“John answered, saying to all, ‘I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’”[1]John the Baptizer speaking of Jesus

“We believe that there is an experience of the empowering of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer that is distinct and separate from the indwelling of the Spirit that takes place at conversion.”[2] – Chuck Smith

“The baptism with the Spirit was not optional for the apostles nor should it be for us.  Jesus had commissioned them to go into all the world with the gospel, but commanded them to wait in Jerusalem until they were endued with power from heaven.  Jesus saw this as absolutely essential to fulfilling their calling.  And I believe it is essential for us in the twenty-first century as well.  The Lord wants to empower us for ministry.”[3]Brian Brodersen

Discerning whether or not Jesus has called you to church planting is essential if you’re thinking about becoming a church planter.  There is more to have than a clear sense of calling though before you step out into the adventure of church planting.  The mission of church planting is a spiritual offensive on the kingdom of darkness.  You come against powers beyond yourself on the mission field.  That reality makes it necessary for the church planter to access a power beyond himself that is even greater than that of the kingdom of darkness if he wants to survive the mission.  He needs the very power of God through the reception of the baptism with the Holy Spirit (or Spirit-filling if you like).  Only then will he even be able to begin to be truly effective in the mission of Jesus.


The Personal War

Jesus conveyed this message to me in a very interesting way shortly after I arrived with my family in Utah to plant Refuge Church.  Early on in the life of the church I began to experience intense opposition.  I went through a season where I dealt with a lot of physical affliction.  I came down with swine flu, shingles, successive intense and unusual chest colds, culminating with an episode of stomach flu which left me puking my guts out all day, every day, for a week.

The physical pressure I was under at that time gave way to spiritual pressure.  As things intensified bit-by-bit the enemy began to tempt me to doubt God’s call and favor on our lives as we endeavored to start a new church in enemy territory.  I was getting really frustrated and insecure in some ways.  In the heat of all this, the Lord gave me what I now know was my first truly prophetic dream.   In the dream my wife Jen and I came to a large open field that was over-run with people participating in demonic worship.  They were dancing in worship in an absolutely chaotic frenzy.  There was an intense sense of darkness in the atmosphere around us.  It was freaky!

As the dream shifted gears, suddenly Jen and I were standing before a fence overlooking the field where we had before witnessed the satanic gathering.  Now it was broad daylight and we could see the narrow cliffs lining both sides of the field stretching far out into the horizon.  Jen and I were passionately praying over the field.  We were crying out to God to take that land from the power and kingdom of darkness and possess it for the kingdom of Jesus Christ.  We prayed for Him to use us as He took the enemy’s territory for Jesus!

And then it came.  As we prayed a giant and seriously intimidating red horse emerged from the field.  The horse came charging out of the field through an open gate a few yards from where we were praying.  I braced myself as the horse reared up to trample me down and kill me.  Then perhaps the craziest thing happened; As the beast lifted up to stomp me, I grabbed it’s front legs and twisted them until the horse was forced to the ground in submission.  After it was defeated the horse vanished and we were safe.  At that moment I woke up feeling really spiritually affected as I’m sure you can imagine.

As I prayed over the vision during the next few days the Holy Spirit granted the interpretation of the dream to us.  He reminded us that the picture of a field is often symbolic in the Bible of places in the world where He intends to bring His Kingdom.[4]  He showed me that in my dream the field represented Utah, the place He had called us to be some of the instruments through which He would bring His Kingdom.  In the dream He was confirming to us that as we work and pray for the coming of the kingdom of Christ in Utah, we would experience opposition that was too great for us to overcome on our own.  The opposition we would face as we served Jesus in Utah was represented by the horse coming out of the field to stop us as we prayed.  The ending of the dream in which I twisted the horse’s arms until it was forced into submission was a word of encouragement.  It was a declaration that even though the opposition would be great, we would ultimately overcome it through a power greater than our own, the power of God the Holy Spirit!  Even in the dream I was amazed that I was overpowering this fierce animal, and knew that something had to be working with me to accomplish this.  It was the power of God.

