December 2011 – Youth minister Del Fehsenfeld Jr. was stunned at the credibility gap between what his teens professed to believe and how they lived. Even more shocking was his discovery that the same great gap existed in the church at large.
Fehsenfeld believed that gap brought disillusionment to youth, alienated the lost and drained the very spiritual vitality that should mark the body of Christ. It was 1971 and Fehsenfeld was 23, just out of college. But he was sure of one thing: God was calling him to do something about that gap.
As he sensed God’s direction, he began taking steps to organize Life Action Ministries, a movement that would become arguably the nation’s leading revival ministry. (See below for his faith-building account of the early days of LAM).
Looking at Life Action today, Del Fehsenfeld III told AFA Journal, “The ministry has a driving passion to be a catalyst for Christ-centered revival, and to see the overflow of that be a spiritual awakening in the country and worldwide.”
Fehsenfeld is senior editor of LAM publications, and he said LAM continues to emphasize the foundational principles articulated by his late father. One is that revival begins on the inside, thus the focus on the church. A second such principle is that vertical relationship must come before horizontal relationships, i.e., Christians must first be strong in their relationship to God before they can realize solid relationships to other people.
“When you see God for who He is really is, as in Isaiah 6,” Fehsenfeld said, “suddenly you’re in a place to get a really good picture of who you are and what your needs are.”
There’s that troublesome gap again! “And that’s where grace and Christ’s work come in,” Fehsenfeld said, “because He came to bridge that gap. So things like humility, honesty, repentance, brokenness – all those things are birthed out of an accurate vision of God, which changes our attitude.”
And, perhaps, it also opens the opportunity for real revival in the believer’s life.
Entering into revival
Since the ministry had its roots in a youth pastor’s heart, it was only natural that the first major focus would emphasize youth outreach. Music evangelism teams were LAM’s first wave of ministry, offering programs for high school venues and short revival campaigns for churches.
Steve Canfield has been with Life Action since 1975 when he came on board as a singer for one of those early evangelistic teams. He quickly found some things that made him want to plant his feet in this young revival-focused ministry.
“I met some people who were living the things I’d heard preached,” he said. “I grew up in church and went to Bible college, but I had not seen authentic Christianity lived out. It wasn’t necessarily the [spoken] message as much as it was the life message of the people who were here. They were practicing authentic Christianity.”
Today, the Life Action teams still go to churches to help local congregations discover and prepare for their role in bringing revival to the world. A Life Action Summit may last from 8 to 15 days of ministry to the whole church – teaching children, training youth and challenging adults to make sure their hearts are right with God – vertical relationship – and with each other – horizontal relationship. A Life Action Thirst Conference is a four-day event to help the local church address the same issues.
Fehsenfeld cites Proverbs 4:23 as a favorite text underlying Life Action’s approach: “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” For the individual Christ-follower or for the body of Christ, the heart is, indeed, the beginning point for a healthy life of faith.
“When we go into a local church, our desire is to help that church obey what we already know,” Canfield said, “the simple commands of God’s word, holiness and spending time with God and making sure things are right behind the doors of our homes.”
Expanding the reach
The Summit and Thirst events may still be the most recognized components of Life Action, but the ministry has expanded its outreach to focus on other target audiences as well. For example, Revive Our Hearts is a ministry that calls women to freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ. Author and conference leader Nancy Leigh DeMoss hosts two nationally syndicated radio programs for Revive Our Hearts.
The Lodge is LAM’s beautiful, serene setting in southwest Michigan, where the ministry provides a place for pastoral couples and others involved in leadership to take a break from the demands of ministry and find spiritual renewal and physical relaxation.
On college campuses, LAM brings the message of brokenness over sin, the power of the Holy Spirit, transformation, and revival and awakening. This division challenges students to believe God for spiritual renewal and to live authentic lives on their campuses.
Finally, during summer months, the ministry hosts family camps, retreats, and banquets. Many families vacation and meet powerfully with God at Life Action camps. “We take about 30 families a week,” Canfield said, “and we study family revival principles with them.” Life Action teams that travel during the school year assume leadership duties in the summer family camps.
Fehsenfeld summarized the common goal of Life Action’s varied avenues of ministry: “These principles – the primacy of the heart, vertical before horizontal relationships, inside before outside – these are the foundational principles of this ministry.”
“We can’t make revival happen,” Canfield concluded, “but we can set our sails to catch the winds of heaven so when God chooses to blow among His people, we’re ready, we’re prepared.”
“It won’t work,” they said.
Del Fehsenfeld: “What do you think of my vision?”
Wise Christian leaders: “It won’t work.”
Almighty God: “Just watch Me!”
With the faith of a child, the passion of a youth and the vision of a warrior for Christ, Del Fehsenfeld Jr. said, “Yes, Lord, I’ll go.” Del was a 23-year-old youth minister in St. Petersburg, Florida, an unlikely candidate to begin a nationwide revival movement.
In the next 60 days, he and his wife Judy traveled 18,000 miles through 32 states, sharing their vision and seeking counsel from more than 200 Christian leaders, pastors and laymen alike. The great majority told them, “It won’t work.”
In 1984, Del wrote a first-person history of LAM, including this excerpt about its founding:
“In the next few months, as I traveled preaching the message of revival, we selected five young people who became our first team. I will never forget the night they arrived from all over the country at the Tampa International Airport. We drove them across the beautiful bay to the beautiful new Christian college campus we were borrowing for our first training camp. They were overwhelmed.
I sat them down and said, “Welcome to Life Action.” But the next thing I had to tell them was, “We don’t have any money to buy food, so if we are going to eat tomorrow, we need to pray.” That was the truth! We had literally no money. They had never had to pray and trust God for their meals. So we got on our knees and told God about our need and asked Him to provide.
That night the team sang in a local church. Some of the people asked, “Do you have any needs?” I said, “Well, we just had a prayer meeting because we need food for the team to eat tomorrow.” The word spread like wildfire, and the people started bringing in canned goods and food to the campus. One lady [even came to cook].
The next morning after we had eaten breakfast, I broke the real news to our new team members: “This was a good lesson for us to learn, and God came through. Now, we have a few other lessons to learn. You see, we don’t have any music; we don’t have a music director; we don’t have any outfits or equipment, or any money to buy them with; we don’t have any vehicles to travel in, but it really doesn’t matter because we don’t have anywhere to go – we don’t have a schedule booked.”
Once again, we got on our knees. Before training camp was over, God had supernaturally provided every one of those needs.
Though Del Fehsenfeld Jr. went to be with the Lord at age 42 in 1989, his legacy has grown beyond measure. For 40 years, God has continued to reward His faithful servant by expanding the reach of LAM and using the ministry to inspire revival across the nation.
For more information visit www.lifeaction.org or call 269-697-8600.
OneCry for revival
In February 2012, AFA, Life Action and other ministries will launch OneCry, a move to enlist 50,000 intercessors, 5,000 voices and 500 leaders who will make the call to spiritual awakening their primary focus until God works with extraordinary power.
“God impressed on me the simple emphasis of intercession, proclamation and leadership that propelled the movement of God in Acts 1 and 2,” said Byron Paulus, CEO of Life Action. The OneCry initiative was born out of Paulus’ vision. For more information, visit www.onecry.org.