Spirit levels in the local church
How are we to assess and measure the activity of God the Holy Spirit in a local church? Tim Welch, a British Baptist Church pastor and GloPent member, wants to raise pneumatological awareness and expectation within his church, by developing a tool that will enable pastor and people to consider what the Spirit is doing and saying... not as a formula, but as the welcomed Guest in a collaborative process. Any recommendations and insights concerning pneumatological qualitative research in a church and practical theology context will be welcome!
‘Spirit levels in the local church’
Sabbatical Project Summer 2014
at The Oxford Centre for Mission Studies (www.ocms.ac.uk)
I am currently studying at OCMS as a Research Associate, aiming to devise an empirical ‘tool’ to help pastors and churches collaboratively assess the ‘Spirit levels’ operating in their local church life.
This qualitative study is primarily with my own church in view (Cambray Baptist Church, Cheltenham) and a leadership concern that although we generally acknowledge our need for the Holy Spirit, in reality there seems to be limited expectation of the Spirit’s presence and power. Anecdotally, teaching and discussions about Spirit activity at Cambray has actually led to a polarisation of pneumatological views causing reduced expectations, rather than greater anticipation of a move of God by His Spirit. As pastor, however, I know that personal experiences of the Spirit are very real for some of us in the church and many are praying for God to move by His Spirit in revival power. The pertinent challenge as the gathered church is how we accurately measure and assess what the Spirit is doing and saying across the church, to pastor and people.
Based on the premise that there are many stories and much evidence to be collected and presented in any local church community, the question is how are all these factors to be measured? My aim, therefore, is to assess key aspects of church life through a pneumatological framework, attempting to compute the dynamics of organisation and charisms, and Word and Spirit, by involving as many church people as possible in this process.
Aware that any notion of measuring 'Spirit activity' is fraught with challenges, this project focuses on six strands in particular, whereby Spirit activity might be identified and analysed by primarily qualitative means:
The Spirit and…
1. Teaching/preaching (sermons and Bible studies related to the person and work of the Spirit)
2. Personal experiences (questionnaire and interviews devised to gather and explore individual stories)
3. Koinonia, especially corporate evidence of Spirit activity (with regard to fruits and gifts of the Spirit being evident in the local church and community)
4. Liturgy (examining the content/styles of prayer, music, sung and spoken worship, relating it to personal experience of Spirit activity)
5. Mission (using the Acts 1:8 template of outreach and witness locally, nationally, and internationally - impact, boldness, crossing cultures, signs and wonders, etc.)
6. Transformation (evidence of the Spirit at work bringing about change as well as supernatural responses, eg. Reconciliation, loving enemies, strength through crisis, handling conflict, etc.)
A mix of qualitative and quantitative measures will be applied, where applicable, including questionnaires, interviews, case studies, etc. Having gathered these, they can then be presented to the church for further reflection and response.
Hopefully, this research (and subsequent trialling at Cambray) will produce several materials that enable assessment and measurement of Holy Spirit impact in local expressions of church life, (public meetings, article, book, website, etc.). These will hopefully be transferable to other churches/denominations as well.
It is anticipated that possible interventions (measurable pre and post implementation) will be proposed for enhancing Spirit levels in worship, preaching, church relating, mission, new technologies, ecumenical partnerships, etc. - definitely not as a formula, rather as the welcomed Guest.
I would welcome any responses to this research project summary, especially suggestions of pertinent writing and research recommendations in this area of practical theology, pneumatology and church life.
Tim Welch, August 2014