It’s Pentecost! Bright red in the sanctuary…celebration of the birth of the church…the coming of the promised Holy Spirit…one of the holiest and most important holidays of the church. Yet sometimes overlooked in the celebration is that Pentecost is primarily about the mission of Jesus.
Pentecost did not begin with the Christian church, but in the time of Moses. The Hebrew people celebrated the harvest festival, Shavuot, annually, 50 days after Passover, as they began to bring in the “first fruits” of their crops. Imagine their joy each year as they acknowledged once again God’s faithful provision for them, and looked forward to the fullness of the harvest that was yet to come.
In the Christian Church, the first celebration of Pentecost actually began with Jesus’ instructions to His disciples a few days earlier. Appearing to them on the Mount of Olives, Jesus instructed them to go down to Jerusalem, get in a prayer meeting, and wait for the arrival of the Holy Spirit. He said the Holy Spirit would come with power, resulting in them all becoming His witnesses; in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. As Chapter 2 of Acts confirms, they went to prayer, the Holy Spirit did come in fullness of power, and the witness began that very day! Not only was the church born, the mission was born…in power!
Given this reality, it seems especially appropriate that Pentecost be, for the Church, not just a day of worship and celebration, but a chance to celebrate missionally. Here are four biblically appropriate ways to do so.
1. Pray to the Lord of the harvest.
It is no accident that the Lord sent His promised Holy Spirit on the day of the harvest celebration. Earlier, Jesus had spoken of the harvest, in Matthew 9:37-38, saying, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
How interesting that Jesus’ response to a plentiful harvest field is first to send His disciples to their knees. Imagine what missional power might be released in the church if God’s people took seriously this call to prayer, and God answered by sending workers to the field!
2. Seek empowerment from the Lord and then act.
Jesus promised that His disciples would receive power and they did! And we still have that promise. But the power was given for the mission. These disciples were huddled not only in prayer, but also in fear and hiding. With the coming of the Spirit, however, they were given the power to act, and act they did!
What part of the mission of Jesus causes you to hide in fear? Ask God for the power to overcome that fear, and be prepared to act. Maybe you ask for the power to share your faith, or for a prompting from God as to where to minister, or for the ability to bring healing to a person or situation. There are endless possibilities. But it is important to ask expectantly and then move, in the power of the Spirit, toward action. You will be amazed at the results, just as those first disciples were.
3. Share with someone else what the Lord has done in your life.
That is exactly how Peter responded to the blessing of Pentecost. This witness business is not that complicated. We don’t have to be seminary-trained pastors to be witnesses. We just have to have had authentic experience with the Lord, and a willingness to share those experiences. Speak of glory sightings you have had. Tell someone what difference Jesus has made in your life. Talk about how you have experienced Jesus day to day. Peter saw 3,000 lives changed as a result of his first witness. What might God choose to do through you?
4. Engage cross culturally.
One of the great miracles of Pentecost was that although people from every part of the known world were present, each heard Peter’s witness in their own language. God made the mission relevant to each person in a culturally appropriate and understandable way. Today the world is very much like Jerusalem on the original day of Pentecost. Our cities are filled with people from all over the world. Many times, however, disciples react with either fear or indifference to these people from the ends of the earth. But what might the power of God do in your life if you celebrated Pentecost by intentionally reaching out to someone across cultural lines? You might help in a refugee center, or an ESOL program, or an ethnic community center. Or perhaps you simply invite someone in your community from a different culture to share a meal with you and get to know them. The Holy Spirit has an amazing capacity to help people hear our witness in their own language (and culture) when we step out in His power.
Whatever forms our celebration of Pentecost takes this year, let’s try to connect it to the mission. After all, the mission is the whole point. That initial celebration of “first fruits” was not only a joyous harvest day, but also a harbinger of all the abundant harvest days that would come as the people of the brand new Church joined Jesus in His mission. Let the celebration continue.
Are you interested in helping your church re-align with God’s mission? Travis Collins has written From the Steeple to the Streets: Innovating Mission and Ministry Through Fresh Expressions of Church to help leaders work through this. Here, Collins reveals how long established congregations are finding ways to engage people unlikely ever to walk through their doors, and fresh expressions of church are engaging people who are “without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12, NIV). Get your copy from our store now.