From brainstorm to book deal—a pastor’s first-person journey to ‘getting published.’
When I was in seminary I had two dreams. One dream was planting a church and seeing it grow from the ground up. I've been living that dream for the past 10 years serving as lead pastor of National Community Church (NCC) in Washington, D.C. But the other dream gathered dust for more than a decade.
I feel as called to write as I do to pastor, but my writing dream took a lot longer to fulfill. In fact, there were moments when I wished God hadn't even given me the passion to write because the dream was like a pebble in my shoe, a constant source of irritation and frustration. The longer I went without turning that dream into reality, the longer the shadow it cast on the rest of my life.
Then in 2002 I took one small step in the "write" direction. I started turning my weekend messages into an Evotional that I sent out via e-mail to subscribers. That weekly exercise forced the writing habit. And it proved to be an important part of my digital ministry. Exponentially more people read my Evotionals than listen to my messages.
The next step in my writing journey was self-publishing my first book, ID: The True You, with Xulon Press (xulonpress.com). The driving motivation was proving to myself that I could actually write a book. I self-imposed a deadline, invested $1,500 into the project and the book was released in November of 2004.
I wish I could tell you that ID was a New York Times bestseller. It wasn't. In fact, it sold 57 copies its first month in print. My first royalty check was a whopping $110.43.
Let's just say that I didn't start making early retirement plans!
Shortly after ID was listed on Amazon.com, I decided to get a little more proactive in pursuing my writing dream. I started working on another manuscript that I titled In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day. I started praying for favor with publishers. I e-mailed my friend Brian McLaren and asked if we could grab lunch.
Brian is the author of several paradigm-shifting books including A New Kind of Christian. I asked him a thousand questions about publishing, and he was patient enough to answer all of them. Then he went the extra mile and introduced me to an author agent named John Eames. John and I had several conversations. He liked my writing style. I liked his experience and expertise within the publishing industry. And I signed John as my agent.
After helping me craft a book proposal, John began shopping it to seven publishers that he thought would be a good fit. Several publishers expressed interest, but a five-hour meeting with Kevin Marks and David Koop from Multnomah Publishers sealed the deal.
One thing they said impressed me: They said they weren't looking for an author. They were looking for a relationship. I felt like they "got me" and I "got them." And I respected their team of authors that included the likes of Andy Stanley, Louie Giglio and Bruce Wilkinson. After three months of conversational negotiating, I signed a deal to write four books over a two-year span.
As I look in the rearview mirror, I have several observations about my writing journey. I can see the way God answered my prayers for favor. I can see how perseverance eventually pays off. But the thing I marvel at the most are the supernatural synchronicities.
God is in the business of making sure we meet the right people at the right time. My book deal was the byproduct of divine networking and divine timing. And if God has called you to write, then He'll open the right doors at the right time.
I'm not going to lie. Writing, editing and marketing a book is hard work. It involves a lot of early mornings and late nights. And it won't simplify your life. But the last time I checked, the reward for good work in the parable of the talents wasn't an early retirement or extended vacation. The reward for good work was more work.
If you're not called to write then don't write. But if you are called to write, then you need to develop a writing discipline. And pastors have a distinct advantage. You're already writing a sermon every week. And with a little tweaking, you can convert that message into a chapter of a book. For what it's worth, my mentor in ministry, Dick Foth, once told me that the average pastor of a church with three weekly services preaches the equivalent of nine novels every year!
Writing will not only expand your sphere of influence, but the primary beneficiary will be your congregation. Writing books will help you preach better sermons. Your books will become discipleship resources for small groups and sermon series. And I even view my books as 200-page evangelism tracts. They are one way I share my faith with neighbors, unchurched friends and people sitting next to me on airplanes. I have no idea what my writing future holds. I hope In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day sells more than 57 copies its first month, but I can't control how many books I sell. Only God knows what will happen when the book is released on October 2. All I can do is write like it depends on me and pray like it depends on God.
Here are seven writing tips for aspiring authors that I picked up along the way:
Write for intrinsic reasons. If you write for the wrong reasons your dream will short-circuit. I often ask rookie authors if they are willing to write a book even if it doesn't sell one copy. That is the litmus test because it reveals whether they are writing for extrinsic reasons or intrinsic reasons.
Writing for intrinsic reasons is like singing in the shower. You write, first and foremost, because you love to write. In fact, you can't not write because you feel called to write. Every author who believes in what they write wants to sell as many books as possible, but that can't be the driving motivation. Don't write because you want people to read. Write because you've got something you have to say.
Find a writing rhythm. Half of writing is rhyme. The other half is rhythm. My peak writing hours are 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. In fact, I get more accomplished before my official workday starts than I do the rest of the day. I hit a point of diminishing return around noon. My mind is too cluttered to write straight. I also find that sometimes I need to walk away from whatever I'm writing for 24 hours to regain my perspective.
Keep reading. Writers are readers. I read approximately 150 books per year. Granted, I have an unfair advantage as a preacher, because I slot about 25 hours of study time per week. But I've also learned to be a good steward of my time. I have a book with me wherever I go. And the truth is that everybody could read at least one book a month if they simply kept a book in their bathroom.
Find your voice. Writing a book is baring your soul. You feel intellectually and spiritually vulnerable. Writing forces you to come to terms with who you are and who you aren't. Unfortunately, many authors hide behind their words. You don't feel like you know them any better at the end of the book than you did at the beginning. I try to write as if I'm having a conversation with someone over coffee. Keep it real. Keep it personal. Don't just share your thoughts. Share your life.
C.S. Lewis said that every life consists of a few themes. Finding your voice is giving expression to those themes—your core convictions and core passions. Write about the things you're passionate about. And dare to be different. Don't be afraid to express your personality and originality in what you write.
Know your writing strengths. Writers need editors because all of us have blind spots. A good editor understands an author's weakness and complements an author's strengths. I know my strength is saying old things in new ways. I juxtapose truth in creative ways. I'm insatiably interested in everything, so I import knowledge from a variety of disciplines—everything from physics to business to philosophy to neurology—to add density and variety to my writing.
I'm good at conceptualizing truth in creative ways, but my weakness is application. And I recognize that in my own writing and preaching. I'm a 30,000-foot thinker. I tend to fly circles around the airport, so I need editors who help me come in for a practical landing.
Tie off the umbilical cord. I'm a perfectionist by nature. I will keep revising a manuscript 'til kingdom come if I don't have a deadline, but at some point you have to tie off the umbilical cord so a book can take on a life of its own.
According to Parkinson's Law, the amount of time it takes you to complete a project depends on how much time you have allotted. If you have a month, it'll take a month. If you have six months, it'll take six months. One way that I've overcome my perfectionism and procrastination is the 80-percent rule. I send my chapters to my editors when I feel like I'm 80 percent of the way there. It relieves some of the pressure I feel to make sure every chapter is perfect.
Pray like it depends on God. We have a core value at NCC: work like it depends on you, and pray like it depends on God. That is a pretty good modus operandi when it comes to writing. Writing is hard work. There is no way around it. But prayer is what helps a book come to full-term.
I actually had a prayer team that was interceding for me while I was writing In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day. The prayer team prayed for every person who would pick up the book and read it. They prayed for my editors. And they prayed that I would write exactly what God wanted me to say. Those prayers give me a sense of destiny. I can't wait to see the way God answers those prayers in the lives of readers.
Mark Batterson serves as lead pastor of National Community Church (theaterchurch.com) in Washington, D.C. He is the author of the soon-to-be-released book, In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day, and he blogs at markbat terson.com. Mark lives on Capitol Hill with his wife, Lora, and three children. read more
A groundbreaking study on U.S. megachurches shatters every myth we had about America’s 1,200 largest congregations.
In 1960 there were 16 churches in America with attendance of more than 2,000. Now, fewer than 50 years later, there are 1,210 such churches—nearly twice as many as there were five years ago.
Not only have megachurches captured the attention of the evangelical community, but they've become a force to be reckoned with in the wider culture. Their pastors provide counsel to presidents, their congregations are courted by legislators and their resources are harnessed for civic functions and during natural disasters.
In 1960 there were 16 churches in America with attendance of more than 2,000. Now, fewer than 50 years later, there are 1,210 such churches—nearly twice as many as there were five years ago.
Not only have megachurches captured the attention of the evangelical community, but they've become a force to be reckoned with in the wider culture. Their pastors provide counsel to presidents, their congregations are courted by legislators and their resources are harnessed for civic functions and during natural disasters.
In 2005, four megachurch pastors had books on The New York Times bestseller list, and one of these books (Rick Warren's The Purpose-Driven Life) has become the best-selling hardcover non-fiction book in U.S. history.
The attention these churches and their pastors generate is not entirely flattering. In an interview in the Feb. 22 edition of Australia's The Age, World Council of Churches General Secretary Samuel Kobia describes megachurches as "two miles long and one inch deep." The decision of several prominent megachurches to cancel services on Christmas day drew the ire of American evangelicals and became fodder for discussion on secular newscasts. Books from Os Guinness' 1993 Dining With the Devil to this year's Left Behind in a Megachurch World by church historian Ruth Tucker and O Shepherd, Where Art Thou? by seminary professor Calvin Miller have criticized what they see as the commercialization, materialism or shallow theology perpetuated by megachurches.
In almost schizophrenic fashion, American evangelicals have been quick to either uncritically embrace the numeric success of megachurches as a sign of spiritual renewal ... or cynically attribute it to cultural compromise. But the truth may be somewhat less obvious, as recent research would suggest.
Released February 3, Megachurches Today 2005 is a research study of more than 1,800 churches conducted by the Dallas-based Leadership Network and Hartford (Connecticut) Seminary's Institute for Religion Research (HIRR). The study follows on the heels of the 2000 Faith Communities Today study conducted by HIRR and reveals shifts in the growth patterns, geographical distribution and ministry dynamics of America's largest churches. In the course of the research, key characteristics of megachurches distilled—often corresponding with commonly-held myths surrounding the growth, leadership and activities of megachurches. Ministry Today got a sneak-peak at the study shortly before its release and had a chance to talk with the researchers behind it. Here's what we discovered:
All megachurches are alike.
There are several characteristics that most megachurches possess—well-educated pastors, youthful attendees and conservative politics, according to Megachurches Today 2005. (As expected, only two percent of megachurches describe themselves as politically "liberal.") In fact, the study notes that they often "have more in common with each other than they do with smaller churches."
However, the monolithic stereotype of the suburban, white, theologically "vanilla", newly-established megachurch may need to be adjusted. For instance, while many churches have earned the status of "mega" in recent years—giving the impression that large churches are sprouting in places where there were none to begin with—the median year that these churches were founded is 1965.
Diversity most vividly shows in the worship styles of megachurches—60 percent of which claim they have changed the style of their services "some" or "a lot" in the past five years. Increasing accessibility and openness to using technology has led to implementation of multimedia aids such as video projection, increasing from 65 percent in 2000 to 91 percent in 2005.
But nowhere is this diversity seen more than in music styles, where, in the past five years, the use of traditional instruments such as pianos and organs has declined and the use of drums, bass and electric guitars increased to 80 percent. This trend in itself is intriguing—particularly in light of the fact that the percentage of megachurches that identify themselves as charismatic or Pentecostal has declined from 25 percent in 2000 to 16 percent in 2005.
Geographically, megachurches are most prevalent in the Sunbelt, with California leading the pack as the state with the most megachurches (178), followed by Texas (157), Florida (85) and Georgia (73). With the exception of Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming, every state has at least one church with more than 2,000 members.
In spite of these apparent regional concentrations of megachurches Scott Thumma, professor of sociology of religion at Hartford Seminary, as well as a researcher on the Megachurches Today 2005 study, believes that a geographical "decentering" is occurring.
"I fully expect to see more megachurches in New England, in the midsection and up the northwest coast of the U.S.," he notes.
Megachurches are fixated on raising and spending money.
The average megachurch brings in about $6 million per year in income, with expenditures at $5.6 million. This can give the impression that megachurches spend a lot of time raising money to support burgeoning staffs, buildings and programs.
However, according to the survey, fundraising ranked lowest on a list of activities that respondents viewed as important—behind study groups, religious education, prayer, pastoral care, evangelism, music, fellowship and social service.
Perhaps one of the reasons for this lack of pressure is the relative ease with which megachurches attract volunteer labor. The study noted these churches employ an average of 20 full-time, paid leadership staff positions and nine part-time positions—in addition to 22 full-time and 15 part-time administrative support staff positions.
However, megachurches manage to engage the labors of an average of 284 volunteers, who each donate five or more hours a week to church work—a ratio of 10 attendees to one staff or volunteer.
Megachurches all meet in cavernous sanctuaries on enormous campuses.
In the age of sky-high real estate prices and building-supply costs, large churches must sometimes improvise to accommodate growth. In the Faith Communities Today 2000 study, a majority of respondents felt they had "insufficient building space for many areas of their ministries," and this trend has only become more noticeable in the past five years.
For instance, the average attendance at a megachurch in 2005 is 3,585, but the average seating capacity is only 1,400. (In fact, only five percent of megachurches have sanctuaries of 3,000 seats or more.) As a result, 97 percent of megachurches hold multiple worship services, and five percent hold nine or more each weekend.
Another way this disparity in congregation size and seating capacity is remedied is through satellite locations. At least 50 percent of megachurches use a combination of multiple venues and satellite locations to accommodate growth.
A recent book on this trend, The Multi-Site Church Revolution (by Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon and Warren Bird) predicts that 30,000 American churches will be multi-site within the next few years. The authors suggest this phenomenon is driven just as much by missiological goals as it is practical constraints and cite churches as small as 30 that have launched satellite congregations.
In a recent interview with Ministry Today, Bird (who was also one of the researchers in the Megachurches Today 2005 study) noted one of these missiological goals is more effectively reaching youth and teens.
"Many new megachurch facilities are smaller in worship capacity but proportionately bigger in their children's and youth facilities," he says. "For example, consider Christ's Church of the Valley, Peoria, Ariz. [www.ccvonline.com]. Eleven thousand worship on a typical weekend, and the sanctuary—which seats 2,800—is well-designed and wired for all kinds of media. Yet the bigger square footage and expense has gone to the facilities used for children and youth."
Megachurches exist for spectator worship and are not serious about personal devotion or theological depth.
Because of their size—and the multiple services that most offer on any given weekend—megachurches must painstakingly plan each aspect of their services for efficiency and consistency. Arguably, this level of routine could constrict the flow of authentic ministry on any given Sunday and give congregants the impression that they are merely spectators at an entertainment event.
However, 78 percent of survey respondents described their congregations as holding "strong beliefs and values," and the study noted that practices such as personal Bible study, prayer, tithing and family devotions are emphasized by the church as important aspects of the Christian faith.
Perhaps nowhere is the personal devotion of megachurch attendees more evident than in their propensity to invite friends, neighbors and family members to church with them. 58 percent of megachurches report that evangelism and recruiting is a key emphasis of their ministry. Although megachurches harness mailing lists, TV advertising, newsletters and events to draw new congregants, their most effective method is to encourage members to invite others to services.
When it comes to theology, megachurches are sometimes described as shallow in their approach—with sermons focusing on practical topics often beginning with "How to ..." rather than theological exposition. Warren Bird cautions against the universalization of this stereotype, however.
"In some camps of the seeker model this statement might be true, but the major trend in megachurches is toward life application of Bible truths," he notes. "Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill in Seattle [www.marshillchurch.org] and John Piper at Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis [www.bbcmpls.org]—and many old line denominational churches—are almost entirely theological in their teaching."
Megachurches are nondenominational.
The majority (66 percent) of megachurches are denominational in connection, although, whether because of their nondescript names or their styles of worship, many are not easily identified with these denominations. The most represented denomination is the Southern Baptist Convention, claiming 16 percent of America's megachurches.
However, Megachurches Today suggests there is a subtle shift toward megachurches being nondenominational in affiliation, noting that "megachurches founded since 1991 are more likely to be nondenominational and less likely to describe their congregation as traditional, moderate, Pentecostal or charismatic." Younger megachurches gravitate away from the use of labels in general—preferring the more general moniker of "evangelical."
Warren Bird notes several exceptions to this rule.
"New Hope Fellowship, Honolulu, pastored by Wayne Cordeiro is an exception in that their literature and Website clearly proclaims their Foursquare connection. But even they didn't put 'Foursquare' in their church name," he points out. "Charismatic and Pentecostal churches tend not to play down their denominational connection too much, although some newer ones, such as Matthew Barnett's Dream Center [www.dreamcenter.org] and Angelus Temple [www.angelustemple.org] in Los Angeles, are leaving the denominational connection out of their name."
While it is clear that some megachurches downplay their denominational affiliation (the 2000 survey showed only a third said they expressed their denominational heritage very or quite well), very few changed affiliation (three percent in the last five years) or became independent (three percent since 2000).
They predict that, although a few churches may leave their denomination in the next few years, more will either drop the denominational label in favor of a more generic name, or form a quasi-denominational network of like minded churches. Twenty-two percent of megachurches have already done so. Further pointing to this trend toward independence, 37 percent of the megachurches surveyed say they helped plant at least one new congregation in the past five years.
"We are definitely seeing a renaissance of church planting by megachurches, both locally and internationally," notes Leadership Network vice president, Dave Travis.
Megachurches grow primarily because of great programming and transfer growth from other churches.
While some would argue these congregations just happened to sprout in the right place at the right time—or even embraced some form of compromise or "secret formula" to ensure growth, researchers note that such formulas don't guarantee success:
"Almost none of the many evangelistic programs and efforts (such as advertising, creating recruitment plans, sponsoring visitor events, contacting persons new to the community or actually contacting persons after they visited the church) we tested had a strong influence on the variable growth rates of these megachurches." Instead, they cite spiritual vitality, adaptation to change, clear mission, youthfulness of the congregation and the tendency of megachurch congregants to tell others about their experiences at church. (They also noted the use of electric guitars and drums is also a factor.)
The common denominator among the fastest-growing megachurches is the extent at which members are involved in recruiting new members. 64.7 percent of those churches that experienced more than 100 percent growth in the last five years say that a lot of their members were "heavily involved."
But are these new congregants being stolen from less dominant and successful churches? Some are.
"The transfers that come from other local churches typically come from churches of all sizes, big and small," Bird notes. "When a church grows past about 400 in attendance, it often becomes what [church-growth consultant] Carl George calls a 'feeder-receptor' church. That is, whether it likes it or not, it becomes a magnet for transfer growth because it usually sports the biggest youth group around or the most 'happening' singles group around. As a result, the larger a church grows, the more intentional it has to be about reaching lost and unchurched people; otherwise the transfer-growth factor can be awkwardly high."
