Spirit-empowered Leadership and the ‘Dangerous Unity’ of Prayer

Kingdom Prayer and the Work of the Holy Spirit

When is the last time you heard of a church or college in the United States devoting an entire day to prayer and fasting together?

by Gary David Stratton, PhD • Senior Editor

Why is the power of the Holy Spirit so evident in some communities and so absent in others?  Why are some leaders so directed and effective in their callings, while others faithfully program and preach with so little sign of God’s presence? Why are some campus ministries effective in helping students come to faith, while others are so ineffective?  Why do some churches deeply impact their culture, while others merely grow more conformed to its image?  Why are some cities and campuses so full of God’s presence and others so empty?

Pastors Jack Hayford, Kenneth Ulmer, Lloyd Ogilvie in Prayer gathering at the Rose Bowl
Jack Hayford, Kenneth Ulmer, and Lloyd Ogilvie at Rose Bowl prayer gathering.

The first time I lived in Los Angeles, Presbyterian Lloyd Ogilvie and Pentecostal Jack Hayford teamed up to gather hundreds of leaders from around the city to gather for half a day of prayer every month. It started with a handful of their ministerial friends who were willing to spend long periods of time together in focused prayer (and even fasting.) They then invited other ministers to gather monthly, and gather they did. As a young campus minister, it was a life-altering experience to gather with more than 500 city leaders willing to give up a day of their busy schedule to seek God’s face together. Not only were they  powerful times of prayer, they were times of prayer for God’s power. God seemed to answer the prayers of that era with an increase of the Spirit’s work all across the city. When the gatherings stopped, the vitality and influence of the church across the city seemed to falter.

A coincidence?  Maybe. Anecdotal evidence is often used to support nearly any theology, and certainly there were a number of complex factors involved in that unique era of L.A. history. Still, the entire experience left me wondering: Is it possible God that releases the ministry of his Holy Spirit on earth primarily when and where his help is specifically requested by His people?  Consider the case from the Old Testament.

Spirit-Empowered Leadership and Prayer

Othniel, by J James Tissot
Othniel, by J James Tissot

Throughout the Old Testament, it is the Spirit of God who empowers God’s people to do his will. [7] In the power of the Holy Spirit anointed leaders delivered Israel from their oppressors,[8] performed supernatural feats,[9] prophesied the word of God,[10] judged Israel’s affairs,[11] built the tabernacle,[12] and received God’s plan for the Temple.[13]

The prepositions “among” and “upon” are of particular significance in describing the Spirit’s work in the OT. This work of the Spirit is primarily “external” in the sense that the Spirit does not dwell within OT saints as in NT believers.[14] The work of God is often accomplished by the Spirit “coming upon”,[15] or “lifting up”[16] a leader or prophet.[17] In Judaism the Spirit of God is especially the “Spirit of prophecy,” [18] and the NT affirms that the prophets “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit”.[19]

The Spirit dwells “among” the people of God, through these Spirit-empowered leaders[20] who comprise a mere handful of the people of God: primarily judges,[21] prophets,[22] and kings.[23] This work of the Spirit seems to be closely related to anthropomorphic descriptions of God’s actions—the hand of God,[24] the finger of God,[25] the breath of God,[26] “the word of God.”[27]

Throughout the Old Testament prayer plays a significant role in the release of the ministry of the Holy Spirit on earth. [28]  One of the more remarkable examples is found in the third chapter of the book of Judges, when the cry of the people of God for deliverance from their enemies is answered by God putting His Spirit upon the Othniel to deliver them:

“When they cried out to the LORD, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them.  The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The LORD gave the king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him.” -Judges 3:9-10

This pattern is repeated throughout the Old Testament as God answers the cries of his people by giving them Spirit-empowered leaders. [29]

What is more, the Old Testament prophets foretold of a day when the empowerment of God’s Spirit would be available to all God’s people.[33] Joel 2:27-28 and other passages prophesy a coming Messianic age of the Spirit that will be marked by an outpouring of the Spirit coming “upon” all of God’s people not merely a limited set of leaders.[31] When the kingdom of the Messiah breaks into the world, both the external “empowering” work of the Holy Spirit, [32] and the “internal” purifying work of the indwelling Spirit would distinguish the people of God from all other peoples. “I will put my Spirit in you (all) and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws” (Ezekiel 36:27).[34]

So why aren’t believers today experiencing the kind of empowering and purifying work of the Holy Spirit that marked the lives of most Old Testament leaders?  Perhaps it’s because we don’t pray like they did? For instance, King Jehoshaphat and his followers prayed (and fasted!) for an entire day before the Lord answered.

