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What Can the Pietists Teach Us About Spiritual Renewal?

I love the church, pastors, and church leaders. And I love Christ and his cause. My fire is that churches and church leaders would flourish! However, I believe that the Western church largely falters in spiritual and missional vitality. There’s a crisis of piety—what I call the devout life—heartfelt devotion to Christ and his cause.

On The State of Discipleship in the United States, the 2015 Barna Report stated that only 1 percent of pastors say, “Today’s churches are doing very well at discipling new and young believers.” 60 percent feel that churches are discipling “not too well.” Pastors feel that the most critical elements of discipleship are matters of the heart rather than of structure.

Over the centuries God has incited renewal and revival movements to infuse new life and mission into his church. One of those was the Pietist movement of the 17th-18th centuries. It grew into a revolutionary torrent that influenced the Moravians, the Methodists, the great awakenings, and global evangelicalism, as we know it today. Philip Spener, August Francke, Nikolaus von Zinzendorf, John Wesley, and other Pietists, can teach us about spiritual renewal.

The Pietists set forth a life of regeneration, with a heart-felt religion, through a life of piety that exhibits the fruits of faith. The early Pietist movement was a welcome reaction to lifeless Lutheran orthodoxy and spiritual atrophy. It proposed a “true Christianity,” a heart-felt and living faith, with a practical love for God and neighbor. Pietism was also missional.

Let me highlight three elements that the Pietists can teach us about spiritual renewal to cultivate flourishing congregations:

Transformational Use of Scripture. Pietism was a Bible-centered movement focused on holy living and sought to build a bridge between pure doctrine and life. Spener wrote, “Thought should be given to a more extensive use of the Word of God among us . . . The more at home the Word of God is among us, the more we shall bring about faith and its fruit.”

Continuous Christian Conversion. The Pietists concentrated on the inner life of conversion as an ongoing expression of the regenerate life. Spener taught, “The sum of Christianity is repentance, faith, and a new obedience.” The Pietists sought to connect God’s external act of justification with the Spirit’s internal action in sanctification.

Christian Life in Community. The Pietists developed a unique structure for Christian life and discipleship in community through small groups. Lay people enjoyed Bible study and prayer gatherings outside of church services—called conventicles or “colleges of piety.” This became a practical expression for the priesthood of believers. John Wesley promoted spiritual renewal through his Methodist classes and bands, drawn from this Pietist structure.

The Pietists can teach us more about spiritual renewal in today’s church than what I cover here. For more on the Pietists, see my recent book, The Devout Life: Plunging the Depths of Spiritual Renewal. We can also learn from other renewal movements as well. What is one that you would recommend, and what are some of the practices that we can learn from it?

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