My sermon for the last Sunday of May was entitled ‘A safe place’. The sermon for the first Sunday of June was ‘I am pentecostal’. The one explains the other. Or, to put it another way, because I am pentecostal (no capital P) there is a good chance that the church will be a safe place – for people to be converted and grow up into the fullness of Jesus Christ.
If preachers are dependent on the Holy Spirit of God to do the work of conversion, they are less likely to resort to ‘methods’, ‘techniques’ and ‘strategies’ to get people to make a decision to become a Christian (the devil, they say, is in the detail – and he certainly gets into these methodology details!)
When all else is left aside, no matter how relevant or trendy it might seem, the simple gospel of Jesus Christ, comprising law and grace, can be presented to all who will hear. It is the Holy Spirit who will then convict of sin and reveal Jesus and his cross and resurrection.
The preacher must therefore be pentecostal – one who looks to the Holy Spirit to do his work. Otherwise we will be strongly tempted to ‘assist’ in the process of regeneration – with the potential result of false conversions.
This perspective affects every aspect of church life. Take church discipline for example. If a pastor depends on the Spirit of God to grow people into the fullness of Christ, then he is less likely to meddle unnecessarily in that process. He will not attempt to force growth or raise expectations beyond normal levels of maturity in dealing with the babes, children, youth and elders in the church.
Anxious parents, especially those who are overly concerned with appearances and performance, can easily discourage their immature children – or even incite rebellion in them. A failure to understand that different Christians grow spiritually at different rates can create an unsafe church environment.
Before my conversion I was a UFO fan and mentioned this to several people at the church I was attending. Fortunately, no one tried to correct me! If they had, I might have walked away.
I have sometimes offended unbelievers by trying to bring them into line with my way of thinking (biblical though it was) instead of simply presenting the doctrines of grace. In addition, I have sometimes been guilty of trying to make spiritual adults out of mere infants in Christ – shoving strong meat at them instead of milk.
What I have written above does not come easily to me as a pastor. There are times when I would love to reprove people for the sub-biblical doctrine they are holding onto, or to correct behaviour that doesn’t match standard New Testament ethics.
Frankly, I love to advise and counsel – which is fine, if such is sought. But I have a tendency to be impatient and overly forward. Times when I thought I was helping turned out to be the opposite.
My pastoral caring looks different now I am in my fortieth year of ministry. It is not that I have gotten old and lazy. Old maybe, but not lazy – I work harder now than I ever did (see Colossians 1:29). But I am trusting more in the ministry of the Holy Spirit and depending less on my own zeal and wisdom.
I am convinced that the divine Parent who brings a son or daughter into the world is best able to grow that precious child into exactly what he wants that child to be.
So, yes, I am pentecostal (with no capital P).