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

Think twice Miller and Yamanori

Written by: on October 9, 2014


The journey of biblical faith has gone through numerous evolutionary stages justificatory through Church history and its different epochs. From New Testament Judaism to Constantine’ Christianity, Western Christendom, southern Christendom; and what some would arguably term a post Christian era particularly in Europe and America. Miller and Yamamori’s book Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement examines an aspect of the Judeo-Christian faith tradition. Miller and Yamamori’ discourse about Pentecostalism is concerned with “… an emergent element of the movement: namely, Pentecostal churches that have active social ministries”.[1] The authors seek to distance the kind of Pentecostalism they are interested in namely “Progressive Pentecostalism”[2] from other Pentecostal strains that emphasizes the “prosperity gospel of health and wealth, evangelism, healing and ecstatic worship.”[3]  The book is well written, yet I found certain aspects of the Miller and Yamamori’s work inconsistent with current Pentecostalism.

The research method used for the Miller and Yamamoris’ study, followed particular criterion for their Pentecostal sample population. Their benchmarks for research included fast growing pastors, their congregations which are located in the developing world, churches that run social programs, indigenous, self-supporting and dependent on outside contribution. However, there is a cloud of questions about the criteria of the research participants. Firstly, if the authors examined indigenous Pentecost churches, why is there no mention of rural Pentecostal congregations since they are part of the fast growing churches in places like Uganda and East Africa? I found the notion of “self-supporting” Pentecostalism overstated. Most of the churches the authors interacted with in the so called “developing world”, are financially supported by western evangelicals in one shape or form, with the exception of a tiny fraction.  Does “developing world” also mean the modernized cities or rural areas?

Case in point, Johannesburg in South Africa clearly doesn’t fall in same developmental bracket of some of economically strapped cities in Africa. Johannesburg has been a player in South Africa’s prosperous economy for a long time. In fact, Johannesburg is the largest economy of any metropolitan region in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Johannesburg is one of the 50 largest urban agglomerations in the world, at the 43 position compared to Washington DC at the 72 slot. The authors should have provided more clarity on such matters otherwise; they render themselves to peddling western evangelical triumphalism.

I find Miller and Yamanoris’ preferential appropriation of the terms, “progressive Pentecostalism”, to churches that are not “… otherworldly, emphasizing personal salvation to the exclusion of any attempt to transform social reality…”[4], rather naive.  Anyone whose is an adherent in the Pentecostal movement, or has been at one point, knows that Pentecostalism is Pentecostalism no matter what colors one dresses the faith movement. It’ not just a movement only; it is faith with its own doctrinal roots. Indeed, Pentecostals have always been involved in societal issues and that not a novelty.  I have Pastor friends in Uganda who hold healing and revival meetings and in so doing they believe that they are servicing people’s needs. By healing the sick and praying for the dead to rise, his ministry is being used by God to impact lives in the social realm. There are many more examples to show how Pentecostalism has been and is beneficial to some people both spiritually, socially and economically; and such stories do get their share of publicity.

Miller and Yamanoris’s research was done in “twenty different countries in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe (Poland and Armenia) and Latin America.”[5] However, since I am familiar with the state of the Christianity in Uganda and other parts of East Africa which the authors allude to, I perplexed by romantic torn of “progressive Pentecostalism” represented by Miller and Yamanoris. Their attempt to reassure the reader of their restrain from “… the trap of cynicism, while at the same time maintaining [their] identity as researchers, setting aside metaphysical assumptions …” might have given at some point. I do not see a persuasive reason in the coinage of the phrase “progressive Pentecostalism” to describe “holy spirit-filled” churches involved in their surroundings in Uganda and elsewhere. That seems more cynical of Miller and Yamanoris, than a possible plot to induct themselves as the John Calvin (s) of the term “Progressive Pentecostalism”. The fact that Pentecostal churches are increasingly involved in society issues as they should, is more about the apparent access to financial and technological resources from western charismatic and evangelical donors and not the fantasized “something more.”[6]

