Global Pentecostalism documents a large and varied sociological study of the changing social outreach efforts of Pentecostalism worldwide. Over a period of four years, in twenty different countries, most in developing nations, authors Miller and Yamamori visited churches, conducted interviews, and observed social ministries. They argue convincingly that Pentecostals in developing countries are increasingly involved in social ministry.
The authors’ initial intent was to study rapidly-growing churches in the developing world that had active social ministries. They asked over 400 knowledgeable individuals to recommend churches that would fit these criteria. Their responses were startling: 85 percent of the churches they suggested were Pentecostal. This dramatic outcome shifted the focus of the project. Instead of studying churches with active social ministries in general, Miller and Yamamori spent the next four years studying an emerging movement that they came to call "Progressive Pentecostalism." They define Progressive Pentecostalism as "a movement of Christians who claim to be inspired by the Holy Spirit and the life of Jesus and to seek to holistically address the spiritual, physical, and social needs of people in their community." This definition makes an important distinction between old-style, otherworldly Pentecostalism which is likely to have little social impact, and contemporary, service-oriented churches that respond to the practical and social needs of their communities. What Miller and Yamamori are exploring are the many ways in which Pentecostal churches, especially Progressive Pentecostal churches, make a social impact on their communities. Many of these churches are independent of any denomination.
What is most impressive in this book is the effort the authors make to acknowledge the role of worship and other-worldliness in affecting social change. As the authors become engaged in the worship services, they seek to assure their fellow sociologists that they have not lost their objectivity, colloquially speaking, that they have not "gone native." They acknowledge that it is possible that there is some unknown factor, which they cryptically call the "S factor," that makes dramatic individual change and communal outreach a greater possibility. The "S factor," as you may have guessed, stands for Spirit, as in Holy Spirit.
Progressive Pentecostals appear to be successfully merging their other-worldly beliefs with the practical needs of the community around them. Worship services are uplifting affairs in which music sets the tone for both exuberant praise and quiet meditation. Speaking in tongues and prayers for healing are common in many of the congregations. Miraculous healings are attested to frequently and on occasion people reportedly have been raised from the dead.
Churches vary in the number and extent of the programs they offer, ranging from individual relief (such as outreach to addicts) to communal outreach (such as feeding the homeless) to social justice (such as domestic violence programs). In some cases churches partner with NGOs to address larger issues. Throughout the book, through stories and impressions, the authors document the varied projects, the moving stories, the hope, and the difficulties that these caring and concerned churches and individuals experience daily.
Chapter 1 provides an overview of the growth of Pentecostalism in developing countries, where churches are not only indigenous but were started relatively recently. Chapter 2 describes Progressive Pentecostals, the many ministries that they are involved in, their beliefs and expectations, and what motivates them to serve and reach out to others. Chapter 3 tells moving stories about projects and programs that reach out to abandoned, needy, and orphaned children and youth. The fourth chapter emphasizes two important elements for the transformation of individuals: unconditional love and supernatural intervention. A common theme is that those whose lives have been changed respond by engaging in ministry. Chapter 5 presents an inviting picture of collective worship while Chapter 6 examines the upward social mobility that is the natural outcome of life lived in accordance with Pentecostal beliefs. Chapter 7 examines organizational structure and leadership development models. The final chapter offers a brief synthesis of the study and evaluates the likelihood that Progressive Pentecostalism will take the place of Liberation Theology.
The book is accompanied by a DVD that shows many of the worship service venues, interviews with selected leaders and converts, and a selection of ministry programs. The DVD is very helpful in providing a picture of individuals and the experiences in a way that cannot be accomplished through text alone. It would benefit tremendously from narration as it gets a little tedious to view programs about which you have no knowledge (the authors suggest viewing the DVD before reading the text).
This book is a delight to read. The sense that you are discovering a new and exciting spiritual movement inhabits every page. The authors are sensitive to the beliefs and practices of the ministers and the people, and faithfully present their own questions and dilemmas without diminishing experiences that are not easily explained. Others have documented the growth of Pentecostalism around the world. Miller and Yamamori have given us a picture of what this alive and growing movement consists of.