PT2: Labeling: This is That
Updated: Jan 1
The congregation has just finished a rousing chorus of a song that has made a holy hush fall upon the place. Some stand with their palms uplifted. Others sit with their hands folded in humility before the tangible peace that often accompanies anointed worship.
From one side of the church a man begins to speak as if he were the Lord. "Thus says the Lord ... " Looking around the church you see some people squirm, others, confused, look around. While the words of the prophet themselves are well within the parameters of "prophecy," its the very act itself - the very doing of the thing - which is such a rare phenomenon it makes people feel a but uneasy.
Then another, perhaps a woman from the other side of the church, lifts her voice which echoes through the building. She is singing in an unknown tongue. It's both beautiful and freaky at the same time. One person is pouring out their heart over here, another is laying hands gently on the back of her child over there. In the back someone is giggling like a schoolgirl, and in the front a businessman is looking at his watch wondering why he chose to visit your church in the first place.
When you choose to serve God in the leadership of your people things can get a bit unpredictable.
As a leaders over our services we want to be the leaders over all aspects of the service. And we have a special responsibility to clearly label, or define, that which the Spirit is doing in our midst - both for the sake of the sheep, and especially for the sake of those clueless to the praxis of the Spirit when we gather.
Church is perhaps the only place in the world where this sort of thing happens. You don't see it happening at a sports event, a school soccer practice, or at home. So the exposure and practice of Spiritual gifts is in a real sense alien for us. It can be scary, unnerving, and even turn us off from religious altogether.
It's assuming to know that when Jesus performed a miracle he often followed it by a teaching, or words, explaining the thing. Otherwise people would have been so distracted by the work of the Kingdom that they would have missed the heart of what the miracle was pointing to in the first place. We need to do that as well. It's okay to stop the flow of the service to get into the flow of the service. Do it humbly, with a sense of corporate discovery.
Once we were in a time of silence when a woman blurted out a solid minute of passionate tongues. I listened intently. While nothing was understood, my heart affirmed that she was expressing the Lord's heart for us in a unique way. When she stopped you could have heard a pin drop in the place. And I felt many pairs of eyes looking at me. I waited. People began to squirm. I could hear the squeaking in the seats.
I needed to say something. I needed to bring what just had happened to a corporate awareness. And I needed to invite us all to step into what God was doing. Stepping forward I smiled. "What we have just heard is called prophesy. It's a gift of the Holy Spirit and an extension of the love of God to his people. But the Bible is clear that when we hear something like that we need to ask him what it means. I mean, it sounded like Greek to me!"
The humor broke the tension in the room. People were set at ease.
"So I'd like to open it up. What do you think. What sort of things were running through your mind or hearts when you heard our sister speaking in tongues?"
One person suggested this, another suggested that. It was all good. Stuff like "God loves us," "he won't let us go," "he died for us," etc. Yet nothing really resonated with the tone nor heart of what we had just heard. And I wasn't going to move on until I heard it.
"Anything else?" People are slow. Sheep are timid. They need time and a calming invitation.
A woman stood up, visibly shaken. Even before she shared, I knew that this is what we had been waiting for. When she spoke, liquid peace filled the room and we were all edified because, not only had we experienced the manifestation of a gift of the Spirit, we had also gotten the interpretation as well. It's a beautiful thing to see the Body of Christ in action!
As anointed leaders, I believe God has given us eyes to see where others can't, if only for a short time. We need to get this and live into it. As a shepherd goes ahead of his or her sheep to scope out the territory, God gifts his leaders to see what he's doing before the rest of the church catches on. I'm not in any way suggesting that we have the corner on the market - as there are many more matured leaders sitting out there in the congregation than us. But we're God's guys on the ground. As a leaders, our job is to walk into the experience of it, model that vulnerability, and provide that living balance between keeping the integrity of the liturgy and the transcendent infusion of God.
