Lord, We Are Desperate For You!

The Power Of God’s Presence Is Revealed To A Baltimore Church

by Elizabeth Moll Stalcup

When Baltimore pastor Bart Pierce cried out for more of God in January 1997, he had no idea the Holy Spirit would change his life and his congregation forever.

Bart Pierce will never forget the day the Holy Spirit fell at his church in the rolling suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland. It wasn’t gradual, nor was it subtle, God showed up during the Sunday morning service on January 19, 1997.

Pierce, pastor of Rock Church in Baltimore, and his wife, Coralee, had just returned from a pastors’ retreat in St. Augustine, Florida. Pierce says he went to the retreat with "a desperate, deep hunger for more of God."

While there, he heard Tommy Tenney recount an event that occurred in a Houston church a few months earlier. Without warning, during the early morning service on Oct. 6, 1996, God had sovereignly split a Plexiglas pulpit in two before the amazed congregation. Afterward, an unusual movement of repentance broke out at the Houston church.

Tenney, a third-generation traveling evangelist, told the gathered pastors that the drama of the split pulpit was totally eclipsed by the awesome presence of God that filled the sanctuary immediately after the supernatural event. "The revival," Tenney told them, "was characterized by a deep sense of humility, brokenness and repentance."

While Tenney spoke, many of the pastors, including Pierce, fell on their faces weeping. Pierce spent much of his time at the retreat prostrated and weeping before the Lord. When it ended, he asked Tenney to come back to Baltimore with him for the weekend.

On the 18-hour drive home, Pierce, his wife and Tenney had "an encounter of God as we talked about what God was doing and what we believed," Pierce says.

"We would sit in the car and weep," recalls Tenney. They reached Baltimore on Saturday night, filled with a hunger for more of the Lord.

Turned Upside Down
The next morning Pierce knew something was up as soon as he got to the church building. "Two of my elders were standing inside the door weeping," he says. "We started worshipping, then people began standing ups all over the building crying out loud." Some came forward to the altar; others would "start for the altar and crumple in the aisle."

Even those outside the sanctuary were affected. "Back in the hallways, people were going down under the power of God. We never really got to preach," Pierce says. Tenney and Pierce were supposed to be leading the service, but both were too overcome by the intense presence of God to do anything but cry.

"There was a deep sense of repentance that grew increasingly more intense," Pierce recounts. At 4 p.m. there were still bodies lying all over the church floor. Pierce and Tenney tried several times to speak, but each time they were overwhelmed by tears.

"Finally," says Pierce, "we told our leadership team, `We’re going home to change clothes.’ We were a mess from lying on the floor and weeping."

The two men went home and changed. When they got back to the church at 6 p.m. people were still there, and more were coming. That first "service" continued until 2 in the morning.

Monday night, people returned, and the same thing happened. It happened again Tuesday night.

"Many people simply crawled under the pews to hide and weep and cry," remembers Pierce. "At times the crying was so loud, it was eerie."

Pierce noticed new faces in the congregation. "We didn’t have a clue as to how they knew about the service, because we don’t advertise at all," he says. When he asked, some of the visitors told amazing stories.

One man said he was driving down the road when God told him, "Go the Rock Church."

Another woman said she was sitting at her kitchen table when she got the same message. She didn’t know what a "Rock Church" was, but she found a listing in the phone book. After the service she tearfully confided that she had been planning to leave her husband the next morning.

"God had totally turned her heart," says Pierce. "She and her husband have been totally restored."

For the first few weeks, Pierce says, "every ministry at the church was turned upside down." The church has always been known for its mercy ministries-its homeless shelter for men, its home for women in crisis, its food distribution program, which moves 7 million pounds of food a year, and its ministry to revive Baltimore’s inner city.

But when the revival started, everything took a back seat to what God was doing. Pierce would find his staff lying on the floor in the hallways or hear a thump against the wall and find someone lying on the floor in the next room, crying uncontrollably.

People reported supernatural events in their homes, too. One woman’s unsaved husband had a dream in which everyone spoke Chinese. He came downstairs and found his wife lying on the floor speaking Chinese. His son, who was supposed to be getting ready for school, was lying on the floor in the living room, weeping and crying. That day, the man got saved.

One night a boy from a local gang came forward weeping while Tenney was still preaching. "He came to the front, looked up at me and said, "You’ve got to help me, because I just can’t take it anymore,’" Tenney recalls.

