The events of a previously obscure church in Pensacola, Florida have catapulted a worship leader LINDELL COOLEY to international prominence. He spoke to Mike Farrington.
The bald facts are breathtaking. On 18th June 1995 revival broke out in Brownsville Assembly Of God, Pensacola, Florida. On that day Steve Hill, an itinerant evangelist who'd been asked to preach by the church's pastor John Kilpatrick spoke when the Holy Spirit fell mightily on the congregation. The meeting lasted all day, the bulk of the people present were brought to repentance. Since then revival has come continually and consistently to the church. Hundreds of thousands of conversions and recommitments have taken place. People queue all day to attend the evening services. Its fame has spread around the globe. TV crews are frequent visitors. Time magazine and a hundred more publications have featured it, it's even been sung about in songs by Sheryl Crow and Joan Osborne.
The worship leader for Brownsville Assembly Of God is Lindell Cooley. Through recordings "Winds Of Worship 7: Live From Brownsville' (Vineyard) and 'Revival At Brownsville' (Hosanna! Music) and more recently the albums 'Brownsville Worship Vols 1 & 2' (Music Missions International' the powerfully anointed worship stemming from Pensacola have reached a staggering 600,000 people. UCB's Mike Farrington spoke at length to the singer/pianist about the extraordinary events in. his church and his part in them.
Mike: Tell me a little about how the revival changed the
Lindell: "The Spirit of the Lord really touched our pastor. John was previously a very conservative man. He basically was very upright in the community; a lot of people respected him. When the Spirit of the Lord moved into our church one of the most interesting things that happened was that for hours the Spirit of the Lord would come upon him and he couldn't move. He would sit in his chair. He just couldn't move, he couldn't speak, he'd just sit there with the Glory of the Lord on him. He told me it was the most refreshing time of his life. In the beginning a lot of the people would come to see that happen because we would start the service and begin singing choruses and he'd be fine. We'd get about two choruses in and he couldn't move. He was not previously given to any kind of physical manifestations, he didn't practice those things in our church, it wasn't something we did. The people in the community heard that John Kilpatrick was acting a little strange and people came to see what was going on. As a consequence of them coming to the services, the Lord would touch them and after Father's Day we began to see the church have a hunger after the Lord that they'd never had. They were hungry after God and they would meet the Lord. People were being saved. We were used to having three days of continuous meetings in the past and you'd have maybe 15 to 20 people accept Jesus. All of a sudden we were seeing 50-100 people, 200 people per service who would walk up and say, 'My heart is not right, I'm not right with the Lord Jesus Christ, I don't have him in my heart, I need to accept him.' That was one of the biggest things that made us realise that this was different."
Mike: I understand you'd previously visited the Toronto
Lindell: "I visited Toronto and the Lord touched me there in April of '95. I had just moved to Pensacola. Matter of fact the week before I moved to Pensacola I went to Toronto. The Lord touched me in a wave of renewal and changed me. I'd been in church all my life but I'd never experienced the closeness with the Lord. Then Brownsville revival started two months later. The thing that caused us to define it as revival is number one, the amount of people per night that responded to a call for salvation. When Steve Hill stands up there and says 'If there are things in your life that are not right with Jesus Christ,' the response is overwhelming and it's been continuous since the beginning of revival. Number two is there is extreme preaching on personal holiness, living a life that's pure. A popular catch phrase in the States now is 'What would Jesus do?' What are you watching on video? Would you invite Jesus to watch TV with you? To listen to music with you? It seems that that has been a characteristic that has seemed to infiltrate people's personal lives and preaching is toward that. If you haven't thought about Jesus all day long, if you haven't talked to him all day long, I seriously doubt that you have a relationship with him. That is so fundamental. What's made us realise that revival is here is that people are RESPONDING to that. I've heard that before in my life, I've heard that PREACHED before. But there's something different happening because people are coming to get right with God - the local people here too. We're seeing people come that would never before come to church and they're coming, becoming Christians, going out and getting their friends, and they're witnessing to their friends on the streets and in the stores and it's a massive thing. We have 20 or 30 of the young people in our church every Friday night they're at the beach - which is a big thing here in Pensacola - talking to people. It's incredible the harvest of souls they've reaped just going down there and sharing Christ with them. Our local policeman here had a call because there'd been an attempted robbery. When he got on the scene there were three or four teenagers there. He arrested them. He told them in the patrol car that before he took them down to the police office he was going to take them to the Brownsville revival. So the policeman comes in with these three kids. And they accept Jesus as their saviour. Now they're part of our youth group. Now they're going out and getting their friends."
