons that we have America is because people like Jonathan Edwards and others, George Whitefield and others, were literally living in revival and preaching the Gospel to tens of thousands of people, sometimes outdoors, and they would preach and people would just get saved.

To me, it is what galvanized the colonies together when they were under the British rule prior to the Revolutionary War. And so, I believe that one of the reasons we have America is because of Jonathan Edwards and others who spread revival that unified the nation and then they were able to not only have spiritual freedom but have political and physical freedom from the British.

I believe that that galvanized the nation. There were a lot of Christians that came together.

I think the tide of revival has been out long enough. We need another revival now. We can't make God do anything, but we can get our sails up so that when the wind does blow, we'll be ready.

CP: In Chapter 8, you wrote that the three keys to revival were "humility, hunger, and holiness." Which of those three do you believe the American Church, in general, struggles with the most?

Gaines: All of them.

I believe there's a lot of pride in our churches. I'm a Southern Baptist, and I think we brag way too much on how big we are, and how many people get saved and all that stuff.

We need humility. And we really need to be humble before God. And so, I believe that's one of the biggest things there. I think that, in the Old Testament, when it said that we need to walk with the Lord in humility, over and over and over again, and then in the New Testament, I think one of the reasons that you've got so much expansion in the book of Acts is because they were tenacious in sharing the Gospel, but they were humble, and they were kind, and they were Spirit-filled and full of a lot of love.

I think you've got to be hungry; you've got to be holy, but I really think that humble part is probably the most important part.

CP: In Chapter 15, you listed the "five enemies of revival," which were traditionalism, formalism, fanaticism, liberalism and legalism. Of these five, which would you say is the most pervasive threat to revival in American churches?

Gaines: I think probably traditionalism, where we don't like change.

I know that in the Southern Baptist Convention, which is where I've been for 45 years or so, serving and leading churches and what not, I believe that we struggle with traditionalism.

We don't like change, and we change very slowly. And I think that can really, really hurt a denomination, it can hurt a church.

I love the Southern Baptist Convention; I'm not putting it down. I believe that's the same way with Methodists, I believe that's the same way with Presbyterians or whatever.

I think that most people don't like change. And if you don't believe that, just go to somebody's house and move the furniture around a little bit.

But I believe that's what God does when He comes in. He takes our traditions and says, "OK, look, we're going to do my will, but we're going to do it a different way."

I think that's the whole problem with people accepting new music, I think that's the whole problem with people accepting new dress codes, I think that's the whole problem with accepting new churches even.

We don't like the old to be threatened, because we feel so secure in it. And it’s our comfort zone and God's not interested in our comfort zone, He's interested in people being saved and the Spirit of God being poured out on His churches.

CP: What do you hope churches take away from your book?

Gaines: If people would pray and fast and go hard after God, and do that collectively and with other believers in their church, I believe that God is more than willing to pour out His Spirit upon us.

I want people to go hard after God. I think we can have all these programs, we can have all these events, all that stuff you want to. That is not revival. Revival is the glory of God filling the House of God, whether it’s an individual, whether it’s a church, or a denomination. And when that happens, people are drawn to the glory of God. People want to know there is a God, He is alive, He does make a difference, and His Son, Jesus Christ, can change my life and I can be a new creation.

So, I believe that's what people hunger for, and some of them don't even know that they're hungry for it. But once they taste it, they never want anything else, because only Christ can satisfy.

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