When I taught at the Vineyard National Conference, I shared that I’ve found it helpful to think of cultivating Holy Spirit ministry with the analogy of building fireplaces within our local churches. It’s easy, at times, for charismatics to pray and ask for God to send more power, believing that if we just had more anointing flowing, that would take care of whatever problems we’re facing. What I’ve found is that’s not usually the case: if we ask for the fire of God and find that we receive it, we quickly will be faced with our need to figure out how to steward the fire in a safe way.
Fire may have the potential to be very productive, but in and of itself, it is far from safe. Under most circumstances, a fire burning in our home will result in one of two outcomes: either the home will be damaged, or the fire will be extinguished. It is only with the structure of a fireplace that the fire can be harnessed to warm the home or be used to cook food. Believe it or not, the fire of God can rip a church apart just as much as it can build it up. It’s all about building an environment that can steward and protect the fire God provides.
This subject is essentially the point of 1 Corinthians 14, wherein Paul gives a number of very direct instructions for how to build a healthy fireplace environment. For example, here is a fire without a fireplace:
If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?”
— 1 Corinthians 14:23
And here is what Paul says will happen when that fire is in a fireplace:
But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, 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.”
— 1 Corinthians 14:24-25
In one situation, the power of God results in chaos and the disrepute of the church; in the other, it builds the church up. The environment matters.
Over the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with more than two hundred different churches with School of Kingdom Ministry, and along the way, I’ve seen churches that have built excellent fireplaces, and churches that have suffered for not having enough in place there. For those who are interested, this post shares my reflections.
In the spirit of keeping with the visual metaphor, I find it helpful to think about the elements of a fireplace and how they translate to our application in a local church. We will take it one component at a time:
A fireplace is just an empty corner without fire in it. Similarly, we need to be thinking about the sources of flames God has put around us. Fire comes from God; it is not something that can be controlled, but it is something we can anticipate and create the space for. One way to get fire is to carry it from another fireplace—an important thing for each of us to keep in mind: what sources of fire are we interacting with regularly? If we’re not hanging around fire, it’s much harder to find it and know when we have it.
There are also people that God uses as “fire-starters” in the body of Christ. These are people who just seem to have things happen around them. They generate flames and catch things on fire around them (sometimes, maybe even often, without meaning to). It’s important that we know which people around us God is giving to us as fire-starters and that we make room for them to make some sparks.
The difficult part with this is that fire-starters are usually messy people. They often aren’t your ideal small group leader; they may be weird or socially awkward; they may have maturity gaps or a little bit too much personal drama. They are not often neat, clean people, and they’re not always the people want to give discipleship influence to. We need to be purposeful to engage with the often challenging road of working with these people, refining their character, and creating spaces for them to make some sparks.
Consider this example of fire-starters in action:
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”
— Acts 8:14-17
Philip works tremendous miracles and masses get saved, but it’s Peter and John that start lighting some fires with the Samaritans themselves. The very same Peter and John that betrayed Jesus and tried to call down fire from heaven when people didn’t accept their preaching. Jesus patiently spends three-plus years pouring into them and helping them grow up, in part because he knows in time they will be the fire-starters the early church needs to get off the ground.
If you want to have fire in your fireplace, have a plan to get it there. It may be hard work, but it’s worth it.
Real fires also need more fuel to keep burning. If you don’t continually give it new gas or wood, the fire will burn out, and I find the same is true for our local-church fireplaces. We need to continually be thinking about feeding people into a place where they can get caught by the fire in the fireplace. Often I find that churches have a great plan in place to get people saved, but much less of one to introduce people to the Holy Spirit; that seems a shame to me. The Holy Spirit is very eager to draw new people into an active partnership with Him.
Consider this example when Peter goes to Cornelius’ house:
While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.
And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?””
— Acts 10:44-47
The Holy Spirit doesn’t even wait for them to follow the right order! They don’t even get a chance to respond in faith in Jesus before the Spirit falls on them and lights them up as new fuel on the fire.
What is your plan for adding more fuel to the fire? How are you working with people who are not dynamically partnering with the Spirit of God to move them towards more activity there?
Another thing that fires need is airflow. If you don’t have enough air circulation, a fire will burn through all the oxygen around and then reduce to a smolder. Similarly, in our local churches, our fire needs some space designated for it to burn.
Not every context is the most helpful for letting the flames rage full-tilt. I don’t think we need to try and replicate a conference environment for our weekend services; a local church service is a good thing and doesn’t need to be converted to a conference experience. At the same time, if you don’t have intentional spaces to allow the fire room to breathe, you’ll find the fire starting to die down. This is part of why Paul says:
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.”
— 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21
Paul tells us that we need the right balance. A fire needs some boundaries (test everything), but it also needs some room (don’t quench the Spirit). We need to be thinking about healthy boundaries and structures, and we also need to be thinking about opening up spaces to let the flames burn a little more unhindered.
What might that look like? Here are a few ideas:
- During weekend Services – at times open up ministry times a little more than whatever is usual. Take a few more risks, maybe let the congregation prophesy to one another.
- Do some worship & ministry nights – This is a great way to open up some room to pursue God in a very free way.
- Consider specific ministries (Prophetic teams/Healing rooms/SoKM/etc) – These are ministries that regularly are holding a space open for people to go for it and see God do some amazing things.
- Put people on the spot – Ask them to pray/prophesy/minister to someone without any preparation. This is a way of holding some space open for a specific person.
How do you plan to create room for your fire to burn? Where will you take more risks and push the envelope for your environment?
Finally, without bricks, we don’t have any fireplace at all! Bricks represent the boundaries; they are the places where we curb the flames to protect the rest of the environment. In my opinion, this is a critical component of your fireplace and one that can be undervalued. If we do not have a plan for how we are going to keep Holy Spirit ministry within healthy boundaries, in time that will lessen how much we see the Spirit on the move.
Where is the healthy boundary for our fireplace? Once again, Paul has words of wisdom for us:
So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.”
— 1 Corinthians 14:12
It seems to me that the gifts of the Spirit are on the path to going wrong when we forget this simple principle: the gifts are given to us, but they are for others. The benefit is not intended for us as the minister, the benefit is for the person we are ministering to. We are meant to spend them for others’ benefit, not for our own. Whenever we miss this and begin to spend them on ourselves in some way, we’ve taken the fire outside the healthy boundaries.
If we want to have effective Holy Spirit fireplaces, that means we need to have a plan for how we are going to have “brick” conversations. These are never fun; I don’t like correcting people in this way either! If we aren’t purposeful to create room for these conversations though (better yet, proactively, not reactively), we will reap the painful results of overlooking that. A fire needs boundaries to keep it constructive, and it is part of our job as pastors and leaders to be intentional to help people know where those boundaries are. What is your plan for addressing places where fire would spill out of the fireplace?
Building Healthy Environments
Each of these layers are things we can do to help create a healthy Holy Spirit-active environment. We cannot cause God’s activity, but we can foster the kind of environment that values and honors what God does do, and what I’ve found is that when we take those steps, God often blesses our preparations with His presence.
If you’re hungering to see God move more in your local congregation, I join you in those prayers! May we see the Spirit fall in power and Jesus lifted high in glorious ways. As we pray, let us also prepare, for when the fire does come we can then immediately set to work in partnership with our King
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Putty Putman