I've been reading Alan and Deb Hirsch's book Untamed for a second time. There is so much good stuff in there that I just had to work through it again. Something settled on my heart this time that kept pushing at me. How do our churches and, in particular, small groups help people open up to the power and wonder of the Holy Spirit?
Perhaps I'm wondering this because we're heading toward the celebration of Pentecost and the Holy Spirit has been on my mind a lot lately. Or perhaps it's because, as a pastor, I so yearn for my church to be set on fire by the movement of the Spirit that we will see and do those amazing things Jesus says his disciples will do in John 14:12, "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father." And because Jesus is going to the Father, he will send the Holy Spirit, the counselor, guide, director, spiritual conscience to nudge and move us along in our discipleship. I don't know what you think, but for the average Christian I know, there isn't a whole lot of "doing even greater things" going on in their lives. I look at myself and wonder how much I've opened up to the work of the Holy Spirit. I've had the privilege of experiencing some pretty amazing and incredible God things, some that scared the pants off of me and some that humbled me to tears. I still have a lot more opening up to do.
I know that the disciples were confused by everything Jesus was telling them during the upper room discourse -- in fact that's why he says to them, "Do not let your hearts be troubled"(Jn14:1,27) -- but imagine their surprise after Pentecost when they started doing miracles, standing with boldness and teaching the gospel like never before even to the point of death. And imagine how they must have felt seeing the new believers come alive in the power of the Holy Spirit and become a true community of believers like God intended (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35). That must have been an amazing sight to see. So how's that going in your church?
I believe our small groups are the place where this type of discipling community happens and often begins. But the Holy Spirit is the key player in the formation of such communities. I realize that our CRC tradition has typically downplayed the power and transformational work of the Spirit. And while that is changing, many of our folks are either ignorant of the work of the Holy Spirit or perhaps somewhat afraid that opening up to the Holy Spirit might make us a bit too charismatic. I'm not sure that's such a bad idea.
I appreciate what Alan and Deb Hirsch have to say about this,
"The conservative evangelicals need to be willing to fly closer to the flame and cope with holy chaos in their lives and churches, while the more charismatically inclined need to learn the value of objective truth and communal accountability. It is characteristic of a flame that it brings both heat and light." (1)
"The challenge for all of us is to get to know the Holy Spirit in deeper ways and to remember that God will not be reduced to a set of ideas and beliefs. Untamed disciples must allow themselves to be drawn into the numinous and somewhat dangerous orbit of the divine if they are going to be genuine lovers of God. As the moth is drawn to the flame, believers who have made God into a system of ideas need to risk being overwhelmed by God again if they wish to be authentic disciples. Being an untamed follower of Jesus means risking ecstasy and losing control. " (2)
And so I can't help but be challenged to ask the question, "How is this happening in our small groups? " Or perhaps better still, "How do our small groups create an environment that encourages and reinforces the work of the Holy Spirit in people's lives -- to fly closer to the flame?"
I don't want our church and especially our small groups to be guilty of Paul's exhortation at the end of 1 Thessalonians 5 to not put out the Spirit's fire or treat prophecies with contempt (v.23). I know that this fall our focus is shifting a bit with some of our leadership training including ways to open our groups to a deeper relationship with the Holy Spirit.
How about you?
'til next time,