The extraterrestrial element of Pentecostalism, that “something more” the authors could not explain through functional and pragmatic ways, is the “it factor” of Pentecostalism. It is the “presence and power of God” and is the hallmark of Pentecostalism globally. That too is not a new discovery. Miller and Yamonoris did not have to travel to the “developing world” to discover “progressive” people who speak in tongues, perform miracles, have beautiful worship aesthetics, lay hands on others and are involved in community service . Pentecostalism has always been in America too. Many of the America Pentecostals have been involved in social ministries. Are American Pentecostals not progressive enough for the authors? From Kansas, Texas to Azuza, Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar ministries, Kenneth Copeland TD Jakes, Tyler Perry, Preacher of LA and Todd Bentley. If one is really interested in “Progressive Pentecostalism” please watch this video because in my opinion it tells a current story about global and ‘progressive’ Pentecostalism.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDEsXVUQeLo

Todd Bentley who is a Canadian Pentecostal evangelist, is involved with social ministries in Uganda which care for children who have lost parents. My friend directed and led the preacher’s work in Uganda and Todd’s ministry is heavily involved in financing social ministries in Uganda to the tune of “progressive Pentecostalism”. However, their organization’s work is also riddled with all sorts of spiritual and social scandals. I am afraid that Mill and Yamamoris missed the west’s dominate influence on global Pentecostalism and therefore mislead readers with the “indigenous and self-supporting” clause. Western Christianity by and large is still the dominate financier of Christian work for protestant, catholic, Pentecostal or not ministries around the world. There is hardly any church in major cities in Uganda and East Africa which does not solicit financial support from outside or international donors.

If “progressive Pentecostalism” in the global Southern hemisphere is “… a renewal movement”; then it’ the masterful work of its sole proprietors and engineers, based at media empires like the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). The wider the coverage of the largely Pentecostal television networks, there is likelihood of the Pentecostals boom. Miller and Yamamoris have underestimated the impact of Western Pentecostal and evangelical Christian missions, their Media efforts and capitalism in the growth of global Pentecostalism. With the ubiquity of TBN, Western mission trips and their social ministries, financial ministry capital campaigns, it’s no wonder that Pentecostalism is progressing.  I believe that the expansion of Pentecostalism is powered by a mixture of Pentecostal and evangelical missology, effective fundraising and media campaigns about the need to “help neighbors”.  I am conceived that Miller and Yamamoris’s work even though backed with their academic credentials, serves to highlight and exposes the authors’ gross blind spots about the reality of the impact of Pentecostalism in places like Africa and around the world. Unfortunately, they are at risk of rendering their perspective as generalist and an armchair prognosis of global Pentecostalism. The authors write:

The problem with generalize about Pentecostalism, however, is that it is such an unruly movement. Wherever it emerges, Pentecostalism tends to indigenize, absorbing the local culture in the way it worships, organizes itself, and relates to the local community. In searching for a metaphor to describe the growth of Pentecostalism, we were struck with the idea that the movement is more like a wild shrub than a tree with symmetrical branches. [7]

Mill and Yamanoris’s idea of the growth of Pentecostalism as a “wild shrub” is precisely why they shouldn’t participate in an impetuous depiction of the Pentecostal faith. Their assumption that Pentecostalism “tends to indigenize, absorbing to the local culture…” is wishful thinking. On the contrary, it is disciplined and indigenous cultures that are tasked with the duty of having to prune the “wild shrub” of a predominately western import of a materialistic and disconcerting versions Pentecostalism.

Another instance of the author’s caricature is further evident when they note, “…the attraction of Pentecostalism is obvious: it brings order, stability and hope…To their credit Pentecostal churches function like surrogate extended families.”[8] This is not true in the case of many Africa societies. How about the Christians who generated instability by their involvement in the genocide in Rwanda? The authors must have deliberated ignored the theological structure of Pentecostalism which is mostly authoritarian and legalistic. For the most part, Pentecostals take pride in “letting the spirit lead” and shun the need for academic and intellectual theological education, which carries disastrous implications for society. How does that bring order, stability and hope?

