Posted by: whereintheworldismike | November 24, 2014

A Sample of Exponential Culture written for the Evangelical Missiological Society

Sendai Church

The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Formation

Much spiritual formation happens best in small groups like the one above where there is a hunger to know God more by all and a strong trust between all. Some other aspects of spiritual formation happen best in private time between the one seeking God and God himself.

This is the age Jesus spoke of when he said, “Many who were first shall be last and many who were last shall be first” (Mt. 19:30). While the great missionary sending Church in North America consists of 80% churches that are declining or plateaued[1] and many are forced to cut missions budgets and staff, African church planters are working in Europe and pastor some of the largest churches there.[2]

Millions are trusting Christ at the threat of their lives in the Middle East as a result of gracious signs and wonders, dreams and visions from Almighty God.[3] Many more—and in some cases the perpetrators—are believing Christ as they receive desperately-needed relief goods and witness supernatural love from those they previously hated in the name of their god.

Finally, a Sri Lankan church multiplication movement leader in his own land travels to Japan to teach some of the leading pastors of the established traditional church in Japan which often resembles the American Church of the early twentieth century. The average stay in the Japanese Church for new believers is only 2.8 years and then they often “disappear.”[4]

Discipleship that results in greater sanctification is included in the Lord’s Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20), but has been sorely neglected in most churches in developed countries reflected in a correlating declining “spiritual birthrate.” Effective spiritual formation must affect the heart and hands as well as the head of Christ followers. This will take more than lectures. So many jokes have been made about pastors’ lectures putting listeners to sleep it is not necessary here to repeat them to make the point. Relational networks must be developed organically to supplement doctrinal teaching that most often approaches the cognition of learners exclusively.

While a prominent American pastor travels to Japan and other lands to present “Strange Fire” seminars castigating Christians who experience God and, therefore, expect signs and wonders in their ministries, Presbyterians in Tohoku, Japan pray for local residents who have seen what they think are haunting deceased loved ones from the triple disaster of March 11, 2011. As a result, several are set free of the disturbing visions and start attending the church being started by the missionaries who prayed for them.

Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori assert that “global progressive Pentecostalism is the new face of Christianity’s social engagement.”[5] The authors report on Pentecostal missional works that have attacked problems such as AIDS, and safety and education for “at risk” children. Pentecostals and Charismatic Christians have long been known for a more holistic “Spirit-led approach to spiritual formation and ministry engagement than Evangelicals generally have in the world of missions.

The increasing frequency and intensity of disasters worldwide is changing this as Evangelicals who previously focused nearly exclusively on a simplistic proclamation of the gospel have come to the realization in the face of new realities that destitute people are uninterested in listening to a presentation of the gospel when their family members may have recently perished before their eyes, and they may have been cold, hungry and sleepless for days. The compassion of Christ has motivated many missionaries unaccustomed to holistic social engagement to pitch in and help in practical ways as they prayerfully wait on God’s timing to explain the source of the compassion behind their actions. Micro businesses have been started with bereaved housewives in Tohoku, Japan, wheelchair repair and provision to Muslim, animist, and Christian children in Northern Nigeria amidst religious kidnappings and murders. Truly the Church is shining brighter and brighter amidst the growing persecution in several locations. God is purifying his Church and equipping us for greater impact amidst the worldwide diaspora.

On the main island of Japan, there are missionaries who preach in tongues when they preach in Japanese that is much better than they could naturally employ, and Japanese people who come to faith in part from hearing an audible voice from heaven[6] or from hearing a word of knowledge from a missionary or Japanese Christian who was told what to say by the Lord’s Spirit. These are phenomena that Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians are more commonly associated with but some of the missionaries in this discussion are from Evangelical traditions and serve Evangelical—non-Pentecostal churches. The Spirit is exercising his prerogative to equip God’s servants and engage them in his worldwide redemptive enterprise independent of the esoteric secondary theologies of some branches of God’s body.

Jesus prayed repeatedly for the unity of his believers in John 17 (cf. verses 11, 21, 22). Satan has successfully splintered Christ followers for centuries on relatively unimportant points of theology—greatly hindering spiritual formation within and through the Body. In times of disaster our underlying unity often surfaces and the world marvels as the unity of believers brings synergistic spiritual power to bear in the fight against despair and other spiritual darkness.

In any communication theory book one might care to read, the reader is enjoined to think about the underlying assumptions, values, and knowledge base the hearers might have. The Apostle Paul did this when he wrote to his protegé Timothy: “Be diligent to present yourself to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15 NKJV). This verse is instruction in how to develop the comprehensive spiritual discernment necessary to determine what is the source of demonstrated power and how to deal with it/respond to it.

