Influence

 the shape of leadership

In Step With the Spirit

Authentic Pentecostal leadership for disorienting times

Beth Grant on April 7, 2021

In spring 2020, when COVID-19 was just beginning to spread across the U.S., Assemblies of God World Missions Executive Director Greg Mundis was suddenly hospitalized with the virus and fighting for his life. Because my husband, David, and I had worked with him that same week, we found ourselves in quarantine with lots of time to intercede for Greg and other friends.

During that time, I started saying something at the end of phone calls with family and friends that I’d never said in my life: “Stay safe!”

That was my heart. But I soon became uncomfortable with the words as I said them. A still, small voice I’ve come to know challenged me: “Beth, never in your life have I called you to the priority of staying safe. I’ve always called you to stay ready ... ready to hear My voice, ready to obey, ready to discern what I am doing and to move with Me. Yes, be wise. But I’m calling you first to stay ready. Don’t miss now what I’m going to do in this storm!”

David and I serve as co-directors of Project Rescue, an Assemblies of God outreach to victims of sexual slavery. I shared this message with our leadership team in the U.S. and ministry leaders in Southern Asia and Europe. Together, they affirmed this was a word from the Lord. “Stay ready!” became our spiritual call to arms.

Within weeks — while many leaders were still in quarantine, in lockdown, or fighting COVID — we received amazing news. Red-light districts in Europe and Southern Asia shut down, and shut out tourists seeking illicit sex. Pimps and brothel owners turned out prostituted women and their children because it was no longer profitable to keep them.

For the first time in the 24-year history of Project Rescue, thousands of enslaved women and children had a chance to leave their horrific situation and receive help and freedom through our ministry.

But someone had to move quickly to get them to safety. Because God had spoken and prepared us by His Spirit, ministry leaders were ready to take personal risks and do exactly what God had called them to do. In the middle of a global storm, God was opening prison doors and turning hearts toward Jesus.

 

Changing Times

Before the pandemic, U.S. churches had enjoyed a long period of relative stability. Community life was fairly predictable, and the ability to gather for church was a given.

Amid this comfortable environment, many ministers adopted secular business models of leadership. With strategic planning and a well-trained leadership team, success seemed inevitable. But over time, secular leadership models can move us away from reliance on the Holy Spirit.

Then came the crises of 2020–21. Assumptions about church schedules, planning, events, missions, and travel collided with shocking new realities. And Pentecostal leaders awakened to the need for a course correction.

The context of leadership has changed dramatically — both inside and outside the Church. Over the past year, the world has witnessed the inadequacy of leadership models that depend solely on human systems. We’ve seen the limitations of economic, scientific, political and psychological knowledge. The pandemic, racial tensions, political chaos, and natural disasters have confounded policymakers and pundits and exposed our frailty and fallibility.

The needs within the community of faith have changed as well. Like everyone else, Christians are facing the raw uncertainties of life, the loss of loved ones, family tensions, and unemployment. People everywhere are dealing with overwhelming challenges, fear and trauma.

Our sense of normalcy within the Church is gone. Ministries have adapted quickly to navigate realities they never could have anticipated. How many church leaders had a strategy for ministering to believers in a masked, socially distanced setting, or for suddenly moving all services and group meetings online?

Privately, stress has mounted and weaknesses have surfaced. When leaders are on the platform and systems are functioning well, personal vulnerabilities are easier to ignore.

But when circumstances strip away our safe and familiar routines, we come face-to-face with our own humanity — and our urgent need for God’s empowering presence. Many veteran pastors and missionaries have looked in the mirror and realized their need to check back in to the spiritual formation journey.

The world has shifted under our feet, and it will continue to change. We can’t predict what our cities, our nation, or our world will face in six months — much less five years. For many of us, the future seems more unknowable than ever before.

Pentecostal church and ministry leaders today are acutely aware of their need for the Holy Spirit. We are desperate for the Spirit’s guidance. Only God knows the future. He can lead us supernaturally by His Spirit, and reaffirm His unshakable truth and lordship.

For people of the Spirit, this is the best of times to lean into the Spirit. His presence, His power, His guidance, and His gifts are freely available to empower us in every season.

