News Articles

SBC leaders discuss role of prayer in Asbury Awakening

NEW ORLEANS (BP) – A group of SBC missions and prayer leaders gathered on the CP Stage at the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans to discuss the Asbury Awakening that happened earlier this year and the role prayer played in the movement.

The panelists agreed that prayer is the foundation of genuine revival.

“When most of us pray for revival, we really don’t have a clue what we’re praying for,” said Timothy Beougher, associate dean and professor of evangelism and church growth for the Billy Graham School of Missions at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“We think we are praying for ecstasy, and yes, joy is a byproduct of revival, but … revival does not begin in ecstasy, it begins in agony. We’re convicted of our sin, we’re forced to confess that sin, acknowledge that sin, repent. There were a lot of tears at Asbury.”

The awakening began in early February after a call to repent and seek the Lord during a Wednesday chapel service at Asbury University in Wilmore, Ky. The service led to an outbreak of worship, prayer and repentance from students and faculty. It spread quickly, and for more than two weeks, people came from far and wide, filling the chapel 24/7.

The movement gained national attention, even spreading to several Baptist-affiliated schools around the country.

Bill Elliff, founding and national engage pastor at the Summit Church in North Little Rock, Ark., and author of many books on prayer, joined Beougher on the panel, which was moderated by Kie Bowman, senior pastor emeritus at Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, and prayer assignment leader at the SBC Executive Committee.

Beougher wrote his master’s thesis on a similar revival at Asbury in 1970 and how it affected Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southern Baptists in general. Many trace the nationwide “Jesus Movement” of the 1970s to the first revival at Asbury.

Bowman began the talk by asking Beougher what such movements should be called or if that matters.

“I don’t know in the end it really matters what we call it,” Beougher said. “I like to make a distinction between revival and awakening. Revival is when God pours out His Spirit on a group of believers, whether that be a family, a church family, a college campus. Awakening is when that spills out in the broader culture.

“So we could say if a revival happens everybody in the church will know it, if an awakening happens everybody in the community will know it. So I think it is legitimate to call what took place in February of this year at Asbury a revival.”

Elliff added some thoughts on the terminology.

“I do think the distinction is really important,” Elliff said.

“To revive means to bring to life again, and that can only happen to people who are believers. And there was a lot of that at Asbury. Spiritual awakening to me is when lost people are just awakened to the Gospel by the Spirit of God and the power of God. And there was a lot of that at Asbury, and in other campuses as it spread around the nation.

“I know the leaders there (at Asbury) called it an awakening just to take the broad term, but I think it was probably more revival that led to some spiritual awakening. Which is characteristic in the spiritual awakenings that have happened across our history as a nation, that one leads to another.”

Elliff was a freshman at Ouachita Baptist University in the fall of 1970 after the similar revival happened at Asbury that spring. The movement even spilled onto his campus, and the experience “dramatically” changed his life forever.

He has since written more than 50 books about the topics of prayer and spiritual awakening. Elliff, who attended the Asbury event in February, said the experience reminded him of the earlier revival in that the movement could be characterized by “radical humility.”

“When this happened … my wife and I looked at each other and said ‘let’s go.’ When we got there we saw the same, and experienced the same environment, the same components that had happened during the Jesus Movement.”

He added that prayer is “symbiotic” with the experience of revival.

“There’s no revival without prayer. There never has been. Usually what happens is that prayer comes out of desperation. What’s fascinating right now is that God is bringing us as a nation to a level of desperation that we haven’t seen in our lifetime. There is an amazing, unprecedented movement of prayer across our nation.

“I think what it’s done is built, like never before, a faith to believe that God can do this.”

View the full panel discussion on the Cooperative Program YouTube Channel.