The Balance of Power and Pragmatism in Ministry
Review of 'A Spirit-Empowered Church' by Alton Garrison
Pentecostals look to the Acts 2 church as the paradigmatic church—and with good reason! This was the church to whom Jesus Christ himself said, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). This was the church whose miraculous beginnings (2:4) were followed by immediate growth, both quantitatively (2:41) and qualitatively (2:42ff.).
This paradigmatic church is sometimes misunderstood, however. It was not a perfect church, for example, as the negative example of Ananias and Sapphira reminds us (5:1ff). It also was not a hyper-spiritual church, one so dependent on the immediate leading of the Holy Spirit that it neglected more pragmatic aspects of ministry. Just before the outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 2, for example, the church nominated two men to succeed Judas Iscariot (1:12ff.) On the Day of Pentecost itself, someone had to come up with a plan (and locations!) to baptize 3,000 converts (2:41). Later, the church had to resolve a problem in the distribution of the poor fund, which it did by creating the office of deacon (6:1ff).
The truth is that we need [the Spirit] in every component of our lives and churches.
The Acts 2 church, it turns out, was both powerful and pragmatic. Garrison writes:
The odd thing is that in some churches, we see resistance to calls for revitalization while others resist the idea of planning. Some don’t see the need for the work of the Holy Spirit or feel their churches have enough of the Spirit already, and others act like the Holy Spirit has no place in a planning meeting. The truth is that we need Him in every component of our lives and churches.
Alton Garrison makes the case for this kind of church in A Spirit-Empowered Church. Garrison is assistant general superintendent of the Assemblies of God (USA). In that capacity, he provides oversight to the AG’s Church Transformation Initiative, which partners with district denominational offices and local congregations to help strengthen the local church. His book is both steeped in classical Pentecostal theology and practice as well as attentive to what works.
Garrison divides the book into three units. Unit 1, “Our Challenge,” focuses on the issues that churches need to address to experience greater health. Unit II shows church leaders how to think about their congregation’s mission, vision, and values…and why. Unit III identifies the five core functions of a healthy church: connect, grow, serve, grow, worship. Garrison blends biblical insight, personal example, and practical principles in each chapter. The book thus rises out of a lifetime of reflection on the ministry of the local church.
What Garrison writes about the Acts 2 church resonates with me. In my own 25 years of ministry, I have been tempted to rely too much on one end of the powerful-pragmatic spectrum. I have also seen others go too far the other way. Reading a veteran minister make the case for balance reminded me not to be captive to false dichotomies in ministry. I would recommend this book especially to young ministers in their first pastorates. Heeding the advice Garrison gives will save you from a lot of grief. I’d also recommend it to pastors, board members, and other church leaders who feel that their church is stuck and need help getting spiritually and mission ally healthier.