I also see a number of weaknesses in some of the Pentecostal movement. Obviously, not all of these weaknesses are limited to Pentecostals nor do all Pentecostal churches necessarily exhibit them.
1. Extreme Prosperity Teaching. Many Pentecostal churches have embraced the prosperity gospel which promises riches for those who love and obey God. One of the main problems with this teaching is the ‘give to get’ mentality which is so opposite to the nature of God. He loves and he gives unconditionally – with no strings attached. If we choose to give to God or to the poor in order to gain our own personal prosperity, something is wrong with our motives.
I believe that we should live generous lives, giving to the work of God and to those in need – simply because we love God and we love people. We should not give in order to get back for ourselves. Yes, there is often a by-product of personal blessing that comes with generosity but that should not be our motive or our goal.
If you define ‘prosperity’ as ‘having your own needs (not ‘greeds’) met and enough extra to give away,’ then I believe that it is God's will for everyone. We should all work towards that. However, there are much more important things than money and possessions. The kingdom of God has a different value system. It is made up of love, peace, and joy … and these things are found in the Holy Spirit, not in material possessions. In fact, Paul tells us that the love of money is at the root of all evil (not money itself, but the love of it). The issue isn't whether we have stuff but whether our stuff has a hold on us. Of course, poverty is not better or more spiritual than prosperity. There is nothing pretty or desirable about poverty. That's why so many people are working around the globe today to make poverty history.
2. Autocratic Leadership Style. Some Pentecostal pastors, due to the honor and the freedom given to them, can develop an authoritarian and hierarchical leadership style. Although it is without doubt that strong leadership ability is a key factor in the growth and effectiveness of many Pentecostal congregations, sometimes this can also lead to a lack of appropriate accountability. Governance structures tend to be more relational than formal, and boards and teams of elders are usually led by senior ministers who see the board or eldership as their team and as working for them. Some even have staff and family members as board members, potentially blurring the accountability lines and not providing adequate separation between proposal creation and proposal review. In addition, if Pentecostal pastors see themselves as above criticism and see people who question various matters as rebellious, then dysfunction usually develops and there is an eventual drift out of the church of hurt and disillusioned people. When authority is abused, much damage can be done.
I believe that it is essential to embrace a servant and empowering leadership style. Appropriate accountability at all levels of leadership is also very important and should influence the way leadership and governance policies and practices are shaped. There needs to be a culture of openness to feedback and constructive criticism in church communities. Also, team ministry should be taught and practiced.
3. Shallow Bible Teaching. In the early days of Pentecostalism, academic or theological training often was frowned upon. Seminaries were seen as “cemeteries” due to their lack of emphasis on the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit. Even today, many Pentecostal pastors do not have more than a basic theological training. Unfortunately, this can lead to sermons that are high on inspiration but low on biblical content. Teaching can tend to be somewhat shallow and at times allegorical. Also, 'proof texting' is a common occurrence.
I believe that there needs to be a good balance between the Spirit and the Word. We need both the passion and energy of the Spirit and the safety and security of the Scriptures. We also should be committed to ensuring that teaching team members are well-trained in interpreting the original meaning of the Scriptures and then applying them appropriately to our contemporary context.
4. Elevation of Personal Experience. Some Pentecostal churches and preachers rely heavily on personal revelation (“God told me …”). Personally, I believe that no personalexperience orrevelation is to be taken as more important or authoritative than the inspired Scriptures. All of these subjective matters need to be tested by the Word of God and considered in the light of how God has moved in and among his people throughout church history.
5. Elevation of Charisma over Character. Some Pentecostal churches are overly enamoured with charismatic personalities and spectacular spiritual gifts. I believe that all gifts are given for the purpose of serving for the benefit of the wider church and that the foundation of all ministry is to be a person’s character. Jesus said that we should test ministry by the fruit of their life not by the gifts or talents they exhibit.
6. An Unhealthy Elevation of Speaking in Tongues (or spiritual language). Some Pentecostal churches elevate speaking in tongues to such a level that those who have not experienced this gift are made to feel like second-class Christians. Other groups go to an even further extreme by saying that a person is not saved unless they speak in tongues. I believe that all Christians receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit at conversion. Subsequent to this, I think that we should encourage all believers to ask for the baptism or infilling of the Spirit accompanied by a spiritual language, as I see this as an important aspect of the Christian life. However, we should not seek to pressure people nor look down on those who have not had this experience. I also believe that in church gatherings where unbelievers are present, appropriate discretion needs to be used in the public exercise of speaking in tongues (see 1 Cor.14:22-25).
7. An Instantaneous ‘Zap’ Mentality. Many Pentecostal churches place a strong emphasison church meetings and on receiving a special touch from the Holy Spirit. I too believe in the importance of church gatherings and the special things God can do when we gather together. However, I believe that God’s presence is with us all the time and that we shouldn't buy into a separation of the sacred and secular. God is interested in all of our lives. I also believe in the change that can occur when a person encounters God in a powerful way (an ‘encounter’) but I acknowledge that even this is part of a continual process of change and growth that occurs throughout all of life.
8. End Time Hysteria. Some sections of the Pentecostal church go to extremes when it comes to end time teaching, emphasising the imminent return of Christ and getting ready for the rapture. I believe that all followers of Christ should live in such a way that they are always ready for his return but also with the wisdom and foresight that Jesus may not come back in our generation. We are to occupy, or be busy, until Jesus returns. This includes being about the work of the kingdom, which includes matters such as creation care and social justice.
9. Faith Healing. Some Pentecostal churches teach that all people should be healed and when healing does not take place it is an indication of sin or lack of faith in the life of the sick person. This heretical teaching can cause great damage in people’s lives. I believe that God does heal today and we pray for people to be healed. However, we recognise that sometimes people aren’t healed. This does not mean that a person lacks faith or has sin in their life. We live in a fallen world and we are caught between the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’ of the kingdom of God. Sin, sickness, and death were conquered by Christ but not yet do we see them eradicated from the world. We all await his return when the kingdom will come in its fullness and there will be no more crying, pain or death. Until then, we live in faith but we also recognise the reality of suffering in this present world, knowing that God’s grace and comfort are more than enough for us.
10. Extreme Focus on the Demonic. Some sectors ofthe Pentecostal churchhavea strong emphasis on the devil, demons, deliverance, and spiritual warfare. Without wanting to neglect an appropriate awareness of the spiritual battle that we are in, I think churches should seek to adopt a more balanced approach where the major focus is on glorifying God, living in the Spirit, doing good, and spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.
These observations about the strengths and weakness of Pentecostalism are generalizations. However, they do have a common occurrence within the broader Pentecostal movements of churches. I think that more and more Pentecostal church should more intentionally maximizing the strengths while seeking to avoid the weaknesses of this movement.