Mike: Has the revival been restricted to adults? What about
Lindell: "Our children's minister is Van Lane. The children's church (from eight to 12 years old) has boomed so big that we don't have a place to put them. His service attendance has gone from a couple of hundred to probably 600 or 700. The Lord has raised up young musicians over there. When you go to our services for teens and the younger children you won't see a whole lot of difference in how they're conducted than what you see in the main service. We have prayer for everybody at the end of the service; the youth have a worship team, they have a band. The kids are on fire for the Lord. They're going out and winning their friends. It's a church wide revival, it's not just effecting the adults, it's effecting the children too."
Mike: So why did it happen in Pensacola?
Lindell: "This church was very intense in prayer for two and a half years before this revival came. However, I've been to other churches that were praying intently for revival where it's still to come. I don't understand why Pensacola would be chosen amongst all the American and world wide churches that are praying. I don't understand why. What is happening here is a phenomena that happens only by the intervention of God. But I would say number one, go after God not revival, because going after God is a prerequisite and once you've gone after the heart of God like you've never gone after him before you begin to push everything else out of your life. That's what happened here. People got so hungry after the Lord that we just weren't concerned about ball games anymore, nothing was as important as caring for the Lord. Now that didn't mean that we all lived strange lives and we're not social. But we got intently hungry after the things of God. We'd preached in the church for years that God could heal the sick, that the lost could get delivered from drugs or alcohol abuse and that it could happen in a moment. But we hadn't seen it happening. We just got hungry to see the Lord show up. Number one, seek God, not his gifts because you can lose him if you seek his gifts. A lot of times people come to Pensacola and they're wanting to write down the formulae of revival. But there just isn't a formula. God is interested in developing the character of Christ in us. He wants to see us look more like his son. And whatever it takes to cause that to happen he'll do. Revival, like we're seeing in Pensacola, is sovereign. I believe that it's God's desire that it be everywhere, but I think it will happen on his timetable. He'll choose some other unlikely place. I just see it coming. Everybody who comes over to this revival from the United Kingdom, there's a sense of destiny that God is about to do something in that country. God has shaken Britain. I just believe that Britain is in store for a real move of God. But I don't know how he's going to do it. And it may not look anything like this. It may be totally different."
Mike: What were you doing prior to coming to
Lindell: "God started moving in my heart just about six months before I received the call to come here. You see, I was pursuing a life long dream to produce records and to do missions work. I know that sounds a strange partner but that's what I'd always wanted to do. I was in Nashville and Nashville was the musical capital. I found myself disheartened with everything except going after God. God began to break me. When they called me and said, 'Will you come to Pensacola?' my immediate reaction was. 'Man, there's nothing there but a beach, a naval base and a lot of retired people. Why would I want to go there? I'm trying to pursue a music thing in Nashville. Why would I want to go to Pensacola?' God has a sense of humour I guess (laughs)."
Mike: What kind of church was Brownsville Assembly Of God
before revival struck?
