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Power for Ministry: Strange Fire or Refiner’s Fire?

By Byron D. Klaus

George Sweeting, former pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, tells of a family vacation he took to Niagara Falls early one spring. Ice was still rushing down the Niagara River; and as the large blocks of ice flowed by, he could see carcasses of fish embedded in the ice. Gulls by the score were riding down the river feeding on those fish. As they came to the falls, they lifted their wings and escaped, flying back up the river to start the feeding routine again.

Sweeting noticed one gull was engrossed in eating; and, at the brink of the falls, the bird flapped and flapped and even lifted the ice out of the water. However, it had delayed its escape too long, and its claws had frozen to the ice. The weight of the ice was too great and the gull plunged over the falls.

MOTIVES FOR MINISTRY

In a similar way, our motives for ministry are ultimately tested. There comes the inevitable Niagara Falls that measures the true intent of our ministry. Motivation is most clearly revealed when we look at the sources of power with which we carry out our ministry.

The purpose of power can be seen from a variety of perspectives. In John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Lucifer speaks and reveals the essence of self-centered motivation and use of power when he says, "Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven."

Frederick Nietzsche, the 19th-century philosopher, suggested that the prime motivation of humanity was the desire to control our own destiny and impose our will on others. A minister may recoil at such a stark definition of improper motivation and misuse of power, but we ministers must face the fact we do deal in the commodity of power.

Cheryl Forbes, in her book Religion of Power, says: "The cassock of righteousness becomes the vestment of power." At this crucial point Pentecostal ministers must realize that as people of power and victory we have a unique Achilles’ heel. Our vulnerability is this: In the day-to-day ministry, we are often tempted to settle for alternative images and sources of power that fall short of our birthright as Pentecostal believers.

Is it possible that we have listened too many times to the reports that Pentecostals are the largest Protestant group in the world? Could we have allowed our power sources to be mixed with the heady coming-of-age as a respected group in our community, nation, and world? Dr. James Dobson provides some appropriate caution: "What we own soon owns us."

The question for many people is: Who has the power?

Paul faced people in Corinth with differing definitions of what it meant to have power. First Corinthians 1:22 suggests the forms of power prized in that day. The Jews were into signs—displays of dynamic certainty. The Greeks were slick and suave—they valued power that was subtle; that expressed itself not with a sword, but flowery rhetoric, wisdom, and one-upmanship. Interestingly, the expectations of our world still follow similar patterns.

People in the third world live in ways that necessitate images of an immediate power to help them. They wonder: From where will my next meal come? Where can I find a job to buy a meal? What government will provide jobs so I can work, so I can eat? A vast portion of our world still expects power to be displayed suddenly, forcefully, and convincingly. Who has the power to bring liberation—freedom in the present, the now?

Western society tends to see definitions of power in subtle ways: dressing for success, the power lunch, and the corporate ladder that will secure the good life. My divine right is prosperity. Power in the New Age movement takes the form of the self-hypnotic mind over matter or altered states of consciousness that motivational power brokers peddle (for a price) to the masses waiting to be enlightened.

But what about Pentecostal preachers? What images of power allure us? Though we may reject the manipulative power by which some leaders have risen to notoriety, we still live in the day-to-day ministry world that demands a spiritual power we sometimes find in short supply. For example:

To add insult to injury:

At this point even Pentecostal ministers ask: Where do I get the necessary resources to do God’s work? At this point we also reveal our Achilles’ heel. Like Abraham, we are at times too willing to settle for the sure thing, rather than believe the promise fulfilled by the coming Isaac (Genesis 15–21.)

Our vulnerability is this: In the day-to-day ministry, we are often tempted to settle for alternative images and sources of power that fall short of our birthright as Pentecostal believers.

The apostle Paul saw the price exacted by the images of power that pervaded his day. In 1 Corinthians 1:27–29, he clearly showed God’s counterlogic to such a destructive spiral. God says He cares about His creation so much He will undercut all images of power in vogue, replacing the images with unlikely alternatives. He will defeat all powers of this earth. He paid the price once and for all, and we are freed from the grasp of these temporal powers. Parallel texts in Ephesians 4:8 and Colossians 2:15 give us another picture of a triumphant Jesus cast in a picture typical of Roman triumph. Paul proclaimed that every image of power that man can conceive has been publicly humiliated in the heavenlies, being triumphed over by the power of the Cross.

Finding True Power

We cannot afford to let contemporary definitions of success, effectiveness, and relevant methodology impact us. We need to realize that in the heat of the battle in day-to-day ministry, the world offers some alluring alternatives. The rugged individualism, bigger is better, position is power, and one-upmanship mindsets—too often typical of ministry—can and do bear fruit, all of which are lethal.

Christ has shown the powers for what they are once and for all. To succumb to a defeated power wafts a stench of slavery to a dying world that desperately needs the sweet fragrance of the Cross.

Allow me to share several suggested paths to deliverance from the powers.

1. Affirm Christ has already defeated the powers.

Pentecostals affirm that as we walk through the doorway of the baptism in the Spirit, we run straight into Jesus. Our pioneers were overwhelmed in the presence of this Jesus who is Savior, Baptizer, Healer, and soon-coming King. Let us be reminded that, "The plain things are the main things, and the main things are the plain things."

This Jesus is Savior. His redeeming love is eternal and He is on the offensive to redeem the lost.

This Jesus is the Baptizer. He wishes to superimpose His logic of purpose and power over my attempts at heroic efforts in His name. He does so in the glory of the baptism in the Holy Spirit and subsequent daily discipline of glossolalia that conforms my mind to His eternal purposes.

Jesus is the Healer as we look at broken lives—physically, mentally, and relationally. It may be second nature for us to affirm that Jesus is Healer, but perhaps the question today is Christ’s own poignant inquiry, "Who do you say that I am? Am I your Healer in this moment in space and time?"

Jesus is the soon-coming King. As we struggle with tragedy, injustice, government, poverty, and hunger, we can realistically affirm that one day we will sing, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord [and of His power] and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever" (Revelation 11:15, NASB).

2. Do not ask for restoration to former glory, but rebirth with a passion for Jesus.

Those times and places where our Lord touched us in the past were glorious, but they can also be a limitation to what we expect God to do for us when things aren’t so exciting. Nostalgia has no place in the restoration of proper motivation and purpose for ministry.

3. Pray that we may discern Christ’s ministry among us.

Eugene Peterson has called a maturing walk with God "a long obedience in the same direction." Such obedience gives us clarity about to whose power we have given ourselves. This constant seeking for discernment into Christ’s work by His Spirit is neither professional theologizing or empty charismania. It is a necessity for a Pentecostal minister for whom a passion for Christ-centered and empowered ministry is a must.

4. When the Spirit convicts us of those alternative forms of power we have succumbed to, the only proper response is repentance.

The Bible is clear that being sorry and saddened are not enough when responding to priorities, motives, and actions that are displeasing to God. Repentance is the only proper response. Repentance precedes any revival, personal or corporate.


Byron D. Klaus, D.Min., is president of the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, Missouri.

References

Badaracco, Joseph Jr., and Ruben Ellsworth. Leadership and the Quest for Integrity. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1989.

Exley, Richard. Perils of Power. Tulsa: Harrison House, 1988.

Forbes, Cheryl. Religion of Power. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983.

Shuster, Margaret. Power, Pathology, and Paradox. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987.

Yukl, Gary. Leadership in Organizations, 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1989.

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