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Pastoring a Pentecostal Church

  • Hugh Bair
  • 2014 20 Aug
Pastoring a Pentecostal Church

When the church slipped out of the womb of God on the Day of Pentecost, God began calling “shepherds” with a distinct voice to guide the flock of God. In other words, a pastor is called of God to be the earthly undershepherd with the responsibility of feeding, equipping, leading, and training the sheep in the way the Lord has ordained.

Shepherding God’s sheep is not an easy task, for we live in one of the most complicated ages this world has ever experienced. It is an age marked by novelty, newness, and cultural diversity. The death of permanence has taken place; nothing is the same. Therefore, a Pentecostal minister cannot respond to our postmodern world with strategies that deal only with surface issues. Instead, he or she must create new methods of sharing the message without disturbing the essential qualities that make the Pentecostal church Pentecostal. As pastors and leaders, we need the Spirit-driven process of daily transformation through His empowering work to guide God’s people. Therefore, the aim of this chapter is to broaden and deepen our understanding of pastoring a Pentecostal church in the twenty-first century.

The Pentecostal Church in a Postmodern Society

It is incredible that in nine decades the Pentecostal community has emerged from a small band of believers to an international movement with an estimated 463 million followers. During the early years of the movement, its participants were on the margins of society. Today, the Pentecostal / Charismatic experience has penetrated much of Christianity, profoundly influencing the way God is worshiped. Rippling like waves in the various aspects of mainstream Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox faiths (José Rica, Report on Globalization of Pentecostalism), as a result of its growth, Pentecostalism has been described as a movement “made to travel” (David Westerland, Global Pentecostalism).

It is not difficult to assess the psychological conditions that have contributed to the appeal of the Pentecostal message in our postmodern world. In an age of information saturation that is causing psychological overload, the Pentecostal message reduces truth to one source of information (the Bible), and one interpretation (the Holy Spirit). In other words, the Holy Spirit is the chief Pentecostal experience, giving supernatural power in difficult times.

The challenge the Pentecostal Movement is facing is a renewed identity in a postmodern society as to what the center should be within the Christian church. Jesus speaks of this phenomenon using the analogy of “new wineskins,” as opposed to old ones, to explain the attitude and approach the church must take.

If the Pentecostal church is to continue to flourish for generations to come, its pastors must begin to think in terms of both reclaiming the foundational traditions that have given the church its identity, while embracing the future. Therefore, we must construct a different approach to our Pentecostal faith: it should be one that empowers the pastor and shifts the church toward community involvement.

Consequently, pastoring in the postmodern world can be a challenging task. The postmodern world is biblically illiterate, skeptical, unconvinced that truth exists in absolute terms, and adrift from Judeo-Christian beliefs. For instance, if you think of a teenager with green hair or authentic long black dreadlocks, with earrings in the nose and eyebrow and tattoos, is unsettling or disturbing, you are not alone. This person represents more than just the latest in body piercing. He or she is a symbol of an emergent culture that requires the church and the pastor to rethink how the church ministers in the twenty-first century.

Postmodernism is a reaction against the values of the modern world as shaped by the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment. Contemporary Western society is characterized by the centrality of the individual, the demand for progress, and the uniformity of the worldview that has increased because Internet technology has confronted us with instruments of mass destruction. Corporate life has no sense of the soul, and most people feel empty.

Typically, young people watch at least twenty hours of television a week, in addition to spending a huge amount of time with music, video games, and the Internet. The cultural context of the postmodern society is actually a fertile ground for the recovery of authentic spirituality. However, if a Pentecostal pastor is going to function well in a postmodern context, one of the tools that he or she is going to need is the ability to equip the laity. Equipping is essentially a relational, rather than a programmatic, ministry that involves building up the people of God in the faith. Further, an equipping Pentecostal pastor should engage the community and the culture in which he or she lives.

Progressive Pentecostalism and Pastoring

James Forbes characterizes his style of ministry as “Progressive Pentecostalism,” with a deep commitment to transformative social action. He has pulled together a sense of the history of the Pentecostal Movement and a vision of what the Pentecostal church should be today (The Holy Spirit and Preaching).

