Eternal Resources For Eternal Business
How does a Pentecostal leader cultivate the spiritual dexterity to know when “unauthorized fire” has compromised Pentecostal fire?
The task of leading the 21st-century Pentecostal church is fraught with unique challenges. The expectations from church members and the expectations pastoral leaders place on themselves can be quite daunting and debilitating. H.B. London and Neil Wiseman put it this way: “Contemporary pastors are caught in frightening spiritual and social tornadoes which are now raging through home, church community, and culture. No one knows where the twister might touch down or what values the storms will destroy. Something has to be done. Ministry hazards are choking the hope out of pastors’ souls. They feel disenchanted, discouraged, and often even outraged. … Fatigue shows in their eyes. Worry slows their stride. And vagueness dulls their preaching. … Overwork, low pay, and desperation take a terrible toll as pastors struggle to make sense of crammed calendars, hectic homes, splintered dreams, starving intimacy, and shriveled purposes. Many hold on by their fingernails, hoping to find a hidden spring to refresh their weary spirits and scrambled thoughts.”1
While there will always be a sense of loneliness associated with leading the church, we have ways to reach out for help, support, and intervention in crisis that were unavailable to our forbearers in ministry. And yet the ready availability of these resources may be part of the problem.
The ancient story of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, reminds us of what can happen when we are under pressure and desperately looking for resources to fill the gap. Leviticus 10:1 says: “Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to His command.”
The actions of Nadab and Abihu are typical of a busy pastoral leader. The demands of day-to-day ministry dull us to the eternal dimensions of our actions as a minister called by God. We can be busy doing God’s work with the best intentions, but that same busyness can hinder the connection of the eternal transformative presence of Jesus Christ to the people whose lives are in desperate need of hope and healing.
Nadab and Abihu are not necessarily sinister characters. They simply reflect the tendency most of us have to look for shortcuts when the pressure is on. We justify our actions based on our good intentions. If we are called by God and are serving His mission, it is not difficult to work 80 or more hours a week. That pressure can cause us to easily believe that God grades on a curve, and He will understand why we rely on our own resources in ministry. “It’s all for God’s glory anyway” — or so we rationalize.
A 21st-century equivalent to the “unauthorized fire” that Nadab and Abihu used in their ministry duties would be any ministry activity where a divine task is attempted with reliance on human design alone. Some examples might include:
- When you access a sermon website because you have not taken time to prepare your messages for the week (and you take credit for someone else’s work).
- When professional excellence, supported by technology, is substituted for the dynamic of the Holy Spirit as the primary measure of an effective worship service.
- When the personal charisma and communicative ability of a pastoral leader are the central attracting factors to the growth in a congregation.
The Internet, media technology, and the ability to communicate and relate to others effectively are vital to leadership in the church. These necessary parts of effective leadership are also areas where we can become unclear in our thinking and take the short-term, more immediately available, high-impact resource. Because of the pressure in the ministry today, we can convince ourselves that we are doing a creditable job presenting the eternal transforming power of Jesus Christ.
The Bottom Line
A significant challenge for Pentecostal leaders is not only spiritual warfare against principalities and powers, but also the spiritual discernment to differentiate between Spirit-empowered ministry and ministry that is conducted by human resources alone. Unfortunately, our culture’s propensity for entertainment and the technology we have to support this propensity offers a significant temptation to Pentecostal leaders. A favorite quotable verse in our church is Zechariah 4:6: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit saith the Lord of the hosts” (KJV). This Old Testament prophetic verse highlights the real temptation to rely on human resources and efforts to do God’s work. This small but powerful verse is an enduring reminder that every leader serving God can become too reliant on the human resources so readily available. Even the simple human tendency to believe that working harder can resolve any deficiency in a program or ministry is brought under critique. This verse reminds us that the temptation to offer our resources to the service of God as an adequate substitute for God’s eternal resource is self-deceiving. Only the divine initiative and power of God can accomplish His eternal purposes.
Maybe I Need A Long Vacation
One important way to recognize the difference between human-constructed and Spirit-initiated ministry is for leaders to take time to be refreshed and enjoy life with their families. Jesus often went apart from the people and His disciples to be alone with His Father and gain perspective on His redemptive mission (Matthew 14:23).
