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‘Between Two Pulpits’

Vital Congregations coordinator discusses how to avoid grieving the Holy Spirit

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Carlton Johnson’s hope for the future of the church is that it will be open to hearing from God about how to show up in the world as Jesus incarnate. (photo. by Rich Copley)

LOUISVILLE — Presbyterians love a well-crafted sermon and well-written prayers. But the Rev. Carlton Johnson, coordinator of Vital Congregations, believes that sometimes PC(USA) congregations need to return to vibrant prayer.

And he says that sometimes vibrant prayer requires that you tear up that sheet of paper and drop to one knee, like in his childhood Baptist tradition.

“You’ve got to talk to God to find out what God needs you to do as an individual, and what God needs you as a congregation to be, in the community you have been placed,” he said. “If we spend too much time inside [the walls of our church], we’re not going to do much good in discipleship.”

Johnson shared his passion around prayer and vital congregations in a “Between Two Pulpits” conversation this week with Bryce Wiebe, director of Special Offerings, and Lauren W. Rogers, project manager of Digital Fundraising at the PC(USA). When the co-hosts asked Johnson what he would preach on this week, if given the chance, he referred to Ephesians 4:25–5:2, which is one of the passages for Sunday.

Explaining that these rules for new life were published because of the backbiting, slandering and telling lies that was going on in Ephesus, Johnson said these kinds of shenanigans are not good for the body of Christ, which we represent. But what really drew him into this passage was this phrase in verse 30: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit.”

“This is what really gets me preaching, because grieving the Holy Spirit connects to the seven marks [that the VC Initiative is based on],” he said.

Bryce Wiebe and Lauren W. Rogers are co-hosts of “Between Two Pulpits,” leading conversations about theology, mission and the Special Offerings.

For Johnson, these shenanigans Ephesians is talking about impact caring relationships and ecclesial health, which are two of the seven marks of vital congregations.

“How can we expect the Spirit to move if we’re doing things the Spirit doesn’t like?” he asked. “And if all we’re doing is giving people high-spirited worship cause that’s what the church down the street is doing, instead of Spirit-inspired worship [another mark], guess what, we’re grieving the Holy Spirit.”

According to Johnson, the way to avoid this is to connect with the needs of the people both inside  and outside  our community of faith, for this is God’s interest in the incarnation of Jesus, to treat people’s needs as holy.

“The VC Initiative is really allowing churches to reimagine themselves in the light of Jesus’ expectations for church,” he said. “If we are meant to be Jesus incarnate, then how do we show up in the world as he would?”

Johnson knows these ideas will require churches to change. And with so much of the world changing around their congregations, he understands why people want to hold on to something that they think will provide some stability. That is why he believes in the need to listen to God.

“God has made really, really clear, if there’s something a church that is trying to follow God needs, God will send it,” he said. “But if you go out looking for it without consulting God, you may go out and get the wrong thing.”

“I really hope we can all be more open to hearing from God, as opposed to hearing from our commercial, tangible ideas of what we think will draw people.”

“Between Two Pulpits with Special Offerings” are conversations about theology, mission and the Special Offerings. Each episode features a special guest and includes ideas for promotion and engagement. Previous guests have included presbytery leaders, ministry partners, students from Presbyterian Pan American School and General Assembly Co-Moderators Elona Street-Stewart and the Rev. Gregory Bentley. The show takes place live on Mondays at 1 p.m. (ET) on the Special Offerings Facebook page.


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