Institution and Charisma - Pastoral Practice in the Power of the Holy Spirit

A propósito de Doctrine
[Dr. Roberto Miranda]

PARADIGMS OF POWER AND CONFLICT: In Acts 1:8 the risen Jesus promises his disciples: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

These words are never very far from the mind of a Pentecostal pastor.

This, in fact, is the very essence of Pentecostal ministry, the sense that Christian service has to be carried out in the power of the Holy Spirit, animated by an energy that goes beyond theological competency, personal charisma or mastery of such ministerial skills as counseling, preaching, pastoral care or administration.

The Pentecostal minister understands that these aspects of ministry are important, even essential, but he also understands that by themselves they do not guarantee true ministerial success or effectiveness. Pentecostal ministry functions within a paradigm of power, energy and spiritual authority, as opposed to a ministerial mentality that functions more along the lines of hard skills, professional disciplines and practices acquired and perfected through a process of academic learning and praxis.

We are not implying, however, that more academically oriented ministers are not also conscious of the need to cultivate spiritual disciplines or spiritual vitality; or, for that matter, that Pentecostal ministers are not mindful of the need to study theology or cultivate basic ministerial skills. It is often more a matter of emphasis and concentration. Generally speaking, the Pentecostal minister is much more keenly aware that ministerial success and effectiveness come from cultivating and maintaining that mysterious essence that the Bible calls “power” (gr., dunamis) and “authority” (gr., exousia). To the acquisition of this spiritual energy he dedicates much effort and concentration, generally through the exercise of such disciplines as prayer, worship, speaking in tongues and spiritual warfare. And not only does he or she seek to acquire this power for himself, but also for his parishioners and the entire congregational system over which he presides.

Other passages in Scripture are crucial to the understanding of this Pentecostal mentality of power and energy. In Luke 9:1 and 2, for example, we are told that Jesus “called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” Here we see again, even before the book of Acts, this idea that power and authority to heal the sick and deliver the oppressed is a prerequisite for ministerial effectiveness.

Before he sends his disciples on one of their very first ministerial journey, we see Jesus making sure that they are endowed with power from on high. Without those spiritual credentials of signs and wonders, they would have been hampered and limited in their efforts to proclaim the kingdom of God to a skeptical population. Interestingly enough, in this passage, the proclamation of the Kingdom and the healing of the sick are put almost on the same plane.

The Gospels make sure to clarify time and time again that Jesus himself moved in this modality of power and spiritual authority. Luke 6:19 states that “the whole multitude sought to touch Him, for power went out from Him and healed them all.” When Jesus returns to Galilee to initiate his public ministry after his victorious confrontation with Satan in the desert, we are told that he did so “in the power of the Spirit”, and that as a consequence of this “news of Him went out through all the surrounding region” (Luke 4:14). Finally, Matthew 7:28 and 29 tells us that “the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” Evidently, there was a clear contrast between the mere exercise of the professional religion of his time, exemplified by the scribes and Pharisees, and the power oriented style of ministry that Jesus practiced.

There are many more Scriptures that could be adduced to help explain this atmosphere of power, mystery, signs and wonders in which the Pentecostal sensibility moves. Not just Pentecostal ministers, but all charismatic believers would argue that all of Scripture is steeped in this paradigm of supernatural power. It would seem at times to be the key to every narrative of victory and success in the Bible, from the miraculous conception of Isaac by Sarah, the victory of Moses and the Israelites over the Egyptians, the ministries of Gideon, Daniel and Elijah, the lives of Esther, David and Jehoshaphat.

Pentecostal believers would even argue that one cannot fully understand the teachings and narratives of the New Testament except in the context of a paradigm of spiritual warfare, supernatural gifts, signs and wonders. At every turn, passages confront us that require taking into account the charismatic outlook in which the New Testament was conceived and written.

In Ephesians 3:10, for example, Paul makes this mysterious statement about the nature of the Church: “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” How are we to properly interpret this passage except by appealing to a theological framework which takes into account the existence of powerful demonic entities which are in perpetual warfare with the Church, and against which the Church requires access to spiritual weapons and power of equal magnitude?

In fact, Paul himself clarifies in another context that “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4). Time and time again, we see this appeal in all of Scripture to paradigms of warfare, struggle, power and authority. The Pentecostal mind and Pentecostal ministry revolve perpetually around this axis of spiritual conflict, power and authority.


As a Pentecostal pastor, this has been the theological foundation of my ministry for the past twenty-five years. I can remember clearly the moment in my ministry when I transitioned from a more traditional Baptist theological outlook into a more Pentecostal type of ministry. We don’t have the time or space to describe this process in detail, but it can be said that for me, it was similar to a second conversion. As our more traditional Baptist congregation started focusing on enthusiastic worship, laying on of hands, speaking in tongues, deliverance ministry, sustained prayer gatherings and other practices associated with the Pentecostal tradition, a veritable revolution began to take place in our midst.

