Pentecostal Sermons and Bible Studies by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.

Why Most Church Services Today Are Powerless

Summary:  Thousands of American churches have good preaching and uplifting worship of God. But sadly, far fewer have any consistent manifestation of God’s power through the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. And that is a major reason why so many church services today seem powerless.

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1 Corinthians 14:26, NKJV  How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.

For 20 centuries Christian congregations have gathered to worship the Lord (“a psalm”) and to hear His Word preached and taught (“a teaching”). But what has been missing for most of those 20 centuries has been the gifts of the Holy Spirit, represented here by “a tongue … a revelation … an interpretation [of tongues].”

The apostle Paul taught that a typical church service, when the believers “come together,” would include three elements: (1) worship of the Lord, (2) the Word of God, and (3) the gifts of the Spirit. I liken it to a three-legged stool. As long as all three legs are present, all is well. But if any one of the three legs is missing, the stool becomes very unstable and unable to fulfill its designed purpose.

It’s the same in the Lord’s Church and the local gatherings of the believers. Remove any of the three “legs” (Word, worship, or gifts), and the meeting falls short of the norm for the New Testament church service. What I see in American churches today is generally good (sometimes excellent) worship of God and preaching/teaching of His Word, the Bible. But notably lacking in most church services is the manifestation of the spiritual gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 (KJV): the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, divers kinds of tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.

I know a couple who live in a city whose metropolitan area has well over a 1/4 million people. They were diligently looking for a good church to attend. But they recently told me that they were having a difficult time (in a city of that size!) finding a church that had regular manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit. I was saddened to hear that, but it confirmed my own observations, as well as things I have read about the American Church today.

So how, biblically speaking, should Christians solve this widespread lack of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit of God? I suggest three things:

1) Believe from God’s Word that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are for today.
 
2) Believe from God’s Word that the churches, as well as God’s people individually, need the manifestation of the spiritual gifts.
 
3) Covet, be zealous for, press in to be used in the Holy Spirit’s gifts.

1) Believe that the Gifts of the Spirit are for today —

1 Corinthians 1:5-8, Amplified Bible  …in everything you were [exceedingly] enriched in Him, in all speech [empowered by the spiritual gifts] and in all knowledge [with insight into the faith]. In this way our testimony about Christ was confirmed and established in you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift [which comes from the Holy Spirit], as you eagerly wait [with confident trust] for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ [when He returns]. And He will also confirm you to the end

vss. 7-8, NIV  Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end
 
vs. 7, NLT  You have the gifts of the Holy Spirit that you need while you wait for the Lord Jesus Christ to come again.

The apostle Paul was writing to a local Christian church in Corinth. He expressed gladness that they did “not lack any spiritual gift.” Could the apostle write that to your church today? This is the same Corinthian church to which Paul wrote about the spiritual gifts in chapter 12. Here at the outset of his epistle, he reminded them that they did not lack any of the spiritual gifts. In what time context? — “to the end … waiting for when [Christ] returnswhile [they] wait for the Lord Jesus to come again.”

The inspired writer Paul expected the local church in Corinth to have gifts of the Spirit functioning throughout the Church Age, right up until the time of Jesus’ Second Coming. And thankfully, there are still thousands of local churches throughout the land today who believe God’s Word and see the regular manifestation of the spiritual gifts. But sadly those churches are greatly outnumbered by those which have let the gifts slip from view and from practice, in many cases due to lack of teaching or erroneous teaching on the subject.

Mark 16:15-20  [Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation… [17] And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well” … [20] Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

There are portions of Christ’s Great Commission in all four Gospels and in Acts chapter one. Christians almost universally (and correctly) believe that the Great Commission is for the entire Church Age. In Matthew’s parallel account (28:18-20), Jesus sent them forth and promised to be with His people “even unto the end of the world” (20) as they went “to all nations” with His Gospel. Mark speaks of Jesus confirming the Word with supernatural signs (exorcisms, tongues, and healings) as His followers preached “in all the world.”

The Great Commission, along with the accompanying supernatural manifestations of the Spirit, is for “all creation … all nations … all the world … even unto the end of the world.” If you are interested in a more extensive and detailed biblical proof of this, I refer you to my “The Gifts of the Holy Spirit Are for Today.”

