Spirit Still Poured Out
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Pastors of growing, spiritual churches utilize several practices that maintain spirituality in their congregations.
By Terry Minter
With its explosive growth, Pentecostalism has made a spectacular impact on the Christian world since its emergence in Topeka, Kansas, in 1901. As the Movement continues to expand into different cultures and classes of people in the United States today, it is imperative for it to give attention to maintaining its spiritual underpinning regardless of the type of people it draws.
Many people who could be attracted to Pentecostalism today have never encountered a true manifestation of the Holy Spirit. When individuals have no anticipation of experiencing the presence of the divine, they begin living as though God does not exist. Pentecostalism's emphasis on individuals having direct encounters with God through the Holy Spirit is an appealing characteristic to the current society and one that differentiates Pentecostalism from all other forms of Christianity. These encounters can result in the transformation of personal lives.
Certainly the cultural worldview has changed significantly since the Movement arose, but the primary message of Pentecostalism continues to be that God has poured out His Spirit on all people. Pentecostalism's present task is to find ways of communicating this message in the current cultural context.
Spirituality in Today's Context
It is important that Pentecostal pastors design services that are both contemporary in the present culture and open to authentic spiritual outpourings. Today, many pastors desire to have spiritual manifestations in their services. But it is challenging to manage people from Pentecostal backgrounds who have had spiritual excesses in their past embarrass them, and attendees who have never witnessed worship services with authentic spiritual expressions. With some adaptations, however, it is possible to make provisions for church attendees to experience divine encounters in a way that will enhance their spiritual growth and theological reflection. These encounters necessitate some type of spiritual manifestations. As Karl Barth astutely stated, “Only where the Spirit is sighed, cried, and prayed for does He become present and newly active.”1
Many Pentecostals have developed their practices and theological emphases in church settings where it was conventional for members to give impromptu personal testimonies, stand and proclaim spontaneous prophetic messages, and request special songs to be sung during Sunday morning worship. In these situations pastors and congregants knew the personalities and gifts of the members and could provide proper direction for those practicing spiritual manifestations. Today, however, it is difficult to manage such spiritual manifestations that may occur in church services because of the time element involved and the fact it is impossible to know everyone who participates in a large church service.
Spiritual Formation Methodology
Churches that emphasize dynamic spiritual formation usually provide parishioners opportunities to escape their familiar contexts where they have developed defense mechanisms that frequently hinder openness to the work of the Holy Spirit. Pastors of growing churches utilize several practices that maintain spirituality in their congregations. Some of these practices include:
Church retreats: Some churches have had spiritual renewal as a result of weekend retreats conducted several times each year at nearby retreat centers. The classes in these retreats emphasize spiritual formation, and the worship services promote personal encounters with the Holy Spirit.
Several spiritual-formation models exist that churches can use, adapt, or examine when creating spiritual-growth days or weekend retreats. The Holy Trinity Brompton, a charismatic church in London, England, developed the Alpha Course.2 This spiritual formation prototype begins with participants meeting once a week for about 10 weeks, and concludes with a weekend getaway. The pre-retreat sessions involve dinner, exuberant worship, individual testimonies, classes on basic principles of spirituality, and table discussions. The Alpha Course calls the retreat conducted at the end of 10-weeks the “Holy Spirit Weekend” and focuses on personal and spiritual renewal. Topics for class discussions prior to the retreat and during the retreat include prayer, sin and repentance, God's grace, reading the Bible as a spiritual guide, following the Holy Spirit, the purpose of the Holy Spirit, and how to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Assemblies of God churches that use Alpha or Walk to Emmaus need to supplement its sessions by teaching our Fellowship's doctrine of tongues as initial physical evidence of Spirit baptism.
Walk to Emmaus is another model that Pentecostal churches could use for spiritual formation. This spiritual-renewal methodology also involves a retreat with opportunities for the participants to experience immediate encounters with the Holy Spirit similar to the one occurring after Christ's resurrection when He encountered His followers on their way to Emmaus (Luke 24:15).3 This renewal concept begins with immersing participants into a 3-day retreat involving worship, personal stories of deliverance, and sermons about being open to the Holy Spirit. Then leaders of the retreat encourage participants to join a small group after returning home from the event.