“All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the LORD. Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel …as he stood in the assembly. He said: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you…” -2 Chronicles 20:13-15

When was the last time you heard of a church in the United States devoting an entire day to prayer and fasting together? Would we even know how to wait together–men, women, and children–until the Spirit of God gave an answer? Maybe not. But certainly we can learn. Our busy modern lifestyles might mitigate against our gathering the entire church to pray, but it might be possible to start with the leaders.

Gathering Campus and City Leaders to Pray

Gary, Greg, Leo, and Gordie at the Campus Transformation gathering 20+ years after their 'dangerous unity' at Michigan State.
Gary, Greg, Leo, and Gordie at the 2012 Campus Transformation Network gathering 20+ years after their ‘dangerous unity’ at MSU.

When my wife and I served as campus ministers at Michigan Student University we were specifically warned against developing ‘dangerous unity’ with the leaders of the two largest competing campus ministries: Leo Lawson and Greg Van Nada. Fortunately, biblical convictions and past experience won out over administrative caution. Leo, Greg, local college pastor Gordie Decker, and our staff teams soon joined in evenings of united prayer for God to work through all the campus ministries at MSU. While we never really saw the kind of campus-wide spiritual awakening we were asking from God, many students did come to faith, and much more importantly, we learned to seek God for his agenda and just to be in his presence. The experience helped birth a vision in each of the hearts of those leaders that burns to this day. Leo, Greg, Gordie, myself and many other MSU leaders of that era continue in campus ministry and continue to pursue the work of God across our campuses and cities.

Later, while serving as a college pastor on the north shore of Boston, I was invited to join the steering committee for the Boston Ministers Prayer Summit. The leaders of the church in the city believed so strongly in prayer that we would carve three days out of our busy schedules just to wait on the Lord together. Some of our gatherings were like days of heaven on earth. And perhaps it is not surprising that while the Prayer Summit remained strong, the church in greater Boston experienced what became known as the “Quiet Revival.” One of the most “unchurched” urban centers in America witnessed the birth and renewal of hundreds of thriving churches, and many campus fellowships began to experience unprecedented growth.

Is it time to once again gather the leaders of our campuses and cities to seek God? All anecdotal evidence aside, I suspect that the writers of the Old Testament would answer, YES!

Next:  With Prayer in the School of Christ: Higher Education and the Knowledge of God

For Jesus prayer and education were inseparable, because education and the knowledge of God are inseparable.

 

 


[1] Grudem, 1994, p. 634.

[2] John 6:32,46;13:3;15:26; Acts 2:33; Rom 1:7; 1Cor 8:6; Jam. 1:17.

[3] Rom 5:10; Heb. 1:2; 1John 4:9.

[4] Neh 9:30; Ezek 11:24; Matt 12:28; Mark 11:36; Rom 5:5.

[5] Blomberg, 1996, p. 344.

[6] Kaiser, 1997, p. 1076-7; Simpson, 1988,  p. 600.

[7] Kaiser, 1997, pp. 1075-6.

[8] Judges 3:10

[9] Judges 14:6

[10] 2Chr 15:1; Ezek 11:5; Isa 59:21

[11] Num 11:17f

[12] Exo 31:3; 35:31

[13] 1Chr 28:12

[14] Grudem, 1994, p. 637

[15] 1Sam 11:6; 1Chr 12:18; 2Chr 20:14; 24:20; Ezek. 11:5; Isa 59:21

[16] Ezek 3:14; 8:3; 11:24

[17] Blomberg, 1996, p. 345.

[18] Schweizer, 1986, p. 381

[19] 2Pet 1:21; cf. Isa. 59:21; 2Sam 23:2; Neh 9:30

[20] Isa 63:11   Hag 2:5

[21] Judg 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 14:6,19; 15:14

[22] 2Chr 15:1; Ezek 11:5; Isa 59:21

[23] 1Sam 10:6,10; 11:6. See also, Kaiser, 1997, pp. 1075.

[24] 2Chr 30:12; 2Kgs 3:15; Ezek 33:22

[25] Exod 31:18

[26] Ps 19:1; 102:25

[27] Kamlah, 1978, p. 692; cf. Ps 33:6; 147:15,18.

[28] Kaiser, 1999, pp.3-7

[29] Judg 3:10; 6:34; 9:23; 11:29;13:25;14:6;14:19;15:14;

1Samuel 16:13; 1Kings 18:45; 2Kings 3:14

[30] Psalm 51:11

[31] Isa 32:15; 44:3; Ezek 39:29; Zech 12:10. See also, Pach, 1954, 34-36.