Travis cites reasons people will transfer to a megachurch (e.g., major life change, church strife in the previous church attended, attendance of other family members—even if one is not thrilled with the music) and reasons they never would leave to attend a megachurch (e.g., membership and active participation at the same congregation for more than 10 years, regular giving, deep affection for the fellow attendees and leaders, satisfaction with one's spiritual growth and the likelihood that your children and grandchildren would not want to attend this same congregation.)
"Most church transfers occur because people have opted out of their previous church, and no one chased after them," Travis notes. "It was dropping out and then eventually reconnecting with another church at a later time."
Additionally, dramatic growth can be connected with senior pastoral leadership: 83 percent of churches tracked their most dramatic growth during the tenure of the current senior pastor.
Perhaps less predictable is the connection between the senior pastor's education and the rate of growth. Megachurch pastors are generally more highly-educated than pastors in smaller churches. Thirty-five percent possess a D.Min. or Ph.D., and only eight percent have not completed a college degree.
However, the study noted that "as the education levels of pastors decrease, the rates of growth of these churches increase. ... It raises interesting questions about the mentoring of young pastors and the role of seminaries in producing clergy to fill these very large congregations."
"Today's culture values leaders who are proven doers more than leaders with appropriate educational credentials," Dave Travis notes. "If a pastor can preach and lead in credible ways, and is a lifelong learner, most folks don't care about titles or level of formal education."
Thumma points out this phenomenon may coincide with the prevalence of nondenominational megachurches—many of which do not have educational requirements for their pastors.
"These pastors do not have a pattern of going to seminary," he notes. "They're much more likely to become a pastor through mentoring with another megachurch pastor—their real training is at the feet of their fathers."
So, what does the future hold for America's megachurches? Experts point to an increasing interest in church planting, as well as a growing commitment to education and leadership training—particularly in the customized and resource-rich environment that a megachurch affords.
"An increasing number of megachurches are training the next generation of pastors," Bird notes, citing The Vineyard Columbus [www.vineyardcolumbus.org], a congregation that houses Vineyard Leadership Institute, a center responsible for training Vineyard pastors across the country. "Some become an extension site for a seminary, while others become their own program."
Ultimately, as Thumma notes, megachurches are a product of their times. The urbanization and customization of American culture that has provided a fertile environment for Wal-Mart and the Internet has also been a nursery for our largest churches.
"There's a tendency to think of megachurches as a unique phenomenon—a result of God's blessing or revival. This is a religious interpretation of what I see as a social phenomenon," he says. "But we should also be exploring how megachurches reflect and represent what's going on in culture and society in general."
Matthew Green is managing editor of Ministry Today. For more information on The Leadership Network, visit www.leadnet.org, and to download a copy of Megachurches Today 2005, visit Hartford Institute for Religious Research at hirr.hartsem.edu. read more
From best-selling books to mainstream movies, Americans are fascinated with the last days. But when does end-times speculation become a dangerous distraction?
The mark of the beast. Armageddon. Tribulation. Millennial reign. The white throne judgment. For the average believer, just the mention of these words and phrases evokes images from the charts, timelines, movies, books and music that have become part of the fabric of 21st-century evangelicalism.
From A Thief in the Night movies of the '70s and '80s to the more recent Left Behind book series, written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, the end- times story has come into the forefront of the imagination of the average churchgoer-and the average American.
More than 63 million copies in the aforementioned book series have been sold, with one in every eight Americans having read at least one Left Behind book. Even mainstream American entertainment has picked up on end-times terminology and culture. Movies (The Omen, The Seventh Sign, The Prophecy, The Rapture), books (The Stand, The Mask of Nostradamus) and music (“It's the End of the World As We Know It”) all borrow biblical phrases and imagery.
In fact, according to a 2001 Barna Group poll, 44 percent of American adults believed in a rapture. Those numbers fluctuated depending on church affiliation (71 percent of non-mainline Protestant organizations held to the belief while only 38 percent of mainline attendees did).
But how are theories on eschatology shifting in light of wars, natural disasters and epidemics? Is a younger generation embracing the end-times views of its forebears? And how does this renewed fascination with eschatology shape everyday ministry? Ministries Today sat down with some authors, pastors and scholars to explore what the future holds.
Eschatology is a heady topic-even for the most seasoned scholar. But, for many, their first introduction to end-time theories is prior to or immediately following conversion. In fact, one could argue that the threat of the immanent judgment of God is a useful motivation for becoming a Christian in the first place.
Truth be told, most of us have met at least one person who traces his or her conversion to reading the dire predictions of Hal Lindsey's 1970 book, The Late Great Planet Earth, or a tract created by Jack Chick. But some argue that fear tactics should not be the impetus behind evangelism.
“If our end-times talk is the good news being preached in all nations, then that will motivate us in a good way,” says Craig Keener, professor of New Testament Studies at Palmer Seminary and author of the NIV Application Commentary: Revelation. “The problem is that some people have used eschatology the way the world uses horoscopes, just to satisfy our curiosity about the future.” Paul Maier is professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University and author of More Than a Skeleton, a book that gently pokes fun at traditional dispensational eschatology and explores the possible reaction of the evangelical community if someone claiming to be Jesus suddenly appeared on earth. Maier discourages the use of eschatology for purposes of proselytizing.
“I think the core message is misplaced if we're constantly using the apocalyptic messages of the Bible for evangelical purposes,” he told Ministries Today.
Data suggest that apocalyptic events do have an impact, at least in the short term, on the public's sensitivity toward spiritual things. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Christian leaders celebrated a rise in church attendance, with Pat Robertson predicting, “one of the greatest revivals in the history of America.” The Gallup Organization chronicled a 6 percent rise in church attendance in the months following the attacks … which quickly dropped 5 percent.
Sigmund Brouwer, who co-authored the end-times themed The Last Disciple with Hank Hanegraaff, points to damage done by emotional end-times evangelism.
“Some Christians are happy to overlook false predictions made by church leaders who continuously revise the time-line of end-time prophecies,” Brouwer says.
“Again and again I hear of people who converted to Christianity a decade ago because they were told the end of the world was upon us, and who now doubt the entire Christian message because of specific failed prophecies made by church leaders.”
It doesn't help, argues Maier, when these stark visions of a wrathful God are juxtaposed with more tolerant portrayals that have recently become popular in mainstream entertainment.
“Let's say you have a seeker-someone who is now being affirmed in their unbelief by books like The Da Vinci Code,” Maier offers. “Is this person going to give any credibility to a God of the Left Behind series who zaps a Christian crew out of a plane and lets the plane crash?”
Jason Boyett is the author of the tongue-in-cheek Pocket Guide to the Apocalypse, a book aimed at helping 20-somethings understand the nuances of eschatology. Boyett argues that a pre-tribulation, rapture-focused Christianity is primarily numbers-focused in its evangelistic technique.
“It tends to place getting decisions for Christ above everything else,” he says. “The rapture can come at any moment, so the foremost duty of all Christians becomes an urgent commitment to evangelism. There is less focus on spiritual formation, discipleship, meeting the needs of the poor, being good stewards of the environment or concern about generations to come.”
But others argue that this imbalance is not a natural byproduct of a premillennial, pre-tribulation view of the end times.
“A believer on the lookout for Christ doesn't have to ignore the world,” says Greg Laurie, senior pastor of Riverside, California's, Harvest Christian Fellowship and author of the newly released Are We Living in the Last Days?
“It's been said a person could be so heavenly minded you're no earthly good, but, you can be so heavenly minded you can be earthly good,” he suggests. “If you really understand what the Scripture teaches about the imminence of the Lord's return, it isn't telling us to abandon our jobs and sit on rooftops but to be faithfully using the gifts God has given us.”
Laurie, who's been studying Bible prophecy for 30 years, says his end-times message is by far his “most responded to” message, prompting him to offer his views in the book.
“The Left Behind series opened the door to a whole new generation of people to look at what's going on in the world,” he says. “The authors would be the first to point out that they're taking certain liberties, but the core message is the same that Hal Lindsey wrote about years ago: The Lord could come back at any moment, there are signs of the times that have been fulfilled, and we need to be ready.”
Various interpretations of Scripture and prophecies have yielded several heightened moments of end-times focus. In 1988, Edgar Whisenant predicted Jesus' return during the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana in his booklet 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Is in 1988. More than 3.2 million copies of the booklet were distributed, bringing eschatological discussion into the national spotlight.
Subsequent prophecies have followed, revolving around the dawn of the 21st century and the feared Y2K computer meltdown. Even in the midst of natural disasters and global terrorism, the question could be asked: Is the church still seeing “the signs of the times”?
“A perceived uptick in catastrophic occurrences tends to set everyone's rapture-meter buzzing,” Boyett explains. “Of course, there have always been wars, famines, earthquakes, tsunamis. These days, we're infinitely more aware of them because of the Internet and the immediacy of the global media. Whether or not these things have actually increased in recent years, the perception is that they have.”
Looking for signs is yet another possible distraction for the church, says Keener, who believes some of those signs aren't as clear as believers may think.
“The things we see as signs are in Matthew 24, but it's very ironic that we're using that passage,” he says. “Jesus specifically refers to them and then says, 'You'll see these things, but the end is not yet.' In verse 14, He says, 'When the good news of the kingdom has been preached to all nations … and then the end will come.' Instead of fixing on the signs, we should be fixing on the mission. It's not to say these things aren't indications of God's working, but they're not the point that Jesus calls us to focus on.”
Jill Austin, prophetic minister and author of the Master Potter book series, does feel the signs are everywhere and should engage the church to a greater awareness of Jesus' return.
“I feel the signs of the times, the birth pains, are getting closer,” Austin states. “We are in war, we're in global shakings. The church is in a radical transition right now. Different dictators are being taken out. There are holy alliances, and we are moving into an escalation of a real shaking. Everyone knows, even in the world, that the Lord is returning soon.”
But for Austin, these signs are not an impetus toward eschatological speculation or an escape clause, but a call toward spiritual warfare.
“I feel like if you want to be a history changer, you need to have a radical God encounter,” she says. “He gives you the power to change cities and strategies. It's having this living radical encounter with your life.”
Like Austin's call to prayer, there are points of agreement prophecy scholars can reach, giving some common ground to the end-times discussion.
“I believe all Christians should believe we are living in the last days,” Maier says. “When the church loses sight of Jesus' return, it gets lazy.”
Laurie is quick to address the potential divisiveness of the issue and his hope for a healthy discourse: “I don't think we as Christians should break fellowship over our views on this topic. A healthy discussion and debate is good, but I think most evangelical believers believe Christ is coming soon.”
The timing of Christ's second coming is the main point of disagreement for many evangelicals, who hold views as divergent as premillennialism (the belief that Jesus will return before a literal 1,000-year reign) and preterism (the belief that all Bible prophecies-including those concerning the second coming-were fulfilled before A.D. 70). With such diversity, what is there to agree on?
“As Christians holding different views, we all can agree on some of the insights of each of these views,” Keener says. “Christ reigns now and helps us to make a big difference in this world. In this world we have tribulation, and we must be ready to lay down our lives for our Lord. Our glorious hope is our Lord's return, and we must live our lives in expectation of that return.”
The view of a pre-tribulation rapture of believers is one that some scholars point out is virtually still “new” and only took hold with the non-mainline Protestant churches in the 19th and 20th centuries. If the emerging church continues to examine and study its beliefs in light of Scripture and not necessarily tradition, Keener says another theological shift might be in order.
“I was taught the 'pre-trib' view, and it was probably the most decisive issue that turned me toward reading and studying Scripture,” he says. “I was told that you have to believe this because all the great men of God believed it, but then I found out a few months later, nobody in church history, Luther, Calvin, John Wesley, nobody believed in that doctrine until 1830. I can't just say this is what everybody believes. I needed to find out for myself.”
There is some indication that this tendency toward self-study is a characteristic of younger evangelicals, many of whom resist both end-times speculation and adopting any one view of eschatology.
“Fueled by postmodernism, open-mindedness and the more conversational, less dogmatic theology of the emergent church-I believe the next generation will be much less apocalyptic in tone,” Boyett argues. “Less interested in reading Revelation as a scriptural play-by-play of the last days and more concerned with understanding it in terms of its place in the culture.”
DeWayne Hamby is a contributing editor for Christian Retailing and also has written for New Man, Christian Higher Education Today and Charisma. He resides in Cleveland, Tennessee, and serves as a teacher, youth camp director and singles-ministry leader. HISTORY LESSONS
There's nothing like unfulfilled end-times predictions to teach us that no one knows the day or the hour of Christ's return.
1914 - Watchtower Society founder Charles Taze Russell predicts the end of the world.
1936 - Worldwide Church of God founder Herbert W. Armstrong predicts the “end of the age.” He later revises it to 1975.
1948 - The formation of the modern nation of Israel provokes speculation on the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and the impending return of Christ.
1949 - With the announcement that the Soviet Union had created an atomic bomb, Billy Graham suggested that Christ would return within the next two years.
1981 - According to Hal Lindsey's 1970 book, The Late, Great Planet Earth, this year was a worthy candidate for the rapture: 1948 (the establishment of Israel) plus 40 years (a generation) minus 7 years (the great tribulation) = 1981.
1982 - Pat Robertson predicts a Russian invasion of Israel, leading to Armageddon, by the end of 1982.
1985 - Lester Sumrall, in his book I Predict 1985 suggests that 1985 will usher in the Lord's return.
1988 - Edgar Whisenant, in his 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Is in 1988, predicts the second coming to occur on Rosh Hashanah in 1988.
1993 - In 1990, Benny Hinn states that the rapture would occur in 1993.
1997 - Kenneth Hagin predicts the second coming and rapture would occur in October, 1997.
2000 - Numerous leaders speculated on the significance of the turn of the millennium and the possible return of Christ in the new year.
SOURCE: Pocket Guide to the Apocalypse, by Jason Boyett (RelevantBooks) read more
From a Baltimore ghetto to Capitol Hill, Senate Chaplain Barry Black now serves as pastor to 100 of America's most powerful elected officials.
He's paid with your tax dollars and authorized by the Constitution to serve as a spiritual adviser to the members of the United States Senate. From his office in the north side of the Capitol building, Senate Chaplain Barry Black composes opening prayers for each day's Senate proceedings, prepares five Bible studies a week, and meets with politicians of every stripe to council them on ethics, marriage, spirituality … and their relationship with their most important Constituent: God.
The first African American, the first military chaplain and the first Seventh-day Adventist to serve in his position, Black is well aware of the uniqueness of his role. But he's more convinced than ever that it is God-not the Constitution-that has created a place for him in Washington, D.C.
While she was pregnant with Barry, his mother was baptized and asked God for a special anointing on her unborn child. The results were tangible. “I have never had another rival in my affections as far as my vocation,” Black explains. “I have always wanted to be a minister.”
Being reared in an impoverished-and virtually fatherless-family in a Baltimore ghetto, Black's chances for vocational ministry seemed slim to none. But his mother daily wove Scripture into the lives of Black and his siblings, offering them a nickel for every Bible verse they memorized. One of these verses may have saved his life.
Black vividly recalls the day his mother assigned him Proverbs 1:10: “My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.” Hours later, two neighborhood friends invited the 14-year-old Black to join them in “getting back at” a mutual acquaintance. Remembering the verse, Black declined, and the boys left. Later, he learned that the boys were involved in a murder, and both went to prison for life.
In retrospect, one could say that many events in Black's life have pointed to his most recent assignment. When he was only 8 years old, his mother gave him a recording of Senate Chaplain Peter Marshall's message “Were You There?” He listened to it until he could recite it from memory. Even now, nearly five decades later, he is able to deliver the sermon, complete with a convincing version of Marshall's Scottish brogue.
After college and seminary, Black pastored several churches and was commissioned as a Navy chaplain in 1976. He had been promoted to the rank of rear admiral, was serving as chief of the Navy chaplains and was preparing for retirement in 2003 when he was invited to interview for the Senate chaplaincy.
Dressed in a crisp civilian suit and a studious bow tie, Black's demeanor still reflects the military precision of his Navy days. He rises at 5 a.m., works out, spends time in devotions and uses his 45-minute commute to listen to Scripture on CD. The average week is a whirlwind of invocations, counseling sessions, Bible studies and speaking engagements.
Black serves not only the 100 senators and their families but also the 16,000 staff members that work on the Senate side of Capitol Hill. His daily responsibilities rival that of a megachurch pastor-with one notable exception.
“I have the opportunity of being involved with my members at a level that the average pastor cannot,” he says. “I see people on their jobs.”
This level of engagement has given Black a bird's-eye view of the spiritual climate in the nation's capital-a perspective that tends to be overlooked by the mainstream media. Recently, Chaplain Black sat down with Ministries Today to tell us how God is bringing spiritual renewal to the most unlikely of places-and what values should shape the church's involvement in national transformation.
Ministries Today: How does your role fit into the constitutional understanding of “separation of church and state”? Senate Chaplain Barry Black: The Senate chaplaincy is a nonpartisan responsibility. The congressional chaplaincies were created in 1789 and were established three days before the establishment clause of the Constitution. We know that by the very fact that there was a chaplaincy when that was written, the intention of our founders was not to pull religion completely outside of government activities.
I like to say there's a separation of church and state-a phrase that does not occur in the Constitution-but not a separation of God and state. So, I'm very, very comfortable being who I am as a spiritual person and meeting the spiritual needs of people on Capitol Hill, as best I can, bringing something of the transcendent into this very important environment. Capitol Hill is one place where you need God.
Ministries Today: What are some signs of spiritual interest that you are seeing in the Capitol? Black: I've seen evidence of what Paul called “saints in Caesar's household.” We can get as many as 200 people at our plenary Bible studies. That's an amazing number of people who regularly gather to study the Word of God.
This study has an amazing level of biblical literacy. I can start in any verse and these so-called ordinary people can tell me chapter and verse. A significant number of senators attend the prayer breakfast-as well as the Bible study. A significant number of spouses and chiefs of staff attend the Bible studies I lead for them.
Ministries Today: What do you think is behind this interest? Black: These are challenging times. We've had to evacuate the Capitol a couple of times just in the last three months because of airplanes entering prohibited airspace. The news we hear from around the world is enough to make people more vulnerable to the things of the Spirit-to seek answers from someone bigger than any human being.
Ministries Today: What are some misperceptions people have about the spirituality of their elected officials? Black: One misperception is that people who debate certain issues inside the chamber cannot be friends and spiritual brothers and sisters outside the chamber. People here are seeking after God in the same way that people outside of Capitol Hill are seeking God. Also, very few would know about the people who come into this office, and seek me out because they are wrestling with spiritual and theological issues.
Ministries Today: It sounds like your role is something of an ethical coach to our lawmakers? Black: Well, I talk to them about ethical conundrums-a “right versus right” challenge. It is what the apostle Paul talked about when he referred to proving “what is excellent”-choosing better over good. They involve decisions of truth versus loyalty, the individual versus the community, long term versus short term and justice versus mercy. And the reasons may differ, but I encourage them to have an ethical foundation to reach their decisions. Former Senate Chaplain Lloyd John Ogilvie used to tell the senators: “You have one constituency: God. If you please Him, everything else works out.”
