Assemblies of God
Congregation Size: 600-700
I’ll begin with a confession: I have been very critical of Pentecostals, in particular the Assemblies of God, for the better part of my life. There’s a lot of deep wounds created from friends and family (and personally experiencing their services) that have not left a good taste in my mouth. So, in an effort to repent and reconcile and look for God’s grace in their life, Rylan and I decided to attend the largest Pentecostal church in our area.
We walked into church as the service was beginning. We stood by our seats and started singing with the congregation. One thing I do love about Pentecostals is the way they get into singing. They raise their hands and sing loud — even if they sound awful. The first song was the popular worship hit, “Rescue.” After that, they sang 6 other songs and I’ll be completely honest: I did not know one of them. I can’t even remember their titles. So, Rylan and I tried to sing. It was difficult, but we were able to pray and take joy in the fact that other people were worshiping Jesus.
After the music ended, they prayed and took an offering and followed that up with announcements This week at the church was mission’s week, but the head pastor didn’t speak. There was a regional pastor who came to share about what the denomination wants to see happen around the world. I had a gut feeling about what we’d hear about since it was mission’s week. Rylan and I, both missionaries ourselves, just sat there half-smiling, thinking, “We would come on this Sunday!” I was still intrigued to hear the sermon. After all, missions sermons can be very biblical and convicting.
My gut was right. I didn’t hear a convicting sermon. I didn’t hear about Christ’s supremacy around the world and about the power of the Word in missions. I heard, “If Coke can [that is, be everywhere in the world], we can.” That was the title of the sermon. I thought that was gimmicky. Actually, I thought it was kind of unnecessary. The sermon text was Mark 16:15-20. Before I go on, I wanted to make it clear that I’m not bagging on Pentecostals — I’m simply telling you my experience at this particular church on one particular Sunday during one particular year. Okay. That sermon text is very peculiar to use for missions because Jesus said, “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues” (v. 17). I know that all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable (2 Tim. 3:16-17). But this seems, to me, to be a narrow focus of missions. Is not missions the proclamation of gospel word and the act of gospel deed so that others might know and believe in Jesus? Granted, this was not a focus of the sermon, thankfully, but it still seems a bit peculiar to use this passage rather than, say, Matthew 28:19-20. Perhaps I’m being too critical. You can let me know what you think if you have thoughts.
The regional pastor spoke for about 25-30 minutes. During that time, he said some things that I simply did not agree with. He said, “We want to tell people about the gospel because we believe that everyone deserves to hear about Jesus before they die.” Though that is a great desire to have — and we should all have the desire that everyone hear — it is not biblical. The fact of the matter is that nobody deserves to hear about Jesus. We all deserve death and condemnation. The grace of God provides us with the beautiful redemption found in Christ. We do not deserve it. Missions is simply one beggar telling another beggar where to go to find bread. Beggars don’t deserve anything. Still, God gives freely, so we should give freely as well.
After this pastor spoke, one of church elders came to talk about the “gift pledge” in our worship bulletin. This was the time during the service where I heard a lot of pleas to give financially — which is good and right and I believe we should give (after all, I ask people to provide financially for my ministry!). You all know what this is like if you’ve been to church, so that’s all I’ll say about that.
That concluded the church service. It wasn’t a bad experience, for there wasn’t any charismaniancs shouting out tongues and dancing in the aisle. That would have been uncomfortable for Rylan and me — two conservative Charismatics, or as Driscoll would say, “Charismatics with a seat-belt.” However, we left wishing we had not come on mission’s week, but God directed us there for a reason. Perhaps it was to understand how to better pray for this congregation. After you read this blog, could you pray that this church would be more Bible-saturated in their preaching and worship? Pray that the truths of Scripture would illumine their hearts to make Jesus the focus of every sermon and song. Pray also that their affections for Jesus would be matched by their mind for Jesus. Pray that emotionalism would not drive their walk with God. At the same time, praise God for their enthusiasm and willingness to give money and spread the gospel around the world.