Where the Power’s at

The word of God given to the prophet Zechariah summarizes what the Lord was telling me through that dream in regard to what would make us successful as we fought on the front lines in spiritual battle as church planters.  Our ability to be successful and push back the gates of hell in Utah would come, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts.”[5]

We’ve made relying on the leading and power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish the mission of Jesus through Refuge Church our relentless pursuit from the first moments we sensed Jesus was calling us to plant.  The Lord was reminding us through this dream to continue on in that mindset as we served Him in Utah.  As we’ve sought to obey Him in this we’ve seen the Holy Spirit continue to move through our local assembly of believers in powerful and undeniable ways.  It’s so exciting to watch the Spirit of God work through the people of God, for the glory of the Son of God, Jesus Christ!


The Need

Jesus spoke of the need for His missionaries to access the power of the Holy Spirit for their mission as much as anyone else did in the New Testament.  Consider a couple texts and their implications for the call to missionary church planting:


“And being assembled together with them He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, ‘Which,’ He said, ‘you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now…you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’”[6]


These verses describe the last interaction that Jesus had with the apostles before He ascended into heaven.  This is what He wanted to leave fresh in their minds as He was sending them out into the world to continue the ministry He had started during His time on earth.  They were about to go preaching the gospel, discipling believers, healing the hurting, and church planting as the kingdom came on earth.  They were to start in Jerusalem and not stop until Jesus had a witness in every nation, even to the ends of the earth.  But they were to attempt none of this until they received the empowerment of the Holy Spirit!  Without the Holy Spirit leading and empowering every aspect of their missionary lives they would be absolutely helpless to successfully accomplish the work to which Jesus had called them.

Luke records the concern Jesus had that his men understand their need for Holy Spirit empowerment at the end of the gospel He wrote as well:

“Then He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  And you are witnesses of these things.  Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”[7]

The importance of experiencing the empowerment of the Holy Spirit for the work of church planting is clearly something that Jesus wants us to thoroughly understand.  If we think that we can be clever enough, cool enough, strong enough, strategic enough, or inspiring enough to bring people from spiritual death to life and beat back the gates of hell, we are at best naïve, biblically uniformed, prideful, and far from the heart of Jesus.  The work of God requires the power of God.  It is that simple.

As we venture out to the front lines where the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light meet in battle, which is exactly what we do when we enter into the work of church planting, we must consciously, prayerfully, dependently, and daily receive and rely on the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to make our mission fruitful.  If you don’t believe that, or aren’t prepared to walk in the power of the Spirit by God’s grace, DON’T PLANT A CHURCH!

Horses Vs Tanks

          I once heard a story of a cavalry unit that charged into battle against an armored tank division.  The cavalry unit was the last resort of defense for a country not as advanced militaristically as their invaders.  I’m sure it goes without saying that the cavalry unit was utterly destroyed!  Why? They didn’t have the adequate fire-power or equipment to even come close to overpowering the enemy they faced.  I would submit to you based on the words of Jesus Christ that if we try to be victorious in church planting over the opposition we face in the demonic realm without relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, we are a billion times more foolish, and will be far more fruitless than that cavalry unit ended up being as they challenged that armored tank division.  In the words of brilliant theologian, captain Kirk: “We just-don’t-have-the power![8]

Ten days after Jesus ascended back into heaven from where He came, the disciples did in fact experience the promised empowerment of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.  As they prayed in the upper room the Holy Spirit came upon them in power.  He manifested His power through them first by enabling them to worship God in languages unknown to them,[9] and later through the powerful preaching[10] of the gospel through which 3,000 people became born again.[11]  Since that time, all followers of the biblical Jesus have access to the empowerment and various gifts of the Holy Spirit[12] which He distributes according to His will as we seek and desire them.[13]

