What a privilege to live between Christ’s two advents! The full realization of God’s Kingdom awaits Jesus’ second coming but compared to those who lived before He first came, we are blessed beyond measure to be alive during this season of “Already, but Not Yet”. Post-ascension existence comes with tremendous advantages – namely the Gospel, the Church and the Holy Spirit. By the Spirit’s power, the Church is to be the vehicle for administering the Gospel remedy that God formulated during the first advent for the faithlessness, poverty and illnesses endured until the second advent.
The Holy Spirit not only indwells the bodies of individual believers but the corporate body of believers as well. 1 Corinthians 3:16 confirms that each of us is God’s temple, the Spirit-empowered embodiment of Church. Yet Pentecost reveals that the Holy Spirit also appears amid collective gatherings of His children.
Unfortunately, few pastors teach in depth about the Holy Spirit today. Most American churches instead direct attention to the collective power inherent in the body of Christ rather than the Spirit’s work inside each believer. Therefore, few churchgoers understand the vast power of the Spirit available within them. He is present and desires to be active in each Christ-follower – prompting us, speaking to us and speaking through us.
Many churches also fail to experience the power of the Holy Spirit, not realizing how active He desires to be at every church service, youth group session, and outreach event. Instead, modern church growth models encourage careful planning and scripting, choreographing every minute to ensure worship music and sermons build toward an inspiring, fulfilling crescendo. Where does that leave room for the Holy Spirit to intervene and interrupt the proceedings? Pastors tell church members that the Holy Spirit may throw a wrench in their carefully laid plans yet rarely if ever allow Him to rip up and dispose of Sunday’s script.
Is it likely that the Holy Spirit prompts and speaks to church leaders during corporate worship? Yes. So why do pastors only acknowledge the Spirit’s role in speaking through them? He most certainly also speaks to the church body and individual congregants during church services. Then shouldn’t church leaders make space to heed impromptu interventions by the Holy Spirit?
Some would argue that the Holy Spirit already did His work when the service was being planned, and then left the execution to the professionals – not daring to second guess Himself during the performance. However, the Holy Spirit as described in Scriptures doesn’t typically abide by a strict or predictable schedule or want to step aside while we go about our business.
How Did We Grab Control from God?
Every Christian is called to swallow their prideful desire for control and surrender to the Lord’s will. Likewise, church leaders are to give the Holy Spirit complete control over every aspect of their ministry management efforts. Yet CAWKI (“church as we know it”) growth models are built on carefully crafted attraction and retention strategies that leaders are told to rigorously follow.
Surrendering to the leading and empowerment of the Holy Spirit doesn’t entail abandonment of strategy and reason. Instead, it means tapping into THE Source of wisdom and THE Catalyst for church growth. The steady decline in growth, impact, influence and public perception of the Church in America over the past few decades is a direct result of leaders instead seeking man’s wisdom about how to lead their church:
- Strategies – Well-compensated church growth and revitalization coaches and consultants abound, advocating worldly principles borrowed from business settings
- Education – Expensive seminaries teach a definition of church centered around command and control structures, not around Spirit-led empowerment of the “called out ones” who actually define the body of Christ
- Methods – “Celebrity” pastors pump out books, articles and podcasts on leadership at an alarming rate, characterizing the decline as simply a result of poor leadership rather than the outcome of their own Americanized growth models
- Crisis – Implementation of self-reliant strategies, teachings and methods turns members into “customers”, often bringing about factions and splits over preferences, convincing many pastors to grab more control, not less
- Perfectionism – Some pastors blame themselves when the flawed models aren’t working, redoubling their efforts to pull off flawless execution
- Performance – Leadership anxiety and burnout follow from abdication by members of their intended role as the personification of Church, elevating pastors to a level of responsibility, standing and expectation that God never intended
- Finances – Validation of organizational success in our culture today is largely predicated on physical structures, leading to prioritizing building funds over funding the biblical mandates of building and deploying disciples
Given all of that noise and the many churches down the road still catering to “customers” rather than challenging disciples, is it too risky for a church to buck the prevailing trends and surrender to the Holy Spirit’s leading? And what would that even look like? I would argue that the risk of quenching the Spirit in the life of your church far exceeds the risk of losing a few members who aren’t prepared for that radical transformation.
How Do We Give Control Back to the Lord?
Is it truly possible to let the Holy Spirit run our church? CAWKI models, methods, programs, structures and service schedules are so ingrained and regimented today that they defy interference from the Holy Spirit. Making space for the Spirit’s leading means listening attentively and obeying faithfully His prompts and utterings regardless of when He speaks. That’s what pastors tell congregants to do – in all circumstances. Since the Holy Spirit lives both in the bodies of church members and in the midst of the collective body of Christ, pastors should practice what they preach – even during a church service.
The path to that kind of transformation involves a complete shift from the world’s metrics to Kingdom drivers:
- Numerical growth to personal growth
- Loyalty of members to the institution to loyalty of disciples to God
- Sustainability strategies to dependence on the Lord to provide
- Engagement in church activities to engagement in prayer, care, share
- Not only serving at church but also serving in missions (local and international)
- Man’s wisdom to Scripture’s clear instructions for the Church around discipleship, evangelism and compassion
Jesus provided us the Gospel, the Church and the Holy Spirit to deal with life’s challenges between advents. Only by prioritizing GC2 (the Great Commandment and Great Commission) over human conventions can churches take full advantage of the glorious assets now at their disposal. That will take much more than just church reform – it will require faith reform.
We’ve observed many examples of leaders clearing a path for the Holy Spirit to work, providing some of the most memorable and impactful moments in the history of those churches:
- A megachurch interrupted its sermon series to connect struggling families with those who could help during the Great Recession
- Churches across a city regularly cut services short to go out to serve and share Christ in a spirit of unity, following Jesus’ example of leading with compassion and pursuing those who wouldn’t dare to darken the door of a church on a Sunday morning
- A tight agenda for a discipleship meeting was scrapped when the leader felt nudged to suddenly call a mentor and put him on speaker phone to share a life-changing message
- A pastor stopped in mid-sentence, folding up his sermon notes, and tearfully shared what he had heard the Spirit speak to him the night before
- A community church decentralized into smaller house churches, relinquishing control and taking the onus off pastors to do all the work by training leaders to make disciples
- A multi-site turned its small groups into neighborhood groups, equipping members to be “pastors of their neighborhoods” between Sundays
- A worship service was held with no plan or bulletin at all – just obeying whatever the Lord said to do, trusting that the Holy Spirit would speak
It’s Your Turn
Is Christ the head of your church or is it run by human beings? To encourage our blog readers, please give an example of how the Holy Spirit is being allowed to lead the way at your church…