The Power of Pentecost

 In MOVE, Uncategorized

Holiness and unity require hard work and openness to the fresh wind of the Spirit. On the original Pentecost Sunday—often described as the church’s “birthday”—as the Holy Spirit fell on the believers and possessed them, the first broken place in the broken world He addressed was tearing down walls that separated “the devout” from all over the world.  The Spirit overcame all of the tensions, prejudices, and barriers that the devil could muster, dividing the people of God, and made them one in Christ.  Three thousand, famously, were added to the church that day.

How can we, the Church of God in 2024, experience that same transcendent, supernatural holiness and unity?  How can we surrender to the Spirit’s power to sanctify?

The 2023 General Assembly designated Pentecost Sunday – May 19, 2024 – as a celebration of our Movement’s multi-ethnic identity, “to celebrate and challenge the church to remember this is what we believe and this is who we are as a Movement.” As part of this charge came the recommendation to form a team of Church of God pastors to develop resources and ideas for this initiative. Collectively called the “Acts 6 Team,” they are: Twila Butler (Toledo OH), ​Leo Chavarria (Bentonville AR), Stephanie Niemoeller (Muncie IN), Sylvia Reid (Meadville PA), T J Samuelu (Seattle WA), and Mafdy Shehat (Indianapolis IN).  Each of these pastors has a unique insight into celebrating Pentecost and the multi-cultural unity it represents; not all may see every idea in the same way, but all are champions for celebrating Pentecost and a multi-cultural Holy Spirit-filled Church of God.

Twila Butler shares her reflections:*

It is my testimony that the presence of the Holy Spirit has made himself known in an atmosphere where obedience becomes key. The assembly on the day of Pentecost exhibited the bare ingredients. There were no protocols in place, just their will to be obedient and to abandon what was customary. They abandoned personal ideas and agendas all because they believed that what had been promised would manifest at His very word. Something special happens when the draw of the moment seems to gravitate to the desire of the Holy Spirit. Nothing that we in our humanness could ever formulaically create could achieve such a transcendent experience. In celebration of the day of Pentecost, I implore this body of believers to posture its heart at the altar of obedience and to be present, to be together, and to live from under the shadow of what is customary for the expectation of what is promised to be extraordinary.

Twila Butler
If you would like to know more about Twila’s thoughts about Pentecost, she would love to hear from you: TButler@fcogtoledo.com

Stephanie Niemoeller shares insights* from her local church’s journey and approach:

We celebrate Pentecost Sunday because of what it represents – the Holy Spirit falling on His people, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, religious background, etc. It is with this in mind that we urge the Church of God to celebrate the diversity that makes up this gorgeous, distinct body of believers. As I, a white woman who pastors a largely white congregation, have prayed about what Pentecost Sunday celebrations could look like in our movement in this era, I’ve become very convicted that we need to take an active role in repentance and reparation for any harm caused to our brothers and sisters of color within the movement. How have we contributed and remained complicit in prejudices within the Church of God and in our world? How can we go about advocating for our brothers and sisters of color actively and vigorously, not in the passive manner which we have become so accustomed? 1 Corinthians 12:26-27 comes to mind: “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” It is our duty and obligation, as those in the majority, to advocate for and take account of the harm that has been caused within our movement and society to our brothers and sisters of color.

At my church in Muncie, Indiana, our leadership has been doing extensive training and learning to become better equipped to be good neighbors to those in the minority. We’ve read books and hired a consultant to teach us what our biggest blind spots are as we desire to become a congregation that is multicultural. It is my hope that as we strive to celebrate diversity in the Church of God, that we can be the countercultural movement we’ve always been and improve how our brothers and sisters of color are experiencing the negative impacts of what I believe is a legacy of systemic racism in America. The time to rise up and stand with them is now. May heaven truly come to earth as we pursue this holy work.

Stephanie Niemoeller
If you would like to know more about the ideas Stephanie has shared above, she would love to hear from you: stephanie@thegatheringmuncie.org

* These statements represent the thoughts of those sharing them and their local ministries. Questions about their application and meaning can be answered best by reaching out to the speakers.

