(Author’s Note: In 1988, I was the Worship Pastor at First Assembly of God in Winston-Salem, NC where Rev. Ronald F. McManus was the Senior Pastor. This was a time of incredible revival with people being saved in large numbers every week. Although we had a sanctuary that seated more than 600 people, so many people came we had to have 5 services every Sunday (3 identical morning services with full choir and orchestra; 2 identical evening services, also with full choir and orchestra.) Also, these were days of big productions. We developed a production company to organize the creative community of the church year-round, Carolina Christian Arts. We did three major productions each year, Christmas, Easter (full original music theatre productions) and God and Country Day on July 4th, a musical spectacular with a guest artist. We also did TV every Sunday night. To complicate things even more, we were only 70 miles from PTL when it went up in flames and the chief builder there was also building our new church. One of the local TV stations did their evening news from the front lawn of our church in front of our sign. Jimmy Swaggart’s problems came to light at the same time. We moved into our fabulous new building on May 8, 1988.
I was 38 years old in 1988 and saw all of this as a crisis in leadership. In this extended essay, I explored the true nature of leadership in our Pentecostal circles. Throughout this piece I use the term “Pentecost” when I now know a more exact word would be “Pentecostalism.” I was two years beyond the completion of my master’s degree in music education. My thesis for that program was a national survey of music ministries in the Assemblies of God, so I was thinking on a larger scale even than our amazing congregation which was pushing 2000 in attendance each Sunday. Looking back now, from the year 2020, I find it interesting to compare those times with these. I believe what I identified as the true mantle of Pentecostalism is still a valid observation. I did a little re-writing—the headings are new—but kept the time frame to the original. SRP)
The True Mantle of Pentecost
Once again, our national nightmare runs its cruel course on the evening news and in the daily newspaper.
I am a third generation Assemblies of God minister. My grandfather, Rev. John D. Phifer, was ordained in 1920, the year my father was born. While I was growing up, my father, J. D. Phifer, was a faithful deacon and is now a retired minister. My brother, James, and I are ministers. It is easy to think that the Assemblies of God has been our family’s life’s work—68 years of being a part of a great move of God, doing one’s best to please Him.
Often, I have dreamed that America would somehow become aware of us and of what we are doing in our corner of the Kingdom of God. I never dreamed that the moral failures of prominent preachers and leaders would bring us to light. How strange to hear our friendly little language, words like, “papers,” or “presbytery,” bandied about on “Crossfire” and “Nightline.”
A Crisis in Leadership
Factoring together the moral failure of experienced preachers and the dropout rate of young preachers, I am led to believe that we are facing a crisis of leadership in the Assemblies of God. This is not to say we are leaderless. We have great leaders in local churches, in district offices, and in national positions. The crisis in leadership we face is not one of the leadership of men; it is a crisis of leadership of the Holy Spirit. His leadership is essential to the most experienced and the most inexperienced among us.
God save us all, young and old alike, from the plight of King Uzziah. He started out well. His name meant, “My Strength is Yahweh.” But when he became strong in his own eyes, he failed. His life ended in isolation and disease. Perhaps, for us, this is the year the “King Uzziah” in each of us dies.
Why should the largest Pentecostal church in the world have a crisis in the leadership of the Holy Spirit? As a teen searching for God’s plan for my life, I was challenged by sermons on the mantle of Elijah. In some respects, my whole ministry has been a search for the identity of that mantle. Like most third-generation preachers, I have a strong desire to be true to my Pentecostal heritage. I want to please my father, my grandfather, the apostles and the Lord Himself most of all. It seems to me that if we had found the true mantle of Pentecost and if we had put it on our shoulders, we would not be seeing this alarming failure of both experienced and inexperienced leadership.
What is the true mantle of Pentecost?
Like many things, it is easier to see what it is not.
- It is not arbitrary standards of style and dress.
- It is not the preaching of the Word. Preaching is essential, but we have boasted of some of the greatest preachers in the world and some of them failed before the world’s eyes.
- It is not praise and worship. Worship is essential, too, but if worship never rises above technique and style, lives are not changed.
- It is not even the Gifts of the Spirit. Like the Corinthian believers, it is possible for us to possess the gifts without be possessed by the Giver.
- Surely, it must be personal integrity. No. As essential as this may be, integrity of the heart predates Pentecost. It is basic to everything God does through us. While nothing is as important as our personal integrity, it is not the true mantle of Pentecost. There are believers of great integrity who do not believe in the power of Pentecost.
What is it then? What is the thing that my grandfather most wanted to pass to his son, who in turn, passed to my brother and me? What is the thing I want most to pass to my daughters that will guide them to fulfillment in life? What is the essential element of Pentecostal living that each young minister must learn, and each older minister must not forget? I believe it is this:
WE MUST KNOW HOW TO HEAR FROM GOD.
