Deep Church and the Courage to Not Lose Nerve

Icon of the Pentecost

Icon of the Pentecost (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When recently doing a word study at the bequest of my mother, I had a bit of an epiphany regarding my relationship to the Spirit. I found that there were no instances, in either testament, of any person asking for the Holy Spirit to come. There are, however, multitudinous occurrences of the Spirit falling upon, or entering, empowering, given to, present, taken away, poured out over the people. In every case, it was God’s doing, God’s initiative. It is only that we recognize, follow, work with and in the power of the Spirit. David begged that the Holy Spirit not be taken away, but at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out in all power and availability to us. We pray, “Come, Holy Spirit” while refusing to move. We sing, “fall afresh on me,” yet do not believe we are capable of making a difference—let alone, cast out demons or be instruments of profound healing to a brother or sister.

I am reading Ruth Haley Barton’s, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, and came across a quote from a book I have already read (and, promptly forgotten . . .)—Friedman’s, A Failure of Nerve: “A major difficulty in sustaining one’s mission is that others who start out with the same enthusiasm will come to lose their nerve. Mutiny and sabotage come not from enemies who opposed the initial idea, but rather from colleagues whose will was sapped by unexpected hardships along the way.” Barton goes on to disclose, “I have seen and experienced things in leadership for which I still don’t have categories and may never this side of heaven. But one thing is sure: the choice to lead something, to orient your life toward some vision or ideal and to lead in that direction, opens you up to a world of pain that you might not otherwise have to face.” (Kindle Location 1390, emphasis added)

It is likely no surprise that I can consummately identify Barton’s experience. It should come as no surprise to me that I might be tempted to lose my nerve—really, it ought to be expected, part and parcel of the position of leadership. I am absolutely too easily discouraged. It is true, we have certainly “seen and experienced things . . . for which [we] still don’t have categories,” but, if I really believe what Jesus said about the Spirit, what happened at Pentecost, what I have seen with my eyes and that which has burned in my very being, there is no excuse. One characteristic, though, of how the Spirit works with such power, is that it is done in the context of community. Again, it returns to this. God is present when two or more are rightly gathered. And, this is what Richard Rohr refers to as deep church, “something shared between a small group of believers,” that doesn’t seem to happen at an institutional level, but where it is possible to “have a momentary taste of the true Kingdom of Heaven descending to earth.”

And, this is where we are: at a crossroads, equipped to lead, in great need of wisdom and discernment. The Holy Spirit is an all-consuming fire—a fire that burns but is not consumed. This power is already poured out, already available, already in our midst. We have seen that it isn’t necessarily happening in the institutions, rather, it is where a few are gathered—as deep church. I do not want to succumb to a failure of nerve. I pray as with Joshua to have courage, have courage and wait—and see that God is already here.

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