This is the fourth post in a series we are doing to explore Mission, Missions, and Short Term Mission Trips together. Check out Dr. Rasmussen’s thoughts on ways to get better results from Short Term Mission Trip, Pastor Tom Flaherty’s thoughts on The Heartbeat of Missions, and Pastor Jim Reimer’s thoughts on whose job it is to feed the poor.

by Dean Merrill

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A common stereotype about Pentecostals is that they’re big on praise and worship but short on practical action in a needy world—i.e., “so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good.” However, two scholarly researchers with Ph.D.s recently found out otherwise, as they frankly admit in their new book-and-DVD Global Pentecostalism: the New Face of Christian Social Engagement (University of California Press, 2007).

Donald E. Miller is a self-described “liberal Episcopalian of long standing” who teaches at the University of Southern California (USC) and directs its Center for Religion and Civic Culture. Tetsunao (“Ted”) Yamamori calls himself a “noncharismatic Evangelical” and is president emeritus of the well-known relief organization Food for the Hungry. The two of them paired up to study growing churches in the developing world (Latin America, Africa, Asia, eastern Europe) that were doing significant social ministry. They even convinced an American foundation to pick up the tab.

Where should they look? Miller and Yamamori’s first move was to poll 400 mission experts and denominational leaders around the world for nominations. “To our astonishment, nearly 85 percent of the churches that were nominated were Pentecostal or charismatic,” they report. “… We were captives of our own theological worldviews…. Our myopia, however, was soon to be shattered.”

The book chronicles their visits, over a four-year span, to nursery schools in South Africa, drug treatment centers in Hong Kong, a farm for rescued street children outside Nairobi, Kenya, homes for abandoned AIDS babies in Bangkok, medical clinics in poor favelas in Brazil … all run by highly motivated, Spirit-filled Christians. They asked questions, took notes, and shot video clips, which appear on the book’s DVD attached to the back cover. They tried to keep their academic objectivity intact . . . although there was at least one humorous moment in a meeting in India where people spontaneously began forming a healing line to be prayed for by the two American dignitaries! Drs. Miller and Yamamori good-naturedly obliged.

Their label for such action-oriented churches is Progressive Pentecostals. Such a movement is “pursuing the integral, or holistic, gospel in response to what it sees as the example of Jesus, who both ministered to people’s physical needs and preached about the coming kingdom of God” (p. 22). You can explain all this sociologically, and they do: “As Pentecostals have become upwardly mobile, better educated, and more affluent, they have begun viewing the world differently. Pentecostals no longer see the world as a place from which to escape—the sectarian view—but instead as a place they want to make better” (p. 30). But there is also a spiritual dimension. What makes these efforts successful, the researchers acknowledge in the final chapter, is “the ‘S’ factor,” which stands for the Spirit at work. Apparently we in North America have much to applaud—and much to learn—from this significant examination of how our brothers and sisters do ministry in the Global South.


How have you seen the church mobilized to be heavenly minded for earthly good???


Dean Merrill is the author of 10 books and co-author of 35 other books. He has served the FCA and many other ministries through his gifts as a writer and editor. He and his wife, Grace, live in Colorado Springs. For more of his writings, see:

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