We love spending time in God’s presence at our Naturally Supernatural conferences and we have a passion to encourage the church to move more and more in the ministry and power of the Holy Spirit. Mike and Andy have a new book called ‘Everyday Supernatural’ that you can order here and we’ll be posting a few additional blogs over the next few weeks around this subject. To start with we wanted to take a look at how to lead a ministry time…
Many churches and individual Christians believe that the ministry and gifts of the Holy Spirit are for today, yet it is surprising to see how few local churches make space in their services for the Holy Spirit to move and for the whole church to be involved in ministering to one another. Why is this?
Giving Up Control
Let’s admit it: many of us church leaders are control freaks! We need to be on top of all that is going on in a service. We constantly check the time to make sure we are on schedule and we carefully vet and then rehearse anyone who will take part. Some of this, of course, is responsible leadership. We are there to care for, protect and bless the congregation. We are ‘guardians of the pulpit’ and we need to take care that the teaching is Bible-based, relevant and up-lifting. However, if we’re not careful, all of this can cause us to shut down any contribution that hasn’t had prior approval.
We say we want to love people by pursuing excellence and excellence comes with practice. While there is truth in that statement, it is by no means the whole truth. When the concept of ‘excellence’ is limited to producing a brilliant, slick, and rehearsed performance, we are missing something that is central to being church. We are more than a business. We are more than a show. We are a family. An excellent show will impress people but only excellence in kind, loving, vulnerable, truthful, authentic relationships will melt their hearts and cause them to want to stay for the long haul.
Of course the Holy Spirit is present and can inspire and guide us in our preparation, but, we suggest, there is something utterly biblical and excellently powerful in inviting him to move upon us and then giving him the space and time to do so. This involves an element of giving up control. In our church, Soul Survivor Watford, we have a plan for the services. We come prepared. The service leader knows what should be happening when, the preacher has prepared the talk and the worship band has practiced the songs. However, we realise that the Holy Spirit is the true worship leader and he should be the ultimate service leader. So throughout the meeting we are constantly seeking to discern what he is doing and we are willing to put our prepared contributions on hold if it seems that he wants to intervene. When he does so, people often have an encounter with God which strengthens their faith and hope; they become deeply aware of his loving presence, not as an intellectual theory but as a living reality. People will often experience healing in their bodies, minds or emotions.
How does this happen in practice? Throughout a meeting we are asking the Lord if there is anything he wants to say or do which is not part of our agenda. We also look at the congregation to see what the Father is doing. We are looking for indications that the Holy Spirit is touching people’s hearts, healing them, or meeting with them in some other way. “The Lord inhabits the praises of his people;” we should expect the Holy Spirit to be active as we worship. Then at the end of the sung worship we will linger for a few moments and wait before we move to the next item we have planned. We are seeking to discern whether the Lord is beginning to meet with people in such a way that we should encourage folk to begin to pray for one another.
If we are to truly see the Holy Spirit move in power in our services we need to learn to stop rushing. The Lord loves it when we consciously make space for him. The psalmist says, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). If we sense that the Lord is not moving in such a way that we need to pause our programme, then we move on to the next item which is usually the notices. This happens most of the time. However, we have had glorious moments when the Spirit has literally taken over in such a way that our order of service had to be abandoned. To be honest, we long for this. We hope that God will mess up our plans and we expect that there will be times when he will.
One instance of this happening was a time when Mike was leading the service. During the end of the sung worship he asked the Father to show him if he was doing anything. As Mike looked around the congregation his attention was drawn to a couple of people who were quietly weeping. (One of the ways God guides us is by drawing our attention to an individual as a sign of what he is doing among many.) Mike asked the Lord, “Are they weeping over their own pain or are you releasing compassion upon them for other people?” Mike sensed the Lord saying “They are not weeping for themselves.” Mike then waited for a few moments and began to sense that something was about to happen. He said; “I could be wrong, but if you feel like crying and you don’t know why then can you come forward, I think the Lord wants to fill you with his compassion for others.” Immediately half the church came forward. Mike was shocked. Within a few minutes there was carnage in the room as folk were weeping and wailing. The Holy Spirit was softening and melting many hard hearts and that day something significant happened to many in our church. It is as simple as that. You ask the Lord, you watch, you listen. Then you step out in faith and you obey.
Do we get it right every time? Of course not. But we have discovered that if we get it wrong nobody dies! If it really is the Holy Spirit we are responding to however, people are blessed. And the more we step out this way, the better we become at discerning the work of the Spirit in our midst. Practice will at least make us better even if doesn’t make us perfect!
At Soul Survivor Watford we always make space for ministry at the end of the service after the teaching. We believe the preaching of the Word should invite a response from those listening. Of course the response should be outworked in an ongoing way in our daily lives. However, there should also be a place for people to respond in an appropriate way there and then and seek the empowering, help or comfort of the Holy Spirit so that as a result they can live differently. The response may be in the form of a greater commitment to follow Jesus in a particular area, it may be to receive and know in greater measure the grace and love of God, it may be that the teaching has unearthed a realisation of sinful actions or attitudes that need repenting of. We always want to make space for people to receive prayer for these things. We also want to make time as part of our service for people who come burdened, or sick in body or mind, or anxious over a life decision they have to make to receive prayer.
We value the worship of God so we will never have a service when we don’t give time to worship. We value the preaching of the Word so we will always have a talk. We value the ministry and leading of the Holy Spirit so we also always make time for that. We always begin the ministry before we close the service as this is an important part of our meeting. We don’t send those who want prayer over to the side or to another room, they come to the front. Again, this is because we want everyone to know that we believe this is important and valuable and want openness to the Holy Spirit to be part of our church culture and not something reserved for the keen or the needy. We also invite people to come forward for a very practical reason. It is much easier to see who needs prayer and to direct people to them when they’re at the front. For some it is also important that they make a conscious step to say they want prayer and are seeking to meet with God; coming forward can say this in a symbolic way.
