How many times have you heard, or said, on Pentecost Sunday, “Happy Birthday! It’s the birthday of the church.”? I heard that every year growing up to the point where I found it annoying and even vowed never to say it from the pulpit! That was probably dumb on my part as it’s a valid point! It was the birthday of the church because until that day the disciples were waiting for the power to be the church. They knew the mission of the church but, until they were filled with the Holy Spirit, they lacked the ability to do it. The same is true for us today.
Jesus was specific with his disciples just prior to his ascension, “‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ Then they gathered around him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But 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.’ After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” Acts 1:4b-9 (NIV)
The message was loud and clear: Don’t try to do the mission I’ve given you without being filled with the Holy Spirit!
The church is still on that same mission to be his witnesses both locally and globally today – or at least we’re supposed to be. And his words to those original disciples are just as relevant to us today if we are serious about growing. Don’t try to do the mission and grow the church without the power of the Holy Spirit! Renewal in the Holy Spirit is vital to revitalization.
In the American Anglican Council’s church revitalization seminar, ReVive!, we teach Biblical principles and practical strategies that will, if applied, bring church health and growth. However, before we get into any of that, the first session is on the renewal of your passion for and relationahip with Jesus and receiving the power of the Holy Spirit. We’ve learned that you can have all the knowledge in the world on how to grow a church but if you don’t have the passion and the power to do it, you never will. Again, renewal in the Holy Spirit is vital to revitalization.
Pentecost Sunday provides a wonderful opportunity to renew your congregation’s commitment to Jesus’ mission to be his witnesses and to receive a fresh empowering from the Holy Spirit to do it. If your church needs revitalization, why not use the church calendar to your advantage next Sunday, May 20th, and focus on the mission of the church and receiving the power to do it? Yes, you could focus on spiritual gifts for serving, or the comfort the Holy Spirit gives to believers through his presence. Those are certainly good and important in the life of the church. However, if your church needs revitalization, why not this year focus on the mission of the church and receiving the power to do it?
Remember what happened on that first Pentecost, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken…—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Acts 2:1-6,10b They were filled with the Holy Spirit and immediately were Jesus’ witnesses to non-believers!
What would it look like for your congregation to, together, invite the Holy Spirit to come and fill everyone to be his witnesses to the non-believers in your community? How could you create that kind of moment in your church service this Pentecost Sunday? I know I was anxious the first time I publicly asked people to join me in inviting the Holy Spirit to come and fill us in the worship service. I grew up hearing about weird things that happened in some churches during the charismatic renewal so I didn’t want things to get all crazy. Although, that probably had more to do with my own need to be in control! Well, I went for it anyway and nothing crazy ever happened. What did happen was people were filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered to be his witnesses to the world around us! People renewed their commitment to operating in the power of the Spirit and not their own strength. Again, what would this look like in your congregation? How could you invite the Holy Spirit to come and fill your church afresh this Pentecost?
If you want revitalization in your church, start with renewal of your own passion for Jesus and receiving the power of the Holy Spirit to do the mission. Why not start that this Pentecost?
The Rev. Canon Mark Eldredge is Director of Church Revitalization & Coaching at the American Anglican Council.