DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Mysterium Tremendum

Written by: on October 28, 2015

I love it when a plan comes together in a serendipitous way. Some might say it’s when all the stars align. Others say it’s all by chance. For a few men sitting down for a meal, the synchronicity of the Holy Spirit emerges through a simple conversation, sparking an idea around discovering new and fresh ways that express the nature of God and His Kingdom Work. At this encounter, Donald Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori begin to consider researching what growing churches are doing in developing countries around social issues.  Stories of individuals and ministries in the chosen cities reflect commonalities in diverse places such as Buenos Aires, Cairo, Addis Ababa, Calcutta, Nairobi, Manila, Warsaw, Soweto, and many more developing cities (exception is Hong Kong and Singapore). The result is their book Global Pentecostalism:The New Face of Christian Social Engagement which articulates the new reality that 85% of the most successful programs in these places are being done by what Miller and Yamamori describe as Progessive Pentecostals.

For a liberal Episcopalian and noncharismatic Evangelical respectively, their discoveries surprise them. In story after story, the Progressive Pentecostals offer a fresh expression of the power of the Holy Spirit that seeks to bring about change holistically for the Kingdom of God. The work of the Progressive Pentecostals reflects how all “are made in the image of God; that all people have dignity and are equal in God’s sight; and that therefore they have rights – whether they are poor, women, or children.”[1]  For these authors, they confess to thinking their results would bring about a different answer, perhaps one that reinforces liberation theology or another less body-spirit oriented religious focus. That’s the point that surfaces for me: the msyterium tremendum (Rudolf Otto)[2] of God’s work that refuses to be reduced to a formula or box. God chooses to work as He sees, and in this case for developing countries, something as simple yet profound as experiencing the Holy Spirit right where people are. For the researchers, they cannot refute the stories, even in their own self-confessed doubt.

As we now stand in the middle of researching our topics for our dissertation, these authors teach me something, not only about the value of seeing indigenous leaders following the movement of the Spirit to meet the needs of the people, but also how to approach my own subject. In my research, I will have my biases. If I’m honest, there’s nothing I can do to rid myself of them other than recognize they are there. However, they do not need to stop me from proceeding forward in the interviews, the research, the desire to know what is versus what I hope it to be. As I read the discoveries of Miller and Yamamori, I reflect on their willingness to be changed, heart-soul-mind-body. One of their historical mentors, William James, says this: “A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.” After acknowledging their prejudices, they no longer have to rearrange them, instead be informed by them, making themselves available to something that might surprise them. In their tender stories of both success and failure, the authors appear to be different people at the end of their book than when they started with the idea at that first meal.

 

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Going back to the original subject of Global Pentecostalism, I am encouraged by the Progressive Pentecostals in their “attempting to build from the ground up an alternative social reality.” [3] They seem to look at what is given to them with an attitude of abundance of God’s power and presence, rather than seeing a developing country as one dealing with scarcity. In fact, while I would probably not identify initially as a Pentecostal, I must confess with Miller and Yamamori’s definition, I’m inclined to believe I am one. By hoping for lives and communities to be changed, I find that I’m inclined to assent to “This ‘something more’ is what Christians call God and what Pentecostals identify and interpret as being the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.”[4]

We can gain much from the work of the Spirit in places we would perhaps discount because of their lack of resources. Perhaps it’s not resources that provide the synergy and movement that we long for as we hope for God’s work on earth to be done. It might have more to do with what the Spirit is about…or Aslan who doesn’t let us categorize him into a neat tidy description. “Is he safe? No, but he is good.” May I sit in the mystery of God who works in places I might least expect, all the while recognizing that His work, whether in social action or writing a dissertation, is about changing the world as it is about changing me…if I’m willing.

[1] Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori, Global Pentecostalism: the New Face of Christian Social Engagement (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), 5.

[2] Ibid, 13.

[3] Ibid, 4.

[4] Ibid. 13.

About the Author

mm

Mary Pandiani

Spiritual Director, educator/facilitator, follower of Jesus, a cultivator of sacred space for those who want to encounter God

7 responses to “Mysterium Tremendum”

  1. mm Jon Spellman says:

    “I will have my biases. If I’m honest, there’s nothing I can do to rid myself of them other than recognize they are there.” Good observation! Self awareness is vital as we move into the deeper strata of research and this isn’t just about recognizing potential weaknesses and blind spots. I’m finding myself more and more comfortable in the role of embedded researcher. My experiences matter, not just in the sense of my being one among many research subjects but also in how my life’s experiences shape my understanding and interpretation of the information I am gathering. An orientation toward autoethnography is shaping up for me!

  2. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Mary, “… the Progressive Pentecostals offer a fresh expression of the power of the Holy Spirit that seeks to bring about change holistically for the Kingdom of God.” … “If I am willing?” Interesting start and end to your post. I think you capture the heart of what Miller and Yamamori are saying and I think you capture to heart of how transformation, personal and social takes place. God is amazing when we are willing. Surrender and obedience to the word and what God is saying is so powerful when we let go. I thought our time at St. Stephen’s Society gave us a great snap shot of how that works. What we saw from Jackie is what I feel I read about from Miller and Yamamori … surrendering to the power of the Holy Spirit and seeing personal transformation accomplished through collective action of the same element … surrender and obedience. Way to capture it and bring it all together!

  3. mm Dave Young says:

    Mary, Nice summary of their work. With you I’m caught up in the beauty of what God is doing in ‘developing countries’. You said it this way “We can gain much from the work of the Spirit in places we would perhaps discount because of their lack of resources.”. That observation is what Paul speaks of to the Corinthians, they were discounting Paul because of his weaknesses but he defended his weaknesses as exactly what God uses. God shows his power best through what we would discount, or overlook. Isn’t it the perfect storm: Pentecostals anticipate the Spirit to work. The context being ‘developing countries’ which by definition has fewer or less developed resources = God at work!

  4. Travis Biglow says:

    God bless you Mary on your observation. One of the places i came to in my faith was to believe God more than try to think through things. In the baptism of the Holy Spirit it takes faith and a submission to God for it to occur. I think when a person just test God in what he says by saying Lord if this is true i want it to happen to me. A willingness to let God just be God is the first step in seeing the power of his work in the Holy Spirit.

  5. Dawnel Volzke says:

    Mary,
    Excellent post! Like you, I wouldn’t consider myself a Pentecostal. Yet, I also believe in the power of the Holy Spirit. In John 14, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as our advocate. This struck me as significant, given the fact that the Pentecostal movement is characterized as being lead by the Holy Spirit to have a positive impact on those who need an advocate.

  6. mm Nick Martineau says:

    Mary, I love reading your posts. You do a great job of capturing the spirit of the books and adding great insight. When you said, “Perhaps it’s not resources that provide the synergy and movement that we long for as we hope for God’s work on earth to be done.” The answer is of course! One of the big takeaways from this book for me was who I look to my own resources/strenths instead of acknowledging it’s the Spirit that holds it all together. As leaders we should, as you said, “following the movement of the Spirit to meet the needs of the people.” Thanks Mary.

  7. mm Brian Yost says:

    “God chooses to work as He sees, and in this case for developing countries, something as simple yet profound as experiencing the Holy Spirit right where people are. For the researchers, they cannot refute the stories, even in their own self-confessed doubt.”

    This reminds me of the idiom “strike while the iron is hot”. I think we could also say “where” the iron is hot. When we see God moving, it is better to join him where he is rather than insist that he do things in a way that is comfortable and familiar to us.

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