[32] See Fee, XXXX, . Also Kaiser, 1997, p. 1076; Blomberg, 1996, p. 344; Grudem, 1994, p. 637.

[33] Ezek 36:27; cf. 11:19; 37:14

[34] See also, Ezekial 11:19; 37:14.

Top Posts of the Year: Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God

Paparazzi originally premiered in the celebrity issue of Mars Hill Graduate School's The Other Journal

It’s hard to believe that Two Handed Warriors has only been up and running for two months.  I cannot thank you enough for all the encouragement and support.

I started the blog in hope of fostering an ongoing conversation for professionals committed to both culture making and faith building. You have exceeded my wildest dreams.  Conversations have evoked marvelous responses from audiences as diverse as Ivy League professors, Hollywood executive producers, seminary deans, college students, pastors, student development professionals, campus ministers, film and television writers. Thank you!

According to Word Press Paparazzi in the hands of an Angry God: Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and the Birth of American Celebrity Culture was the second most viewed post of the last two months.  However, it might really deserve to be #1 given the three follow-up posts it prompted: Hollywood Responds to Paparazzi, Higher Education Responses to Paparazzi, and guest post by TV writer Chris Easterly, Icons of Heroic Celebrity.

Bottom line: Paparazzi really seemed to hit a nerve. It turns out that there is a great deal of angst out there regarding how to maximize the potentialities of the electronic age without being drawn into the “dark side” of self-promotion. So this January I’ll be posting on ongoing series on Servant Leadership in an Age of Celebrity in hopes of teasing out the issues involved.  (Watch for the first post, “Lost” Lessons of Leadership: Sawyer, Jack and the Power of Gun, next week.)

I would love your feedback and questions in order to shape the conversation and explore if it is worthy of a future book project. (I SO appreciate all the emails directly to me, but if you could find it in your heart to post comments on the site it would help foster a broader conversation.)

Thank you again for letting me into your head over the past 60 days.  Lord willing, it is the beginning of a genuine community of two handed warriors in Hollywood, the Ivy League and beyond.

Happy New Year!

Gary

PS Special thanks to Identity Specialist, Lem Usita, as well as to Jon Stanley and the staff of THE OTHER JOURNAL for all their help in conceiving and lauching this project. Thank you to Chris Easterly, Kathy Bruner, Shun Lee Fong, David McFadzean, David Ridder, Dennis Ingolfsand, Peter Kapsner, Rich Gathro, Jack Gilbert, Clyde Taber, Brennan Smith, Jim Hull, John David Ware, Robb Kelley, Todd Burns, Bob Cornero, Tom Provost, Carol Shell Harris, and Michael Warren for helping get the conversation started. Thank you also to Scot McKnight, Key Payton, Keri Lowe, David Medders, McCoy Tyner, Ralph Enlow, and Ken Minkema, for their personal encouragement, professional input, and help in getting the word out. I never could have made it without you all!

Higher Education Responses to “Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God”

The goal of Two Handed Warriors is to foster an ongoing conversation seeking to redefine, re-envision, and then reconstruct the relationship between faith and culture. Toward that end, I am posting a few responses to Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God from leaders in the educational community in hopes that it might spur others to join the conversation. (Tomorrow, I will post responses from leaders in the Hollywood community.)

They raise some important questions both those who build faith and those who create culture, and more importantly, for those who do both.

Please read Paparazzi and jump into the conversation,

Gary

This is an interesting and colorful piece that nicely fits the Mars Hill venue. Scholars such as Frank Lambert and Susan O’Brien have pointed to 18th-century evangelicals’ ability to use media and communications productively, though their opponents became pretty expert as well–and there’s the rub.

Your overarching moral–that Christian leaders today should not be quick to dismiss the media, provided a proper perspective is maintained–is well taken. But of course the ability to maintain a balance between being as wise as the serpent and innocent as the dove is, I fear, a razor’s edge that few can walk on without being seriously cut eventually.

Kenneth P. Minkema
Yale Divinity School
Editor, The Works of Jonathan Edwards
Director, The Jonathan Edwards Center

Great article! I’ve struggled with this in my own career, and sometimes wonder if being overly concerned about self-promotion has limited my influence for the sake of the gospel.  (Have you seen the latest Leadership Journal?  It’s theme is ambition in pastoral ministry.) Thanks for fueling that inner conversation.

