REDMOND, Wash. (BP)--A pastor in Washington state led his congregation to observe a solemn assembly this fall, to repent of sins and seek God intensely -- and lives were changed. Now he is challenging other churches to throw off the grip of worldliness and set aside a day for repentance and renewed commitment.
"I'm absolutely convinced that if there is not a significant awakening in the church, we're in serious trouble," Scott Brewer, pastor of Meadowbrook Church in Redmond, Wash., told Baptist Press.
"We are well past answers found in new strategies and new innovations and the best that we can produce. I think by and large, our churches are void of a manifest sense of God's presence that results in His empowerment of the mission," Brewer said.
Though his idea for a solemn assembly grew out of a personal retreat with God a year ago, Brewer said he was encouraged by the call of Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright and other SBC leaders for churches to observe a solemn assembly in January.
"It basically served to confirm in my own heart something I felt like God was up to, not just in our region but across our country," said Brewer, who is serving a second term as president of the Northwest Baptist Convention.
Once he believed God was leading him to initiate a time of solemn assembly at Meadowbrook, Brewer took the idea to fellow church leaders and they began having prayer and confession time during their meetings. At a fall retreat, Brewer presented the idea again and led in a preliminary solemn assembly.
The pastor taught on the holiness of God for four Sundays leading up to the church-wide event.
"Some of the remarks initially were more questioning about why I was giving so much attention and emphasis to sin and to holiness and to confession," Brewer said. "I just kind of kept pressing forward, saying I think God wants us to continue on this note until He's through, whatever that looks like."
As the date of the solemn assembly, Oct. 16, drew nearer and people got more of a sense of what they would be doing, some were eager.
"They were like, 'I can't wait until this. I just feel like God's going to do something special in my life.'"
Others were fearful of the idea, he said.
"They were like, 'I think you're going to ask me to do things I've never done before. I've been a Christian for 10 years and I've never confessed any sin to anybody. Why are you asking me to do this?' That was a little more of the minority, but to their credit they were honest about it and then they showed up, overcoming their fears," Brewer said.
The congregation averages 200 people on Sundays, and 67 adults participated in the solemn assembly on that Saturday in October. Brewer said more people would have come if childcare had been provided.
"It was a pretty strong percentage. It was higher than I anticipated," he said of attendance.
Another obstacle for some, he said, was the length of the event. Church leaders had asked that participants commit to the entire five hours.
"I began the day with a brief reflection on Joel 2 and introduced the whole idea of a solemn assembly. After that, I invited everybody to engage in a private exercise of going through 20-something questions that kind of probed their life about whether they were in alignment with God on this or that or the other," Brewer said.
"After close to an hour of that personal time, we reconvened. Then they got with a prayer partner of the same gender and basically spent the next 45 minutes in confession with one another, verbalizing what they had written down in the private time.
"It was the first time that the majority of them had ever had verbal confession with a trusted other on sins like that. It was pretty powerful. When we reconvened after that, I had everyone get into their small groups that they meet with every week, and in a similar fashion, they went through a Scripture text that had them praying for one another and confessing their sins to one another," the pastor said.
Brewer had asked the group to fast for a day and a half before the solemn assembly, and they broke the fast with the Lord's Supper during the gathering. Then they ate lunch together.
"Following lunch, we finished the whole time in an emphasis on what God has done with us individually and collectively with other churches. Basically, I cast a vision for being a catalyst for other churches and a catalyst for something that God might be stirring across our convention and across our town. At the point of commitment, everyone -- 100 percent -- stood in commitment to be faithful to follow God in that way," Brewer said.
Katie Harris, who participated in the solemn assembly at Meadowbrook, told Baptist Press that the questionnaire at the beginning led her to realize she was "just a really busted, broken person."
"Outwardly, I may have seemed like I was leading a good life, but inside I was harboring hurtful sins," she said.
Harris had struggled with anger and jealously following a miscarriage, and it wasn't until the solemn assembly that she realized those were sins that were separating her from God.
"That realization and following confession were like a huge weight being lifted off my shoulders, and I knew God led me to take part in the solemn assembly as a way of starting my emotional and spiritual recovery from our loss," she said. "Over the following days and weeks, He kept working in me and speaking to me through others.
"I feel like without my experience at the solemn assembly, I would've been oblivious to His promptings and kept trying to put on the happy facade I'd been wearing for months. Now, the anger, bitterness and jealousy are gone. Instead, there is peace in my heart because I took that time at the assembly to fully examine myself for all that I am, and not just what others see of me," Harris said.
Anna Delapaz, another church member, stayed at home with her children while her husband attended the solemn assembly, but God nevertheless spoke to her about getting her heart right.
"I really had to lay down a lot of things in my heart as far as selfish things, as far as worry and anxiety, and just step out in faith," Delapaz told Baptist Press.
"... What I got from the idea of the solemn assembly was it was not just a purging of our selfish things or our internal checks but it was also for us to walk in His power and start seeing where God is answering prayers that maybe we're not seeing," Delapaz said. "It's about being able to start walking in a faith that may be very uncomfortable for us. We're seeing it. I'm seeing a lot of people start to wake up to sort of a new phase of what's going on after all of this.
"For me, it's been about really walking in His power. It's not just an emptying but a filling up to be able to reach others. It's not just about ourselves. It's for others as well," Delapaz said.
Brewer presented the idea of a solemn assembly during a Northwest convention executive board meeting earlier this year, and at least a couple other pastors led such events in their churches. They told their stories at the convention's annual meeting in November, and Brewer told about Meadowbrook before issuing a challenge for pastors and lay leaders to initiate repentance in their congregations.
"I received 42 commitment cards from pastors that they would be pursuing the Lord individually in this kind of way as well as leading their church into a solemn assembly experience and to partner with other churches in their area," Brewer said, adding that he is following up with those 42 and inviting others to join the emphasis.
In a video posted on www.pray4sbc.com, Wright, the SBC president, said the call to solemn assembly "is about returning to our first love of Jesus Christ."
"In our convention, in our churches and our lives, we have allowed materialism, we've allowed hedonism, workaholism and busyness, technology obsession, all kinds of other interests of the world to just invade and, really, become bigger priorities than the priority of our relationship with Jesus Christ," Wright said. "We need to fall in love with Jesus again in a new and fresh way. We need to return to our first love."
Wright's call was affirmed by members of the SBC's Great Commission Council, which is composed of the heads of the convention's entities. They issued a letter in November asking Southern Baptists to repent and come before God with a contrite heart.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press. To see Baptist Press' initial stories on the call for churches to engage in a solemn assembly in January, go to http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=34079