We started putting into practice these aspects of Pentecostal congregational life very timidly at first. We had no experience or close ministry models to guide us, and at times I felt very self-conscious and even embarrassed as I started laying hands on the sick or carrying out deliverance ministry in public. But as time went by, God started to move in extraordinary ways in our midst, and the very things that I had heard or read about concerning powerful Pentecostal ministries started happening in our own gatherings. The Holy Spirit was responding to our humble, obedient attempts, and as we drew near to Him, He began to draw near to us.

Our community grew faster than ever; lay leaders with Pentecostal experience began to join the church. Skilled musicians arrived to strengthen our fledgling worship ministry. The pace of our congregational life was significantly intensified and accelerated. We gained increased confidence as we ministered in these mysterious gifts and skills of the Spirit.

During that time, one night I had a vivid dream that impacted me powerfully, and that changed my ministry forever. Through what I consider a revelation from God, we were led to move from our very quiet, elegant neighborhood where we had been situated for the previous fifteen years into a deteriorated, impoverished part of the city of Boston. We bought an old warehouse in the center of the city, and after renovating it, relocated there in 1997. We have been there for the past fifteen years. During that time, the congregation has grown dramatically, has continued to develop its charismatic, Pentecostal identity, and has carried out a significant social ministry in the city, highly respected by the government, philanthropic institutions and the general community.

Much could be said about our twenty-five year experience moving in the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit. It has not been devoid of problems, mistakes or experimentation. The development of the gifts of the Spirit is not a linear process. Neither is it one sided. God doesn’t do it all for us. Rather, His Spirit works alongside us, as the Paraclete, illuminating us, coaching us, encouraging and correcting us, and through this process of collaboration, learning and experimentation, He leads us into that higher plane of living and ministering which is typical of the Spirit-filled life and ministry.


As I mention this idea of “process” in connection with my Pentecostal experience, a couple of important considerations immediately come up: Pentecostals generally are not very comfortable with the idea of process. We much prefer to think that God works through sudden, simple acts: He opens the Red Sea; He calms a storm; He instantaneously heals the blind or the deaf. There is very little process involved.

We are enamored with these narratives of absolute power and instantaneous interventions. As a result, we expect things to happen the same way in our lives and ministries. Often, we end up oversimplifying things, and tend to ignore or undervalue those passages where the Bible suggests that life and ministry are more complex. We don’t comment too much, for example, on Paul’s advice to Timothy to drink a little wine “because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1 Tim 5:23). We don’t like to think of the mighty Paul resorting to a home remedy for his disciple’s illness! We don’t spend much time exegeting the implications of Jesus’ “imperfect miracle”, when he heals a blind man, and on the first try he ends up seeing men “like trees, walking” (Luke 8:24). Only on Jesus’ second intervention is the blind man able to see clearly. Does God heal partially? Can a healing occur gradually? Are there factors that can prevent God’s will to heal to fully manifest itself when we pray?

Interestingly enough, non Pentecostals looking in from the outside into the complexities of Spirit-filled life and ministry also tend to engage in this act of oversimplification. They look into the many imperfections and defects of Pentecostal churches, individual believers and leaders, and conclude that if the Spirit were truly with them to the degree that they claim, they would lead much holier lives, and the miracles that they claim happen in their midst would be a lot more convincing and thorough.

Often, non Pentecostal ministers and theologians who are interested in exploring charismatic life and ministry are discouraged by the complexities of the process, by the fact that it is less than linear, by the contrast between the exaggerated claims of charismatic people and the less exalted reality of Pentecostal life. Many times, they don’t realize that there’s a lot of human initiative and experimentation involved in the process of growing and learning to live in the power of the Spirit. Sometimes, we don’t realize that God is glorified in this very imperfect process that requires that we humble our intellect in order to be initiated into His mysteries, and even that we fail at times, in order that in the end He might receive all the glory.

Despite the sometimes confusing nature of this process that I have lived during the past twenty-five years, learning how to live and minister in the power of the Holy Spirit, I would not abandon it for anything in the world. Without a doubt, ministering in a Pentecostal modality has transformed my ministry for the better. My Pentecostal “conversion” initiated a ministry of greater power, effectiveness and economy of effort. I fully understand why Jesus was so insistent that his disciples not begin their evangelistic efforts until they had received this mysterious power from on high.


