DMINLGP

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

The Unknown Face of Christianity

Written by: on December 1, 2016

pentecostals

The Pentecostal movement has been growing radically around the world, and many seemed surprise that this may be the new face of Christianity. For those of us who are in that tribe, it does not come as a shock.  Donald Miller’s book, Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement, highlights what many of us have seen firsthand around the world.  Pentecostalism is shaping many societies outside of the Western church.  By 2025, Miller cites that one out of every three Christians will be Pentecostal (p.18).  The Pentecostal movement is growing so rapidly in the global south, Africa and Asia that according to Phillip Jenkins book, The Next Christendom, “By 2050 only about one-fifth of the world’s 3.2 billion Christians will be non-Hispanic whites.

Miller’s outstanding research identifies a new form of Pentecostalism and labels them “Progressive Pentecostals.”  In previous generations, Miller rightly asserts, that the majority of the twentieth century Pentecostals were highly focused on the imminent return of Jesus.  The Pentecostal church was largely focused on converting souls rather than providing for better societies.  Miller states that “Pentecostals no longer see the world as a place from which to escape – the sectarian view – but instead as a place to make better (p. 30).”

A great example of this is the Assembly of God church in Calcutta.  In a city wrecked with poverty, there is a 173-bed hospital and 16,800 students being educated (p.74).  Speaking from my experience in Calcutta and my relationship to this ministry, Mark (1923-1989) and Huldah Buntain truly helped pioneer the efforts of a social gospel in Calcutta.  Arriving in Calcutta by boat in 1954, they preached the Gospel to a hurting people.  It was in an old church building that a local beggar told Mark, “Preacher, feed our bellies and then try to tell us that there is a God who loves us (Quote from Huldah Buntain).  The ministry that is displayed in Calcutta and other parts of the world was resisted at first by the Assemblies of God, but pioneers like Mark and Huldah saw the need for social engagement that is categorized in Miller’s book (You can see more of the Buntain story by clicking here).

 

Reflection

Miller’s work touches on my dissertation research, and I think can have significant impact on the Western church if stewarded well.  While millions of Millennials have drifted away from the church in the West as presented by writers such as James Emory White, Gabe Lyons, David Kinnaman and many others, the one question that many church thinkers are pondering is how to attract that generation back to the church? I propose that the answer lies within Miller’s book.  If the Pentecostal church in the west can refocus to the missional purpose of the Charismatic gifts, then it could quite possibly create an awakening within the heart of the Millennials.  After all, social engagement, economic justice, and healing our societies tend to attract many within that generation.  Miller explains, “Many recognize that the religious belief and practice (of Pentecostals) have the potential to tap into the most profound desires for human meaning – which for some people may involve service to others, the pursuit of social justice, and the possibility of unconditional love (p.36).”

Pentecostalism is reshaping the Christian world, and many in the world are starting to take notice.  As recently as this week, the Economist magazine published an article entitled, “ Ecstasy and Exodus: Charismatic Christianity Thrives Among People on the Move (economist.com).”  At the close of the article, author Ireland Letterkenny states, “But wherever people are on the move, and are culturally receptive to Christianity in some form, charismatic religion will surely follow.”  The face of Christianity is changing.

About the Author

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Jason Kennedy

I am a pastor of a thriving church in Grapevine, Texas. With two little girls (5,8), and a wife that is a medical doctor (family practice), life is non-stop.

13 responses to “The Unknown Face of Christianity”

  1. Jason,

    What a thought provoking blog. How do you see the American church making the journey of embracing the Holy Spirit? How do they move past what they have seen or heard that was as the authors put on the very conclusion “manipulators?” Is that the greatest hurdle or is it the braveness of current leaders to embrace the Holy Spirit?

    Kevin

    • Jason Kennedy says:

      Kev,
      Thanks. I think we have to make sure our doctrine on the matter is sound. For instance, we have to separate from guys who play “fast and loose” with the gifts and be willing to point out their era (something the AG is not great at). I think millennials are drawn to supernatural things, but it must be authentic.

      Jason

  2. Jim Sabella says:

    Jason, what an excellent post. Hope you don’t mind me chiming in here. Your statement concerning that which engages and attracts Millennials— “social engagement, economic justice, and healing our societies” is spot on. From where I sit, this is not a fad but a trend that doesn’t stop at the borders of the USA. We certainly find this in Europe as well. The trend has opened great doors for us in Europe. Some might see it as a negative trend, but I see it as a positive one. There has never been a generation more capable of, and “willing” to impact the whole world. They only need a reason, a relationship, and an experience. Pentecost has all three. Really enjoyed your post!

