Right after arriving in Sudan for long-term ministry, my family moved in with a Muslim family. After a few days, one of our adult “brothers,” Muhammad, got malaria. This was the opportunity for Jesus to reveal himself! I jumped up instantly: “Can I pray for your healing?”
“Sure.” The same afternoon Muhammad raced toward me: “Emanuel, I can’t believe it! My malaria is gone. I am better. You must also pray for Adil [his younger brother], he has got this bad back problem.” I felt like I was dreaming! Here the Jesus movement was beginning, with us having barely arrived in the country!! --- But it did not. Muhammad showed no gratitude to Jesus, nor did he develop any interest in him at all. Despite the miracle they all talked about, no one in our host family ever came into the kingdom. Not Muhammad, not Adil, not anyone. I was so disappointed.
A few years later, a movement did start in a different part of the country. With the exception of a couple of minor healings in response to praying for people, the movement breakthrough occurred without any high-caliber public miracles. What role do miracles play in movements? How much should we seek them and pray for them? You will find answers to these and other questions in this article, based on real-life cases from more than 300 movement ministries. I hope it will deepen your understanding of what miracles and movements have to do with you, and will build expectant faith in you.
The Impact of Miracles on Movement Breakthrough
The movements happening around the world today are extraordinary phenomena! Beyond the numbers and beyond the harsh contexts in which many are happening, many of these movements are characterized by miracles, signs and wonders. In my surveys I ask catalysts, “To what extent have signs and wonders accompanying proclamation contributed to the catalyzing of your movement?” This graph displays the answers to this question. You can see the differences between catalysts and non-catalysts.
Graph 1: The Contribution of Miracles to Movements
Overall, miracles contribute significantly to movements; for 54% of catalysts surveyed, they contributed very significantly. More than five times as many catalysts considered miracles "somewhat" or "very" significant as those who saw them as "neutral," "not at all," or "not very" significant.
However, we must be careful not to overstate their importance. Fifteen percent of the catalysts saw movements happen without miracles playing a significant role. When my research compared the impact of miracles with 10 other factors contributing to the catalyzing of movements, this was one of the less significant, with only four factors rating lower. So miraculous phenomena are not a universal prerequisite for movements. However, they do carry weight in most of the cases.
Examples of Signs and Wonders
To give a vivid picture, I want to share some of the actual experiences of catalysts. What kind of signs and wonders did they witness? What was the impact on the people they were seeking to reach? How did these advance God’s kingdom?
A catalyst from South Asia described supernatural acts of healing and deliverance as a normal part of his ministry:
Deliverance ministry and other answered prayers have a big impact in a village. Most villages are filled with evil spirits... all families have issues—whether sickness, marital conflict, problems with the children, unemployment, or whatever. They tell us their problems and we pray for them. It’s just a simple prayer that can affect these people… and because they have seen miracles, they bring along others too.
From Southeast Asia came a similar report:
I think we went from about 200 to 1,500 house churches within a period of three years after we started to preach and teach on healing. Now we have a movement of people who—mostly the women—love to lay hands on the sick and anoint people with coconut oil. From these and other such stories it is clear that, just as in the Acts of the Apostles, miraculous events can lead to multiplication of the church when accompanied by a culturally appropriate presentation of the gospel message.
Not all supernatural events involve healing, as this South Asian catalyst’s story shows:
I've been in a village where all the dogs from the village just came charging at me. A crowd of people—maybe 50-60 or 100 people—were standing there and they were wondering, ‘What's going on here?’ All the street dogs were about to bite … —and I just took the authority. I looked at the dogs and I said, ‘In Jesus’ name I command you to go!’ The dogs turned and went away, with all those people watching. Inside, of course, you are scared but outside you have to recognize who you represent because you are in Christ.
Sometimes the catalysts themselves were taken by surprise when God used them in supernatural ways. A church planter in East Asia, whose denomination was (as he puts it) “not into signs and wonders,” told this story:
A man invited us to his house, and we were talking until about 2:00am. His mother was sick in bed, with an I.V. bottle next to her... I laid hands on her and prayed, and as I did so I felt a heat coming from my hands… At breakfast the next morning this old woman who had been bedridden was there helping to cook the breakfast!
