Whatever happened to Todd Bentley and the Lakeland Awakening?

October 9, 2008

An article by Gerald Coates

What of a situation, where instead of a privileged upbringing, members of your family are drug addicts, poor, abusive, alcoholic, violent and often absent. What are the chances of becoming a good, healthy, Christian influencer?

Possible? Yes

Likely? No!

And this is the background of Todd Bentley, who grew up, or some might say failed to grow up, in a dysfunctional, damaging environment. In former years he was a victim who like many others, in turn, victimised.

As young as 11 he was a regular drinker and later a drug taker, aided by his father.

An encounter with Christ changed much of that, but as AW Tozer once commented, sin ruins our manhood, and the road to recovery is very much longer than we’d like it to be.

Until earlier this year, Todd Bentley, a stocky, tattooed biker, was a revivalist. In the western world he spoke at meetings of no more than a few hundred people.  But all that was about to change in the first week of April 2008. He was to be in Lakeland, Florida for a few days for what the Americans call a “revival”, where through extended worship, prayer and preaching the church is revived. And hopefully the unchurched and backsliders have a life changing experience, bringing them into relationship with Christ.

Rob de Luca from New Zealand prophesied to Todd that he should get ready for this special series of meetings and that something unique was going to take place. The meetings started with a few hundred people, but because of the miracles, healing and deliverances, crowds quickly grew to thousands and a special tent-like building was constructed that held up to 10,000.

God TV realised something very special was taking place and began to broadcast the previous evening’s event, followed by a live broadcast. It was compelling viewing. And the initial few days turned into around 4 months, 7 nights a week.

However, Todd himself was unconventional and created controversy. It wasn’t just the meetings themselves, he was now being broadcast live into well over a hundred nations and some smaller TV channels were taking a feed and broadcasting themselves, so we have no idea as to how many nations or people were viewing this, but we can safely say millions.

With his background and age he was an unlikely candidate for global evangelism and healing. And I don’t share his background to excuse, rather to understand.

Then came the bombshell. Advisors were saying that Todd was going to leave his wife (she was not leaving him), and that there was an emotional involvement with another woman in the ministry and lots more rumour. Some true and some completely untrue but all on the web.

As time went on it became clear there was a very serious history here and he was asked to step down from ministry and was offered help and support, hopefully leading to repentance and restoration.

Sadly, it is in times like these, that parts of the body of Christ can look really ugly. I do not recall a moment of glee (from charismatic evangelicals), when a leading male Reformed Bible teacher (non-charismatic) from Cambridge left his wife, children, church and significant conference ministry, to set up home with his male assistant.

Sadness? Yes. Bewilderment? Certainly.

But it has to be said, that the “I told you so” brigade made their ugly feelings known, far more concerned they had been right than caring for Todd’s wife, children or the many thousands who’ve been saved, turned to Christ or healed. And I know some of these people.

One of the most surprising and saddest moments, was when my friend Dr. RT Kendall, now residing in the USA, wrote an open letter carried in the last issue of Sorted.

In fairness to him, this was written before the closing chapter of the Lakeland Awakening.

Basically, in the light of a number of concerns, he concludes that the Lakeland phenomenon was not of God. He rightly explained in his article that this is what he concluded regarding Toronto in 1994. Stating this at an EA meeting I was present at, I quipped that he would regret saying this. That afternoon he then asked for prayer to receive the blessing. To the shock of us all, a non-Charismatic Reformed minister, not involved in the prayer promptly feel to the floor “slain in the Spirit”. RT therefore changed his mind.

So are we saying here, that Roy Fields, who led a lengthy time of praise, worship, adoration and thanksgiving most nights, was also not of God?

Or were the Bible readings not of God?

Were all those who claimed to be healed (and he only repeated what they claimed) also not of God?

I’m currently mentoring a guy in his 20s who gets married in a few weeks, and his fiancé was healed of a serious back conditioned she’d had for years in the first meeting, in the worship, without a word of prayer! And I see her regularly.

There is no evidence in scripture to suggest that the devil loves Christians singing God honouring songs with Bible based lyrics. Some of them started life here in the UK.

Some of RT’s concerns I share, and through a mutual friend I advised Todd to step back from saying certain things as they were a distraction from the main message – which he did. But I heard some good preaching and teaching from Todd and his colleagues, and how you get the balance right 7 nights a week for 4 months, I do not know!

A 21st century revival in the west will probably come from unexpected quarters and in unexpected ways.
Perhaps it’s significant that over 2 million people have been to an Alpha Course, thousands turn out to J John’s Ten course, there are nearly a thousand Fresh Expressions of church (most of which are expressions of mission) that are traceable, and after a lull of over a decade the New Churches (formerly House Churches) are beginning a pro-active programme of church planting and mission.

But back to Todd… what are we to make of him and those 4 amazing months?

