Building People of Substance for Works of Power
Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.1 Corinthians 14:23-25 NKJV
It was an exciting time for me, being on staff at a real church. I had been to one year of Bible school and now I had the title of Assistant Pastor. Wow! My brief time in the Kingdom and a few hours of Bible training had ill-prepared me for what I was soon to face. One beautiful Sunday morning, as I sat on the stage next to the pastor enjoying the worship, one of the ladies in the congregation began to dance across the front of the sanctuary. This wasn’t too bad, she was just very exuberant in her expression of praise. Then it got more complicated.
She continued the dance, waltzing in circles in front of the congregation and waving her red cape like a flag. As the music came to a close, she added sound effects to her performance, crying out “Woo, woo!” in meter with the waving and the dance. I looked to the pastor, but he didn’t respond. The congregation was trying to be spiritual and/or kind, but you could sense they were a bit uneasy. After several passes across the sanctuary, she “wooed” her final note (or so we thought) and collapsed in a heap right in front of the pulpit. Pastor just kind of ignored her and went on with the service.
After the announcements, she was still in the floor. As Pastor began to preach, she provided punctuation for him, emitting an occasional moan, starting low and building in a guttural crescendo. Muffled by the cape over her head, it reminded me of the lowing of cattle at feeding time. This went on for several minutes until Pastor finally called for the ushers to come and carry her out, which they did. She was deposited on the couch in the pastor’s office to groan in private. I, for one, was relieved. Needless to say, she was the talk, the central point, of the service for most who were in attendance. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying I don’t remember the message, but I sure remember the floor show.
If you’ve been part of any Spirit-filled ministry, you probably have your own stories. We’ve seen running, shouting, and dancing; some spiritual, some not so much. We’ve heard prophecies that could not be from God, and heard tongues given with no attempt at interpretation. It’s not enough to simply identify things that are not God-inspired. To preserve order and the integrity of our services, we must also find a way to correct the mis-guided, the excessive, and the flat out demonic. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do have some principles that have served me well. Let’s take a look at a few:
- Recognize the three kinds of people in any service. In the verses above from 1 Corinthians, Paul identifies them as:
- The church. These are believers who are a regular part of our group and are familiar with the things of the Spirit and the order of our own house.
- The uninformed. These are believers who love Jesus, but have not been exposed to the kind of spiritual manifestations we have in our services. They may also be young in their understanding of Scripture and more prone to being confused.
- The unbeliever. These folks don’t know Jesus. They have no ability to understand what’s going on. Our primary focus must be to turn their attention to Jesus and His work at Calvary on their behalf and clarify anything that may detract from that.
- Remember my role: I am trying to reach the lost, disciple the believer, and lead the church.
- Anything that brings confusion about Jesus, His identity, or His work as Savior must be corrected to avoid confusion or even deception for those who have yet to find salvation.
- Anything that asserts things that are untrue or confusing must be corrected to prevent confusion for believers. I have heard prophecies saying, or at least implying, that God was the source of sickness or poverty. These things cannot be ignored.
- Anything that might demean or misrepresent the character and nature of our local church body should be corrected.
- I’ve had folks prophesy things that “this church” should be doing. This usually is in the form of a rebuke. Unless this has been cleared with leadership, this is rebellion and out of order. It has to be corrected.
- Some people will prophesy their own frustrations as “correctives” to the local body. I had one young man who wanted me to allow him to preach in the church. Knowing his immaturity, I told him “no.” In the service, he began to prophesy that this church had no love and didn’t recognize the gifts in people. I had to correct this in public so as to prevent confusion.
- Discern the source. In many situations, a Christian person may get emotionally stirred and want to “prophesy” how they are feeling. This will not cause doctrinal problems, but it may be a drag on the service. Utterances or actions that demand attention but have no anointing can have a deadening effect. I call it a spiritual “thud” as our attention is yanked from Heaven and back to earth. This can usually be dealt with by saying something like, “Let’s all lift our hands and worship with our brother as he expresses his thanks to God.” Then lead folks back into the Presence.
- Correct with the least embarrassing method available to you. In dealing with Christians who give something that is doctrinally benign but spiritually dead, I always try to go to them after the service to discuss what they said or did. For Christians, my object is not to rebuke, but to teach. I want to encourage them to learn and grow so God can use them more effectively. That means encouraging them that they are not stupid or evil.
I had one gentleman who was very zealous for the Lord, but he was also very insecure. He wanted to be thought of as spiritual. One night in service, he stood to read a scripture he said God had prompted him to read at that moment. He read a few verses and it brought great blessing. As it happened, the passage was pertinent to the message I was about to preach and served to encourage the congregation to heed what was about to be taught.
The next week, the same man began reading another passage of Scripture. This time, he droned on and on. There was no anointing as he read an entire chapter, then started on the next, at which point I interrupted and thanked him for sharing. After service, I went to him and explained why I stopped him and suggested that his success of the week before had stimulated his desire to be a blessing. His emotions had moved him to try and repeat his success. He received this with a good attitude and grew more sensitive to the Spirit.
Here’s the Point: We live in a post-Christian age that will require the supernatural power of God to arrest the attention of the unbelieving. In the midst of a chaotic and hostile world, believers also need the encouragement that comes from the genuinely supernatural. The subjective nature of the manifestation of the Spirit requires that leaders be willing to lead. If they don’t, confusion and excess will eventually quench the move of the Spirit. More importantly, the unlearned and unsaved may become confused or even deceived. This is part of what Hebrews 13:17 means when it says that leaders, “watch out for your souls, as those who must give account.” (NKJV)
These moments are great opportunities for teaching. The correction of false doctrinal issues provides a place to clarify truth for all who hear. Bringing correction to an over-zealous saint is an opportunity to disciple and mold them for future effectiveness. In either case, If the leader can be clear and kind, the rest of the flock will be comforted and encouraged that their leadership is serious about their spiritual well-being. It’s reassuring to a sheep to have a shepherd.
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Try reading “Is There an Interpreter in the House?” for more on this subject.