Becoming Charismissional image

Becoming Charismissional

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Yesterday, I explored some of the ways in which the charismatic-missional tension is felt by those of us who are convinced that we as churches are called to mission, and called to experience the person and work of the Holy Spirit in greater power and intimacy. Today, I want to suggest some ways forward. I have already started by doing the unforgivable, and coining a new piece of jargon, charismissional, for the fusion of spiritual and evangelistic zeal I am hoping for. (It may not be new; who knows?) As someone who regularly mocks Christian leadership jargon being used without irony - my favourites of late are being invited to a "roundtable" and asked to help "set plumbline" for people - and who has written pieces trying to disentangle words like "missional" and "Reformed", this might seem out of character. I hope it does. But whatever you say about neologisms, they do have the power to make people stop and think about how their constituent parts work together. So charismissional it is.

My aim today is simply to suggest how, in the light of the challenges I highlighted yesterday, we may both experience the fullness of life in the Spirit and be as evangelistically fruitful as possible. I’m aiming primarily at church leaders, though I hope all sorts of people will find something of interest here. So, in anticipation of more facetiousness from my fellow bloggers about my passion for enumeration, here are ten things which I think may help us.
 
1. Believing that being charismissional is possible. This is the biggest one, because as soon as people concede that it is impossible to be both charismatic and missional at the same time, they will give up trying, and simply choose between them on the basis of preference. The book of Acts, and particularly the Pentecost story, is absolutely critical here: the age of the Spirit began with a dramatic outpouring of God’s power, resulting in strange yet captivating charismatic phenomena (languages, tongues of fire, a rushing wind), but also in a clear explanation of what was happening alongside an articulation of the gospel, with the result that many were converted. It was the ultimate charismissional moment, and in Luke’s narrative it is intentionally paradigmatic for the church’s activity in the world. That doesn’t mean we will always get it right, or that if we do, 3,000 will respond to the gospel. But it does mean that giving up is not an option. It is possible, and biblical, to be charismissional.
 
2. Being honest about how charismatic you really are. In a comment on a recent post, Phil Moore asked the provocative question: “Do elders who allow weak blessed thoughts to masquerade as prophecy actually despise the gift of prophecy more than those who forbid it?” Some of us, I suspect, may believe our meetings are more charismatic than they are because we have “contributions”, and we may then make a value out of having members of the congregation speak into the microphone during the singing time - as if this, rather than the manifest presence of God, was the essence of being charismatic - even if many of the contributions are not spiritual gifts as Paul describes them at all. Be honest: are the things people contribute in your Sunday meetings truly charismatic? Do unbelievers hear the prophecies that occur and fall down before God in awe? Or have the prophecies become blessed thoughts, the testimonies become anecdotes, the tongues/languages become random babble, and the interpretations become attempts to fill the awkward silence afterwards? It may be a bit of both, and that’s fine; we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But be careful not to make a virtue out of being charismatic rather than missional, if you’re not being genuinely charismatic in the first place.
 
3. Being honest about how missional you really are. There’s no shortage of online material on this; bloggers of all stripes seem to love tweaking the noses of highly contextualised, missional pastors who all dress, talk, live and sound the same. But behind the bluster lie some important questions: is your church seeing lots of people saved, or lots of people transfer in from other churches? (In my church, we feel this challenge deeply, because the more “missional” we try and become, the more Christians turn up on our joining the church course, which is both kind of amusing and kind of troubling.) Are the people in your community sharing the gospel with people regularly? Or are they relying on the church to do that sort of thing, whether through programmes or Sunday meetings? Again, the answer may well be a bit of both - but be honest about it, and if you see yourselves as missional, avoid like the plague a sense of superiority towards your more charismatic brothers and sisters. Their people may well be preaching the gospel with more boldness than yours.
 
4. Thinking carefully about terminology. It may just be me, but I was a church leader in my late twenties before I realised that “O for a thousand tongues to sing” wasn’t about having one thousand red muscles in your mouth. Why on earth don’t we just call them languages? Why do we talk about bringing a “prophetic word”, or being “slain in the Spirit”, or for that matter a “ministry time”? Why not, instead of talking about “a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation” (1 Cor 14:26, ESV), talk about “a song, some teaching, sharing what God is saying now, a language, or an interpretation”? Spiritual gifts can appear odd enough to an unbeliever, without needing weird names to accompany them.
 
5. Explaining things really, really well in public meetings. Many leaders introduce meetings, link between different sections, present notices and oversee prayer times somewhat on the fly, which can make things less clear and more weird than they need to be. If used well, however, the explanation bits of a meeting - the welcome, the links, the conclusion, and so on - have the potential to make spiritual gifts really quite comprehensible and accessible to new people, including those who are not yet Christians. “Good morning everybody, and welcome to Kings! My name’s Andrew, and I’m one of the leaders here - if you’re new, let me just explain what’s going to happen today. We’re going to have about half an hour of singing songs of praise to God, and during that time, people from the church may share things they believe God is saying, speak in other languages, read from the Bible, and so on. During our time together, feel free to sit, stand, participate, watch: whatever makes you feel comfortable. We’re not going to make you do anything strange, but if you have any questions, do just ask. After that, we’ll have a financial offering, which is for people who come here regularly, then a few bits of information, and then Graham, one of the leaders here, is going to come and speak from the Bible. We’ll be finished around 10.30, and we’d love to chat to you afterwards in the Visitor Cafe.” That’s what I say every week; a great example of another sort of explanation comes from the aforementioned Phil Moore: “If you’re new, then please don’t think what we’re doing is weird. Praying for God to heal people / speak to people / encounter his people powerfully is not weird. If there is a God who made everything, there’s nothing weirder than believing that he can’t heal, speak to or encounter his people.” Whether or not these particular examples work for you, I submit that being charismissional means explaining things well.
 
