Ministering Across Generations

A young pastor recently asked me how to best minister to a congregation where the average attendee was 20-40 years his senior.  My advice: minister with gratitude, grace, and eyes of faith.  Those are attitudes with practical applications.

Gratitude

You inherited a treasure trove.  People who have faithfully attended and given to the church for years have walked the long road and they are still here.  That is far more valuable than one might appreciate in earlier decades of life.  Whether experiences good or bad, these folks have a lifetime of experiences: ministry experience, marriage and child rearing experience, reconciliation experience and more.  A wise person learns from all of life experience and you have inherited a church with hundreds of years of collective experiences and resources.  Thank God for these people and tell them so.  You will likely learn they are very grateful for you, too.

Grace

The fact you are a ‘nice young man’ or ‘nice young woman’ is a plus. Your congregation will love you just for showing up and looking neat and respectful.  They will be gracious about your preaching, which is a a win-win for a new preacher. Older people are smart enough to know if you faithfully preach the Bible, it is relevant and meeting their needs.

You best minister to your church members by reminding them of grace. Remind them of all the great truths that have borne them well thus far.  Remind them that in spite of the life’s disappointments and failures they still have purpose.  Grace got them launched on the journey and regardless of age, they will only continue and bless if they do so relying on God’s grace.

Eyes of Faith

We need a vision at all ages of life. This is harder to maintain as we age because we have so many physical limitations that we can’t do all we can see could happen.  That’s where you, the young person come in.

Last June, I heard a message where the speaker shared about several old New England churches that had under 10 elderly members and were looking to shut down and donate their buildings and resources to God’s kingdom. Rather than close, they were advised to prayerfully consider agreeing to stay open and take on a young pastor. Each church did this and within three years attendance had swelled to 60-80 people of various ages.  The original congregation had eyes of faith but not the physical energy to do what was needed.  Yet through prayer, lending what help they could and having faith to hang on, they helped re-establish an evangelical witness in their communities.

You might be thinking, “Vision?  Folks in my church can’t see past their next surgery”. True, it is easy to get inward focused with more of life’s challenges but this is where you remind people how much they are needed.  In a world of fractured families, many people are looking for mentors, grandparent-models and aunties.  We build based on the resources we have not our limitations.  I have friends who ‘retired’ from the mission field and within six months were teaching ESL to immigrant families.  They did not let age stop them from serving in God’s kingdom.

It is easy as a young pastor to feel you are failing older congregants if you can’t impart some spiritual wisdom on a regular basis. Unless they are newly saved, older people are well served by simply reminding them of things you might be learning for the first time.  The fact is, together, old  and young, we are the Body of Christ and His power to work a miracle of growth depends on the prayerfulness, faith, and vision of your church members.  It will never be limited by age.

 

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I Skinned My Shin On A Honda

I am 100% committed to an intelligent Pentecostal hermeneutic. If you have seen crazy stuff, as I sure have,  I understand if it has caused you to be skeptical.  I’ve been there.  Just be sure that human foolishness does not turn you away from that which is genuinely from God. If we abandon that which the Lord describes in detail in scripture because we have seen good things abused we are just as carnal in our approach as the person who abuses what God gives. In both cases we are elevating human reason and human experience above scripture.  The Word of God instructs us in proper, orderly usage of every thing from tongues in our private prayer life to the many gifts given to His Church. Disorder distracts from His glory. To decide not to pursue that which God has chosen to give us is not intelligence, but arrogance. It is our attempt to make intellectual peace with something that shouldn’t occur in the first place. We are essentially saying, “I’ve seen so much craziness, I am going to ignore the fact God addresses craziness and forbids it. Instead, I’ll neglect all of His gifts with which I feel uncomfortable.”  (“I” being the standard of what is good and what is not, just like the garden).  The idea of using what He has given, as He has instructed us is apparently too simple a choice.

Christians are a supernatural people. We should live like it. God is not unwilling to do what He speaks of in scripture but there is a remarkable dearth of volunteers to simply act on the Word of God.  If we genuinely sought that which God has placed before us, and acted in the orderly manner described in 1 Cor. 12-14 our services would be thrilling.  God never intended the a Pentecostal service be a madhouse that frightened visitors. This is not about us. The saints gather for a dynamic display of God at work and to bring others into a vibrant relationship with the Living God.  We shelve His plans, make our own,, and wonder why we find it hard to show up at our self-powered gatherings.  We know something is missing and ask what it is.  The Bible is rather clear what we’re missing so our choice should be clear.