I’ve never met Todd, or visited Lakeland, though I did visit Toronto and made good friends of John and Carol Arnott. And I also visited Brownsville, Florida, and on numerous occasions I talked to pastor John Kilpatrick, his preaching colleague, Steve Hill, and made friends with worship leader Lindell Cooley.

So  let’s go back to the Bible. Was Lakeland not of God, or is it possible or even likely that God chose Todd?

Take a look at scripture and read about the sensuous, naive Samson, or Abraham getting his wife to lie, or David, who is addicted to sex, gets a man killed so he can have his wife, or the Apostle Peter who was motivated by fear and became a racist, confronted by the Apostle Paul.

If I were promoting a religion I would take many people out of the Old and New Testament as they are hopeless examples of lovers of Jehovah and followers of Christ.

But God has left Biblical figures in the storyline I would have erased, to encourage people like you and me – flawed, deceptive, dishonest and professional in the art of cover ups.

Our sin may not be as damaging as going off with someone else and leaving family, but different sorts of sin have different sorts of repercussions.

So to conclude, why was the young Billy Graham (now my hero, he is 90 years old on November 7th!) so successful when others (and sadly and I could name a few more) have failed, tragically, and often publicly.

Well Billy, surrounded himself with people who were different to him. He and the team began to live by self imposed rules, because perception is sometimes more important than reality.

Being alone with someone of the other sex, issues relating to what to eat and drink, were all settled fairly early on.

I know of national ministries who choose to share a room with a colleague or an assistant. It assures the late night TV channels are kept off. And whether it be through God’s doing or not, some of us at various times in our ministries have had a profile out of all proportion to our holiness, Godliness and devotion to Christ.
It’s true that each one of us, whether that profile be local, regional, national or international, have put our trust in Christ, but he trusts us with gifts and callings.

But it’s up to us, by His Grace, to make ourselves accountable and at times vulnerable and transparent. God knows everything there is to know about us and we can trust him with the information. A few good God fearing people around us supporting, encouraging and at times correcting us will cause a little bit of what’s in heaven to come to the earth.

I could perhaps do no better than finish with some words of my other hero, AW Tozer, with what is often labelled The Prayer of the Minor Prophet he prays “I am unworthy of the least of my mercies, and if men knew me as intimately as I know myself, they would withhold their honours or bestow them on others more worthy to receive them”

And elsewhere, “save me from myself and from the all the injuries I may do myself while trying to be a blessing to others.”

Amen and Amen!


Is Florida Awakening?

June 19, 2008

I have now received sufficient emails, telephone calls and have had face-to-face conversations about the Florida “Revival/Awakening” which is being led by the 32 year old Canadian evangelist/healing revivalist Todd Bentley.

This is a brief and measured response, not having been out there but having watched hours of it on television and spoken to numerous friends who’ve not only been out there but have come back healed.


Early April Todd Bentley was to have had a series of meetings lasting a few days at Ignite church, pastored by Steven Strader, son of Karl Strader, prominent in the charismatic Pentecostal movement in the 70s/80s. The building seats 700.

Such were the nature of the miracles that within a week 1,000 were packing the building out. They moved to the church building where Karl Strader pastored for many years – Carpenter’s Church – which seats significantly more than Ignite.

Numbers grew and they packed it out, mainly due to the healings. They then moved to a municipal centre and one of two other venues for a night here or there – there are very few venues that are available week after week, just sitting around completely empty!

As growth has continued they now have a specially constructed auditorium that will be used throughout the summer, seating up to 10,000 people.

I heard about these meetings throughout the first 3 weeks of April, but confess I paid little attention, knowing that because something has profile it doesn’t make it significant and God is doing many, many things throughout the world that most of us know nothing about.

However I then watched it on the God channel and realised this was something significant, especially as programme schedules were, in the main, changed so that at 10pm the last evening’s event is broadcast and then around 12.30am it’s being broadcast live from Lakeland.

Currently it’s being beamed into 214 nations by the God channel but other TV stations are taking feeds, so it’s impossible to work out exactly how many nations or people are watching these programmes.

Evening meetings

Each of these typically begins with up to 1 and a half hours of worship. Similar songs are sung each night as most people are only there for 2 or 3 evenings and then move on or fly home.

During this time Todd is very much taken up with “the presence” or the “glory” of God.

Sometimes there is good teaching on various subjects, though rarely your 45 minute conference talk. Sometimes it’s exhortation and prayer.

It is normal for him not to pray for healing on a one-to-one basis. As worship continues folk are being healed and they come to the front, are screened and all of those who “came to the meeting feeling unwell and now I feel a bit better” are taken out of the line that will eventually end up on stage.

Then there are amazing testimonies normally concluding with Todd laying his hands on them or touching or hitting their chest saying “BAM!”

Those “healed” are told to go to the doctor and get it verified and send in the story and verification.

There are training events most mornings for leaders.