The mantle of Pentecost is made many wonderful fabrics,
- The anointing,
- The supernatural gifts,
- The unction for preaching,
- The victorious Christian life, and more.
The thread that holds all of these fabrics in unity and balance is the ability to be led by the Spirit, the ability to distinguish God’s voice. To know the power of Pentecost, we must know how to hear from God. This is the fundamental thing that a local church, its pastors, its district, and its national leadership absolutely must do if they are to accomplish God’s work in the world today.
- We have people in our churches who are willing to follow leadership that has heard from God.
- We have ministers aplenty who want to do God’s will, if they can only determine what God’s will is.
It seems that some of us have surrendered the ability to hear from God to others. Do we let the prominent preachers tell us what God has to say about issues of the day: music, worship, counseling, and so on? Have we forgotten (or did we every know) how to plumb the depths of the Scriptures on these matters? Do we remember how to prostrate ourselves before the Lord till He reveals Himself to us? Do we know how to test with a holy skepticism what we have heard in our hearts until it is confirmed in the Word and in the lives of our fellow ministers? Young or old, inexperienced or experienced, we simply must be able to hear from God.
“Prove all things…”
I use the term, “holy skepticism.” What do I mean? We are told in scripture to “prove all things; hold fast to that which is good.” (1 Thes 5:21) Each man and woman of God must learn to question his/her compulsions. Not everything we feel strongly about is from God. There is little difference between the emotions stirred by our soul, bruised and pre-conditioned as it is by life, and the emotions stirred by our spirit, where God speaks to us. The only instrument sharp enough to divide these two is the Sword of the Spirit, the Word. The Word then, not our compulsions, becomes the final authority.
We must face the possibility that something that delights the Lord may offend us because our soul has been pre-conditioned to be offended by that thing. Facing this fact, many believers have overcome racial prejudice, “uncomfortable’ styles of worship, and other cultural barriers to the plan of God. It begins with the ability to hear from God. It continues with the ability to test what is heard in the supreme court of the Holy Scriptures. This is our Pentecostal heritage and it sets us apart.
We must carefully train our young ministers in the hearing and testing processes. It is insufficient to thoroughly drill them in what God said to our grandfathers, to their great-grandfathers. They must know how to hear from God today. And He is still speaking today! Hearing Him is our Pentecostal birthright. Let it not be for sale at any price!
In the early days of this century, men like my grandfather heard from God. They heard the message of Pentecost. They tested it by the Word and found it biblical. They separated themselves from those who were so bound by tradition and men-pleasing that they would not adjust their theology to include what God was saying, no matter how biblical it was. This how the Assemblies of God came to be!
Can we possibly believe that God finished speaking when He spoke to our grandfathers and fathers? If He is speaking today, then let us tune our hearts to heaven today. If we are to see a “Decade of Harvest” in the 1990’s, it is absolutely imperative that we, on every level of our vast fellowship, hear God’s voice and boldly follow Him wherever He may lead us!
Hard Work Ahead!
We may have to lay to rest traditions that are no longer in tune with what God is saying. Let us not fall into the same spiritual bondage of those who would not accept Pentecost in the early days of the movement. Our fathers and grandfathers were used of God to build a great church. We must spare them the horror of watching, from the heavenly gallery, as that churches chokes on cords of the past. On the other hand, we cannot blindly follow fads and trends. We cannot simply copy techniques. The success or failure of others is of only passing interest to the man or woman who has heard from God.
A double portion of God’s Spirit is needed today as never before. Men and women are needed as never before who can hear God’s voice. This is the true mantle of Pentecost! “Let Thy mantle fall on me!”
(2020 Signoff) Semper Reformanda!
(Author’s Comment continued: Due to the virus keeping us out of our normal circulation, Freeda started going through boxes in the garage and found this essay. As I retyped it into the computer, I found myself remembering exact phrases I wrote more than 30 years ago! I would love your feedback on my observations and your observations on how the needs have changed in all these years. Thanks, SRP)
 Note from 2020: 2 Kings Chapter 2. The biblical account is of a generational change from Elijah to Elisha. When he was transported to heaven, the Mantle of Elijah fell to the ground. Then the younger man took it up as the symbol of God’s anointing, indeed of a “double portion” of the power of God.
 Note from 2020: Heb 4:12-13 NKJV For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
 Note from 2020: The “Decade of Harvest” was an ambitious, top-down attempt at church planting that was greatly promoted for the 1990s. When it didn’t happen, it was quietly set aside as if it had never been mentioned.