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

Progressive Pentecostals and Social Change

Written by: on November 28, 2017

For Pentecostals, worship provides the opportunity to experience an alternative reality. It is a moment when mind and body can potentially connect; it is a space in which worshippers imagine impossible possibilities; it is a time when they are filled with new hope and desire for a better world.”[1]

I have spent much of my life as a believer in the “classic” Pentecostal/Charismatic faith tradition—Church of God in Christ and Foursquare Gospel Church. I can honestly say that it has been a strong foundation for me as I have grown in my faith walk with the Lord. I appreciate the emphasis on prayer and studying the Scripture. I remember as a young child going to “shut in” services. We would go to the church in the evening to prayer, sing, read scripture all night long until the morning. It was a time to bear witness to the Spirit of God. To hear what He was saying to us through prayer and scripture and to engage in worship together. The service would be filled with people from all ages. It was nights like those where I learned how to pray fervently and “tarry” in God presence. We learned to importance of just sitting in His presence and meditating on His word. We would pray “Heaven to earth” as one of our church mother’s would say. I would love to go to these services because no one service was ever the same. We would experience the power of God in a new and fresh way.  Some may say these times were sensationalized or even too emotional but we simply called it having “Church”.

In addition to our worship experiences, Pentecostals are also known to hold a higher eschatological perspective. Especially within the African American Pentecostal tradition, Heaven is our home and we see ourselves as “pilgrims” just traveling through as servants of God to serve His greater mission and purpose. One could argue that traditional Pentecostals can be perceived as being “so heavenly minded they are no earthly good”;  However, in the recent decades there has been a shift towards a broader focus beyond personal salvation and worship to one of that actively engages in ministries aimed at improving social welfare across the world.

In our reading this week, Donald Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori in Global Pentecostalism: the new face of Christian social engagement discuss how Pentecostalism is on the rise across the globe. The growth in South America, Africa and Asia has emerged into various progressive movements/denominations within this tradition. Progressive in this context is defined as “Christians who claim to be inspired by the Holy Spirit and the life of Jesus and seek to holistically address the spiritual, physical, and social needs of people in their community.”[2] They go on to note that “Typically they are distinguished by their warm expressive worship, their focus on lay-oriented ministry, their compassionate service to others, and their attention, both as individuals and as a worshipping community, to what they perceive to be the leading of the Holy Spirit[3]. The focus of  these Progressive Pentecostals  is the shift from solely evangelism as conversion (by helping the poor through providing a personal salvation that leads to a heavenly home) to using their ministries and influence to actively address social needs and issues like hunger, AIDs etc. They see their role as Spirit lead. One with a divine purpose to serve their community as chosen vessels God has purposed to accomplish His mission in the world.  Miller and Yamamori make an interesting observation that this is a key driver behind their reason to serve God in this way– “Progressive Pentecostals are pursuing commitments they believe to be divinely inspired.  The usual anxieties associated with social change that people have are modulated by a perception that this is not their work; they are merely the vessels of a larger divine purpose. The consciousness seems to translate into a lightness of spirit—that they are not doing their work alone and, in a sense, they are not even responsible for its success. Rather, God is all-powerful; he will accomplish in the world what he wants; and the only challenge is not to be an impediment, but rather an implement, in carrying out the divine plan. This is the worldview within which Progressive Pentecostals operate.[4]  

While I do appreciate this perspective on Pentecostalism around the world, I do wonder outside of the context of this book if it is prohibitive to Christianity as a whole to delineate yet again with more sub titles to existing titles? I will say that I do not believe they are intending to be divisive in their approach. I think they are simply shining a light on the transforming work taking place within our world through various Pentecostal movements.  I, too, share in both belief and action with those who would be identified by Miller and Yamamori as a Progressive Pentecostal but I would never want to self identify as one. I prefer to just be known as a Jesus Christ follower. Social Welfare to me is at the core of the gospel and what we should be doing as believers no matter what faith tradition we come from. All that profess Christ are apart of the Church. We should continue to join forces with others and seek out goodwill with a heart of compassion. We are all called to love God and love one another!

 

[1] Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori, Global Pentecostalism: the new face of Christian social engagement (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007), 221.

[2] Ibid, 2.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, 222.

About the Author

Christal Jenkins Tanks

9 responses to “Progressive Pentecostals and Social Change”

  1. Jim Sabella says:

    Christal, what a great insiders view of the book. Thank you for sharing your experiences.
    I too see the changes in the Pentecostal churches particularly in the way in which Pentecostals engage. You said it very well “in the recent decades there has been a shift towards a broader focus beyond personal salvation and worship to one of that actively engages in ministries aimed at improving social welfare across the world.” I also agree that it is sad that we are still sub-dividing already existing titles. Enjoyed you post Christal.

  2. Mary Walker says:

    Christal, yes, now can we say, “So heavenly minded that we are MORE earthly good”?
    Maybe we should all just go back to calling ourselves Christ-followers.
    Like you, I don’t want to self-identify with a label. So, I tell people that the Holy Spirit did come at Pentecost and the church got the power it needed to really get going and sometimes we’ve forgotten that or ignored it. So that is the sense in which I am a Pentecostal.
    I appreciate the description of your church life. It is a great picture and much needed to counteract the “myths” that some of us grew up believing about “spirit filled” people. Wish we could all get together and share notes and learn from each other. When do you think that will happen?

    • Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

      Yes Mary that would be awesome! I am sure we would have many commonalities among us that would be witnessed in our experiences with the Spirit of God being manifested in our lives.

  3. Lynda Gittens says:

    Christal,

    Pentecostal “hold a higher eschatological perspective” was a shocking statement to me. I thought the Baptist was. Every denomination has their own views about who they are.
    I found that many of the authors’ views of the Pentecostal could fit any denomination. I agree that I call myself a believer, follower, and servant of Jesus Christ. The term Christian has been so tainted.

    • Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

      Lynda majority of African American believers hold a high escatology. This has more to do with how our ancestors held it so dear as a means of survival thorugh slavery, racial injustices, etc. We find hope in knowing that our time on this earth is limited and that God has a peaceful home awaiting our arrival.

  4. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    “The consciousness seems to translate into a lightness of spirit—that they are not doing their work alone and, in a sense, they are not even responsible for its success”– sounds like Friedman’s “non-anxious presence.”

    While we may have different eschatologies, like you, I agree that it was unhelpful to add yet another label to a segment of active Christians who see social engagement as integral to their faith.

  5. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Yes Christal, I agree with: “While I do appreciate this perspective on Pentecostalism around the world, I do wonder outside of the context of this book if it is prohibitive to Christianity as a whole to delineate yet again with more sub titles to existing titles?” We seem to have a hard time as Christians with not compartmentalizing one another. Don’t you think the difference in how people worship and express themselves can be attributed to culture and personality? And we are all needed in the body of Christ?

    Your “shut-in’s” as a child sounds intriguing. I would love to hear more about those experiences. Thank you for your personal post.

    • Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

      Jen I do think that culture does play a role into it. A great example of this was when we were in Cape Town. The Presbyterian church we attended felt to me like a pentecostal/charismatic worship service.

  6. Christal – Great post! So much fun to read about your experience growing up…. this is the difference between Presbyterians and Pentecostals…. you had ‘shut in services’ that lasted all night…. we had ‘church lock-ins’ where we ran around and played games all night long!
    I am not sure which one had more theological depth or spiritual power…..probably a tie.
    Thanks so much for this post!

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