Eighteen years ago, Dave Gibbons launched Newsong church in Orange County, California, which quickly grew to mega-status, utilizing popular program-driven growth strategies. But a series of experiences in the Majority World (documented in a previous Leadership Journal interview "On the Verge") plus his own weariness led Gibbons to seek a more central role for the Holy Spirit in his life and church.
Without jettisoning its evangelical identity, Newsong started putting greater emphasis on prayer and the present power of the Spirit. The adjustments initially resulted in declining attendance, but Gibbons says "a new church emerged with a new dynamism." The church is now seeing regular healing and deliverance as people grow in their discipleship. Skye Jethani spoke with Gibbons about spiritual warfare and his journey toward a greater understanding of the Holy Spirit.
Why are so many church leaders reluctant to talk about spiritual warfare?
We see the way spiritual gifts and practices are abused in some churches and media ministries, and we want to stay away from that. In addition, there is a theological construct that says certain gifts and signs don't exist today. While we say we believe in miracles, we're not sure how it plays out in our churches.
Is the hesitation to talk about spiritual warfare linked to our discomfort acknowledging the supernatural?
Almost every Christian would acknowledge some type of spiritual struggle and supernatural activity. The question is how you engage it. My rather strict evangelical background taught me to pray against evil and to seek God's guidance—primarily with the Word of God. Both of those are crucial, but there's another element—utilizing the power of the Holy Spirit. That's what we often neglect because we are not comfortable with the Spirit's role, not trained to listen to him. Our tendency is to enter into theological debates about the supernatural or make the role of the Holy Spirit into an academic study. I'm not sure if many of us are practically shown how to minister with the Spirit. We focus on prayer and the Word but have virtually no practical understanding of the demonic or how God equips you through the Spirit to live life to the fullest—without fear!
Speaking of your rather strict background, when did you first encounter a different view of the Spirit's role?
When I was dating my wife. Her mother was from a Pentecostal background. I remember seeing people jumping, dancing, and running around in the service. I thought, This is just so weird. Since "God is not the author of confusion," I assumed that what I was seeing must not be of God. But my definition of confusion was narrow.
Later I was asked by a friend if he could pray that I would receive some special giftings. I said sure. Little did I know how loud he would pray in this very public place in my hometown. After a few minutes of his loud prayer, I couldn't hear what he was saying because I was so embarrassed.
Eventually, I heard an inner voice, "Aww, David, you're more concerned about what people think of you than receiving my power for you." I knew at that moment that I was filled with a need for public approval. I had a fear of man. Since that day, I've had a new boldness and confidence I can't quite explain.