Personal Experience

Though I have not been to Lakeland I have been up to Dudley twice, in the West Midlands near Birmingham. Trevor Baker and his son in law Ryan Baker-Barnes are friends of Todd Bentley and mine and have returned from Lakeland “on fire” and are meeting every night.

Quite clearly people have received healing and numbers of people have made a first time commitment to Christ. As a result of taking up a worship leader who I’ve taken under my wing, he’s going to be working alongside Ryan on an occasional/frequent basis.

At Engage/Church in The Theatre in Leatherhead, Surrey, our response is to get behind the Thursday evening Marsham Street meetings in Westminster. A good percentage of the church attend to pray and serve in different ways. Since we’ve been meeting on Thursdays we’ve seen at least 5 people make first time commitments to Christ in the Leatherhead area.

However this is not a panacea for all our ills and we still deal with pastoral issues just as we did before the “awakening”. However there is a heightened sense of the presence of God, an expectancy that God is going to do something and it’s sobering and fun pretty much at the same time.


1 – this is really not revival

Some have criticised Todd Bentley for not preaching the gospel. But if this is a “revival” then it’s the church that gets revived and from the wash of that blessing comes healing and salvation to those often on the edge of church, in Christian families and youth groups.

We should remember that “going to church” is much more prevalent in the USA than the UK. My guess is that the majority of the population are familiar with the gospel through church, a high proportion of church going friends, Christian TV/radio etc. Far more so than in the UK.

However in terms of Wesley, Whitfield, Spurgeon and other evangelists/revivalists it is not classic revival. But the likelihood of an evangelist turning up in a field or a high street in the 21st century, preaching the gospel and getting a crowd, I would suggest, is about zero.

We are unlikely to see those days ever again. We have to find new ways of communicating.

Muslim leaders in Africa have made it clear that “we are losing ground to Christian believers because of signs, wonders and healings”.

Is this what will turn the Muslim community to Christ?

All I can say is that everyone who’s touched this thing seems to have been revived in their faith and love for Christ and the scriptures.

One person at our recent Thursday evening event said they couldn’t stay out of the Bible.

As for the growing Muslim community in the UK, many of these are very spiritual and share our values. Recently a group from Pioneer were offering prayer in the High Street and it was Muslim people who came up and thanked them for doing this. Leading Muslims, particularly in Africa, have stated “we’re losing ground in cities across Africa, because the Christian leaders have signs and wonders to validate what they’re saying.”

We’ve just seen a Muslim student give his life to Christ after receiving prayer. Bring it on!

2 – this should be in a local church setting

I understand the sentiment but this is an apostolic/prophetic thrust into the world and it’s unlikely that any one church would even begin to know what to do with this.

3 – the prophecies can’t be tested

Most of the prophecies given are that of a “firestorm over England”; or where the awakening will jump to; and some personal prophecies for individuals.

Whilst the mantra that we “test things” from scripture is understandable, only in the broadest sense of the phrase would you be able to test church planting, evangelism and where the revival might jump to against scripture.

Scripture certainly tells us what God is for, what he’s against, and therefore what we should be for or against.

Most prophecy is best tested and worked out after it has happened. And even if it doesn’t it raises numerous questions and it should not be automatically assumed it is not of God.

In scripture one prophet announced “a virgin shall conceive” but died without it happening. He was not a false prophet.

4 – Angels

Todd has made several references to an angel and my counsel to a friend of Todd’s is that he should not mention this.

Weirdly, his critics have accused him of being unbiblical and then criticised his reference to angels… which are biblical actually.

But we’re warned against making much of these in scripture, and when Paul was called up into the 3rd heaven he was forbidden from mentioning what he saw.

However, as charismatic/Pentecostal Christians, we don’t have a good history with key high profile people who are stating they are having angelic visitations.

Pray for Todd

In light of all the above I hope we are not just voyeurs watching him, but praying that God will keep him and he’ll be surrounded by good counsellors.

Is this the devil?

There is no biblical evidence that leads us to believe that the devil loves to hear God’s praises being sung for hours every day, 7 days a week, month after month. Nor does he like the public reading of scripture, praying for the sick in Jesus name, or offering salvation to the crowd. Scripture is key here.

So is the revival flawed?

Well as we are, it has to be. Every church and ministry is flawed, but because of the profile they’re getting this is why we should be in prayer as churches, not simply individuals.

What is our response?

On the day of Pentecost they simply asked “what does this mean” and “what shall we do?”

Some of our leaders in one of our churches were pretty much glued to the Florida Awakening, as was the key leader. He gave a good talk on lessons to be learned from Lakeland.

One guy then asked him “what are we going to do?” and he responded “until God shows us otherwise, we’re just going to carry on as we normally do”

I thought this was exceedingly wise. They are not a large church, don’t have a conference ministry or large database and don’t have any high profile ministries within the church. So they’ve decided to stay out of pressure but honour what God is doing there, and a few are wondering whether they should go out to Florida. And so they should.

For our King and His Kingdom

Gerald Coates