The Holy Spirit and His Gifts at Bridgeway Church1
A couple of years ago I was interviewed concerning how we at Bridgeway Church facilitate the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our services. Below are my answers. Continue reading . . .
A couple of years ago I was interviewed concerning how we at Bridgeway Church facilitate the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our services. Below are my answers.
1. How would you describe the role of the Holy Spirit in your church in general and in your weekly corporate gatherings in particular?
We are very open and up front about our belief in the work of the Spirit in gifts and other supernatural ways. We talk about it openly and I often teach on the subject. I recently taught on 1 Corinthians 12-14, verse by verse. We have a time of prayer before every service with a fervent request that the Spirit would come in power and bring healing and revelatory insights, etc. We are always open to the possibility that the Spirit might lead us in a different direction from the one we had planned. So, if during corporate worship we sense the Spirit prompting us to pause and pray for people with a particular struggle in life, we do it. Our worship leaders will often sense the Spirit’s prompting to lead into what we call “prophetic worship” in which spontaneous, unplanned songs are sung.
There is also a great deal of freedom and open expression in our worship that we trust is the work of the Spirit. We have several people who worship by dancing, usually at the sides of the auditorium so as not to distract others. It isn’t unusual for us to have a prophetic word spoken (by not unusual, I mean twice a month on average).
There is also great openness and freedom in regard to our desire for and expectations of the Spirit working. We are very conscious and verbal about our dependence upon the Spirit and we often speak of the fact that we zealously desire that he do whatever his will is to do. It is important that this be verbalized in front of everyone on a regular basis and that it become a part of our corporate prayers.
2. As a charismatic pastor, in what ways might your weekly corporate gatherings look different from an average evangelical worship service?
I probably answered that in the first question. Our people are very engaged in worship, most with hands raised, a handful (no more than a dozen or so) who dance. There will be times when people will shout aloud their praise or thanksgiving.
I suspect that in most ways, however, our service does not differ much. There is almost always around 30 minutes of corporate singing and 40 minutes of expositional preaching. We always conclude our service with a time of prayer ministry. We have trained prayer ministers who come to the front and we invite people with physical needs or others issues to come forward to receive prayer.
3. How do you as a pastor communicate your answers to the two questions above to your congregation?
One of the ways we do this is via the statement below that is part of our Welcome packet. It helps people understand what they may experience. Here it is.
A typical Sunday morning begins with 30-35 minutes of corporate singing. You might have expected us to say corporate “worship”, but we believe that everything we do when we gather as the body of Christ is worship. That includes prayer, the public reading of Scripture, mutual encouragement and fellowship, celebration of the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. In fact, hearing God’s Word proclaimed, meditating upon it in our hearts, and then living life in accordance with whatever it says, all comprise true worship.
When we worship by singing, you will notice that we employ both traditional hymns and more contemporary songs. There is also a great measure of freedom in the way people express their love for God and gratitude for all he has done. Some will sit quietly and meditate. Most will stand and sing every song. Quite a few will raise their hands, while others will keep them at their side. You will observe some dancing, others kneeling, and even a few lie prostrate on the ground. On occasion the worship leader will employ ancient and liturgical elements in the service such as prayers of confession and repentance, declarations of faith, or readings from selected authors. Depending on how the Spirit of God is leading us, there may be times of exuberant celebration as well as moments of somber reflection. You may experience times of profound intimacy with the Lord, where his love and manifest presence are keenly felt, as well as moments when you are overwhelmed by his holy transcendence and awesome power.
In any and every case, regardless of the mood or atmosphere of the service, our aim is to glorify God by enjoying him and all that he is for us in Jesus. We believe that true, biblical worship happens anywhere and anytime that the mind is filled with exalted thoughts about God, the heart is inflamed with joy and love for God, and Jesus is treasured as preeminent in our souls.
On the last Sunday of each month, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper (or Communion or the Eucharist). On all other Sundays, the elements are available to you at the back of the auditorium. You may partake of the Lord’s Supper alone or with family and friends at any time during the course of our singing.
