the shape of leadership

Pentecost in the Age of COVID

There has never been a better time for people to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit

Kristi Northup on August 28, 2020

There has never been a better time for people to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit than right now.

How can that be? We can’t touch people. We can’t lay hands on them. With our faces covered, we can’t tell whether people are even entering into worship.

While the changes have often been sudden and even painful, we have to believe God is leading and helping us. What this ongoing moment of crisis has created is a hunger for the presence of God. In the midst of tremendous chaos, upheaval and confusion, His presence is one place there is peace and hope.

For those whose churches are meeting in person, I would say this: If people come, it is because they really want to be there. They come hungry. They come expecting.

As a worship leader, I am determined to go further and deeper than I ever have in our services. It’s the least I can do to serve the people who are willing to brave the awkwardness of the current moment to be in the presence of God with other believers.

At the same time, don’t discount those who are online only, whether in services or small groups. People have real reasons why they can’t come in person, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t aching for human and spiritual connection.

There was a time when I was uncomfortable praying for people to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. But once I saw God working powerfully in lives, I was eager to be a part of what He was doing.

I grew up going to Assemblies of God camps. After high school, I traveled for an AG college team and went to nine summer camps, praying every week for students around the altars to receive the Baptism. I don’t know if anyone ever did.

The next summer, I served as an intern at Stone Creek Church (AG) in Urbana, Illinois. It was a church where people accepted Christ and received the baptism in the Holy Spirit on a weekly basis.

God can gloriously baptize someone in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues over Zoom just as He can in a church sanctuary.

One Wednesday night during the youth service, the topic was the baptism in the Holy Spirit. We broke into small groups, and I took charge of three teenage girls. Of course, I was dreading the conversation and prayer time. As we got to the end, kids were starting to play basketball and loud rap music was playing — not exactly the atmosphere I thought we needed.

I nervously asked whether any of the girls would like to receive prayer to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. One 15-year-old girl from a Filipino background said she had been having dreams about praying in a language she didn’t understand. The moment we put a hand on her arm, she burst out praying in tongues! I was as shocked as she was.

This amazing experience taught me the Holy Spirit isn’t dependent on a service or a certain atmosphere. God is looking for people with a hunger for Him and a willingness to step out in faith.

My husband, Wayne, and I have prayed with thousands of people — young and old — to receive the Baptism. For each one who has received this gift at an altar during a service, someone else has been filled in a home, a class, a dorm, or even over the phone.

Some have approached us at camps to tell us they started speaking in tongues during the night as they were lying in bed seeking God for the baptism in the Spirit. We have received Facebook messages from people who prayed at church altars for years before finally receiving the Baptism while alone in their living rooms.

In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit visited the Upper Room and the home of Cornelius. During the early years of the Assemblies of God, it was often in meetings of 20 to 30 people that Pentecost first came to communities. Perhaps the Lord is bringing us back to encountering His Spirit in homes and smaller settings?

What is beautiful about this moment in history is that it removes many of the roadblocks of skepticism. There is no chance of pushing anyone over, because we can’t lay hands on them. No one can accuse the band of manipulating the crowd where just two or three are gathered.

Pentecost is no less powerful in a small group than in a large service. God can gloriously baptize someone in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues over Zoom just as He can in a church sanctuary.

The Holy Spirit often uses music, special speakers, conferences, kids’ camps, and youth camps, but His work does not depend on any of these. Many of the familiar aspects of church have been stripped away for the time being. Yet God is still at work.

Let’s invite the Holy Spirit to move among us right where we are, right now. He is with us and wants to give us good gifts — even in this moment.

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