How will the Pentecostal movement that is sweeping the country be expressed in the social order? Shall the movement be against culture . . . of culture . . . above culture . . . culture in paradox? Or shall it be a transformation of culture? (Richard Neibuhr, Christ and Culture). Is the Pentecostal Movement another escapism, a kind of infantile womb-search? Shall it go outward, and, if so, in which direction? Will it convert others to Jesus without regard to social structures, or convert Christians with little or no concern for personal salvation, or change both for individuals and institutions? How should Pentecostals respond and move in the social order and respond to the current culture?

Many years ago, the apostle Paul confronted a Christless culture in Athens, Greece, and his challenge on that day was identical to the challenge we face in our culture. How does a pastor remain faithful in faithless times? How can we connect with a culture yet remain uncompromised by it? The apostle Paul lived in faithless times, yet he remained faithful. Paul’s missionary approach to connect with people and culture is considered a pattern that a Pentecostal pastor can imitate. How did he endure with such effectiveness for the Kingdom? He began with conforming himself to Christ. Paul said, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Paul presented himself as an example from which we can learn because Christ was his example to follow.

Engaging the Current Culture

Paul walked headlong into the heart of Greek culture in order to engage it; he never considered ignoring or avoiding it. Instead, he engaged and discerned the times and the cultural context where he found himself. “While Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols” (Acts 17:16).

Our cities and towns today are filled with idols. All around us are idols of money, power, sex, and knowledge. Each community produces its own idols; part of the process of pastoring a Pentecostal church is understanding this.

However, preaching against culture has become a regular occurrence in most churches. This is not the way to be relevant. A pastor cannot engage a culture if he or she is not an integral part of the culture; so, how do pastors preach without being captured by it? In order for pastors to be effective, they must operate on the principle of contextualization (Nora Tubbs Tisdale, Preaching as Local Theology and Fort Art). Their quest is for pastoring that is more intentionally contextual in nature—in other words, ministry that gives serious attention to the interpretation of the Word of God and to the interpretation of the community. Specifically, pastors are called to make disciples in a world increasingly influenced and discipled by their postmodern culture. In other words, pastoring in a postmodern society involves a willingness to minister to the misery in the community; the Scripture must be lived—not just quoted. The church has a responsibility to understand people and the culture in which they live.

Types of Social Ministry

There is no greater need than for Pentecostals in the cities to articulate, both in word and deed, a social spirituality. If the whole church is to take the whole gospel to the whole world, it must have a “holistic” spirituality. Miller and Yamamori spoke of holistic ministry:

The types of social ministries include the following: feeding, clothing, and sheltering people; drug rehabilitation programs, HIV / AIDS prevention and medical care; microenterprise loans; job training; visiting people in prison, as well as providing support systems for their families; family reunification, including divorce intervention and bridging programs between teenagers and their parents; pregnancy counseling; ministries to prostitutes; medical and dental services; services to the elderly, the handicapped, and single parents; educational programs for children, ranging from establishing nursery schools on church sites to providing school fees for children and youth; residential programs for street children and orphans; and counteracting racial prejudice and other forms of discrimination (Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement).

If progressive Pentecostalism is going to be authentic and relevant, then it should correlate with all of life; the Spirit of the Lord, who leads and empowers, must lead and empower all areas of our life—that is the essence of lordship. Yet most of our Pentecostal churches have been defined by only a personal dimension that is inner-directed and vertical. The missing dimension of social transformation (which includes social witness, social service, and social action) is outer-directed and horizontal.

Our former definition of our faith remains a priority, though it has been excluded from our definition of spirituality as Pentecostals. Thus, the goal of progressive Pentecostalism and the pastorate is a double spiritual focus: (1) a vertical focus—the continual transformation into the likeness of Jesus, the resurrected Lord (1 John 4:7-13); and (2) a horizontal focus—the following of Jesus, in similar obedience of the Father’s missional calling (Luke 4:18-19). These can be carried out only through the power of the Spirit. Both have a vertical and horizontal dimension that interrelates them and dynamically supports them.

The horizontal is worked out in a social context—a social context that deeply needs both intellectual and apostolic activity. The brokenness of society, the scriptural missional mandate, and the Spirit’s love constrain us to feed the hungry, visit the sick and prisoners, and shelter the homeless and poor—to express God’s love in social concerns. We do this as an expression of faithful obedience and authentic spirituality because we love with God’s love.

