“When spiritual warfare becomes our primary lens, we risk getting stuck in an immature level of underdevelopment.”
Over the years I have been asked: “Pete, what is your approach to the driving out of demons in the church?”
I didn’t know much about deliverance until we planted New Life in the largely immigrant neighborhood of Corona in Queens, New York City (about 1 mile from our present location). The area was well-known for drug dealing, homelessness and poverty. We shared a narrow street with a large mosque, a thriving Jehovah’s Witness congregation and an active Santeria shop.
Within the first few months of launching, we encountered a demon screaming out and disrupting the service at the end of my sermon—not just once, but twice, and then finally, a third time. To say I was over my head is an understatement.
Nothing in seminary, InterVarsity staff or my previous church involvement had prepared me for something like this. I embarked on a crash course in deliverance. For the next two years, I took courses, read books, attended spiritual warfare conferences and learned from experts in the field. And I dedicated time each week to driving demons out of people. I learned a lot.
A few insights emerged that have shaped me, and our approach as a local church, from those early years:
1. Spiritual warfare is very real.
The reason the Son of God came was to destroy the works of the Devil (1 John 3:8). Jesus defeated the powers and principalities at the cross. And he calls us to set captives free.
2. A local church must lift up Jesus and keep him central.
We eventually realized we had gotten off our center—Jesus—and were paying too much attention to the Evil One. When spiritual warfare became our primary lens for the Christian life, we risked getting stuck in an immature level of underdevelopment. No one approach—especially one as powerful as spiritual warfare—can capture the biblical richness, complexity and nuances of following Jesus.
3. No power encounter can substitute for the hard work of discipleship every believer must do.
Jesus summarizes this in Matthew 12:43-45:
When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, “I will return to the house I left.” When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.
I was greatly helped by John Wimber and his practical application of George Elton Ladd’s work on the “already/not yet” nature of the kingdom of God. He reminded us that, even if you take the direct approach to drive out demons first, the hard work of discipleship remains. Their house must be filled up with Jesus. If you don’t (and we didn’t in those early years), people will not mature or grow. We saw this reality with our own eyes.
Our focus at New Life returned to Jesus and calling people to a deep walk with him. The radical discipleship paradigm of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality—with the call to slow down, to let Jesus into the shadowy, closed rooms in our lives and learning new skills to love well—functions as a form of deliverance. People’s inner lives get so filled with Jesus that there is little space for evil to roam.
Do we occasionally engage in direct deliverance with people? Yes, but we remain profoundly aware that it is only a small part of a much larger call to fill up their lives with the person of Jesus.
Pete Scazzero is the founder of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York, and the author of two best-selling books: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and The Emotionally Healthy Church. This story was originally posted on Scazzero’s blog at EmotionallyHealthy.org.