 

Spirit-Led Ministry

A respected veteran missionary was taking a graduate course, “Developing a Pentecostal Theology of Leadership.” On the last day of class, he admitted he had experienced an “Aha!” moment. The missionary was a student of leadership and had developed a personal leadership model and vision statement. But it had never crossed his mind that his Pentecostal theology should shape his model and practice of leadership.

He’s probably not alone. So, what is authentic Pentecostal leadership? And how should our identity as Spirit-filled believers affect our identities as leaders?

When the epic battle with evil goes to a new level, picky spiritual appetites do not serve leaders, the church, individual believers, or the mission well.

Authentic Pentecostal leaders rely on the fulness of the Spirit for preaching and serving (Acts 1:8). God-given spiritual gifts accompany their ministry (1 Corinthians 12:7–11; Galatians 5:22).

Those who follow Pentecostal leaders should also hunger for and experience the fulness of God’s Spirit, learn to serve others by the empowerment of the Spirit, and minister in the Kingdom through spiritual gifts.

Distinguishing marks of authentic Pentecostal leadership include the following:

God’s presence. Authentic Pentecostal leaders are Spirit-filled and anointed for ministry by the Spirit day by day. They seek God passionately and welcome His unmistakable presence with them. Leaders approach each day with readiness to hear God’s voice, sense His guidance, and obey Him in faith. Others know them as people who live and walk in God’s presence.

Supernatural discernment. Many Christian leaders know intellectually through God’s Word and His promises that He is still at work in the world. But authentic Pentecostal leaders have affirmation of that confidence because they spiritually discern God at work — even in the middle of crises, suffering and storms.

Leaders listen for His voice, and they sense, discern, and respond to His Spirit. In addition to an intellectual engagement with a Pentecostal theology of the Spirit, leaders experientially engage their theology of the Spirit in the way they minister, serve in leadership, and fulfill God’s call — whatever their context.

Dynamic integration. Because they believe it’s possible and desirable to walk in the Spirit with sensitivity daily, authentic Pentecostal leaders are less likely to limit participation in the spiritual gifts to prescribed days, times and spaces.

The New Testament provides accounts of the Holy Spirit leading, anointing, and ministering to and through Jesus’ disciples on the streets, in homes, in prison, on a ship, on the road, and even while running alongside a chariot. The Spirit did not restrict His work to traditionally sacred places.

Where God’s people went full of the Spirit, the Spirit of the Lord worked dynamically through them.

Unusual seasons of spiritual challenge and opportunity are strategic times for leaders to welcome Scripture-informed participation in all God-given gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1–11) so that the Church may be strong and well-equipped for God’s mission.

When the epic battle with evil goes to a new level, picky spiritual appetites do not serve leaders, the church, individual believers, or the mission well. Pentecostal church leaders have a responsibility to teach believers about spiritual gifts and provide opportunities for them to seek and receive the fullness of the Spirit.

The Church of 2021 needs all the gifts God has provided for His people by His Spirit. He calls us not just to survive times of suffering; God desires to give us strength and empowerment for life-changing transformational ministry in the midst of difficulties.

Countercultural courage. Famed missiologist Lesslie Newbigin asked, “From whence comes the voice that can challenge this culture on its own terms, a voice that speaks its own language and yet confronts it with the authentic figure of the crucified and living Christ so that it is stopped in its tracks and turned back from the way of death?”

Authentic Pentecostal leaders courageously challenge cultural and religious norms that are in conflict with God’s Word and the work of the Spirit.

In Acts 10, it was the disarming work of the Holy Spirit that gave Peter a vision to take the gospel beyond the Jews to the Gentiles — and to see people through God’s eyes rather than cultural and religious eyes.

The reality that Jesus offered salvation to all people confronted Peter’s personal belief system. But when God confronted him through a vision, Peter received correction and was willing to pivot immediately and become a voice of God’s redemptive plan for the Gentiles.

It still takes Spirit-guided courage to communicate truth and challenge the cultural, political and religious status quo of the day in ways that lead listeners to the living Christ.

