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Spiritual Formation: A Life-Long Pastoral Journey

By Edgar R. Lee

The term spiritual formation is fairly new among Pentecostal pastors and among evangelical Christians in general. Traditionally, we think of outstanding pastors and Christians as being spiritual. We usually characterize these people by their integrity, love, and mystical experiences with God periodically expressed in spiritual gifts: prophecy, messages in tongues, and interpretation of tongues — perhaps even in miracles. Unfortunately, while we admire their spirituality, we rarely give thought to the journey that nurtured it. But today, faced with a host of alien spiritualities and a creeping professionalization in the ministry, it is urgent that pastors identify and consciously adopt a process of authentic spiritual formation in their lives and ministries.

The use of the adjective spiritual does indeed have scriptural precedent. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Brothers, I could not address you asspiritual (pneumatikois) but as worldly — mere infants in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1, italics added). To the more mature members of the churches in Galatia, he said, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual(hoi pneumatikoi) should restore him gently” (Galatians 6:1, italics added).

The Spirit had brought new birth to the Corinthians whom Paul called “brothers,” but with regard to their spiritual development they were “infants” (nepios“baby, infant, child; immature; innocent; under age”), and still “worldly” (sarkinos “fleshly”). Spiritual was not the right term to describe their Christian growth. On the other hand, Paul regarded at least some persons among the Galatians as being sufficiently advanced in their faith to warrant the term spiritual.

The contrast between the Corinthian infants and the spiritual believers of Galatia is a sharp reminder that all believers, and especially pastors, are to continuously grow in their relationship with Christ. Their spiritual development is not simply a matter of one spiritual crisis or a single compelling call to the ministry. It is a process of formation under the dynamic instruction of God’s Word and Spirit.

God’s Workmanship

Christian faith is more supernatural than even many pastors fully appreciate. The writers of the New Testament repeatedly teach that the Christian life is not just moral reformation — which pastors tend to regularly impose upon themselves. Paul pointed this out succinctly in his Ephesian letter, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” He then added, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8–10).

In Paul’s words, salvation is first a “gift” (to döron) from God, something one has neither earned nor achieved. Divine initiative is further emphasized in the fact believers are “God’s workmanship” (poiëma). Poiëma is that which is “created or made.” Paul reminds believers that they are truly new persons solely on the basis of God’s supernatural initiative and intervention in their previously broken and sinful lives.

Paul made the same point elsewhere using other figures of speech: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation (ktisis “creation, what is created”); the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). This is merely a change of metaphor to describe the same reality that Jesus discussed with Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again (gennethe anothen, John 3:3).” Jesus, in His talk with Nicodemus, connected the born-again experience with the work of the Holy Spirit, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born (gennethe) of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5).

Spiritual formation thus begins, not in a person’s determination to change behavior — though that is the point of repentance — but in a supernatural work of inner spiritual renewal. Again, as Paul wrote in Titus 3:5, “he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth (palingenesias) and renewal (anakainoseos) by the Holy Spirit.” We get the word “regeneration” — which theologians use to describe the experience of new birth — from the word palingenesias.

As one who has been supernaturally reborn, the believer has the Holy Spirit living within. Among the many ministries of the Spirit is a convincing internal witness that we are in fact the redeemed and regenerated children of God. As Paul said, “you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:15,16). Another powerful image Paul uses to express the indwelling ministry of the Spirit in the newly regenerated believer is the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). “Temple” here is the Greek naos that normally denotes the temple proper where the presence of God dwells, rather than the word hieron that denotes the entire temple complex with its courts and extra rooms.

Rather than being a long forgotten experience of the past or a doctrine mastered in elementary theology, regeneration is the wellspring of the pastor’s existence. The indwelling Spirit provides newness of life and a powerful intimacy with God unique to Christian faith and vital to pastoral ministry from beginning to end.

Meat — Not Milk

Even pastors sometimes view the Early Church through a romantic haze, thinking the first believers were exceptional Christians from day one of their conversion. A close reading of the New Testament, however, shows that many of them were just as carnal and immature as many Christians today. Shortly after Paul left his fledgling congregation at Corinth, he found it necessary to write to them, “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready” (1 Corinthians 3:2). The writer to the Hebrews similarly complained to his charges, “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” (Hebrews 5:12). These canonical observations are a startling reminder that Christian faith — while Spirit-created and enabled — must also become a thoughtful, deliberate, and disciplined lifestyle developed over one’s entire lifespan. It is not instantly achieved either by parishioner or pastor in a once-for-all crisis moment of regeneration, Spirit-baptism, or some other moment of spiritual ecstasy.

