Keeping passion for Christ alive
G.L. Johnson, pastor of Peoples Church (Assemblies of God) in Fresno, Calif., since 1963, spoke recently with Ken Horn, managing editor of the Pentecostal Evangel, about keeping passion for Christ alive through generations. He was ordained in 1951 and has been preaching for 60 years.
Evangel: What trends have you observed in religious institutions and movements after several generations?
Johnson: Often institutions and movements start out with strong, deeply held convictions, but over a period of time these convictions and core values begin to erode with their desire for approval. This often seems to happen in the third generation.
My friend Peter Wagner, as an outsider, observed some years ago that some Pentecostals have sacrificed five big "Ps" power, prayer, preaching, praise and helping the poor for one little "r" respect.
Paul said, "Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith" (1 Timothy 6:20,21, NIV).
Evangel: What do you see happening in denominations?
Johnson: When I teach in pastors conferences, I draw three large circles on the board. The circle on the left represents theologically liberal churches. These are often cold, lacking spiritual passion or a strong basis in the Scriptures.
I refer to the middle circle as "Bible" churches (though I hope we all are Bible churches). These are often legalistic and split hairs over issues, even among themselves.
The circle on the right represents a group I call "experiential" churches, for want of a better word. These often emphasize experiences and unfortunately often lack strong foundational Bible theology. Without this strong foundation they often tend to become liberal over time. Therefore, may God help us to superimpose the anointing of the Spirit upon our exposition of biblical truths.
Jesus said, "God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). Spirit without truth is unguided; truth without spirit is unmotivating. Truth is the steering wheel; the Spirit is the gasoline that moves us forward.
We must spell out our core biblical values, write them down and prayerfully adhere to them under the leadership of the Holy Spirit in order to reach our objectives to reach, win, train and send.
Evangel: How can we guard against this erosion of core values within the Assemblies of God?
Johnson: Several years ago Robert Cooley, an Assemblies of God minister and past president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, spoke to the board of directors at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. He shared that the board of an institution is ultimately responsible for the direction of that institution. It needs a strong mission statement who they are and what their purpose is maintaining strong adherence to this statement and core values in hiring faculty and leaders. These will then be passed along as coming generations of pastors, leaders and missionaries are trained.
There are other factors that prevent erosion of values, but training leadership is primary.
Evangel: How can the Assemblies of God keep its passion for Christ alive?
Johnson: What an urgent need this is. In my opinion, this can only be maintained if we:
1. Win the lost regularly to Christ in our services. (We always give an invitation at the end of every service. About 25 people per week come to Christ within the entire church.)
2. Keep the reality of hell in focus.
3. Preach and expect the second coming of Christ passionately. (I dare say most of us came to Christ as a result of these last two points.)
4. Emphasize passionately the Cross at some point in every message. Without this there will be little response.
5. Ask earnestly for Gods message to hurting people in these uncertain days, and be consistent with these messages through the years.
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