There are many things that are hard to predict about the future of the church in North America, but one thing is clear: the future church is more charismatic.
I’m not sure how that statement strikes you, but consider the growth of the church around the world – most of it has a Spirit-filled underpinning. This growth, once primarily happening outside Western contexts, is now steadily increasing in places like the UK, Australia, and especially the United States. At the same time, the non-charismatic parts of the church are shrinking, especially in the Western world.
We all know that the mainline church (UMC, PCUSA, Episcopal) is by and large a generation away from the edge of extinction. But what is most striking in the data is that while the evangelical church is holding steady, the families of churches that hold to some practice of “the charismatic life” are growing. Even evangelical churches and communities that once would have been found lacking in their charismatic orientation now have clear, regular examples and bodies of teaching around the Spirit-filled life. Whether it is the Anglican Church, the Reformed Calvinist movement, Spirit-Oriented Mennonites, former United Methodists, or more multi-denominational groupings like Exponential, there is hardly any corner of the church that is not MORE charismatic than it was in previous generations.
One has to step back and wonder, “Why might this be?” This is certainly not something that aligns well with the values of our broader culture as so many changes tend to be. Instead, we ought to think that perhaps this wave of the Spirit is something that God himself has initiated for this time. If God himself has initiated this, then we might ask ourselves, “How do all of us take steps into what God is doing?” After all, you need not consider yourself charismatic to take a step forward into the life of the Spirit.
You need not consider yourself charismatic to take a step forward into the life of the Spirit.
In my own journey, I have often described myself as a “British charismatic.” Mainly, what I have intended to mean is that I have a “subdued” expression of life in the Spirit. I am still uncomfortable in contexts where the “full gifts of the Spirit” are displayed. Yet, I have found that learning to hear God, to give and receive prophetic words, and to discern the action of the Spirit in a setting, have been indispensable to my life and leadership. I’ve also been fortunate to be part of just a few “miraculous” circumstances. I always hope for more of those, but it doesn’t phase me when less of them happen. There are more than enough reasonable, theologically informed, reasons why we don’t see more miracles than we do.
What resides in my heart for my fellow Ecclesia leaders is that you would not miss what God is doing in this moment, either because of any past or present experiences with those who are “Pentecostal or Charismatic” or that you would regard your own personality and way of being in life to be at odds with what we generally experience to be a more “expressive” version of the Christian faith. If we miss what God is doing in this season, I believe there are at least three profound things we will miss.
First, you could miss a more dynamic and faith-filled personal life of faith. Second, you may miss the longing expectation for the surprising work of God that accompanies the vast majority of where the church is growing in witness and maturity around the globe and ALSO in Western nations that have left a concern for authentic, orthodox Christian witness. Third, and perhaps most importantly because it serves as the foundation of the first two, you will miss out on living and leading with the authority and boldness that accompanies the call of a Christ-follower and is necessary as part of your profession in a time when the winds of society are most certainly blowing against you.
As I look across all my experiences with planting, pastoring, multiplying leaders, building networks, and working with various denominations across the continuum of the church in North America, one thing I know for sure is that the only wind that can withstand the winds of our current secular, increasingly antagonistic context to authentic Christianity on the one hand, and the current nationalistic, increasingly antagonistic context to authentic Christianity on other is the wind of the Spirit. We must have the confidence that God is with us, in the power of the Spirit, to have the courage to face these twin headwinds coming against all of us for the foreseeable future.
So, how do we take a step into this moment?
First, I would recommend to any leader three books that I believe create a pathway for anyone to incrementally grow in their life in the Spirit – Surprised by the Power of the Spirit and Surprised by the Voice of God, both by Jack Deere, and Hearing God by Dallas Willard. You might have read Hearing God in a previous season in life, but I would invite you to read it through the lens of the “charismatic life” and see how it hits you differently.
Second, I would recommend that you simply ask God to continuously reveal the person and work of the Spirit that Jesus sent to accompany and empower you. There is more to be said for sure, but I don’t know of any circumstance where someone has genuinely asked God to reveal the Spirit to them and God has not in due course answered. The question for us is “Do we want more of the Spirit?” It surely seems like it would be wise to say “yes.”