New Testament writers used various appeals to move their occasionally reluctant congregations to a higher level of faith. To the squabbling Corinthians, Paul introduced the notion of maturity: “Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults” (teleioi; NASB “mature”; 1 Corinthians 14:20).1 The word translated “adults” in the NIV is the adjective teleios, which has such meanings as “complete, perfect, whole,” or in the case of persons, “full-grown” or “mature.” To the Colossians Paul wrote, “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect (teleion; NASB “complete”; NRSV “mature”)2 in Christ” (1:28).

Hebrews continues with a similar understanding of maturity, “But solid food is for the mature (teleion), who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (5:14). Furthermore, “Therefore let us leave the elementary truths about Christ and go on to maturity” (teleioteta— noun denoting “completeness” and well-translated here as “maturity,” Hebrews 6:1). James wrote to his (probably) Palestinian congregations, “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature (teleion) and complete (holokleros “sound, whole, complete”), not lacking anything” (James 1:4).

Rather than being merely preachers of maturity, pastors are called on to be models of maturity. As Paul put it to a young pastor he was mentoring, “set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).

Word — Not Whim

Sound teaching has always been a major factor in Christian maturity. The ministry of teaching was fundamental to the Christian community from the beginning. Following Jewish tradition, Jesus was known as a preacher, but even more as a teacher. He spent long hours in personal instruction to the Twelve as well as a larger circle of disciples. Modern pastors, in their role as teachers, have an inside track for their own personal growth as they nurture those whom they serve.

Remember, the Great Commission is not only about evangelization. It is also about teaching converts all that Jesus commanded — an ongoing, never-ending process (Matthew 28:20). For this daunting task, Jesus promised the aid of the Holy Spirit in this teaching ministry (John 14:26).

Among the first recorded activities of the Early Church are their gatherings in the temple and from house to house to attend the teaching of the apostles (Acts 2:42; 5:42). The core of apostolic teaching — the kerygma — had to do with Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. But it also entailed systematic instructions — the paranaesis — on the way Jesus taught believers to live. The epistles are good examples of what the apostles taught, emphasizing correct doctrine but also giving extended treatment to spiritual experience and personal ethical behavior.

The value of these scriptural teachings is attested by Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16,17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for [1] teaching (didaskalia“what is taught, teaching, doctrine; act of teaching, instruction”), [2] rebuking (legmos“refutation of error”), [3] correcting (epanorthosiscorrecting faults”) and [4] training (paideia“discipline; instruction, training”) in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

In this passage, the Word of God fulfills four definitive functions that pastors are to facilitate not only among their congregations but also in their own spiritual growth. First, the Word is the content of a pastor’s teaching, and the source and measure of doctrine and personal spiritual maturity. Second, the Word serves to rebuke, or reprove the inevitable sinful errors in a pastor’s life. Third, the Word corrects a pastor’s faults in the sense of straightening out what is sinful and immature. Fourth, the Word provides firm guidance much like a strong and skillful tutor who guides young charges in their personal lives. Rather than yielding to the shifting ethics of human cultures, pastors are to carefully and methodically mold their character by the God-breathed Scriptures.

Far from being a stale and difficult manual, the Word of God is especially dynamic. To describe its nature, Paul used the word theopneustos, a compound word from theos, “God,” and pneo, “to breathe.” Theopneustos implies that God is not only the originator of His Word, but He is also powerfully present in it as a pastor reads it, hears it, and reflects on it. As Edward W. Goodrick discerningly put it, “Scripture as theopneustos[is] ‘alive with the vitality of God, which He, himself, breathed into it when He created it.’ ”3

For pastors reading the Bible regularly and sensitively to hear the voice of God in personal address is absolutely essential to sturdy spiritual formation. Learning the Bible is the pastor’s job and joy.

Baptized In The Spirit

Supernatural at its outset, Christian faith is a continuing journey into the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, a journey that pastors must covet for themselves. The Old Testament lays the groundwork for present-day spiritual formation by showing us a variety of spiritual experiences among the leaders of ancient Israel. Saul, the first king of Israel, was first given a “changed” heart and then, somewhat later, “the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he joined [the prophets] in … prophesying” (1 Samuel 10:9,10).

