alternative to traditional revival services in a local church, a team of lay witnesses would share their faith over the course of a weekend in a variety of settings in the local church. The closest thing to preaching would be when the team coordinator shared his or her testimony on Sunday morning with an invitation for the attendees to commit their lives to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. 3
The LWM has been an extremely effective tool of evangelism for thousands of UM churches. There is no way to measure how many tens of thousands of people experienced a new birth as a result of having a LWM in their church.
Many congregations did a “180” as a result of hosting a Lay Witness Mission. First UMC in Bedford, Texas was a classic example. It was a small membership church in a (then) rural area between the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas, led by a second career pastor named Jimmie Scott. Looking for a “new program” for his congregation, he signed up for a Lay Witness weekend. April of 1970 became a watershed moment in the history of this church. The witnesses came, the witnesses shared, the witnesses loved, and the witnesses prayed. On Sunday morning, as the coordinator gave his invitation following his testimony, people began to flood the altar, all the way back into the aisles. As the Holy Spirit began to move upon the people, they gave their lives to the Lord, relationships were reconciled, families were healed, and grace was poured out. The church was never the same again. A fire had been ignited.
In the months that followed, people, young and old, began to discover and experience the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, as they studied the book of Acts in their small home groups that continued to meet following the LWM. Many of the members found their way into meetings where leaders of the charismatic movement were speaking and were introduced to the baptism in the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts. These dynamics plus two subsequent LWM, and the leadership of a wise pastor who shepherded the people and the movement were used by God to transform this sleepy little church into a dynamic, growing congregation. First UMC Bedford became a worshipping, praying, loving, caring, witnessing, outreaching community of faith.
My young family became a part of this congregation in March 1972 as it was preparing for its second LWM. Our lives were impacted first by the event, secondly by participating in small groups that were a result of the event, and third by serving on many teams as lay witnesses.
In my opinion, the Lay Witness Movement, not a single leader, was the primary vehicle that God used to introduce United Methodists to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and to the working of His Holy Spirit. At its peak in 1973-74, Danny Morris, then Director of Emerging Ministries of the Upper Room, reported that the General Board of Discipleship (GBOD) scheduled 2,400 Lay Witness Missions per year from the Nashville office. Many others were being scheduled from other places like Atlanta, Georgia and Wilmore, Kentucky. At that time, it is reported that there were in excess of 100,000 team members on the rolls in Nashville who were available to the 1,200 coordinators for use in missions.
Many of these folks and some congregations were experiencing charismatic renewal. What would the denomination do with these spiritually renewed Christians who continued to worship in United Methodist churches?
Sadly the UMC did not know how to deal with the dramatic change that took place in the lives of the laity. Because of their zeal and enthusiasm, they were often seen as a divisive force. Often efforts were made to stamp out the movement. The result was that these renewed persons went underground or outside the church to experience and exercise the gifts of the Spirit. Their
Aldersgate Renewal Ministries: History and Impact - Page 3
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