Following this time of singing, most of the service is devoted to the preaching and teaching of God’s inspired Word. We believe in the importance of expositional preaching, that is to say, the passionate explanation and relevant application of Holy Scripture, verse by verse, book by book. All of the sermons preached at Bridgeway are available via Podcast on our website.
At the close of our time together, we typically provide opportunity for people to receive prayer for whatever needs they may have or problems they may be facing. We believe in anointing the sick with oil and praying for both physical and emotional healing through the laying on of hands. Elders, pastoral staff, community group leaders, as well as numerous other believers who have been trained in prayer ministry will be available to pray for you at any time.
4. Do you provide opportunities for members of the church to express the spiritual gifts/Spirit-manifestations of 1 Corinthians 12? If so, in what practical ways do you encourage this? Train for this?
We do not encourage the exercise of spiritual gifts in the corporate meeting simply because with 800 people in attendance it would become difficult to manage. However, we do make room for prophetic ministry, as you can see from the Guidelines document on our website. This explains how we process and administrate prophetic words on Sundays.
Most often we encourage the exercise of the gifts in our small groups and in other smaller gatherings where it can be more effectively done.
We offer prayer ministry training four times a year. This is required of anyone who wants to serve on our prayer teams.
We also have four times a year prophetic ministry training in which we talk about what prophecy is and how one hears from God and how one should proceed in giving prophetic words, pitfalls and mistakes to avoid, examples of from real-life situations, etc.
There are also frequent special meetings and classes during the course of the year that may focus on healing the sick or other ways the Spirit operates.
5. How does your church test everything and guard against the misuse/abuse of spiritual gifts without “quenching the Spirit”?
One way is through our Prophetic Team which is comprised of about eight people, both men and women, who are experienced and mature and well-trained in the prophetic. Anyone in the church who believes God has given them a “word” is instructed to e-mail it to the Team. They meet every other Sunday before church and process what they have received and discuss ways in which God is moving and speaking in our midst. If they have something they are persuaded is from God, they will communicate this to me and the other Elders and Pastors.
We also are very clear and persistent in our teaching about how spiritual gifts are properly exercised and how we would respond in any particular situation.
There is a very fine line between, on the one hand, making the church gathering a safe place where people feel free to step out in faith and take risks in the exercise of gifts without fearing public criticism or rejection, and, on the other hand, being diligent to guard the truth and not creating an “anything goes” atmosphere.
6. What are the most common challenges that you face within the church in relation to the charismata?
The most pressing challenge is dealing with people at the two opposite extremes. On one end we have our fair share of extremely charismatic people who think we are too rigid and controlling and need to encourage more open expressions. At the other end we have a lot of very conservative evangelicals who are fearful of emotional expressions and wouldn’t know what to do if someone chose to speak in tongues in the corporate gathering. The greatest challenge is getting both extremes and everyone in the middle to submit their beliefs and desires and expectations to Scripture and be willing to experience a bit of discomfort in the interests of giving the Spirit the opportunity to do whatever He wants to do.
7. What advice would you give to a pastor who wants to move his congregation from being charismatic on paper to being charismatic in the pews in the church’s weekly gatherings?
First, he has to teach on the subject. And by “teach” I mean preach verse by verse through 1 Corinthians 12-14 and other texts. He should teach on individual gifts, he must be willing to invest time in training people for prayer ministry, and he must be willing to endure messes and mistakes. It is largely the fear of the latter and the determination to avoid them at all costs that will shut down a congregation and instill fear and intimidation in their hearts.
Second, he needs to train small group leaders in particular in how to facilitate the exercise of gifts and prayer and prophetic ministry.
Third, he has to lead by example. People will rarely do what they don’t see their shepherds doing.
Fourth, get the people reading good books on the subject.
Fifth, work hard at “de-mystifying” spiritual gifts. In other words, teach and preach in such a way that people begin to see that spiritual gifts are for ordinary Christians in the ordinary, mundane, routine walk of life. Being naturally supernatural in such a way that the work of the Spirit is not viewed as weird or out of the ordinary is essential.