When Samuel anointed David, “from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power” (1 Samuel 16:13). Jeremiah and Ezekiel wrote that the time would come when God would put His Spirit in new covenant believers and give them a new heart (Jeremiah 31:31–34; Ezekiel 36:25–27). The Old Testament also prophesies more dramatic Spirit encounters for the new covenant era. For example, Moses foresaw a time when the Lord would put His Spirit on all His people and they would become prophets (Numbers 11:29). Joel predicted that the Spirit would be poured out on all people and all of them would prophesy (Joel 2:28,29), a promise made even more explicit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16–18).

Jesus taught that all believers were to have a dynamic, ongoing relationship with the Holy Spirit. He modeled for the disciples what it was like to minister in the power of the Spirit. The Spirit would be their Helper and Guide in times of persecution (Matthew 10:16–20; Mark 13:9–11; Luke 12:11,12; 21:12–15). In addition to bringing the new birth (John 3:5), the Spirit would be a Counselor and Teacher who would remind them of all Jesus had taught and who would also lead them into all truth (John 14:26; 16:13). Jesus echoed the Baptist’s promise of a coming baptism in the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5) and specifically instructed His disciples not to leave Jerusalem to begin their ministries without being “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49; compare Acts 1:8).

The promised baptism in the Holy Spirit was historically and initially fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost. There came “a sound like the blowing of a violent wind” and “what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest” on each of the 120 believers. Wind and fire were regular signs of theophany, the personal manifestation of God in the Old Testament. Here, these phenomena seem to indicate a distinctive coming of the Lord to personally take up residence in the temple of His people. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4).

Baptism in the Holy Spirit is about radical divine indwelling and empowerment; speaking with other tongues is not the essence of the Spirit baptism but the initial sign that it has occurred (Acts 2:4; 10:44–46; 19:6). Interestingly, the verb for “enabled” is the Greek apophthengomai, often used in the Greek language at that time todenote divinely given prophetic speech4 that is so appropriate to Joel’s prophecy.

Along with Spirit baptism, Pentecost brought an abundance of spiritual gifts that gave powerful impetus to the Early Church’s ministry — gifts of prophecy, wisdom, healings and other miracles, guidance, power for witness, and others. Early Christian life and ministry was, therefore, charismatic.

The term, from charismata, the predominant word in the Greek New Testament for spiritual gifts, denotes that the Church lives and serves only through the power and presence of the Spirit who fills, empowers, transforms, and gifts His people for life and service. No mere add-on, Spirit-baptism was essential to the formation and equipment of first-century believers and leaders. It is a crucial step in modern pastoral spiritual formation as well, not to be neglected in the hard-won process of acquiring necessary technical skills for the pastoral office.

Walking In The Spirit

It is one thing to have a powerful, initial experience of Spirit baptism and another to incorporate that experience in a productive and overcoming life and ministry. One dramatic way to further illustrate the dynamic biblical path to maturity is to use Paul’s metaphor of “walking in the Spirit.” “But I say, walk (from peripate) by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16, NASB).

Modern translations, such as the NIV, usually translate “live by the Spirit,” which is not inaccurate with regard to Paul’s meaning, but the notion of walking with its deliberate, measured progress is particularly striking. Paul followed up with: “Since we live (zomen) by the Spirit, let us keep in step (stoichomen) with the Spirit (5:25). The apostle is calling for nothing less than a careful, day-by-day engagement with the Spirit of God to direct and energize our thinking, attitudes, and actions in accordance with the Word of God. Spiritual formation for pastor and pew is, therefore, constant interaction with the Spirit.

The Scriptures also teach periodic renewals of the Spirit in one’s personal life. Even a casual reading of the Book of Acts shows “one baptism, many fillings.” In other words, the 120 on the Day of Pentecost were baptized in the Spirit once (Acts 2:1–4). But we see the Spirit coming on them many times thereafter for encouragement and empowerment for particular tasks. Peter was “filled with the Holy Spirit” at a dangerous, crisis moment to witness to the Sanhedrin about the resurrection of Jesus and explain the healing of the man at the Beautiful Gate (Acts 4:5–22). All the participants in the urgent prayer meeting that followed were “filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31). This pattern continued through the Book of Acts and ought not be lost on those set apart to teach and lead the people of God.

