It has been 20 centuries since the extraordinary event recorded by Luke in Acts 2 occurred. Today, those who embrace this same filling of the Holy Spirit and believe that His supernatural gifts accompany it are members of the fastest-growing movement in Christianity.
At least a quarter of the world’s 2 billion Christians are Pentecostals—those who embrace a “baptism” in the Holy Spirit and believe the gifts of 1 Cor. 12:4-11 are valid and active today. According to a survey by The Barna Group, 36 percent of Americans, or about 80 million adults, claim this spiritual experience.
In The Foursquare Church, the power of the outpoured Holy Spirit is the very foundation of our heritage. For part three of our “Reclaiming the Gifts of the Holy Spirit” series, we spoke with Foursquare pastors and ministry leaders about what it means for the Holy Spirit to move freely in our churches today—and how we can keep that fire burning as we move together into the future.
While their ways of introducing and pastoring the work of the Spirit vary, they agree on one thing: We must be about reclaiming the importance, gifts, power and guidance of the Holy Spirit in our churches.
Introducing the Holy Spirit
In Portland, Ore., Senior Pastor A.J. Swoboda of Theophilus Church (Hawthorne Foursquare Church) leads a congregation of about 150 to 200, most of them from the city’s alternative culture. Many come from unchurched backgrounds and know nothing about the Holy Spirit. A.J. preaches often about the Trinity as a way to introduce them to the Spirit and honor His equality with the Father and the Son.
“In the U.S. church, the Holy Spirit … is like the Cinderella of the Trinity, relegated to being third,” A.J. explains. “But the role of the Holy Spirit in the Trinity is as important as the role of the Father and the Son.”
A.J. makes room for God to work through the gifts of the Spirit in his congregation, but he also accentuates practical forms of service—such as loving and serving people—to teach the value of other expressions of the Spirit.
Teaching as a vital introduction to the Holy Spirit is also an approach favored by John and Sonja Decker, ordained Foursquare ministers, teachers and missionary evangelists. They have had good success with this in their ministry, Christ’s Ambassadors International, which provides ministry training and Spirit-led small-group training.
The Deckers have served in two Foursquare churches for 31 years where the philosophy of both churches is to be visitor-friendly—use of the gifts of the Spirit is not encouraged in the weekend services. The Deckers have successfully trained hundreds within Foursquare how to operate in the gifts of the Holy Spirit in that type of church context. They participate in a once-a-month Holy Spirit service at their home church, during which use of the gifts is encouraged.
“We are still growing in this area,” Sonja tells Foursquare.org, “but it is exciting to see how the church is maturing in the corporate expressions of the gifts.”
John believes being “Holy Spirit sensitive” during corporate gatherings is important, but acknowledges that “it is totally up to senior leadership to allow or disallow the release of the supernatural gifts whenever we gather.”
For any church or ministry leader, the potential for spiritual gifts to be wrongly used in corporate settings is a valid concern today, just as it was when the apostle Paul penned his first letter to the Corinthians with detailed instructions on the their use. What safeguards, then, should be weighed when introducing the gifts into a congregation?
Doretha O’Quinn, vice provost of multiethnic and cross-cultural engagement at Biola University and assisting minister at Faith Community (San Diego Foursquare Church) in San Diego, Calif., believes the gifts of the Spirit shouldn’t be taught in a quick course. People should be able to practice their spiritual gifts, she believes, but church leaders also should test and affirm what they see.
“Teaching what the gifts are not, when to live them out, what they are for and why they are given is essential,” she says, while noting the fallout she’s seen from the improper use of the gifts: “Over the years, there have been so many confusing layers to the operation of the gifts of the Spirit that it has pushed many away even from their relationship with Jesus.”
Senior Pastor Christopher Manginelli of Mill Creek Foursquare Church in Lynnwood, Wash., similarly notes that “many believers are skittish about the gifts due to previous experiences that they deem as scary, inappropriate, religious or sensational.” As a pastor, he advocates listening to people and trying to understand why they feel as they do about expressions of the Spirit.
It’s one thing to introduce the gifts of the Spirit into a church; it’s entirely another challenge to grow a church in which the use of the supernatural gifts can occur openly in main services.
Sonja Decker notes that a church in which the supernatural gifts are frequently and openly manifested in main services may actually be too much for visitors to handle. She offers a viable alternative: “A ministry training institute that teaches Christians how to operate in the gifts of the Spirit without being weird is the best way we have found,” she says.
Senior Pastor Steve Schell of Northwest Church (Federal Way Foursquare Church) in Federal Way, Wash., says pastors must determine for themselves why the work of the Holy Spirit in a corporate setting is important, then explore practical ways to allow for the spiritual gifts so that they help the church grow without being an obstacle. He advises several ways to accomplish this, such as pastoring the gifts, scheduling different types of services, raising your own leaders, confronting problems when they arise and allowing for honest mistakes.
In the end, the obvious cannot be overlooked: Why is the supernatural presence of the Spirit needed? South Pacific Area Missionary Jerry Stott makes the answer clear: “It was for power. He was given to us so we would go out—and make an impact.”
Jerry, who oversees 22,000 churches in 12 countries, says not allowing the deeper work of the Holy Spirit in our churches benefits no one.
“Eventually we will lose all if we do not allow the Holy Spirit in our churches,” he asserts. “People respond to what breaks the strongholds on their lives.”
You are reading Part 3 of a three-part series.
Read Part 1: Reclaiming the Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Up Close and Personal
Read Part 2: Reclaiming the Gifts of the Holy Spirit: In Friendships and Groups
By: Jimmy Stewart, a freelance writer living in the Orlando, Fla., area