At the 2018 LEAD Conference, Markus Schonberger spoke about making room for the Holy Spirit to move during church services. He said, “At times it gets messy, but I’d rather have that than people not experience the voice of God.” We asked Markus to tell us more about how this is happening where he pastors, at Putaruru Baptist Church.

You can’t manufacture a move of God. God is sovereign, and when he moves, he moves. However, we can position ourselves. It is about being humble and looking to him, and about creating room and giving the Lord opportunity. 

When we arrived to pastor this church 11 ½ years ago, it was small and fragmented. The vision the Lord gave me was of a manikin that had been kicked over. All the body parts were there but everything was doing its own thing. I felt the Lord say to me, “I’m calling the Putaruru Baptist family back to unity.” 

He gave me the illustration of tuning a piano with a tuning fork. Jesus is our tuning fork and we all need to be in tune with him. So for us it began with a call to put our eyes back on the Lord. Through that he drew us together. 

You can feel the love of God in this place. While people might shy away from some of the spiritual gifts, nobody shies away from the love of God. And when people feel loved and accepted, they feel safe to share. 

Spontaneity in our services

Often at the end of a song in our services, people will break out into prophetic word or God will give them a Bible verse to read out. I tell our worship leaders, “Just pause. Give people the opportunity to respond. You will sense God is doing something here. Allow the silence and through that people will begin to share.” 

A recent Sunday was a great example. One person spoke the Lord’s word to us powerfully. Another person brought a psalm. A third person prayed about our eyes being fixed on the Lord. A few others spoke too. I was one of the singers that Sunday. I nudged the elder standing beside me, grinned, and said, “I don’t need to preach now. They have said everything that was in my message.” 

Sometimes someone will start singing praise and worship in response to the word that is given, and everyone will join in. It is not planned; it is not part of the repertoire of songs for the day. We had a really full service on Christmas Day last year and this happened then as well. We didn’t sing all the carols we had planned to, but God moved powerfully. 

Parameters and practicalities

Paul talks in 1 Corinthians 14:3 about prophecy being for the building up of a church. In the past there were times when we opened up the service for people to share but didn’t put any parameters around it. We are more cautious now, reminding people that the purpose of sharing and allowing the Holy Spirit to move through them is always to edify, encourage or comfort. God never wants to do anything in a destructive way. So, if someone has a word from the Lord that they feel is corrective or directive, they must run it by the elders or the pastoral team first. 

On a practical note, we used to have someone run around with a cordless microphone so everybody could hear very clearly. There are two reasons we don’t do that anymore. One is that it actually stifled the spontaneity. And two, there were some individuals who liked the microphone a little too much! We have found that what people say can still be picked up through our sound system pretty well when we record the service, without a microphone needing to be there. 

When spontaneity gets messy

In 1 Thessalonians 5:21, Paul writes about testing and holding on to what is good and true. It is important that we do that. None of us hear perfectly all of the time. We are all fallible. When we keep that in mind, it is not so difficult to bring a little bit of correction if needed, while still affirming the person. 

Several years ago, a young lady who was normally quite reserved came to church dressed in white and with bare feet. God brought her a word that was powerful and transformative for many. Of her attire, she said, “God is only having me say this once in this way.” But the following two weeks she got up and again spoke in the same manner. 

I was not convinced it was just God anymore so I met later with her and her husband. “The first word you brought was undoubtedly the Lord and the fruit is there. We can see people really changed as a result,” I said. “But you also said that was the only time you were going to bring the word like that, and you have done it twice since. Can I ask you to pray about whether this is from God or not?” They agreed to do that. She did not speak again in the church, feeling that, yes, maybe this had been a little bit about her. It was a slightly messy situation but I am glad we dealt with it in that way. 

Another time a lady told me God wanted her to speak to the church that day. When I asked her to tell me what it was about, she refused. Because it sounded like it would be a word of correction or direction, I said, “Well, you need to share it with me, and if you can’t, then, sorry, I can’t let you speak to the church.” 

She got upset with me. It was before the church service and we had a prayer meeting. I could hear her in the background, telling others, “Markus won’t let me speak to the church this morning.” I quietly tapped an elder and a couple of others on the shoulder, and said, “We need to pray for her. She is determined to speak to the church, and it’s not right this morning.” So, we quietly prayed and the funniest thing happened—in that moment, as we prayed, she lost her voice!

Sometimes people can share something that is a little offensive to others. We had one person who spoke out of brokenness. That was messy in the sense that people were upset. I went and saw the person. I said, “You spoke with conviction but could it be that this was a word for you as an individual, not for the church as a whole?” Initially they got defensive but then they quietly prayed about it and said, “Yes, God has put his finger on things in my life where he wants to bring healing and a change of attitude.” 

I have lost lots of sleep at times when I have heard God say, “I want you to go and see this individual about what they have said.” I have prayed through the night, “Lord, how do I go to this person and deal with the issue and see them actually grow through this and grow nearer to you?” 

That’s the aim of everything. We want people to become more like Christ. That means we bring correction, but it has got to be done in love. Hebrews tells us only illegitimate children go without discipline. It’s not always easy, but in the end it is fruitful. 

Remember the gift-giver

Sandwiched between what Paul says in regards to gifts of the Spirit and prophecy in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 is the ‘love chapter’. All these things need to be done out of the love of God and out of relationship with him through Jesus Christ. If it is just about the gifts, we can quickly forget about the Gift‑giver. 

I often tell people about an uncle of mine. When I was a kid, he lived two houses down the road from us on the same street. The only time we ever heard from him was when he needed to borrow a tool of Dad’s or wanted something. It used to really annoy me. I thought, “You are my uncle. Why don’t you just want to come around and spend time with us?” If we just run after the gifts and the manifestations of the Spirit, we can be like my uncle, when what God wants is deep relationship with us. It’s hugely important that it’s out of relationship that we do all things. 

Don’t get comfortable

What we are seeing happening at Putaruru Baptist is largely due to a lot of prayer—three prayer meetings a week and much prayer individually.

The risk is that we get comfortable. We can think, “God, this is great what you have done here.” But God has so much more for us. I’d say to every minister and church, just keep pressing into God for more. 

I think about us as Baptists and how there has been a lot of talk about decline in numbers. We need to push back against that and remember what Jesus says: “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). We need to be pressing into him, holding the Word before him, praying Scripture, and allowing the Holy Spirit to move. I really believe that the best is yet to come. I am looking forward to the day that our church building is not big enough to hold everyone who comes along! 

Story: Markus Schonberger

Markus has been pastoring at Putaruru Baptist Church for more than 11 years. He is married to Leanne, who is a vital part of the team.

Scripture: Unless otherwise specified, Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright ©1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.