Paul used other terms to encourage his followers to habitually draw on the richness and power of the Holy Spirit in their daily lives. To the Romans, he wrote, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor (“fervent in spirit,” NASB), serving the Lord” (12:11). To the Ephesians, he gave an imperative command regarding the Spirit-filled life: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. [1] Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. [2] Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, [3] always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. [4] Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:18-21).

Paul’s imperative, “be filled,” is present tense and can be translated, “keep on being filled.” To describe, at least in part, what it is like to be Spirit-filled, Paul used four successive participial clauses, identified in the passage above by number. First, the Spirit-filled speakto fellow believers (a horizontal ministry in corporate settings) in a communicative and mutually edifying way through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, the last perhaps being “singing in the Spirit.” Second, they “sing” and “make music” in their hearts (a vertical and personal ministry of worship to God). Third, they always “give thanks” to God in Jesus’ name for everything. Fourth, they willingly“submit”out of reverence to Christ and His Word. If these passages are significant for “laypeople,” they are doubly so for the pastors who lead them.

The Works Of The Flesh

Walking in the Spirit entails for pastors, just as parishioners, regular communion with the Spirit of God for power and wisdom to overcome the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Much like Jesus (see Matthew 5), Paul was specific about sins that must be avoided. One of his vice lists is found in Galatians 5:19–21 where he uses the metaphor, “the works of the flesh” (KJV). Among the sins listed, though not comprehensive, are “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”

Paul concluded pointedly, “those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Paul’s utter departure from legalistic pronouncements about avoiding sin is significant. As he had pointed out so eloquently in Romans 7, sin cannot be mastered by purely human zeal. Rather, one overcomes sin by the power of a Spirit-filled life. “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Galatians 5:16). It is “by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body” (Romans 8:13). In the journey of spiritual formation, the incessant ministry of the Spirit shows pastors and all believers their sins, convicts them of those sins, leads them daily in confession and renewal, and brings them to victory over their sins. In New Testament thinking, neither pastors nor rank-and-file believers overcome merely by trying harder. They overcome by nurturing the Spirit-filled life. This dynamic of the Spirit is well described in the title of an old Scottish preacher’s sermon, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.”

Gifted — To Serve

Pentecostal and charismatic pastors too often train for and practice their ministries as educated and accomplished professionals with little apparent dependence on the Spirit. The work of the Spirit through spiritual gifts is often thought of as an experience for a few spiritual people. As this heresy goes, more practical and rational believers may safely go about their day-to-day business free from any incursions of the supernatural. Unfortunately, clergy, in the acquisition of liturgical and leadership skills, often neglect this part of their formation. In the current milieu, the technology of doing church too often trumps the role of the Spirit and His gifts.

Not surprisingly then, one of the least understood aspects of Christian spiritual formation among pastors is the importance of spiritual gifts, their cultivation, and use in personal ministry. Paul’s reflection on his own preparation for ministry is enlightening: “I became a servant (diakonos) of this gospel by the gift (dorean) of God’s grace (charitos) given me through the working (ten energeian) of his power (tes dunameos)” (Ephesians 3:7). The learned Rabbi did not cease to be learned, but it was not his rabbinical education that made him a minister. His essential qualification for Christian ministry came by a supernatural endowment of God’s dynamic grace and gifts. Paul could only describe the mystery of what God had done in him by referring to it as a gift of grace accomplished and accompanied by God’s active (ten energeian) and mighty power (tes dunameos).

Spiritual formation must also take seriously the biblical teaching that every believer is a minister. Clergy, who are themselves designated as “gifts” (doreas in Ephesians 4:7 and domata in 4:8), in turn, equip their ministering brothers and sisters: “And He [Christ] gave [ … apostles … prophets … evangelists … pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints (ton hagion) for the work of service (diakonias, that is, “ministry”)” (Ephesians 4:11,12, NASB).