Ministries Today: So, you would argue that the gospel-and your role-is not out of place on Capitol Hill? Black: Good news is as needed on Capitol Hill as anywhere. Moreover, many of the challenges we face today are analogous to those faced by Nebuchadnezzar. There's a sense of foreboding, but we can't remember the dream. There are many wise men who can give you the interpretation of a dream that you can remember, but who are powerless when revelatory knowledge is needed.
I think we face challenges as a nation-and as a planet-that create this sense of foreboding. We need supernatural wisdom, supernatural guidance. Our leaders need a wisdom the world can't give them. It's time for people who know the Lord to connect with Him in such a way that He can impart the desperately needed wisdom that can make the difference for a nation.
Ministries Today: You use the word “revelatory.” Do you see God speaking through people today-not just through His Word? Black: The Scriptures are not some static verbiage encased in the cannon. They're alive, as 2 Timothy 3:16 says. So, we do not so much search the Scriptures, as the Scriptures search us. Not a day goes by that I do not receive a rhema word from God. If I depend on what I read a couple of days ago, that's like trying to save the manna. It just doesn't work that way.
I believe God speaks in the here and now. Joel prophesied, “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.” I think we're in that time.
Ministries Today: Speaking of prophecy, Ugandan pastor Jackson Senyonga prophesied over you about renewal in Washington, D.C. Can you tell us about that? Black: The week before he came, the Lord had laid on my heart Psalm 2:8, “Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” Jackson came and said, “God sent me here with a word for you, and He told me to tell you to ask Him for the nations.”
It was a validation of the rhema word God had laid on my heart. It kept reverberating in the corridors of my spirit, and he and I discussed how this could happen based on what had happened in Uganda. He laid out a step-by-step blueprint of a necessary process of the realization of the vision. It was one of a number of prophetic visits I've received.
Ministries Today: So, would you consider yourself a charismatic? Black: I would call myself a theological eclectic. I read through the Bible three or four times a year, and I listen to CDs of Scripture. I deliberately drive to work in an hour-and-a-half round trip where I'm in the Word just hearing it and letting it move through me.
What happens when you immerse yourself in the Word is that you break out of labels, you become a moving target. There's a flexibility and a breadth and a lack of strictures to the religion of Jesus Christ. That same freedom manifests itself in terms of our theological stances. The moment you can put something in concrete, you're headed for a problem. You need to always be open to a move of God, a fresh word from the Lord.
Ministries Today: Is there any hope of the Christian “right” and the Christian “left” coming together? Black: The focus of left and right should be to get back to basics. We've become too smart for our own good. When the Magi came to Herod, they called in the theologians. They came in extremely knowledgeable. They knew where He was to be born, but they did not have the spiritual wisdom to walk the five miles and worship Him. You need more than information. The wise men did not have the information, they had an experience. They were following a star. The ones with the cerebral advantage did not take advantage of it.
My feeling is that what's up here [pointing to head] is minor compared to what's down here [pointing to his heart]. I'll take a rough Elijah who's looking about the political scene and saying: “God, now they're saying that Baal is the one who sends the rain. Show Yourself strong. Stand up and do something.”
James 5 says, “One man, just like us, shut up the heavens for three-and-one-half years.” That's what we need in our pulpits. That's what we need in our churches. That's what we need in our legislative and executive branch.
Ministries Today: So, you would argue that our problems are primarily spiritual, not political? Black: More will be accomplished by wielding spiritual weapons and practicing the disciplines of fasting, praying and falling on our faces before the Lord than will ever be achieved by working behind the scenes to see if this or that will happen.
The heart of the king is in the Lord's hands. He turns it whichever way He wants to. So, to become preoccupied with who's in the executive branch, who's in the judicial branch, who's in the legislative branch is majoring on minors. There is a power beyond anything that these folk can do. God can have Nebuchadnezzar eating grass tomorrow.
Matthew Green is managing editor of Ministries Today. read more
Whether independent or denominational, today's church leaders are learning--sometimes the hard way--that reform doesn't come easy.
Houston Miles had his feet firmly planted in the Assemblies of God (AG). He started his first church in 1949, pastored several congregations in Florida and served terms as youth and Sunday school director for the West Florida District.
Then, in 1971, while pastoring First Assembly of God in Spartanburg, South Carolina, a revival disturbed his Pentecostal sensibilities, and he found himself ministering with (and to) Baptists, Presbyterians and Methodists. Although Miles' church grew like a weed, he soon attracted the suspicion of fellow AG pastors, who frowned upon his ecumenical tendencies, openness to the charismatic movement and interest in new models of ministry.
“I became a black sheep in the AG,” he recalls. “Because we had such large numbers of people, they thought we were compromising with the world.” Miles found himself avoiding his jealous colleagues, and soon the affiliation with the AG became “on paper only.” Not too long after, he resigned his credentials. In the years since, relationships have been mended, apologies have been exchanged and the denomination has invited Miles to return whenever he wishes. But he has no plans to do so.
After his departure from the AG, Miles founded Evangel Fellowship International (EFI), a network of more than 600 churches in the United States, 672 in Russia and 35 missionaries overseas. EFI's doctrinal statement is essentially Pentecostal, but local assemblies are autonomous, and pastors appoint their own boards and leadership from within the congregation.
Fast forward three decades ... Another pastor, Ron Johnson, leads Bethel Temple (AG), a megachurch in Hampton, Virginia. He is loyal to the Assemblies of God, but Johnson's style of ministry is decidedly apostolic. He personally leads a network of more than 800 churches, plants an average of two new congregations per year and has pastors nationwide who look to him for oversight-all activities that have historically caused tension in some denominations that require approval to plant churches and credential ministers. Although he says he would jettison his affiliation with the denomination if it ever began to hamper his mission, Johnson has no plans of doing so and has been refreshed by signs of reform within the AG.
Sure, Johnson's independence may seem incompatible with denominational structure, and some of his friends in the apostolic movement may suggest he should have abandoned the “old wineskins” of the AG long ago. But he's not going anywhere. And the denomination is just fine with that.
Johnson admits that his relationship with AG colleagues has been tense at times, but a humble attitude combined with the common goals of church planting and leadership training have served to bring the two parties together when there's been a potential for discord.
“I believe it is my responsibility to do the best I can to work with them,” he explains. “But if we reach a point that we no longer have the grace to walk together and we're going to be at war, it's better for me to graciously-with dignity-step out of the denomination rather than create strife.”
Conventional wisdom suggests that institutional structures grow more rigid with time. But in recent years some of the most innovative pastors in America have decided to stay in their denominations. Ministries Today sat down with a few of these leaders, and others who have left, in an attempt to explore what factors are bringing about denominational transformation-and where reform is still needed.
Few dynamics are changing the face of denominations more dramatically than the prevalence of megachurches. The visionary-and often independent-style of ministry common among megachurch pastors sometimes runs counter to the conformity common in denominations.
“Megachurches are more often than not the product of one highly gifted spiritual leader,” writes megachurch expert Scott Thumma in “Exploring the Megachurch Phenomenon,” an article adapted from his doctoral dissertation on the subject. “The majority of contemporary megachurches were either founded by or achieved mega-status within the tenure of a single senior minister.”
With the growth of the megachurch phenomenon (In 1994, researcher John Vaughan estimated that the number of megachurches increases by 5 percent per year), it is only natural that denominations will feel the pressure from highly successful leaders within their ranks. While some megachurch pastors have left denominations, others have decided to stay and use their influence to effect institutional change.
Ron Carpenter was not even 30 years old, and he was already frustrated with the size of his church. In the seven years since its founding, Redemption World Outreach Center (RWOC) in Greenville, South Carolina, had grown to 400 members. By 1998, it had reached a plateau, but the International Pentecostal Holiness Church (IPHC) pastor knew God had bigger things in mind.
After a yearlong study of the New Testament church, Carpenter dismantled every committee and stripped every leader's title, rebuilding the structure of the church from the ground up and exchanging the congregation's democratic system of government for “apostolic protocol.” Within six months, the church's attendance had tripled to 1,200 … and it has not stopped since.
Now, with 5,000 members, RWOC is the largest congregation in the denomination, and Carpenter leads some 600 ministers who call him “apostle” and have no formal affiliation with the IPHC.
Carpenter rejects the notion that God is through using denominations. He encourages other visionary pastors to humble themselves and dialogue with denominational leaders-but ultimately listen to the voice of God. While it's not without its tension, this pattern appears to be slowly bringing reform to some denominational structures.
“I have gone all over the IPHC speaking on this topic and have been met with far more passion to change than with resistance,” he says. “Denominations have tremendous resources, so I struggle with some peoples' suggestion that none of it is beneficial. If there's a possibility of change, why go back and recreate all these resources when they could be channeled?”
Ron Johnson agrees, noting that many pastors who feel they've outgrown their denomination tend to foster an internal prejudice toward institutional structures and assume that denominational leaders do not share their drive for evangelism and church planting.
“Many times denominational leaders are perceived as wanting to build the denomination as opposed to advancing the cause of Christ,” Johnson explains. “But from what I've experienced, the passion of our general superintendent is to embrace the work of the Spirit. He will do anything in his power to see men hear God and obey Him.”
Johnson recognizes that some visionary leaders may never fit into a denomination-and that this may be God's will. But overall, he urges those contemplating leaving their denominations to exercise caution.
“Move slowly. Stay as long as you can, but no longer than you have the grace to do so,” he says. “When you leave, don't trash your denomination; bless them.”
Most denominations are led by people who were elected to their positions by their constituency. Critics argue that a democratic style of government reflects Western political styles, but has little to do with the way authority and responsibility are apportioned in the kingdom of God. As a result, emerging leaders are pushing denominations toward allowing more local autonomy and allowing visionary pastors to lead their congregations based on the direction they feel God has given them for their churches.
“The democratic system has bred distrust of people,” Ron Carpenter explains. “Democracy has worked for America with some measure of success, but the church was never meant to be a people-controlled movement.”
Instead, Carpenter advocates church leadership based on the authority of apostles and prophets who receive mandates directly from the Spirit. This view runs counter to many denominational structures, in which the pastor functions as an employee of the local church-subject to the whims of the elder board and the congregation.
New apostolic styles of church government reverse the model held by many denominations: Power within the church is taken from congregations and placed in the hands of pastors. Additionally, regional church authority is taken out of the hands of centralized denominations and placed in the hands of apostles who oversee networks of pastors.
This flexibility and autonomy is what led Joseph Thompson to avoid denominational affiliation in the first place. After serving as teaching pastor under Ted Haggard at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Thompson is planting a new congregation (Church at the Well) in the Orlando, Florida, area.
Before he made plans to relocate to Florida, Thompson was invited to pastor a denominational church but grew concerned by what he saw as the restrictive leadership structure in the local congregation.
“The bylaws said that the pastor is an employee of the board,” Thompson recalls. “That's strange to me. That means if two-thirds of them suddenly decide they don't like the way the pastor has preached for the last two Sundays, they can kick him out. I don't think that's healthy. I don't think it gives the pastor liberty to hear the voice of God and be honest.”
While this dynamic may be common in denominations operating with a congregational form of church government, for those with episcopal bylaws, this is less of a challenge. For instance, the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel (ICFG) fills vacant pulpits, and pastors are allowed to appoint their own elders.
Twenty-one years ago, Daniel Brown planted The Coastlands, a Foursquare church in Aptos, California. Since then, he has pioneered 34 daughter churches and supplied five pulpits with ministers raised up in the church. Brown goes so far as to call the Foursquare a “pastors denomination,” stressing the liberty and autonomy that the fellowship offers its pastors.
Some denominations are making adjustments to ensure that this is the exception, not the rule. ICFG president Jack Hayford points out that three years ago, the denomination revised its structure, placing more authority in the hands of leading pastors rather than denominationally structured regional offices. Leadership was distributed among 75 supervisors, whereas before the shift there had only been 9. Although he refers to the new structure as “apostolic,” Hayford is careful in describing the motivation that initiated it.
“This was not done as an attempt to answer the criticisms of some who seem impassioned with identifying and investing apostles and prophets as a crusade of sorts,” he explains. “Rather, it was simply done in response to the Holy Spirit's work in fashioning a movement to serve its expanding future.”
But for some, changes such as these are too little, too late. Some say the problems with denominations are irreparable; they are deeply embedded in the DNA of institutionalized religion in America.
Church-growth expert C. Peter Wagner was optimistic as he observed the charismatic renewal of the '60s and '70s. The wind of the Holy Spirit began to blow through the dusty halls of mainline denominations that were already experiencing symptoms of irrelevance and decay.
But by 2000, as Wagner writes in his 2004 book Changing Church, “not one of the U.S. denominations had experienced the spiritual reformation that leaders had been praying for. … Yes, many individuals and some congregations had been spiritually transformed, but the structures at best had remained the same, and in some cases they had deteriorated even more.”
Wagner blames this phenomenon not on people, but on structures-structures that worked 300 years ago when denominations became independent of state control but that have become almost as rigid as the institutions they replaced.
For him, the solution is no longer renewal, but reformation. As early as his 2000 book, The New Apostolic Churches, Wagner noted that the most thriving churches worldwide are not denominational in structure-even if they are affiliated with one. They are apostolic, structured around the Spirit-led leadership of one man or woman. As a result, Wagner argues that those truly wanting to participate in the next move of God will need to leave their denominations.
“The old wineskins were once bright shining new wineskins,” Wagner explained in a recent interview with Ministries Today. “But they have come under a spell or domination of the spirit of religion-a spell that causes them to think that maintaining the status quo is the will of God. Those who stay in denominations will not receive new wine.”
Many, like Houston Miles, suggest that accountability has become obsolete within denominations, that they have grown beyond their capacity to relationally connect leaders with grass-roots ministers.
“In the AG, the superintendent was more of an administrator than a pastor,” he notes. “The only time you'd hear from him is if you got behind on your tithe.” As this yawning relational gap is becoming more pronounced, alternative organizations are arising to provide networking and resources for leaders inside and outside denominations.
Joseph Thompson affiliates with several networks-Association of Life-Giving Churches, founded by Ted Haggard, and Association of Related Churches, an organization of pastors committed to church planting. Like many of their nondenominational counterparts, both are organized around a function (healthy congregational ministry and church planting) rather than a doctrinal statement or a structure of leadership and control.
As a result, neither organization exerts any control over its members in regard to accountability. Instead, they assume a certain level of pre-existent accountability of their members-many of whom are already affiliated with denominations and apostolic networks-Thompson says.
“They recognize the need to have people over you,” he explains. “But that's not what they exist for. They provide a context for horizontal accountability-an opportunity to voluntarily submit yourself to accountability with your peers.”
Some of these networks are even being launched by denominational pastors who wish to combine the resources offered by their denominations with the flexibility and specialization offered by a smaller organization.
Scott Hagan resigned in May as pastor of First Assembly of God in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Known for his passion for racial reconciliation, Hagan recently launched the Blended Church Network, an organization dedicated to training and connecting leaders to plant multiethnic churches.
Although Hagan's new network carries the enthusiastic blessing of AG officials, it is intended to be a cross-denominational effort that will train leaders of any stripe. The 42-year-old pastor believes that efforts such as his reflect a growing openness in his denomination toward entrepreneurial churchplanting, apostolic leadership and the cultivation of relationships outside denominational boundaries.
“Any time we begin acquiring land, building buildings, creating salaries and careers, there will come a time for reinvention,” Hagan explains. “I believe that this is a journey back to the simplicity of our purpose.”
For many, peer-level networks such as Hagan's hold an advantage to denominations. They are not centered on a doctrinal distinctive, nor do they have top-heavy infrastructures that demand financial support. They are primarily relational in nature-and led by people who have ministries of their own.
Although he is encouraged by the various networks-apostolic and otherwise-that are sprouting for the purpose of church planting, evangelism, and so on, C. Peter Wagner is concerned that people leaving denominations will find camaraderie but ultimately avoid authentic accountability to a spiritual father or mother.
“There are still too many people out there doing their own thing,” he says. “Everyone needs apostolic oversight. But accountability is voluntary, and you can avoid it whether you're in a denomination or an apostolic network.”
He also contends that even the most flexible and forward-thinking apostolic network of today can become a denomination tomorrow, if policies are not put in place to prevent institutionalism.
“What we want to avoid is apostles who are 'pre-denominational,'” he explains. “Sociologists of religion tell us that this is not only possible, it is inevitable. But I want to be a history changer. History does not have to repeat itself.”
Denominations tend to be led by those who have proven themselves in ministry. While this lends stability and credibility, it creates an environment for generational tension between emerging and established leaders.
As Ron Johnson notes, it's increasingly problematic when a younger generation comes on the scene with new ideas-and a completely different view of institutional loyalty. Postmodern leaders sometimes have little tolerance for what they perceive as the faceless reality of 20th-century denominations.
“We're dealing in the AG with leaders that are 60-plus years of age at the top level of leadership,” Johnson explains. “When these older leaders and their postmodern counterparts talk about 'relationship,' they're not talking about the same thing.”
Johnson points out that-ironically-a younger generation craves fatherly mentoring. Isolation and independence are not in their vocabulary, but they question whether denominational structures can provide the relational guidance that they desire. Unlike their forbears, they have nothing against leaving a denomination to find it. Ron Carpenter agrees.
“My daddy's generation would be loyal to the church if God died,” he says jokingly. “In contrast, my generation will not be faithful to a denomination … but they will die for a man.”
Stenneth Powell, pastor of Abundant Life Christian Center Church of God in Christ (COGIC), in Raleigh, North Carolina, has raised up 49 ministers-many of whom hold credentials with COGIC, but look to him for spiritual oversight. Powell notes that younger pastors are not only looking for leadership, they also want resources-church-growth advice, leadership mentoring and church-management skills. The growth of large churches has provided opportunities for young leaders to connect with successful models-outside the confines of denominational institutions.
“This frustration with denominations is cyclical. Pastors get successful-too big for their own denominations-so they start their own organization. Essentially that too becomes a denomination,” he explains. “If a big church can offer a young guy who's just starting out the same resources as a denomination, he'll join that organization.”
Many, like Scott Hagan, believe that these generational shifts may ultimately seal denominations' survival-if leaders take the opportunity to harness enthusiasm and listen to the concerns of their younger colleagues.
“Our AG colleges are packed with students-black, white, brown, male female-whom the denomination has to keep if we have any hope,” he explains. “We can't draw in these kids and slam them with old-school thinking. The spirit that these young people have must start permeating the entire movement.”
This challenge is not exclusive to denominations.
