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Summer 2004, Vol. 1, No. 1

Editorial:

Theology and Practice in Pentecostal Ministry

Edgar R. Lee, S.T.D.
Editor and Senior Professor of Spiritual Formation and Pastoral Theology, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary

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One of the truly exciting aspects of Pentecostal theological education is that ministers in the tradition have a growing awareness of their need for information and training capable of propelling them to new levels of effectiveness. I look back on my early years of church planting and think how much more effective I might have been had some of today’s scholarly professional studies and church leadership books been available to me. While rigorously schooled in orthodox theology at one of the finest evangelical seminaries in the country, I had little understanding of leadership theory as we know it today. It was not then a part of seminary curricula.

As cultural shifts have signaled the need for new and innovative methods of reaching out with the good news of Jesus Christ, the Willow Creeks and Saddlebacks of the U.S., along with many fast-growing Pentecostal churches, have shattered old stereotypes and boldly forged new forms of outreach and worship. They have also spawned a host of new pastors’ conferences and released a veritable flood of how-to-do-it books by those who have actually “done it.”  Many of these leaders have plugged into the learning of academicians who have studied the art and the science of leadership, as well as those who have gleaned healthy insights from the social sciences and organizational studies and have given us a whole new genre of church growth/health/leadership (the nomenclature keeps shifting!) literature.

The stories of Jesus, who understood his own people and their culture, and his followers, Paul being a prime example, all show us how important it is to know where people are and how to reach and lead them. A reading of the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles demonstrates that walled synagogues and temples were just starting points for early believers. The Spirit seemed to direct them to fishing boats, lakesides and hillsides, villages, public squares and markets, rented halls and courtrooms. In all these places, and others, they contacted, affected, and gathered people into groups of faithful disciples. Never did they simply cluster in a building, hang out a sign, and expect people to come to them. Understanding the social dynamics of their age, and guided by the Spirit, they took initiative to gather in the harvest.

Christian leadership may not be “rocket science.” Nevertheless, it is a discipline to be studied, mastered, and applied if we are to follow first-century precedent. Assemblies of God Theological Seminary exists to help men and women come to a better understanding of the gospel and how to present and apply it. It is also vital in our service to the Church that we critically evaluate contemporary leadership experts, their books and conferences, and readily apply new methods that are consistent with biblical faith.

However, in developing our theories of church leadership into an academic discipline, we must never forget that the discipline is merely a medium for communicating the gospel of Jesus Christ and nurturing his people in the world. It is possible to confuse the medium with the message! To compromise the gospel in the interest of a slick, painless, “hip” package that will seize the attention of the crowd is theologically and morally repugnant! We want to ensure that not only are we educating in effective and up-to-date leadership theory but we are also inculcating a truly biblical theology of ministry.

Early Pentecostals, intuitively responding to the power and wisdom of their new-found baptism in the Holy Spirit, quickly came to apply to their ministries the words of the Lord through the prophet, “’Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6). Also drawing on words of Jesus like, “Stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49), and “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8), they rightly concluded that the “bottom line” in ministry is the power of the Spirit. The rapid growth and present strength of the Pentecostal and charismatic churches around the world validate their spiritual intuition.

Unfortunately, however, Pentecostals largely have failed to go much beyond such passages and our theology of ministry remains underdeveloped. There has been relatively little concentrated Pentecostal research and reflection on what the full sweep of the biblical canon has to teach about Spirit-filled ministry. As the younger generation of God-called and Spirit-gifted men and women ministers come “on line,” it is easy for them to assume by default that the philosophies and methods that appear to drive the big churches around the world are all one needs to know about ministry. Inevitably pragmatic in their methodology, Pentecostal clergy are easily enamored with the latest leadership guru. The danger is that we may become pragmatic socio-technicians bending like reeds before the winds of the times without sturdy commitment to the gospel or any real sense of the power and wisdom of the Spirit of God.

A crucial part of the AGTS and Encounter’s reason for being is to engage Pentecostal and charismatic scholars and ministers in a careful, ongoing examination of ministry theory. To be sure, we will eagerly “spoil the Philistines” for the best in contemporary leadership theory. But even more urgently, we will study and reflect on what the Bible says about the nature and work of ministry. We want to contribute to the formation of a vital Pentecostal theology of ministry.

It is important to note that Pentecostal ministry is not simply ministry as practiced within a particular sub-culture—the Pentecostal churches. All true Christian ministry flows from Pentecost when Jesus poured out His Spirit on the Church. In so doing, our Lord not only constituted the Church as His people but He also empowered the Church to speak and act on His behalf. He constituted a “prophethood” of believers, to use Roger Stronstad’s term. The first recipients of the Spirit were poorly equipped by human standards—educationally, technically, economically. Yet, in one generation they could be said to have turned the world upside down. As we read and teach from the finest texts available, we will also engage our colleagues in a careful exploration of what the Bible says about the way these early believers understood and practiced their earth-shaking ministries—and the ways in which their recent successors have captured those truths and fitted them without compromise into powerful contemporary ministries.

Without attempting to be definitive, a truly biblical and Pentecostal theology of ministry should deal minimally with the following:  (1) Ministry is the work of Christ exercised through all his people in the power of the Holy Spirit. (2) Ministry is, to use contemporary terms, essentially charismatic rather than merely professional and hierarchical. I use the word charismatic—Paul’s primary word for spiritual gifts is charismata—to indicate that ministry is actually the gift and activity of the risen Christ by His Spirit. All God’s people are given spiritual gifts and prophetic anointing to equip them for unique tasks. (3) The tools of the ministry are the charismata, the gifts of the Spirit, with which the Triune God—Father, Son, and Spirit—endows those whom He has chosen. (4) Certain individuals are marked out and gifted by the Spirit to exercise servant leadership among all the gifted ministers of Christ and bring the body to maturity. (5) The Spirit of God is the ultimate source of wisdom, guidance, and power for ministry. (6) Signs and wonders continue to be a vital expression of a living Church effectively carrying out the mission of Christ around the world. (7) Godly living and prayerful expectancy are essential to Spirit-filled and powerful ministry.

Encounter aims to be an accessible online journal of Pentecostal reflection on the nature and work of the ministry, both as to its biblical definition and as to its utilization of the finest in contemporary theory. But putting first things first, it will aim to be true to the commission of our Lord in refining modern theory with Pentecostal fire fresh from the God-breathed Scriptures. We invite our readers to join us in dialogue as we do exegesis, theology, ethics and ministry praxis. In such dialogue, we believe we can better fulfill our AGTS mission which is, in brief, to shape “servant leaders with knowledge, skill and passion to revitalize the church and evangelize the world in the power of the Spirit.” 

Updated: Friday, June 16, 2006 10:22 AM