Memo to All the “Spirit Led” Churches

April 19, 2010

I love meeting other pastors.

It’s always great to see how God is working in other churches, to see how God is expressing Himself.

It’s especially exciting to me to meet other house church leaders, being that I am one.

But once we start talking about our churches, it’s inevitable.  Pastors get into competitive or defensive mode.  In front of another pastor, you have to make your church sound as awesome as possible.  I noticed this a long time ago and wrote about it in one of my most awesomely suggestive posts ever.  It’s always like pastors are checking each other out like guys in a locker room.  Bigger church = bigger man.

But lately, I’ve noticed something new. 

Sometimes, a guy I’ve just met will be talking about his church.  I’ll be asking questions about what the worship or the people are like.  He may start to fidget, thinking he has to impress me.  Then he’ll throw this down:

“We’re a very Spirit led church.”


Now, to a guy who came from a Methodist-Baptist-Episcopal background where everyone keeps their hands firmly clasped in their laps during church, this description baffles me.  It’s totally foreign to me.

House church pastors are especially notorious for saying this.  That’s because a lot of house churches pride themselves on not being like regular, boring, institutional, impotent churches.
I slowly figured out that “Spirit led” was a buzzword meaning that everyone kind of flies by the seat of their pants when they come to church.  In a regular church, it means people shout out and whatnot.  In a house church, it means people “share what’s on their heart,” which is another favorite buzzword of mine.  It means the pastor doesn’t really do anything, and church is remarkably similar to a group therapy session, except it’s free, and no one ever actually gets cured of their socially crippling personality disorders, and to me, that’s what mid-week small groups are for.   

The whole “Spirit led” thing always puts me on the defensive because it makes it sound like my church is not so Spirit led, if only because I don’t call it “Spirit led.”  If you asked two pastors to describe their worship service, and one guy said they were “Spirit led,” and the other guy handed you a church bulletin, who would you think was holier?  You can’t get any better than invoking the Holy Spirit.  Suddenly, the Holy Spirit is being used like the teenage swimsuit girl every youth group lets hold the sign to advertise the carwash.

Here’s the thing.  I’ve got no problem with churches that like to call themselves “Spirit led.”  I just think many churches don’t know what it means.  It’s just a super holy sounding throwdown trump card. 

I don’t think God cares about what happens on Sundays nearly as much as we do.  Of course we care about Sunday worship.  We put all our money and effort into it.  We want it to be awesome, and if we can say that the Holy Spirit showed up, you’d better believe we’re going to point that out.

It would sure make us look Spirit led if that quiet guy in my church suddenly stood up and read us a Psalm or said a prayer.  It would be awesome if that really reserved lady started clapping her hands during the music.  If people started sharing their hearts and I could just sit back and do nothing, no one would doubt we were a Spirit led church.  I honestly wish that would happen.  But I have a church full of quiet people, and I’m not going to make them read or pray or clap unless the Spirit actually leads them to do that.  And since the Spirit has not led them to do that, my guess is God doesn’t care if they do any of those things.

Here’s my question for all the Spirit led churches.  How does the Spirit lead your church Monday through Saturday?  Sure, it’s great to leave church feeling like God was there.  But maybe that’s not the whole picture of what “Spirit led” truly means.

What do you think?  Is your church described as “Spirit led?”  Do you wish your church had more Holy Spirit?  (Whatever that means.)  What does it mean to be a truly Spirit led church?  Does a free-wheeling church energize you, or make you nervous?

Oh, and the title to this post makes me think of Beyonce’s “All the Single Ladies.”  So if you’re a composer who can come up with lyrics to “All the Spirit Churches,” send them my way.  Now put your hands up…

6 responses to Memo to All the “Spirit Led” Churches

  1. I’m sure I commented yesterday (along with others), but…

    I would call my church Spirit-led. But in saying that, we also have a leadership/eldership team which have a vision and a plan for this year with teaching etc. Family, Marriage, Discipleship and Community are the four areas we are looking at teaching and strengthening. But within this vision and proposed teaching there is always room for God to do things His way. Our pastor has been known on occasion to completely toss his prepared sermon and allow God to work in a different way.

    On a daily basis, in my work-place I try to listen to God’s voice (I work in a church-run op shop) and be prepared to stop what I am doing to listen to or talk to either customers or staff. Our unofficial motto is ‘We may be the only Jesus or church that someone ever meets/walks into, help us to be true representations of Him”.

  2. Nice topic Matt!

    I came from a non-charismatic church background. In my best Ross voice/impression “You could not be more non-charismatic, you could try, but you would not be successful.” But I did go to a Christian school where kids from all denominations came together. So we all go to see who had “Spirit”. Imagine kids in a school morning worship service yelling “we’ve got Spirit, yes we do, we’ve got Spirit, how about you?!?!”

    This would go on for a while. And then when the principal or music teacher thought we had filled the room with enough Spirit, we would get to the singing, praying, and Bible verses. Most of us kids fell back into our denominational stature shortly after filling the room with Spirit… I didn’t raise my hands, but those weird kids from that weird church did.

    Grown up – I go to a non-denominational church. Hands up, down, or anywhere in between in optional. It’s refreshing to let the “Spirit” led you however is best for you. And overall, those that get themselves involved to serve, are really the Spirit led church, not the hand raisers and clappers.

    • I commented on the other platform yesterday, too, but I love the last line of Sherry’s comment:

      “And overall, those that get themselves involved to serve, are really the Spirit led church, not the hand raisers and clappers.”

      It’s great to be reminded that it’s those who are truly committed to Christ, not only on Sunday morning, but in their lives, who are Spirit led.

  3. love this post.

    obviously we’re talking major syntax issues here – mixed with some lack of education, and maybe even, lack of “spirit”? i am thinking, the killers’ “i’ve got soul but i’m not a soldier”…

    but seriously. i mean. is it even actually possible to have a local church (body) that is not led by the spirit?

    surely the real question is whether or not the body is FOLLOWING the lead of the spirit?

    i would think the only trump card greater than “we’re spirit led.” would be “we’re following the spirit.” haha! niiice.

    i think i sense a post/song/beyonce-induced-parody rising up.

  4. You make a good point about churches that are actually using ‘Spirit Led’ as a trump card to win discussions, but there actually are churches that are Spirit led out there.

    At my church, the pastor usually comes with several sermons prepared (including some that were postponed on other days), because the Holy Spirit often tells him to scrap his original plan and go with something different.

    Worship often explodes into ministry time, where people will be healed or delivered or just soak in the presence of God.

    More and more often, the pastor’s wife or certain people in the congregation will come up to prophesy or share a word they’ve just recieved from the Lord. (Not just a select group of people that share, either – shy and outgoing folks alike. My father, who can’t stand public speaking, went up to share a few weeks ago.)

    I think it’s definitely a jerk move for a pastor (or anyone, for that matter) to pull the ‘Spirit Led’ card to bolster their own ego, but don’t be dissing on churches that genuinely are Spirit led.

  5. I wonder if it is gonna b right? Is The Donald gonna run for president? He would obtain a ton of votes!