I was afraid of Charismatics growing up.
Some of that fear was taught to me by the church culture I grew up in (they probably didn’t attend MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference, but they think that way). I was regularly warned about those who placed a high value on ‘experience’ and told it can lead to something terrible happening.
Some of the fear came from personal experience. I grew up with the son of the Pastor at the Assemblies of God church in town. He was a bit odd to begin with (though who isn’t in middle school?), but he added to it by constantly saying God was talking to him and talking about how the ‘special’ gifts he had gave him almost super-human abilities. (Being the good middle-schooler I was, I made sure that he knew that I thought he was ‘special’ – just not for the same reasons he did.) He always claimed he had God’s insight into everything, and maybe he did, but whatever insight he possessed certainly didn’t help him make friends in the social purgatory that is middle school.
Fast-forward a few years. I’m now a seminary grad getting ready for the ministry. I’m no longer afraid of Charismatics, but not because of any major epiphany, I just no longer had any in my life. I had no feelings for or against them. They were irrelevant to me. I was getting plugged into the ‘missional’ church crowd and captivated by their fresh perspective on the Church that was spurred by deep theological reflection and rigorous cultural study. I felt like I had found ‘my tribe.’
But something happened as I began to get to know some of the leaders and practitioners – I found out they were Charismatics. And when I say Charismatic, I mean full-blown Charismatic. They genuinely believed that God was still speaking, they prayed for healing and were seeing it happen, they would pray for and receive words of knowledge and use them to stir up faith in the hearts of co-workers and friends, they encouraged people in ways that were personal and profound (using the prophetic), and yes many of them had a prayer language (or tongues!).
I was dumbstruck. The vast majority of people I knew living a truly ‘missional’ lifestyle were Charismatic, but not a single one of them identified themselves as a Charismatic. In fact, if I didn’t know the right questions to ask, I probably would never have known. I knew them to be articulate, educated, funny, and insightful, compassionate and most importantly, they were normal. And these very things that I loved about them were manifestations of a spirituality that I feared when I was younger.
It was then that it hit me: the secret sauce of the whole ‘missional’ thing is the Holy Spirit. I had spent all this time believing that if I could just get the right information, I could formulate better strategies, and with better strategies my life and my church’s life would be more missional. And while information and strategy certainly have their place, the secret to missional living comes down to the hearing the voice of the Lord and being willing to respond, which if you get to the core of Charismatic spirituality, is what they are all about.
God certainly has a sense of humor. The church that employs me has roots in the Assemblies of God tradition (though no formal relationship). And I’ve come to see the incredible power and beauty the Spirit-filled traditions possess. They have so much to teach the Church about what it means to be ‘missional.’ Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who will never listen to what they have to say. And I think one of the keys to unlocking a new season of Christianity in North America is finding a way to help Charismatics connect with the broader Church to share how it is that they do what they do.
A few suggestions for my Charismatic friends to help get that conversation started.
1. Don’t talk so much about your gifts: show us their fruit.
Walking in Charismatic circles I’m always amazed at how quickly people will get to talking about their Spiritual Gifts. When done with the wrong people this can be a terrible turn-off. My heart was opened up to hearing about the gifts when I saw the fruit of someone operating in them, and I asked ‘How did you know to say that?’ If you try to have conversations with people who aren’t open to it, you usually turn them off. The best way to open anyone up is to show them the fruit.
2. Gifts + Love = Constructive: Gifts – LOVE = destructive.
In a meeting once, someone announced that they had the gift of discernment as a means of commanding our attention and ultimately demanding acquiescence to their perspective. The person then spent the rest of the meeting pointing their finger and angrily expressing their insights. I stopped listening when they said ‘I have the gift of discernment’ because it was clear this person was not operating out of love. They simply wanted to demonstrate their gifts. Don’t even bother talking if your motivation isn’t love. I think Paul had a few things to say about this.
3. Try to be more normal.
A Spirit-filled life should be winsome and attractive – not weird and offensive. Find ways to communicate with people that are more normal or natural and don’t focus on the odd parts of your Spirituality. For instance, starting off a conversation with ‘God told me to tell you’ can be very off-putting. Consider just telling them what you sense God is saying, and letting the Holy Spirit reveal the validity of the words to them.
What about you? What's your experience been of this within the various missional expressions you've been experimenting with?