But are the pressures of 21st-century ministry ameliorated by taking a vacation or a spiritual retreat? The 24-7 nature of ministry increasingly calls us to add new skills that are needed in a world where busyness is unavoidable. Time management is not adequate, neither is regular days off, nor even vacations. We need an eagle’s perspective in the middle of steady ministry pressures, congregational demands, and personal inadequacies.
The pragmatic demands of day-to-day ministry may overwhelm our vision (our capacity to see what God has done in Jesus Christ) and dull our discernment (our capacity to see the congruence between the Jesus seen in the Gospels and the Christ at work in our current ministry situations by the presence of the Holy Spirit). In a ministry that is increasingly pressured to look and act busy to approximate effectiveness, Pentecostal ministers need to drink at the well of Pentecost in very specific and practical ways.
Pentecost As A Compass
Pentecost, as an historical event, is a compass for ministry in the 21st century. Pentecost orients us biblically to the clear intent of God’s redemptive revelation of himself in Jesus Christ. Pentecost guarantees that the Jesus, whose life is authoritatively recorded in the Gospels, is the same Jesus who is among us today doing the same things He did while He was on earth. In the middle of our busy-ness, the greatest resource the Pentecostal minister has is the realization that all ministry is God’s ministry. If ministry with eternal dimensions is going to be accomplished, God will make it happen. My task is to recognize the presence of Jesus in the place He has called me to serve.
Pentecost also reminds me that the baptism in the Holy Spirit is a deep work. My encounter with Jesus Christ in the baptism in the Holy Spirit convinces me that the continuing work of Jesus Christ is always redemptive and transformative. The true work of Jesus will not feed our tendency to be impressed by the novel or the faddish. Jesus’ ministry among us replicates what He did while He was on earth. He called people to repentance and subsequently saw their lives transformed. He healed people of all kinds of diseases. He delivered people from crippling, spiritual bondage to demonic forces. He demonstrated compassion for human need, and He applied His transforming power to their lives at all levels.
Pentecostal leaders must find anchorage in the power of Pentecost. The reality of 21st-century ministry is that life is not going to mellow out, but will become more complex. The expectations placed on pastoral leadership require more restoration than a month-long vacation can provide. We need to meet our daily challenges with a perspective on ministry that truly relies on the fullest implication of Pentecost.
Pentecost connects the ministry of Jesus that fully revealed the redemptive character of God with the continuing and contemporary expression of that ministry, superintended by the Holy Siprit. I do not need to generate activity to prime the pump. At Pentecost, God made it evident that what had begun in Christ would continue by the Spirit until our Lord’s return.
Harassment and confusion do not need to be our experience. The ministry we have been called to can be clear to us. The busyness of 21st-century Pentecostal ministry does not need to cloud our perspective and tempt us to rely on human resources to do eternal business for God.
Additionally, Pentecost reminds us that the indwelling power of the Spirit of Christ is the source of the church’s life and ministry. Excitement and novelty are not adequate substitutes for the power of the Holy Sprit. Only the Holy Spirit can change a person’s life. When we as leaders confuse noise, numbers, and novelty with the transforming presence of Jesus Christ we will reap what we sow.2
Cultivating The Present Tense Of Jesus
How does a Pentecostal leader cultivate the spiritual dexterity to know when “unauthorized fire” has compromised Pentecostal fire? How do we gain perspective in the middle of the chaotic and ever-increasing complexities of ministry?
Pentecostal leadership in the 21st century requires:
A connectedness to the life of Jesus
John 15 provides a poignant picture for sustaining spiritual vibrancy. The imagery of the vine and branches does not focus on frenetic activity to achieve spiritual maturity. The picture painted by John’s Gospel is a living, abiding relationship for sustaining vibrant proximity to the Source of all spiritual life. John 15 shows you cannot earn or impress God with activity that does not rely completely on the Source of all life. God is not impressed with our spiritual activity for activity’s sake. The judgment of Jesus in Matthew 7:21–23 shows that there may be effective ministry, by human standards, that people will try to convince God was done for His glory. They are shocked when Jesus assesses them not as spiritual, but as evil.