Summary and Exhortation

As believers, pastors, elders, and church planters, the empowerment of the Holy Spirit is an absolute must in our lives!  If you’re not seeking the power, don’t attempt the work.  If you want to experience the daily empowering of the Holy Spirit all you need to do is continually meet with Jesus in the word of God,[14] pray over the mission you’ve received from Jesus,[15] and ask to receive a fresh work of the Spirit in your life from the Father. [16]  It’s a gift.  We don’t have to beg for it; just receive it.  May we not have dead words!  May we have powerful biblical messages to share as we preach the Bible to the church and the gospel to the world because we depend upon the power of the Holy Spirit alone for our success, just like Jesus[17] and Paul did![18]

[1] Luke 3:16 NKJV

[2] Smith, Chuck. Calvary Chapel Distinctives. Page 31.

[3] Brodersen, Brian. Essentials in Ministry. Page 27.

[4] Matthew 13:38-44

[5] Zechariah 4:6

[6] Acts 1:4-5 & 8 NKJV

[7] Luke 24:46-49 NKJV

[8] Random Numerous Star Trek Episodes, Captain Kirk

[9] Acts 2:1-4

[10] Acts 2:14-39

[11] Acts 2:41

[12] Acts 2:39

[13] 1 Corinthians 12:11 & 14:1; Ephesians 5:17-18

[14] Colossians 3:16

[15] Acts 4:31

[16] Luke 11:9-13; 1 Corinthians 14:1; Acts 9:17

[17] Luke 4:1

[18] 1 Corinthians 2:4-5

Note- The above excerpt is taken from the book “The Spirit-led Mission” by Kellen Criswell

10 replies
  1. Brian Sauvé
    Brian Sauvé says:

    Thanks Pastor Kellen! Footnote number 8 is awesome 🙂

    The prophetic dream God gave you has proved extremely accurate. God is using you to bring His Spirit, His power, and His Gospel into a dark and demonic culture. The church is praying for you. Thanks for your faithfulness.

  2. Darren Colwell
    Darren Colwell says:

    Thanks Kellen. What a great reminder to constantly seek God in his word and prayer and ask for his power – the very power of God himself! I know I constant fall back into thinking it all depends on me. Thanks again for the reminder.

    It’s also pretty cool to see God bringing that dream true before our eyes. May He continue to beat hell to death in Ogden.

    • Kellen Criswell
      Kellen Criswell says:

      Absolutely, Darren. You’re a witness to the truth of that dream, huh? I remember sharing it with you back then. God is faithful to do what He promises. There’s been a few times that the Holy Spirit has brought me back to that prophecy to inspire confidence when I’ve been hitting discouragement for various reasons. I’m really glad the Spirit is Personal. 😉

  3. Jeremy Bair
    Jeremy Bair says:

    Great Post man! I gotta call you out on your star trek quote though. I think it was Scotty that said that, with his great Irish accent! Not that I ever watched star trek or anything 🙂 Seriously though, what a great reminder to constantly be relying on the Spirit of the Living God.

    • Kellen Criswell
      Kellen Criswell says:

      Haha. So two things just happened: 1. I was reminded again that I’m not perfect. 2. You’ve been revealed to be a true Star Trek nerd as my father was. I don’t know how I missed Scotty on that one. 🙂

      Anyway, I’m glad it was encouraging for you, Jeremy. You’ve been such a huge part of this. God has reminded me a couple times through you that we need to stay in the simplicity of what’s expressed in this article in the process of planting our church. I’m blessed to have you as a friend and pastor in my life.

  4. George Lim
    George Lim says:

    Awesome article…something I definitely needed to hear. Just as I am finishing up the article and thinking to myself “wow, how much am I not operating in the Spirit” and feeling a sense of overwhelming “stress”, I read ” It’s a gift. We don’t have to beg for it; just receive it.” That was powerful..thank you!

    • Kellen Criswell
      Kellen Criswell says:

      Hey George! I’m really glad I didn’t leave you depressed! That was totally not the goal. I’m blessed by the power of the Spirit being a gift of grace as well. If it wasn’t, it is certainly far too valuable for me to be able to ever afford it. Our God is awesome and lavish with His love and gifts!

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