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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Unpacking the whole-life lessons of Pentecost

I find it interesting to consider Pentecost Sunday from a whole-life discipleship perspective – precisely because when I was leading a church, I often didn’t manage to.  

I was more likely to focus on the applications and implications for ‘gathered’ church than for ‘scattered’ church. Both are important, of course, but one usually got a lot more attention than the other. 

As a pastor, leading a service at Pentecost is often a bit of a balancing act. I want to celebrate the day the Holy Spirit filled Jesus’ followers with power and added 3,000 new believers to their number. And I want to introduce, celebrate, and explore the reality and need for God’s Spirit today. At the same time, a typical church will have very different people in it, with multiple starting points. They’ll have differing experiences, expectations, and uncertainties when it comes to the Holy Spirit. So I’m always trying to prayerfully navigate a best way forward this congregation at this time. 

Somehow, whilst factoring all this in, as well as dealing with the extra work of planning a significant service in the Christian calendar – the whole-life discipleship message can be neglected. So, as a reminder to myself and others, here are five elements which could be weaved into a Pentecost celebration: 

1) The Holy Spirit is for ‘out there’ 

The Pentecost story in Acts 2 is a prime example of the interplay of the gathered and scattered church. ‘They were all together in one place’ (v1) and in their gathering God meets them by his Spirit. As a result, they progress out into the streets, empowered by their encounter. By the time Peter addresses the crowd in verse 14, I assume they’re no longer in the house – otherwise 3,000 hearing and adding to their number becomes impossible! When preaching on this topic, we can remind people we’re God’s people when we’re gathered and just as much God’s people when scattered and sent out again to join in his work. 

2) The Holy Spirit is for all God’s people. 

Verse 4 confirms that ‘All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit’ – not just the Apostles. The fact that everyone present was filled and equipped underlines that we all have roles to play for God in his world, and he gives all of us gifts to fulfil his mission. 

3) The Holy Spirit gives new boldness 

There’s also a boldness that comes from the Holy Spirit and equips us for whatever lies ahead. Peter displays this most clearly in his message – and it is, of course, especially clear when contrasted with his recent denials of Jesus (Luke 22:54–62). So many of us need boldness to join in God’s work in our daily contexts – Pentecost is a reminder that he goes with us and empowers us. 

4) The Holy Spirit helps with clarity 

On its own, boldness for Jesus can unnecessarily create opposition. Peter’s message is more than brave. It’s also perfectly pitched for the context he’s in at the time. There’s a message here for all of us in our everyday contexts about striving for and praying for the most appropriate words for each frontline context. We can invite the Spirit to help us listen as keenly as we speak, so we can connect the things our culture cares about to the gospel of Jesus. 

5) The Holy Spirit doesn’t not guarantee universal agreement 

However prayerfully and carefully crafted our words are, it’s likely not all will agree with us. Acts 2 honestly reports mixed reactions. It refers to ‘those who accepted’ in verse 41 and the remarkable growth of 3,000 in one day, but by verses 12 and 13, some are still in the uncertain or cynical categories. If Peter’s message (and we could add Jesus’ messages here) received mixed reactions, we can expect the same, but this shouldn’t put us off. 

I hope these first five thoughts spark other whole-life discipleship thoughts in you. Next time we lead a Pentecost service, may we all be able to point to the need for and reality of God’s Spirit with us in our Monday to Saturday places, as well as Sunday. 

Ken Benjamin
Director of Church Relationships

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