So, pastoral leaders are not the only ones called and gifted to do ministry. The teachings of the epistles support the narrative theology of the Book of Acts where people outside the apostolic circle are granted spiritual gifts. Paul, who gave us most of the New Testament teaching on spiritual gifts, wrote to the Corinthians, “Now to each one (hekast) the manifestation (phanerosis) of the Spirit is given for the common good (sumpheron)” (1 Corinthians 12:7). The apostle reiterated the importance of every-member gifting in other passages as well. To the Romans, “We [all] have different gifts (charismata), according to the grace (charin) given us” (12:6). To the Ephesians, “But to each one (hekast) of us grace (charis) has been given as Christ apportioned it [literally, “the measure of the gift (doreas) of Christ”]” (4:7). Peter echoes the teachings of Paul, “Each one (hekast) should use whatever gift (charisma) he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace (charitos) in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10).

As those gifted to “minister to the ministers,” pastors are destined to serve with joy, power, and effectiveness in the unique spiritual gift mix that shapes the major contours of their particular style of leadership.

Desire The Greater Gifts

A careful reading of the above passages in their contexts readily discloses several life-changing principles vital to spiritual formation for the pastor. First, the Triune God, by the Spirit, grants spiritual gifts to every believer — regardless of race, sex, age, education, experience, or station in life. Note the repeated emphasis on “each one.” Second, each of the gifts may be identified as a “manifestation” (1 Corinthians 12:7). Paul’s term is phanerōsis that means “bringing to light” or a “disclosure.” In other words, something about God’s nature and activity is revealed and brought to realization by the Spirit through the expression of these gifts in regenerate human beings. Third, the gift is, to Paul, “for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7) and, to Peter, it is to “serve others” (1 Peter 4:10). Therefore, the use of the gifts is vital to the well-being of the body of Christ and, by implication, vital to the spirituality of every member of the body of Christ.

By following Paul’s favorite word for spiritual gifts, charisma,we can identify several lists of spiritual gifts. They are Romans 12:6–8; 1 Corinthians 12:8–10, 28–30; and 1 Peter 4:10,11 (see also Ephesians 4:7–13, which varies the Greek terms). Paul apparently did not intend to list all possible gifts. For example, craftsmanship and music are Spirit-gifted activities in the Old Testament.

Some gifts, including the traditional nine of 1 Corinthians 12:8–10, are more obviously supernatural. Their use seems to require a special and sovereign move of the Spirit within the gifted person, providing a discernible and definite impetus for ministries, such as prophecy, words of knowledge or wisdom, messages in tongues and interpretations, and various miracles. To emphasize the initiative of the Spirit and the necessity for spiritual sensitivity for their reception and deployment, I describe these gifts as spontaneous.

But other gifts are often neglected in the Pentecostal-charismatic tradition. In Paul’s lists in Romans 12:6–8 and 1 Corinthians 12:28, he also uses charismatato denote “serving,” “teaching,” “encouragement,” “giving,” “leading,” “mercy,” “help,” and “administration,” just as he does “prophecy” (also found in the supernatural list of 1 Corinthians 12:8–10). Admittedly, the latter group of gifts appears to be less supernatural in nature. For that reason they are often called motivational gifts or ministry gifts. Every spiritual gift, however, is a ministry gift. One so gifted does not need to wait for an unusual and occasional visitation of the Spirit to practice these gifts. To emphasize the constant and abiding nature of this group of gifts, I describe them as resident. While given and energized by the Spirit, the aptitude for these particular functions is always present and is to be used regularly and diligently in one’s ministry — whether it be that of a credentialed minister or layperson.

Spiritual gifts, while divinely given, are also humanly appropriated. On one hand gifts are first of all distributed by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:11), God is at work in them (12:5), and the manifestation of the Spirit is given [passive] (12:7) or received (1 Peter 4:10). God has placed gifts in the church (1 Corinthians 12:28). On the other hand, the better, or “greater,” gifts are to be eagerly desired (12:31; 14:1,12,39) and believers should “try to excel in gifts that build up the church” (14:12). Human responsibility is also urged in the proper placement and utilization of spiritual gifts in the worship and community life of the church. Those exercising verbal gifts in the worship service are to exercise discernment, give place to other gifted believers, limit the expressions to a congregationally edifying number, and accept the primacy of the written Word over their inner sense of what the Spirit is doing or saying (14:13–33).

For pastors to neglect the dynamism of the charismata in their own personal spiritual formation, the spiritual formation of their congregants, their services of worship, or the various ministries of the church would appear to be an unconscionable neglect of a major stream of biblical teaching, not to mention a tragic loss of spiritual power and effectiveness. Even Pastor Timothy needed a stern reminder to “fan into flame the gift of God (charisma), which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6). Modern “Timothies” must “eagerly desire the greater gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:31) and likewise fan them into flame.

