A Pentecostal Paradox: Why Are Some Holding Their Tongues? -- Part Two

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Editor's Note: This is a continuation of the article, "The Pentecostal Paradox." This article includes more interviews with leading Pentecostal thinkers and researchers on the subject of changes in North American Pentecostalism. See the Part One here.

The diminishing of demonstrative spiritual gifts in public worship amidst North American Pentecostal churches is not indicative of what is happening in Pentecostal churches on other continents. According to Thomas Trask, former General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God, "The Overseas Pentecostal Church looks at the Church in North America and asks: 'What's the matter with you? Why would you even [limit or] question the public operation of the Spirit and the Gifts? After all, these have served you so well over the years.'"

Jack Hayford, renowned Pentecostal leader and former President of the Four Square Church, concurs: "Why is the church exploding in growth south of the equator in Charismatic and Pentecostal movements? It is because those people go after the whole package and live in it. There is a sense of quest. There is no sense of a need to appease social tastes or acceptability. Our tendency towards such concerns in the United States is a grievous issue to me."

Traditionally the distinctive mark of Pentecostal and Charismatic churches has been a personal experience in the Holy Spirit evidenced by supernatural expressions and gifts. So, what might the reasons be among some Pentecostals for pulling away or shifting their characteristic practices of speaking in tongues?

Among the possible factors contributing to this change in the practice of speaking in tongues may be:

The Evangelicalization of Pentecostalism—Russell Spittler's theory seems to hold true here. Pentecostals, once eschewed for their unusual expressions of worship, have become much more mainstream and sophisticated in recent years. But the new level of acceptance has come with a price. One observer notes that Pentecostals used to feel like the "weird uncle" of the evangelical family; now, in some ways, they just might have become the favorite son.

Donald E. Miller, USC professor and researcher of Pentecostal trends, recently stated, "In the U.S., the historical Pentecostal denominations have tended to routinize. They tend to look much more like mainline Protestant churches and the rapid growth rates tend to level off. Which is true with the Assemblies of God."

Seeker-Friendliness—Understandably, pastoral leaders have looked to "successful models of church growth" and often borrowed heavily. Among them have been Jack Hyle's bus-outreach model, Bill Hybel's seeker-friendly model, and Rick Warren's purpose-driven model. Sometimes, however, the incorporation of new models of ministry, and especially comprehensive ones, have become dominant forces of change to the diminishing of prior "Pentecostal distinctives." While adding some things, others may have been lost.

Samuel Rodriguez, President of the NHCLC, cites the problem as "a new definition of success; this idea that the successful church is all about numbers. 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 leaders believe they can't grow the church with the power of God."

"The search for acceptability and success has impacted the passion that sparks the Gospel," says Hayford. The seeker-friendly approach "became a substitute for [Pentecostals] who had lost the baby in the bathwater of their own tradition. They adopted a framework of ministry that diminished discipleship and, along with it, the sense of need for the Baptism in the Holy Spirit."

A New Technology and Media Focus—Our media-saturated and video-driven culture has provided a wealth of tools that have been incorporated into church worship services. Staff, resources, and countless hours are now poured into tedious preparations for not only worship, but worship productions that are finely edited, patiently rehearsed and powerfully projected. Services, sermons and songs are now often expected to "pop" and excite the audience's supposed insatiable thirst for eye, and ear, candy. In some cases the sensational may have displaced the supernatural.

Undertaught/Underchallenged—Statistics show that AG churches and leadership in general are not emphasizing the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Assistant General Superintendent Alton Garrison noted a 2008 survey, commissioned by the AG Discipleship Ministries Agency and conducted by Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Christian Resources on the state of discipleship. It revealed that while 90 percent of AG pastors claim to teach regularly on the subject, only 28 percent strongly agreed that they regularly take time to pray for people to receive the Holy Spirit. And, only about half of those who attend worship services claim to have been baptized in the Holy Spirit.