Blue Collar Pentecost

I remember so vividly the very first time I saw one of my teachers outside of the context of our classroom. It was there, in the cereal aisle at the local Safeway grocery store, that I first caught a surprising glimpse of my second-grade teacher picking out what appeared to be a box of Grape Nuts from the selection at the breakfast aisle. Frankly, the experience couldn’t have been more shocking. I guess I’d always imagined, in my youthful ignorance, that my teachers had no life outside of school or that they lived every waking hour in the classroom waiting for us to show up to learn from her. She might as well have slept in the coat closet at night, for all I knew. But she had a life, apparently. She was normal, everyday; she ate cereal so there I stood, face-to-face with the one who taught me to add and subtract, looking up and down selective her favorite morning treat. For the first time in my young education, I came to realize that my teachers didn’t live at the school that they didn’t live and die for my education.

Teachers have lives.

God’s sovereign ministry of drawing the world unto Himself in the grace and mercy of Jesus is anything but a work relegated to the strict boundaries of church services or Sunday mornings; to put it more succinctly, God doesn’t live in the church. God has a life. Nor does God sleep in the parish hall awaiting his people to show up once again on Sunday morning so he finally can do some stuff someone’s life. Quite the contrary: God is alive, dynamic, and goes shopping in all the cereal aisles of the world. Appreciating a fresh understanding of this truth about God in our world, undoubtedly, is a critical issue for the ministry and mission of the contemporary church. In his Bible and Mission, Richard Bauckham has made a critical point regarding the everydayness of mission as it pertains to the witness of the church:

The image the Bible itself often suggests for the way its truth is to be claimed is that of witness. This is an extremely valuable image with which to meet the postmodern suspicion of all metanarratives as oppressive. Witness is non-coercive. It has no power but the convincingness of the truth to which it witnesses. Witnesses are not expected, like lawyers, to persuade by the rhetorical power of their speeches, but simply to testify to the truth for which they are qualified to give evidence. But to be adequate witnesses to the truth of God and the world, a witness must be a lived witness involving the whole of life and even death. [1]

Bauckham’s point simply cannot be stressed enough: the work of witness is a task to be undertaken in all of life, the “whole of life and even death,” and not to be isolated to this or that time or place. That is, witness takes place in every part of our lives, not just for a few lucky hours during church services. Certainly, pastors will breathe a fresh sigh of relief at Bauckham’s words for a pastor is all too often having to help every member of their church to see themselves as witnesses who witness best not from behind a Sunday pulpit but perhaps more powerfully from behind the pulpit of their lives and existences. Christian witness is never Sunday-centered; it is “life and death” centered as Bauckham would point out.

Yet the problem remains that the rank and file church membership is so used to showing up, sitting down, and watching someone else do the witnessing that they have never been forced to have to do it themselves. To our great demise, they have grown so used to watching witness take place as a Sunday activity that they don’t know what it would be like to be witnesses in our everyday lives; to see, again, Jesus show up not just on Sunday mornings but in the cereal aisle of life. And with that, I am convinced that so much of our understanding and knowledge about the life of the Spirit has to do with church life, church services, and worship times.

As a Pentecostal/Charismatic, I’ve come to deeply love and crave the openness to the life of the Spirit in Pentecostal worship gatherings. Pentecostalism has done a marvelous job of being open and inviting the Spirit into their worship gatherings. But, with that, has come the problem that the life of the Spirit is almost entirely perceived by Pentecostals (or even non-Pentecostals) as a set of things God does at church—an assumption that is very dangerous. I suppose one of the general reasons a good many Western Christians reserve lingering fears about the life of the Spirit is that everything that they believe they’ve know and seen about the Spirit can be the sum total of what they’ve seen on some television screens or at some weird church service they never went back to. I admit, the Spirit has some weird publicists. But the general problem is that we not gone through the hard work trying to discover what embodying the life of Pentecost might look like in every moment of our mundane lives, of everyday living, beyond church services. And this’s problematic. Quite simply, because what it creates in the minds of Christians is the image that the Spirit only works during church services and seems to go away once the lights have been turned off and the drums have been put away. Thus, we rely on a theology of ignorance as it pertains to an everyday Pentecost. But the base reason has to be a kind of ignorance because practicing the life of the Spirit has become so otherworldly, and requires way too much hairspray.

We desperately need a Pentecost of everyday living. We need a Pentecost that doesn’t require the hairspray and the stage lights.

Like seeing my teacher in the cereal aisle, it is deeply important for us to begin to experience the life of the Spirit inside and outside of church services. This is my critique of modern Pentecostalism of which I am a part—we have done a marvelous job of teaching the move and power of the Spirit on Sunday mornings but have yet to flesh out a life of the Spirit every other day of the week. As such, I believe we need a kind of blue-collar Pentecost—a Pentecost for the everyday, for the practical, for the days in-between church services, for our lives outside of the times the church has gathered to worship [2]. And it comes about by living the life of the Spirit in everyday life. The practice of the life of the Spirit is too connected to church services and not in any way connected to the real-life, everyday experience of most Christians. But the life of the Spirit is not only active when the church has gathered to worship and hear the Scriptures preached. Pentecost, at least our expression of Pentecost, must be expansive and inclusive enough to include the whole of life and even death.

When we are willing to engage this idea I think we will come to be as shocked as I was seeing my teacher in the cereal aisle. We will come to see that the Spirit doesn’t live in church but the Spirit is with the church wherever she may go. It may be shocking at first, but it is true.

As you think about a blue-collar Pentecost—a Pentecost for all of life—what does it look like? What does walking in the Spirit outside of a church service look like?

— [1] Richard Bauckham, Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 99. (Italics mine) [2] From Ray Anderson, The Praxis of Pentecost: Revisioning the Church’s Life and Mission (Pasadena, CA: Fuller Theological Seminary, 1991), 64. [Image by Rex Roof, CC via Flickr]