Prophetic discernment. Authentic Pentecostal leaders understand the times in which they live. They can discern truth from lies of the enemy, and good from evil. Paul talks about distinguishing between spirits — knowing what’s of God and what’s from Satan.

Hebrews 5:11–14 warns believers against apostasy and laments the spiritual immaturity of some. The author describes mature believers as those who have “trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (verse 14).

I was born into a Pentecostal church and have observed people of the Spirit throughout my life. I believe one of the most undervalued and underutilized but needed gifts of the Spirit in today’s world is spiritual discernment, integrated with wisdom and knowledge.

Supernatural discernment is necessary for church leaders and parishioners as many false teachers distort God’s truth and seek to deceive. Articulate, charismatic leaders and celebrities speak words that sound religious, Christian and biblical. It takes spiritual discernment to determine the spirit behind the words. Is it of God? Satan himself quotes God’s Word insidiously to achieve his own destructive ends (Mathew 4:5–6).

In Acts 5, Luke shares an account of Peter operating in the gifts of discernment and knowledge after Pentecost. Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, came to Peter publicly to present an offering. Tragically, they misrepresented their generosity before God, Peter and the church.

Peter’s stunning revelation of this couple’s deception and their subsequent deaths is one of the most sobering moments in the New Testament church. After witnessing Peter’s discernment in that moment, it would have been hard to doubt his authentic, Spirit-empowered leadership.

Spiritual authority. Authentic Pentecostal leaders appropriate the authority Jesus delegated in Matthew 28:18–20. Thus, the kingdom of darkness and its evil manifestations do not intimidate them. Under the anointing of the Spirit, they stand with courage and lean into the battle in His authority when facing spiritual opposition. Leaders exercise authority not to advance their own interests, but to fulfill Christ’s redemptive mission on earth.

The reality of darkness and our desperation to walk in authentic spiritual authority became personal when I first went into the red-light districts of Southern Asia to minister. For the first time in my life, I entered a place so evil, violent and demonic the darkness was palpable and intimidating.

I soon realized there wasn’t enough of God’s power at work in me to take authority over the power of Satan that enslaves women and children. I began to live desperately and dependently on a powerful, fresh anointing of His Spirit as I battled the forces of hell itself.

When encountering Satan’s dark power, our official positions, ministerial credentials, academic degrees, and charismatic personalities are irrelevant. There was a reason Jesus sent His followers to the Upper Room 2,000 years ago to wait for Pentecost before they headed out to minister. Jesus knew His Great Commission mandate was absolutely impossible to accomplish without His accompanying supernatural power and authority.

Paul’s words to the Ephesians make our source of power clear and leave no doubt about our enemy:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:10–12).

 

Spiritual Alignment

How do we align ourselves toward more authentically Pentecostal leadership?

First, be intentional about practicing God’s presence each day. When we daily walk with an awareness of His presence, we will hear and know God’s voice well. People of God’s presence more readily recognize any presence or power that is not of God — wherever they are, whether in sacred or secular places.

Pentecostal leaders also have the privilege of mentoring those they lead to practice God’s presence every day. These leaders invest in helping others become more genuinely engaged with God’s Spirit daily and less vulnerable to deception and the influence of dark spiritual power (1 John 4:1–3).

Second, intentionally steward your voice. Whatever, wherever your platform, don’t underestimate what God can do. Prayerfully seek Him for Spirit-defined and anointed words. Whether preaching, communicating through a podcast or blog, leading a small group, participating in a prison ministry, attending a board meeting, or talking with a friend over coffee, humbly bring God’s presence and anointing with you.

The Spirit of the Lord speaking truth through us disarms hearts, minds and spirits to convict of sin, save, heal, bring words of wisdom, and deliver from bondage.

Church leaders cannot assume their message is changing hearts and minds. Consider how few voices people heard a decade ago compared to how many voices they hear today. Through digital tools, especially social media, millions of people now have platforms and listeners.

Why should people listen to your voice or to mine? But when we speak with God’s authority, anointing, and grace, His truth can cut through the auditory overload and touch souls with personal precision. That’s a work of the Spirit.