Due to Pentecostalism’s theological positions on gender equality and other issues in Africa, Pentecostals are usually silent about human rights advocacy issues.  This is in part due to the old debate as to whether Christians can be involved in politics. However, unlike the authors’ assertion about “Progressive Pentecostalism’s” tendency to be apolitical; Pentecostals and evangelicals in Uganda and other countries in Africa are highly involved in the political arena especially when political power might advance Pentecostalism’ interests. For example, Pentecostals along with other Christian groups, are strong supporters of the draconian anti-homosexuality legislation. Pulse, Pentecostals also vote.

I am concerned that Miller and Yamamoris are propagating a Western evangelical triumphalist obsession with global Pentecostalism.  The western evangelical hunger for growth and movements is flummoxing.  What about depth and the quality of discipleship to ensure a positive ambassadorship? There is a long standing consensus among African leaders, that the church in Africa, of which most are Pentecostal, is a mile wide and an inch deep. Does that call for a celebration of global Pentecostalism?

Global Christians must resist the temptation, addiction and obsession with numbers and growth. It is unfortunate that Miller and Yamamoris did not invest in the study of the quality of the actual impact of Pentecostalism. How about the trend of wealth concentration among the leaders and pastors of “progressive” Pentecostal establishments, yet most of their congregants remain poverty stricken? How progressive is that?



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

[2] Ibid., 2.

[3] Ibid., 1.

[4] Ibid., 2.

[5] Ibid., 13.

[6] Ibid.,

[7] Ibid., 211.

[8] Ibid., 23.

About the Author

Michael Badriaki

8 responses to “Think twice Miller and Yamanori”

  1. John Woodward says:

    Michael, I always appreciate so much your insights, as you know so much about what is happening on the ground in the places that this book talked about. Your points are well taken. My question to you is this: are there then any Pentecostal Churches that you know of in your country that are self-supporting, socially-minded, concerned for depth in personal growth and concern important issues as gender equality and human rights? Or, must we assume that this kind of church that the authors call “Progressive Pentecostalism” is simply an ideal or a projection of the authors, but it doesn’t really exist in reality? It seems to me that what the authors were attempting to find was this exceptional examples (those churches that have grown up indigenously and were not being driven or influenced by Western influences or money, but making a way in their own situations). Your post seems to indicate that indeed this may not be the case! And if not, are there any church movements today in Africa that you know of that are truly making their own way? I appreciate your thoughts, as I very much would like to understand more what the Church is struggling with and needs to flourish in its own context, in places like Uganda and Kenya and elsewhere in Africa. Thanks Michael for your thoughts!

    • Michael Badriaki says:

      Hey John, thanks for the comments. This might come to half a blog of a response. 🙂

      Much like you, I what to think that the authors are trying to research “exceptional examples (those churches that have grown up indigenously and were not being driven or influenced by Western influences or money, but making a way in their own situations).” But even then, that is an idealistic research hypothesis and far from reality.

      When it comes to the Church in a place like Uganda and in Africa by and large, it is very DIFFCULT to find a Pentecostal Christian Church that has not been touched by western influence. From the use of modern technology, Western theology and certainly western financial resources, so forth; so that the notion of a purely indigenous breed church is far-fetched.

      I understand that there are people who look at the term “indigenous” and think of cultures unadulterated and untouched by western influence. That’s certainly not the case for most Africa’ modern cites and their Pentecostal churches especially the “fastest growing” Pentecostal groups Miller and Yamanori interacted with.
      I am familiar with one of the churches they mentioned and it has supporting churches in America. Africa’s history also helps demystify the romantic feelings about “indigenous” Pentecostal churches and movements as it was clear during our recent visit in SA-Cape Town.

      The closest to indigenousness one might get to regarding churches, are the small tribal and rural communities located in the deep country sides of Africa; far away from modernizing and modernized cites.

      Claiming the possibility of “a fastest growing, “progressive Pentecostal” indigenous church” in any of the major cities in modern Africa; is as much a day dream as advertising the presence of “a fastest growing, “progressive Pentecostal” native American church” in down town Columbus or downtown Boise.

