Writing History, Not Studying It
Pentecostals have begun to model their behavior after a Jesus who both preached about the coming kingdom and healed people and ministered to their social needs.
Donald Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori were having dinner at a restaurant in the Philippines when a ‘marriage made in Heaven occurred’. Miller who had written on fast-growing, non-mainline churches, Yamamori who had edited a book on the church’s response to urban poverty in the developing world, and Steve Ferguson, an officer from an innovative nongovernmental organization asked the question, “Why not study growing churches in the developing world that are involved in significant social ministry?”
For their project they sent out 400 letters seeking volunteers to be interviewed from congregations who were fast-growing, located in the developing world, maintaining an active social program in their communities, and were an indigenous movement. They were astonished to find that 85% of the respondents were Pentecostal or charismatic.
Over a period of four years the non-charismatic Evangelical Yamamori and the liberal Episcopalian Miller traveled to more than twenty countries to find out first-hand why and how Pentecostals, in all of their different manifestations, are having an impact on poverty in developing nations.
Along the way, Miller and Yamamori did their own visual ethnography project. They produced a DVD with 28 interviews and recordings of worship services. I think that this was significant because one of the main characteristics that differentiates the mainline denominations, like Presbyterians (except for Chip) is their “coldness”. The Pentecostals and Charismatics are warmer and I thought it was wonderful to be able to see and enter into the feeling of a worship that is very different from mine.
There is such a wide variety of Christians who have begun to focus on the leading of the Holy Spirit more. Miller and Yamamori struggled to come up with a term that would describe most of the groups that they wanted to study and settle on “Progressive Pentecostals”.
Why are the emergent Pentecostals increasingly engaged in social service? There were many explanations given. Here is a summary with some interactions:
- “Progressive Pentecostals view their responsibility toward social problems within their community as a mandate from God.” (page 34)
- Pentecostals are increasingly teaching and living a ‘holistic’ ministry. They want to be the ‘hands and feet of Christ’ (Matthew 25:31-40).
- They are able to incorporate the help from institutions, like NGO’s, without losing the fire that drives their compassion. (page 67)
- They thoroughly integrate their church into the community as did Highway Assembly of God when they opened the Safe and Sound preschools in South Africa. The founder, Colleen Walter said that before their church started the ministry no one, other than the congregants, would have missed them if they closed the doors. (page 79) I remember Pastor Magoqi at Learn to Earn putting it to our Advance group – “If your church closed its doors, who would miss you?” My husband and I did a lot of reflecting on that.
- Practicing unconditional love with a gentle authoritative structure is responsible for the success of so many of the children and youth outreaches. (page 97) (Sandboxes?)
- They teach people to fish rather than simply giving them the fish. (page 123) (Learn to Earn – “A Hand Up Not a Hand Out”).
- When necessary and if possible without becoming aggressive, engage in political activity. (page125) An interesting comparison was made here to Liberation Theology. We want people to be free, but there is a way to do it that is more like the way Christ would do it. He told Peter to put away his sword.
- Progressive Pentecostals embrace the power of the Holy Spirit with an emphasis on personal transformation, not for its own sake, but to be able to serve others. (Micah 6:8)
- Though some of the ministries have grown large, they have not yet “evolved into tired bureaucracies.” (page 127) The founders are driven by their calling. Many are serving in thankfulness for their salvation.
- Some factors reminiscent of Charlene Li, Friedman, Hirschman, and so many of our books were – a simultaneous emphasis on risk taking, transparency, humility, and an ability to learn from failure. (pages 128, 191) Failure not only teaches us, but especially for someone who is in leadership, the accompanying pruning of our ego is a good thing. The institution does not exist for the leader. Openness and a more ‘flat’ style of leadership were common elements.
