By J. Lee Grady
CBN.com – What happened to Brownsville's fire? The Florida church that hosted the Brownsville Revival has dwindled to a few hundred people. Did it have to end this way?
I’ll never forget my first trip to Brownsville Assembly of God. It was 1995, the year an unusual spiritual eruption occurred at the nondescript Pentecostal church in Pensacola, Fla.
The rumor was that God had visited the quiet Southern town. I came not only as a reporter, but also as a hungry seeker.
In the early days of the revival, the faithful came by bus, car and airplane from all over the world. Eager worshipers waited for hours in the sweltering humidity to get a seat for 7 p.m. services that often lasted past midnight. When evangelist Steve Hill finished his nightly sermons—in which he demanded repentance from spiritual compromise—the majority of people in the auditorium would run to the front of the church and bury their faces in the floor.
“The Holy Spirit is easily quenched by pride, greed, selfish religious agendas, and broken relationships. ”
Wailing was commonly heard during those meetings. Some people shook under the weight of conviction. It did not matter if you were a drug addict needing conversion or a pastor living in secret sin—everyone found forgiveness, and an unusual sense of refreshing in that holy place.
My life was changed there. I wept in the carpet, and repented for my journalistic cynicism. One night, in the midst of all the pandemonium near the stage, I ran over to where Hill was praying. He grabbed my head and screamed, “Fire! Fire! More, Lord!” I was one of the thousands who fell backward on that floor. I was not pretending. I felt as if God had placed a heavy blanket of His presence on top of me.
I don’t question whether the Holy Spirit was in that place. But today, more than 10 years after the Pensacola Outpouring occurred, I am asking other questions.
I am wondering why the church that hosted hundreds of thousands of visitors has shrunk to a few hundred members, and now owes millions of dollars for a building they can’t fill. I am struggling to understand why so many people who once were part of the Brownsville church now feel hurt and betrayed. I am wondering if the leaders of this movement mishandled the anointing of God’s presence like Uzzah did when the ark of God almost toppled on the ground (see 2 Sam. 6:6-8).
History shows us that revival is always risky. The devil opposes it, and carnal flesh gets in the way of it. The Holy Spirit is easily quenched by pride, greed, selfish religious agendas, and broken relationships.
I can’t be the judge of what brought Brownsville’s demise. But we must face the facts and learn some lessons, or we will repeat the scenario next time.
It is no secret that relationships among various leaders at the Brownsville church were strained to the breaking point. Michael Brown, once the leader of the Brownsville Revival School of Ministry (BRSM), was fired in 2000 and then started his own training center that he eventually moved to North Carolina.
BRSM in its heyday had an enrollment of 1,200 students. That number shrank to 120 this year. This week the church announced that the ministry school will relocate to Louisiana, where it will be directed by revivalist Tommy Tenney.
“One of the lasting legacies of the Brownsville revival is the school,” Tenney told me in an interview this week, noting that graduates are doing missionary work in 122 countries. One alumnus, in fact, was instrumental in discovering an unevangelized people group in Indonesia.
That is thrilling news. But my heart is still grieved that the church where this marvelous outpouring occurred is now a burned-out shell.
The pastor of the church during the revival, John Kilpatrick, resigned in 2003 and told parishioners he planned to remain at the church in an apostolic role. Kilpatrick installed Randy Feldschau as the new pastor, then this year Kilpatrick shocked the congregation by starting a new church in Daphne, Ala., 50 miles west of Pensacola.
Feldschau resigned a few months ago and moved to Texas, and Brownsville’s attendance has dipped below 400. One former staff member told me that a large group of Brownsville members now attend a local Southern Baptist church in the city, while many others don’t go anywhere.
“People have been leaving for three or four years,” the pastor told me. “Some are not in church at all, including some who were on staff. I don’t know anyone who has not been hurt.”
At one point during the heyday of the movement, Korean pastor David Yonggi Cho announced from Brownsville’s pulpit that the revival “would last until Jesus comes.” Certainly the fruit of this revival will remain that long. But for those in Pensacola who were swept up in the ecstasy of those early years, and then endured splits, resignations, debts, and disappointments, the word “revival” now has a hollow ring to it.
Still, my heart cries: “Lord, do it again.” Next time He does, I pray we will carry the ark the way God intended—and keep our hands off of it.