the shape of leadership

Speaking in Tongues

Why and how we should seek God for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit

Timothy Laurito on June 1, 2022

I will never forget the response of a young man in our church upon receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. I had previously spent many hours talking with him about Spirit baptism and answering his questions about speaking in tongues.

But at that moment, he had only one more question.

Looking up at me with a broad smile and a face wet with tears, he asked, “Why didn’t you tell me it would be this wonderful?”

It is a foundational experience in the life of every Pentecostal believer. Yet there is evidence that Spirit baptism is in decline in the Assemblies of God.

Worship service attendance grew by 9% from 2009–19, AG (USA) statistics reveal. Yet the number of Spirit baptisms during that period was basically flat (1% growth).

Additionally, data from the Acts 2 Journey shows that from 2016–19, most conversions in the Fellowship took place in larger churches (200+ attenders). However, larger churches also experienced a 13% decline in Spirit baptisms during that time.

These figures suggest that although we are successfully leading people to Christ, we are falling behind in leading adherents into Spirit baptism. The question is, what can we do about it?

We could cast blame and point fingers, but those reactions will not change anything. Pointing fingers leads to division; finding solutions leads to unity. Casting blame shifts the responsibility to others; pursuing change acknowledges we have a role to play in addressing this issue.

Wishing for the good old days is not the answer. Neither is settling for a new normal in which Spirit baptism becomes a relic of our past. Instead, the decline in Pentecostal expression should drive us to action. It should motivate us to seek God for a fresh outpouring on this generation.

Why It Matters

There are five reasons why it is critical that people in our churches continue to experience the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues.

1. Speaking in tongues is biblical. The primary reason for practicing the Spirit-inspired act of speaking in tongues is that the Bible prescribes it. As Pentecostals, we must continue to emphasize Spirit baptism and speaking in tongues because we maintain our belief in the supremacy of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16).

We believe the New Testament testimony that speaking in tongues is valid and valuable (Acts 2; 8; 10; 19; 1 Corinthians 12–14). Our position isn’t just about speaking in tongues then. Instead, it’s about something much more fundamental: our view of Scripture.

I’m thankful the AG has a history of speaking in tongues, but this issue is not about tradition or public opinion. It’s about remaining in the will of God, as revealed in Scripture.

The founders of the Assemblies of God did not speak in tongues because their grandparents had done it or because their church culture supported it. Their motivation was simply to live out God’s Word.

Likewise, we should continue to champion the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues because we remain committed to a biblical hermeneutic that sees Spirit baptism and the gifts of the Spirit as available to every believer today.

2. Speaking in tongues is the initial physical evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Therefore, a decline in tongues suggests fewer believers are being baptized in the Holy Spirit. The purpose of Spirit baptism is about more than speaking in tongues. However, as the outward visible sign of Spirit baptism, speaking in tongues remains a vital expression of the Spirit’s work in our world.

In the Bible, speaking in tongues accompanied the baptism in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2; 8; 10; 19). Throughout the Book of Acts, people who were filled with the Spirit spoke in tongues.

As a Christ-centered Movement, we depend on the Spirit to help
us become more like Jesus.

Thus, speaking in tongues is like a signpost that points to the Spirit’s activity in our lives. If we remove the signpost, we risk missing all that it represents.

The physical symbol of the wedding ring points to the union of marriage, which has a far deeper significance than a mere circular band. Similarly, the sign of speaking in tongues points to a work of the Spirit that is far more significant than the utterances themselves.

Jesus promised that His followers would be “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). Any sustained decline in Spirit baptisms within our Fellowship suggests a decline in Spirit empowerment. To prevent this, we must continue to value speaking in tongues as a vital signpost of the Spirit baptizing believers.

3. Speaking in tongues offers Pentecostals a mode of communicating with God that goes beyond our human limitations. The apostle Paul spoke in tongues as he prayed and worshipped God through song (1 Corinthians 14:14–15).

The Spirit’s work among believers — including Spirit baptisms — often takes place in an atmosphere of prayer and praise. It’s no coincidence that Pentecostals are known for powerful prayer and praise. This has everything to do with their willingness to allow the Spirit to work in and through them.

Speaking in tongues is much more than a novel approach to prayer and praise, however. It provides Pentecostalism with a distinct way of thinking about these spiritual actions. In a real sense, a decline in our practice of speaking in tongues is a decline in both our actions and attitude toward communicating with God.

As a Christ-centered Movement, we depend on the Spirit to help us become more like Jesus. Speaking in tongues takes us beyond our human limitations. The Spirit helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26), forms in us the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:14–16), and strengthens us in our faith (Ephesians 3:16–17).

The baptism in the Holy Spirit reminds us of our inherent weakness and our need for God’s power and wisdom. Paul said, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26).

There is no shame in acknowledging our human weakness and our reliance on the Holy Spirit. In fact, it is precisely this posture before God that has made Pentecostalism such a powerful missionary force throughout its history.

