Worship Movements 2/5: Holy Spirit Fire

As a youngster, I can remember listening to the “Holy Rollers’” tent meeting in the pasture next to where I was riding my horse on summer evenings. Their style was fascinating to me, but I certainly knew that wasn’t what we Methodists do for worship! In this series of blog entries, I’m exploring various worship movements of the 20th century and gleaning wisdom for our 21st century practices from each. Today, I’m going to ruminate on the Pentecostal movement.

Most mainline denominations would not identify with this particular movement. However, the effects of the shift from an Enlightenment focus on rational thought to an understanding of the role of emotions in the motivation to discipleship has had a profound effect on the diversity of expression practiced within mainline denominations. Even in just my 20+ years of worship teaching and consultation, I’ve seen much more mention of and comfort with referencing that third person of the Trinity””that mysterious Holy Spirit. I’ve seen more desire for a “movement” of spirit evident in our worship. I’ve seen more identification with the enlivening, sustaining, motivating aspects of the Holy in our worship language.

While not a new phenomenon for Wesleyans or mainline denominations of early America, “enthusiasm” coupled with reason, immersion in an “experience” of God rather than only “talking about” God, and extended times of prayer and meditation are being newly embraced by emerging generations of our day. Being more “spirit-ual” usually doesn’t come in the form of Azusa Street Revival ecstatic manifestations, but more likely are the more contemplative forms of spirit-movement for mainline congregations.

Here are three ideas for worship if you need more “spirit” time in your mainline repertoire:

  1. If you are stuck in a repertoire of “sequential” hymns (four stanzas, no refrains) that keep you in your head, use more “cyclical” songs (refrains that repeat) such as chants from Taizé to wrap your prayer time. Allow the congregation to sing these as long as it “feels right,” not a prescribed number of times.

  2. Create active ritual responses that will invite prayer such as this picture of worship participants coming to the aisle to kneel, pick up stones and pray.


  1. Incorporate a “threshold moment” into the beginning of your worship. In the Worship Design Studio, that term means a sequence of music/action/words that serves as a “crossing-over” from a “business as usual” environment (usually after a welcome and announcements) to a more mystical and intentional opening of our hearts and minds to be receptive to what the Spirit will offer in this time of worship. It may be a s simple as a short, meditative organ voluntary or it may include bells, chimes, the entrance of the light in silence, a couple of theme-setting sentences with music underneath, etc. I teach that this “threshold” can be repeated throughout a worship series and then change with the next one.

To see an example of a complex “threshold moment” at the beginning of the UMC General Conference last year, watch this video.

May the Spirit, in whatever form it exists in your congregation, move powerfully among you!