Lindell: "Our church would be along the more conservative lines of Pentecostalism. The Assemblies Of God had really geared themselves in recent history to be a little bit more conservative and main line in their operation. The services were very orderly -choir, pipe organ. When I came here this church leaned a bit to that but the previous music minister had taken them a little bit more in the direction of the Integrity stuff in the 1980s, 'I Lift Your Name On High', that sort of thing. So they were open to that. I grew up going to a black denomination, the Church Of God In Christ. I attended regularly, my parents attended regularly. So I was used to upbeat, high-energy, black gospel choirs. Before I came here I had heard Vineyard Music from Anaheim, California but I wasn't interested in it. It was way too laid back for me. I wanted something more exciting. When the Lord touched me at Toronto I found myself very hungry for intimate type songs. I wanted to worship the Lord again; I wanted to be close to the Lord in an intimate way. And I found that the Vineyard songs lent themselves to that. I found myself facing a complete change of style. I thought I was mixing oil and water or something, but that's how the Lord prepares you for something. I had always liked guitar music and I had always loved rock'n'roll when I was younger. But I'd never explored it because the church format I grew up in just wouldn't hear of it. So when this revival started I was singing all this guitar-orientated music. I play three chords on the guitar (laughs), so here I am on the keyboards trying to make it sound like a guitar, I don't have a lead guitar player in the church, here I am trying to sing this guitar music with keyboards. So the Lord is taking me out of my comfort zone. But it was what I wanted to do. I guess the Lord is continuing to evolve us. It's always been my belief that with God making every snowflake different he's not offended if his people are different. When you get into a worship service where you have a lot of people there, there are different people who respond to different styles of music. What I've tried to do is incorporate the roots from which I came but it seems to be evolving more and more. Someone I'm really blessed by in your country is Delirious? - Martin Smith - his music has been a real revolution to me. We sing some of it in church. It's so amazing we see all of these high church orientated people responding to a song like 'Happy Song'.
Mike: What kind of people visit the church?
Lindell: "We have every sort of person you can imagine from every sort of background you can imagine in these services. Usually the way they visit is they come in on Monday, they go to the prayer meeting on Tuesday night, and then they attend Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and then fly out to wherever their home is on Saturday. So essentially I start every week Wednesday night with a brand new audience that's never seen me before. I've never seen them and here I am trying to lead them in worship. The purpose of worship of course is to glorify the Lord. But something that the Lord's been letting me know lately is not only is worship to bring people into his presence and open the door for them, it's also evangelism. The Scripture says, 'I will praise you oh Lord among the heathen, I will show your works to the unbeliever as a sign to them.' I believe that when the glory of God is resting heavily upon music it just goes through every barrier. So my goal when I walk out on stage at Brownsville is to please the Lord with something I sing, to honour him with something I sing, that he would like it and like it well enough to become intoxicated with it. And as he becomes engrossed in our worship and he's hearing what we're saying his presence shows up. The glory is the manifest presence of the Lord and the glory of the Lord shows up in the building. The glory transcends every denominational barrier, it goes over race, it goes over culture, and people realise their need for the Lord and in that sense people feel something - in that sense it becomes evangelism - people feel something they'd never felt before yet somehow also feels familiar. He created all of us to worship him and when we encounter the Lord's glory it's almost like we're coming home. People who've wound up there, some of whom have never been to church before and who are on the periphery saying 'Do I want this?' are being touched. It gets their attention. We sing the word of God but when Steve preaches the Word of God and asks them 'do you want this?' they respond. I feel a wave of worship coming to this world where we'll worship in front of the heathen. I think we're going to see more and more of that."
