Read Isaiah 61; Acts 2; 1 Corinthians 12; 1 John 2:27
While I was in seminary and a little while after, I was working as a young adults pastor, with added responsibilities in teaching Christian education classes. I also helped with special events, like organizing a walk-through, multimedia stations of the cross.
I loved working with the people and helping them discover their own callings in Christ, growing in my own walk with God and understanding of my gifts and passions as the same time. Yet, there was a lot of dysfunction in the higher leadership.
The church had started as a very dynamic youth and single oriented congregation, becoming older and more family oriented. Along the way, it had lost its founding pastor and his replacement had a lot of passion for God, but did not have theological education and had a lot of other personal issues.
A new group of people surrounded him, talking about his role as a visionary leader, the one who gave vision to the church and who was anointed by God to shape the church.
He took this to heart and began to make changes that alienated a great many long-involved participants, dismissing concerns and making sweeping changes to the ministry structure. He burned out after a while, and other staff pastors stepped up in leadership, but the change was set.
A highly participatory church had morphed into a staff-driven structure and passive congregation. I had vague ideas about what was happening, but couldn’t find the right words or the right path.
I was on my way to burning out in the midst of the politics and dysfunction, so stepped away from ministry to pray, to study, to consider what God was doing in my life and my calling.
A couple years later I realized it really was an issue of pneumatology, which is the theological term for thinking about the Holy Spirit.
All the while at that church, there was a lot of discussion about the Holy Spirit, who gives gifts and encourages participation, but the pathways for involvement were increasingly narrowed.
There was a passion for God, but a lack of recognition of how God works through the Holy Spirit and how to provide space for this work while maintaining a consistent unity and commitment to the mission of God in the community.
That last statement can sum up a great deal of church history. Almost all of our theology and church organization comes out of arguments, controversies, concerns that arise when a group of people get together to express their own sense of Christ’s revelation to us and call for us.
People, you may have noticed, have some very different ideas about what we should do when we gather together, how we should act in society, what we should believe about who Jesus is and what he’s up to.
It’s often much easier to set firm boundaries and rigid rules, to organize a community according to a set pattern and have clearly defined roles in this community. Unity through conformity.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t work through conformity, the Spirit works through diversity: different parts, different roles, different gifts, different passions, different critiques.
Unity in diversity is the model of the Spirit, but for this diversity to become music rather than a cacophony, a dance rather than a crowd, it’s important to understand the ways the Spirit moves in this world, for this world, in us, for us, through us.
That was the revelation that helped me find a way back to a love for the church. It was the topic of my first book and a continuing topic of focus for me in both study and ministry.
How does the Spirit work? How do we bring together a group of people who have very different responses to this work and find a way of joining together in the mission of God in our contexts? Who will save us indeed from the body of death that is expressed in alienation and division?
That is the topic of this week, considering the work of the Holy Spirit, a very practical topic while also being one that encourages deep reflection. How do you see the Holy Spirit working in your life? What are your gifts? How would you describe your calling?
Think also about your blindspots, areas where you are weak or areas where you are so strong it is easy to bulldoze others. Do you have people in your life who have very different gifts and callings? How is the work of the Spirit expressed in your life and in your community? Is there a thriving diversity or more of a constrictive conformity?
What is the theology of the Spirit that is being expressed? If you had to reverse engineer your community’s pneumatology, what would you get?
The Spirit we read about in Scripture is the same Spirit working among us now, the Spirit who was with Jesus in his ministry is the Spirit working in the people who make up the Church.
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Thus, we are “to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace,” a peace that celebrates the diversity of God’s work, a unity formed by God, which we have been invited into.
Let us consider this unity as we ponder the many facets of the work of the Spirit.
Let us be people who point to a fullness of life, speaking into the lives of others as we celebrated God’s work in them, shaping and learning, making space and adding creativity, dancing with others to the music of God’s eternal symphony.
Each week in my class on the Holy Spirit, I add a more pastoral reflection to the usual theological content. This was the one for the current week 7.