I think it is also relevant to add that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not a panacea for ministry. A church or ministry that moves in the power of the Holy Spirit requires other complementary elements and nutrients in order to remain effective in the long run. Over and over I see the failure of charismatic pastors who become so focused on the gifts and paradigms of power and miracles that they fail to provide their congregations with proper structures of governance, administration, theological instruction, pastoral care, and leadership training. They fail to take into account that the Church of Jesus Christ is an institution, inserted in time, space and culture, that requires more than a weekly diet of emotion, enthusiasm, passionate services and imperfect miracles.

Many charismatic pastors are so focused on the spiritual, eternal realm that they fail to pay enough attention to the domain of history, culture and politics. They are not sufficiently mindful of the subtle adaptive process that we observe in the book of Acts, for example, as the Primitive Church goes from being an informal, enthusiastic amalgam of believers, and transitions into a more sustained, institutional modality that includes apostles, deacons, evangelists, the formulation of clear doctrine, clear stipulations for the inclusion of gentiles, and the theological challenges of reconciling the Hebrew Law with Jesus’ atoning work on the Cross.

This, I believe, is the greatest challenge to the Pentecostal Church of the twenty-first century, particularly in the Western, industrialized world, and in culturally sophisticated parts of Asia such as Japan. The question is: How can the Church of the twenty-first century, from a platform of holiness, sound doctrine and supernatural power, develop communities and ministries that are sophisticated, socially engaged, institutionally solid, in tune with the culture and technology of their time, and capable of earning the respect and attention of the skeptical societies in which they minister?

The Western Church is being called at this juncture in history to move in a supernatural modality, but also to provide for the establishment of solid institutional structures and practices that can serve for the long term establishment of the Kingdom in our modern, highly sophisticated societies.

The successful re-evangelization and discipling of the sophisticated, humanistic cultures in which the modern Church presently finds itself, particularly in the Western world, requires a bi-polar mentality and outlook, one in which ministers and congregations feel comfortable using the conflicting languages and thought patterns of both modernity and biblical orthodoxy, strategic thinking and Pentecostal faith.

One outlook revels in mystery, symbolism and ecstatic declarations; the other, in linear thinking, cultural agility and organizational sophistication. Ministries that are able to inhabit a Pentecostal dimension of supernatural endowment as well as to think strategically and develop effective congregational instutions will inevitably prosper and attract needy post-modern souls that have experienced the failure of rationalism and humanism as paradigms for successful living. These effective Christian institutions will demonstrate such competencies as cultural agility, concern for social justice, theological solidity, an understanding of the dynamics of pastoral care and an ability to attract the younger generation.

In the long term, God prefers to carry out His redemptive work in recognition of culture and nature, rather than ignoring or bypassing it altogether. The spectacular miraculous, which constitutes a complete imposition on the laws of reason and nature, is a distinctive God uses liberally mainly for the purpose of opening doors in times of aggressive advancement and tearing down of existing walls to the Kingdom. There is another modality, which I would hastily call the quotidian miraculous, which should be the default posture of the Church during its entire tenure on the earth. This is a posture in which the people of God are invited to live confident, entrepreneurial lives, undertaking ambitious initiatives, expecting the Holy Spirit to move powerfully through their actions, experiencing His miraculous interventions at every turn, but knowing that this power will be disseminated subtly through the fabric of life, without necessarily manifesting itself in an overt way. Sometimes, the Church needs to move in both modalities simultaneously. I believe we are living in such a time.

God will pour down His Spirit upon a holy, praying, worshipping, expectant Church, moving mightily within it, performing signs and wonders in its midst and endowing modern believers with the ability to witness with power and conviction. But He will also seek to fill His people with a spirit of wisdom and knowledge, enabling them to design and establish well-organized institutions, capable of thinking systemically, and executing strategic interventions that can affect the culture in profound, systemic ways.

We live in a time where modern souls manifest both the greatest need and the greatest resistance to the message of the Gospel. It is a time of great opportunity and great opposition. We fight against demonic entities that seek to perpetuate their illegitimate hold on modern societies, but also against the cultural, political and economic institutions that they control.

God wants to manifest His power both in the deeper dimension of the supernatural, as well as in the superstructure of technology, media, government, academia and economics. This requires a Church that understands its dual mandate. Ministers and congregations that embrace God's call to move in supernatural, Holy Spirit power as well as engage in disciplined, strategic thinking and action in order to create powerful, functional institutions will be doubly blessed. They will receive both supernatural endowment for the difficult task of twenty-first century evangelism, as well as an infusion of wisdom and knowledge to achieve a transformative impact on the sophisticated, skeptical cultures in which they minister.

Transcript of keynote presentation given in Ružomberku, Slovakia on October 16, 2012. Dr. Miranda was an invited speaker at the conference: "Pentekostalizmus v súčasnom náboženskom a spoločenskom kontexte"


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