      When it comes to the idea of “self-supporting churches, there is not one Pentecostal church in Uganda’s major cities, especially the “fastest growing”, that is self-supporting. Perhaps in Nigeria and in rural India as our brother Samuel (Lgp3) has shared. Our Pentecostal churches in Uganda are financed from the West even with the tithes and offering that might be given during a Sunday service.
      Socially minded Pentecostal Churches as I noted in post are not a new thing in Uganda or Africa. I know of Churches that have been caring for children after the end of Uganda’s last war. However, most churches are not involved in gender equality issues and human rights because their theological and cultural positions of those issues. Thus my title “Think Twice Miller and Yamanori,” 🙂

      Good day brother!

    • Michael Badriaki says:

      John, in many ways I enjoyed reading Miller and Yamanori’s book because right after God reconciled my life to His in Christ, I joined the mother ship of Pentecostalism in Kampala Uganda. I know Pentecostalism in and out. That’s why I was puzzled by the author’s research focus. They seem to be looking to find “something” in Pentecostalism that was already there and is at the core of Pentecostalism globally. Logically, Pentecostals in Uganda and Africa believe in the fact that God wants His people to prosper in their spiritual, health and financial life. This is an arch tenant of the Pentecostalism and is to a new discovery, perhaps to people unfamiliar to Pentecostalism.
      Presumably, the common denominator of where God’s favor and prosperity is made manifest is in society; and therefore Pentecostalism has always been about spiritual and socially uplifting people out of poverty into development in the road to richness and wealth. If Miller and Yamanori are enlightened to find Pentecostals who are involved in social ministries, do they also know to what end “Progressive Pentecostals” assure the poor about God’s plan to prosper them from rags to riches, from illness to health, from woes to wealth? I am sure you are familiar with Pastor Joel and Victoria Osteen. They are the epitome of “Progressive Pentecostalism” and that is who most of the “Progressive Pentecostals” in Uganda seek to emulate. On the note, I would argue that Miller and Yamanori’ book and phrase “Progressive Pentecostalism” makes a strong case for the prosperity gospel and it’ ability to deliver on social ministries.

  2. Deve Persad says:

    I appreciate your ability to bring first hand insight into this reading Michael. As John mentioned, your ability to understand and examine issues from a ground level are such a gift.
    You mention the distinctions made between Pentecostalism and Progressive Pentecostalism. Personally, I have never come upon the latter term in any context; the book was the first I had heard about it. While I didn’t necessary see the same emphasis on the “prosperity gospel” as you indicate, I did recall the authors stating: “It is important to note, however, that the goal of conversion is not financial; rather, financial gain is an unintended consequence of a changed life.” I’ll need to go back and look into that further.

    However, I also thought about our conversation regarding your research and wondered about the broken partnership between the american church and the ugandan church, in your situation. It might actually serve to validate your position, your reflection on this book and more importantly, the need for a different approach. What do you think about that?

    • Michael Badriaki says:

      Deve, thanks for the comments. You’re right about the Miller and Yamanori’s book being a resource to my research. I will do more reflection to see how it all ties in. You are also accurate in pointing out the author’s statement “it is important to note, however, that the goal of conversion is not financial; rather, financial gain is an unintended consequence of a changed life.” I did not quote such lines from the book because it would have led to a lengthy blog, but those and more are some of the thoughts that jumped at me from authors and I was taken aback by them.

      I can afford to be charitable to Yamamoris and Miller’s thought process; because it is likely that Yamamoris a noncharismatic evangelical and Miller a liberal Episcopalian of long standing saw the need to down play the element of the “prosperity gospel” in order to legitimize and distinguish their argument for a “Progressive Pentecostalism”. However, true to Pentecostalism in Africa, is the non-apologetic call to salvation, if a person wants the power and presence of God to prosper one’s life spiritually, physically and financially. In Uganda, people are promised miracles of visas to the western world where they can have better economic opportunities, once they receive Jesus Christ in their heart. That’s intentional evangelism and not unintended, right? I can give many examples to show that the promise of the acquisition of prosperity and favor from God as an incentive for conversation in Pentecostalism, are common place theologies and not “unintended consequences” as the author what to believe and claim. The promise of material and financial prosperity is a great aspect that sells and makes Pentecostalism such a hot and attractive faith orientation in many part of Africa.
      Thanks Deve!

