Pastors and Pietism: Part 2


Copyright © 2017 Roger Helland

I’ve pastored in the Vineyard, in the Mennonite Brethren, and in the Christian and Missionary Alliance traditions. I now serve as a district minister (a pastor to pastors and churches) of 29 churches in the Baptist General Conference tradition. As a preacher and teacher over the decades, I’ve experienced the glory and the grit across a full spectrum of conservative to charismatic Christianity. My fire is that pastors and churches would flourish.

Unfortunately, I regularly observe that many pastors and churches flounder in spiritual and missional vitality. Most pastors expend enormous time and energy to lead the church as business. They log countless hours in brain numbing meetings, in conflict management, in sermon preparation, in planning and administration, in “volunteer” recruitment, while they also marry and bury, counsel and care, in congregations of assorted people with endless needs.

Pastors and their boards also regularly succumb to micromanagement and “mission drift,” where they then often neglect the Lord’s business to build their congregations into houses of prayer, proclaim the Gospel of the kingdom, seek and save the lost, and make disciples. They unwittingly falter in what I wrote as “missional spirituality.”

Over the centuries, God has incited renewal and revival movements to infuse new life and mission into his church. One of those was the Pietist movement of the 17th-18th centuries. It grew into a revolutionary torrent that influenced the Moravians, the Methodists, the great awakenings, and global evangelicalism, as we know it today. Some of the Pietists were Philip Spener, August Francke, Nicolaus von Zinzendorf, and John Wesley. The Pietists (who were largely pastors), can teach us about spiritual renewal.

The core posture of the Pietists was that Christian faith was Bible centered, concerned with holy living, that fostered a “religion of the heart.” As a reaction to sterile and institutional religion, it stressed that true Christianity was a living faith, a practical love of God and neighbor, that integrated the head and the heart. Don’t we need a renewal of piety, of devotion to God, in our pastoral leadership and in our churches today?

While there’s no uniform consensus on a definitive list of characteristics of Pietism, there are common features which I will share. Over the next few weeks, let me introduce you to some key features of Pietism that will help plunge you into the depths of spiritual renewal.

The first is a Transformational use of Scripture.

Pietism was a Bible-centered movement focused on holy living. German Lutheran Pastor Philip Jacob Spener wrote, “Thought should be given to a more extensive use of the Word of God among us . . . The more at home the Word of God is among us, the more we shall bring about faith and its fruit.” We must let Scripture engage us as a transformational source for spiritual renewal, discipleship, and mission, not merely as an informational source for Christian knowledge.

One way that I implement this Pietist practice is to use a method that I introduced to our district churches in 2016. We decided to read through the New Testament in one year, one chapter per day, Monday – Friday. The PROP method of transformational Bible reading.

Pray. The Pietists taught that the Holy Spirit illumines and speaks in the Scriptures. Spener said, “It is not enough that we hear the Word with our outward ear, but we must let it penetrate our heart, so that we may hear the Holy Spirit speak there.” And, “The first means to proper Bible reading is heartfelt prayer.” Prayerful Bible reading will activate its transformational power in our lives as the Spirit speaks and illumines Scripture in our hearts and minds.

Read. Read the text slowly and attentively out loud. Faith comes by hearing through the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17). We should also devout ourselves to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and to teaching (1 Tim. 4:13).

Observe. Notice the key terms, mood, and the main point of a passage. Observe its theology: what it says about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

Practice. Finally, Spener says, “All knowledge of God and his will does not exist in mere knowing but must come forth in practice and action. There must continually be a holy intention to put into practice what which one come to know as the divine will in one’s reading.”

The Pietists can teach us more about spiritual renewal in today’s church than what I cover here. For more on the Pietists, see my recent book, The Devout Life: Plunging the Depths of Spiritual Renewal. We can also learn from other renewal movements as well. What is one that you would recommend? What are some of the practices that we can learn?

Roger Helland's smiling face.Roger Helland, DMin. serves as district minister of the Baptist General Conference in Alberta, Canada, and teaches as an adjunct instructor at several Bible colleges and seminaries. He is the author of six books including Missional Spirituality, Magnificent Surrender, and The Revived Church:

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