- The reason for financial gain was to have money to give to others. More money was often seen as a side benefit of living a moral life. No drinking or drugs meant not only a healthier life, but money to spend on healthier things. (page 164)
- Progressive Pentecostals believe in the priesthood of all believers. The Holy Spirit gives gifts to all and is available to all in equal measure. Women have access to leadership (though they only found one church that had a woman as a head pastor – page 208). The most successful churches did not take funding from foreigners. In fact, there is a “reverse missionary” movement going on from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern Hemisphere. (page 198)
One final addition to the characteristics of the Pentecostals as a renewal movement was the “S” factor. Miller and Yamamori did not want to appear overly religious, but the Pentecostals give the credit to the Holy Spirit and they decided not to argue with them. Without the “S” factor, they say, much cannot be explained.
To sum up, Miller and Yamamori effectively made their case for Progressive Pentecostalism as an emergent phenomenon within Christendom — “as a movement of Christians who claim to be inspired by the Holy Spirit and the life of Jesus and who seek to holistically address the spiritual, physical, and social needs of people in the community.”
This was a great book to end the semester. It pulls together many things that we are learning as we pursue leadership in a global world.
 Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori. Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007). 30.
 Ibid., 5.
 Ibid., 212.
6 responses to “Writing History, Not Studying It”
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Mary, enjoyed your post. You did a great job on the summary. I should have read your post before I wrote mine. I’m glad you mentioned the “S” factor. I must admit there is something to it! About 15 years ago a young Japanese college student came to stay with us for a few days in Prague. He was doing a documentary on the Christians of Europe—though he was not a Christian himself. I’ll never forget something he shared with us one evening. He said, “I’ve traveled all over Europe and I’ve been able to video all of the aspects of the Christian church, baptism, worship, communion, prayer, and preaching, but the one thing that alludes me that I just can’t capture on video is the thing you call the Holy Spirit!” He said, “I know it’s there, I can sense it, but I just can’t get it on video.” If Miller and Yamamori had written their book and I would have read it, I could have told him, “that’s the ‘S’ factor! Thanks for a great post.
Mary, you did a nice job of summarizing the book and finding connections with some of our other texts and (especially) our South Africa experiences. The question you wrestled with, “If your church closed the doors, who would miss you?” is such an important one! It is that question, discovered in the book “The Externally-Focused Church” (https://www.amazon.com/Externally-Focused-Church-Rick-Rusaw/dp/0764427407/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1512151967&sr=8-1&keywords=externally+focused+church) that led our congregation in Anaheim to rethink who they were and how they relate to their neighborhood. From this challenging question morphed a model of engaging neighbor families through creating My Safe Harbor (http://mysafeharbor.org/). So if you & your husband are pondering that question, be careful! The Holy Spirit may be leading you to a dangerously rewarding place!
Thanks for your review of the book. Many denominations speak about the Holy Spirit but few reflect the evidence of it in the church. I appreciate your post.
Yes Mary, What a great definition of the body of Christ: “as a movement of Christians who claim to be inspired by the Holy Spirit and the life of Jesus and who seek to holistically address the spiritual, physical, and social needs of people in the community.” I just cannot see this as unique to Pentecostalism, but rather a beautiful, inclusive description of the body of Christ. What are your thoughts?
That does it, Mary! Your descriptions and reminders confirm that I just may be a Progressive Pentecostal at heart. So now what am I going to do about that?
Thank you for the reminder about Learn to Earn. I remember being struck by Pastor Magoqi’s words as well. Are we loving our neighborhoods and communities well? Are we making an impact that not only meets needs but reflects Jesus to them? These are the questions that scare me because if there isn’t a church like this in my community the Spirit may actually be calling on me and my husband to start it. Oh dear.
Wow – thanks for this great and really thorough rundown…..
When I read the comparison to Liberation theology, that you highlight I did a little bit of a double take. As you say, Jesus did definitely tell Peter to put away his sword, but didn’t he also (forcibly) remove the money changers from the temple?
Didn’t he call the Pharisee’s snakes; a brood of vipers and whitewashed tombs?
I appreciated their point – and yours – but we (and I am definitely including myself in that ‘we’) often confuse ‘Christlike’ with nice, and even ‘bland’….. We forget that truly being Christlike might get us killed by the state as a revolutionary…..