  3. Michael,

    Thank you so much on your detailed comments on this text. I too had some concerns the more I read the book, but I could not put my finger on it. However, you certainly hit the nail on the head. Thank you for your boldness here.

    I agree with you that too many “indigenous” ministries are being funded by the West. And like it or not, where the money is, there the power is. And where there is power, particularly if one thinks he has the power of God upon him, perhaps it is not really God after all.

    I especially liked two of your statements near the end of your post:

    “I am concerned that Miller and Yamanoris are propagating a Western evangelical triumphalist obsession with global Pentecostalism.”

    “Global Christian must resist the temptation, addiction and obsession with numbers and growth.”

    Did the authors spend enough time with the churches they researched to see the complete picture of their work and ministries? Perhaps they were there for the “honeymoon” but didn’t see the marriage. And yes, so often numbers and growth are overstressed in churches, not to mention over-exaggerated! I have seen this all too often in churches.

    Thanks again for making me think here, Michael. I look forward to talking more with you about this topic face to face.

    • Michael Badriaki says:

      Bill, thanks for your comments. Yours goes to show that indeed we are better together especially when it comes to dialogue about our realities. Your question, ” Did the authors spend enough time with the churches they researched to see the complete picture of their work and ministries?”, is such a relevant question and gets to one of Miller and Yamamori’s problems. It is know that “missionaries” who spend lengthy times in particular places, still have a lot to learn.

      Will certainly talk more in person!

  4. Julie Dodge says:

    Miller and Yamamori clearly hit a note for you, Michael, and it was not apparently a pleasing note. Your first hand experience raises two thoughts for me. First, it points out the challenge of the researcher. The “outsider” (in this case the researchers) rarely is able to get to the inside knowledge embedded in a culture, community or group. They only learn what is revealed to them. So if I interview you and I don’t ask the right questions (eg, what percentage of your financing comes from others?) or you choose not to answer my questions directly, I’m not going to know. The outsider rarely gets the inside scoop. Interestingly enough, the ministry I wrote about in my post was written about in Forbes this week – and much of the work that this ministry does was attributed to others. A highly esteemed journalist from a reputable publication missed some key details. It was still a great article, but not entirely accurate. So going back to Miller and Yamamori – perhaps they saw what they wanted to see, and asked what they wanted to hear. And their interviewees obliged them.

    My other thought is about the term “Global Pentecostalism”. I think it’s a misleading term. What the authors were trying to describe was this growing movement of churches to engage in social ministry, and what they found inadvertently was that many of them adhered to a more spirit-filled, charismatic approach to worship and religion. Then they lumped all of these together as “Pentecostal”, which they are not. Some are. But some are Foursquare. Some are independent. Some were Catholic. Others… from all kinds of backgrounds. I can’t speak to the churches in Uganda and what their backgrounds were, but I can say that as I detached the term Pentecostal from the book, I found a much broader perspective. And yes, we have churches throughout the US of all kinds of denominations that are readily engaging in social ministry. So what is the big deal about Miller and Yamamori’s focus? Why the global South? I’m guessing because that’s where Christianity is growing, and where perhaps there is less historical and traditional cultural pressure to be reserved and not act as though this world were just the physical realm.

    My international experience is limited. I am an outsider in the places that I travel to. Even when I partner in ministry with my in-country friends, I am an outsider. But here is what strikes me: When I pray with different people in Managua, they (often) expect to be healed. They expect God to answer their prayers. When I pray with different people in the US, they (often) don’t expect God to heal them or answer their prayers. I don’t know that Miller and Yamamori really addressed this, but I think it may be what they were going for. I think they were perhaps trying to show that maybe God is still God – wild and untame – outside of the developed world where we have diligently worked to tame Him.

Leave a Reply