Miracles contribute significantly to movements!
Again, some catalysts reported that their movements began without any accompanying signs and wonders, so we need to be careful about over-emphasizing this factor.
Impact of Conversions without Human Involvement
So far we have focused on miracles in general. I also asked catalysts a related question: “To what extent have you experienced conversions without human involvement contributing to your fruit, for example Jesus appearing to people in dreams or visions, or people coming to faith by reading the Bible without any human agent involved?” Graph 2 shows their response, again contrasting catalysts and non-catalysts:
Graph 2: Conversions without Human Involvement
Graph 2 shows an interesting contrast to graph 1, with a far greater percentage at the lower end of the scale, indicating that “supernatural” conversions without human involvement are much less common than miracles in general. Also, the results here are more evenly spread between effective catalysts and the control group. Again, catalysts’ first-hand reports shed more light on these raw statistics. A catalyst in East Africa described the impact of dreams on his ministry:
Every time someone came to the church it was almost always because of having had a dream. For example, one man was a neighbor who had seen us meeting for three years. He had three dreams. In the first he was climbing a coconut tree and fell off it. In the second dream he was on his bed and his head was being cut off. Then in the third dream he saw a man in white—Jesus—who told him to come to him. Almost everyone in the church had had a significant dream. …. Almost everything God does is outside of us.
In South Asia, a catalyst had been sharing the gospel with one family for some time and watched them “kind of inching towards faith.” One of the sons, however, belonged to a radical fundamentalist Islamic movement and planned to kill the catalyst. He didn’t follow through with his plan, and a year later, disillusioned with Islam, he saw Jesus in a dream:
Jesus told him, “I have a gift for you and your family: people are going to explain it and when they arrive you must listen to them.” The whole family ended up coming to faith because of that dream. They all came together: about 18-19 people, including some girls who had married in…. They just started telling people and all we did was to keep studying Scripture with them.
Among 11 factors that contribute to movements, effective catalysts rate six others as making a bigger contribution than miracles.
Catalysts’ Personal Experience with the Miraculous
The catalysts in an earlier study of mine (Prinz, 2016; 2022) provided additional details about their personal experiences of the miraculous, which span a broad spectrum. Many said they have a miraculous gift and practice it frequently, while others reported that they don’t have such a gift and even that no miracles at all have happened in the entire catalyzing of their movement.
The miraculous experiences reported fall into four categories: prophetic words, supernatural revelations, miraculous answers to prayer, and dreams and visions.
Rationale for “No Miracles”
The apostolic leaders who effectively catalyzed a movement, yet practiced miraculous gifts infrequently or not at all, gave the following rationales (Prinz, 2022: 93):
● Although the apostolic leader did not practice a miraculous gift, local believers did. Two reasons were given: one, it promotes the health of the churches and demotes the foreigner; and two, it demonstrates to Muslims that following Jesus is not only the religion of the foreigner.
● Catalysts wanted the faith of believers to rest on Scripture, and wanted their focus to be on sin, repentance, and forgiveness, rather than on miracles.
● Miraculous gifts were not a significant part of the apostolic leader’s personal tradition and theology.
● Miracles were necessary for the initial breakthrough, but not in the later stages of the movement.
Also, in many of these cases, apostolic leaders other than the primary catalyst reported practicing a miraculous gift among the people group, which contributed to the movement.
Miracles can be explained at least in part by the faith and prayer life of catalysts.
Rationale for “Miracles!”
I asked catalysts to describe in what way their miraculous gifts had contributed to the catalyzing of their movement. Their answers can be summarized as follows (Prinz, 2022: 91-72):
● Prophecy reveals ministry strategy to the catalyst. It reveals how to pray specifically, and it reveals ministry problems before they become obvious, so they can be addressed early and effectively. ● Miraculous answers to prayer in the name of Jesus serve as evidence to Muslims of the authority of the name of Jesus, demonstrating that spiritual power in Jesus is greater than theirs, which makes them want to join the movement. ● Miracles cause people to pray to God, and even encourage Muslims to gather together to pray, which leads to house churches being formed. ● Seeing prophecies fulfilled stimulates faith and boldness among believers. ● The catalyst’s example (even if miracles are only a few) leads to local believers walking in miraculous gifting (often with more miracles). ● Dreams (for which a catalyst had been praying) about the Bible or Jesus, or an instruction to meet an apostolic leader or local believer – led to Muslims being convinced of the gospel.
