the shape of leadership

The Breath of God and Our Current Crises

Leading as a praying Pentecostal

Donna Barrett on July 28, 2020

In my private worship time over the past few months, I’ve been parked on these lines from two familiar worship songs:

  • It’s Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise … .
  • This is the air I breathe. … I’m desperate for You.

First I sang these words with my thoughts toward Assemblies of God World Missions Director Greg Mundis and other patients diagnosed with COVID-19 who were on ventilators struggling for their next breath.

This pandemic that has impacted our world as we know it, causing all of us to rethink how we do ministry, started with an attack on an individual’s ability to breathe.

These lyrics later became tearful laments as I recalled the horrific final moments of George Floyd’s life.

“I can’t breathe.” That phrase has awakened our country and alerted the Church to systemic racism.

Racism and classism of various sorts were alive in the Early Church, and God dealt with these issues through Jesus.

Foreigners, children and women were looked down on in that culture. In Galatians 2:11, Peter avoided Gentiles, and Paul scolded him for it. From Acts 2–10, the mindset of the first Christians was that salvation was only for Jews. Then Peter, after connecting with Cornelius, revealed to them God’s plan for bringing Gentiles into His kingdom as well (Acts 11:17-18).

Genesis sets the tone from the very beginning that all humans are created in the image of God. We are most like God when we honor other humans from God’s vantage point of value and respect. To do otherwise is sin and offends the Lord we serve.

Who is the neighbor we are to love like ourselves? In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, being religious was more important than helping for the first two who passed the injured man on the side of the road. The Samaritan provided an example of how to be a good neighbor, and Jesus’ teaching helps us identify our neighbor. When we are in Christ, there is no pecking order or classism.

From a spiritual perspective, I hear the whispers of today’s Church, in desperate need of a great awakening, saying, “I can’t breathe.”

It was the breath of God that blew through the Upper Room like a mighty, rushing wind on the Day of Pentecost. Those 120 gathered in the Upper Room were postured to receive the promise from the Father because they were in one accord. They prayed in unity. Each individual was valued by God, and a cloven tongue of fire came upon each one — not a class, not a category, but a valued individual.

“We need the breath of God once again, Lord. Release the breath of God over your churches. Release the breath of God over the city.”
— Walter F. Harvey

What might God want to do through Spirit-baptized churches in the midst of current events?

The baptism in the Holy Spirit is not only initially evidenced by us speaking in tongues, but by His empowerment for us to witness with greater boldness. And there is so much more. The John 17 type of unity for which Jesus prayed requires not only believers being intentional in their behavior, but also a supernatural work of God’s Spirit beyond what we, as humans, are capable of in our own strength. It’s not one or the other. It’s both/and.

God is inspiring Christian leaders to create strategies, preach powerful sermons, speak up in their circles of influence, and even peacefully protest. Take the action God asks of you. But realize, as men and women of the Spirit, we have access to God to accomplish what can only happen in God’s arena. So pray with understanding, and pray in the Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:15).

There are two things that cause people to be frustrated with us when we say we are praying. First, it’s unsatisfying if they believe we are only praying and not taking action or speaking up after we’re done praying. Secondly, they may be frustrated by our prayers because they don’t know the potential of a Spirit-empowered prayer and how we can pray about details beyond our knowledge. They misunderstand, “I’m praying” to mean something cliché and powerless, similar to, “Good luck,” or the sign off of a newscast: “Our prayers are with you.”

So when our executive officers went to Minneapolis, we went to host a prayer meeting — not a photo op. This was an opportunity for us to minister to the AG ministers of the Minnesota Ministry Network, especially those in greater Minneapolis who were dealing with the stress of multiple crises as rioting and looting tore through their city. It was about modeling a spirit of unity among the diverse participants in praying together.

What could happen in your community if you took up this call to prayer? Let your hope soar as you seek God in faith.

As you consider the future of the church or ministry you lead, remember that, while we spill over into business elements, we are more than a business. We are not a civic club, a local store or even a school. The Church is a living organism, the Bride of Christ, the Body of believers. The Church is what Christ died for, promised to build, and will one day return to claim! When you think about leading as a praying Pentecostal, step into the fullness of what that means biblically.

Walter F. Harvey, president of the National Black Fellowship of the Assemblies of God, prayed, “We need the breath of God once again, Lord. Release the breath of God over your churches. Release the breath of God over the city.”

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of Called to Serve, the Assemblies of God Ministers Letter.

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