One of the hardest things to accomplish in writing this mini-series on my personal journey with Holy Spirit has been choosing what to include and what to leave out. I am condensing close to twenty years of progress and illumination into a six-part blog series (thus far). Today, we come to another installment which brings us right up to where I am currently living in this beautiful, albeit stretching, passageway. I have appreciated the private emails some of you have sent. The comments posted have also been helpful. In the end, I hope you will know that my ultimate goal as a Christian has never changed. What is that goal? To know Jesus Christ on an ever-increasing level, and to experience personal and transformational intimacy with Him. Apart from Holy Spirit, this cannot be accomplished. Here is the next part of my story. This is the part of the story when conflict brought forth clarity. – Jeff
There was one last hurdle to be cleared in order for me to experience freedom in my heart and breakthrough in the ministry entrusted to me. I needed to know when and how to teach others the very things which God had taught me concerning the gifts of the Spirit. As a pastor of a cessationist church, the theological precedent had been set long before I arrived to Meadow. I did not agree with our longstanding church bylaws which specifically addressed the issue of the charismata, defining the supernatural gifts of Holy Spirit as being for a bygone era and no longer active in the Church today. The Elders with whom I served understood my opposing position, but most of the flock was unaware of my beliefs at that time. Some have since believed that I was obligated to fully disclose my views on the gifts at that time. The truth is that all pastors (if they are spiritually growing) hold beliefs and convictions that they do not and should not share with the people they shepherd. Even Jesus once told His followers, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12). It is a fallacy that any of us are obligated to disclose all that God is doing in our hearts. We are to wisely steward what He is teaching us, and we are to prayerfully seek to understand how and when we communicate those things. I was no novice in ministry. I knew that the revelation of my beliefs would be controversial. The last thing I wanted to do is to hastily bowl over the people I led with some thoughtless approach to sharing these truths. So, I began in late 2012 to teach every Wednesday night on the personhood of Holy Spirit, using the Scriptures to properly define who He is. At this time, I intentionally avoided any mention of the gifts of Holy Spirit, instead teaching on His deity and his equal place within the Godhead. Many people began to become excited, and it was clear that we were all growing in our biblical understanding of God the Spirit. For well over a year, this was my teaching theme on Wednesdays, and very few people had any issues with what they were hearing from me. That is the blessing of pastoring a flock which goes to God’s Word for their understanding. If I could show them in the Word, then they would make any necessary adjustments to their views – well at least up to a certain point they would be willing to adjust. I would painfully learn this in the year to come.
At some point in my gently leading the church into deeper biblical understanding of Holy Spirit and His function in our lives, I occasionally broached the topic of gifts, but intentionally did not push the issue at all. Looking back, I thought I was handling it wisely, but I now see that my lack of specification generated some questions that I was not answering which, in turn, resulted in a small number of people drawing their own conclusions and assuming things about my beliefs. It was not what I was saying that made people nervous – it was everything I was not saying that concerned a few people. Although our Elders were involved in more detailed discussions, the flock did not have the benefit of dialoging about those particulars. Pastoral prudence involved my keeping in communication with the Elders while taking a much slower approach with the topic in my leading of the church. I had a teaching-trajectory that I was on and had planned to do a detailed sermon series on the gifts of the Spirit in early 2016. That timeline was undeniably tossed out by two primary forces: the fear of a few people in the church and the sovereignty of God. The timing of introducing the doctrine of the gifts of the Spirit was decisively removed from my hands.
Because I am extremely reluctant to view any child of God as my enemy, I must take great care in how I communicate this part of the story. Ultimately, two Elders with whom I served proved unable to support what I believed about the gifts of the Spirit. Though I am not certain, my best guess is that, when they agreed to serve with me as Elders a couple of years before, they never thought that what I privately believed about the gifts of the Spirit would ever have an impact on our shared ministry. Though I never told them that, none of us believed that this issue would ever become THE issue. These two brothers held strong convictions about the ceasing of the gifts, and they believed that I had violated our church bylaws by introducing the subject at all. My position was that our bylaws had a couple of statements that were actually in opposition with God’s Word. Each of us had to make a choice about what to do with our contrasting beliefs in this one area. After my offer to resign my post as pastor was declined by the Elders, the two brothers stepped down from their offices as Elder and moved on to new churches. Unfortunately, one of them did not keep his word to me and began to intentionally communicate to others about my views on the gifts. This was very hurtful to me because each Elder had given me their word that they would not do this. I had entrusted to them my personal testimony of being “ambushed” by Holy Spirit in 2003 and praying in tongues for the first time. Knowing that my testimony would potentially confuse some, I asked, before I shared with them, if I could have their confidence on the matter. They agreed, but my brother did not keep his commitment. Because of this, our relationship took a huge hit, and the end result was that Meadow Baptist Church went through a season where many people left, based upon his misrepresentation of me and my walk with the Lord, and his breaking of his word. I called him on the phone to seek restoration of our relationship and he admitted to what he had been doing. He agreed to stop but, painfully, he did not do so. I was characterized as a bylaw-breaker, when all I was seeking to do is lead the flock through pertinent biblical texts that reveal that the gifts of the Spirit continue today. I was not allowed to do that, and the conflict was made public, without me having the luxury of sharing my beliefs myself. The bottom dropped out, my timeline was scrapped and my personal testimony about the gifts of the Spirit began to be misrepresented and, therefore, misunderstood. I am not 100% certain, but it may have been the most painful time in my ministry, as a man who had been heroic in my eyes proved to be one who intentionally broke his word to me, and caused much difficulty in the flock I was still shepherding. Interestingly enough, God would herein use this brother one last time in my life. It was in the aftermath of what he did that God got me alone, and clearly communicated to me that it was time to teach the flock about Holy Spirit and His gifts. My original plan had been undermined by conflict between me and a few people. Not a small number of people were confused as they were hearing things about me and my beliefs that were slanted in order to make me out to be a villain. It seemed that God was leading me to clear the air, and live with a heart free from bitterness.
While I had hoped for another 6-12 months to scripturally prepare the flock for the specific teaching on the gifts, it became clear to me that the Autumn of 2015 would need to be the moment to go full-disclosure. In what is very rare experience for me, God actually moved things faster than I had planned. In my journey with the Lord, it is usually I who wants to move faster. Not this time – God led me to share Spiritual Gifts messages with the church. This series would open doors for us that had always been closed. During the next few months, the direction of my pastoral ministry would begin to change.
I will pick up the story there in my next post.