What would Jesus do? is a question many Christians ask themselves as a well-intended measure of spirituality. But, is that question inadequate? Could it be that the real question needed to measure connectedness to Jesus is: What is Jesus doing?
Pentecost means Jesus is among us by the Holy Spirit, and He is clearly completing the redemptive mission with which we have been commissioned. The continuing and effective ministry of the Church will always reflect the minister par excellence, Jesus Christ. Ministry that reflects Jesus clearly will always embody the redemptive purpose of Jesus, the integrity of Jesus, and the power of the Spirit that Jesus relied on to complete the will of the Father. The activity of God, not the activity of His followers, is the major variable in the equation of the spirituality of Pentecostal leadership.
Participating in the present tense of Jesus’ ministry
We must humbly acknowledge that our ministry is the ministry of Christ continuing through us by the present power of the Holy Spirit. Our ministry is only as valid as our participation in what God is doing through Jesus Christ. How will we know if something is of the world, the flesh, the devil, or from the Spirit? We gain clarity in that task by participating in ministry that connects the gospel to people who have not yet accepted Jesus Christ. Regardless of our place in ministry, we cannot hope to clearly see a move of the Spirit if we are not regularly communicating the gospel with the lost.
In the Acts 10 account of Peter at the house of Cornelius, God spoke to Cornelius and Peter the same week in separate visions. While we commend Peter for being obedient to God and responsive to the appeal of Cornelius, the most powerful result lies beyond the surface. Peter initially protested God’s instructions based on Scripture by arguing that he could not eat unclean food. But Peter was given insight as he preached to Cornelius’ household and saw the incredible results. In verse 34, Peter said, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality.” What a monumental step in that one little statement. That key insight superintended by the Spirit of God came while Peter was participating in the present tense ministry of Jesus in a most unsavory place — a Roman centurion’s house. In that little-understood action, the living reality of what the power of the Spirit has come to do was born. The Spirit has come to empower us to bear witness to the nations.
When we place ourselves obediently in a position where God can use us, like Peter, we will see with clarity the present work of Jesus among us. This kind of sight is refreshing. It does not come because we have taken time to relax and clear our minds. It comes because we have responded obediently to the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to participate in what Jesus is doing among us today. It is in that place of obedience to the Spirit that we are refreshed and learn once again that Jesus is working to this very day (John 5:17).
Evaluating strategies by whether or not they facilitate the continuing ministry of Jesus
It is a human tendency to protect programs, structures, and causes to which we have given sincere efforts. Unfortunately, some of those efforts can become idols if we sustain programs because they are venerable and people have given much time and effort in building and maintaining them. The real question is, do these ministries continue to reflect the ongoing ministry of Jesus? When ministries no longer connect people to the gospel, or build communities of Christians who edify one another, or rely on the Holy Spirit, but use high-pressure fund-raising, and cut missions and outreach budgets to undergird sagging ministries, we are destined for mediocrity.
Nadab And Abihu Revisited
The Leviticus 10 account of Nadab and Abihu is one that should sober us because it illustrates the temptation that faces busy Pentecostal leaders every day. In the rush to keep things moving and have a service that looks good, the assumption of Nadab and Abihu was “in a pinch, any fire is better than no fire.” That is an understandable response given the pressure they were under and the regular expectations that every Pentecostal leader faces. The swift and final response of God to Nadab and Abihu in verse 2 is sobering. Our busyness is never an excuse for relying on resources that do not fairly represent the gospel of Jesus Christ. The biblical theme of the Sabbath teaches us that even God took time to rest, and that is certainly instructive for all 21st-century leaders. We also need to see clearly when the pressures rise and the complexities of ministry are suffocating. In that context, Pentecostal leaders can participate in the present tense of Jesus. We have the assurance that Jesus is among us carrying out the redemptive mission of His Father, and we are commissioned to fairly represent Him with ministry on the firing line.
1. Accessed at http://www.family.org/pastor/resources. See also http://www.parsonage.org.
2. Ray Anderson, The Soul of Ministry (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 107–136.