In the last two posts, I explained what is meant by the tangible Presence of God, why we need to experience Him in this way, and what that may look like. Today and in the next post, we’ll talk about simple ways we can invite the Lord to manifest His Presence in our Christian gatherings — prayer meetings, home fellowships, or church services, for instance. I particularly hope that pastors and other group leaders will find this post helpful.
The Lord truly desires to show up among His people. Has He not already said, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20)? Why is it, then, that so many of our congregational gatherings are so dry? Why are people having difficulty connecting with God in the corporate setting?
It’s about attitudes and priorities. And, as with anything that goes on in the corporate gathering, the leaders — the ones who carry and implement the vision — are the place where change must start. If leaders don’t make God’s Presence top priority, it is unlikely to happen — at least on a consistent basis. I’m going to be speaking mainly to pastors for the rest of this post, but the following points can be applied by prayer and home fellowship leaders too:
If you want God to visit your service or gathering big-time, you will have to start with a major shift in what you value. Pastors face a tremendous amount of pressure to please people so that they keep coming. This is very real on a practical level, because if the people don’t come, the bills don’t get paid. It’s also real because in America, we’ve bought into the mentality that church numbers growth means we’re doing things right; we’re successful. It is definitely possible to grow a large church without the Presence of God. The people attending probably will be about as shallow spiritually as a layer of oil on water, but you can do it.
So, there’s a risk of losing people if you move toward a Presence-oriented church. You will have to decide, if push comes to shove, whether it is more important to make a place for natural-minded people to enjoy being entertained, or a place where God feels welcomed and honored. The two often don’t mix very well, so the Presence of God in your worship might mean taking heat from those who don’t want to grow deeper in the things of the Spirit. If you are willing to say, “God, I will do whatever it takes to make a place for Your Presence,” we can move on to the next point.
God’s agenda for any meeting must trump your plans. Going into any service or gathering with a plan is wisdom, but you must be willing to let God change the plan. That means, if your normal allotted time for praise and worship singing is twenty minutes, and you can see that the Holy Spirit is moving on people’s hearts, you won’t just shift into the next regularly scheduled segment of the service at the twenty-minute mark. If you do, you will grieve the Spirit. And, you will grieve the hearts of people who were beginning to be touched by Him.
Quite a few churches have adopted a separate service plan — one with a general social appeal and one for those who want to go deeper in the things of God. For instance, the Sunday morning service might feature lively praise music and a basic sermon, perhaps with an altar call. In most cases, the gifts of the Spirit won’t happen at this service, because it is thought they might scare away visitors and new or non-believers.
A service on another night of the week, once a month or more, is then provided. At these “encounter” services, more intimate worship is allowed, and at greater length. In a charismatic church, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are welcomed at this second service. Deeper preaching and teaching are presented, and prayer for healings and miracles is offered. The hope is that the Sunday morning crowd will eventually develop a deeper hunger for the Lord and begin adding the more Presence-oriented service into their church experience.
If the reasoning behind the two-service approach is to give the congregation a short period of time to adjust to more Presence-oriented services, this could help transition flow smoothly. But if the purpose is to appease both the spiritually hungry and the not-so-hungry, it is not going to work long-term. Why? Because we can’t push God from box to box, telling Him when to show up, and what He can and cannot do in a given service. It is an affront to Him. There may be exceptions, because God knows the heart behind why things are done the way they are, but eventually He will bring church leadership to the decision of who is Lord. If it is not THE Lord, the fire will die out.
I’ve probably lost some readers by now. But for those of you who want to go on, next time we will talk about practical ways we can invite God to pour out His Presence among us.