Dumb Stuff That Turns Us Off

People get turned off to even the prayer language of tongues by “dumb stuff”.  Someone takes people in a room and tells them to repeat nonsense syllables.  People need a genuine experience with God and are understandably perplexed when they are counseled to repeat things that sound like items off the local Chinese restaurant menu. One pastor, expressing his frustration with people being coached that way that way, joked that there are people who would encourage sincere seekers to say, “I skinned my shin on a Honda”really fast believing the tongue twister would  trigger a real experience with God.  This kind of thing sounds crazy, because it is.  It also turns people off from using a gift of grace that is theirs by faith. Nothing makes the devil happier than to see God’s people make peace with living with less than God would give them. The less we have to fight him, the happier he is.

Why This Really, Really Matters

All of this really, really matters. We need all God offers His church not 54.9% of what is in scripture or only that which makes us comfortable. End time predictions do not matter.  It is always the final generation for everyone we meet. Everyone gets just one lifetime to hear.  God has made the same things available to every generation so each generation chooses whether to seek all that God provides or not.  I often feel that we are like people who show up to a five alarm fire equipped with buckets of water and Swiss army knives because “we’ve had some bad experiences with power tools” and then wonder why we are so ineffective at rescuing people from certain death.  Better for everyone is we showed up with the power tools and handled them according to the instructions.

Intellectual Objections

I understand fear of speaking in tongues, because I had a case of it myself. I didn’t want to make it up. I was not wild about having dozens of people cling to me like human fly-paper at an altar call. Yet scripture spends a lot of time talking about these very issues. I had one choice: to seek God and ask if it was true. The scriptures are remarkably convincing, as is God, when given a chance. Every revival in the last two millennia has been marked by a return to the gifts of Spirit.*  Is that because God only gives these gifts during revival or because we get desperate enough for revival that we finally pray for God to do “anything” in us and He simply does what He promised in scriptures?  Why do we choose to live with so much less?

Next: The Supernatural for the Skeptic

*I started to document details and have so many pages of references it does not fit a blog.  I will provide these upon request.

All Do Not Speak In Tongues

In 1 Cor. 12:30 Paul asks a rhetorical question, “Do all speak in tongues?” Remarkably, Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals agree that the answer to that question is “No, they do not”. In the context of Paul’s discussion in I Corinthians 12, where the context is spiritual gifts as they are used in a church setting, everyone agrees that not all speak in tongues. Regardless of your starting point, it’s universally agreed that if everyone speaks in tongues out loud at the same time we have one messy confusing church gathering.

Likewise, as to the context of I Corinthians 12-14, Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals agree: Paul is discussing the use of gifts of the Holy Spirit in a church setting. The areas where people do not agree focus on two major questions: “Did the gifts cease when the canon came into being?” and “Is speaking in tongues in a church setting, the same as speaking in tongues in one’s private prayer life?”

How Important Is This?

Being a planner, I struggled with the issue of tongues and gifts for a long time. Prior to becoming a Pentecostal minister, I struggled with “the initial physical evidence” for a long time. So if you struggle with this, you have company. You have questions that deserve answers and the scriptures have those answers.

Being honest, it takes a lot hermeneutic gymnastics to explain away the gifts of the Spirit. That is extremely inconvenient for those of us who like predictable things. While we love to sing that God is alive, we seem rather shocked that He has this plan to to actively participate in church gatherings. However, the Lord deemed the gifts so important that He devoted a great deal of scripture to instructing His people in the proper use of them. None of us want to lay claim to arrogance, but if the Lord God instructs us in the gifts so that His church might be healthy, who are we to say, “We have no need of them”? We cannot read Galatians 3, Romans 12, or these chapters in 1 Corinthians and escape the fact that a “normal church experience” as Christ intended church to be “normal” was meant to include the use of gifts of the Spirit. I can think of nowhere else in all of the New Testament where Christians are so eager to explain away three chapters of scripture.

Being stuck with the truth that “Gee, there’s a lot in there on gifts”, I had to work through the issues. People often enthusiastically point out that tongues are not that important because if we speak with tongues and have not love, we are like an annoying gong. This leads me to ask, “If we don’t speak in tongues and act like a loveless jerk, are we any less annoying?” Chapter 13 does not exist to belittle the gifts but to remind us they do not trump the fruit of the Spirit. By the time we get to I Cor. 13:10, we have to be grasping at straws to take the Greek word for “mature/perfect” and decide for this time and this time only in scripture, it really means “the authoritative canon of scripture”. It takes more faith to come up with that explanation and ignore three chapters of scripture than to simply read the text for what is says.