Functional Faith

As important as sound doctrine and authentic Christian experiences are to spiritual formation, none of these guarantees that pastors will grow to maturity in life and ministry. When disappointments, sufferings, and temptations befall pastors, God can sometimes seem far away. At such times, there may be neither conscious sense of His presence nor signs of supernatural intervention. One thinks of Paul on his second missionary journey optimistically headed for the province of Asia and its chief city, Ephesus, only to be frustrated as door after door closed in his face until he dead-ended in the small port city of Troas at the northwest tip of Asia Minor. Only there did he find that God had other, and greater, plans to lead him into Europe — and Troas was the ideal jumping off place (Acts 16:6–10). Probably even more disconcerting was Paul’s experience of a “thorn in [the] flesh,” revealed also as “a messenger of Satan” to torment him — apparently some physical ailment compounded by demonic causation (2 Corinthians 12:7–9). To add insult to injury as it were, God refused to take the thorn away, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (12:9). Even Jesus, staggered by the impending sin-bearing of the cross, cried out in agony, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me” (Mark 14:36).

The crucial question at such a time is How functional is my faith? There is a valid saving faith exercised in receiving Jesus as Savior. Occasionally in life one receives the gift of faith — miraculous mountain moving faith (1 Corinthians 12:9; Mark 11:22–24). But for day-to-day effectiveness in Christian life and ministry, one must also have a dynamic faith rooted in the God-breathed Word and nourished with regular spiritual disciplines of Bible study, meditation, and prayer.

A properly functional faith is one that has been tested in the realism of daily life. Faith maintains a sturdy conviction that God’s Word is true and His guidance is certain, whatever the situation appears to be at the time. While often shaken and never infallible, a healthy functional faith is resilient and keeps one moving on toward God-given goals in life and ministry. Only that kind of faith can stabilize pastoral ministry in the hard places and tough times. Only the ear of faith can heed the apostle’s command to his younger pastoral associate, “Endure hardship with us as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3).

Thy Kingdom Come

Spiritual formation has as its goal a lifelong process of spiritual maturation. Pastors are intended to begin well, serve well throughout life, and finish well. Vigilance and effort are required at every stage. Pastors ought carefully to ponder scriptural examples of those who began well but ended badly. Saul, the first king of Israel, stood head and shoulders above his contemporaries and began well, only to falter early on and finally succumb to pride, jealousy, psychotic episodes, witchcraft, and die ingloriously on the battlefield (1 Samuel 9:2; 13:1–15; 18:6–16; 28:1–25). Solomon, perhaps the smartest and richest man who ever lived, started his reign with dramatic revelations from God, realized incredible success and public acclaim, but then, in his mature years allowed his oversized, pagan harem to steal his heart away from God (1 Kings 11:1–13). Uzziah, also known as Azariah, one of Judah’s greatest and longest-reigning kings, became powerful and famous, then, puffed up with pride, contracted leprosy while arrogantly usurping the role of the temple priests (2 Chronicles 26:19). We may also think of contemporary greats who have ended badly when they too became lifted up with pride and felt themselves above the normal disciplines of Christian life.

Moving through life and, eventually, God willing, into the new opportunities of retirement, pastors need to remember that Jesus taught His followers to pray, “Our Father which art in heaven … Thy kingdom come” (Matthew 6:9,10, KJV). These words are a poignant reminder that spiritual formation is never finished this side of the Kingdom. While certain aspects of God’s kingdom are now among us, it fully and perfectly comes only with the return of our Lord. “In my Father’s house are many rooms,” Jesus said. “I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2,3).

The ultimate purpose of our spiritual formation is to be prepared and present the announcement, “ ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God’ ” (Revelation 21:3).

Neil B. Wiseman

EDGAR R. LEE, S.T.D., academic dean emeritus and senior professor of spiritual formation and pastoral theology, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary; chair, Commission on Doctrinal Purity, The General Council of the Assemblies of God.


1. Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission (

2. Scripture quotations marked “NRSV” are taken from The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, © 1989. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

3. Edward W. Goodrick, “Let’s Put 2 Timothy 3:16 Back in the Bible,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society25, no. 4 (Winter 1982): 486.

4. Frederick William Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).

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