As a Pentecostal pastor, I am challenged to acknowledge that an authentic and relevant spirituality must be holistic, responding to both the vertical and the horizontal dimensions of life. The texture of social existence reveals the presence of institutions and structures that govern life and seem to have a reality that is independent of the individual—thus they can become oppressive, sinful, or evil. We are all part of this texture of social existence, and our spiritual living is influenced by this knotty web (Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology for the Social Gospel).

We must realize that sin and evil go beyond the individual; we are all caught in a social living that is complex and dynamic. Thus, our spirituality, and the very gospel that we preach, needs to be as big and infinite as sin and evil.

A Balanced Ministry of Transformative Social Involvement Within the Context of the Community

The tendency of many Pentecostal churches is to see evil too individualistically and not confront structural sin and evil. A balanced ministry is not afraid to take on structural evil. Our struggle for an authentic and social spirituality must be mindful that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world” (Ephesians 6:12).

A balanced ministry must correspond with the geography of evil; consequently, the Pentecostal church must see itself not only as a locus for personal liberation but also as a locus for social liberation. Progressive Pentecostalism is moving the church to a balanced form of ministry on the fulcrum of reality. The “movement” of the Spirit empowers the church to an understanding that social ministry is personal and public, prophetic and pastoral, lay and clerical. It is critical to note that progressive Pentecostalism is related to the mission of the church. The church’s mission includes engaging in power encounters with sinful and evil structures. It also means that the church must bring the power of the Spirit to break the chains of hate, hostility, and injustice embedded in society by introducing the values of the Kingdom (i.e., love, justice, fair play) and unleashing a “chain of change.”

At Christian Life [Church], the assembled are concerned about regeneration and racism, hell and housing, justification and justice, prayer and poverty, and Holy Spirit and social involvement in Baltimore, Maryland. As a Pentecostal pastor, I seek a theology that is holistic, responding to both the vertical and the horizontal dimensions of life, which leads to a full-blown understanding of the Holy Spirit. This is the bedrock of authentic and a biblical spirituality.

Spiritual Formation for the Pentecostal Pastor

Spiritual formation is a phrase that has recently become extremely popular in Christian circles. Everyone receives spiritual formation, just as everyone gets an education. The essential question is whether it is a good one or a bad one. As pastors, we have counted on preaching, teaching, and knowledge or information to form faith in the hearer and have also depended on faith to form the inner life and outward behavior of the Christian. But, for whatever reason, this methodology has not produced the results that we have wanted. I am of the opinion that the most important part of who we are is our spiritual life, yet we rarely spend adequate time developing it. Spiritual formation is about the process of developing our spiritual life. In order to gain a deeper understanding of spiritual formation, it is helpful to distinguish it by three different meanings.

First, one can understand spiritual formation as training in special spiritual activities that lead to success in ministry. This certainly is what goes beyond overt behavior and connects deeply into the inner or spiritual life of the Pentecostal pastor. In other words, spiritual formation should have an impact on the vocation of the pastor (Todd Hall and Mark McMinn, Spiritual Formation Counseling and Psychotherapy). Dallas Willard sees spiritual formation from a wide perspective and believes that it refers to the practice of the classic spiritual disciplines (“Spiritual Formation in Christ: A Perspective on What It Is and How It Might Be Done,” Journal of Psychology and Theology). Spiritual formation is the outward behavior of the successful pastor or Christian worker, and can be thought of as the practicing of spiritual disciplines.

Second, spiritual formation may be understood as a process of crafting the inner life, or the spiritual side of the human being. It involves the formation of the heart or the will of the pastor, along with the emotions and intellect. The spiritual dimension of the self is explicitly formed here (Hall and McMinn). In other words, spiritual formation has a direct impact on a person’s personality formation and his or her character. Of course, there will be manifestation in the realm of overt practices and behaviors.

Third, spiritual formation can possibly be considered from this perspective as a shaping of the spirit by the Holy Spirit that involves other spiritual vehicles; for example, the Word of God and explicit obedience to Christ. The language of the Great Commission in Matthew 28 makes it clear that our task as pastors is to make disciples, which is related to spiritual formation. On the other hand, we have relied on psychotherapy and counseling to contribute to a spiritual maturing of the inner and outward life, inappropriately placing them on a pedestal. As a result, not only have we forgotten our spiritual traditions of spiritual formation, but many believers have looked to psychology for their spiritual formation rather than the Spirit of God.