Senior pastor of Covenant Centre International in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, Norman Benz left the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) in 1991. He explains that he heard God say, “What I want to do with you I can't do with you in this denomination.”
Since then he joined International Coalition of Apostles (ICA), founded by C. Peter Wagner. But he points out that the apostolic movement is in danger of being largely a “baby boomer” movement and stresses the importance of incorporating younger leaders. One of the priorities of his own organization, Covenant Apostolic Network, is to intentionally release the next generation.
“When we look at scripture, apostles and elders were not necessarily chosen because of their age, but because of the favor of the Spirit on them,” he explains. “We have to be careful that we don't become stalemated and segmented into becoming a certain kind of a movement because of the age of our leaders.”
A Return to Pentecost
Although these tensions would appear to chip away at denominational foundations, many argue that such shifts actually indicate a return to the values that launched the Pentecostal and charismatic movements nearly a century ago. Ron Carpenter points out that Pentecostals and charismatics should-by nature-be more ready for denominational reform, noting that he has encountered extensive openness among leaders and laity in his own denomination.
“We tend to be spontaneous and flexible,” he explains. “Also, most Pentecostals are biblically rooted enough that if you open the Word and explain these new ideas, they will accept them.”
Ron Johnson argues that many denominations were specifically formed for the purpose of church planting, world missions and raising up new leaders, but that a desire to preserve institutional identity and enforce conformity has sometimes trumped these concerns.
“Denominations serve a purpose in building the kingdom,” he says. “But if they lose the dynamic life of their inception, they automatically default to some other reason for existence-usually self-preservation.”
While denominational leaders have often recognized this problem, Johnson notes that they have not always been quick to offer a solution. But as he looks at the landscape of the church, two factors bring him hope: a rebirth in a commitment to missions and church planting and the rise of a generation that values relationships over structure.
“Contrary to the perception that all they want to do is build their denomination, most leaders want to build the kingdom,” he explains. “As long as denominations will effectively communicate that they are releasing and empowering people to do this as well, they will grow.”
Matthew Green is the managing editor of Ministries Today and an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God. read more
Although the picture of success, in more than 50 years of ministry, pastor Fred Price has learned the hard way to walk by faith. Now he's made it his mission to ensure his congregation doesn't have to.
You may have seen him on television preaching to a neatly dressed congregation, Bibles opened in their laps, eyes glued to the 73-year-old man in a crisp business suit, monochromatic tie and trimmed mustache. Frederick K.C. Price roams the aisles of the Crenshaw Christian Center (CCC), teaching, cajoling, encouraging and—sometimes—disconcerting his flock of 21,000.
This is not “The Fred Price Show,” however. No organ or choir back him up. No theatrics accompany his exposition. There’s no one on the platform to stand and wave a hanky when he waxes especially eloquent. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, CCC has its share of celebrities—TV announcer Ed McMahon, R & B artist Mary J. Blige, Tae Bo creator Billy Blanks. But nobody expects “the celebrity treatment” at Price’s church.
“If you’re a celebrity and you just want to be seen on the front pew in a church,” he explained in a recent interview with Ministries Today, “the best thing to do is not to come here.”
After more than 50 years of ministry, Price’s method and message are essentially the same they were nearly 35 years ago, when he was introduced to the baptism with the Holy Spirit and came to embrace the teachings of the Word-Faith movement. Still, Price has an inquisitive nature that leads him to implement new models of ministry and risk his staid reputation for the sake of reaching people different from himself.
In fact, every fifth Sunday morning, he trades in his jacket and tie for a baggy warm-up suit and joins his son Frederick Jr. on the stage for Hip-Hop Sunday, an event targeting young people and featuring rap music and high-energy preaching—all aimed at reaching unchurched youth and bridging the cultural gap between parents and their kids.
When Price enters a room full of people, he tends to attract attention, walking with a lively gait that belies his age. In his spacious office, photos of CCC in its various stages of growth cover the walls, along with mementos from friends and family. From the books neatly filed on the bookcase, to the folders orderly arranged on his credenza, it is clear that Fred Price is a man who appreciates discipline, structure and attention to detail.
“When I read the first chapter of Genesis, I see that God is a God of order,” he explains as he sits down in the chair behind his mammoth desk. “That’s what I’ve tried to emulate in my ministry—in everything we do here.”
Today he may look like the picture of success, but Price always begins his life story describing the humble circumstances of his childhood in a segregated community and early years in ministry characterized by debt, illness and professional frustration.
FROM STRUGGLE TO SUCCESS
Born in Santa Monica, California, in 1932, Price was reared in a nominal Jehovah’s Witnesses family and accepted Christ in 1953. When he and his wife, Betty, joined a local Baptist church, it was the custom of the minister to ask each person who came forward for membership what they wanted to “do for the Lord.” Before the pastor reached him, Price heard the audible voice of God speak into his left ear, “You are to preach My gospel.”
His first years in ministry were anything but glamorous, as he performed menial tasks for the minister and only seldom had an opportunity to preach. During these years Price supported himself and his growing family by selling magazines and working in a paper factory and a Coca-Cola bottling plant—always “owing his soul to the company store.”
In the years that followed his call to ministry, Price served churches in several denominations—Baptist, African Methodist Episcopal and Presbyterian. In 1965, he became pastor of a Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) church that had shriveled to nine members. Four years later, the church had grown to 125, and Price was able to quit his secular employment.
Although he was convinced of his call to ministry, he grew increasingly frustrated with an anemic version of Christianity in which prayers weren’t answered, believers suffered from illness and poverty … and nobody seemed to have a problem with it.
Then, a friend gave Price several books by charismatic authors who awakened him to the “missing ingredient” in his life, and Price subsequently received the baptism with the Holy Spirit in 1970. But it was Authority of the Believer, by Kenneth Hagin Sr., that revolutionized this 38-year-old pastor and introduced him to the principles that have become the core of his ministry.
Soon after, his fledgling congregation of 125 ballooned to 300, and the church became independent of the CMA, purchasing a 1,200-seat sanctuary for $750,000.
“In 1973 God began to deal with me about leaving the denomination and forming an independent-dependent work,” Price says, describing the departure from the denomination. “Independent of man and dependent on God.”
With the move, the church changed its name to Crenshaw Christian Center, and by 1977, the congregation had outgrown the facility (with two services every Sunday) and was looking for land on which to build.
Now celebrating more than 50 years of ministry, Price leads a still-growing congregation based on the 32-acre campus in south central L.A.—land that CCC bought from Pepperdine University in 1981 when the school moved to Malibu. The $14-million property and the $10-million sanctuary the church built there were paid off within six years of moving in.
Price heads a staff of 11 pastors and 235 employees that work in the church’s diverse ministries: a preschool, elementary, middle and high school; 16 helps ministries with approximately 2,500 volunteers; and Ever Increasing Faith, the TV outreach Price founded in 1978 that now reaches more than 15 million households.
In 1990, Price launched the Fellowship of Inner-City Word of Faith Ministries (FICWFM), a ministerial network connecting nearly 500 pastors globally.
In 2001, CCC planted a satellite campus in midtown Manhattan (Crenshaw Christian Center East), now led by Allen Landry, a former assistant pastor at CCC. Price still travels one weekend a month to preach and teach at the church, which now runs more than 1,000 people.
His congregants aren’t the only ones drawn to Price’s success. His accolades include honorary degrees from Rhema Bible Training Center and Oral Roberts University, the prestigious Horatio Alger Award and the Kelly Miller Smith Interfaith Award, presented by the Southern Leadership Conference.
But Price traces his success not to gimmicks or pop theology, but to a strict obedience to the “assignment” God gave him.
“Most ministers just want to carbon-copy what somebody else is doing,” he observes. “My real definition of success is fulfilling what God called me to do—fulfilling my assignment.”
THE FAMILY MAN
Now grown, all four of Fred Price’s children are on staff at the ministry: Angela Evans is the chief operating officer of CCC and Ever Increasing Faith; Cheryl Price serves on the staff of FICWFM; and Stephanie Buchanan is on staff at CCC. The youngest child, Frederick K. Price Jr., serves as an assistant pastor and is the heir-apparent to the CCC pulpit.
Known as a family man, Price often reminds his congregation, “God created the family before He created the church—so family is always going to be more important to me.” The Price children have warm memories of family vacations and trips to the nearby ocean and mountains—and his constant presence in the home.
“He’s an awesome role model,” says Angela, 48, who is self-described as “the rebellious one in my teens” but who has now worked closely with her father for 30 years. “What you see on-screen and his public persona is the same as what he is at home—the integrity of the man is intact at all times.”
She describes the unshakable faith her father modeled when her older brother was hit by a car and killed in 1962. After Price embraced Word-Faith teachings, he began to see God restore what Satan had stolen from him early in his life. But even he was surprised when Betty became pregnant at the age of 45, and Kenneth Hagin Sr. prophesied that the child would be a boy—God’s restoration of the son that had been lost nearly two decades earlier.
Now 26, Frederick K. Price Jr. is being groomed to lead the church when his father retires. However, “Pastor Freddy,” as he is known, says that his was a call from God—not from Mom and Dad.
“Even though Kenneth Hagin told my parents that I would follow my dad in ministry, they allowed me to hear the call for myself,” he explains. “They never once put pressure on me—or even mentioned it.”
The younger Price says he got his imagination, competitiveness and curiosity from his father—a man who relishes sci-fi movies, reads at least one book a week and is always up for a game of Scrabble or Uno.
“People get the idea that my father’s all buttoned-down and doesn’t have any fun,” Fred Jr. says. “But he loves to have fun; he’s got a great imagination—and that’s what helped me become the person I am today.”
In recent years—and since the death of Kenneth Hagin Sr. in 2003—Price has become a major spokesperson for the Word-Faith movement.
Price’s critics (e.g. Christianity in Crisis author Hank Hanegraaff and A Different Gospel author D.R. McConnell) accuse him of propagating a doctrine of health and wealth. But he has remained firm in his belief that Christians should be physically whole, financially blessed and free of suffering—a theology some opponents say doesn’t ring true in a world in which the most vibrant sectors of Christendom are often its most impoverished and persecuted.
Pentecostals and charismatics have sometimes been reluctant to embrace the core of Word-Faith teachings—in spite of the fact that its key leaders often came from traditional Pentecostal denominations. However, Price argues that the renewal provided a fertile ground for what he believes is a deeper revelation of something that God intended for the church all along.
“The Holy Spirit brought this teaching to the fore—out from under the denominationalism, traditionalism and theology,” he explains. “And we realized that it was the key to everything.”
He says that those who considered the Word-Faith a mere movement, rather than “a revelation of the way the system works,” have long since left for greener pastures.
“They got caught up in the illustrations that we used to apply its principles,” he explains. “They tried it for a season, and when they didn’t get the big car, yacht and jewelry, they gave up.”
Prosperity, Price contends, is just the natural byproduct of a life of faith—and its purpose is not primarily for personal benefit. “A lot of teachers have been teaching prosperity for prosperity’s sake,” he notes. “It’s not wrong, but it’s not enough. Deuteronomy 8:18 reveals the true purpose of prosperity: ‘Remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.’”
Price is transparent about his own affluence-—the Bentley parked outside his office, his ministry’s private jet. “Wealth is for the purpose of establishing His covenant,” he says. “Now in the process of doing that … the crumbs that fall from the table will be the yacht, the clothes, the jewelry and the cars—I don’t have to seek after these things.”
What Price is less likely to talk about is his generosity. His son, Fred Jr., notes that his father gave away more than $1 million of his own money in 2004. “I wish the guys that criticize him could see that side of him,” he says. “I’ve seen what he sows into the kingdom.”
For Price, money is not an end in itself, but a means. His financial success is proof that the message he preaches can be applied in the real world. Price believes that it is especially important for blacks to see that the principles of prosperity transcend economic and racial differences.
“I want them to know that this works,” he explains. “It works for someone black and in the ghetto. So don’t let that any longer be your excuse for not succeeding.”
And what if he doesn’t see people in the pews prospering financially and enjoying health?
“That would be a problem of monumental proportions, but I haven’t seen that,” he says, citing the peace of mind, family stability and prosperity that he contends results from a lifestyle of faith.
Eldrena Hanna was a single mother, when she moved to Los Angeles from Florida in 1985. An unsaved friend recommended she visit CCC. “The preacher’s comical—you’ll enjoy listening to him,” her friend said. Hanna began attending, became a member and within two years was serving in the helps ministry at the church.
After applying the principles she learned from Price, she overcame the trials of a major surgery, bought a home—in Southern California, no less—and was promoted in her job. Currently, a stock broker for Merrill Lynch, Hanna credits her success and spiritual maturity to the consistent teaching of the Word she has received at CCC.
“Dr. Price taught me that it’s not just about monetary prosperity. It’s about studying the Word and applying it every day,” she explains. “He is a role model—but these principles don’t just work for him—they work for everybody.”
FAITH IS A VERB
While critics quibble over hermeneutical nuances, at the core of Price’s theology is a view of Scripture itself that accepts the text on its face value.
“Scriptures in the Bible on healing and prosperity require no interpretation—they are what they are,” he argues. “You don’t have to interpret them.”
This confidence is what is appealing to many of Price’s followers. In fact, he is convinced that belief in the Word, verbal confession of its promises and obedience to its commands constitute a legitimate formula for prosperity and health that “works like a charm.”
“Like money in the secular world, faith is the currency that makes everything work in the kingdom of God,” he explains. “Faith is what drives it. The more faith you have, the more things you can do—good things for people.”
Word-Faith critics have often claimed that the movement’s adherents view faith as a “force” that a believer can tap into to receive whatever he or she desires. Price says this couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Faith is acting on the known will of God,” he explains. “I believe I can pick up the phone and talk to anyone, but it won’t happen if I don’t pick up the phone. Faith is following through with what you believe.”
This perspective shapes every decision in Price’s life. He’s not a man of contemplation, but of action, frequently describing instances in which God told him to do something—and he obeyed. From the location and name of the church to the cities in which his TV ministry was first broadcast, every major decision Price has made has been a result of following through with an “assignment” he believes God has given him.
“Learn how to walk by faith, not by sight,” he says. “That’s the motto of my life.”
For Price, it’s all about saying what God wants him to say—the way God wants him to say it. “God said to me: ‘Don’t preach. Teach what I’ve taught you,’” he recalls. “One of these days, when nobody shows up for church, I’ll know it’s time for me to go golfing. Until then, I’m gonna keep on doing what I’m doing the way I’m doing it.”
For years, Price has been busy doing just that. In fact, his policy has been not to respond to his critics’ offensive statements—even when he’s misrepresented.
“Most of the time I am misrepresented,” he says with a smile. “But I don’t engage them. I can’t change their minds anyway.”
Not that he’s afraid to take a stand. One incident in the 1990s—when a prominent white leader advised against interracial marriage and dating—caused Price to speak out, and it reshaped his ministry.
Several years ago, he was given a cassette containing a message given by a pastor who recounted an incident in which he found one of his children playing with a black friend. The pastor told his child: “We play. We go together as a group, but we do not date one another.”
Although horrified by what he heard, Price says he decided “not to rock the boat” out of concern for his relationship with the leader’s ministry.
“The Spirit of God began to deal with me about it,” he recalls. “When you put it all together, it was racial and ethnic prejudice involved.”
He confronted the leader, and, although an apology was issued, Price believed the apology should have been a retraction.
“Bottom line,” he says. “Since then, there has been no resolution to the problem.”
This event prompted Price to engage in an intensive study on racism in America and the church—culminating in a yearlong series that he preached at CCC and a three-volume book titled Race, Religion & Racism. Price contends that the church is still suffering from a subtle prejudice that says, Whites are the leaders and blacks are the followers.
Although Price is highly concerned by racism, in his trademark level-headed demeanor and passion for getting to the root of the problem, he’s more irritated by the church climate that allows such behavior than he is the individuals who perpetrate it. In an April 1998 article in Charisma magazine, Price is quoted as saying: “I’m not angry at any individual, and I’m not angry at any group of people. I’m angry that the church hasn’t done anything about the situation of racism.”
NO DEFENSE NECESSARY
Price doesn’t have much time for the term Word-Faith “movement”: “That’s the terminology critics use,” he contends. “This has been around since the apostle Paul—there’s nothing new about it.”
This stubborn stability is what was so attractive to Price’s right hand man, administrative pastor Craig Hays. He joined CCC in 1976, became a deacon and then came on staff at the church in 1987. Hays was called to ministry when he was a child, but never entered the pastorate because he was discouraged by what he saw as contradictions in the lives of church leaders.
“When I met Dr. Price, I found a man that stayed steadfast,” he explains. “He doesn’t have a church face and a home face—he is the one who taught me how to be consistent.”
These same sentiments are echoed by FICWFM member and El Paso, Texas, pastor Charles Nieman, who first heard Price’s teachings in the mid 1970s. For the last 28 years, he has led Abundant Living Faith Center, a congregation that has grown to 12,000—success Nieman has largely attributed to Price’s teachings. But what the Texas pastor most admires about his mentor is his consistency.
“With Dr. Price, what you see is what you get,” he says. “Their marriage is, was and continues to be an example to those in ministry. Many of his spiritual sons have said that they learned how to treat their wives by watching how he treats Betty—in fact, I’ve seen their wives stand up and thank Fred for that!”
Price recently stood with Betty through a bout with cancer that threatened her life. Some observers seized upon this misfortune as an opportunity to question Price’s theology. Price says that this wasn’t a failure of faith, but a case of cause and effect.
“I don’t believe in accidents. Everything is a result of something we either do, don’t do or do incorrectly,” he says.
Price teaches that choices and words play heavy in a person’s health and prosperity. Any negative situation can ultimately be traced to a misspoken word, misplaced belief or misapplied principle.
“My wife abused her body all of her life without knowing it,” he explains. “She was raised on eating certain types of food. She changed her lifestyle, but the tumor had already developed.”
The family stood firm together, believing that the cancer would not take Betty’s life, and she is alive and healthy today.
Price doesn’t have much time for people who blame their misfortunes on God … or the devil. In his theology, Satan is virtually powerless—but he uses instances of sin and ignorance to undermine the health, prosperity and spiritual growth of believers. “Satan can’t do anything on his own,” Price explains. “He’s an opportunist. He can only deal with what we give him.”
This personal responsibility is at the core of Price’s theology—a belief that God is limited or released by the words of His human creation. “The devil can’t do anything on his own any more than God the Father can do anything without our help,” Price teaches.
To some evangelicals who believe in the sovereignty of God, these are inflammatory words. But Price is careful to explain that he does not believe God is objectively limited. Instead, He limits Himself to interact with His creation—to authentically answer prayer.
“It’s not because He doesn’t have the power, but because He’s designed the system to work at the behest of our free wills,” Price explains. “People think that God does whatever He wants to arbitrarily. If that were true—we know God wants everybody saved—why doesn’t He save everybody? He can’t, unless we believe.”
