Over the last number of years, I’ve had the honor of being able to be a key part of the School of Kingdom Ministry, a local-church based network of training schools that are designed to help churches equip and release their people into a naturally-supernatural lifestyle. As the school has grown and developed and I’ve had occasion to interact with other training organizations and approaches, the similarities and differences between approaches began to crystalize into a consistent pattern of identifying three main aspects of release in Holy Spirit ministry. Each of these three aspects are biblical, and each comes with strengths and weaknesses. It seems to me that portions of the church have different relative balances of the three facets in action in their equipping approach.
Aspect One: Impartation
The first aspect I will review we will refer to as impartation. Impartation is directly referred to in the beginning of Romans:
For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. Romans 1:11–12
We see here that Paul expects that a personal visit will result in a spiritual deposit to the church in Rome; something of his journey with God will release something new into the Roman church. I believe that Paul is also referring to impartation in two separate verses to Timothy:
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, 2 Timothy 1:6
Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 1 Timothy 4:14
We see a similar expectation here, although rather than corporate, this is personal: with the laying on of hands, a spiritual gift was given to Timothy he did not have access to previous to the impartation prayer. This is the definition of impartation that we will use in this paper: impartation is a catalytic release of access to some new spiritual gift.
In my experience, this is somewhat typical of impartation as a process God uses to release people in Holy Spirit ministry: these two dynamics are often in play: (1) impartation is personal and (2) impartation is catalytic. While neither of these is without exception, I find this to be the common pattern.
First, impartation is usually personal. With the Romans, Paul doesn’t expect it to happen through his letter, he expects it to happen in his visit. With Timothy, he refers to personal prayer - the laying on of hands. There seems to be something of a kind of spirit-to-spirit contact that opens up the possibility for unique things to happen. While impartation prayer can happen through technological means (sometimes through recorded messages, even writings), it seems like it happens more frequently through personal contact.
Second, impartation is usually catalytic. There is often a profound change in the ministry of the person receiving impartation; before the prayer and after the prayer things are markedly different. Impartation has a discontinuous effect on the person’s ministry effectiveness. Something of the catalytic nature of this impartation often seems to be reflected in the experience itself; more often than not, profound impartations come through profound experiences. Some of the more clear examples of this would be Heidi Baker and Leif Hetland with impartations they received in the Toronto Outpouring.
When discussing impartation, we would be remiss not to specify Randy Clark and Global Awakening as a ministry that has stewarded the ministry of impartation in a significant way for the last 25+ years. There are clearly other impartation ministries around the globe, but Randy and Global have clearly stewarded something unique and special there.
Impartation, like each of these facets, has strengths and weaknesses. One of the primary strengths of impartation is the dramatic acceleration it produces. While there is stewardship that needs to continue forward, impartation can at times birth a world-class ministry in one encounter. Because impartation is often so demonstrative, it often also provides a faith-building anchor point that can become an important memory stone for the future ministry as well.
One of the ‘downsides’ of impartation is that it is difficult to scale. Impartation isn’t a universal ministry: not everyone has something to impart, and not everyone is gifted in the ministry of impartation. As a result, one of the limitations is that it is dependent on a specific set of people, and a finite set of people will always struggle with potential limits of scale. A second ‘downside’ is that impartation is often highly dependent on a sovereign component. When the Spirit is moving to impart, not everyone gets a significant impartation, and without the proper understanding of God’s processes and so forth, being on the “skipped over” side of this experience can present significant challenges for someone to work through. With the proper perspective of how to interpret God’s process with things like impartation this downside can be highly mitigated.
Aspect Two: Saturation
The second aspect of release into Holy Spirit ministry I call “saturation”. While the word itself isn’t used for this in the Bible, the idea is entirely biblical. While impartation often occurs through a profound and powerful experience, saturation is nearly the opposite experience. In this aspect, people experience new aspects of Holy Spirit ministry by soaking in an environment of God’s presence. While impartation is very direct, saturation is indirect, often with people experiencing new dimensions of the Spirit at their own total surprise.
An atmosphere of the presence of God carries power within it, that can often unlock aspects of Holy Spirit ministry without the person even being aware that is happening. I believe this is being referred to in the Emmaus road story:
They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?" Luke 24:32
Being in the presence of Jesus activated spiritual dynamics that the disciples present didn’t even identify as such until Jesus vanished and they began to connect the dots. It seems to me Paul is also referring to this dynamic in his instructions to the Ephesians:
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be [keep on being] filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Ephesians 5:18-20
Paul’s instructions are to continually be filled with the Spirit through worship and thanksgiving. (An instruction we don’t always equate with growing in Holy Spirit ministry.) Here he is referring to an environment that is formed through our praises and thankfulness, and that environment has the capacity to fill us with the Spirit. While we tend to identify being filled with the Spirit with a more catalytic experience like is described in Acts 2 (what I would suggest is a sovereign impartation), being filled with the Spirit can also be a more “slow release” experience as well, occurring through the ‘pickling’ (the original Greek inspiration for the word “baptize”) of the Spirit through the proper environment. Defined succinctly, saturation is the unlocking of Holy Spirit ministry through experiencing a presence-filled environment.