"This type of brokenness is what draws God’s presence," he says. "God will never turn away from a broken heart and a contrite spirit."

Pierce agrees. He believes the congregation has "opened the heavens somehow by our crying for Him. He has become our pleasure." Both he and Tenney say they have "turned to seek His face, from seeking His hands," meaning they are seeking to know God intimately rather than seeking Him for his benefits.

The Power of His Presence
"We don’t have any agenda," says Pierce. "We come in and begin to worship, and His manifest presence comes in. It is overwhelming. Sometimes there is nothing any of us can do. We have turned from trying to control the meeting to letting Him be the object of why we have come."

Tenney calls it "presence evangelism." He explains, "We understand `program evangelism,’ where you pass out tracts or put on an evangelistic play or host Alpha classes. John Wimber helped us understand `power evangelism’ where people encounter the power of God as you pray for the needs in their lives.

"But what happened in Houston and what is happening in Baltimore we call `presence evangelism.’ The presence of God becomes incredibly strong to where people are literally overwhelmed. They are drawn to His presence. They aren’t drawn by the preaching; they are drawn by the presence of God. It is hard to talk about without weeping."

The church doesn’t keep figures on the numbers of people who have come to faith in Jesus since the revival started because they encourage people to go back to their home churches. Many pastors bring their people to the services in Baltimore because they know that Rock Church won’t steal their flock.

In Contrast to the Toronto Blessing services that have drawn people by the thousands from all over the world to the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship in Canada, most of the people who have come to the Baltimore revival services have been from the local area, including pastors from other churches. "On any given night we have 12 to 20 pastors from the Baltimore area," Pierce says.

Still, some do come long distances. One night they looked out and saw 47 Koreans who had chartered a plane to come. Another time a group from Iceland was there. They have had visitors from Britain, Germany, the Ukraine and all across America.

Before Easter, the church put on a play about heaven and hell called Eternity. Crowds filled the 3,000-seat sanctuary. Some nights several hundred people had to be turned away because there was no more room.

And during one two-day period, more than 700 came forward to give their lives to Christ. The church originally planned to host the play for two weeks, but they continued an extra week because of the tremendous response.

A Dual Pull on the Spirit
Tenney believes there is "a connection between what the Rock Church has traditionally done"-meaning the church’s strong ministries to hurting people outside the church-and the way the heavens have opened in Baltimore.

"It came to me one day that when Jesus was in Bethany He was always at Mary and Martha’s house," he says. "Mary cared for the divinity of Jesus, while Martha cared for His humanity. Martha made sure the bed was clean and the food was there."

Mary chose the better part--sitting at his feet-but that didn’t mean Martha’s part didn’t have to be done, he says.

A church that does both-sits at Jesus’ feet and ministers to the needs of the hungry and hurting-exerts "a dual pull on the spirit realm," Tenney says. "There is a special visitation of God that accompanies it. When Mary and Martha called Jesus, He came and raised their brother from the dead."

Today, services in Baltimore are quieter and gentler than they were during the first few months of revival. But the worship music is powerful, and the singing draws the congregation to Jesus. Most of the songs were written by people in the church after the revival began.

After an hour or so of worship, Tommy Tenney takes the microphone and begins to preach. He asks the audience to worship Jesus in a way they never have before-to worship Him the way Mary did when she broke the alabaster jar, poured the ointment on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair.

"We have turned our churches into a `bless me’ club where people come to get something," he tells the crowd. "They are always wanting to receive. They fall with their blessing-of-the-month, then get up and continue on as though nothing has ever changed."

As Tenney continues to speak, people begin to cry, most quietly, but some more openly. He invites people to come forward. Almost everyone does, either kneeling or lying with his face on the floor before the altar.

"Just for one night in your life, worship Him," Tenney encourages them. "He wants to manifest Himself to His people. For once in your life set aside what you want from God, and give Him the glory."

Those looking for dramatic supernatural displays won’t find them here. But they will feel the intense presence of God.

The impact of the revival is seen in the lives that have been changed for eternity. There have been physical healings, healed marriages, burned-out people empowered to follow God, prodigals returned and hundreds of people who have found Jesus for the first time.

"Extreme celebration can come only after extreme repentance," Tenney cautions. "The world is tired of us calling them to repentance when we are standing in hypocrisy. We need to repent.

"It is not for us to point the way to a lost world. It is for us to lead the way. If the church will begin to walk in humility and repentance, then the world will see His glory."

Reprinted by permission, Charisma, Strang Communications.