The Order of Things: The Use of Spiritual Gifts in Contemporary Worship
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Here is one pastor's experience of being both spiritual and strategic concerning the public use of spiritual gifts.
By Scott Wilson
I have pastored The Oaks Fellowship for 10 years. I have always prided myself with how powerful and creative our services are. We spend hours every week praying and preparing for our weekend services. We have weekly prayer meetings with the creative and worship teams. I have a teaching team of incredible Bible scholars who help me with the exegetical background on my preaching text and support me in my message preparation. We spend a lot of money putting together creative, effective, life-changing services. We plan every service down to the minute. Many people have criticized our approach because we plan our services 6 months in advance. They say you cannot be Pentecostal and plan that far ahead. But, I say, “God knows what He wants me to preach 6 months from now, and He will tell me if I will listen. It is not anti-Pentecostal to plan — just like it is not Pentecostal to fly by the seat of your pants.” While I still believe this is true, I now realize that I was not being as Spirit led as I thought I was — and no one could open my eyes to that fact but God.
One Saturday afternoon I was hanging out with a pastor friend. He spontaneously said, “I think God wants to do something in your services tomorrow that's different from what you have planned.”
I asked, “Really, why do you think that?”
He replied, “I just feel God is asking you to give the services back to Him.”
I responded, “What do you mean give the services back to Him? I haven't taken them away from Him.”
He said, “Okay, I'm just telling you what I sense God is saying.”
I could usually dismiss statements like this by thinking, Oh that's just the perspective of an overly zealous Pentecostal who doesn't understand our church. But, I trusted this guy; he is a man of God who cares about me. God has used him to speak prophetically into my life on many occasions. I couldn't just dismiss this.
I went home and prayed. I said, “God, what are You wanting to do tomorrow? I am open to whatever You want.”
After several minutes of seeking God, I heard Him say, “Are you really ready to do whatever I want?”
I said, “Of course God, it's Your church. You can do whatever You want.”
That is when God said, “That's not how you usually handle things. You usually put the services together and then ask Me to bless them. How about letting Me lead things and the services will already be blessed?”
This was one of those precious and threatening moments when years of assumptions explode in an instant. I answered, “O God, I'm so sorry. Of course I want You to lead the services. What do You want me to do?”
The Lord simply said, “Announce to the church that ‘it's a new day' and you are giving the services back to Me, and I will do the rest.”
A NEW DAY
Before our first service the next morning, I told our staff and worship team about my conversation with God. I took a deep breath and said, “Be ready for whatever God wants to do today. I am going to explain that it is a new day for our church. Then we are going to stop the music and wait to hear a word from the Lord.”
People filed in and took their seats. Clayton, our worship pastor, led us in singing “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. There's just something about that name.” I sensed the presence of God, and He told me, “Now, Son. It's time. Tell the people it's a new day.”
I waved to Clayton to stop, and I walked to the front of the platform. I announced, “Friends, the Lord told me this is a new day for our church. He wants to do something supernatural in this place. But He will only do it if we give the services back to Him. So I declare that we are officially giving the services back to the Lord today asking Him to lead us and speak to us. Now, let's be quiet before the Lord and allow Him to speak.”
The silence wasn't awkward. There was a sense of anticipation, of wonder, of reverence. Then, someone from the congregation spoke a prophetic word: “I am Lord and I am leading this. … I will not forsake you.” Some of the noncharismatic folks in the room may have thought we were performing a dramatic presentation, but we weren't performing anything. This word was God's assurance to me that I could trust Him to lead us.
At that moment I sensed the Lord whisper, “Son, you are the authority in this house, the pastor; you must lead the way. … You give a message in tongues right now, and I'll give you the interpretation.”
So, I gave a message in tongues; and, then a few seconds later the Spirit spoke through me to interpret, “Why are you looking everywhere else for what you can only find in Me? Come to Me. Trust Me.”
I explained to the congregation, “According to 1 Corinthians 14:22, the gift of tongues is a sign to all the unbelievers here today. God wants you to know that He is really here and He sees the secrets of your hearts. He is calling for you to repent of your sins and surrender your lives to Him. God is using the gifts of tongues and interpretation of tongues as a divine altar call. If you sense the words I spoke are God's message to you this morning, respond to Him in faith. He's reaching out to you and inviting you to come to Him. If you want to take His hand, come forward.”
About 40 people walked onto the stage to receive Christ. Many were kneeling. Some were weeping tears of relief and joy. They were meeting the Savior for the first time. I quickly realized some of the people in the room had no context for what they were experiencing. Before I prayed with those who were on the stage, I took a moment to explain how God uses spiritual gifts to draw people close to Him. I said, “Those of you who grew up Catholic or Baptist need to be thankful for your godly heritage. But if you ever exalt your heritage above the teaching of Scripture, you are wrong. If you are Pentecostal or Charismatic and you love the gifts so much that you exalt them above the leading of the Spirit, you are wrong. We get in trouble when we idolize the gifts instead of utilize the gifts. God meant for the gifts to be used to draw people closer to Him, just like we see happening this morning.”
After I prayed with those who were on the stage, I sensed God saying, “I'm not through. I have something for many more people this morning.”
