Our staff’s weekly devotions are from a book by an experienced pastor whose one-page reflections are well written and usually right on. A recent one was on advancing the kingdom of God in church life. His description of what should and can happen through grace was well said. But he missed the key ingredient—the Holy Spirit.
It is easy to say what “should” happen in healthy congregations. There is a whole theology of ecclesiology. A good translation of the Latin is church life. What’s biblical church life all about? The best such theologies are about capturing the biblical concept of the mission of a congregation.
In my view of ecclesiology, you can’t talk about church life without the fundamental role of the Holy Spirit. In Martin Luther’s description of the Trinity, the role of the Spirit is to “call, gather, enlighten and sanctify the whole Christian church on earth.” The Spirit brings individuals to faith. The Spirit calls believers to gather in church life. The Spirit brings new understandings to a believer’s faith life. The Spirit moves believers to grow in their relationship to Christ. In short, the Spirit changes motivations.
Another word for the Spirit’s role is better discipleship. You can teach discipleship to the few who are interested. But little is going to happen until the Spirit motivates individual believers to want to become better disciples. Head knowledge helps. But until a believer becomes enabled to see with the eyes of heart, little will change. Seeing with the eyes of the heart is Spirit-work.
How can you possibly talk about better church life without focusing on the Holy Spirit at work? Without having motivations of members changed, there will not be much change in a congregation.
This vital work of the Spirit usually does not follow our plans and schedule. Like the wind, the Spirit blows where he will. Yet there are steps church leaders can take to put participants where the Spirit can work on them.
1. Pray frequently and publicly for the Spirit’s work among your congregation’s members. Pray that he would motivate them in ways reflecting God love working and Christ’s grace healing. Give thanks where you see evidence of such motivations. Don’t let the Holy Spirit be just a cliché attached to the end of a comment or prayer. Teach through public prayers.
2. Encourage members to put themselves more squarely in the Spirit’s workshop. Christ’s Spirit is active wherever God’s Word is preached and taught. But he gets better results where there is personal application. Such application is learned best when other believers share their personal insights and what those mean in their daily living. Provide opportunities to promote such personal sharing of faith insights. Small groups are a good example. Aim to move social small-talk into faith-building God-talk.
The Spirit’s influence gets overlooked in most traditional churches. Our situation stands in stark contrast to almost all growing churches world-wide. They focus on this Third Person of the Trinity, while we stay focused on the First Person of the Father and the Second Person of the Son.
Observers note that the world-wide Christian church is growing faster now than at any time in Christianity’s 2,000-year history. Much of that growth is among people in former Communist countries where they were raised as Atheists. In Africa now, those raised in a culture of Animism, of many spirits who affect life, are discovering the depth of the biblical God. They are especially focused on the spirit who is the Holy Spirit.
Here’s the thing. If you are raised in non-Christian heritages, you will be attracted to a God who does things in your life now. We traditionalists stay mostly stuck on the God who did things in Christ a long time ago. Biblically, Christ’s Spirit does God’s work here and now. Certainly this active Spirit deserves as much attention as the Father and the Son.
After Jesus taught his special prayer, he went on to encourage his disciples to ask, seek and knock. He promised they would receive and find what they are asking for. What he was promising is that they will receive the Holy Spirit: “As fathers know how to give good things to their children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Would you agree that you can’t talk about church life without emphasizing the Holy Spirit’s basic role in developing spiritual life? How did traditional churches miss this basic biblical fact? Why?
Krista Nagy says
Absolutely agree with this! Thank you for always knowing how to clearly write what is so clearly needed for people of congregations to be fully open to being useful in a God’s amazing kingdom work.
Hi, Krista. Thanks for your encouragement.
Lee Larsen says
Simply following traditions, and certainly many churches to this day are all about traditions, lead to stagnation. We are not talking about moving away from the word of God, but to continue to methodically “go through the motions” because this is what we have done for a 100 years or more, leads to questioning, “For why do we do this again?” There is no spark, there is no action, we just sit and receive.
For example it is good that our worship includes readings from the Old & New Testament and the Gospel however when it is merely read aloud it many times looses the full impact, or any impact at all for that matter. When on occasion our retired history teacher does the readings he adds so much more to these words by putting them into context. It is like a night and day difference. Well the same holds true for our faith. It must be brought to life through real-world application. Opportunities if you will, where His Spirit is revealed to us in some very obvious ways. These moments are priceless as they serve to recharge our faith or even boost it to levels never experienced before.