Unfortunately when I read the text I realize something that requires change on my part. We are living with far less than Jesus offers His church and we are so comfortable living with so little, we find it easier to justify our ease than to seek what we lack. We find church predictable and boring because we are by nature, predictable and boring. We’ve left so little room for God to move, and are terribly afraid of the consequences if He does. Yet we hold in our hands a very clear New Testament model of what a healthy church should look like.

Putting Tongues in Place

My first hurdle, personally, was to determine if Paul spoke about tongues as “a prayer language”  that was distinct from the gift of tongues used to edify the church. In I Cor. 14. Paul explains why speaking in tongues in church without interpretation is counterproductive. He also teaches us the following concerning tongues:

Speaking in tongues is a form of speaking to God, by the power of God and it is a mystery (vs.2) that strengthens the person who is praying (vs. 3)  Paul states his strong desires that everyone speak in tongues (vs. 5)* and boasts that he personally speaks in tongues more than everyone (vs.18). Tongues are a sign for “unbelievers” (vs. 22) and an expected part of church gatherings (vs. 26). The only limit he gives is that no more than two or three messages in tongues with interpretation should occur per meeting, so everyone in the church has a chance to contribute using his or her corporate gift. (vs. 27). Even as Paul reminds the Corinthians of the importance of orderly worship, he says clearly “don’t forbid speaking in tongues” (vs. 39).

The Big “But”

My original question was why anyone would think of tongues as “private prayer language” that was not one and the same as the gift listed in Chapter 12.   (If Paul could have made paragraph breaks, used HTML and inserted emoticons, a lot of things would be easier to understand. Just saying….)  The truth that praying in tongues privately, should not be confused with the gift of tongues spoken in a corporate setting as prompted by the Holy Spirit, is the very reason Paul had to write chapter 14.  He spends so much time explaining the difference, that  I nearly missed the glaringly obvious “but“. Paul’s boasts how much he spoke in tongues, privately,  and the very next phrase is “But in church …”

Right there in front of me Paul made a distinction between speaking in tongues privately and speaking in tongues in church. Oops. In fact, he spent much of the chapter parsing the two that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. So there I was, willing to consider that “mature/perfect” (I Cor. 13:10) might somehow be contorted to mean “the authoritative canon of scripture” yet I was overlooking a conjunction of contrast with an unmistakable meaning: “but”.  Why?  Because like most people I am tempted to harmonize my experience with scripture so I am comfortable with my lack.  The real problem most of us have with scripture surrounding the gifts is they point out our church experience lacks what scripture says should be normative.  That should not cause us to reinterpret scripture. It should cause us to earnestly seek that which we lack.

I had studied myself into a corner:  Paul did indeed distinguish between praying in tongues privately and the gift of tongues as a sign to unbelievers. Like it or not, I had to dig deeper and so this series will continue….

Next Time: I Skinned My Shin on a Honda
*(The words “wish” or “could” are not in Greek, so adding them to English sounds like it would really great if people could speak in tongues but it is not actually possible. If Paul wanted to express wishful thinking,  he would have used the subjunctive. Instead, Paul used the indicative form.  Paul is expressing a strong desire that everyone speak in tongues, not to frustrate people who have not done so, or make them feel bad,  but to encourage them to keep seeking.)

The Great “Who Is”

Sundays come and go. We sing to the Nameless “You”. We sing of being ravished by love, wanting to shout it out, jump, freedom (x7), and other nice things that happen to us. We don’t sing using the Name of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, nor of the Son of God who shed His blood to ransom us back, nor the Holy Spirit who indwells us. We do not sing of the sin from which we are blood-washed, the joy of salvation by the grace of God Incarnate. Often I think we should just rename it “we-ship” since we focus on our feelings, thoughts, reactions and how well it is going for us. Today, a pastor friend expressed her feelings after a morning of service saying, “I was singing like Jesus is my boyfriend”.

I laughed but with a heavy heart. Neither of us were raised with any Bible knowledge but as the Bible says, through the “foolishness of preaching” and the proclamation of Christ in song, we were changed. I’m a 10 years + older than my friend and hymns were not our chosen genre (think Crosby, Stills and Nash for me and she’s so young I don’t know) but as much as we joked about tunes in 9/8 time, we sensed God’s Spirit’s present when the church sang about Jesus, the Lord Almighty, the Maker of the Universe, the Son of God Incarnate who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and fire. Yes, music has modernized and we are glad for it. But we did not need to stop singing truth. Our God has a Name and His Name still makes my heart soar. We actually can sing “This I Believe” and we should.

