One of the greatest advances in my ministry learning curve was when God taught me how to lead my congregation members into having encounters with Him.
From the beginning of my calling to ministry I was considered a good Bible teacher. I taught good doctrine and good theology. It was exciting stuff! (Well, at least it was exciting to me.)
But one day, after many years of giving people really good doctrine, I heard the Holy Spirit whispering to me, “When are you going to stop giving people information and start leading them into encounters with Me?”
Well, that messed up my whole ministry paradigm!
Think about it. Almost every great Bible story and every great Bible leader is someone who had a boat-rocking encounter with God! Noah had an encounter with God. Abraham had an encounter with God. Isaac, Jacob and Joseph had encounters with God. David and Solomon had encounters with God. Elijah and Elisha had encounters with God. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel had encounters with God. Peter, James and John had encounters with God.
The apostle Paul was transformed in a heartbeat from a legalistic up and coming Pharisee into a fire-breathing preacher of Christ because of what? One encounter with Jesus!
One God encounter changed timid Gideon into a warrior leader. Hearing the voice of God changed the boy Samuel into a prophet and a national leader. A burning bush encounter with God changed Moses from a directionless shepherd into a leader of millions and, in his own words, the most humble man on the face of the earth!
None of those great leaders were the product of a great theological seminary. Their vision, their faith, their authority, and their anointing all came from what? An encounter with the presence of God and the voice of God!
We are called to equip the saints to do the works of Jesus, not to give them endless doctrine, theology and inspiring anecdotes. Of course we need the foundation of good doctrine. Of course!But with all that the Bible shows us about the power of a God-encounter, why would I spend years giving people nothing more than good information? I just didn’t see it until the Holy Spirit whispered those paradigm-changing words to me.
The apostle John had a post-resurrection encounter with Jesus that gave us the book of Revelation. After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.” Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. Revelation 4:1-2 NKJV
God used this passage to speak to me about the power and value of modern-day encounters with Him. As is often the case, the Lord confirmed what he was saying to me through a more experienced leader in my “stream” of the body of Christ. I heard a teaching on this passage, and the gist of it was: this isn’t just a history lesson – this is an invitation! The door is now open in heaven. Jesus is the door. (John 10:9) The door to heaven has been open since Jesus reconciled us to the Father. And everyone knows the meaning of an open door: “Come on in!” Then John heard the Voice: “Come up here, and I will show you…stuff.” That’s not a history lesson. That’s an invitation to all of us! Immediately, John was “in the Spirit”, going farther into an amazing God encounter.
After I processed that, the Lord began to speak to me more about this passage. He impressed this on me: “Every Bible story, every passage and promise, is an open door – an invitation – to your next encounter with God.” Wow! This could get really fun – especially if you have the heart of a child!
How would I now apply this great revelation from God? How could I make it a part of my weekly ministry and leadership? Again, the Holy Spirit impressed something on me: “You’ve just been reading them the menu and then sending them home. From now on, read them the menu and then let them order something!” I began to understand.
I had been teaching for information only. It was weak leadership. There was no faith required. There was no risk involved. And nobody was having encounters with God – at least not when they were listening to me!
So I made a change. I resolved to end every message with the opportunity for my congregation members to have encounters with God. I cannot make encounters with God happen, but I can set up the conditions where they will happen. And I learned, to my great discomfort, that God is attracted to hungry faith. And faith sometimes feels like stepping off of a cliff and hoping that God will show up.
Let’s say that I am teaching on the love of God. As I end the message, I invite the congregation to stand with me. This signals that we are going to have a time of activation and encounter. They are now going to be listening to me with one ear and to God with the other ear. We invite the Holy Spirit to come in His manifested presence. We invite Him to begin moving and speaking to people’s hearts. Since I just taught on the love of God, I invite people to begin drinking in God’s love. For several minutes, we play soft instrumental worship music in the background. We lift our hands, we close our eyes, and we just drink in His presence. At some point, I challenge everyone to ask God a personal question: God, how much do you love me? “Now, listen in your hearts to the voice of God,” I tell them. I ask Jesus to speak to people in the still, small voice. I ask the Holy Spirit to speak to them through images and visions. I ask the Father to take the people into His arms and to reveal His love for them personally. “Have an encounter with God,” I tell them. People are learning to hear the voice of God. They are learning how He touches them. They are being transformed.
I have seen that I could preach on the love of God for months and still not convince some people. But in these moments of encounter, God whispers to them in the still, small voice. He may simply say, “I love you.” Tears begin to flow. Shoulders begin to shudder. Walls of defense fall down. Years of hurt and woundedness are healed, not because the preacher said it, but because God Himself spoke it.
It’s a little risky. You have to step off the cliff and hope that God shows up. Not everyone has an encounter every week. But many do.
As God impressed on me, almost any Bible story or passage or promise can be presented to the congregation as an open door to their next experience with God. And the fruit? The fruit has been very good!
By: Michael Harding
Senior Pastor: Love Gospel Church