It has been the goal of the RTM blog to add a second post to my own (Dave Fitch) every week. As always these will be short reflections from planting, leading, pastoring missional communities, as well as reflections on theological issuescentral to the future of church life in Mission. Most of the time this happens Wednesday Thursday. But not always (due to the fact that “stuff happens”). This week’s second post is from Ty Grigg, a co-pastor at Life on the Vine Christian Community. Read about him here. Interact with him. Challenge him, question or provoke. We love it all here at the RTM blog!
Jason worshiped with a church in the city that I had recommended to him. He came back to me and said, “The church seemed dead. We were left wondering – where’s the Holy Spirit?” Ouch. I wondered if he was right or if he simply wasn’t acclimated to the absence of emotionalism and hype. I wondered if his assessment had more to do with the kinds of prayers that were being prayed and songs being sung, than spiritual deadness.
Another church is asking the same question of themselves. A pastor said, “We need more Holy Spirit here – more signs and wonders and hearts that break for the lost.”
What makes me feel uncomfortable about these Holy Spirit conversations? Defensiveness? Perhaps.
But mostly it has to do with two assumptions we make:
- We know how to evaluate whether the Holy Spirit is present or not.
- We can control whether the Holy Spirit is present or not.
Signs the Holy Spirit has “Left the Building”
1. The danger with the first assumption (that we can evaluate the Spirit’s presence) is that we make the things that we already value to be the markers of the Holy Spirit’s activity. For example, the Corinthians valued eloquent speech – so those who could speak eloquently were then seen as more Spirit-filled. The evaluation of where, through whom, and in what activities the Spirit was present in Corinth led to comparison and divisiveness.
If a community starts evaluating and comparing who is more spiritual or what activities are more spiritual than others, then the Spirit may have left the building. (that should be read with a Jeff Foxworthy drawl) We can still point to Holy Spirit activity but mostly in hindsight and even then only partially. This kind of witness to the Holy Spirit in our lives is descriptive (unity, holiness, signs, peaceableness, order, love, repentance/sorrow, wisdom, Gal. 5:23 fruit), not prescriptive. This is demonstrated by experience – often I do not recognize the Holy Spirit’s work or activity in my life in the moment. Only looking back do I see his fingerprints – often where I least would have expected.
2. The danger with the second assumption (that we can control or rouse the Holy Spirit) is that we will come to see the Holy Spirit as a tool rather than as a person of the Godhead who loves us. This is the sin of Simon (the Sorcerer) in Acts 8:9ff. We may know that we cannot buy the Holy Spirit’s power with money, but what about through discipleship, practices, biblical teaching, etc?
If leaders try to rouse the Holy Spirit among us through “discipleship” or some other form of flock-nudging, the Holy Spirit may have left the building. The Holy Spirit will not come through coercion or shaming. When we are worried that the Holy Spirit is not among us, we subtly make “getting” the Holy Spirit back a goal. The Holy Spirit is not a goal to be obtained, but he is a gift that has already been given. If we are a community that affirms that “Jesus is Lord,” the Spirit is here (1 Cor. 12:3).
What if we assumed the Holy Spirit was already present – in fact, the one who makes the existence of our community possible?
What if we spent more time describing how we see the Spirit already at work among us rather than fretting about whether the Spirit is really here among us?
What if our exhortations and convictions came in response to the Spirit’s presence and activity, rather than as a way to get the Spirit to come back?