As the 40 continued praying on the platform, I turned to the congregation and announced, “Some of you have been Christians for a long time, but you sense the need to open your hearts to God. You want to say, ‘Lord, I'm giving my life back to You. I've tried to run it, and I've failed. I want You to lead me.' If you sense God inviting you to return to Him, come forward, kneel before Him, and ask Him to take over.” About 300 people came to the front to kneel and pray. I asked them to cup their hands in front of them and speak their fears into their hands. Then I told them to raise their fears up to heaven and let God have them. Many were deeply and visibly moved. During the next week, I heard story after story of people in the community who were touched by men and women who had been at our worship services. People heard the gospel, God spoke to some in dreams, He healed the sick, and people were baptized in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, without anyone praying for them. A new day had dawned at our church.
The previous Sunday had been incredible, but what about the future? How did God want us to steward the moving of His Spirit in our services on an ongoing basis? Instead of trying to figure it out on my own, I asked God to give me directions. I studied the Scriptures and pursued insight from leading theologians and scholars. Then, I worked with our elders to craft a “participation process” so every believer could be involved in the moving of the Spirit in our services. Here are the principles of Scripture concerning the public use of gifts and how we implemented them at The Oaks Fellowship.
The Corporate Gift of Prophecy
- All prophecy must be for edification, exhortation, and comfort (1 Corinthians 14:3,24,25).
- God can give a prophetic word through any believer for the purpose of encouraging and teaching His people (1 Corinthians 14:31).
- Godly men and women should judge all prophetic messages (1 Corinthians 14:29). If God gives someone a prophetic message for the church during a service at The Oaks, we ask the person to write it out and bring it to the elders on the front row who will judge whether it is for now or later.We get at least two or three prophetic messages a week.
- The spirit of the prophet is subject to the prophet (1 Corinthians 14:32). For those who say they can't “hold it.” Scripture says they can.
- Everything should be done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:33). The public gifts of prophecy and tongues are active in the services at The Oaks, but they only occur when the lead pastor senses the leading of the Holy Spirit. I will say something like, “I sense that God is wanting to speak to us right now. If you have a word of prophecy or a gift of tongues, feel free to give it now.”
- We should know those who labor among us (1 Thessalonians 5:12). We ask that people who give prophetic messages or who exercise the gift of tongues in one of our corporate gatherings be a member of the church in good standing. Otherwise, they should write it out and give it to the elders.
The Corporate Gift of Tongues and Interpretation of Tongues
- People should be zealous to be used in the gifts so the body of Christ can be edified, and not because they want to be seen or heard. The public gifts are for the edification of the church, not for the messenger (1 Corinthians 14:5,12).
- The public gift of tongues is given as a sign to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:22–25). The gift of tongues is a divine altar call for unbelievers. So at The Oaks, we always give a salvation opportunity after any public gift of tongues.
Paul gave these instructions to the church at Corinth because their Pentecostal experience had become self-centered and had no regard for unbelievers who might come into one of their services. These ancient principles give guidelines to conduct our contemporary services in a Pentecostal, yet orderly way. Pastors and elders must prayerfully consider how to best implement these principles in their church culture and setting — which means this could look a little different from church to church.
The instructions we have given at The Oaks have not hindered the moving of the Spirit in our services. In fact, they have given God's people a safe place to practice the gifts. After all, our worship gatherings should be a laboratory for believers to learn how to flow in the gifts so they can be more confident when the Spirit prompts them to use the gifts in the marketplace. This is one reason why we tell people they do not need to give a prophecy or interpretation of tongues in the King James English. Traditionally, my “papaw” would start out a prophetic word with “Thus saith the Lord.” But that does not mean every prophetic word has to be introduced like that for it to be valid. In fact, Spirit-empowered believers will probably be more effective in Wal-Mart and Starbucks if they just speak “naturally supernatural.”
MY HEART, MY HOPE
The Pentecostal movement has a long and storied history of letting the Spirit of God flow in services and through people. My hope is that we continue to do so with the same heart that Donald Gee wrote about in his book, Toward Pentecostal Unity, when he said, “We ought not enjoy deep emotion at the expense of shallow thinking. ‘I will pray with the spirit but I will pray with the understanding also' is the scriptural way of putting it. The three golden strands of order, faith, and experience need weaving into the one cord that cannot quickly be broken. A Pentecostal revival in the fullest measure will not stress one at the expense of the others but will manifest a shining witness to all three.”1
Gee's right. The key to having a lasting Pentecostal revival is the balance of order, faith, and experience. We must be both spiritual and strategic — Pentecostal and planned at the same time. God can tell you in advance what to preach and what songs to sing, and both can be anointed and powerful. He can also tell you to sing a spontaneous song in the middle of the worship time or interrupt the service plan with a prophetic message, and it have tremendous impact. So what should we do? We should prayerfully plan and prepare for every worship gathering we lead. Plan every element of the service down to the last minute with prayer-filled planning. But, along with planning, prepare your heart in the presence of God so your spirit is tender and sensitive to His leading. If, in the midst of the service, you sense the Lord is leading in a different way, your preparation will give you the courage and confidence to follow His leading. We must be careful as Pentecostal people to hold fast to the gifts of the Spirit, but hold loosely to our traditions of how the Spirit works. God can move in great power, whether you are wearing a suit or jeans. He can change lives with or without a hymn or a choir number. And Jesus can baptize people in the Holy Spirit like it happened with me — at an altar, in a camp meeting, with my dad laying hands on me — or it can happen to someone sitting alone, in a folding chair, simply asking God to be filled. Let's hold tight to what is Scripture and hold loosely to what is our personal experience and tradition. We must have a both/and attitude when it comes to being spiritual and strategic — Pentecostal and contemporary — if we want a lasting, Pentecostal revival.
1. Donald Gee, Toward Pentecostal Unity, (Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 1961), 18.