Q&A with Samuel Rodriguez – Trends in Pentecostalism

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is the Current President of The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (The Hispanic Evangelical Association), America’s largest Hispanic Christian Organization with 30,621 member churches. CNN named Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, “The leader of the Hispanic Evangelical movement”.

He currently serves on the Board of Directors of some of America’s leading Evangelical organizations such as: Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, National Association of Evangelicals, Empower 21 and Christianity Today.  Rodriguez is also the recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award presented by the Congress of Racial Equality.  He is an Assemblies of God Ordained Minister since the age of 23.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Rev. Rodriguez on the subject of Trends in Pentecostalism. Here is an excerpt from that interview. – R.C.

Robert Crosby: Does the growing portion of American Pentecostals that are Hispanic/Latino factor into the increased interest in social justice among Christians today?

Rodriguez: Yes, because of two dynamics. One is the Generational Shift – this has prompted Millennial Generation Pentecostals to both the vertical and horizontal planes of the Cross. They see the Gospel as comprehensive. 21st Century Pentecostals stand at the nexus of both dynamics – salvation and transformation, covenant and community, righteousness and justice, of Billy Graham and Dr. Martin Luther King. They want to see a personal Pentecost and a community Pentecost. This new generation says that Pentecostalism goes way beyond the individual.

The second reason is Demographic Realities. By the end of the 21 Century the majority of Pentecostals in North America will be non-white (some say this will occur as early as 2050). For decades American Pentecostalism has been predominantly white and rural and it will soon become primarily ethnic and urban.

White Pentecostals have traditionally held a vertical world-view of their faith, focusing on personal beliefs and values including salvation that prepares ones soul to make the Rapture. Ethnic Pentecostals hold those near and dear as well. White Pentecostals have say, ‘I receive the power of the God to live a holy life in order to go up in the Rapture.” Ethnic Pentecostals say, “I am saved by grace, but I also receive the power of God so my family can be transformed and so we can overcome social ills and gangs in our neighborhood.”

Pentecostal justice in the 21st Century is synonymous to Hispanic Pentecostals taking the lead. Because of it, you will see a greater interest in social ills. You are looking at a community that values Biblical orthodoxy; they desire to preserve the cardinal doctrines while reconciled with prophetic action. The priorities of this community are issues of life, Biblical marriage, education, sex trafficking, immigration reform, poverty alleviation, all under the canopy of the Great Commission.

RC: What changes do you see in the Pentecostal Church in North America today? What do white Pentecostals and evangelicals need to recognize about these trends?

Rodriguez: That Pentecostalism should not be defined by the white Pentecostal church primarily. The white Pentecostal church is becoming less and less Pentecostal. There is an identity moratorium issue. It is “Pentecostal” in name only. The white Pentecostal church is in a state of crisis. There is so much trepidation among its leaders. In fact, there is a ‘don’t ask/don’t tell’ policy mentality about the pneuma. The white Pentecostal church in America has become much more evangelical and non-Spirit-filled. By the end of this century, the white Pentecostal church may be a very small community unless there is a coming back to authentic Pentecostalism.

RC: What reasons do you see for the decline of white Pentecostalism in America?

Rodriguez: I see at least three primary reasons for it: One, a new definition of success. There is this idea that the successful church is all about numbers. There is a great concern about this. It is the seeker-friendly mindset on steroids. We say, ‘God forbid that we permit speaking in tongues.’ And yet, people are looking for real experiences with God. Unfortunately, many of these leaders believe they can’t grow the church with the power of God.

Reason Two is because of an increasingly sinful culture and moral relativism. Churches are trepid over the moving of the Spirit because of the holiness (and I mean authentic Biblical holiness) that accompanies it. We don’t want to preach on sin. Churches are hesitant to address sin because of the metric of success. It is the consequence of Christian media and competitiveness. American Pentecostalism in recent years has focused more on messaging, branding and marketing instead of salvation and empowerment. We are in a state of crisis.

Reason Three is the sort of generational eclectic framework. There is a definitive chasm between Pentecostal leaders and laypeople as it relates to what people desire to see in Pentecostal worship. The universities, seminaries and colleges are not doing a great enough job at revitalizing and affirming Pentecostalism in students. There has been a failure among our schools to prepare next generation Pentecostals.

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