Article Continued from Anglican Diocese of the Carolinas Newsletter
The Pastor, the Holy Spirit, and the State of the Church
By Thad Rockwell Barnum
Assisting Bishop, Anglican Diocese of the Carolinas
Soon, we learn to hear His voice. When we sin, we feel it. We “grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” 7 When we exercise too much control in worship services or in decisions on leadership council and staff, we find we “quench the Spirit.” 8 But when we listen to Him and, in obedience, follow Him, we find ourselves being led by Him. It’s why Scripture says, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons and daughters of God.” 9
So I ask: Is He in the lead, or are you?
What does it look like for Him to lead? We see it in Acts 15. The apostles faced a terrifying crisis. It had power to rip the young churches apart. It was urgent for them to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” And this is the key: They knew exactly what that meant. They had a relationship with Him and knew, 1- how to hear His voice and, 2- how to follow His lead.
First, He speaks to us in the body of Christ. By using the spiritual gifts He gives to us, we find the saying is true: He speaks to His people through His people. 10 The first thing they did, in 15:6-12, is listen intently to Him by listening intently to each other.
Second, they knew the Holy Spirit never speaks contrary to Scripture. Everything He says and does is confirmed by the word of God. In 15:13-18, He brings Scripture alive to James so that he sees the “the prophets agree” with the testimony of Peter, Paul, and Barnabas.
It’s essential we see the word “agree.”
This, too, is exactly how the Holy Spirit speaks to us. He unites; He brings to one mind; He gives us the gift of experiencing “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” 11
This is the testimony of Acts 15! The apostles and elders met together in a time of great conflict. They were in desperate need of the Holy Spirit’s counsel. They listened to Him by listening to each other; by listening to the Scriptures; and by following His lead as He united their hearts and minds in one accord. It’s for this reason they could say with confidence:
“…it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…
It’s the second most urgent principle: Having listened, we follow. We let Him lead.
Can You Surrender to Him?
Now comes the hard part.
We stay safe, we stay “two stream.” In public worship, we follow the order of service. In our preaching, same thing. It’s all planned. If we stick our toes in the third stream, we’re cautious. We don’t like surprises. If we allow for the spontaneous, we plan for it, we control it. It’s how we do life. It’s how we do relationships. We call it — leadership.
But what if it’s not? What if it’s really called – control?
What if leadership is the exact opposite? It’s about – surrender, the yielding of control?
It’s this principle that’s in Mary. That moment, in spontaneous surprise, when she was suddenly in the presence of the mighty angel Gabriel who said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you”? 12 At a time like that, is anything in our control?
It got worse. He told her the plan and, upon hearing it, she didn’t understand it. How could she have a child yet remain a virgin? When she asked, Gabriel surprised her again by telling her the secret that unlocks the mystery of the kingdom of God.
It’s all about surrender.
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…”
She could have said no. Surrender is never forced. It’s always a choice. But Mary didn’t say no. She offered herself willingly to the plan and purpose of Almighty God in these unforgettable words: “Behold, the Lord’s bondservant; may it be done to me according to your word.” 13
This sound of surrender — is that you?
Years later, on the day of Pentecost, the 120 gathered faced the same choice. The Lord Jesus was sending them on mission but required one thing: To wait until the Holy Spirit came upon them – just like Mary. They, too, had to make a choice of surrender.
Can you surrender to Him?
Many of us say yes and mean no – we can’t let go control. The experience of Pentecost scares us. Spiritual gifts scare us. The idea of teaching our people how to listen, follow, and surrender to the Holy Spirit scares us. It’s why we stay “two stream” and dabble in the third.
Do we realize the impact of saying no? When we take control, we push Him away. When we’re in the lead, He’s not. When we ask Him to bless our plans for the church, do we think He will? When we preach surrender, yet live control, are we being the leaders He has called us to be?
Can you stay yes and mean yes?
Our Lord Jesus sends us out “lambs in the midst of wolves.” 14 He does not send us out alone. We are to be filled, empowered, and led by the Holy Spirit. We can’t do life; we can’t do church; we can’t do mission without Him. We all need Him, and we need leaders who know we need Him.
Leaders who say yes.
Times have shifted. Like the churches in Revelation 2-3, we’re living in a culture hostile to God; defiant to His word; drunk on sexual immorality; and fixated on the idolatrous worship of self. It is in this context, our Lord issued the command, “hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Say yes and hear Him. Follow Him. Surrender yourself to Him. In the times we’re living in, we need Him in the lead. And that means, the urgent need today, is leaders who know it and live it.
He’s all I’d talk about.
1 Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:8, 13, 22
2 Revelation 3:20
3 Jeremiah 11:7-8
4 Matthew 23:33, 37
5 Acts 7:51
6 See John 14:26; 16:13; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 and 2 Peter 1:3-11; John 16:8; Eph 6:10-20; Acts 1:4-8; John 16:14
7 Ephesians 4:30
8 1 Thessalonians 5:19
9 Romans 8:14
10 I first heard this saying in the preaching of the Rev. Dr. Everett “Terry” Fullam
11 Ephesians 4:3
12 Luke 1:28
13 Luke 1:38
14 Luke 10:3