4. Speaking in tongues as a Spirit-inspired act moves believers into the mission of God. In the Book of Acts, the connection between missions and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost is apparent.

Beginning with Peter’s bold sermon in Chapter 2, we can see how the Spirit’s indwelling power enabled the disciples to fulfill Christ’s command to take the gospel to the world (Matthew 28:19–20). Knowing the road ahead would not be easy, Jesus told the disciples to wait for the baptism in the Spirit so that they might receive the supernatural power and boldness required to carry out His kingdom purposes (Acts 1:4–8).

As we pursue Christ’s mission in today’s world, we still need the Holy Spirit. It is no accident that modern Pentecostalism has grown exponentially since its humble beginnings at the start of the 20th century.

Pentecostals have traditionally sought the same power and experience that marked the Early Church. Like the first-century disciples, Pentecostals depend on Spirit empowerment to fulfill the Great Commission and declare the “wonders of God” to the nations (Acts 2:11). This has led to a rapidly expanding missionary movement accompanied by miraculous signs and wonders.

If the Spirit baptism at Pentecost resulted in the world’s evangelization in that day, modern-day Spirit baptism is necessary for the evangelization of our world today. From a Pentecostal perspective, the Day of Pentecost was not the day the Church began but rather the day the Church was empowered. Spirit baptism is about the Church receiving Spirit empowerment for missional purposes.

Given the connection in the Book of Acts between Spirit baptism and missional empowerment, we must not overlook the importance of seeking the Holy Spirit today. A decline in Spirit baptisms will lead to a decline in missional effectiveness.

How do we know whether someone has received Spirit empowerment for mission? The act of speaking in tongues answers this question.

Speaking in tongues (Spirit-inspired utterances) is the initial (first, but not only) observable (physical) evidence (repeated biblical marker) of Spirit empowerment for mission.

Continuing to emphasize our distinctive practice of speaking in tongues is about more than just protecting a heritage. It’s about recognizing that a continuation of our distinctive is the key to ensuring both our present missional ability and our future Kingdom effectiveness.

Spirit baptism is about the Church receiving Spirit empowerment for missional purposes.

5. Speaking in tongues gives us a small glimpse of our future hope within our present world. As a matter of doctrine, the Assemblies of God has always looked with anticipation toward our Blessed Hope (Titus 2:13).

Throughout our history, we have emphasized Christ’s soon return in our worship, preaching and outreach. This expectation is a central theme of our theology and practice. The baptism in the Holy Spirit is a part of this end-time hope.

A Pentecostal understanding of the outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 2 must include its connection to the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy concerning eschatological events (Joel 2:28). On the Day of Pentecost, people “from every nation under heaven” heard the disciples speaking in tongues (Acts 2:5). This was the first of an ongoing end-times witness of the Spirit’s work in this world.

In the apostle Peter’s message, he framed Pentecost as a sign of “the last days” (Acts 2:17). He then called on the crowd to repent and prepare their hearts to receive this gift (verse 38). Similarly, the baptism in the Holy Spirit reminds the Church today of our current mission and future hope.

We must reaffirm and rekindle this future hope within every generation as we seek the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues. As Peter declared, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39).

Just as the Day of Pentecost brought together a diverse group to hear the wonders of God, we look forward to the day when “every nation, tribe, people and language” will worship before God’s throne (Revelation 7:9).

From a Pentecostal perspective, the hope of heaven is not merely a distant reality. As the Holy Spirit works in and through us, we experience God’s presence among us and participate in signs and wonders in this age. This present reality points to the future fulfillment of all God’s promises in Christ.

Pentecostalism is so much more than speaking in tongues. A decline in Spirit baptisms with the evidence of speaking in tongues threatens our ability to pass on our faith to the next generation.

What Leaders Can Do

Create opportunities for Spirit baptism within our weekly worship services. Every minister of the gospel has a responsibility to cultivate divine opportunities — moments in which the atmosphere is conducive for people to encounter the Holy Spirit.

While God is not dependent on our efforts, He commissioned and empowered the Church to point people to Jesus. Our worship experiences are not merely social gatherings. They are sacred opportunities for people to experience life change and fellowship with God.

As Pentecostals, hunger for the work of the Spirit is a part of our DNA. Just as the disciples waited in the Upper Room for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1), we wait expectantly for a fresh outpouring in our day.

We believe the Spirit operates through the Church. So, we must intentionally create opportunities for the Spirit to work. Pentecostal preaching, praying and worship should go beyond mere openness to the Spirit, however. They should actively cultivate an atmosphere that welcomes the Spirit.

Why is this distinction important? The subtle shift from pursuing an atmosphere conducive to the Spirit’s work to simply being OK with the Spirit moving has profound implications.

It’s one thing to allow the Spirit to operate in our services. It’s another thing entirely to invite Him to have His way, intentionally creating an atmosphere in our weekly worship services where the Spirit has the freedom to do as He desires.