When Price explains it this way, it sounds no different than the convictions of a large portion of Wesleyan evangelicals and traditional Pentecostals. Why doesn’t he rephrase his views to be more acceptable to his critics?
“I don’t respond to them,” Price says. “Truth will come out. Since I’m a channel, what I’ve been sharing is not my personal philosophy, but what I’ve learned from the Word of God and what I’ve applied in my own life. So I don’t have to defend it.”
Instead of defending himself, Price is too busy teaching his flock to stay on the offensive when it comes to the problems that other Christians tend to tolerate—whether they be sickness, poverty, racism or suffering.
“We suffer these things because we don’t know we don’t have to,” he says. “We accept them as part of life. We don’t resist it; we expect it.”
That might be true in some churches, but not at Crenshaw Christian Center—not if Fred Price has any say in the matter.
Matthew Green is managing editor of Ministries Today. read more
A tribute to the American military chaplain.
America’s military chaplains occupy what must surely be among the most unique positions in the world. Theirs is a universe of contradictions. They are a holdover from an earlier age of faith, much like congressional chaplains or the words “In God We Trust” on American coins or religious inscriptions on the official buildings in the nation’s capitol.
Clearly, the modern understanding of the First Amendment would never have given them birth. Yet the religious nature of their nation’s enemy, the moral crises of America’s soldiers, and the spiritual passions of the new generation at war may make them more essential to America’s military efforts today than ever before.
The inconsistencies do not stop there. They wear a uniform but cannot carry a weapon. They receive a check from the state to do the work of the church in a society deathly afraid of the mixture of church and state. They can preach God’s will for the individual soul but may not preach God’s will for the war. They are ordained by a single religious denomination to preach its truth but as chaplains must tend every possible religious persuasion.
The religious nature of their calling often works against them. If a chaplain is deployed with his National Guard unit, every man he serves is guaranteed a job to come home to. Yet if that chaplain was a pastor in a church when he was sent off to war, he is not guaranteed he can return to his job. The government he serves cannot pressure a church to employ that chaplain again. It is a violation of the separation of church and state.
He is supposed to tend to the needs of soldiers at war. Yet he is not supposed to get too close to the fighting. The military is concerned that if a chaplain accompanies soldiers into battle, the soldiers will be distracted from their mission out of concern for the safety of the chaplain, whom they often love and who is required to be unarmed. Yet the biggest complaint about chaplains from soldiers in the field is that they “don’t cross the wire with us, and so they don’t know how we feel.”
Then there is the chain of command. Pastors fighting with deacons and church boards is such a common occurrence back home that there are courses on the subject in seminaries. Yet a chaplain in the military can end up working for a commander who thinks all faith is silly or who views the particular religion of the chaplain as heresy.
One battalion commander was disciplined for calling his Catholic chaplain, a Major Pappas, by the nickname “Major Papist,” a denigrating reference to the myth that Catholics worship the pope. Another chaplain was told by his executive officer, “Be as religious as you want to be, but stay away from me and my troops.” Church fights at home pale in comparison to these pressures.
Adding to these contradictions and challenges are the “knuckleheads in clerical garb” who taint the image of the role. There is the overheated evangelist who offends more than he wins, the office rat who does ministry only behind a desk, the one the troops call “Captain Kangaroo” who hands out candy but nothing more as men go off to battle, the “cheerleader” whose every sermon sounds like a pitch from an Army recruiter, and the bulbous gourmand who couldn’t pass the Army physical fitness test unless he hired someone to take it for him. Each of these leaves legacies for other chaplains to live down.
Yet despite the oddities and obstacles of their role, chaplains are often among the noblest figures in the field. There is the stunning bravery of a chaplain risking enemy fire to give last rites to a dying man. There are the highly decorated fighting men who have then gone on to seminary so they can return to the service and minister to men in arms. And there are the noble dead among the chaplains’ corps who lost their lives tending the warrior soul.
In fact, many of these chaplains are models of toughness. Colonel Gene Fowler was the head chaplain in Iraq through 2003, serving in the 3rd Corps. A slight, bespectacled man, Chaplain Fowler has nevertheless proven his steel on more than one occasion. While serving as a chaplain at a stateside post, a grizzled master sergeant once approached him, looked him up and down, and said, “Sir, if you ain’t Airborne, you ain’t nothing.”
Refusing to let the challenge go unanswered and hating the thought that, once again, a clergyman should be viewed as a wimp, Chaplain Fowler went to Ranger school and became an honored member of the Airborne fraternity. Now he wears the Ranger tab and Airborne wings on his uniform, yet when he jumps from a plane, he does so without a weapon. He is there to fight battles of the spirit.
Chaplain Fowler and the hundreds of other chaplains who serve with him today stand in an honored tradition that reaches back through the centuries. The literature of the ancient world is filled with stories of priests leading the way in battle. It was a time when war was understood as a contest of gods. Sometimes the actual fighting would have to wait until each tribe’s priest had adequately insulted the other tribe’s god, for only then was it proper to attack.
Today, the American chaplains’ corps is as fine as the nation has ever put in the field. Each chaplain has joined the military voluntarily. Each is well educated. Most are deeply devoted to those they serve and now see their ministry in a post-9/11 world as a vital service to their nation and their God. In Afghanistan and Iraq, hundreds of chaplains subject themselves to life-threatening dangers.
Yet the military chaplain serves in a world that is religiously very different from the one that first defined his role. His job was conceived in an age of faith, at a time when the United States was largely Christian and understood its mission in religious terms.
Chaplains were charged with making sure that fighting men were pious and conducted themselves so as to assure God’s blessing on their efforts at war. A chaplain served his troops by defining their fight in spiritual terms, calling them to deeper faith, teaching them a valiant warrior code and tending their souls in moments of distress.
Today, the chaplain’s role is defined only in terms of the personal, the spiritual and the ceremonial. “I want to talk about how to fight like men and women of God,” one chaplain stationed in Iraq said, “but I feel like I can only pray at ceremonies, lead chapel services and counsel soldiers about their problems. Our nation is in a fight for its life, but I can’t stand as the priests did in the Bible and speak to the fight. It’s like I can only pray ‘Now I lay me down to sleep’ prayers, when I want to pray, ‘Lord rise up against Your enemies’ prayers.”
This “separation of faith and fight,” as one chaplain styled it, is due to a number of factors. The first is military policy. In the Army regulations that define a chaplain’s role, it is clear that the personal spiritual life of a soldier is in view and not the spirituality of his life as a warrior. The chaplain is charged with meeting the “religious, spiritual, moral and ethical needs of the Army.”
Yet the chaplain is also described as a “noncombatant.” He is not allowed to carry arms, and it is clear that his job is essentially that of a civilian pastor in uniform. In fact, he is not even supposed to go near the fighting. Many chaplains strain at these restrictions and feel that they keep them from doing their jobs.
During the Coalition’s assault on Fallujah in 2004, one bold chaplain accompanied squads of Marines as they went door to door looking for insurgents. Though the chaplain was unarmed, he entered suspect homes with the Marines and constantly urged courage in their task by quoting scriptures and praying aloud. The warriors he tended loved him for putting himself in harm’s way and for sharing the dangers they endured.
When this story was reported in the newspapers back home, the chaplain was celebrated as a hero. Pastors mentioned his courageous faith in their sermons, and religious talk-show hosts lauded him on the air. Yet this chaplain was disciplined by his superiors for exposing himself to danger and potentially distracting the men he accompanied from their mission. He was “showboating,” his commanders said, and failing to do his job.
Privately, this chaplain said, “I was doing my job. What they want is religious window dressing and someone to keep the ceremonial circus up and running. I want to be a prophet to my Marines in the crucible of their lives. I’m no good to them if I don’t face what they face when they face it.” This forced distance from the fighting only compromises chaplains in the eyes of the young warriors they serve.
The generation fighting today’s wars are the youngest children of the generation that fought in Vietnam, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who fought in World War II. Most of them were born in the early 1980s, which means that the only wars they can remember outside of movies and books are the conflict in Kosovo and America’s brief but tragic involvement in Somalia made popular by the film Black Hawk Down. Called everything from Generation X to Millennials to Echo Boomers, they are as difficult to define as they are to name.
Millennial faith is already distrustful of tradition, authority and structure. This is primarily because all three of these seem irrelevant to spirituality as the typical Millennial perceives it. For Millennials at war, the fact that their chaplains cannot “cross the wire,” cannot know what they know about being under fire, only makes them even less trustworthy.
The 1544th Transportation Company is a unique example of Millennial faith because while their captain, Brandon Tackett, says he stays out of his soldier’s spiritual lives, many under his command are deeply religious. There is Jodi Rund, for example. Corporal Rund is blond, fresh faced and not hard to imagine as a campus head-turner.
Not long ago, she was a sociology major at the University of Illinois. She was called up when she had only one semester left and now finds herself in the thick of the Iraq war. And she is a good soldier. One of her colleagues described her as “Osama bin Laden’s worst nightmare: a pretty woman who prays to Jesus and fights as well as any man.”
Jodi was raised Catholic and found a new interest in faith when she learned she was fighting for her country in the land of ancient Babylon. She yearned to know more about biblical history, and this brought her to Web sites that fed her spirit. She began to e-mail Christian friends at home about her faith. Soon she met other Christians in her company.
There was David Wetherell, for example, another University of Illinois student who was working on a finance degree when he was called up. Wetherell had “fallen away” from his Christian faith when he was first deployed, but the death of his sergeant on the first day he arrived, and his realization that he might die, moved him to “give my life to Jesus.”
Both Rund and Wetherell have nurtured vibrant spiritual lives in the face of war, but all without the aid of chaplains. Asked about the chaplains he knows, Wetherell replied, “Some are great and some stink, but none of them understand what soldiers go through in the field.” Rund reports that chaplains may have their place, but since they aren’t involved in the crux of battle, they are not really relevant.
“Services don’t help,” she insists. “Conventional, organized religion doesn’t meet our needs. I find that e-mails keep me strong and the psalms I put on my walls. Some of us get together before going out and pray. This is what keeps me going spiritually. Praying and surviving is the heart of my faith. But there isn’t a chaplain around at those times.”
Chaplains, then, are hindered by the policies that keep them from experiencing the stresses of soldiers, and by the distrust of authority and structure inherent in Millennial faith. They are also hindered by their own doubts about their roles, and this is often due to the shifting tides of respect for religion in American culture.
One chaplain, who asked not to be identified, explained that this uncertainty among the chaplains’ corps often arises because of the military’s response to legal pressures:
“Most of us want to talk about the things soldiers need to discuss: Is this war just? Is God on our side? Is killing in this war moral? Is Islam evil? Yet every time one of these legal cases comes along, everyone gets scared that if we do anything more than pray at ceremonies and hold chapel services, we will end up in trouble. I want to serve fighting men and women while they fight. I don’t want to make the sign of the cross from a safe distance. Something’s got to change.”
The legal cases this chaplain alludes to have indeed moved many to reconsider the chaplain’s role. The simple problem is that the military chaplaincy is caught in a time warp between modern forces of secularism and the faith of the founding era. Though it is clear that early Americans were largely Christian and wanted faith at the core of society, later generations have moved away from that founding faith and have begun to interpret the Constitution accordingly.
In 1971, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), that there are three conditions the government must meet in order not to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits an enforcement of religion by the state. The government’s action must: “(1) reflect a clearly secular purpose; (2) have a primary effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion; and (3) avoid excessive government entanglement with religion.” Obviously, the military chaplaincy violates each one of these requirements.
This was a point not lost on two Harvard University law students in 1979. Building on the reasoning of Lemon v. Kurtzman, Joel Katcoff and Allen Wieder filed a lawsuit designed to challenge the constitutionality of the military chaplaincy. The suit claimed that state-financed chaplains are an establishment of religion and in violation of the First Amendment.
The case dragged on until January of 1986, and was finally dropped when Katcoff and Wieder ran out of money to fund an appeal. In Katcoff v. Marsh, 755 F.2d 223 (2d Cir. 1985), the court ruled that the military chaplaincy should remain in place to fulfill the constitutional guarantee that soldiers have freedom to exercise their religion.
The case raised serious fears, though. If two law students could nearly eradicate the military chaplaincy, the constitutional basis for the chaplains’ corps must be tenuous indeed. Moreover, the majority opinion in the case admitted that the chaplaincy was inconsistent with the three requirements in Lemon v. Kurtzman. How long would it be before judges in another case found the chaplaincy in violation of the law?
These matters loom large for military chaplains today. What they are deployed to do is under constant legal scrutiny. In 1972, a small number of cadets and midshipmen from the nation’s military academies joined together for a class action suit intended to ban compulsory chapel attendance. The effort was successful, and the resulting case, Anderson v. Laird, 466 F.2d 283 (D.C. Cir. 1972), has stood as a warning in the minds of many chaplains that the connection between religious faith and the military may one day be severed.
These same fears were awakened in 2001 when the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the Virginia Military Institute on behalf of two former cadets who opposed a mandatory prayer before meals. The ACLU won the suit and immediately sent a letter warning the United States Naval Academy that it also must change its tradition of a mandatory prayer before lunch.
These efforts by the ACLU have moved several congressmen to propose a bill designed to protect prayer at the nation’s military academies. Representative Walter Jones of North Carolina and Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas have determined that the connection between faith and the training of warriors must not be severed.
“I find it incredibly ironic that liberal organizations like the ACLU are attempting to take away the very freedoms that these students are willing to go to war to protect,” Rep. Jones said.
Legal cases such as these leave many chaplains with the sense that they are living on borrowed time. “You have the ACLU and the military academy cases on the one hand,” a chaplain, who did not want to be named, complained, “and you have the fascination with faith that is thriving in American culture, particularly among the young, on the other hand.
“Chaplains are in the middle. What do you think they are going to do? They are going to do their job, but sometimes we aren’t sure where the First Amendment line is. This makes many of us hesitate to do the job we want to do: speak like prophets to men and women of God in a fight.”
Stephen Mansfield is the best-selling author of The Faith of George W. Bush, as well as a former pastor and the director of a research and publishing firm, the Mansfield Group (www.mansfieldgroup.com). read more
They speak in tongues, porphesy and tell stories of missionary exploits. Is their next victim in your church?
They come in all shapes and sizes. They are men, and they are women. They are friendly, they speak and behave like devout Christians—and they are looking to bleed you dry of every last penny in your possession. Christian con artists, spiritual seducers, godly grifters.
They’re constantly on the prowl for easy prey in the church—typically widows, widowers, the recently divorced and the relationship-starved. The more money you have, the bigger a target you are. Here you’ll meet one such charlatan—Jane Smith. Her name and those of her victims have been changed, but her story is true.
While you observe examples of her well-practiced art of deception, you’ll also hear from Jeffrey P. Bjorck, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary’s Graduate School of Psychology, as well as Wayde Goodall, pastor of Winston-Salem (North Carolina) First Assembly of God.
From their expert perspectives, they will point out warning signs and red flags in Smith’s twisted behavior so that those who are a part of your ministries are less likely to become victims of Christian con artists. Smith’s whereabouts are unknown as of this writing. But for many years she traveled around the country—and around the world—earning a very comfortable living by ripping off unsuspecting Christians.
And not only men. Smith was able to seduce and lure women into her traps as well. She sometimes posed as a full-time, Third-World missionary, sometimes as a rich widow, sometimes as a worker for or follower of various Christian ministries—and always speaking familiar “Christian-ese,” and always expertly plucking on the heartstrings of her targets.
That’s how it began for one woman, Michelle, who met Smith on a flight to California in 2003. According to a Dallas Observer article from December 2004, Smith was dressed in musty, secondhand clothes, sported a medical boot on one foot and began a sweet, seductive chat with Michelle, outlining her experiences as a missionary in India.
Michelle was charmed by the slight-looking woman with the bright, dancing eyes. When the flight attendant asked if either of the women wanted some wine, Smith expressed immediate interest. “She hinted it in such a way that I had to pay for it from the get-go,” Michelle said.
RED FLAG: First of all, many missionaries don’t drink—so this raises a question from the start. But more than that, Michelle got the sense from the get-go that she was supposed to be paying another person’s way—someone she barely knew. Smith was pushing on boundaries already. Bjorck
As the two sipped their drinks, Michelle talked about her booming business in the Napa Valley area. That’s when Smith really turned on the charm. “She started with the light fluttering in her eyes, the touching, making intimate contact,” Michelle said. “It was warm, a tad bit flirtatious ... right from the beginning.”
RED FLAG: Isn’t “flirtatious missionary” an oxymoron? This is a huge sign that something isn’t right, given the presumed spiritual maturity of missionaries. And when missionaries are on furlough, their primary task is often to raise support from churches. Plane travel is often their time to de-stress, not to engage in questionable interpersonal behavior and conversation. Bjorck
Turns out that during their conversation, Smith revealed to Michelle that she felt led by God to settle in California—to find property where she could instruct young people from developing nations the process of organic farming.
What’s more, Smith told Michelle that before their flight she was praying with a woman in an airport chapel, and her prayer partner said she must get on their particular flight because she would meet someone “elemental” to her life. Then, to seal the deal, a pastor from out of nowhere bought Smith a ticket, positive he was performing a service for the Almighty.
RED FLAG: This is quite an amazing chain of miracles. But believing in miracles does not preclude the necessity to be “wise as serpents”—and typically valid miracles decrease exponentially as the chain of claimed ones increases. Her story here must be called into question. Bjorck
Smith seemed so kind, so brave in her missionary adventures and so giving. And at that moment, Michelle found out how giving she could be, too. As the plane landed, Smith—without a dime on her person—launched a plea of sorts:
“You’ll pay for my room tonight, won’t you?”
RED FLAG: Michelle could have asked: “What were your plans concerning your lodging before you got on the plane? Who are your contacts in California? Why would you come here with no solid contacts or accommodations?” Dishonest panhandlers and church scam artists frequently use Smith’s type of approach as they prey on the generosity of sensitive Christians. We are to be sensitive to the needs of all people, however, ever watchful, because we live in a world where dishonesty is normal. Discernment asks questions and then responds accordingly. Goodall
Michelle was ill-prepared and had precious little time to mull over the matter. Of course—as with so many others before her—Michelle slipped Smith a handout. And the con was only just beginning.
RED FLAG: Notice Smith’s question—the wording is passive-aggressive and sets the woman up. She disguised her question as a statement: “You’ll pay for my room tonight.” If Smith’s victim says no, she risks disagreeing with what’s been put forward as a seemingly reasonable assumption—and then she’s the bad guy. Manipulative guilt is an excellent motivational tool. Bjorck
Diane Jones is a California real-estate agent who has surprisingly sympathetic memories of Smith, despite a multimillion-dollar property transaction that went bad due to Smith misrepresenting her assets and forging official documents.
