By Karen L. Willoughby, Managing Editor
CROWVILLE – Fellowship wasn’t a problem. Neither were finances. But Crockett Point wasn’t growing, baptisms last year were down by 25 percent or more, and Pastor Joe Senn had grown complacent, he now admits.
[img_assist|nid=7175|title=Crockett Point|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=75]“I was not hearing from God like I had been,” Senn said. “My personal relationship with God was not where it needed to be, same with my wife and everybody else. I had really grown cold, indifferent.”
He didn’t realize this, however, until he read a book he received at the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s annual meeting last November, Senn said. The book: Returning to Holiness, by Gregory R. Frizzell of Oklahoma.
“It talked about Solemn Assemblies and how to do one,” Senn said. “I kept saying, ‘This would be good for my church,’ but then it came to me, ‘This would be good for me.’ I was just dry, complacent. I had gotten to that place where you are content with the status quo.”
Perhaps a dozen churches across Louisiana have held a Solemn Assembly this year, some in response to Southern Baptist Convention president Bryant Wright’s call to hold one, and some like Senn in response to reading Frizzell’s book, which was given to pastors who attended the LBC annual meeting.
A Solemn Assembly is a gathering of people designed to appeal meaningfully to the Most Holy God to bring revival to His people and throughout the land. Joel 1:14 in the New International Version puts it this way: Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord.
“There are not less than twelve revival movements in the Old Testament,” wrote Richard Owen Robert, in his booklet The Solemn Assembly – published by International Awakening Press of Wheaton, Ill., and republished in various forms on the Internet. “… [T]here are at least four factors preceding each revival which they all hold in common.”
• A period of moral and spiritual decline among the people of God.
• A righteous judgment from God.
• An immensely burdened leader or leaders.
• Some extraordinary action – most often a Solemn Assembly.
Senn said he became “overwhelmed with grief” when he realized how far he had gotten from his usually close walk with God.
“When I lost it [close relationship with God], my relationship with my wife faltered,” Senn said to the congregation at the Solemn Assembly. “I love her. It’s her breath that makes my heart beat. …” He spoke of other people he knew he had offended, and how God said to him, ‘You’re either going to do what I tell you to do, or I’m through with you.” Senn apologized individually to each, “and God said, ‘Now I’ll anoint you.’”
For 21 days prior to Crockett Point’s Feb. 20 Solemn Assembly, the congregation was asked to participate in a “Daniel fast,” taken from Daniel 10:2-3, which in the Holman Christian Standard Bible reads, In those days, I, Daniel, was mourning for three whole weeks. I didn’t eat any rich food, no meat or wine entered my mouth, and I didn’t put any oil [on my body] until the three weeks were over.
“The point of Daniel 10:3 stresses the sheer delightfulness or desirability of the food,” Archie England told the Baptist Message. England is Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
England went on to explain, “Perhaps a better metaphor than ‘rich’ would be the old adage: ‘I could eat my weight in that dish!’ Daniel did not merely deny himself normal food staples: he denied himself the most treasured delicacies of desirable tastes. In other words, it was really good food that he abstained from.”
Senn led the church members to fast the way they felt led by God. Variations included no food at all, fasting from one meal a day, fasting from one item (such as ‘meat’) for a week and similar strategies. During the time they were fasting, they were to pray.
“During the times of prayer they were simply to seek God,” Senn said. “We were seeking the presence of God in our own lives.”
In addition to personal prayer, someone was at the church each of the 21 days, to pray for the church corporately, the pastor said.
Those who walked into Crockett Point Baptist Church’s worship the evening of the solemn assembly were met with a holy reverence. The church, three-quarters full 15 minutes before the service was scheduled to start, was bathed in candlelight. Senn later said at least 235 people participated in the country church’s Solemn Assembly, up from a typical 200 people in Sunday morning worship.
As the service started, Senn walked onto the platform softly singing “There’s a sweet sweet spirit in this place,” accompanied by Music Director Richie Kelly at the piano. Settling himself in a side chair, he and Kelly led the congregation in “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, here’s just something about that name,” “Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” and “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord,” before standing to open the Solemn Assembly.
“We are challenged tonight as individuals and as a church body,” Senn preached. “Our purpose is to come clean with God. God already knows … [everything.] We’re here first to deal with sins in the church.
“We’re not stepping up to the standard God set for this church,” Senn continued. “The thing that drives my heart is that I believe God wants to do a great soul-winning evangelistic work through this church. But God can’t trust us with new souls and baby Christians until we get our nursery in order.”
A soft murmur of agreement spread across the congregation.
Three steps must be taken, Senn said: face up to shortcomings; repent of them, and start anew.
“These [shortcomings of the church] came to me several times from members of the congregation,” the pastor said. “We’re not faithful; we’re staying home – from church, from Sunday school. We need to repent. … We’ve lost our evangelical zeal for lost souls. We need to repent. … People without Christ Go To Hell. … It’s our job to go reach them.
“And folks, we’ve turned inward,” Senn continued. “It’s all about us. But we didn’t build this building for us. We built it for those you bring to Christ! … We need to come together in unity and say, ‘Guilty as charged.’ As a church, we need to tell God we’re sorry. …”
When the pastor called for people in the congregation to add to his list of church shortcomings, the list grew longer.
“We haven’t loved everyone equally.”
“We’re guilty of not discipling babes in Christ.”
“When we come to church, we don’t really worship.”
The first five to speak were all women. Then men joined in and people spoke up across the congregation.
“I’m not witnessing like I should.”
“I’m too proud.”
“What came to me was, ‘God didn’t save you to sit.’”
“Letting Satan take a grain of sand and turn it into a mountain.”
“We’re satisfied with the 99; we don’t go after the one.”
“Unfaithful in the tithe.”
“I’m all for foreign missions, but not doing missions at home is just wrong.”
“Letting our old members fall through the cracks.”
Pastor Senn: “We stand accountable. Guilty as charged.” He spoke of corporate-wide repentance, and then dealing with the issues raised.
“Tonight we confess our sins, our dependency, our need,” he prayed. “Put our feet on a new path … that we might minister to people who are hurting.”
At this point the congregation turned to their personal sins. Individuals spoke non-specifically about sins of omission, sins of commission, sins of thoughts, attitudes, speech, relationships and self-reliance. Each sin acknowledgement was followed by prayer for that person and others who confessed in their hearts the same sin.
It was an evening of confession and prayer, followed by the Lord’s Supper.
“In our Solemn Assembly we had a lot of people who restored fellowship with each other,” Senn said a week later. “We had a number of people who had been dealing with sin in their lives who were able to repent and deal with those issues.”
A young women’s prayer group that had formed during the 21-day Daniel Fast saw so many answers to their prayers that they determined at the Solemn Assembly to continue meeting. The idea for an area-wide youth crusade was also birthed at the Solemn Assembly.
“These are the things that make a difference in the life of a church,” Senn said. “The Solemn Assembly was a culmination of the weeks leading up to it. The prayer, fasting and repentance brought us back together, to be the church God wants us to be.”