So now you've provided the space for gifts to happen in your church. You've come to church prepared and expectant with a cool balance of liturgy and spirit at your front burner. You inter into worship cognoscente of the guest, ready to label anything that goes weird. Good for you. But what about your people? Have you actually had a sit down with them as to the things of the Spirit? How to hear God, and how to share what God is saying in a culturally acceptable way in the congregation?
(I know of a person who has the gift of prophecy. But when he share's his word to the church he speaks in King James' English. No other time would you hear him speak that way - with "thee's" and "thou's" - and I think that's just weird. Is he possessed? Is he being religious? I just don't get it."
Still the question is: When do you actually teach your people about the things of the Holy Spirit?
I have hard, rarely bendable convictions regarding church services and what happens from the pulpit on any given Sunday. I believe that the pulpit should be used as a proclamation of God's Kingdom during the service, with teachings on issues, Bible books, how to raise Godly kids, how to love your spouse, and the identification and praxis of spiritual gifts be best delegated to a "Sunday school" format. We miss out on many conversions of visitors and seekers by seeking to feed them meat from the pulpit. That being said, so when are the best times to teach and prepare the saints for what could happen in worship? A few ideas:
Sunday School. Teachings on the gifts of the Spirit, fruit of the Spirit, or other specific theological or practical matters are well-taught where people can talk, discuss, and work out how God's gifts work in them. People need to grapple with it, ask questions, clarify. Spend five weeks on the theology of the Spirit, including Pentecost; another five on the fire and in what ways God's passion expanded his kingdom in the early church; another session on the Holy Spirit and the early church fathers; other sessions on spiritual gifts, how to share a word, and dreams.
Retreats and Conferences. There are numerous resources where you can invite "an expert" to come and speak into the direction you'd like to go, or the lacks happening across the congregation. These retreats can be focused on a particular people group (like your prayer team), as a church-wide event. And YES make it kid-friendly. Kids have the same Holy Spirit as grown-ups.
Small Groups. These are great safe places for people to pray for one another and see the power of God moving underneath their very hands. Some will catch it like white on rice; others will fail. Confidence will grow. Before they know it they will feel comfortable stepping out on Sunday mornings where the Spirit can speak into the hearts of the churched and yet-to-be-churched and rock their worlds for God.
Private Mentoring. Most churches have a small amount of people who are gifted in the revelatory experiences of God. Mentor them. Get them together. Build synergy. I've heard it only takes a spark ... :)
Questions for the Us Leaders
How - where, when, and in what contexts - have I taught, or labeled something of the mysterious interventions of the Spirit? Does that happen "on time" - live streaming as it's happening? Can it happen during a teaching series during Sunday school? Can I write a BLOG about God's presence in our midst as we gather for worship, or can I encourage people to read about it themselves from books provided on a book table?
Do I have a sense of what spiritual gifts I have been graced with? Do I have a sense of the gifts deposited in my people? While I do have some reservations about "spiritual gift tests," I believe they provide a general trajectory of exploration and promote conversation which work to raise the awareness across the board.
How is the balance of liturgy and Spirit promoted on Sunday mornings? We are full Gospel people and that needs to be reflected, exhibited, welcomed and experienced as we gather.
A big goal for us is to have our people leaving church having had communion with the living and loving God. We are certainly not thrill-seekers, yet we concur that God is thrilling. We are not emotional goose-bumpy folks, looking for a demon behind every corner; but we serve a God who's very presence has been known to make people fall off horses, strike fear in the hearts of many, and make people appear dead. How is that priority reflected in how I talk with others, how I preach, teach, and model ministry?
How is the falling of the Holy Spirit in my church playing into the growth of the Kingdom of God? Pentecost happened for one thing: to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. It didn't come for inner healing, physical healing, healing of memories, prosperity, or spiritual goosebumps, or getting lacks filled that we missed out on getting as children. Pentecost came that we would go out, not to reflect in. "Go out into the nations and these signs will accompany them ... " If my church is engaged in the health of the Spirit, it will by its very essence, be a growing church.
Reflect on these verses. How do my people reflect the words and works of Christ?
"And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
"Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."