[In this post I am going to talk about was my experience of the Bethel culture.]
The last several months I have been involved in a Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry run in conjunction with Pihop. This has been part of my exposure to and first hand involvement in Revival/Charismatic/Pentecostal/Holy Spirit teachings, experiences and communities. For the most part this has been a season of repenting of old beliefs, considering and adopting new ones and developing an entirely new language and grid for understanding my faith. While of course I have encountered some errors and problems in the sea of new names, new teachings, new doctrines and new churches, this has been an overwhelmingly positive experience.
Considering the fact that this is a Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry it is not surprising that a lot of the names and teachings that I have been exposed to have come from Bethel, a church in Redding, CA. Bill Johnson is the head pastor and I have enjoyed a number of the sermons, worship music and books that have come out of this church. Many of my friends have made trips to Bethel, some even go regularly, and it appears for all this is almost a quasi-spiritual, semi-pilgrimage experience. So part of the reason I headed up to Bethel was to experience this church first hand.
My experience can be boiled down to two words: underwhelming and convicting.
Underwhelming: The whole experience was underwhelming. I am not talking about any disappointment with not getting healed, nor am I suggesting that Bethel, its leadership, and its church family are not doing amazing things. It was underwhelming primarily because I have been at least partially acclimated to the Bethel culture and my experiences in the last several months.
So when supernatural healing broke out on Sunday morning and we celebrated it, this was not really a big deal to me because I expect signs, wonders and supernatural healings to follow followers of Jesus. When people lined the front of the church to pray over people at the end and we prayed over a prophetic word given by Shawn Bolz about that Sunday a year ago I did not blink because I am used to prophecy in the church and in the regular life of believers.
Now when you take a minute to stop and really think about this, it is incredibly amazing. When was the last time you gathered for church on Sunday morning and people were supernaturally healed by God? This has never happened in my involvement in Christianity in over twenty years, but now it is almost something I take for granted. A year ago my trip to Bethel would have offended or amazed me or maybe both, but I’ve been walking this path for some time now and it was not as eye-opening or radical as I had hoped.
Convicting: The my time at Bethel was also very convicting. Hearing Bill Johnson preach and seeing him walk around a gathering on Saturday night and passing Eric Johnson on his way into the bathroom I was coming out of drove home a point that I had been working to for some time.
These are just men. These are men who are being used by God but these are just men. I was reminded of the scriptures in Acts where Paula and Barnabus are walking in signs and wonders to the point where they are being worshipped as Zeus and Hermes and they have to insist, “We are just men like you!” If I ever was tempted to put the leadership of Bethel or the Bethel church experience on a pedestal, this trip put a categorical end to that temptation.
Because Bethel family are just men and women hungry for God, this means that the amazing things going on in the Bethel family are possible wherever I go. Certainly God is using Bill and the other leaders there, but God is also using many other leaders. Certainly God is moving in Redding, but God is also moving in Pasadena. I came back with a renewed conviction that I needed to take seriously my influence as a leader, a desire to honor and support the leaders that are over me, and pay attention to what God is doing here in Pasadena.
I am convinced that if I want what Bethel has in my own life, in my church family, in my communities here in Pasadena, I do not need to make road-trip after road trip. I need to pay more attention to what God is doing at the local Ralph’s than I do what God is doing in Redding.