Mike: Does the responsibility you carry weigh you
Lindell: "To be truthful with you I've learned in this revival to not be that responsible. Let's think about this for a moment, there's God who's all knowing, ever present, created everything that we see. If you believe that and I do, how could I really mishandle him? The responsibility I feel is to the Lord, to try to please his ears. I pray that when I walk into the service that the Holy Spirit will be pleased with what he hears because he knows the very intents of the heart, the motivation of the heart. When I walk into the service I know the people there need to hear. But I also know that if I walk in with my heart in the right place and my motivations correct - in other words I'm not interested in performing, not interested in what a great singer or musician I am, or seeing the visitors saying, 'Wow, that church has really got it together.' In the services when I feel that performance thing coming on I can sense the Spirit of the Lord pulling back. That's not to say I'm against rehearsal or executing a song well. I'm for that. What I'm saying is that in my heart as a worship leader I have to prepare it to a place where I humble myself and see what the Lord will do. To tell you the truth this has been the easiest work I've ever done. We refer to this revival as a river - a lot of songs have been written using that analogy. Well, there's a desert just beyond the river where people are thirsty for the things of God. We want to take the water from the river to the desert. You know what, if we made a human chain and got buckets and carried the water bucket by bucket to the desert it would be an impossible task. Now that's what I think a lot of people are trying to do. Now as a worship leader if I get this thing on me, 'I've got to make this happen tonight, I've got to lead these people into the presence of the Lord,' it's impossible. But when you get in the boat or you jump in the river and you allow the river to carry you, it's not that hard. For you realise that number one, God is sovereign and that means that he's going to take the river of his presence where he will anyway. So you just say, 'Lord, over here is a dry place...will you send some of your river here?' And you see the presence of the Lord begin to take people. So I don't feel that weight."
Mike: But surely with all those meetings you must get
Lindell: "It's so funny, I used to work with artists and acts and do tours and we felt we had a heavy schedule if we did two or three concerts a week for a three month period. We'd come off the road exhausted (laughs). Yet here we've gone for two and half years and I sing full tilt every night. The first three months we had eight services a week and then we decided we would not be able to hold up under that. So we chose to start taking Mondays off. There's a prayer meeting on Tuesdays and I lead worship on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Just recently we've been going out and doing things on Monday and Tuesday around the country. So there are a lot of weeks when it's every night. There are times when physically I get dressed and I have to drag myself to the building and everything in my body is going, 'No, you're tired, you need to rest.' Inevitably every time I stand behind my keyboard and begin to worship the Lord, his presence begins to fill the room and I'm rejuvenated. It's incredible. There was a time when I felt if I just had a devotion time every day and read the Word of God that that would be sufficient. I found out that my house needed to be cleaned out a little bit, there were a lot of things that were in my house that weren't necessarily satanic but they weren't things that I was comfortable with in the Spirit. I found out that the Lord demanded more and more from me, like the Holy Spirit saying, 'You can do without this because if you want more of me, you're going to have to spend more time with me so you're going to have to pull this out of the way.' I grew up in a very strict home and I've lived under legalism before. There's a difference between what's happening in my life now and what I grew up in. Because before it was a set of rules. This is not a set of rules, this is the father saying, 'If you want more of me, you have to decide, maybe you don't have enough time for this.'"
Mike: What is the song that God has used most often at
Lindell: "Probably the song that comes to mind right now is 'Spirit Of The Sovereign Lord'. It's so relevant. That song we've seen so many things happen when it's being sung, we've had people called into the ministry, we've had people healed, we've had incredible deliverances happen with that song. The reason I'm so happy to say this is that I didn't write it so it's not self glorifying (laughs)."
Mike: Is the prophetic an important dimension of what you're
Lindell: "I've had the Lord use me in the prophetic before but it was usually not associated with my music, it was always just a word I would give to someone. But what I'm finding now is a great deal of prophetic words given during the songs. It is like I would be in the middle of a song. A lot of times it doesn't make a lot of sense to me and then I'd have someone respond at the end of the service and say, 'You know, when you said, whatever. I'd just asked the Lord if there is any hope for me let me know.' The Lord, he's just got it together you know. (Breaks' into a thunderous laugh.)"
Mike: What final words would you say to British
Lindell: "God is on the move in your country, don't back up from it. Don't be discouraged because as with anything God is doing you will always have the Enemy come in and try and discourage it, this is not really the real thing, this is contrived or whatever. But I would say to you go after God like you've never gone after God, find extra time in your day and discipline yourself to go after God, go after his heart. Worship him in your home. And when the Lord gives you an opportunity to share with people around you about his goodness, don't back up."
The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.