“We must have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Pentecostal church in Canada.”
During the first week of May, delegates from across Canada and around the world will gather in Montreal, Que., for our biennial PAOC General Conference. The theme of the conference is “Vitality,” and our conversations will consider our spiritual, theological and missional vitality. Ten days later, on May 15, 2016, our churches will be celebrating Pentecost Sunday. The convergence of these two events provides an opportunity for us to examine who we are as a Spirit-empowered movement, and how to proceed together into the future God has for us.
We believe the Lord has something to say to His church. The expectation is that we have “ears to hear” what the Spirit is saying to us. His messages to the seven churches of the Revelation were specific to each church and were based on their current state of vitality in spirit, truth and mission. Where vitality was present, the Spirit affirmed it. Pergamum’s faithfulness in mission is commended: “I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives” (Revelation 2:13).
Where vitality was not evident, there was correction and a call to change. Sardis’s lack of spiritual vitality is addressed with these words: “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you” (Revelation 3:1b-3).
Throughout my adult life, I’ve sought to be a student of our Pentecostal family. It’s my observation that our leaders and churches have consistently striven for vitality in spirit, truth and mission. At times, though, you can observe an emphasis on spiritual renewal and revival in one circle of our family of churches, while another circle is focused on broadening the outreach of the church and its connectedness to the community. Meanwhile, another group of voices appeals for a foundation of truth and theological vitality. There have been times when this diversification of emphasis has pulled hard on the fabric that holds our family together.
The biblical pattern for the local expression of the church is a vital convergence of all three areas of vitality. Some may call this balance or wholeness, but whatever label we use, we must always seek all that the Lord has for us. We must hunger and thirst for intimacy with our Lord. We must seek to have His Word living and active in every dimension of our lives. And we need the Spirit’s empowerment every day in order to live out the mission of Christ.
According to our 2014 annual All Church Leadership Report (ACLR), when more than 40 per cent of our PAOC churches do not intentionally teach on the person and work of the Spirit, I hear the Spirit calling us back to our first love! We must know what it means to keep in step with the Spirit. Pentecost Sunday is a great day to respond to this call with fresh passion.
I also hear the Spirit calling us back to the Word of God. The 2013 Canadian Bible Engagement Study revealed that a minority of Christians in Canada read and engage the Scriptures on a weekly basis. When we stop reading and studying the Scriptures, theological vitality becomes a huge challenge. Instead of the mirror of God’s Word shaping our knowledge and understanding of Him, we end up creating God in our own image. That’s when theological and moral drift happens, as it did in several of the churches named in Revelation. Our response must be to actively pursue knowledge of God through His Word. That knowledge will conform us to the image of Jesus. We want to embrace this call with fresh passion.
When our lives are marked by a love for God and others, when His Word is transforming our lives, and when we are empowered by the Spirit in a naturally supernatural way, the outcome will be missional vitality. Witness of our Lord and His good news is the fruit of abiding in Jesus and His Word abiding in us.
Over the past seven years, an average of 69 per cent of our churches has reported the addition of new believers. The 2014 ACLR tells us that the number of new believers in our PAOC churches that year was roughly one for every 20 existing members. A decade ago the ratio was closer to one in ten. This is concerning. No doubt various factors are involved, but the clear reality is that a smaller percentage of our people know the joy of personally sharing the good news and seeing it transform someone’s life. The Spirit is calling us, individually and corporately, to embrace the mission of God with fresh passion—to see people reconciled to God and to one another.
We must have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Pentecostal church in Canada. We want all of the above—a convergence of spiritual, theological and missional vitality—so that we will see individuals, families and communities transformed by God.
Come, Holy Spirit, at this critical time in the life of our Canadian churches. Stir in us a deep love for God and for people. Form in us the image of Christ and renew our minds with His Word. Empower our lives and our words so that many more people will know the joy of following Jesus. For this we humbly pray. Amen.