Wednesday, June 05, 2013

What is it about Bethel: Thoughts on the Revival at Bethel / Redding

The revival going on at Bethel Church in Redding California has been a subject of growing interest to many Christians in America and around the world since the late 1990's.  It is a long-lasting revival by any measure, and continues to grow in impact.  Linda and I relocated to Redding in September 2012 for personal revival and to get a much more intimate view of this church and its culture.  We have graduated from 1st year of the Bethel School of Superantural Ministry, and that shapes our viewpoint, of course, but the culture of the church shines through everything Bethel does.  This is my perspective on the church as I see it today.

Worship at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry.  The first
year school is held at the Redding Civic Center to allow space for
the 1,100+ students.  
It is easy to see that something extraordinary is going on just by visiting a church service: if you want a good seat in the main auditorium, plan on arriving about an hour early for the 10:30 AM Sunday service.  If you want any seat at all in the main auditorium, don't be late.  Lines form outside the auditorium to get in and claim a good seat.  The church has added an additional campus a few miles away to serve the growing membership.  A much larger campus will be completed not far away by 2020.

Furthermore, people move to Redding, a Northern California community, just to be part of this church.  We have met several couples who sold out, uprooted family, and moved here to be part of what God is doing. We know from conversation that  many have come in just this way.  We will be in their number this year.  We are in the process of selling our home in Anchorage, Alaska and moving to Redding where we are enrolled in the 2nd year ministry school, and where we intend to live until we know it is time to move again.

The Bethel ministry has global impact.  Bethel leaders travel frequently all around the world.  Thousands of churches are in relationship through Global Legacy.  

There are number of characteristics of the revival that has filled Bethel with holy fire.  Probably the most significant from my perspective is a powerful emphasis on seeking more of the Presence of God.  Senior Leader Bill Johnson, a sixth generation pastor, made a vow at the Toronto Blessing in 1995: "Lord, if You touch me again I will never change the subject".  He has kept the vow, and so has the church.

The Presence of God is valued above all else. While there are obviously tensions in church service timing, I have no doubt that in the event of a Holy Spirit move at any given church service, Bethel leaders would make space for Him and let everything else work around what He is doing.

Revival is the main Kingdom push.  Everything supports revival and/or flows out of revival.  There are MANY ministries in the church with MANY talented workers covering every aspect of the work of a local church.  But revival remains the main thing.  The signs, wonders, miracles and healings, for which Bethel is widely known, support revival, and flow from it.  The Church leadership team is working diligently to create a culture that will facilitate this present revival to continue and spread indefinitely.  Jesus is preached, not the Bethel way. Kingdom is what is important, not Bethel culture. 

Love undergirds the ministry.  The surpassing, unalloyed love of God is a major theme and is very visible in how people treat one another. The very visible culture of honoring one another is a practical outworking of God's kind of love.  Because of honor, Bethel relationships are low control and high accountability.  The church works hard to love and honor the Redding community in practical ways.   Bethel culture is highly relational.  Relationship has priority over structure.  Spiritual fathers and mothers are important; both broadly (e.g. Bill Johnson, Heidi Baker) and personally with individual relationships.  Family is key.  Children are celebrated and actively trained, not warehoused.  

The entire five-fold ministry is powerfully in operation.  The five-fold ministry is led by a strong apostle (Johnson) and a gifted prophet (Vallotton).  There are also: strong pastors (Silk, Backlund and many others)  exceptional teachers (Farrelly, Dedmon, and others) and gifted evangelists (Overstreet and others).  Johnson and Vallotton have worked together for over 30 years, and have been in covenant working relationship since 2001.  This long term, covenant relationship, and other strong, decades-long relationshps are a large stone in the foundation.  The apostle has transferred day-to-day decision making in the local church to his son, Eric Johnson.  Senior Bethel leadership is in relationship with other like-hearted ministries through the Revival Alliance.

The Bible School is focused on inner transformation pointing to a revivalist lifestyle.  Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM) is designed to bring students to a place of understanding their identity as believers, and their place of significance in the Kingdom of God.  Practice of Kingdom lifestyle is emphasized more than learning Bible facts, although Bible reading and intense study is required, and principles for understanding the Bible are strongly taught. Activation is key.  BSSM1 focuses on identity, core Kingdom values, and practice.  BSSM2 focuses on Kingdom practice, ministering to others, and leadership.  BSSM3 places graduating 2nd year students in intern positions at Bethel and in other ministries.  There will be around 2,000 students in all three training years in 2013-2014.  More than one-third of the students come from overseas; most from Europe, but also from Oceania, South America, Asia, and Africa.

Prophecy is celebrated. Prophecy is thoroughly taught, modeled and practiced.  It is seen as a way of bringing God's heart from Heaven to earth, and of edifying or "calling out the gold" in those around us.  It is one of God's calling cards and is taught as powerfully useful in evangelism and the everyday Christian life. In mid-winter, our daughter visited a Bethel 4th grade class with her baby.  The teacher asked if they would like for the kids to pray and prophesy over them.....and they did. 

Taking risks is encouraged.  Throughout the church, risk taking is encouraged.  BSSM1 students are told that they cannot graduate unless they make at least three mistakes.  "Messes" are not encouraged particularly, but they are expected as a necessary side-effect of risk taking.  Johnson says, "Any rule in the church that prevents a Judas from arising will also prevent a Peter or a John from arising."

Women and men are equal partners in ministry.  Bethel teaches that women can fill any role in ministry.  While women can be found in senior leadership positions of this ministry, the most visible leaders remain men. Nevertheless, the real intentionality test of this teaching is what is happening in junior levels of leadership, because these leaders are the future of the ministry.  What we see here is gifted younger women and men both rising rapidly into the roles that their gifts support.

There is more to report, of course.  And I am hardly an unbiased observer.  Nonetheless, I hope this will give you some useful insight into one of the powerful centers of revival that are rising around the earth in the early 21st century.

What have you heard about the revival at Bethel, and what do you think is its global impact?  Your comments are welcome below.  

Read more in this blog about Bethel and our experience within this community.

Our friend Dani posted these perceptive thoughts about Bethel on her blog:


  1. Thank you so much for writing this article, and reading your account about this church makes me see why Bethel Redding is the most influential and important church in America right now as said from this blog post:

    1. The influence of Bethel continues in our own lives as we step deeper into the love of Jesus and the sweetness of the Kingdom of God.

  2. Have you sold your home in Anchorage? I ask because we feel called there for ministry. Thanks

    1. sold right away. :) Thanks for checking!

  3. Thanks for writing this. I am considering BSSM but have people around me who are very afraid and skeptical of not only Bethel, but the amazing move of God. This was a very helpful blog.

    1. I'm glad you found it helpful, Katherine. We have been part of the church now for almost four years. It's the real deal....lives being transformed by the King....ministers going out.....missions growing......honor....the poor cared for....and more....

  4. I was compelled to go the single life workshop and I went twice. The first time was phenomenal and the second time was confirmational. I would like to go to BSSM but I have so many fears and questions. I'm praying about it.

    1. Fears and questions are understandable! The Lord is revealing His power, His glory and His love here in ways that have not always been seen in the Church in recent centuries. God gave us brains for our good. He also gave us hearts. I have learned in this environment to use my brain AND my heart....and that my heart is good as it follows after Jesus.....and that I can trust it, too. So...I would say to anyone with fears and questions, "Good! Think it through. But listen also to your heart. Sometimes our hearts know things that our heads will not know until later. And most of all....pray for the wisdom of God that is far above all the thoughts of mankind. May the King of kings bless you beyond your hopes and dreams no matter which path you choose!