Revival and Mission Movements: Bed Fellows or Marriage Partners? – Part 1

By Thuo Mburu
Thuo is the Director of Trinity Fellowship in Nairobi, Kenya.


The Christian cross-cultural mission movement has historically ridden on the crest of spiritual revival movements. From the Pentecostal awakening in Jerusalem (Acts 2f), the world Christian movement has been accelerated by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in similar manners over the last two millennia.

These revival movements have, without exception, been characterized by a renewed conviction of sin and a passion for the lostness of humanity among true believers leading to outgrowth of bands of itinerant evangelists and the formation of missionary societies, not to mention ardent advocates for moral and social reform.

On the other hand, the Church has tended to slide to a state of lethargy and compromise in the periods between successive revivals. Such dark phases have been characterized by apathy to the plight of the suffering/problems in society, loss of the prophetic voice and decline in missionary zeal. Preoccupation with institutional expansion and the maintenance of ecclesiastical order has always tended to mask the divine component of the nature and function of the Church.

Internal strife, division and even persecution have often led to concerted pleas for God’s intervention through sending forth a spiritual revival.

While this has been the pattern over the history of the Church, contemporary trends seem to view revival and missions as two separate entities. This is especially manifest in the practice of pursuing revival distinctly separate from, and without reference to, mission.

Though well intended, this unfortunate dichotomy of revival and mission movements has led to signs of frustration among the advocates of both due to the delay of their realization. That is, the mission mobilizer will wait longer than he expects if he fails to pursue it on the platform of revival. On the other hand, the revivalist will be disappointed if he fails to view missions as a desired product of his labour.

This paralysis begs for humility on both sides to view revival and mission movements more of marriage partners than bed fellows. How then do we bridge this paralyzing gap and save the revival and mission movements from mounting sentiments of incompatibility? Can we tolerate their divorce without hurting the purposes of God in our generation?

Toward a Re-marriage Between Revival and Mission Movements

We shall attempt to answer these questions by addressing root causes for the said apparent animosity and incompatibility between the revival and mission movements with the goal of re-marrying them. In so doing, we identify five core issues which promise harmonious and lasting co-existence in the proposed marriage: 1) Perspective and interpretation; 2) the goal, purpose and expectation; 3) biblical authenticity; 4) the context; and 5) the character and integrity of the advocates.

1. Perspective:

What is revival? Though the idea of ‘revival’ is almost a buzzword among Christians today, doubts abound as to its meaning. Casual observation indicates the existence of innumerable perspectives and interpretations which often causes confusion to the keen listener.

For example, the society is choked by brochures, fliers and media advertisement inviting people to a ‘revival meeting’ of one kind or another. On the same token, it is not rare to hear pastors explain ‘revival’ in terms of numerical growth in church membership and increased financial giving.

On the other hand, mission has generally been reserved to a special category of God’s service – often the few hyperactive enthusiasts. Thus, we see the church schedule special mission emphasis seasons in the calendar while engaged in some other agenda throughout the year. It is not surprising to see churches investing large percentages of their income to social programs in the name of mission but appearing aversive to the idea of sending out or supporting missionaries.

As alluded above, re-marrying revival and mission movements will, of necessity, demand consistency in understanding with a focus on their similarity in conceptualization. Thus, for our purpose, revival is rendered as God’s special visitation upon His people (the Church) restoring them to their covenant position “to be and do” according to His bidding.

It has a unique focus on repentance from sin and worldly compromise with the consequent recovery of holy living, passion for humanity in sin and abhorrence of evil and oppressive systems in the society. Brought by the agency of the Holy Spirit, this divine-human encounter is so pervading that it draws the attention of the unbelieving world to ‘behold the wonder of God among His people.’

The resulting interaction between the revived church and the awakened world provides a strategic platform for evangelism and missions to thrive. Convicted of their sin and of God’s love for the sinner, believers are then willing to give up everything necessary to propagate this new freedom by sending forth the gospel of Christ where it has not been hitherto.

Consequently, while the mission advocate is wary of the revivalist’s understanding of revival, he needs to see it as happening among God’s people in the church which is his target as well. Furthermore, both of them need to view the Church as fundamentally missionary except in her fallen state for which revival is critical.

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