Timothy, a younger man who was half Jewish, had considerable exposure to the Hebrew scriptures from his mother and grandmother and was very familiar from a formative age with the Jewish worldview largely shaped by his forefathers’ time in the wilderness with God leading the way with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. Early in his life, Timothy also learned how the Israelites had crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land at flood stage on dry ground as God showed them his miraculous providence. Timothy could be exhorted to “fan into flame the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Tim.1:6 NIV). He was familiar with spiritual power. What he most needed was safe boundaries for that power. Hence, Paul’s exhortation to him to develop ability in the comprehensive discernment of God’s written Word.[7]

As any missionary who has worked in an animistic culture can tell you, there are sources of spiritual power other than the Spirit of God. People in many cultures expect manifestations of spiritual power on a daily basis. Almighty God often seems to like to show up in such contexts, and show himself supreme. Timothy needed the knowledge of God to touch his head as well as his heart and hands—so that he might stand against the darkness and cooperate with the Light.

When Paul exhorted Timothy to “imitate me,” he included Timothy’s—and our—“hands” (actions) in the realm of areas needing attention in spiritual formation (1 Cor. 4:16). Paul’s rejoinders to diligent study of the Word, and life on life imitation are good words of reminder to some who might be so enamored with signs from God that they are tempted to neglect these important areas of discipleship.

In contrast when Luke wrote about Paul’s encounter at the Areopagus, he states, “All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” (Acts 17:21 NIV). These discussions often centered on theology as the existence of an altar to the unknown god amidst the many worship articles attests. Today, there are many seminaries that devote themselves exclusively to the discussion of theological ideas. While this is important to refine future ministers’ theology, Paul’s admonishment to the believers in close proximity to the Greek theological debaters are important to note, and included these:

“And my speech and preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:4-5 NKJV), and

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power” (1 Cor. 4:20 NIV).

American Evangelicals, perhaps more than any other segment of Protestant Christianity have subscribed to Enlightenment thought in their understanding of faith and the Church. The result is a lot of talking about God but increasing biblical illiteracy and a Church that has diminishing influence in an increasingly post-Christian culture. Charles Kraft notes that the signs of “Enlightenment Christianity” are:

  • A pervasive rationalism devoid of spiritual power
  • Doing things “decently and in order” (to an extreme)
  • Centering our church meetings on a lecture (with little or no exhortation)
  • Downplaying the value of experience
  • A tendency to think of God’s Word only as something written
  • The approach to evangelism and missions is primarily a matter of knowledge and technique
  • A tendency to think of medicine and doctors before we think of God (as Healer)
  • Secular social programs[8] devoid of a connection to references to God’s grace

When we lean too heavily on the power of our intellects, believers often lose the faith to believe God for miraculous healing and other signs of his awesome power and compassion. Many churches use a stopwatch to keep everything “on time” and “in order,” and in so doing leave very little opportunity for God’s Spirit to intervene and provide “demonstrations of the Spirit’s power” that strengthen the faith of believers.

Along with an overemphasis on cognitive disciple development, many churches exhibit a culture of distrust regarding spiritual experience. Jesus’ own ministry often focused on rewriting the spiritual assumptions and scriptural interpretations of God’s people (John 5:39-47). We must stand ready to be corrected in our theology as we encounter the living God through his Spirit. Of course, the Spirit will never contradict the written Word of God, but he may contradict our interpretation of a particular portion of the written Word.

Henry Blackaby, a Southern Baptist minister, states that “when Christians begin to experience God and join him in his work, outside observers no longer see what a group of dedicated people can do but they see what only Almighty God can do.”[9] As long as a servant of the Most High God has a solid base of scripture knowledge for a foundation, spiritual experience is nothing to fear, but rather to welcome and be alert to, when God graciously intervenes. This is an important principle in spiritual formation.

[1] Eymann, Dan. “Turnaround Church Ministry: Causes of Decline and Changes Needed for Turnaround” in Great Commission Research Journal Vol. 3, Issue 2. Pages 146-160. (2012)

[2] Jenkins, Phillip. The Next Christendom: the coming of global Christianity. (2011)

[3] Rosenberg, Joel C. Inside the Revolution. (2009)

[4] Kikuo Matsunaga.”Theological Education in Japan” in Preparing for Witness in Context, ed. by Jean Stoner. P.299. (1991)

[5] Miller, Donald E. and Tetsunao Yamamori. Global Pentecostalism. (2007)

[6] Wilson, Michael L. Exponential Culture: Believer Transformation, Disciple Multiplication. P. 134. (2014)

[7] Wilson, Michael L. ibid. P. 66.

[8] Kraft, Charles H. Christianity with Power. P. 41ff. (1989) (adapted)

[9] Blackaby, Henry, Richard Blackaby, and Claude King. Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God. Pp. 163, 218. (2008)


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