Staff and leadership retreats: Planning spiritual retreats with staff pastors several times throughout the year and annually with church leaders has proven effective in some locations. Senior pastors of spiritual churches invest time and money in leading pastoral retreats where they encourage spiritual growth. Some of these spiritual formation retreats involve a 1-day excursion to a location outside the church, and others involve extended pastors' retreats near the end of each summer, before school begins. Leaders in the spiritual formation retreats encourage pastors and spouses to grow personally as Christians rather than as “pastors/spouses” or “ministers/spouses.” Because these retreats include the spouses, leaders must make some accommodations for children. Staff pastors frequently find it difficult to be open with senior pastors, so it may be advisable to encourage them to form confidential interpersonal relationships with other ministers during the retreat. Usually pastors are willing to confess personal issues, but they must have the leading of the Holy Spirit and exercise prudent discretion. Classes in these retreats can include anointing to serve rather than needing to serve, the pastor's need for blessing, and reading the Bible for worship rather than work. In every case the retreat must emphasize powerful worship experiences for all participants.
Spiritual-emphasis weekends: Planning a spiritual-emphasis weekend is perhaps the most common way to promote spirituality in a church. On these occasions, it is helpful for the pastor to invite spiritually mature guest speakers who are able to teach aspects of spiritual depth and lead quality worship experiences. In preparation for a spiritual emphasis weekend, the pastor needs to preach on the nature and necessity of renewal for several Sundays prior to the event. Also, he or she must organize special training meetings with worship teams, ushers, staff pastors, and altar workers. It is essential to organize prayer meetings to make sure the focus of the weekend meeting is on spiritual formation among participants rather than other issues that may exist within the church. Leaders design this one- or two-evening event to include lively singing along with powerful sermons or lessons. The agenda should include time for extended prayer and worship to conclude the event. One church organized a spiritual weekend and the guest speaker's topic was praying in unknown tongues. Remarkably, the service was extremely successful and well attended by church members and visitors from surrounding non-Pentecostal denominations.
Spiritually oriented small groups: Training small group leaders is one way to bring spiritual formation to a church. A person does not have to be ordained to be able to lead a small group that has spiritual manifestations. In the small group context, however, it is important for a pastor to be responsible for providing training on how to effectively manage the meetings and to have oversight of small-group leaders who are involved in these types of services. Many pastors find it advisable to provide small-group leaders with curricula for short lessons that do not require extensive preparation.
Many small groups exist within a church's culture such as deacons, ushers, worship teams, Sunday School teachers, drama clubs, and parking lot attendants. All of these small groups exist to build and maintain a powerful spirit-filled church, and spiritual formation can occur within every small group of the church.
Service events: Another spiritual-renewal method a church can utilize is to sponsor community service or short-term mission trips. This method gets people away from their normal environment and leads them in community service activities designed to promote spiritual renewal. Choose participants from within the church and embark on a short mission trip, or assist a community by building, restoring, or repairing structures. Community-service projects improve impoverished neighborhoods and build relational bridges to the community. Community-service events can include: painting homes, performing minor car repairs, upgrading community parks, or serving on short-term mission trips to some of America's most needy urban centers.
Evening debriefing sessions can include follow-up discussions at dinner and conclude with worship services. Community-service spiritual renewal retreats have been successful in many churches. One church plans about four trips each year and allows enough flexibility to coordinate these trips in areas where natural disasters might occur. These type of events are rallying points for the entire church. The spiritual aspect of the evening worship service becomes meaningful and life changing.
Early in the history of the Pentecostal movement people were naturally attracted to the message and>
Recently, the pastor of a leading Pentecostal church shared a story about leading his church to a deeper spiritual level. He invited an evangelist whose ministry centered on the Person and work of the Holy Spirit to preach both the Sunday morning and Wednesday evening services. The pastor shared that he was nervous about inviting the evangelist because of the uncertainty these types of services could bring. The pastor admitted that he was comfortable with routine services where he always knew what to expect and when to expect it. As it turned out, the services were extremely beneficial to the church and pastor. This church benefited because the pastor was willing to step out of his comfort zone and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.
The Pentecostal movement must always be aware that the Holy Spirit is being continually poured out on the world. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit makes those who encounter Him primary witnesses of the risen Lord rather than secondary Christian apologists. Today, the Pentecostal movement is a sleeping giant in a world that desperately needs a spiritual awakening. Churches can rediscover ways to make divine encounters accessible to people who are crying for personal, supernatural reassurances. The modern Pentecostal movement can still witness the most exciting spiritual developments that Christianity has ever known.
1. Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: an Introduction (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1963), 58.
2. Alpha Course: http:www.alpha.org (accessed 22 August 2013).
3. Walk to Emmaus: http://emmaus.upperroom.org (accessed 22 August 2013).