Third, prayerfully ask and discern what God is doing in this prophetic day. In peaceful seasons and in troubled times, He is at work in the world. The question isn’t just what God is up to, but also how we can align our hearts, strategies and resources with His plans. How can we inspire those we serve to step into what God is doing in our world, with faith and courage rather than fear?

God, by His Spirit, can give us eyes to understand the times, as the sons of Issachar did in 1 Chronicles 12:32. We need spiritual leaders who have their finger on the pulse of our times and understand its significance to the work of the Kingdom.

Fourth, check your personal thoughts, motivations and emotions. We are living in a time of disturbing volatility, political anger, explosive words, and unbridled actions.

In such an environment, ministry leaders need to check their hearts before communicating on any platform. Is the passion we feel the Holy Spirit’s anointing to communicate God’s message? Or is it simply the stirring of our own opinions and emotions — a natural human response to what is happening around us?

Just because we are Pentecostal leaders does not mean all passion we feel is of God.

At all times, wise Pentecostal leaders prayerfully guard their thoughts, attitudes, motivations and emotions. Discern prayerfully, speak wisely, and use silence strategically, as Jesus did, in ways that consistently honor our Heavenly Father.

Fifth, be honest with those you lead when you miss it. Recently, a well-known Christian leader made a public apology. He had made some supposedly prophetic predictions that turned out to be false. So, using the same platform from which he had delivered the erroneous message, the leader humbly acknowledged he had been wrong. He took responsibility for his words as a leader and ended his apology with reassuring faith and hope in God, whose Word never fails.

God alone remains ever-faithful, all-knowing, and all-powerful. The future ultimately rests in His hands alone.

Pentecostal leaders are redeemed, called ... and human. Participating with God and the work of the Holy Spirit in mission is not an exact science. It requires humility and integrity. The good news is that the more leaders seek to follow the Spirit’s lead and practice simple obedience, the more readily they can discern and obey.

Finally, rethink your plans. Several years ago, I looked at our nonstop travel and ministry schedule in the U.S. and overseas and felt God’s conviction.

I sensed the Lord saying, “Beth, if I bring the unplanned person or open door to you, is there even time in your schedule for Me to work? Are you willing to make room for Me to do the unexpected and miraculous by My Spirit?”

This is a profound — and uncomfortable — question. Is there space in our personal planner and church calendar for God to move in fresh ways during this season? Or are church and ministry schedules so packed with the good and predictable there is little time for God to move freely by His Spirit and do the great and unpredictable? Are we allowing room for the people we serve to cry out to God and respond to the fresh wind of the Spirit that is blowing?

Yes, plan well. But also consider how you can simplify, scale back, and build in margin so you can adapt quickly to follow the Spirit’s lead.

I believe God is raising up Spirit-empowered pioneers for a new season of harvest. He may call us to be among them — or to mentor young people who will break new ground in the final hours before Jesus returns.

Can we release some things we’ve always done to embrace the things God loves to do and has promised to do into the future? The Spirit of the Lord is moving! Let’s make margin for miracles.

 

Ready and in Step

For six months in 2020, Project Rescue ministry teams had God-opened doors to minister to more than 1,000 prostituted women and their children.

Assemblies of God pastors and churches in the U.S. heard about the opportunities and stepped up, too. It was deeply moving to see how quickly and generously they gave in the middle of their own challenging days. As a result, Project Rescue had resources in hand to respond and share Christ’s love and compassion with the sexually exploited during an extraordinary window of time.

Recently, a brothel in a major red-light district became available for us to buy and turn into a ministry center. Soon, women and children in slavery on those infamous dark streets will meet Jesus in our new facility, find freedom from the power of evil, and learn what it means to live as redeemed, Spirit-filled people of God.

The apostle Paul’s words to the Galatian church are fitting for Pentecostal leaders today: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).

May we stay ready and in step with Him during this significant season for our Father’s glory and the fulfillment of His great mission.

 

This article appears in the April–June 2021 edition of Influence magazine. The print magazine inadvertently excluded several words in the transition between pages 43 and 44. The digital version of the issue reflects the correct wording.

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