Login / Signup

Free Access

The Power Of God

The Alpha course raises strong emotions, not least amongst clergy. Alpha is a course on basic Christianity, designed for non-believers and devised by Holy Trinity Church in Brompton, London. It started in a small way back in the seventies and eighties, but when a young curate, the Revd. Nicky Gumbel, joined the staff of Holy Trinity, he revamped the course and it took off in a big way.

It's now a large, world-wide concern, commercially viable and spread around the world by video cassettes of Nicky Gumbel's lectures, together with handbooks for students, handbooks for leaders, and a host of supporting books, many of them written by Nicky Gumbel. It has also spawned supplementary courses, like a marriage course, a course on prayer, Youth Alpha, and a post-Alpha follow-up course.

The basic Alpha course takes place in local churches, in pubs, in people's homes, or anywhere that people gather together.

Each evening of the course starts with a good meal accompanied by wine (if desired), all of which is provided free of charge. No grace is said prior to the meal, and the conversation is deliberately kept away from religion. After the meal, people watch a video in the series. Then, on the first introductory evening (where the video talk is: "Christianity - boring, untrue and irrelevant?”) people are invited to return the following week to continue the ten-week course if they wish to do so. There's no hard sell, and no manipulation; people merely receive an invitation to return if they wish to do so.

Each subsequent meeting follows a similar pattern, starting with a meal and going on to a video, but then followed by about three quarters of an hour for discussion after the video. The discussion is very open, and doesn't necessarily stick to the topics raised in the video, since the video is regarded more as a starting point than a finishing point.

Members of the group set the agenda for the discussion and are encouraged to say what they really think and feel about God and religion. And since most of them are non-churchgoers, this can lead to some fascinating discussions.

Alpha has enjoyed phenomenal success in churches both large and small. At Holy Trinity Brompton, something like 500 or more people sit down to the meal each week, and almost all continue the whole course. Many become Christians as a result of the course, and many come back on the next course as helpers, and eventually become leaders. Even in smaller churches and less populated areas (like ours), Alpha has been enthusiastically received by those who have ventured on to it.

Since this all sounds like very good news indeed for the Church, you may wonder how anyone could possibly oppose it, but it is strongly opposed by some church people and also by considerable numbers of clergy.

Perhaps the reason for this is the word "enthusiastic". Alpha is an evangelical course, and although I've found it open and gentle with no hard sell or manipulation, I've also seen it produce enthusiastic Christians. This is wonderful and very exciting to see, but I worry a little that these new Christians perhaps tend to settle rather firmly on a very black-and-white form of Christianity, which in my own experience is far from being the whole truth. However, it's not a bad starting point, and as long as I remember that Alpha is only an introductory course which needs to be followed up by offering people broader and wider visions of Christian truth, I'm sold on Alpha.

One thing that's very noticeable in Alpha but which is often less noticeable in the Church as a whole, is the power of the Holy Spirit. Again, this sometimes leads to angst among those church members who practise and prefer a more sober form of Christianity.

The Holy Spirit weekend is the central pivot of Alpha. It's a whole weekend (or in our case, just a day) when the Holy Spirit is specifically invited into the lives of the participants, if they wish to take that step. Again, no pressure is put on anybody, but the results are amazing. Many people experience a real change in their lives and their perception of God. God becomes real to them, often for the first time. Instead of being remote and historical, they find they're not only able to talk to God, but also receive replies from God, and this almost blows them off their feet. They "feel" God's presence, and it's very close and real and warm and loving. And the power of that presence of the God within enables extraordinary changes in people's lives. God's very real power enables marriages to be saved, alcoholism to disappear, sexual or any other form of immorality to be discarded, healing to occur, and eternal life to be experienced.

This can be scary stuff, and can produce unexpected physical manifestations such as speaking in tongues. The weekend needs to be handled carefully by the leaders so that nobody goes away frightened and nobody goes away feeling inadequate if they themselves haven't experienced anything odd or haven't felt God's presence.

I confess to being a convert to Alpha. In the beginning I was very uncertain about it, and both sceptical and anxious about the Holy Spirit weekend, but discovered that my worry was needless. Like the Thessalonians, the "..gospel came to us not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction."

Instead of being simply an academic discipline or a barely remembered childhood habit, Christianity became real for our people and full of power, and it was a privilege to share in that time. And whatever we may think about Alpha or any other course, unless Christianity is real and people can make a genuine two-way relationship with God, the Church will continue to empty. These days, few people attend Church because it's the thing to do. People only attend if it's worthwhile. And it only becomes worthwhile if they know they are contacting, or being contacted by, a living God who has power to act in their lives.

The Thessalonians were a model to all the believers in the surrounding area. Their work was produced by faith, their labor prompted by love, and their endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. And they also became imitators of Paul and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering and they welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. The Lord's message rang out from them not only in Macedonia and Achaia--their faith in God had become known everywhere. They turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and Jesus, whom he raised from the dead.

