Evangelist Todd Bentley, whose unorthodox appearance and methods have attracted worldwide attention, will leave the long-running revival he has led here, it was announced Monday, although the local pastor who brought Bentley to Lakeland vows the revival will continue.
Bentley's last day leading the Florida Outpouring revival will be Aug. 23, said Lynne Breidenbach, revival spokesperson. The enormous white tents on the grounds of Sun n' Fun Fly-in, where the revival has been held since early June, will be taken down after that night's service.
The Florida Outpouring began at Ignited Church of Lakeland on April 2, with Bentley, a 32-year-old Canadian, as a guest evangelist. Bentley was originally scheduled to lead services for a week, but when large crowds began flocking to the church, he agreed to stay on, and the revival has continued every day since then.
Hundreds of thousands of people from across the United States and the world have attended the revival, which outgrew at least four venues before tents were set up at Sun n' Fun. Early on, the services were streamed live over the Internet, and some observers have credited the Internet for the rapid growth of the revival.
During the past several weeks, Bentley occasionally has been absent from the evening services, turning them over to guest evangelists or associates of his evangelistic ministry. He will return to lead the services tonight, but he already has scheduled appearances at revivals in Los Angeles; Louisville, Ky.; and Spokane, Wash., before Aug. 23.
"He's going to be here regularly, just not seven nights a week," Breidenbach said.
After leaving the Florida Outpouring, Bentley will conduct revivals overseas, including in the United Kingdom and Sudan, according to his ministry's Web site.
The Rev. Stephen Strader, pastor of Ignited Church, said Bentley made the decision to relinquish leadership of the revival last week.
"He and I had both been praying about what God wants us to do," Strader said. "There have been all sorts of rumors, but everything is OK. This has nothing to do with anything else."
Ignited Church will continue the revival, holding services every night after Bentley leaves, Strader said. And he is negotiating with other Lakeland churches to host services a few nights a week.
"We're ready to take over. We don't know at this point what venues we'll use," he said. "Most services we'll be able to handle here at Ignited. We do anticipate crowds dropping off after Todd leaves."
But Bentley may put in an occasional appearance. He plans to keep an office in Lakeland, in addition to his Fresh Fire Ministries headquarters in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Breidenbach said.
One of the churches that might participate in ongoing services is Believers Fellowship, at which Jeff Garvin, a Bentley associate, has preached in recent weeks.
"Stephen Strader is really the right man for this," said the Rev. Wayne Friedt, pastor of Believers Fellowship. "He's experienced, he's prepared. They'll still pack out Ignited Church."
Bentley, covered with tattoos and employing antics borrowed from professional wrestling, has proved controversial. The revival has drawn attention for its claims of numerous miraculous healings of serious illnesses. Bentley has also claimed that more than two dozen people have been raised from the dead as a result of prayers offered at the revival.
Even some fellow Pentecostals have questioned whether Bentley's revivals have placed enough emphasis on preaching and calls for repentance. A recent set of guidelines from the Assemblies of God, the largest predominantly white Pentecostal denomination in the United States, seemed to question the Florida Outpouring's emphasis on miracles. Local pastors have expressed skepticism about exaggerated claims.
Recent news reports have been unable to verify any of the claims of healing, although Strader said privacy concerns and laws forbidding the release of medical records have prevented revival officials from releasing complete information about the identities and conditions of people claiming to be healed.