The following example illustrates a number of these factors:
The apostolic leader received a prophetic word from God to pray specifically for a miracle that would bring a particular family to faith in Jesus within twelve hours. The catalyst devoted himself to prophetic intercession. The next night someone in the family received a prophetic dream, which led the entire family to faith the next morning. In this family a house church was started, and from this house church a movement began.
In some of the movements, miraculous gifts have played a very significant role, as shown by this example from Southeast Asia:
In our group of now 11 movements, from seven key nationals and myself, … this phenomenon widely starts new clusters of groups. Last week at our quarterly retreat, we took a two-hour session to hear stories of miracles, and each of about 10 people contributed stories, trying to limit themselves to two miracle stories each, while some slipped into three stories. Almost all the stories had the commonality that at least seven believer groups in three generations were spurred from one miracle.
The fact that a single miracle could lead to seven new house churches being established, as a consistent pattern among ten different apostolic leaders, points to the significant role of miracles in the catalyzing of some of the movements.
The Correlation of Miracles with the Catalyst’s Faith and Prayer Life
The best explanation for the occurrence of signs and wonders is to seek its connection to the traits of the movement catalyst. When we look at Scripture, we see that God often performs signs and wonders in response to faith and prayer. See for example what Jesus promises in this regard:
“Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it,
and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:22-24)
The first disciples in the book of Acts practiced and experienced this, praying:
“Stretch out your hands to heal and perform signs and wonders…” After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. (Acts 4:30-31)
Indeed, two of the traits that consistently characterize effective catalysts are expectant faith (see my blog Expectant Faith for a Movement and How to Cultivate It) and deep prayer (see my blog A Peek into the Prayer Life of Movement Catalysts). With all effective catalysts exhibiting expectant faith and deep prayer, and miracles occurring in movements as frequently as we have seen, an association can be established between these catalyst traits and miracles. Scripture evidently supports this interpretation. The miracles occurring in movements can be explained, at least in part, by the faith and prayer life of catalysts.
How You Can Cultivate Faith and Prayer – A Growth Path
These are some practical steps you can take to develop your own faith. I have gleaned these from my own journey and the journeys of many other catalysts I have surveyed.
▪ Meditate regularly on the Gospels and Acts, a practice that many effective catalysts report to have bolstered their expectant faith for miracles.
▪ Carry the bag of someone with significant faith for and experience with miracles, in order to look over their shoulder and learn from them, and for your faith be challenged and inspired.
▪ Dare to take steps of faith and offer to pray for people outside the kingdom.
▪ Even if no miracles happen, you have lost nothing; you have demonstrated to someone tangible love and your spiritual identity.
▪ Regularly share testimonies of any miracles (small or large) among your team and partners, to see where God is already at work, and for your faith to be bolstered.
What Are Your Thoughts?
I would love to hear from you. What are YOUR thoughts? What is your experience? Leave a comment below! If you prefer to private-message me, you can use the contact form.
Learn more about the Catalytic Qualities of effective catalysts like Expectant Faith or Deep Prayer in my book Movement Catalysts. You can order your copy here!
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Emanuel Prinz – Father’s Beloved & Movement Activist
If you are interested in more on this topic, you’ll find additional data and insights in this more academic article: Prinz, Emanuel, and Goldhor, Alison. 2022. “The Role of Signs and Wonders in Movement Breakthrough.” Global Missiology 19(3):27-36.
Other titles referenced:
Prinz, Emanuel. 2016. “The Leadership Factor in Church Planting Movements: An Examination of the Leader Traits and Transformational Leadership Competencies of Pioneer Leaders Effective in Catalyzing a Church Planting Movement among a Muslim People Group.” DMin Doctoral dissertation, Columbia, SC: Columbia International University.
Prinz, Emanuel. 2022. Movement Catalysts: Profile of an Apostolic Leader. Walsall: Amazon.