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Forming a Community of the Spirit: Hospitality, Fellowship, and Nurture, Part 1

This is not to suggest that helping believers find the language to express their story means telling them what to say or trying to control what they say. It is good for believers to find the language by which they might testify to God’s presence or absence, to their joys and sorrows; however, there will always remain an element of messiness, of untidiness. Believers can and will make mistakes in telling their stories, but a loving, nurturing community will be able to bear these mistakes as long as those testifying are trying to be authentic and faithful to God and their brothers and sisters.

In the faith, no one springs spontaneously to full blown maturity. All will make mistakes, but in a loving community where it is understood that all make mistakes, believers can find “permission” and encouragement to correct them. The potential for messiness or strangeness of testimony in testimony time during worship is not a satisfactory excuse for deleting it from community activities. Testimony remains a key method by which Spirit-enabled fellowship functions—believers need to express how God is working in their lives; other believers need to listen attentively for the voice of the Spirit.

It is also important to note that yet another weakness of testimony is the constant pressure always to have a good ending to one’s story. Failure, lack of faith, and struggles may be told, but only in the context of eventual victory and success. If testimony represents an accurate description of believers’ faith stories, then those stories are not always ones of success and “victory.” Believers who suffer should not be chided for their unbelief or scolded into faith. Permission to lament must be granted. Condemnation of those who are hurting must itself be condemned. Instead of condemnation, other believers can offer their own “shoulder of faith” on which suffering believers, plagued by doubts, might lean for a season while they are seeking for equilibrium in their spiritual lives. Ellington has argued that “the loss of lament is related to an increasing loss of testimony in the praying community.”34

If Spirit-enabled fellowship comes to fruition, it will come only as “truth-as-testimony”35 (i.e., the testimony comes out as what is really going on in a person’s life rather than only “acceptable” rhetoric related to success and “good” things). Without the possibility of transparency in testimony, the truth will usually be withheld. Often, a kind of fiction exists whereby is conveyed the idea that everyone is well and happy. Sadly, many who are unhappy are not allowed to say that. Believers thus do not know each other’s full stories and cannot respond to others as the Spirit reveals. It is great to “rejoice with those who rejoice”; it is hard to “mourn with those who mourn” (Rom 12:15). Even if there are those who are suffering or are weak or failing, we can remember these words: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (Rom 15:1–2).

The phrase, “to build him up,” in the passage in Romans speaks to the therapeutic value in testimony. In seminary, I learned about pastoral counseling from Dr. John W. Drakeford. He believed that laypeople could be trusted to tell their stories to other believers to help them deal with the common problems that beset humans. He certainly believed in the work of professional therapists and psychiatrists for those clinically depressed; however, the majority of people simply need a caring community of believers willing to share their life stories in coping with the frustrations and hurts of everyday life. Dr. Drakeford called his method Integrity Therapy and advocated simple requirements of those practicing it: basic honesty, sensitivity to others, and a motivating concern for others.36 The principles and techniques of his method are these: laity-led, high ethical standards, a concern for those in the group, an openness to confession of sins and hurts, restitution or putting things right and trying to heal any hurts, and a desire to take the message to others.37 Through the practice of one believer telling another believer how she coped with a particular issue, the other believer might be able to learn how to cope with a similar issue. The power of such interactions came in the integrity of the experience related by someone in the group. In this way, the Spirit-enabled personal testimony to assist believers in handling life’s difficulties.38

In the past, God’s word has come through tablets of stone and handwriting on a wall and through the pages of Scripture. It has come through a flood and a rainbow, a burning bush and a whirling wind. Through the correction of the prophets and the curses of Shimei. His word has thundered from Sinai and whimpered from a manger. His word has come through a dream in the light and a vision in the day. Through the mouths of kings and the mouths of babes. Through the psalms of God’s anointed and the poems of pagans. Through a star in the night and through angels in the field. Through a poor widow’s offering, the picture of a good Samaritan, and the story of a prodigal son. His word was spoken through the law of Moses and afterward, more eloquently, through the life of Christ. We live by those words and on those words, not by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Some of those words are spoken at the most unexpected of places that if we’re not expecting, we’ll miss. Some of those words are spoken by the unlikeliest of people whom we will most likely dismiss if we don’t receive them. And some of those words come in the most uncommon of ways that we will react against if we’re not accustomed to the unaccustomed ways that God speaks. These words are the daily bread of the soul. We have the responsibility to handle them accurately. But we have a more important responsibility to handle them reverently, for they are words from the King. However they come, through whatever messenger they come, they are His words, and we should receive them as such.39

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Read Part 2 of this article now:
Forming a Nurturing Community”, Part 2 from Chapter Five from Steven M. Fettke, God’s Empowered People: A Pentecostal Theology of the Laity (Wipf & Stock 2011), “Forming a Community of the Spirit: Hospitality, Fellowship, and Nurture.”
Notes
Please read the full Winter 2012 issue for the Notes.

This chapter is from Steven M. Fettke, God’s Empowered People: A Pentecostal Theology of the Laity (Wipf & Stock 2011). Used with permission.

 

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Category: Ministry, Winter 2012

About the Author: Steven M. Fettke, M.Div. (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), Th.M., D.Min. (Columbia Theological Seminary), is Professor of Religion at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. He was awarded the Delta Alpha Distinguished Educator Award by the Alliance for Assemblies of God Higher Education in 2009. He is the author of Messages to a Nation in Crisis: An Introduction to the Prophecy of Jeremiah (1982).

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