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Zacate, population 12 million, is a nominally Roman Catholic nation of Latin America. In a context of civil unrest and poverty, the Assemblies of God has reached out in word and deed to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God. The church has experienced phenomenal growth over the past 20 years. The Assemblies of God is now the largest evangelical denomination in the country. Its membership constitutes 8% of the population of the country.
The church is led by strong national leadership. Although the majority of congregants are new believers, those in church leadership are often second or third generation Pentecostals who long for revival as experienced in the past. Julio is the national superintendent who believes God is going to pour out of his Spirit in a special way on Zacate. Upon hearing of revival in other countries, he has sought to explore different models of church growth that are producing results. A visiting evangelist brought the G12 (governance of 12) vision for the church to the northern part of the country. The churches that are participating in this model have experienced various manifestations of the Spirit and significant numerical growth. The pastors who have implemented the model are the leaders of the strongest churches in the district.
The proponents of the G12 “vision” emphatically state that the model has to be implemented in its entirety and all previous structures in the church must be eliminated or the vision will not produce results. Keys to the G12 model include: a vertical authority structure with the senior pastor as the ultimate authority, a pyramid structure which organizes the church into small groups which must reproduce, and participation in “Encounters,” spiritual retreats where individuals encounter God and each other in life transforming ways. The encounter also serves as leadership training by seeking to develop accountability and inner healing. The encounters include times of corporate worship, intercession, confession and submission. Some of the practices include: the separation of men and women, the assignment of an overseer to each individual (The individual cannot speak or take any action without the permission of the overseer. Even when using the restroom the individual must be accompanied). Each individual is required to examine their history, all the way back to the womb to ascertain what is needed for spiritual healing. Those things which separate the individual from God (including sins) are written on paper and literally nailed to a cross. The participants are then led away from the cross and upon their return the cross is empty. The encounters produce significant emotional breakthroughs, inner healing and a profound sense of bonding. One pastor of 25 years stated that before going to an encounter he really was not saved, but in the encounter he experienced salvation.
Julio required all executives and their wives to attend an encounter. The experience was positive for most of those who participated. There was a real move of God and leadership bonded in a unique way. It was determined and legislated that all Assemblies of God churches would implement the G12 vision.
Pablo has been a pastor in Zacate for over thirty years and witnessed the church’s growth from a marginalized, persecuted minority to an influential and respected institution. In order to better serve the church, Pablo has pursued further education including a doctorate in education from the national university. After serving as presbyter, he was elected as national superintendent for 8 years until term limitations forced him from office and resulted in Julio’s election. Currently, Pablo serves as the pastor of the largest church in the capitol city and in various educational opportunities. While at first open to G12, when his spirituality was questioned because he had not participated in an encounter, he began to critically examine some of the activities and authority structures related to G12. He has publicly rejected the G12 program as heretical and possibly demonic. When his call for a critical assessment by the executives went unheeded, he began to meet on Monday evenings with other “non-encounter” leaders including ex-executives and presbyters to discuss how to eradicate the G12 plague from the church. They accuse the “encounterists” of spiritual elitism, of the adulteration of salvation by grace alone (i.e. atonement not sufficient, one must nail one’s sins to the cross), of practicing magic (the papers disappearing from the cross), of “sheep stealing” (i.e. growth in G12 churches is not due to conversions but to church membership migration), of abuse of power, of producing a self-centered church (i.e. all actions are for the benefit of the mother church, no missional commitment), of not evaluating experience in the light and authority of Scripture and of dividing the church.
The Assemblies of God is profoundly divided over the G12 issue. Missionaries Mark and Linda have been working in Zacate for 12 years in leadership development through Bible school training. They are frustrated because the division in the church is keeping the church from the fulfillment of its mission. As an executive Mark along with Linda participated in an encounter and recognized God’s hand at work, but they were also surprised at the uncritical acceptance of certain aspects of the G12 model. They are seeking direction as to how to serve the church in such a way as to promote unity based on the truth of the gospel.
Julio, Pablo, Mark and Linda.
Theological Reflection Process
1. What is the over-arching goal for you in this event?
2. What emotions are you experiencing? What emotions do you think the other participants are experiencing?
3. What truth from the Bible and/or other sources can shed light on this event? What analytical skills are needed?
a. Skills in biblical exposition to understand how inspired authors addressed real life problems and situations.
b. Skills in biblical theology, systematics, missiology, theological ethics to understand how others have bridged Scripture and contemporary experience.
c. Skills in church history, denominational history, and needed history of the specific event to gain perspective of commonality and uniqueness.
d. Skills in psychological, sociological areas for competency in pastoral care and counseling.
e. Skills in organizational life in order to address the big picture in working with leadership groups, developing/implementing corporate mission, and managing conflicts.
4. Discernment (What is God’s will and direction in this event?)
-How is the Christ in Scripture present as the Christ in this ministry event?
-Are you proclaiming and practicing the Word in order to touch human need and be touched with compassion for the human need?
-Will your action make Christ worthy of belief and evident in the ministry event?
Steps in the discernment process:
5. Actions Steps
a. What specifically will you do?
b. Who, When, Where...?
c. What resources needed?
e. Identified restraints?
f. Ways to address restraints.
 This process of theological reflection is based on a model ministerial reflection developed by Dr. Roger Heuser and is used with his permission.