I highly recommend experiencing the God of the Universe first hand, having had a few life-changing encounters myself. Yet many of us steer clear of these mysterious moments because we’re either afraid, or we’ve witnessed some pretty hoky stuff. I’ve fallen into both camps, but it seems like whenever God moves in ways that are kind of unique, the cornflakes come out in full force. Just the way it goes I guess.
So what am I going to do about it?
Well, nothing really. I’d rather have God move in my church in ways that are beyond dried up and religious gag-me-with-a-spoon boredom, even if they seem quirky at the time. I’ll take flighty treks into silliness over a boring religious tradition - any day.
BUT, there are things that leaders should be prepared for just the same, and there are ways to navigate the hoky.
1) Don’t make "manifestations of the Spirit" the focus
What I mean by that, is don’t make how people react to the Holy Spirit the focus. There’s a simple reason: when you get all zany about how dude falls over when someone points a “Holy Spirit Gun” (their finger) at him and shoots, you’ve stopped looking at Jesus and started looking at people. The focus changes, and God is no longer the centre. That’s a true story by the way.
2) Don’t feel like you have to make a theological case for how people react to a God-encounter. It’s mysterious. Leave it that way.
I’ve seen it all (I think): people falling over when someone prays for them, kids at a summer camp flying through the air like they’ve been hit by a galeforce wind, uncontrollable weeping, insane laughter (literally), deep groans of the child-birthing variety, spirit-crunchies, ecstatic tongues speaking, spirit-laps around the church, dancing with eyes closed through pews, a variety of demonic manifestations.
I’ve probably kept my sanity because I’m okay with mystery.
There’s no way in heaven or earth you will always be able to nail the God of the Universe down to a formula or doctrinal interpretation or past personal experience. He’s bigger than that. Let Him be.
3) Never assume people have “seen this before”. Therefore...
4) Always give explanation for what is happening, or at least try
Talk about it openly. At lot of times the subject is avoided because it’s awkward. That’s the worst thing you could do. Just by addressing it, you make people feel safer.
My favourite: "So and so’s running around the church doing laps because [we think] he’s excited about Jesus. Maybe Jesus is inviting him to “run the race”…with his eyes closed…like, we run by faith and not by sight?"
5) Always make big the reality of encountering the Holy Spirit
It’s happened before, and it’ll happen again. Isaiah fell as though dead when encountering God in a vision. Paul was knocked off his ass. Peter, James, and John trembled in awe and wanted to stay in the moment forever. Theresa of Avila describes an encounter as sheer ecstasy. Blaise Pascal wrote simply “Fire”. I once had an encounter after a youth camp event where I was so overwhelmed by a sense of Jesus’ nearness that all I could do was cry, then laugh, then cry, and repeat. It was so intense that the next day my abs hurt.
6) Deal with excesses quickly and privately
Ya, there will be things that are inappropriate. I remember a particular prayer meeting where a gal flipped out of her chair and knocked a guy over, actually causing him to bleed. Ya, you need to control this (there’s a verse for that). Another time a fellow was experiencing a unique thing when he started pelvic thrusting during a God-moment. No, not gonna work. Get on it. Do it privately. And do it quickly.
7) Deal with abuses quickly and likely, publicly
When a spiritual gift, or manifestation, or what-have-you is actually used to abuse others (ie. public prophetic word of judgment on another person in the church, seen this too), you actually need to correct it quickly AND publicly. Public abuses need to be addressed publicly. This is different than a guy being excessive and exuberant in his experience of God. Take him aside privately. Affirm his experience of Jesus, and gently help him be more appropriate in his response.
9) Deal with demonic disturbances away from the public gathering
I’m not sure why, but when the Spirit of God is given freedom to move in lives, the devil often takes liberty too. Saw this alot in one church my dad pastored. Because it was unexpected, we'd deal with the demonic activity right there in the service. I think that’s what the devil wanted. Attention. Public attention. It wasn’t till we started taking people out to a back room when they started manifesting (shouting, yelling, and violent behaviour), that the whole thing just stopped happening. Interesting.
10) Make big of miracles of healing.
In my experience, a manifestations (laughing, crying, falling over, etc.) is often the visible sign of an invisible work of healing and restoration.
Manifestations are great. But they are nothing compared to someone experience the deep healing work of the Holy Spirit, both inner and outer. Make more of a deal about this, than the fact that the guy laughed for three hours straight (true story). The laughter was very cool, but the work of healing in him while this was happening, was much, much cooler.
He hadn’t laughed in years.