Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Global Pentecostalism: good or bad?

Written by: on October 10, 2014

Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement


When I was in Cape Town, South Africa last week, I heard a church leader mention the growth of the Pentecostal church. This surprised me, although my perception of his comment was based on my limited American view of what a Pentecostal church is. Authors Miller and Yamamori dispel stereotypes surrounding Global Pentecostalism in their book, Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement.[1] They argue that Pentecostals often feel “called” to social work or social justice projects by the Holy Spirit, and that Spirit-filled worship is in the heart of the emerging Pentecostal movement.


Global Pentecostalism is a fast growing religious movement in the world today. It is centered on the work of the Holy Spirit. Meaning, the Holy Spirit is moving people to make a difference in their communities, contributing to upward social mobility. Although the movement has roots in America, its growth has been mainly non-western. It is particularly attractive to poor and working classes. Many claim the church has a more holistic approach, and the Protestant church lacks emphasis on the power of the Holy Spirit.


Thinking back to my own experiences with the Pentecostals, I am very hesitant and cautious in my review and assessment of the work being done. I have had many friends hurt by the legalism, dangerous charismatic views, and other practices of the movement. It is evident that the movement is spurring much needed social reform within the church, as a whole. However, I am concerned that there is so much focus on works and spiritual encounters that long-term discipleship and theological education is often overlooked and ignored. Could this allow leaders to do what they want based on their biased views? Could it open the door for widespread abuse of power? I’ve seen, firsthand, the destruction that can be caused in the lives of individuals “in the name of the Holy Spirit”. Affections or emotions play a big part of the Pentecostal experience. There is much emphasis placed on the gifts of the Spirit. However, when we react on emotions alone, there is inherent risk.


I worry that millions are jumping on the Pentecostal bandwagon because it feels good and seems to be the right thing to do. While it is true that emotional and physical needs are being met through the work of Pentecostal movement, the authors did not show proof that the movement is discipling their followers into deep and broad Biblical knowledge. While I feel that the Western and mainstream Christian churches may have swung the conservative pendulum too far to the right, I question if this Pentecostal movement is too far to the left. Even though the movement is doing great work and many are turning to Christ, I wonder if the boat is moving so fast that the people in the wake are getting lost. The emphasis on visions, dreams, and spiritual power is often attractive to people who are living in difficult situations. The general message of Pentecostalism spurs hope, and gives power to the powerless. It makes people happy. The authors noted that social change is often done via partnering with non-Pentecostal organizations.   In some cases social services are provided to proselytize, while in other cases they are given freely with no expected return.


I appreciate the author’s acknowledgement of the role of worship in affecting social change. We often overlook the work of the Spirit, and ignore His leading. It is the transforming power of the Holy Spirit that changes hearts and calls people to live out their faith through action.   However, immediate action doesn’t always equate to transforming faith or lives for the long term. It is through discipleship and daily devotion with Christ that leads and sustains a heartfelt change.


[1] Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Tamamori, Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement (University of California Press: Berkeley, CA, 2007).


About the Author

Richard Volzke

7 responses to “Global Pentecostalism: good or bad?”

  1. Deve Persad says:

    Excellent insight into this reading Richard. You said: “the authors did not show proof that the movement is discipling their followers into deep and broad Biblical knowledge.” You have been a consistent voice for the need for thorough discipleship, I appreciate that. A more extensive or complete discipleship is a compelling thought and I wonder what you would propose for that to take place within the framework of the social engagement pieces that the book was presenting?

    • Richard Volzke says:

      I believe that every church needs to determine and come up with a discipleship method that works for them. There is no ‘one size fits all’ discipleship program. Developing a program within each individual church will need to take into account the culture, race, economic status, gender, etc. of its members. Once these and other factors are taken into account, a program can be developed for discipleship. People that are doing ministry often become empty, as they aren’t being discipled or taking time and attention to their own personal spiritual growth. Gaining a deeper understanding of Scripture is key. While worship is important, people need training and education so they understand what they believe and why.

  2. Richard,

    I am with you on this one. My history of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement has been fraught with pain and disillusionment. However, this book gave me a little hope. It is good to know that good things are happening in the world, even through a movement that often has me scratching my greying head.

    I believe that denominations and “non-denominations” are here to stay. And just because I do not agree with something doesn’t stop God from using it for his glory. This week’s reading made me question my judgmentalism and my own weak spirituality. So, it was good for me. I have a long way to go and am glad that I am not God since His grace, mercy, and unconditional love are so much greater than my limited view of others. God help us to be open to His work, wherever it is manifest.