Because saturation is environmentally driven, groups working to release people through saturation often have a high focus on culture. There is great intentionality given to designing and cultivating a specific culture, and saturation is often released through experiencing and abiding in a particular culture. Probably the most iconic ministry that emphasizes and stewards a ministry of saturation very powerfully is Bethel. Thousands (at least) have experienced Bethel’s culture and been released into Holy Spirit ministry through saturation in the environment they’ve cultivated.
One of the advantages of saturation is that it tends to be effective with a higher fraction of people. It seems like most people, given enough saturation will begin to operate in the ministry of the Spirit in new ways. It also has the significant advantage of being deeply connected to an environment - making relational connection far more likely. While impartation can actually be isolating at times, saturation happens in the context of community, often giving you comrades in your journey along the way.
One of the primary challenges to saturation is that it may be even harder to scale than impartation. Cultivating culture and Spirit-filled environments is long, hard work and doesn’t happen quickly. It takes a long time to dig a Holy-Spirit saturation well, so saturation usually is connected to specific places you have to travel to, rather than the more mobile possibilities with impartation (and perhaps even more with activation as we will see). One of the other drawbacks is that saturation is often good at releasing people in a degree of Holy Spirit ministry, but it tends to not carry the same depth that impartation does. I don’t know of any world-class ministries that were unlocked with saturation alone.
Aspect Three: Activation
The third aspect of Holy Spirit equipping is called activation. Once again, this term itself isn’t used in the Scriptures, but the idea is pointed to. Activation happens as we are guided through the process of cooperating with the Holy Spirit by someone who can show us the ropes. We see Jesus interacting with his disciples in this manner when he multiplies food to feed a crowd:
For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” And they did so, and had them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces. Luke 9:14–17
Jesus doesn’t do the miracle by himself, so much as he guides the disciples through them doing the miracle. He has them sit the crowds down, he gives them the food to distribute. It’s an in-the-moment experience of working the miraculous together. We catch another glimpse of the relationship and training methodology Jesus used with the twelve in the follow-up conversation he has with the disciples after they fail to heal the epileptic boy:
Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:19–20
This kind of reflective dialogue is often very helpful in an activation setting, which approaches supernatural ministry as a learnable skill. Not that it is something can can be accomplished without cooperation with God, but rather that learning to recognize and partner with God’s activity is a learnable skill. Activation is being coached to partner with the supernatural by some person or activity. We learn from those who have gone before and their process accelerates our own learning curve.
Because activation tends to view Holy Spirit ministry as a learnable skill, there is often an emphasis on “this is for everyone” in this aspect of training. If you’re not experiencing something, it’s not because you’re lacking something, it’s because you haven’t learned how yet. This has the benefit of being very empowering for people who may have written themselves off for supernatural ministry for lack of a specific gifting or experience. The thread of the church which has approached equipping through primarily this approach is John Wimber and the Vineyard churches. Cast in this light, his famous, “Everybody gets to play” (shorthand for supernatural ministry is accessible to all), and the development of reproducible training around things like the five-step prayer model fit together nicely.
Perhaps activation’s strongest strength is that it is scalable in a way that neither impartation or saturation are. Once someone has learned the structured activity or model, they now should be able to turn around and help activate others. This results in a kind of exponential network-type growth that is much harder to achieve with impartation or saturation.
One of the primary weaknesses of activation is that it doesn’t tend to unlock the kind of world-changing ministries that we see through impartation. If it does, it is because there already was a powerful gift resident, just waiting to be opened up, and activation just switched on what was already present. A second weakness is that the inclusive focus of activation can tend to downplay the real role of spiritual gifts and offices.
Each of these three aspects of Holy Spirit equipping are entirely biblical and bear fruit. Each has strengths and weaknesses, and each is needed in the body of Christ. In summary:
In my experience, an environment with all three of these aspects active will be the most fruitful. While this seems rather obvious, what is less obvious is how to foster that kind of environment, because my experience is that most leaders don’t carry strengths in all three of these aspects of equipping. A person to whom God has given a ministry of impartation is likely not as skilled at the culture-building work of saturation, or the structured thinking required in activation.
Usually some portion of these aspects of equipping fits within the wheelhouse of any given leadership team, and another portion doesn’t. It is that other portion - the facets of equipping that are counterintuitive - that require the most intentionality and set the ceiling for impact in this type of ministry. My input to any given leadership team is this: take some time to rank these three in terms of the grace God has given you.Then make a plan for how you’re going to foster the ministry God has entrusted you with, and how you’re going to receive the ministry you haven’t been entrusted with. As Paul writes in Romans, it’s important for us to know the grace we do and don’t have access to ourselves:
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Romans 12:3–5
God isn’t withholding any of these facets from you, it’s just his plan for how you are to get them each is different. Some of the grace is yours to learn how to steward and foster over the course of our lives. We learn to walk in and carry a ministry over our life’s journey. In this we learn how to give. Some other grace is other’s to steward and yours to receive through connections with the body. In this way we are tied together into one body, and in this we learn to receive. Both are good, both are the heart of the Lord. With the proper understanding of these different aspects of Holy Spirit ministry, we can create powerful, accessible, scalable environments for people to grow in ability and impact in partnering with the Holy Spirit.
Putty Putman has traced a wild journey with Jesus from physicist to pastor to entrepreneur to author and speaker. His three main passions are the Holy Spirit, effective communication and journeying towards the future God has for the church and the world.
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