2) Believe that the Church today needs the spiritual gifts —

1 Corinthians 14:12, NASB  So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church.

New American Bible  …seek to have an abundance of them for building up the church.

I need edifying, you need edifying, the Lord’s churches need to be edified and built up. And one of God’s provisions to build up, to edify the church is an abundance of spiritual gifts. For example:

1 Corinthians 14:24-25, RSV  If all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters [the church service], he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.

The apostle Paul gives an excellent example of the need for the gifts of the Spirit in the church. Here he speaks of an unbeliever (or outsider) coming into the service and hearing the gift of prophecy. The word of prophecy speaks directly to his heart, brings him under conviction, and leads him to worship God and to acknowledge that God is truly present in that church.

I saw a similar, remarkable example in a church service in Alaska once. A member of the church was given a revelation through a “word of knowledge” by the Holy Spirit during the Sunday service. He stood and spoke it: “Someone here came to church today needing to be saved. And you know who you are, because before coming to church today you drank two beers.” Astonished by this, a man near the front of the church immediately raised his hand and acknowledged that this word was speaking about him. And he went out with the elders for prayer and asked Jesus to save him and make him a born-again child of God.

A big part of the powerlessness of many church services today is the absence of supernatural gifts from the Holy Spirit. The people sing and worship, then the pastor preaches the Word. And both those things are good and very important. But rarely if ever in most churches are there any of the supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit. This should not be so! Note the apostle Paul’s teaching in the verses just below:

1 Thessalonians 1:5, NASB  …our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit

1 Corinthians 2:4-5
  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

Do the church and the world need Gospel preaching and biblical teaching? Absolutely! But Paul said that the Gospel must come not just in words, but “also in power and in the Holy Spirit … with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.” Many of today’s churches do indeed have good preaching. But far fewer see that preaching accompanied “with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” through the supernatural gifts of the Spirit. And it is this word-and-power ministry — not “word only,” said Paul — that helps hearers place their faith not in human wisdom, but on God’s power.

3) Be Zealous for and Eagerly Desire the Gifts of the Spirit —

1 Corinthians 14:1, 12, 39  Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy… [12] Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church… [39] be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.

Frankly, lest we beat around the bush (Paul didn’t!), one of the greatest causes of today’s powerless churches is their pastors discouraging or forbidding the operation of the gifts of the Spirit. The apostolic command in verse 39 is “do not forbid speaking in tongues.” Paul had just finished giving an inspired teaching on prophecy, tongues, and interpretation. And he concluded that with two key thoughts: (1) “be eager to prophesy” and (2) “do not forbid speaking in tongues.” Sadly, in many of today’s churches we see the exact opposite: (1) no eagerness to prophesy or to be used in other spiritual gifts, and (2) church leaders compounding the problem by discouraging or even forbidding the public manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s gifts.

Our church services today need the same things the Lord placed in the early Church. That is, (1) the Word of God, (2) worship of God, and (3) the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Then and now, that was and is the norm for God’s assembled believers, as Paul wrote in our opening verse: (1 Corinthians 14:26, NKJV)  How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.

When the Corinthian church came together to honor and seek the Lord, they worshiped Him (“a psalm”). They preached and taught His Word, the Bible (“a teaching” … KJV: “a doctrine”). And they were blessed and edified by the supernatural manifestation of the spiritual gifts, represented here by “a tongue … a revelation … an interpretation.”

Any church that does not worship the Lord is greatly lacking. Likewise, a church that does not faithfully preach and teach God’s Word is doing a great disservice to its people. And just as surely, any church failing to make room for the supernatural manifestations/gifts of the Holy Spirit is depriving its people of the “demonstration of the Spirit’s power” that the apostle Paul wrote was so necessary (1 Cor. 2:4f).

My final word of encouragement to you is that of the inspired apostle in Ephesians 5:18 — “Be filled with the Spirit.” Serve Jesus diligently as your Lord and Savior. Also look to Him as the One that all four Gospels reveal as the Baptizer in the Holy Spirit [Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33-34]. Look to Jesus for the power-giving baptism with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5,8). And let that supernatural anointing lead you into manifesting one or more of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. If each of us believers does that, it will bring great expression of the power of God to our church services, people will be blessed and edified, and God will be greatly glorified.

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