No wonder Paul's opening remarks in his letter to them are so warm and encouraging. If all our churches were like the church in Thessalonica, our churches would be full to overflowing and we'd have no financial worries at all. So let's not be afraid of God's power, or of the ways in which it might be manifested, for only God can bring our own generation back to himself. And God knows the best way of doing that. Perhaps it was God himself who sent Alpha to us!
In addition to the lectionary resources there are thousands of non-lectionary, scripture based resources...
Signup for FREE!
(No credit card needed.)
Easter 6
30 – Sermons
110+ – Illustrations / Stories
26 – Children's Sermons / Resources
20 – Worship Resources
25 – Commentary / Exegesis
4 – Pastor's Devotions
and more...
25 – Sermons
160+ – Illustrations / Stories
22 – Children's Sermons / Resources
18 – Worship Resources
23 – Commentary / Exegesis
4 – Pastor's Devotions
and more...
Easter 7
30 – Sermons
160+ – Illustrations / Stories
27 – Children's Sermons / Resources
25 – Worship Resources
27 – Commentary / Exegesis
4 – Pastor's Devotions
and more...
29 – Sermons
140+ – Illustrations / Stories
27 – Children's Sermons / Resources
28 – Worship Resources
32 – Commentary / Exegesis
4 – Pastor's Devotions
and more...
Trinity Sunday
27 – Sermons
140+ – Illustrations / Stories
29 – Children's Sermons / Resources
29 – Worship Resources
30 – Commentary / Exegesis
4 – Pastor's Devotions
and more...
Plus thousands of non-lectionary, scripture based resources...
Signup for FREE!
(No credit card needed.)

New & Featured This Week

The Immediate Word

Mary Austin
Katy Stenta
Dean Feldmeyer
Thomas Willadsen
Bethany Peerbolte
George Reed
Christopher Keating
God’s people never get good at waiting.

Our Christian calendar has two whole seasons dedicated to preparation, aka waiting, and we never quite mange to do it gracefully. Apparently, our ancestors in faith had the same problem. “Are we there yet?” the early disciples keep asking Jesus, when he promises them the gift of the Holy Spirit. We don’t typically think of the Easter season as a period of waiting, and yet the early disciples spent 50 days waiting for the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Nothing can happen until it arrives.

Emphasis Preaching Journal

Mark Ellingsen
Frank Ramirez
Bonnie Bates
Bill Thomas
Acts 2:1-21
A focus on the Holy Spirit in the lesson is nicely explained in a sermon by Martin Luther. He proclaims that “the Holy Spirit, the real teacher, comes and gives power to the word so that it takes hold” (Weimar Ausgabe, Vol.17 II, p.460 [translation mine]).  Elsewhere he adds:
Wayne Brouwer
Schuyler Rhodes
Note: This installment was originally published in 2009.

An ancient Jewish writing declares, "Pentecost is the day on which Torah was given." According to the teaching, it was on the day that eventually became the feast of Pentecost that God gave birth to the Hebrew nation by speaking the divine covenant to them at Mount Sinai.

As the book of Acts makes clear, Pentecost was also the day on which the New Testament church was born. Just as God spoke through Moses to bring the nation of


John E. Sumwalt
Frank Ramirez
“The Billy Graham Test” by John Sumwalt
“Correctly Hearing Each Other” by Frank Ramirez

The Billy Graham Test
by John Sumwalt
Romans 8:22-27

And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (v. 26)

The Village Shepherd

Call to Worship:

On this, the birthday of the Christian Church, let us welcome God's Holy Spirit into our hearts and into the heart of our Church.

Invitation to Confession:

Holy Spirit, sometimes our hearts are cold or luke-warm.
Lord, have mercy.

Holy Spirit, sometimes we fail to believe that you still have power in human lives.
Christ, have mercy.


Richard A. Jensen
Over at last. That's the only thought she could think about just now. Over at last. The funeral finished. The committal service completed. She was home now and weary; bone weary. Her husband, Carl, was safely tucked into the grave. How had she ever endured the year of his agony?
Schuyler Rhodes
In Christian tradition, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit as a partner on the journey (John 14:16; 15:26; 16:7), an advocate who will accompany us on our journey toward faithfulness. We hear the Pentecost story and delight in the dancing tongues of fire as they descend and create something new in their wake.
Michael D. Wuchter
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.

William J. Carl, III
What a way to start a church! It's certainly not the typical format for new church development. Where is the planning committee, the fund-raising, the arm twisting, the real estate deal acquiring the land, the faithful few who volunteer from other churches to give the whole thing its initial push? Not everyone has the personality to start a church from scratch, but Paul did. "I planted, Apollos watered," says Paul (1 Corinthians 3:6). Some preachers are just good at planting churches and getting them started.

Special Occasion