“Ah, Jane,” Jones sighs, in a recent interview with Ministries Today. “She was obviously a sociopath and suffered from some kind of a mental illness, but she was also amazingly charismatic. She was quite convincing, very bright and did a brilliant job studying human nature.
“She was a joyous person who praised the Lord. She mentioned God at every turn, and when someone’s telling you that and has it down pat, it’s completely disarming. I can’t replay the situation in my mind and see anything I did wrong. I loved that woman—whoever she was pretending to be.”
Turn back the clock a bit—to 2000. Smith set her sights on a two-week conference in Colorado. That’s where she first held hands and prayed with James Dandridge, a career military officer from Texas, who was three years past a messy divorce and searching for direction in his life.
After the pair prayed, Dandridge learned that Smith had a pretty impressive spiritual résumé. “She said she’d just come back from a trip with a prominent female charismatic minister,” Dandridge told the Observer. Smith also offered that she was “mentored” by the minister herself.
Dandridge was enchanted by Smith—her gentle nature, her apparent spiritual depth. She was looking for a “Boaz” who desired an honest-to-goodness “Proverbs 31 wife”—an industrious housewife and helpmate as described in the Old Testament.
Soon, Dandridge was offering Smith money. “She had access to my credit cards early on,” he recalled. “It was a seduction.”
RED FLAG: Anyone who would give credit card, Social Security or bank information to a friend or significant other needs a shot of reality. Con artists see and sense naive, hurting, overly compassionate people. They know when to ask the right questions, and they close the sale without hesitation. — Goodall
Not that Dandridge seemed to notice. Just three months later—and after Smith visited his hometown and met his friends from church—Dandridge asked Smith to marry him. “I thought God was having mercy on me and brought somebody to me to fulfill my destiny,” Dandridge said.
RED FLAG: Dandridge’s account sounds as though there were no warning signs. He describes a series of small, passive choices. But once again I would suspect that these choices each involved manipulation masquerading under a facade of warmth that invokes pity. (Plus, a good rule of thumb is spending at least a year getting to know a potential spouse—shorter courtships often blind reality with romance.) Bjorck
Soon money was flying all over the place. Dandridge lavished Smith with everything she wanted—including a lavish engagement ring and posh nuptials at a five-star hotel. The bill for the bash: in the neighborhood of $60,000.
But on their wedding night, the once bubbly Smith turned on Dandridge, and became hostile and indifferent. In a marriage that would last but four months, Dandridge and Smith never consummated it. “Within 24 hours,” he recalled, “she’d turned into a witch.”
RED FLAG: Working with couples for more than 30 years has helped me understand that there are warning signs in relationships and marriages. No consummation and a quick personality change? Dandridge should have immediately (within two weeks) sought a pastor’s advice or a Christian counselor’s professional opinion. Dandridge was lonely, desirous of a life companion and wanted a normal home. Smith knew this. His unwillingness to get help—and embarrassment over his questionable decision—escalated into a downward spiral, and soon cost him his financial security and further damaged his trust in people. Goodall
When they married, Dandridge had no debt and owned lucrative property and possessions, but he would eventually lose it all. This “Proverbs 31” wife hocked her engagement ring to buy a bigger diamond, milking her “Boaz husband” for yet another $15,000, and racked up the credit card bills with first-class air travel, designer clothes and frequent massages.
RED FLAG: Once again, the incongruity didn’t begin on their wedding night. Someone who wants to be a Proverbs 31 wife and is seeking a Boaz husband doesn’t insist on five-star anything. But for his part, why didn’t he behave as a Boaz husband after his wedding night and insist on a visit with the pastor for post-marital counseling? And how much did he really get to know Smith to begin with? In our often-privatized culture, people tend to avoid in-depth investigation into others’ lives—in previous years, such investigation might be called “healthy relationship.” Bjorck
By the time Christmas rolled around, Dandridge felt like a prisoner in his own home—trapped there with a critical, psychologically abusive mate who, just a few months earlier, was so much the answer to all of his prayers.
“She was so deceptive and dominating,” he recalls. “It was like witchcraft. The whole thing was a nightmare. She seemed to manifest different personalities. I know she’s demon-possessed.”
Smith simply vanished by the start of the new year. Dandridge’s new SUV was gone, too, along with his safety net of gold coins. He had to pawn his wedding ring to get money for the barest of essentials. After filing for an annulment, Dandridge started getting phone calls from bill collectors.
Turns out Smith charged up $100,000 on credit cards and used a host of different Social Security numbers. Their annulment came through almost a year after he had first prayed with the woman who flashed her seductive eyes at him. Dandridge had no choice but to sell his house to pay off the debts.
“She pretty much cleaned me out,” he told the Observer. “She’s one scary lady.”
RED FLAG: I would encourage pastors in situations like this to keep more careful watches on those in their congregations who can invariably represent targets for such persons. In any congregation there will likely be a few persons who present as more gullible and needy than others, either due to their situations (like the loss of a spouse), their personalities or both. Case in point: A pastor should be particularly cautious when asked to perform a hasty wedding between a wealthy parishioner and future spouse who is relatively unknown. Bjorck
Daniel Crane met Smith at a revival meeting in a megachurch just outside Atlanta in the summer of 2003. Like Smith’s other victims, Crane was looking for something deep in his life after the death of one of his children, a difficult divorce and business difficulties. Smith pumped him up with words of knowledge—especially that he would soon embark on a “seven-year season of prosperity.”
Then the flirting started. Smith told Crane how much she liked his eyes, handsome features and well-conditioned body. “Her eyes would just dance,” Crane recalled. “She’d squeeze my hands. Her ability to know how to push and how to pull back was faultless.”
After the tête-à-tête, Crane saw Smith moving in for what he thought was a typical “church hug. Instead, “She reaches in to kiss me on the mouth and presses herself full-frontal on me,” Crane said. “But it was quick, graceful and soft. It was surprising to me, but very elegant and very appealing.”
RED FLAG: Again a Proverbs 31 woman doesn’t appear to be flirtatious or inappropriate. Once again Smith is crossing interpersonal boundaries. In addition, those who combine authoritative words of the Lord and claims of other such spiritual gifts with an equal level of flirtatiousness should be viewed with healthy caution as a contradiction of terms. Bjorck
When Smith expressed her desire to meet Crane’s children, he invited her home that day. There Smith told him of her unhappy living situation—her roommate was a con artist. “Deceitful” was the word Smith used to describe her—and, by the way, could she stay at his house for just one night?
A month later, and Smith hadn’t yet left—in fact, she was now running the show, insisting that Crane’s children address her as “Mommy.” While Crane required Smith to sleep on the couch, and while Smith wasn’t sexually aggressive, she said some very odd, suggestive things. To his shock, Crane overheard Smith conversing with strangers that she was his wife.
RED FLAG: Subtle and overt sensuality—whether from a woman or a man—can cause victims of it to bypass logic and common sense. Her kiss? Her appeal to stay overnight? Her suggestive comments and telephone conversations? Why we ignore the obvious is a curious study. Our sensitivity to people’s needs must be balanced with caution and discernment. Goodall
After an ugly argument, Smith threw a phone at Crane’s chest and finally left for good.
RED FLAG: One might parallel the abusive nature of Smith’s manipulation to sexual abuse of children. Molestation can involve pleasure but also typically invokes a gut reaction that something is not right. We educate children to notice such contradictory feelings as out of the ordinary, wrong and inappropriate, and we instruct them to get away and tell someone. In the previous scenarios, Smith exhibited similar kinds of danger signs. When a situation feels not quite right or too good to be true, it usually is. Bjorck
Smith was later seen in a California homeless shelter with a Bible on her lap. The next day, she vanished again. Her last known sighting came courtesy of a diner waitress who watched Smith befriend a kindly couple … who offered to give her a ride to her next destination.
Dave Urbanski is senior developmental editor for Youth Specialties, author of The Man Comes Around: The Spiritual Journey of Johnny Cash (Relevant Books), music editor for the Mars Hill Review, and writes about music, movies and culture for several publications. read more
You may think you know Rod Parsley. He’s the intense, impeccably dres-sed pastor who invades your living room with the rhetorical skills of a prosecuting attorney and preaching fervor of a Great Awakening evangelist.
Parsley’s TV program, Breakthrough, is broadcast to 96 percent of the nation twice a day, six days a week. Before the summer of 2004, Parsley often attacked the evils of partial-birth abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, cloning and genocide in Sudan from the familiar confines of his pulpit at World Harvest Church in Columbus, Ohio.
Then, in July, he founded The Center for Moral Clarity, cleared his fall schedule of previously booked speaking engagements and embarked on a tour of major U.S. cities—many in states that decided the 2000 election and were considered critical in 2004.
His goal? To awaken the American church to a crisis of moral values and to prod pew-warming believers to pray, vote and make their voices heard on issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, poverty and racism. Although Parsley was careful to couch his “Silent No More” tour in nonpartisan terms, his message was clear: “Vote for the candidate who will defend biblical values.”
The 2004 presidential election was decided by 59,388 voters in Parsley’s home state of Ohio in a race that was close, but definitively in favor of incumbent George W. Bush. And exit polls revealed that this Midwestern pastor wasn’t the only one concerned about the moral climate of America. Political pundits on both sides of the ideological fence agree that it was religious leaders like Parsley who awakened voters to make a difference on Election Day.
Unsatisfied by what some may see as a political victory, Parsley recently wrote Silent No More, a book in which he researches and exposes the moral decay in every sector of society and challenges believers to invade secular culture with the transforming power of the gospel.
Ministries Today spoke with Parsley about his role in the election, whether pastors should be able to endorse political candidates, and why abortion and same-sex marriage aren’t the only issues the church must confront.
Ministries Today: You’ve been primarily known as a revivalist. What was the turning point that moved you to take a stand in the 2004 election?
Rod Parsley: Through Breakthrough we had done some petitioning campaigns on issues like partial-birth abortion, the Sudan Peace Act, embryonic stem-cell research and cloning. The response to those was overwhelming to us. So we knew there was a need here and something that people wanted us to speak to.
Then, I had the opportunity to be at the signing of the bill to ban partial-birth abortion. There were two dozen people in the room with the president during that signing, and I felt the Holy Spirit speak to me about the representation of my generation in that room. Because everyone there was about 20 years my senior, I noticed that there was a gap in a national voice of my generation speaking out to moral issues.
So I founded the Center for Moral Clarity to address those critical moral issues that I felt were facing our nation. The center does that work through prayer, information and activism to shape our culture, grow healthy families and empower America’s moral base.
Ministries Today: Some people are hinting that the response to your Silent No More tour may have swung the election in Ohio—and, thus, the nation. Was the response bigger than you expected?
Parsley: I think we shined a light on—exposed something—that had been there all along. Even before the 2004 election I sensed that “values voters” were going to make a difference, and I could almost see a light of revelation in people’s eyes when I would address those issues in the pulpits.
These issues ne--eded to be spoken to regardless of who spoke out for them. A lot of mainstream America—who were not necessarily evan--gelical Christians, but people of many faiths or even people of no faith—have a strong moral basis. They more readily identify with our values than those of the liberal left. I think they realized there was a great cost of sitting on the sidelines while the political process went forward without them.
Ministries Today: Did you sense that you were changing people’s minds about who to vote for, or do you think you just stimulated values-voters, who may have stayed home November 2, to get to the polls?
Parsley: There’s a difference between changing people’s minds and encouraging them to act on what they already believe. I certainly never told anyone who to vote for because, unfortunately, that is illegal. But people of faith who know God’s Word and want to protect marriage and life will support amendments and candidates that define those issues for them.
Ministries Today: Have you had any contact with people at the White House responding to your tour?
Parsley: There were some encouraging responses beginning the very morning after the election with phone calls. I was honored to give the invocation for the president when he came to Nationwide Arena in Columbus, and I was invited to the Inauguration and prayed at the Inaugural Prayer Breakfast. I’m sure that our efforts were recognized, but we’re grateful to this president for his leadership.
Ministries Today: Do you anticipate that legislation will be introduced within the coming years to muzzle pastors’ speech on issues such as homosexuality?
Parsley: Unfortunately, it’s already happening. In California, state Senator Sheila Kuehl sponsored a bill, SB 1234, that was later signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger, which makes it illegal to speak out against homosexuality. Under that legislation, individuals could claim that someone expressing their biblical beliefs is intimidating and threatening to them. This is punishable by law now in the state of California, and the penalties include criminal prosecution and fines.
Here’s the staggering thing: fines up to $25,000 are awarded to the person who brings the accusation. All of this is modeled after Swedish and Canadian laws, and that’s why it’s so important for us to get HR 235 passed (see “Taking Off the Muzzle,” page 27). It will protect our preachers, clerics, bishops, priests and people of faith when they speak out on biblical truth about issues in their churches.
Ministries Today: How would you respond to people who say that pastors should not support specific candidates?
Parsley: Prior to 1954 those in houses of worship in America were free to speak out about any and every topic without any fear of government limitations or reprisals.
But when Lyndon Baines Johnson was running for re-election in the United States Senate, there were 501(c)(3) corporations who were opposing his bid for re-election, so he had this language introduced to an IRS bill. It was never voted on; it never came up in committee; it was never put before the American people or their elected officials in any way, but it became part of the IRS tax code.
I don’t think that Lyndon Johnson intended to target churches, because it wasn’t churches that were targeting him. However, since churches are 501(c)(3) organizations, we lost our First Amendment right of free speech.
What the First Amendment does clearly state is that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion and prohibiting the free exercise thereof or abridging the freedom of speech or the press.” HR 235 simply aims to restore the First Amendment rights of religious leaders, so that’s why we’ve got to see it get passed.
Ministries Today: What’s the biggest misconception church leaders have about “separation of church and state”?
Parsley: The only constitution that “separation of church and state” ever appeared in was the constitution of the former Soviet Union. I don’t think that’s one we want to follow.
That whole misunderstanding regarding “separation of church and state” came about in 1947 when Supreme Court Associate Justice Hugo Black, in Everson vs. Board of Education, asserted that the First Amendment made a separation between the church and state that should remain impregnable and so forth.
The only problem is, it’s not in the Constitution, it’s not in the Bill of Rights, and we have to see to it that our spiritual leaders are able to fulfill their responsibility to speak out on issues that are central to the faith of our people.
Ministries Today: In your book Silent No More, you argue that the church should take a stand on issues such as poverty and racial discrimination. How important are these compared to abortion and gay marriage?
Parsley: One of the major reasons that I wrote this book was to take issues that traditionally belong to the left and commend them to the right, and to take issues that traditionally belong to the right and commend them to the left.
I’m passionate about advancing the biblical vision of the founding fathers, and I think it’s important to speak out on all the issues of righteousness and of justice. I think for too long we have polarized ourselves, and these divisions fall many times along denominational lines, along racial lines and certainly across political lines that separate God’s people.
If folks are going to read this book and think they’re just going to hear another rant about abortion or other typically right-wing issues, they don’t know me. Those issues will be spoken to, but I can’t be silent either as long as one out of six of our children is going to bed hungry every night. I can’t be silent when 78 cents on the dollar is all a woman earns compared to her male counterpart on the same job.
As we speak out on these issues, what will happen is exactly what we saw happen with the marriage issue: It was the greatest rallying cry for the body of Christ of my lifetime, because it tore down the walls of race, theology and political ideology, and we were able to come together in a point of real agreement.
Ministries Today: Have you been able to build bridges with liberals because of your stand on racial issues?
Parsley: Many in the African-American community have become tremendous friends--not that they weren’t before. But they appreciate hearing someone that may be traditionally viewed as a far right-wing conservative speaking out on issues that are central to them as believers as well. I think we’re seeing the groundswell that the devil and world both are going to have to deal with.
Ministries Today: You have a large African-American contingency in your own church. What happened with the sought-after “black vote” in the 2004 election?
Parsley: Ethnic believers moved from 7 percent in 2000 to 15 percent in 2004 nationally, voting for Bush. In Ohio, I believe it was even higher than that. It’s obvious that there were African Americans who said, “We can’t vote for a president who believes that marriage between two homosexuals or two lesbians should be the law of the land.”
Lights also began to go on in the area of abortion, partial-birth abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. The lines are just getting too broad, and the distinction is becoming too apparent between these two political ideologies. My hope is that there will be democratic leadership that will stand up and begin to speak out on the issues of morality again.
Historically they have done that. For many years they have focused more on social-justice issues, and I think they are understanding that the mainstream still has the solid moral base and foundation. I believe there are those among the democratic leadership who do have strong moral convictions.
There are also those in the Republican Party who don’t support bans on partial-birth abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. What I’m hoping is that individuals from both ends of the political spectrum will begin to take a stand for these moral issues.
Ministries Today: Have you received much criticism from black Christian leaders about your position?
Parsley: I haven’t had any negative input at all. In fact, more African-American leaders have reached out for me to help them take a stand on these moral issues. I think they have appreciated my leadership in that regard and even more so as they read Silent No More and understand that I’m speaking to both sides of the political spectrum.
Ministries Today: Is it possible to have people in government concerned with moral values and still have a morally bankrupt society?
We must have these three things to initiate national revival: First, we must have a priest. We have that in Jesus, a high priest in His office. Second, we’ve got to have a king or a political system that will do that which is right in the eyes of God. Third, we’ve got to have a prophetic voice that will declare “Thus saith the Lord” to this generation. When we have all those three things functioning together we have the best opportunity for national revival.
Ministries Today: Should the government make laws against the behavior of consenting adults (e.g. sodomy)?
Parsley: The government makes laws about behavior or morality all the time. All legislation reflects morality. I want Christians to be a part of the discussion about whose morality the legislation will reflect.
Should we allow murder and theft, or marriage between three or four consenting adults? Everybody knows that’s not good for society, so legislatures must make laws against such behavior.
Ministries Today: Detroit pastor Keith Butler is planning to run for U.S. Senate. Have you ever considered a political career?
Parsley: I’ve met many fine men and women of faith and consider their work in government as ministry. But here’s the thing: Men and women will spend eternity in heaven or hell based on the words of a gospel preacher, and I don’t believe there’s a higher calling than that. Right now that’s what the Lord has me doing and I’m very privileged to be doing it.
Ministries Today: Do you think that there may be a need for some men or women out there who right now are preaching to shift into a political calling?
Parsley: Certainly in this hour God is putting His hand on individuals that may have been involved in ministry in any of the fivefold office gifts to become more of an active part of the political process, and that may mean that they become involved in running for an office and in fulfilling that office.
Ministries Today: Have you received any threats because of your political involvement throughout the campaign?
Parsley: Of course, we’re always threatened by those who are motivated by the wrong spirit, and that’s been a part of ministry life for many years for me. We just go on about our work and know that he that dwells in the secret place of the most high abides under the shadow of the Almighty.