6. Interpreting 1 Corinthians 14 accurately. Both sides have a pitfall on this one. While writing this very post, I heard a missional-leaning leader explain that “biblically, the priority for spiritual gifts is intelligibility for unbelievers”, on the basis of 14:23-25. This is far from the case: the priority is the use of gifts that build up the church (1-19, 26-40), in this case prophecy rather than uninterpreted languages, and intelligibility for unbelievers is an extra argument Paul adduces to encourage the Corinthians to do this (20-25). It is hardly the main point of the chapter, and when people use this logic to become lukewarm about prophecy or prohibit speaking in languages altogether, they fly in the face of Paul’s direct instruction in v39. On the other hand, I cannot count the number of times I have heard exhortations to contribute in meetings, charismatic-style, on the basis of verse 26, without noticing that in this verse, and in this chapter, Paul is speaking negatively of this practice rather than positively. So, rather than “when you come together, make sure you all use your various gifts of prophecy, teaching and so on to build people up”, the emphasis is, “when you come together, everyone’s so preoccupied with their gifts that they’re talking over each other without reference to building each other up” (the rest of the paragraph makes this context clear). I’m just saying: interpret 1 Corinthians 14 carefully.
 
7. Acknowledging that unbelievers are different. I have in mind here the tendency we have to say things like “non-Christians hate it when ...” or “unbelievers encounter God if ...”, when what we should say is “some non-Christians hate it when” or “unbelievers I know encounter God if ...” Some people love quiet, reflective meetings and thoughtful, undemonstrative, persuasive preaching; others find these things boring, lifeless and irrelevant. Some people love sweeping, emotionally expressive meetings and passionate, heartfelt preaching; others find these rabid, aggressive and invasive. By the same token, I suspect, unbelievers will vary in their preferences for spiritual manifestations in meetings. For stereotypical Manhattan-dwellers, Tim Keller is wonderful and Bill Johnson is wacky. For many others, however, Bill Johnson is dynamic and Tim Keller is dull. We need to be a bit careful, I think, of equating “missional” with “effective at reaching middle class white people.” In many cultures, and for many individuals within every culture, deep end meetings may be far more evangelistically fruitful than shallow end ones.
 
8. Training people to use their spiritual gifts in an evangelistic way. I’m not sure why, but most of us train musicians, train leaders, train preachers and teachers, train people on health and safety, and counselling, and how to recognise signs of child abuse, and first aid ... but we fail to train people how to bring spiritual gifts in an evangelistic way. There’s a slightly dualistic, even gnostic, flavour to this sometimes - you can’t train people to bring spiritual gifts, because that’s a spiritual thing, and the Spirit blows where he will, and so on - so we need to ask the question: what does it look like to bring a language, or an interpretation, in a missional way? How can the gift of discerning spirits be used evangelistically? If we wouldn’t let people preach or lead worship without ensuring they were trained, not least on how to do so missionally, is there a good reason why we should let people prophesy without training them in the same way?
 
9. Teaching as a team. Very few of us, if any, can teach publicly in a way that excels at clarifying doctrine, communicating the gospel, and increasing faith and expectation for charismatic experience, all at the same time. But while in some models of church leadership this could be regarded as a weakness - and in many, of course, either only the first one or the first two are regarded as necessary - in a team teaching model it is a potential strength, because no one individual can do it all alone, and this forces us to vary the diet of public communication in the church. So, in practical terms, leaders who excel at speaking doctrinally and evangelistically can look to involve someone on their teaching team who brings charismatic expression to the forefront, and so on. I can’t prove there aren’t any, but I can’t think of any charismissional church that operates with a one man teaching ministry, and I suspect there’s a reason for that.
 
10. Living charismissionally as a leader. This is undoubtedly the most important of the ten, and also the one that I find most personally challenging. If leaders live charismatic and missional lives - if we are seeking God for more of his Spirit, stepping out in faith regularly, eagerly desiring spiritual gifts and especially prophecy, keeping in step with the Spirit, loving the people around us, making strong friendships with those who don’t know Jesus, engaging with the culture(s) we’re part of, preaching the gospel with courage and dealing with the tough questions - then we will lead meetings that are like that, and ultimately churches that are like that. Church leadership is more than this, for sure, but it is certainly not less. Again, I can’t prove it, but my guess is that churches which are missional but not charismatic are often led by leaders who don’t especially pursue spiritual gifts, and that churches which are charismatic but not missional are often led by leaders who don’t especially connect with unbelievers. Charismissional pastors, in general, will produce charismissional churches.
 
So there you have it: ten suggestions for becoming charismissional (several of which I am addressing to myself as much as to anyone else). What d’you think?

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