  3. mm Phil Goldsberry says:

    Jason:

    You have presented well the case for your dissertation. Miller and Yamamori present a case for Pentecostalism/charismatics that seems to validate their presence and power in the social sector of the world.

    Do you feel that the effectiveness of these churches can be replicated in the U.S.? If so, what will be the vehicle? The social sector? What will millennials in the U.S. gravitate to that would allow the gifts to be in operation?

    Phil

  4. Jason Kennedy says:

    Phil,

    I think that churches need to engage in the social sector at home first (and I am a huge global missions guy). So for instance, I am connecting my church to a refugee feeding program, medical clinics engage in pro-life, and other social sectors.
    Secondly, I think the Millennials are not skeptical about the spiritual. I do think we have to do a better job of connecting the spiritual to a purpose. My paper this semester deals with how the charismatic gifts (healing, prophecy, and tongues) really had a missional purpose (ie. Tongues are a sign to the unbeliever; healing took place for preaching to occur…etc). I think a clear doctrine on this will open avenues. However, if you are a church that gives no opportunities for outreach (and I am talking outreach with very little benefit to the church….ie. feeding, etc), then you will be able to engage millennials.
    Jason

  5. mm Marc Andresen says:

    Jason,

    I think this is your key statement in your blog: “If the Pentecostal church in the west can refocus to the missional purpose of the Charismatic gifts, then it could quite possibly create an awakening within the heart of the Millennials.”

    Is the engagement described by Miller and Yamamori, somehow, a fuller, more complete, more authentic manifestation of the Gospel?

    Why might young people be drawn to this engagement more than to traditional ‘church?’

    Do you have at your fingertips the edition of the Economist that you mentioned. I read the magazine but missed that article.

    • Jason Kennedy says:

      Marc,
      Great questions. I think there has to be a blending of three aspects really (but can only focus on two for my research). I think churches need to provide robust Biblical teaching (teach doctrine like a baptist/presby), allow for an experiential form of worship (aka. Hillsong), and connect to mission (like and NGO). Here is why I think this. Millennials want substance so therefore they want to explore the riches found in the Bible. This is why Piper, Platt and Chandler are so popular with that generation. They also want to “feel God” and this is done in a worship experience. This is why they are drawn to Bethel. They also want to put it all into action at home and abroad. These are all hypothesis, but I think you understand what I mean. Hope it all makes sense.
      http://www.economist.com/news/international/21688880-charismatic-christianity-thrives-among-people-move-ecstasy-and-exodus?fsrc=scn/tw/te/pe/ed/ecstasyandexodus
      Jason

  6. mm Garfield Harvey says:

    Jason,
    Great perspective. When you trace the history of Pentecostalism, you’ll find that the focus was the missional purpose. While they were criticized for being ignorant, the movement had significant impact in Jamaica. We were at a place where we needed hope because of slavery and oppression. There were other movements around but they lacked the totality of Christ’s mission. When Pentecostalism exploded in Jamaica in 1947, there was no denial of the charismatic gifts because it soon became a phenomenon on the island. In 1962, Jamaica gained in it’s full independence and while history doesn’t suggest this, I believe Pentecostalism had a significant role in that independence because no other movement was able to this in the country’s history.

    Garfield

    • Jason Kennedy says:

      Thanks Garfield. Interesting insight. I think the AG has to get back to being a transformative movement. I think we have largely become institutionalized where we are not changing society in the West.
      Jason

  7. mm Rose Anding says:

    Thanks Jason,
    I too, believe that Pentecostalism is reshaping the world, since my early years of life was within the church of God In Christ, where the emphasis was on a transforming experience of being ‘filled with the Holy Spirit.’ A view of the Bible as a “living book” in which the Holy Spirit is always active. A belief that knowledge is not limited to the realms of reason and sensory experience.

    Therefore at an early age, I developed holistic world-view with God present in all events and causing all things to work together for the good of those who love the Lord and called according to His purpose, it is a world of miracles and mystery, where healings, prophecy and divine serendipity are woven into the fabric of our everyday life.

    Thanks for a profound blog; it was great sharing with you this semester. Thanks Rose Maria

  8. Jason Kennedy says:

    Thanks Rose. I appreciate that.

    Jason

  9. Wonderful writing this term Jason. You have a way of communicating complex ideas in a simple yet concrete way. I’m chiming in here a bit late so I got to read everyone’s questions and your responses.
    How have you seen the changing face of Pentecostalism in your church?

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