The editor of Charisma Magazine, J. Lee Grady, interviewed Rod Parsley for Ministries Today. read more
In his latest book, The Thorn in the Flesh, veteran pastor R.T. Kendall explains how to thrive when God's calling and your personal aspirations collide.
What happens when God's calling and our own vocational aspirations conflict?
The word "calling" in the New Testament is used in several ways. But what I am referring to here is "career calling," God's plan for your life. Some of us discover much later, long after we have been converted, what God is going to do with our lives. Some also find that they are not happy with what God is planning in their lives, because it isn't happening like they thought it would happen.
To Peter and Andrew, Jesus said, " 'Come, follow me ... and I will make you fishers of men'" (Matt. 4:19, NIV). Peter had been a fisherman, and God called him to be a soul-winner. It was not something that Peter had wanted.
There is also a close connection between our natural gifts and God's calling for life, or career calling. We all have gifts, but they are not all used in the same way (see 1 Cor. 12:14-20).
Some people might want to be the head or the eye, but they are only the foot or the hand, figuratively speaking, and they get frustrated. They want to be in a high-profile position in the church. They say, "God, why can't I be up front where people will see me?"
God says: "Sorry, you are to be like the small intestines or the pancreas. You are like those organs in the body that aren't seen but are very necessary" (see 1 Cor. 12:22-24).
There are those who want to be behind the scenes, and if you gave them their choice, they would rather be the "liver" or the "kidneys" or the "lungs" where they are not seen. But God instead makes them be the eye, the ear or the head. It is an unwanted calling. It is when God's plans overrule yours. It is when you have been kept from doing what you wanted to do, and it's frustrating to you.
To be converted is one thing, but when you are subsequently called to do or be something that you hadn't wanted to do or be, that's quite another.
As for your education, it all seems to have gone down the drain. You went to the university to study a specialized field, and now look at what you do for a living!
When it comes to where God has placed you, you may feel overqualified and frustrated, or you may feel underqualified and frustrated. Maybe you work with people with whom you never would have chosen as co-workers. Maybe you are in a place you never would have chosen to work.
Could this be a thorn in the flesh? Yes! You have never been happy over the years with the work you have had to do, the workplace, or your co-workers. It's not even work that you were trained to do. It is not what you had planned to do, and over the years you have kept thinking this must be going to change: I'm not always going to be doing this!
But then the years go by, and you are still doing this work. I'm not always going to have to be with these people!, you say to yourself. Years go by, and you're still with them, and you keep thinking, It will end! But it hasn't yet. God has led you to where you are, but inwardly you think: Surely there must be something better in life for me than this. Is this it? Is this all there is?
Life is passing you by. You grew up looking forward to becoming maybe a doctor or a lawyer. Maybe you wanted to become a nurse or a computer programmer. It seems that nothing has gone according to your plan.
Could this have been Paul's thorn in the flesh? I believe that it could have been. After all, after he became a Christian he had to work with his hands and with a people whom he had been brought up to believe were second class: Gentiles. Had he managed to do what he wanted to do, he would have been able to work with his own people. Do you know, as long as he lived, he never got over that? (See Rom. 9:1-5.)
I wonder how many people are afraid of becoming Christians because they fear that the moment they become Christians God is going to send them to some far-flung place.
To us, it just doesn't add up. All of his life Paul was looking over his shoulder, trying to reach Jews at every opportunity. He said, "The gospel is to the Jew first" (Rom. 1:16), and I can tell you, every chance he had, he was talking to a Jew. I am quite convinced this is what eventually got him into real trouble.
There is little doubt in my mind that when those people came to him and said, "Don't go to Jerusalem," they were led of the Spirit (see Acts 21:411). Luke says, "By the Spirit they said, 'Don't go.'" Paul said, "I'm going!" He kept thinking that one day, somehow, he was going to convert the Jews. When he went to Jerusalem, it was a big disaster. It didn't happen.
Maybe that's you. You are still hoping somehow to do something else. You say, "I am not going to do this all my life!" You try to do what God won't let you do, and it just doesn't happen. Paul's lasting success was with the very people he had grown up to think very little of. It was an unwanted calling.
I met a Harvard man who became one of David Brainerd's biographers. Had Brainerd lived, he would have been Jonathan Edwards' son-in-law, but he died at the age of 29. Edwards went on to publish Brainerd's journal and that journal was once said to have inspired more people to be missionaries than any body of literature next to the Bible.
After the biographer relayed this story, he said something I was not prepared for: "David Brainerd did not really like the Indians that he had to witness to in New York state. He actually couldn't stand them!" Yet here was this godly man who became a legend because of his ministry to the American Indians.
Take an unwanted calling as to secular involvement. You took certain subjects at school and later concentrated on a certain field. Perhaps you studied law, French or medicine.
Then when it came to finding a job, no jobs were available in the area of your preparation or training. Perhaps you learned Chinese, and now you are working as a secretary.
You studied philosophy or theology, and you are working as a taxi driver. You went to a university and graduated, and now you are working as a salesperson in a department store.
Perhaps you felt called to be a foreign missionary, and you are still living and working in your own country. Or, maybe you have to do a kind of Christian work as plan B--waiting for that more fulfilling opportunity.
One must take into consideration the providence of an unwanted calling. Perhaps God has given you a mission you didn't ask for. "By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going" (Heb. 11:8).
How's that for trying to impress your friends?
"What are you up to, Abraham?"
"What do you mean, 'not sure'? What's happening in your life?"
"Well, I am obeying God!"
"Where are you going?"
That was it. In fact, "the Lord had said to Abram, 'Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you'" (Gen. 12:1). What kind of a mission is that? Yet Abraham became one of the greatest men in all history. He is known as the father of the faithful. He had no idea what it would lead to.
Jesus said, "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much" (Luke 16:10).
Do you feel that life is passing you by although you have kept your eyes on the Lord? He has led you from one place to the next, and you recognize His leading, but you think to yourself, This is not what I had in mind! But it is not over yet! There was a lot for Abraham to discover.
What if, like Jonah, you are given a mandate you didn't ask for? The same Jonah who prayed he wouldn't have to go to Nineveh now prayed, "O God, please let me go!" It is amazing how God can get our attention. The very thing you said no to is the very thing you end up praying for!
He was given a message he hadn't wanted to deliver. God may give you a word you have to preach. It is not what you wanted to preach, but you do it because He tells you to.
There is great potential in an unwanted calling. It refers to what you are capable of becoming. God sees what you are capable of becoming and saying. If you could always do only what you wanted to do, you would never know your full potential in other areas.
Your potential is what God sees, but you can't. God can see a potential in you that you can't see, so He leads you in a way, which, at first, doesn't seem to make sense.
Consider Daniel, whose captivity allowed him to be used in giftings that otherwise would never have been discovered.
The way we have been led we cannot understand at the time, but time shows there is purpose and meaning in it all. So it is with you. God knows your potential, and it may seem wasted at first, but one day you will see a reason for all that you have learned and the explanation for all your training.
What if you even sacrifice that career?
What is the purpose of an unwanted calling? It is the reason for the thorn in the flesh in the first place. God directed you differently from what you wanted in order to give you the usefulness and intimacy with Him you would not have otherwise experienced. If you are like me, then you would have been too proud had you gotten what you wanted.
God's purpose is twofold. First, everything that He does in our lives is geared for one purpose: to know the Lord (see Phil. 3:10). I find it very interesting that Philippians was written after Paul had that disaster by going to Jerusalem (see Acts 2126).
Nothing happened as he had hoped, and he alludes to it in Philippians 1:12: "Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel."
The Philippians were worried about him, but he says, "As for what happened to me, it doesn't matter; it hasn't hurt the gospel." It is as though he says, "I may not be in good shape in some ways, but it advanced the gospel."
That is what it is all for. God doesn't care whether I am seen as a great success. He cares about one thing, and that is that I get to know His Son. He says, "R.T., I am sorry about having to disappoint you in some things, but there is only one way that you are going to get to know My Son, and that is to put you through all this."
Everything that has happened to us--whether it be an unwanted calling, living in unhappy conditions, working with people we don't want to, studying in a specialized field only to have a career doing the opposite--is because God wants us to know His Son.
The potential that you have for intimacy with God would never be discovered if you got to do what you wanted to do. If you had the success you wanted, you wouldn't be teachable. God knows where to keep us. So when we get to the place where we say, "I just want to know Him," God says, "Good."
But there is another purpose, and it is this: that we might have a reward at the judgment seat of Christ (see 1 Cor. 9:24-27; 2 Tim. 4:6-8).
In other words, the thorn of an unwanted calling is the best thing that could have happened to any of us. We all need a thorn to save us from ourselves, and Paul could say at the end of the day, "It is worth it all!" *
R.T. Kendall was the pastor of Westminster Chapel in London for 25 years. The author of more than 30 books, he was educated at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Oxford University. This article was adapted from Kendall's new book, The Thorn in the Flesh (Charisma House). In this book, Kendall explores the challenges of life that God allows for the purpose of drawing us closer to Him. Kendall combines pastoral wisdom with a solid theological understanding of God's sovereignty to bring readers to a greater sense of acceptance--and victory--in the midst of disappointment. For more information about this book, visit www.charismahouse.com, or call 1-800-599-5750. read more
One of America's best-loved pastors shares his secret for staying relevant: risk reinventing yourself.
It's been said that the pastor today is more of a CEO than a shepherd, but perhaps there is a better metaphor to describe the 21st century pastor.
As a church grows and broadens its ministry, the pastor must begin to view his role not only as a shepherd but also as a rancher. As a church expands its reach to meet the needs of different groups of people, the senior pastor must be willing to allow others to shepherd those distinct groups. As a rancher, he helps set the direction for all these shepherds so the entire flock can embrace a like vision and operate in unity.
In order for a church to reach its community today, one must be willing to explore innovative ways to communicate to people who are receiving information, inspiration and motivation differently than they did just a few years ago.
Each year, when thousands of pastors and leaders gather at our Pastors' School, we emphasize that the method is not sacred--the message is. As long as we maintain the integrity of the good news of Christ, we can be--and we must be--innovative in the way we present the message so that it is relevant to people's lives.
Ultimately, there are two priorities set before the pastor as his holy charge. They are eternal and must be at the forefront of what he does: the Word of God and people. Everything else will pass away, but the Word of God will remain. And an emphasis on people and their everlasting souls will help keep the pastor focused, and limit distractions such as buildings and programs, which--albeit important--must not become the main focus in ministry.
If the pastor, or a rancher, if you will, has these priorities in mind and heart, it will be easier for him to reach the community with new methods, but with the same message of the love of God.
Numerous studies have shown that one of the primary barriers to churches reaching unchurched people in their communities is that many people feel churches are not relevant to their lives.
I have always felt that the church should be on the cutting
edge in the ways that it reaches out to people. Fifty years ago, using props and dramatic presentations while presenting illustrated sermons was considered practically heretical. Realizing that our society is becoming more and more visually oriented and less literary, we have to bring the message of Christ to people in a manner that makes sense to them.
Similarily, when we removed the hymnals from the pews at Phoenix First and replaced them with two large projection screens, many thought that a sacred element of worship had been replaced by some sterile technology. Instead, the worship experience has been enhanced with the use of technology that makes the message relevant to people.
A pastor must examine the church and its ministries, its facilities and, ultimately, himself to see that the love of God is being effectively communicated to people in a way that makes sense in the postmodern context.
A pastor should be willing to risk utilizing cultural innovations in order to spread the gospel. For example, we often capitalize on the marketing efforts that are capturing the attention of millions of people in order for those same people to hear our message.
We recently advertised an illustrated sermon titled "American Idols," complete with a vocal contest, and unchurched people from all over the community came. When the message was presented that idolatry and the pursuit of fame leaves people with a hollow emptiness that only Jesus Christ can fill, more than 1,000 people came to the altars to give their hearts to the Lord.
We've built new high-tech buildings for youth and children, a "Youth Walk" hangout for teens and a cafe in order to create an environment where we can reach the next generation. Young people who might not otherwise come to church are affected by the message to such an extent that many of them don't want services to end as they continue to seek the Lord.
If the pastor is a CEO as some church leadership experts claim, then perhaps some reinventing--as the corporate world would call it--is in order. When companies reinvent, they strengthen their identities and visions while increasing the scope of their outreach.
Without compromising the enduring values of salvation, healing, the Holy Spirit and the second coming, we must create innovative means of communicating these truths to a generation that is biblically illiterate.
One of the ways that we as pastors can examine our churches' relevance in our communities is to see if our churches represent the people that we are trying to reach in our weekly attendance. If not, we must be willing to take the risk of reinventing ourselves in order to reach a lost and dying world for Christ. *
In his 50th year of ministry, Tommy Barnett is the pastor of Phoenix First Assembly, an innovative congregation he has served for 24 years. Barnett is the author of several books, including Hidden Power, Dream Again and Adventure Yourself. For a profile of Tommy Barnett, see page 38 of this issue of Ministries Today. read more
The church needs more than good experience--it needs good theology.
Is sound teaching primary today, or are teachers merely scratching the itching ears of their hearers? It depends where you look. In some reformed or mainline denominational churches teaching is likely primary. The problem with most of them is that they are overfed. (I speak as a reformed theologian and pastor.)
They remind me of fat sheep that keep eating more and more and need to be poked to let air out before they die of eating too much. To quote my predecessor at Westminster Chapel, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, they are "perfectly orthodox and perfectly useless."
But if you look to charismatic and Pentecostal churches--those who fancy themselves "Spirit-filled"--you will find the opposite. Teaching is not primary. Worship, signs and wonders, and an obsession with the benefits of giving and receiving are the cornerstones of what passes for solid teaching.
Instead of an emphasis upon the real reason Jesus died--the cross, the resurrection, knowing Christ--teaching has become largely concerned with answering the question, "What will this do for me?" This is the very reason "revival tarries," to use the late Leonard Ravenhill's phrase.
Is the place of teaching in our churches given the same profile as in the New Testament?
Not in the least. The writings of the apostle Paul comprise two-thirds of the New Testament--almost entirely teaching. Consider the four Gospels, which are composed of the parables and the sermons of Jesus. They are all teaching. Look at the book of Acts: the key issues were the reason Jesus died and rose from the dead, the relationship of circumcision to salvation, the offense of the cross--all interlaced with persecution in the early church over teaching.
One of the forgotten observations of Luke is the way he initially described the early church immediately after recording the event of Pentecost: "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching ... " (Acts 2:42, NIV). Teaching came first in the New Testament, and it should come first today.
Instead, it would seem that much that passes for preaching and teaching nowadays is done with meticulous care so that the deep-pocket givers will not be offended. Teachers are more concerned with filtering the content through the minds of hearers rather than confronting the lost who are going to hell.
By the way, when is the last time you actually heard an authentic, heartfelt sermon devoted entirely to the teaching of eternal punishment?
Is there a hint of the appetite of the church today if one judges this by the preaching on Christian television these days?
While some Christians might crave healthier fare, you'd never know it to watch the average "teaching" program. Instead of solid, sound teaching that reflects the God of the Bible, we hear of the preacher's desire to make people write in (with a generous contribution) at the end of the program.
But when contributions are needed to keep these preachers on the air, one wonders if they end up "playing to the gallery" and "ringing certain bells" to keep the money flowing in.
If I am asked what some of the false teachings are that have invaded the church today, I would answer:
The dilution of the New Testament teaching on eternal punishment. An absence of emphasis on the Holy Spirit's role in convicting of sin, righteousness and judgment before people can be saved. Ignorance of the primary reason Jesus died and rose from the dead--for our salvation, not for our healing and prosperity. An overemphasis on what appeals to one's personal comfort to motivate to obedience rather than being motivated by the glory of God alone.
These and other issues should be addressed by the teachers God has given the church. But it would appear that the gift of teaching has fallen on hard times in the body of Christ today.
ISN'T THE HOLY SPIRIT ENOUGH?
The office of the teacher is the last on the list of those offices, or special anointings, given in Ephesians 4:11. It is the least controversial, but possibly the most neglected and needed of the five.
The Greek word for "teacher" (didaskalos) is found in the New Testament 58 times. It was a common way the 12 addressed Jesus--"Master" in the King James Version--which appears in the four Gospels alone at least 45 times. The Greek word didasko ("to teach") is found 95 times in the New Testament and didakee ("teaching") appears 30 times in the New Testament.
In the ancient Hellenistic world these words taken together referred to instruction and were used to denote the insight of the one to be instructed and the knowledge presupposed in the teacher. The example, not merely the instruction, of the teacher formed a bridge to the knowledge and the ability of the pupil. Teaching referred to the inspiration of practical and theoretical knowledge.
There was a deep connection between the content of instruction and the example of the teacher, since the teacher would often be imitated by the pupil. One thus recalls Paul's final word to Timothy, "You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance" (2 Tim. 3:10). Doctrine and manner of life were intimately related.
Is it true that if people are soundly converted they will progress in their walks with Christ simply because they have the Holy Spirit to guide and teach them? Most of Paul's letters--two-thirds of the New Testament--plus, Hebrews, all underline the premise that the Holy Spirit is not enough! If the Holy Spirit were enough, then one would just learn from Him and drink at the fountain of His peace--and never need to open the Bible.
But God gave us the Bible--the Holy Spirit's greatest product--that we might know the Spirit's mind. We need to be filled with the Spirit again and again and again. What happened at Pentecost in Acts 2 was virtually repeated in Acts 4:31 and following, and this must happen to us.
It is then that we will grasp the teaching of the New Testament at a level rarely experienced. Never forget: the Holy Spirit wrote the Bible and if we are to understand it we must be on good terms with Him.
In fact, the role of the Holy Spirit is to bring to our minds what has been previously taught. If sound teaching is not in our minds in the first place, there is nothing for the Holy Spirit to remind us of (see John 14:26).
TEACHING AND THE FIVEFOLD MINISTRIES
The fivefold ministries depicted in Ephesians 4:11 show not only the "givenness" and diversity of leadership in the earliest church but also the order in which the ministry functioned and generally unfolded:
First came the apostles who had authority to lay both doctrinal foundations and validate that authority partly through signs and wonders.
The prophetic ministry gave immediate direction and guidance for Christians, especially at a time when there was no New Testament to consult. This does not negate the need for the prophetic today, but one cannot help but wonder if people are more interested in the prophetic word than the written or preached word--even though we have the Bible at our fingertips.
Evangelists, the bearers of good news, could describe the role of virtually every Christian in ancient times although there emerged a special gifting in this area. All Christians have the gift of spreading the gospel within them, and this is a gold mine that is largely unexplored in the church at the present time.
The role of the pastor quickly surfaced, since all God's sheep need leadership, loving care and sometimes discipline.