A decline in Spirit baptisms is not the result of a decrease in the Spirit’s desire to baptize followers of Jesus. After all, God does not change.

What is the issue then? Perhaps we have gradually shifted from seeking an outpouring of the Holy Spirit to subscribing to the idea in theory. Just as we must intentionally create an atmosphere where people can experience the Spirit’s work of salvation, we must purposefully create opportunities for people to experience Spirit baptism.

Preach and teach on Spirit baptism regularly. Every service is a sacred opportunity, and there is a holy responsibility placed upon every minister to share the truths of the Word of God.

There are so many critical biblical topics that vie for our attention each week. While we should preach “the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27), Pentecostal ministers have a duty to make the subject of Spirit baptism a regular part of their preaching calendars.

Pentecostal churches need leaders and members who are operating in the gifts
of the Spirit.

We cannot assume that because people go to a Pentecostal church, they understand or have experienced Spirit baptism. In my doctoral research, I found that only 44% of self-identified Pentecostals believed they had received adequate teaching about Spirit baptism. This suggests many people within our Assemblies of God churches need to hear more messages on this important subject.

It is possible to preach or teach on a topic so often that you neglect to give people a balanced diet of the Word. At the same time, the narrative of Acts reveals a consistent pattern of Spirit baptism taking place wherever the gospel went. As Pentecostals, we see this as biblical evidence that Spirit baptism was the catalyst for the missional empowerment of the Early Church.

The 21st-century Church must continue to view Spirit baptism as an indispensable part of our missional empowerment for today. This means our motive for prioritizing preaching and teaching on the subject is not merely about increasing Spirit baptism numbers. We should emphasize Spirit baptism from our pulpits because, like the Early Church, we see it as a catalyst for missional empowerment.

If Spirit baptism is to remain a fundamental part of the Pentecostal church, it must be a fundamental part of our sermons, small groups, classes and literature. We will reap what we sow in our preaching and teaching.

I believe there is a direct link between a decline in Spirit baptisms and the amount of preaching and teaching we devote to the subject. It’s imperative that we prioritize the baptism in the Holy Spirit in our messages and our gatherings.

Spirit baptism often gets some attention during Pentecost Sunday, but we can’t relegate it to one Sunday per year. We must continually emphasize the importance of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Lead by example through Spirit-filled living. If we hope to create a hunger for Spirit baptism within those we lead, we must first demonstrate life in the Spirit. As ministers, we guide people not only through what we say, but also through the example we live in front of them.

Ministry leaders set the spiritual bar for those who follow them. This is why Paul told the Corinthians, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Pentecostal ministers have a responsibility to live in a way that will make others want to seek the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Is it possible that some in our congregations aren’t seeking the Baptism simply because the lives of their leaders have not convinced them of the value doing so?

Ultimately, the messages we preach and the lessons we teach about the baptism in the Holy Spirit aren’t enough if our lives don’t align with Scripture. The ultimate apologetic of the necessity of Spirit baptism is a life the Holy Spirit has empowered.

Throughout the Book of Acts, the Spirit-baptized disciples demonstrated the power of the Spirit in the way they lived. As Pentecostal ministers, let us never forget our emphasis on Spirit baptism must go deeper than mere doctrinal statements or theological perspectives. We need to walk in the Spirit as we call others to follow.

Where to Start

Given the apparent decline in Spirit baptisms, we are at a critical point in our history. Our response will determine the future of our Movement, and this knowledge should drive us to action.

Motivated by our conviction that Spirit baptism with the evidence of speaking in tongues is for Christ followers today, we have an exciting opportunity to see this generation experience the empowerment of the Spirit. We can rise to the occasion by preaching and teaching about the Spirit, living in the Spirit, and intentionally creating space in our services for people to encounter the Spirit.

We should start with a renewed personal emphasis on the Spirit. We can then engage this issue with confidence, knowing we are advancing with Spirit-enabled assistance.

In these difficult times, our world needs Spirit-empowered ministers. The challenges we face call for wisdom, insight, and power beyond our natural abilities. Pentecostal churches need leaders and members who are operating in the gifts of the Spirit.

Organizational strategies are not enough to win spiritual battles. But as we pray in the Spirit (Ephesian 6:18), we will continue to find the empowerment we need to push back satanic agendas and expand the kingdom of God as we await the coming of our Lord.

Our Source of enablement has not changed: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6).

Motivated by our confidence in the Spirit’s power, may we continue to champion the importance of speaking in tongues. May we continue to live as Spirit-empowered witnesses, proclaiming the truth of Scripture as we intentionally create opportunities for people to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” The Lord wants to pour out His Spirit on our churches today just as He did in the past. Are we creating an atmosphere in our Pentecostal services for Pentecost to happen once again?

This article appears in the Spring 2022 edition of Influence magazine.

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