NEWSFLASH: WE ARE NOT UNITARIANS

Unitarians have no name for God. They are lovely people who believe that it is possible but not mandatory that there exists a Nameless Great Gender Neutral Someone/thing/force who can’t really be known except as we/you/me/they/he/she/ze/e* perceives said Being. Unitarian optimists hope, in the wishful sense, that when someone dies they go to a better place. Unitarian pessimists just let people live on forever in their hearts. There is no assurance of anything since nothing can be known. They normally meet in very nice landmark churches with rainbow flags out front. They are not more welcoming than we are, but the one thing they firmly believe is that should A Great Who-Is exist then He/She/It welcomes you to that house of faith (or doubt) depending on your faith or faithless orientation.

Their music is as pallid as their belief: God has no name.

Our God Has a Name

Our God has a Name. We should sing it. We should proclaim it. We should shout it from the roof tops. We live in a post-Christian era when people simply cannot be expected to guess their way into the gospel. They don’t need to guess if we spend our services proclaiming Jesus Christ the Son of God. We are called to ascribe worth to Him. It is not a 45 minute sing-a-long led by a coach who tells us how to act like we are blessed. We don’t need to pretend if God is really there. We need to sing the truth and proclaim it clearly and with the joy that truth still resonates within my heart 40 years after I first heard it.

As my friend shared, she spoke of a teen, for whom time on earth would seem quite limited. He came to church for hope. When she asked him the subject of the songs, he replied that he presumed the songs were about God but had no clear idea they were about Jesus. Forty-five minutes of what might have been joyous song-filled proclamation of Christ, gave way to “singing like it was to a boyfriend” and this young man still had no clear hope.

Young People Change This

Each of us is called to reach our generation and train the next. I can’t sing or write like I am 20-something. Someone 20-something can and must create music that sings the unashamed, unabashed truth that Jesus Christ came to save sinners and if He is lifted up He will draw all men to Himself. If He is not lifted up we and all who hear us will be bored to numbness. Don’t blame your pastor or worship leader. Fix it. Write songs worthy of the Son of God. Stop rolling the dice with visitors. Stop rolling the dice outside the church with other people’s souls. We are saved by One who deserves that we sing with beauty and power and promise. When a lost person meets you he or she should not leave without hope. May we always be ready to share the only name given among men by which we might be saved: The Name of Jesus.

*ze/e are new alternatives that a famous university is providing so students can choose their own pronouns

(Yes, I will pick up on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit tomorrow. I just had to get this out of my system).

When Azusa Street Makes Bad Theology

I chose that title to grab your attention. Before anyone panics: I am an ordained AG minister who whole-hardheartedly adheres to the fundamentals of our faith. I do not question the validity of the Azusa Street revival, nor do I question the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. But I chose this title after a number of young people told me that the foundation for their understanding of the doctrine of the Baptism of the Spirit was based on the events at Azusa Street. That misunderstanding deeply concerns me. Our beliefs are not based on any extra-biblical historical experience but on the only authoritative source for faith and conduct: the Bible. The moment we use experience as the basis for our beliefs, we open the door to deception. All our experiences should be evaluated in light of the Word of God. The Baptism of the Spirit is not something that was born out of a revival in 1906. It can and must be evidenced in scripture. If you hold firmly to that which is not found in scripture, lose it ASAP.

We are Christians, Not Existentialists

Azusa Street was a great revival prompted by the Spirit of God. I know this because that which was experienced was in accordance with the teachings of the scripture. As Christians we evaluate all experience in light of the Word of God. When John Wesley was so overcome by God’s presence in prayer that he slipped into “ecstatic utterances” we do not wonder if John somehow forgot how to speak his mother tongue or briefly lost his mind. He “prayed with the Spirit and not with (his) understanding”. (I Cor. 14:15)  Scripture interprets his experience for us. The world does not use the scripture to discern what is genuine and what is not. The world determines what is true and what is not based on experience and the end result is a subjective mess. Those who judge truth by experience are “existentialist”. Christians can determine personal preferences by experience (hazelnut, or caramel latte?) but we are never, never to determine truth by our experience.

Why is this Crucial?