As a resident in psychology and who practices psychotherapy with clients on a weekly basis at Christian Psychotherapy Services in Virginia, I believe that therapy should not be a replacement in the process of spiritual formation. The emphasis on outward behavior over inward qualities of the heart is to some measure where the church has lost its role in fostering spiritual formation. The passion for spiritual power without the aim of spiritual formation puts leaders in a position of ability without the spiritual character to sustain their ministry.

In order for us to gain a deeper understanding of spiritual formation, we can conclude that spiritual formation is impacted by three intentional learning experiences.

1. Learning About Spiritual Disciplines. Spiritual disciplines are intentional and personal, and they facilitate a growing relationship with God. In order to practice spiritual disciplines, pastors need to have a clear idea of what they are and what their function is so they can be integrated into their personal lives. It is possible to learn about spiritual disciplines by reading about them. Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth is a classic work in which spiritual disciplines are divided into three domains, each contributing to a balanced spiritual life:

  • The inward disciplines of meditation, prayer, fasting, and study provide opportunities for personal examination and change.
  • The outward disciplines of simplicity, solitude, submission, and service help people make a positive difference in the world.
  • The corporate disciplines of confession, worship, guidance, and celebration draw us nearer to God and to others.

In each chapter is found the biblical foundation for the discipline, the role and purpose of the discipline, and a wealth of ideas and illustrations that encourage a pastor to experiment and practice.

Practicing the Spiritual Disciplines. Throughout Scripture, people are called to participate in spiritual disciplines, but people today may question why there is little biblical instruction as to how to carry out that participation. Prayer, meditation, worship, fasting, and celebration were previously common practice and very much part of the cultural context. We clearly do not understand the process of exploring the inward life. Over the last twenty years, I have practiced various spiritual disciplines, and I have received tremendous spiritual power and learned to trust in God and His power to deliver. For example, meditating and fasting have caused me to do an in-depth examination of myself. This has kept me honest with myself as I meet God in the context of the disciplines. Additionally, at the last two churches I have pastored, and also at the current church I am pastoring, I have led the congregation in the various spiritual disciplines. I have written testimonies about individuals who have received healing and answers to prayers and have had tremendous spiritual breakthroughs in their lives.

3. Accountability of Small Groups. Spiritual-formation accountability groups have the capacity to foster openness, honesty, accountability, confidentiality, and significant changes in the lives of the shepherds who participate in them. These groups have proven to be helpful to pastors because individuals are able to meet occasionally to discuss their ministries. Most of the time is spent on the group reflecting as members balance group time between sharing, formation reading, Bible study, prayer, and outreach. Pastors share in accountability groups and bear one another’s burdens, speaking the truth in love. It becomes a useful model for disciplining. According to Zenas Bicket, Wayde Goodall, and Thomas E. Trask, accountability groups are in line for God’s richest blessings, and they can do the following: “Through accountability, pastors avoid sin, strengthen character, deflect the discouragements of ministry, sharpen their grasp on truth, transform loneliness into friendship, manage grief, experience healing, energize faith, resolve problems, exchange ideas, stay balanced, expose and repulse specific attacks of the enemy, develop leadership, and keep ego in restrain” (The Pentecostal Pastor).

Accountability and spiritual formation can only be achieved intentionally. They rarely ever “just happen”; it must be deliberate, desired, and purposely cultivated. Clearly, a pastor is not called to minister alone, and spiritual formation is not a solitary activity. It is the process of learning to live life as it was always meant to be lived—in the presence of God, with God at the center.

Spiritual formation is important for pastors because what they do must flow out of and be consistent with what they are. In no other profession is consistency in being and doing so necessary. Without the spiritual dimension, ministry will degenerate to implementation of psychological technique, organizational methods, and motivational cheerleading. Real power in ministry springs from spirituality that comes from a personal encounter with Christ.

Issues In Contemporary PentecostalismTaken from Issues In Contemporary Pentecostalism. Used by permission of Pathway Press, Cleveland, TN 37311,

How does that identity and theological perspective affect how Pentecostal pastors and leaders deal with issues facing the contemporary church? The writers represent a wide range of ministry styles and vocational contexts. All were given considerable freedom in the issues they discuss, the methodology they employ, and the conclusions they make.