 

REFLECTING ON THE POWER OF PENTECOST

As you look to celebrate Pentecost Sunday with your church family, here is a helpful framework through which to reflect and plan:

Acknowledgement of the Holy Spirit’s power and ambition to unite a divided church—which is a pure expression of holiness

Awareness of the diversity and breadth of the Church of God worldwide and here at home—the barriers to holiness and unity within the Body

Acceptance of the beauty, wonder, and blessing of a church united in its God-given diversity—a witness to a divided world

Through this framework, consider the following questions:

  • How did you come into the Church of God? Were you raised in it? Did you discover it later in life? What’s your history?
  • How aware are you of the breadth of the Church of God and its many cultures, ethnicities, communities, and their distinct strengths and contribution to the whole?
  • How accepting are you of these differences?
  • How do you acknowledge the presence of the Holy Spirit in your congregation?
  • Do you see the fruit of Pentecost—in the way the Spirit brought people together from many different countries, cultures, languages, and made of them one Church of God? (see Acts 2:9-12)

 

IDEAS FOR CELEBRATING DIVERSITY

Here are suggestions for local congregations to explore and emphasize the wonder of a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, Spirit-breathed and Spirit-filled Church of God:

  • Organize a carry-in dinner featuring multi-cultural cuisine (with stories of the food’s origins); encourage ministry-at-the-table; breaking bread together.
  • Display and/or have a procession of flags from around the world or specific parts of the world. Flags used in this way are not intended to be for missionary emphasis, but understanding the beauty and diversity of the Body of Christ around the world; the Church of God is at work in 90 countries in 23 time zones.
  • Encourage members of the congregation to wear clothing representing their (or their family’s) original cultures and heritage; do not appropriate someone else’s culture, but celebrate everyone’s by presenting your own; give opportunity to explain the background and story of dress.
  • Encourage church staff and leaders to explore books and ideas that lead to reconciliation across cultures, ethnicities, and diverse communities within the Body of Christ; stretch the horizons of understanding about our neighbors and brothers and sisters raised in cultures different from our own; take the dare to tackle hard truths, difficult content, tough stuff, while clothed with humility and love.
  • Produce and deliver testimonies (e.g. in writing, by video, by audio, or live) from a variety of voices, describing their own life journey, worship, challenges, opportunities, and the beauty of their culture growing up and experienced in adulthood—and then make these available to the whole church.
  • Imagine something tangible that could be given away—placed into everyone’s hands on this Pentecost Sunday at church—something that will remind them of a spiritual truth drawn from the celebration of Pentecost Sunday (e.g. a pocket flashlight representing Jesus, the Light of the World).
  • Focus teaching on the Holy Spirit—the “x-factor” of knowledge and power. Don’t let the church leave the building before the Holy Spirit is introduced and invited in—and let everyone understand it is the Spirit that will open our eyes to the diverse unity and wonder of God’s church; holiness and unity cannot be found until will surrender all and are clothed with the Spirit’s power.
  • Invite voices from Church of God communities—different from your own—to share, teach, and celebrate, encouraging them to illustrate the exposition of the Word with personal experience in their culture and community.
  • Support local businesses that are grounded/owned/operated by communities different than your own (e.g. if catering food for the Pentecost Sunday meal or reception).
  • Plan for a unity service with other congregations that do not look like your own.
  • Develop a plan/opportunities for local church members to enjoy a meal or meet-up with someone different, one-to-one or two-by-two, to enhance understanding and respect for each other.
  • Offer opportunities for “field trips” across town to diverse communities to learn and love and/or promote travel abroad to see and meet the global Church of God; contact Church of God Ministries for ideas and opportunities.
  • Explore how your local church’s facilities/space can be shared with Christian ministries focused on another culture or community—and how to then build relationships with those meeting in your building for worship, etc.
  • Feature a biblical text on Pentecost Sunday that unpacks the synergy between being filled with the Holy Spirit and the tearing down of walls between people groups (e.g. Acts 2, as the Gospel is proclaimed from the upper room balcony, or Acts 10, as Peter’s prejudices and walls collapse under the Spirit’s leading to Cornelius).
  • Explore the fruit of the Spirit—and the gifts of the Spirit—as enumerated in the New Testament this Pentecost, exploring how they all can unite the church and how they all illustrate the Lord’s design for diversity within the Body of Christ (e.g. God equips the church in diverse ways and manifests His presence in the way many parts work together as one).
  • Explore the diversity of biblical characters, all used by God throughout biblical history, to achieve His ends (e.g. Jews, Gentiles, Simon the Cyrene, Rahab, the Samaritan woman at the well, the demon-possessed man set-free in “the region of the Gerasenes,” men, women, old, young, from different cultures, ethnicities, backgrounds.  Celebrate that God “so loved the world …” not just the world we know best and that raised us.

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