Our staff’s weekly devotions are from a book by an experienced pastor whose one-page reflections are well written and usually right on. A recent one was on advancing the kingdom of God in church life. His description of what should and can happen through grace was well said. But he missed the key ingredient—the Holy Spirit.
It is easy to say what “should” happen in healthy congregations. There is a whole theology of ecclesiology. A good translation of the Latin is church life. What’s biblical church life all about? The best such theologies are about capturing the biblical concept of the mission of a congregation.
In my view of ecclesiology, you can’t talk about church life without the fundamental role of the Holy Spirit. In Martin Luther’s description of the Trinity, the role of the Spirit is to “call, gather, enlighten and sanctify the whole Christian church on earth.” The Spirit brings individuals to faith. The Spirit calls believers to gather in church life. The Spirit brings new understandings to a believer’s faith life. The Spirit moves believers to grow in their relationship to Christ. In short, the Spirit changes motivations.
Another word for the Spirit’s role is better discipleship. You can teach discipleship to the few who are interested. But little is going to happen until the Spirit motivates individual believers to want to become better disciples. Head knowledge helps. But until a believer becomes enabled to see with the eyes of heart, little will change. Seeing with the eyes of the heart is Spirit-work.
How can you possibly talk about better church life without focusing on the Holy Spirit at work? Without having motivations of members changed, there will not be much change in a congregation.
This vital work of the Spirit usually does not follow our plans and schedule. Like the wind, the Spirit blows where he will. Yet there are steps church leaders can take to put participants where the Spirit can work on them.
1. Pray frequently and publicly for the Spirit’s work among your congregation’s members. Pray that he would motivate them in ways reflecting God love working and Christ’s grace healing. Give thanks where you see evidence of such motivations. Don’t let the Holy Spirit be just a cliché attached to the end of a comment or prayer. Teach through public prayers.
2. Encourage members to put themselves more squarely in the Spirit’s workshop. Christ’s Spirit is active wherever God’s Word is preached and taught. But he gets better results where there is personal application. Such application is learned best when other believers share their personal insights and what those mean in their daily living. Provide opportunities to promote such personal sharing of faith insights. Small groups are a good example. Aim to move social small-talk into faith-building God-talk.
The Spirit’s influence gets overlooked in most traditional churches. Our situation stands in stark contrast to almost all growing churches world-wide. They focus on this Third Person of the Trinity, while we stay focused on the First Person of the Father and the Second Person of the Son.
Observers note that the world-wide Christian church is growing faster now than at any time in Christianity’s 2,000-year history. Much of that growth is among people in former Communist countries where they were raised as Atheists. In Africa now, those raised in a culture of Animism, of many spirits who affect life, are discovering the depth of the biblical God. They are especially focused on the spirit who is the Holy Spirit.
Here’s the thing. If you are raised in non-Christian heritages, you will be attracted to a God who does things in your life now. We traditionalists stay mostly stuck on the God who did things in Christ a long time ago. Biblically, Christ’s Spirit does God’s work here and now. Certainly this active Spirit deserves as much attention as the Father and the Son.
After Jesus taught his special prayer, he went on to encourage his disciples to ask, seek and knock. He promised they would receive and find what they are asking for. What he was promising is that they will receive the Holy Spirit: “As fathers know how to give good things to their children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Would you agree that you can’t talk about church life without emphasizing the Holy Spirit’s basic role in developing spiritual life? How did traditional churches miss this basic biblical fact? Why?