David A. Ridder
Dean and University Vice-President

————

Wow! I thought your article was excellent (no, I’m not just saying that to be polite.)   Rarely do I read articles that have such an immediate and significant shift in my thinking. I am the kind of person who would not even do very much to promote my own book because I have been uncomfortable with the idea of Christian self-promotion. Nor have I advertized the church I pastor very aggressively for the same reason.

In “one fell swoop” so to speak, your article made me see that as long as I am honestly seeking the glory of God and not just prideful self-promotion, I really should be more engaged in promoting and marketing.

Dennis Ingolfsand
Department of Biblical and Theological Studies
Director of Library Services
Crown College

———–

An excellent intersection of Truth with popular culture, without being minimalist: although the Message hasn’t changed, delivery and methodology must change in light of evolving cultural activity.

Richard L. Gathro
Dean, Nyack College, Washington D.C. Campus and The Institute for Public Service & Policy Development

.

.

.WOW. Once again on this journey of faith I find myself confronting my own presuppositions. “Celebrity”, to me, conjures up images of red carpets, impeccable looks, and throngs of fans. Words like power, fame, and influence follow such people. “Celebrity” is therefore something to be avoided among those who follow Jesus as it is indicative of hubris and conceit.

However, you have redefined the word for me and I find my presuppositions changing. Understood differently, Jesus is the ultimate celebrity as he has been “exalted to the highest place.” His influence, fame and power are far beyond that of the most gregarious Hollywood figures. However, his fame and power came from the virtues of surrender and humility as well as the great paradox that ‘death begets life.’ We need not be ashamed, therefore, should “our name be known” for the right reasons.

Given this, I find myself captivated by your brief reference to the celebrities of Hebrews 11 as well. My wife and I recently discussed how we should initiate our children. We’ve decided we are not initiating them as Kapsners, Minnesotans, Bethelites, or Americans – as important as those stories might be. Instead, we want them initiated into the “great stream of eternity” that includes the stories of those who have gone before. Without the celebrities of Hebrews 11, we would know far less of the Eternal Narrative to which we belong.  But they are there. They stand.  They ask us to enter the story with them. And they beckon us to follow.

Thank you for pointing out the importance of the celebrities of our faith.

Peter B. Kapsner
Biblical and Theological Studies
Bethel University

———–

I think you’ve done a great job of balancing scholarly and popular appeal. Your research on Whitefield and Edwards appears thorough and reliable, and your writing style is totally engaging and accessible. I think your article was quite refreshing as you asked us to reconceptualize these historic figures as fitting the four-step framework for celebrity. You certainly had me reassessing my perceptions of these characters:)

I’m laughing as I write this, but my self-deprecating, anti-celebrity-seeking Norwegian heritage just won’t let me buy the 2nd half of the article. From the limited perspective I have on Edwards, I thought he delivered the “Sinners/Angry God” sermon in a feeble voice, hunched over the podium, reading the text with little eye contact or enthusiasm. And yet his pathetic performance led to an unprecedented (at least in that place) outpouring of the Spirit with people wailing in the aisles. If celebrity resulted, it was not because of Edwards’ performance, although his written text was certainly persuasive. I guess I’ve read history the same way as those who believe that celebrity is not to be sought. I’ve also watched and written about televangelism enough to think that the godly pursuit of celebrity or, frankly, even the pursuit of leadership, is so often thwarted by Satan preying on our sinful natures that I question whether readers will be able to pursue the preparation for celebrity in noble ways. Could your thesis unwittingly give some readers a license for self-centeredness?

In my Media, Faith & Culture class, I have students read Malcolm Muggeridge’s classic radio address about whether Jesus would have used the mass media. My classes typically conclude that Jesus, who became a celebrity, did not seek celebrity. Rather he often sought time alone with the Father to refocus on his Father’s will, not retool his public relations strategy. They often point out how celebrity earned him many enemies and ultimately death. Will those readers preparing for their time in the spotlight be willing to suffer or die if necessary? Your apparent optimism about celebrity-as-good-thing may be too Hollywood or maybe just too American for readers from the third world church.

Interestingly, when you ask me to reconceptualize modern celebrity and even call ordinary people like me to it, my conscience says no. It could be my own sin nature saying, see…there’s your justification for greatness. I can’t figure out how to embrace the idea with humility because I know myself too well. Thanks for this very revealing reading!

If you want to spark some lively debate, I think this is just the ticket. Curmudgeons (like me?!) could have a field day. I hope all of them think as highly of you as I do.

Kathy Bruner
Assistant professor of Media Communication
Media Communication program Co-chair
Taylor University