Explain As You Go
Ministry may be new to many people and so it is wise to think about everyone in the congregation during a ministry time, not just those who have come forward for prayer. We operate on the principle that if the Holy Spirit is dealing with those who have come to the front, then we as pastors are responsible for those at the back. By this we mean; explain, explain, explain!
The great Corinthian heresy when it came to the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the use of the gifts of the Spirit was that it involved a super-spiritual exclusive club. ‘Outsiders’ or visitors were left out. We sometimes see this today in so-called charismatic churches. We can fall into a ‘secret’ language or a way of responding that only the spiritual ‘in-crowd’ can understand. This is incredibly destructive to community and must be actively avoided. Our role as leaders is to keep everyone together, to explain and reassure. This means that we should always be asking ourselves, “What might those on the fringe be thinking now?” Then as pastors we gently address those questions.
Sometimes there may be a strong human response to the activity of the Holy Spirit. Some folk may weep, others laugh, others shake or even fall down and rest in God’s presence. The temptation at that point is to think “Everyone else is meeting with God, what is wrong with me? Why have I been left out?” So we will say something like; “If you are not feeling anything, it’s OK, neither are we (as usually we don’t feel anything!). There is nothing wrong with you.”
Some might be wondering, “What on earth is going on? Are people making it up and getting hysterical?” We may say something like; “Is what you’re seeing and hearing all God? No. It is our response to God. Some of us are more naturally emotional so we are more likely to respond in that way. Some of us are more aware of our bodies and so we are more likely to respond to the Holy Spirit’s activity in a physical way. Some of us are more cerebral and so we will probably respond in a more intellectual way. Let’s give ourselves space to be different. No one has to do what anyone else is doing. The crying you hear is probably only pain being released in the Father’s presence. The laughing you hear is probably simply a response to a deeper realisation of the Father’s love.” And so on. People feel safe and included when they realise that we understand their questions and concerns and are attempting to answer them.
Every time we invite the Holy Spirit to move among us, we will wait. And wait. And wait a little more. We cannot over emphasise the importance of waiting. So many of us find this very hard to do but we have discovered it is the key to seeing God move in power. The longer we wait, often, the more he does!
The temptation for many of us (especially those of us who are evangelicals!) is to kill a ministry time with words. Often we need to simply shut up and let God be God. We don’t need to pray long-winded prayers. We must resist the temptation to hype up the atmosphere. (Those of us who are charismatic Pentecostals can feel particularly tempted to do this!) We don’t need a particular type of music to be playing for God to move or to goad people into making an emotional response. We kill the religion and wait. The Holy Spirit will sometimes move in great power and sometimes more gently. When he moves more gently, we just go home earlier! When we manipulate an atmosphere or hype a response we simply lose credibility.
Sometimes after waiting for a while there may be an obvious response. On other occasions the response may be very gentle but we become aware that God is meeting with people. We may invite those who are aware that the Holy Spirit is resting on them to stand up, and encourage those around to lay hands on them and join in with what God has already begun to do. On other occasions it will be appropriate to invite those who are sensing God meeting with them to come forward (especially, as we said, if it makes it easier for people to access them to pray and if it would help them to take a symbolic step towards seeking God).
On occasion the Lord will give us some words of knowledge, prophetic insight into the state of individual lives and what he wants to do. Then we should speak the words out, humbly and gently and invite a response. The idea isn’t that we become the centre of attention, we simply focus on Jesus. Avoid theatrics at all costs. Often we are not sure what God is doing. It is rare that we are completely clear that we know what God is saying. We have decided to go for it anyway and if we get it wrong, it really doesn’t matter. If we wait for certainty, we will probably wait forever. Don’t feel you have to become overly spiritual; aim to be ‘naturally supernatural’.
Forming a Prayer Team
A quick word here about who should pray. When you are starting out we recommend you form a prayer ministry team consisting of folk who love Jesus, love people and are humble and teachable. Then train them according to the principles we have tried to outline in this book. However, be careful that they are not looked on, either by themselves or others, as the spiritual elite. The last thing we want to do is move the ministry from being dominated by one charismatic leader to being owned by ten charismatic leaders! If we really believe that the whole ministry of Jesus is for the whole Church of Jesus, then we will constantly be explaining that the individuals on the ministry team are not ‘better’ than anyone else, they have just been trained not to harm people and to treat them kindly! Keep looking to encourage others to join the ministry team. Invite newer members to pray with those who have been doing it for a while so they can learn from their example.
At our church and at our conferences everyone is the ministry team. We say that the only qualification we need is to love Jesus and to breathe oxygen! We have an ‘enabling team’ of folk who are more experienced in praying for people to move around and encourage and enable those who are praying and to step in if anyone feels out of their depth or ministering in such a way that people could be harmed.
The difficulty with writing this is that while we can give certain principles for leading ministry times that we have learned, there is no blueprint. It really is about learning to listen to the Holy Spirit and seeing what he is doing, both with our natural eyes and our spiritual eyes. As is often the case when we step out, we feel vulnerable and we are dependent on God showing up. To sum up, be bold, be kind, be humble and you won’t go far wrong. Give it a go and then persevere. Our congregations need to have their minds renewed by the teaching of God’s truth and their hearts warmed and healed as the Holy Spirit fills them with the revelation of the love of the Father for them. Step out, wait on God and see what he wants to do.