Looking back at what happened in Lakeland, I wonder if we can agree on what went wrong.
It has been four months since Canadian evangelist Todd Bentley fled the scene of Florida’s Lakeland Revival amid rumors of a moral failure. When Bentley vanished in August, the crowds thinned, God TV stopped broadcasting services, the meetings eventually shut down and Bentley’s worship leader took the popular music of the revival on the road.
Meanwhile, many people were left scratching their heads. Some were angry with Bentley for leaving his wife. Some were confused because their faith had been energized during the six-month-long experience. Many charismatic ministry leaders defended the revival, saying that it was never supposed to focus on a man. Others blamed Bentley’s critics for the revival’s demise.
"Ministers of the gospel need both godly character and powerful anointing. Why did we ever settle for the idea that we should have one without the other."
Late last week the board of directors of Fresh Fire Ministries—which Bentley resigned from in August—released a lengthy statement to update its supporters on Bentley’s condition. The letter confirmed that (1) Bentley is “resolute in his intentions” to divorce his wife, Shonnah—and that “he admits to being 100% responsible for the divorce”; (2) his relationship with his former intern is ongoing; (3) the evangelist drank inappropriately during the revival; and (4) he has yet to enter into a clear system of accountability with Christian leaders who have offered to help him.
The six-page statement, which defended the impact of the Lakeland Revival, did not excuse Bentley’s behavior. “We believe there are currently no biblical grounds for Todd to leave his wife and children,” the board members said. They added: “The nature of the present relationship between Todd and his former staff member is that of adultery.”
Lakeland was a painful chapter in the history of our movement, not just because such a highly visible preacher made such embarrassing moral choices but also because Christian leaders never agreed on what went wrong or how it could have been avoided. Now that the accident scene is in our rearview mirror, I wonder if we can agree on at least some points. Here are some lessons I hope we have learned by now:
Lesson #1: Accountability. Accountability. Accountability. I wish just saying the word over and over could impress the concept in our minds. Leaders must live according to biblical standards. Period. Bentley’s board admitted in their statement that after the Lakeland meetings went into full swing, Bentley developed troubling behavior patterns. That would have been the right time for someone with apostolic courage to demand that Bentley step down for a season until he got his spiritual life in order. If we really want New Testament miracles and New Testament impact, maybe we should embrace New Testament discipline.
Lesson #2: The one-man show is over. New Testament ministry is about teams, not hotshots. Paul shared the workload with Barnabas, Phoebe, Clement, Priscilla, Aquilla and many others. And he protested when people tried to make him out to be a god. When will we learn that the superstar syndrome actually thwarts genuine revival because it causes audiences to focus on man instead of Jesus?
I know there are those who insist that Bentley didn’t want people to notice him. But if that’s true, why did he cover himself with tattoos a few years ago, when he was in the ministry? I’m not a stickler about tattoos, but in Bentley’s case they definitely should have been a red flag. Anyone who craves that much attention needs counseling before they get on a stage.
Lesson #3: Chill out. The Fresh Fire board, in last week’s statement, admitted that one of their biggest mistakes was allowing Bentley’s meetings to go on week after week without a break. Bentley tried to preach continually without rest, and as a result he burned out. Most likely his staff burned out too. No Sabbath, no time for family, no time to unwind. No human being can keep such a schedule without imploding.
Isn’t this also true for the American church scene? Our rule has become, “The show must go on.” We are driven to keep the seats full and the money coming in. The more we work, the more we grow—so we have to work harder to maintain the growth and pay the bills. The pace becomes more and more frantic until the engines fail and the wheels fall off. Building God’s way requires patience, pacing, regular maintenance and plenty of downtime to receive His ongoing guidance and grace.
Lesson #4: Character is more important than anointing. Some revival groupies disagree with me on this. They’re so desperate for a display of miracles that they’ll take a zap from someone who has questionable morals or shoddy values. They don’t mind who lays hands on them as long as they are thrown to the floor while the crowd cheers.
I love revival too, and I’ve spent time on the floor soaking in God’s presence. I love the anointing. But please: Can you show me in the Word of God that character is not required of leaders? The Bible says imposters who work miracles will spend eternity in hell. Working miracles does not win anyone brownie points with God. Ministers of the gospel need both godly character and powerful anointing. Why did we ever settle for the idea that we should have one without the other?
Lesson #5: Lay hands on no man quickly. Many of us are still grieving over the fact that a large number of charismatic leaders stood on a stage in Lakeland in June and publicly commissioned Bentley. Some praised him for his integrity and humility while others prophesied about the nations he will evangelize and the increased spiritual influence he will wield. Today those proclamations (readily available on YouTube) seem hollow and embarrassing.
Some who stood on that stage insist that God told them to do a public commissioning service. One recently hinted to me that it was a mistake. I’ll let them sort that out. Personally, it saddens me that our movement has been tarnished by what appears to be a serious lack of discernment. In the crazy world of independent ministries—which already lack proper accountability—leaders should take the time to investigate a preacher before commending him on international television.
Lesson #6: You can’t have revival without repentance. The word “revival” is thrown around loosely these days. If a few people fall on the floor, get goose bumps or see gold dust, we are ready to christen it a revival and put it on television as soon as possible. After all, if large crowds gather, it must be God!
I’m tired of imitations. History shows that genuine revival is more than a bunch of blessed bodies in a pile. We need more than angel feathers, emotional euphoria and limp pep talks about getting high on Jesus. We need the strong Word of God that convicts hearts, demands repentance, slays sin and has the power to produce converts who will withstand temptation.
With Lakeland behind us, let’s celebrate the testimonies that came out of it, enjoy the songs we sang during it and pray for the restoration of the man God used to start it. Then, let’s learn from our mistakes and press on to better things.
J. Lee Grady is editor of Charisma.
5 years ago