I chose Azusa Street because it touches on a “distinctive” of our faith: our belief in the Baptism of the Spirit. It is vital. It is true. It is biblical and we should be able to demonstrate that from the Word of God. In the next several posts I will do my best to answer the questions I am most frequently asked regarding the Baptism of the Spirit.  At the same time, my prayer is that everyone reading this will remember that is is crucial that we evaluate everything through the lens of the Word of God. The fact that something “can occur” does not mean that it is from God. The magicians of Egypt were able to replicate some of the miracles that Moses performed. Scripture repeatedly reminds us that power is not the same as truth. Truth is powerful but not all demonstrations of power are truth.

False prophets will come. Deceivers will work signs and wonders that seem so powerful that were it possible they would deceive even the elect. (Matt 24:24)  People will cast out demons, prophesy and do mighty works in Jesus Name but they will still not be people sent by the Lord (Matthew 7:7). How will we discern what is true from what is false? Only by an excellent knowledge of the Word of God and discernment by His Spirit.

Next: A Deposit is not a Dollop

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Healing – Part One

Healing is Biblical. It is not a Formula

The first time I laid my hands on a person with a tumor it was so large it could be felt in the arm of the woman for whom I was praying. I had been a Christian for about three months. The pastor told me to lay hands on Michelle and I did as I was told and as we prayed it shrunk. I could feel it shrink in my hands. She was supposed to get her arm amputated that morning but she was healed and I felt it. She went to the hospital that morning and they marveled.  For the next eight years, during which our church was in a state of revival no one died of any prolonged illness but everyone was healed. One close friend was healed of metastatic ovarian cancer and later attended what was then known as Zion Bible Institute. The only man who died was a well beloved deacon who dropped dead two days after Christmas and shocked all of us. We just never got a chance to pray over Don.

So, in 1988, I went off to the mission field believing that healing was the norm. Our first week among the Kobon-people presented enough challenges to blow my theology out of the water. One woman hemorrhaged to death in my husband’s arms. Over the next four years we prayed for everyone. I’m not sure but at the time I thought they all died. I reached the point of saying, “Dear Lord, they are so sick maybe I better not touch ‘em”.

I had prayed full of faith and people died. That was not in my theology.

In the years that followed I struggled a lot with the issue of faith and healing and began to notice things I had not noticed before in scripture. Personally, I am partially paralyzed below my waist and am very much a “walking miracle”. In praying about my own situation the Lord reminded me of Jacob who wrestled with God and thanks to the Lord’s touch,  limped for the rest of his life. How many people would have dragged that poor man down for total healing to every altar call were he in a healing service?

I began to see that on some days Jesus healed everyone of everything. On other days Jesus didn’t heal everyone. He just picked someone and healed one person and the rest, well, He loved them but they were as sick before as after. (See John 5 for selective healing). For the first 30 years of His life there is no record he healed anyone and His own earthly father died in that time. How had Jesus prayed then?

I thought of the Apostle Paul who first evangelized the Galatians because he got sick in their area (Gal. 4:13) and of Elisha who was suffering from the illness that ended his life when he prophesied to Jehoash (II Kings 13:14) There are countless other instances of illness healed and illness not healed in the scripture. There simply is no formula.

What Do We Learn?

The good news is if you pray for some people and they are healed and you pray for others and they are not, you are having a very biblical experience. Welcome to the real world where God does things you do not expect. Keep praying, because that is what we are commanded to do.  If you are currently a “walking miracle machine” you’ve been saved a fairly short period of time. Be sensitive to the Spirit.  Eventually you see healing evangelists who have a real gift but continue to try and work beyond what the Lord has enabled them and finish a meeting with as many spiritual casualties as healings.

Secondly, scripture records highlights. Extraordinary moments between God and man. It is condensed information. If I wrote the highlights of my life in a hundred page volume it would sound like I lived from one amazing moment of glory to the next, with slight breaks for terrifying incidents which we survived only for more amazing things to come. Ask anyone who knows me well and they can tell you I’m fairly boring on a good day. “Non-episodes” are not recorded so we tend to think the highlights were the norm when they were, in fact, the highlights.

Thirdly, when I was once asking God, “Why?” regarding His timing and response to prayer, He replied back with a question of His own. “You want to worship a God whose character is infinite, limitless and eternal, all-knowing and unseen. Do do you really expect Him to answer all your prayer in accordance with your character which is finite, fallible and trapped in time?” Good question to which the answer is, “No, I do not.”

God is in the business of furthering His kingdom and healing is part of the plan. It is never an end in and of itself but there are many more questions we face.

Tomorrow: what makes a person truly healed?
www.vanaria.org