    • Richard Volzke says:

      I also struggle with being judgmental when it comes to accepting that God uses all people to do His work. I remind myself that, throughout history, God has used followers and sinners to accomplish His plan for mankind. I agree that denominations and non-denominations are here to stay, but that is a good thing in my opinion. The church needs to embrace different ways of looking at Christianity. Individuals need to feel safe and accepted by all Christians to dialog about topics and issues that the church struggles with. My experience with the Pentecostal movement is that some church leaders bully their members or make people feel guilty for exploring other views and ideas. In my mind, this is what makes the movement dangerous, as people aren’t always encouraged to explore Biblical principles in concrete ways.

  3. Liz Linssen says:

    Hi Richard,
    You know it’s so interesting because I think I’m coming from an opposite experience from others. I was trained and educated in a very Reformed, cessationist, male-dominated college and had quite a number of negative experiences there. Their judgmentalism, lack of love, gender bias, all under the label of love for Scripture, would have been enough to destroy anyone’s faith. Thankfully it didn’t because of my strong discipleship practices through Scripture and guidance and encouragement of the Holy Spirit.
    I think we need to find balance. That’s the key. Every denomination has weaknesses, and every Christian is drawn to specific ones according to their personality and spiritual preferences. Just because a person is charismatic does not mean they don’t live by Scripture. For me, Scripture is everything, the most important foundation, but dreams, pictures, spiritual gifts have been a most treasured icing on the cake. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t received those from God.
    Good blog Richard. An interesting topic!

    • Richard Volzke says:

      Liz, I noticed that the authors steered clear from too much discussion surrounding doctrine – at least they didn’t get into the weeds. I’ve learned, over the years, to always ask questions on what an individual church believes related to Jesus, Heaven & Hell, the Trinity, Salvation, and Humanity. Sometimes I’ve found that even those that call themselves a protestant or evangelical have some different views surrounding those four areas. It is very important to question a church’s doctrine before one gets too closely involved. Sometimes, it is surprising to find out that subtle messages are being taught that may be contrary to Scripture. Regarding new versus old Pentecostalism…I’ve seen nothing written to indicate that there is a new Pentecostal doctrine that is widely accepted through these churches. As this is a movement, there could be many different doctrines propagated across the movement as a whole. This was the danger that I’ve seen throughout my life with the Pentecostal movement in the U.S.…doctrine has often been left to the interpretation of individuals. This, in turn, has opened the door to dangerous ideologies being taught. Scripture is clear that we must be very careful to avoid false teachings. Maybe some Pentecostal churches are teaching good doctrine, but how do we know if there isn’t a foundation that is clearly standardized and published? As to my background…I was raised half catholic and half southern Baptist…I was saved in high school and joined the Nazarene Church. I’m an ordained Wesleyan pastor, working at a Nazarene University, attending a non-denominational church. Oh, and many in my wife’s family are Pentecostal or charismatic. I like the new pope, and I’ve got quite a few friends who are great Christian leaders in reformed churches.:) Overall, what matters is sound theology…there are black/white areas that are non-negotiable…then there are the gray areas that aren’t significant to one’s salvation.

  4. rhbaker275 says:

    Great post … You refer to the your perspective of Pentecostalism as the “American view of what a Pentecostal church is.” I could make the same statement, however, my exposure might be broader … I do have quite a number of relatives that worship with American Pentecostal churches and I have never hesitated attending worship with them, even one Pastor. I have always felt quite comfortable in Pentecostal worship settings although usually never personally participating in the signs or demonstrations of the presence of in-filling of the Holy Spirit. I have usually responded that I believe in Pentecost and the charisma of the people of God but do not place the extra or special emphases on the witness of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life that is generally associated with Pentecostalism. I have also had an aversion, somewhat, to the practice of being “slain in the spirit.” I have been in the presence many times in America, Tanzania and the Dominican Republic when people have had this experience. Sometimes it is expressed in terms of “casting out” an evil Spirit or demon. Personally, I have never had a public experience of speaking in tongues or being “slain.”

    I did feel some affinity to Miller and Yamamori’s “fifth category called proto-charismatic Christians” (28). There is also a Pew Study, “Spirit and Power” that draws a distinction between Pentecostals and Charismatics. Hopefully this link will take you to the study: http://www.pewforum.org/files/2006/10/pentecostals-08.pdf

    You also note concerning Pentecostalism, “Although the movement has roots in America, its growth has been mainly non-western.” I was very impressed with the DVD as it demonstrated the presence and practice of indigenous peoples in the rise and spread of the Pentecostal movement.

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