I keep coming back to our church doing monthly PACK (Planned Acts of Christian Kindness) Outreach for over 25 years where we share the love of Jesus and an invite with everyone in our community through simple surprising acts of kindness done in His name. Something very special happens when you unselfishly love on ALL people in this way. Many appear to not be in need of anything, that is until the Spirit opens their heart to reveal some very hurting souls that are in the midst of a crisis. The timing of how these moments come to be at all is miraculous in itself! Even the toughest skeptic has to begin to see the hands and heart of God at work before them through His Spirit.
Lee, as usual you are right on. I will send you the future blog where I mention your P.A.C.T.
jeanne menich says
i totally agree with you. the spirit is what makes the heart of the church run, however, so many people totally do not understand the role of the spirit and many pastors are afraid to say anything because they fear it will somehow affect their mainline congregants negatively and in the process affect giving. so many pastors concentrate on how giving is affected and because of the lack of understanding of so many christian principles congregants base their giving on what they feel are standard principles. unfortunately, the construct of the third person of the trinity is a stranger to most people going to church. the spirit is something to them that exists outside of basic theology. pastoral training needs to concentrate more on the concept of spirit and how important it is to a spiritually healthy church.
Hi Jeanne. Yes, our traditional heritage did not know to make of the Spirit, beyond mentioning him in the creeds. The Pentecostals drew our attention to the spiritual gifts of speaking in tongues. That opened up all the gifts in 1 Cor 12. Luther highlighted the Spirit’s role of calling, gathering, enlightening and sanctifying all believers. Maybe a new generation will better appreciate the Spirit’s work–for the few traditional churches that are still around.
Elaine Schomaker says
Just read this blog post about the necessity, in the traditional churches today, to emphasize the power of the Holy Spirit in the here and now and encourage personal application where others can share their personal sharing of faith insights. So important that you emphasized “Biblically, Christ’s Spirit does God’s work here and now.” Certainly, a challenge to emphasize all three persons of the Trinity in our congregational worship, and then to encourage the personal sharing with each other and allowing the Holy Spirit to work within each of us. Quite a gift, Dave. Thank you!!
Hi Elaine. Thanks for your encouragement. I learned a lot through Lutheran Lay Renewal and the workshops we did. Nothing beats having to explain things simply and receiving feedback.
Pastor Bob Hoffman says
A. My wife and I have leaned on the direction of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Looking back, we notice where we have been planted to be a powerful conduit for the work of the Holy Spirit. At present I am on leave from call. Even yet I am anxious to notice what the Holy Spirit has in store for both of us, on the “kairos” timeline, not the “chronos” timeline.
B. With the urging of Pastor Dave Daubert through a parish renewal program in our Lower Susquehanna Synod of our ELCA, I introduced his conviction that people’s sharing of their awareness of the activity of God in daily life enriches others and emboldens them to share this active trust in God more and more in their daily interactions with all others.
I am assuming Pastor Daubert was involved in the charismatic movement that moved strongly in Lutheran circles fifty years ago. And then the movement faded away. It really is hard to understand how the Spirit works and his kairos. I am glad I can help nudge along a greater appreciation for the Spirit’s work today.
John Haak says
I read a book once on the subject that rearranged my heart through the Holy Spirit; “The Holy Spirit, Shy Member of the Trinity” and right now I’m sorry I forget the author’s name. It has kept my heart at peace through these discussions. Our heavenly Father said, “This is my Son, and I love Him. I am very pleased with Him.” (Mathew 3:17 NIRV). The point being the Father points his creation to the saving work in the perfectly loving act of the Son, Jesus. For us mortals He will do that always.
The other part was life changing to me. The Holy Spirit, likewise, only and always point us to the saving work of Jesus in ways we do not often recognize because it is the Holy Spirits doing. It is all done through One God head. This is how I understand the strengthening of my faith and how an unbeliever comes to know Jesus as Savior and God as Father since no one comes to the Father but through believing in Jesus.
Forgive me if this is to long. The point being the Holy Spirit leads and points to the cross and Jesus not to the Holy Spirit.
“I give my peace to you. I do not give it to you as the world does. Do not let your hearts be troubled…” (John 14:27)
David Luecke says
Thanks for sharing. It is exciting to hear how a book (or maybe a blog) can rearrange one’s thinking. I looked up the book on the Shy Member of the Trinity. It is by Fredrich Bruner. I bought it. Another phrase is that the HS is a gentleman.
Luther described the Trinity in terms of the roles each member took. That is so much more productive.