The teacher can possibly be said to describe the apostle and pastor but refers mainly to the ongoing upholding of apostolic doctrine so that all the body of Christ could be aptly instructed and well-informed as to what they should believe.
Some pastors are not strong teachers or preachers, and some teachers and preachers are not good pastors. But sound teaching is needed in the body of Christ. This way a believer's faith will be strong and their discernment sharp when it is necessary to detect false teaching.
There is a distinction between the teacher and the preacher. Preaching refers to the message as well as method but largely embraces exhortation and evangelism. In a sense, preaching can be done by any believer, whereas the teacher is gifted with knowledge and the ability to impart knowledge.
Paul, John and Jude, in particular, had to deal with false teaching that crept into the church toward the end of the first century--largely Gnosticism and the teaching of the Judaizers (Jews who made professions of faith but who probably were never truly converted by the Holy Spirit).
CONTENDING FOR THE FAITH
The little epistle of Jude indicates that the writer had hoped to write a soteriological treatise but, due to the onslaught of false doctrine which came from counterfeit ministers, he warned that we must earnestly contend for the faith "once for all" entrusted to the saints (see Jude 3).
The "once for all" refers to a body of doctrine that needed to be understood and upheld. This shows that we are not to teach just anything we like; we are duty-bound to uphold Holy Scripture and that faith "once for all" delivered to the church. This is one of the reasons we still need the office of the teacher.
I believe that every Christian is called to be a theologian. Most believers today could not tell you what they believe or why. How many do you know can explain the doctrine of justification by faith--which turned the world upside down in the 16th century? But Paul said that Jesus was raised for our justification (see Rom. 4:25).
Worse still, how many Christians could be prepared in 10 seconds to lead a lost person to a saving knowledge of Christ? It takes not only a good experience but also--sooner or later--good theology to do this. The role of the teacher is therefore not merely an option; it is urgently needed--now more than ever.
R.T. Kendall was the pastor of Westminster Chapel in London for exactly 25 years. Educated at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Oxford University, Kendall is the author of more than 30 books, including the best seller Total Forgiveness. He lives with his wife, Louise, in Key Largo, Florida. read more
A tribute to the life and ministry of Fuchsia Pickett. Her 50-plus years of teaching will not be forgotten.
Fuchsia Pickett never fit the mold of a charismatic teacher. Reared in a Methodist family, led to Christ by a Presbyterian friend, educated at John Wesley College, and dramatically healed and filled with the Holy Spirit in a Pentecostal church, Pickett became an icon of unconventional wisdom during her 50-plus years of ministry.
She stepped into the pulpit at a time when women's callings were typically confined to the nursery, and she taught on the importance of a crucified life when self-promotion and prosperity were the hallmarks of many prominent ministries.
Who knew that one day this unassuming woman would impact some of the church's most influential leaders, including Myles Munroe, Judson Cornwall and others.
On January 30, 2004, at the age of 85, Pickett died peacefully in her Tennessee home and went to be with her beloved Jesus. But her life and her teachings will not soon be forgotten.
Pickett was born to God-fearing parents in Axton, Virginia, and faithfully attended a Methodist church during her early years. She married at 16, after graduating from high school.
Soon after, Pickett began observing the vibrant faith of a Presbyterian girl with whom she worked. Convicted, Pickett would often lie awake at night questioning whether she would go to heaven.
After attending an evangelistic rally, Pickett fell to her knees in her bedroom and cried out to God. That night, Pickett walked from darkness into light. Soon after, God began speaking to her.
Lying in bed one night, she heard a distinct voice calling her name, and she sensed that the room was filled with the presence of God. "I want you to preach and teach My Word," the voice said. "I knew I had heard the voice of God," Pickett told Ministries Today in her final interview.
God opened the door for her to attend John Wesley College, in Greensboro, North Carolina, and, later, Martinsville Bible College, Aldergate University and the University of North Carolina.
THE TEACHER MOVES IN
For the next 17 years, Pickett traveled throughout the country, preaching and teaching--although it was rare at the time for a woman to do so.
Her father dying of Hodgkin's disease, Pickett began to notice in her own body symptoms of a debilitating bone disease. "I felt instinctively that my days of ministry would soon be over," she said. Pickett tried to hide her condition from her family until the symptoms became unavoidable, and she found herself in a hospital bed, supported with braces and packed in sandbags to sustain her body.
She had written her own funeral, selected pallbearers and purchased a tombstone when a friend offered to take her to a meeting at a Pentecostal church. During the service, Pickett heard the Holy Spirit tell her to go forward for prayer. Her weakened body in braces, she dragged herself to the front and spoke to the preacher: "I don't know why I'm here. But I have a feeling that God would like these people to pray for me."
After a simple prayer and a smear of anointing oil, Pickett began limping back to her seat. It was when she reached the seventh pew that she saw her first vision. A voice said to her, "If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land" (see Is. 1:19). The voice continued, "Are you willing to be identified with these people--to be one of them?"
"Yes, Lord," she replied and began to lower herself into her seat.
At that moment, Pickett recalled that the power of God struck the base of her neck and coursed through her body. Minutes later, she was dancing and shouting, her unneeded braces clattering to the floor.
An hour later, having exhausted her vocabulary for praising God, Pickett found herself speaking in a language she had never learned or heard before. "Not only was I healed from the top of my head to the tip of my toes," Pickett said. "But I was filled with the Holy Ghost."
"My Teacher moved in," she said. "For the first time in my life I began to understand, through revelation, the same Scriptures I had studied and taught faithfully for many years. They came alive to me, not as information, but as power that was working in me and transforming my life."
DREAMS AND VISIONS
Soon after, God began to reveal Himself to Pickett in dramatic ways. "You run your classes based on 60- or 90-minute sessions," she recalled the Holy Spirit telling her. "I don't. I live here in your spirit. I have moved in to be your Teacher, and My classroom is never closed. I wrote the Book."
Pickett added: "As the Holy Spirit would quicken truth to me, whole books of the Bible would open and relate to each other in my mind. I saw how Leviticus related to Hebrews, Joshua to Ephesians, and I walked the floor, shaking my head and staggering in my ability to grasp it all."
Local Pentecostal pastors caught wind that a Methodist minister had received the Holy Spirit, and soon, Pickett was invited to speak at Pentecostal camp meetings and revival services. As she explained, a Spirit-filled Methodist was a novelty at the time, and her story was welcomed with applause and amazement.
But she was called to do more than just testify. Daily, God was revealing truths to her about Himself and His Word. Soon, her Pentecostal friend Ralph Byrd began to notice. "You remind me of a Guernsey cow," he told her one day. "You are so full of the milk of the Word that you are bursting with it and looking for every calf around you that you can feed."
A TEACHER AND A MOTHER
From that point on, Pickett traveled extensively, preaching at conferences, writing and teaching at Fountaingate Ministries and Bible College, which she founded in Dallas. Over the years, Pickett became respected as both a teacher and a spiritual mother in the charismatic movement. Her teaching was a unique marriage of prophetic revelation and verse-by-verse exposition.
Pickett applied theological principles from her formal training, but she never held them too tightly when she felt the Spirit move her in a new direction. "I don't despise what I have studied," Pickett said. "That knowledge of the Word brought me to the point that I could receive true revelation of it."
Unafraid to confront traditional understandings of difficult passages, she often embraced an unconventional allegorical interpretation of Scripture. Pickett described this as the living Word giving her insight into the meaning of the written Word.
For instance, in a vision, Pickett was transported to the court of Esther, where the Spirit explained to her the meaning of the book and its characters: Esther represents the church, Haman the flesh and Mordecai the Holy Spirit.
While some would argue that books such as Esther and Ruth are historical narratives to be taken in a strictly literal sense, Pickett taught that they are both historical and allegorical--or revelatory. "As Paul said, all these things were examples," she explained. "The Holy Spirit wrote the facts, but He also gave us deeper allegorical truths all the way through."
The core of her teaching, however, was the deeper life, death to self and the Spirit's empowerment for godly living. "It is obedience to the revelation we receive that enables the Holy Spirit to keep giving us new revelation," she said. "The test of true revelation is the power it has to transform our thinking and our lives to the image of Christ."
Was she afraid of making mistakes? "Not mistakes, but incomplete truths," she said. "No one person has it all because the truth is broken into bits." Never one to hold too tightly to her interpretations, Pickett encouraged her hearers to examine her teachings through the lens of the written Word.
But doctrine was not as much a concern for Pickett as was the disunity and spiritual apathy she saw in the church. Four years after being filled with the Spirit, she received the most dramatic vision of her life, and, like the prophetess Anna, she longed for its fulfillment.
While she was spending the night in a church in Klamath Falls, Oregon, Pickett saw a hydroelectric power plant being built by crews of laborers. It was surrounded by gates and connected to dammed-up rivers, representing streams of church tradition.
Pickett said that there will be a last-days awakening, in which God's river of truth will again plow through the mechanisms of the derelict power plant, releasing revival in the nation and around the world.
It's been nearly 40 years since Pickett saw the vision, but she held to its reality. "We are coming to the last session," she said. "God is digging out the reservoirs, filling them with His Word, connecting people who are hungry."
THE STATE OF TEACHING
As she looked at the current church culture, Pickett was both encouraged and concerned. "There seems to be a hunger for what God said rather than what so-and-so said," she said. "This hunger will bring in the presence of God. But if you're not hungry, you won't eat."
In order for true renewal to come, Pickett contended that the church has to be cleansed of denominationalism, culture and prejudice. "We're fighting over a lot of doctrinal nonessentials--man's opinions, like how to have church," she said. "Denominational lines can come down, and we can focus on what we agree on for the sake of relationship."
Pickett cautioned against minimalizing the importance of the Teacher--the Holy Spirit, that is. "He is the unveiler of the teaching," she said. "If we walk with Him, He'll talk to us and lead us beyond just what we're hearing or reading. The Holy Spirit is the Teacher, but the gift of God given to the church is the teaching."
In her last days, Pickett was still exploring challenging books of the Bible--but not the ones most consider difficult. "Ephesians," she says. "It's one of the books of hunger. In other words, it gives insight and provokes hunger, a book to the mature."
She also hinted that she would soon leave this world. In fall 2003, she told a congregation in Lavergne, Tennessee, that she "wouldn't be coming back."
Sue Curran, who pastors Shekinah Church, the Blountville, Tennessee, congregation attended by Pickett since 1988, visited the teacher shortly before her death. "During my last conversation with her, she was desirous to live as long as the Lord wanted her to," Curran says. "Our church prayed to that end."
As she grew older, Pickett had lost the physical strength of her younger years but none of the passion and good humor. An interviewer once asked her how old she was. "Age is a number, Honey," she replied with a smile. "Mine is unlisted."
Although failing health prevented her from maintaining her rigorous speaking schedule, Pickett continued to address the Scriptures with this childlike faith and a sense of mystery, sharing her wisdom with Christian leaders who came to her for insight.
It was always hard to get Pickett to talk about herself, but you never had to look very hard to find someone who was willing to sing her praises. One of her closest earthly friends was charismatic Bible teacher Judson Cornwall, who had known her since 1961 when she came to his church in Eugene, Oregon.
"Her insight into the Scriptures was phenomenal," says Cornwall, 79. "The life that was in her seemed to be available to all who would listen with spiritual ears."
Cornwall attributed Pickett's gifting to an intimate relationship with God. "You had the sense that she heard from the Holy Spirit in her prayer closet, and I happen to know that she had," he says.
Still, Pickett always realized who really deserved the praise. "It's all about knowing who I am in contrast to who He is. It takes your pride down a number of notches," she said. "The praise that I receive doesn't belong to me. I just pass it on to Him--thank Him for it. I'm only the keeper and steward of knowledge--a trusted servant to handle the truth."
Fuchsia Pickett's books enjoy revived interest
Fuchsia Pickett's writings and teachings continue to enjoy a broad audience, as people seek to gain insight and encouragement from books such as Receiving Divine Revelation, Stones of Remembrance and The Next Move of God.
Shortly before her death, a new series of books was released, a compilation of her hallmark writings on spirituality. Repackaged in hard-bound collector's editions, the six volumes are a tribute to Pickett's life and teachings. Here are some highlights:
Five Laws of the Dying Seed: Discover the Secret to a Fruitful Life
"Resurrection life comes out of losing our lives. Jesus wanted us to understand that out of death comes life and that without death there is no life. His message focused on the antithesis of death--resurrection life that would glorify God alone. Yet, it underscored the necessity of death, a spiritual law that we must embrace if we are to become fruitful in the kingdom of God."
God's Purpose for You: Answer Life's Five Key Questions
"Many charismatic teachers deny the need for suffering. They have taught us to rebuke everything the cross brought, to confess that we don't have to endure anything that hurts or cuts away at our 'self' lives. They don't want to talk about the fourth baptism. We speak eagerly of the baptism into the body of Christ, water baptism and the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The fourth baptism, baptism of suffering, however, is not as readily taught. We don't want to suffer."
Possess Your Promised Land: Learn to Defeat Your Hidden Enemies.
"Even God's miracles, like the manna He fed His people daily in the wilderness, have the larger purpose of humbling us to teach us the reality of our dependency on our relationship with God. He tests us to see if we will obey His commandments, knowing that only if we do can we inherit our promised land.
To purchase these and the other three books in this series (Understanding the Personality of the Holy Spirit, Walking in the Anointing of the Holy Spirit and Cultivating the Gifts & Fruit of the Holy Spirit), visit www.charismahouse.com, or call 1-800-599-5750.
Matthew Green is associate editor for Ministries Today. He was assisted by Carol Noe, who conducted this final interview with Fuchsia Pickett. read more
A divorce of the Word and the Spirit in the church has resulted in 'fast-food' teaching and preaching--often tasty, but seldom healthful.
There's been a silent divorce in the church--not between a man and a woman, but between the Word of God and the Spirit of God.
As with any divorce, sometimes the children stay with the mother, and sometimes they stay with the father. In this divorce, some have embraced the Spirit and others the Word. However, I believe that our teaching and preaching will only be effective if it is firmly grounded in the Word of God and entirely saturated with the Spirit of God.
What is the difference? Those on the "Word" side emphasize sound doctrine, expository preaching, contending for the faith. "We need to get back to the teaching of the Reformation," they say, "to rediscover the doctrine of justification by faith, the sovereignty of God and to know the God of Jonathan Edwards."
Those on the "Spirit" side emphasize the prophetic word, signs, wonders, miracles and the power demonstrated in the book of Acts. "Until we see that dimension of the Spirit that is seen in the early church--with all the gifts of the Spirit in operation--the honor of God's name will not be restored, nor will the world take any real notice of the church," these people say.
It is not one or the other that is needed, but both. This simultaneous combination will result in spontaneous combustion. It is only then that the revival for which we pray and another Great Awakening, which is sorely needed, will take place.
VALUING THE WORD
In the Old Testament, God has revealed Himself in essentially two ways: His Word and His name. His Word is the infallible expression of who He is and what He declares to be true. His Word is His integrity put on the line. His name reveals His identity, His power and His reputation.
When I teach, I sometimes ask people to vote for which, in their opinion, is the more important of the two to God Himself: His Word or His name? In my experience, most people believe that God's name is more important to Him than His Word.
The answer is actually provided by David in Psalm 138:2: "Thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name" (KJV).
Why? First, His Word came prior to the disclosure of His name. It was His Word that spoke creation into existence (see Gen. 1:3), and it was the way He revealed Himself to the patriarchs. This is evident in His words to Moses: "'I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord [Yahweh] I did not make myself known to them'" (Ex. 6:3, NIV).
Similarly, the disclosure of God's name in Exodus 3:14 was almost immediately followed by signs, wonders and miracles. With the possible exception of the birth of Isaac, supernatural events were largely withheld from the patriarchs until the era of Moses' ministry (his rod turning into a serpent, the plagues on Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea and the provision of manna).
Second, God's Word is to be magnified above His name because the Word is an integral part of the plan of salvation. We are saved in precisely the same way Abraham was saved: by believing God's promise--His Word. In fact, Abraham became Paul's chief example of justification by faith.
Abraham's justification occurred long before the signs and wonders that he experienced (the provision of a son and a sacrificial ram). Instead, Abraham was justified when he placed faith in the promises of God (see Gen. 15:6). Ultimately, we are not saved by signs and wonders but by believing the Word--the promise. That, in a word, is the gospel.
And yet a third--and deeper--reason for God's exaltation of His Word above His name may be that we might get to know God for who He is in Himself. This takes time. It means devouring His Word--the Scriptures--just in order to know Him.
If you want to know God, it is required that you spend time with Him alone in prayer and spend time in His Word--not just to see what will "preach" or "teach" or give you a quick sense of direction.
A recent poll of pastors, church leaders and clergymen on both sides of the Atlantic revealed that the average church leader spends 4 minutes a day in quiet time and personal devotions. And we wonder why the church is powerless?
Martin Luther wrote in his journal, "I have a very busy day today; must spend not two, but three, hours in prayer." John Wesley was on his knees every day at 4 a.m. for two hours. But where are the Wesleys and Luthers?
We are all too busy, so getting to know God for His own sake has less appeal nowadays. We prefer the quick prophetic word to personal wrestling with Him in prayer and intercession--and devouring His Word as it is revealed in Scripture.
I recently watched a religious program on television, which began something like this: "You will be glad you stayed tuned because we have a word--a rhema for you!"
That is what we all seem to want, myself included. Rhema is a biblical word--used 70 times in the New Testament--sometimes indicating what is prophetic, personal and immediate. For this reason, many prefer the prophetic word to the expository word that emerges in preaching and teaching.
Sometimes I think that a preoccupation with the rhema word rather than the written Word is like going to McDonald's or Burger King: quick, fast food which makes us flabby, but not very healthful.
KNOWING THE AUTHOR
One of my predecessors at Westminster Chapel, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, has published many books of sermons. He graciously made himself available to me during the first four years I was at Westminster Chapel. There were two ways of learning from him: reading his books and asking him questions.
Most people did not have the latter privilege as I did. But the way I showed the most respect and appreciation for this man was to have read his books first before asking him his view about this or that verse in the Bible. To talk with him was like getting his rhema word, but to read his books is what truly enabled me to know him.
God is gracious to us, too. He understands how we want--and sometimes need--a word fitly spoken in a time of stress. "He knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust" (Ps. 103:14). But to those who sit at His feet and learn of Him, the reward is incalculable.
Jesus told the disciples that the Holy Spirit would remind them of what He had taught them (see John 14:26). I suspect the disciples often thought, Will I remember this? when they were hearing Him teach or give a parable. The problem is, if we haven't learned anything, there will be nothing in our heads to be reminded of!
If you are empty-headed when you receive the laying on of hands, you will be empty-headed when you get off the floor! It is the promise of the Holy Spirit that should motivate us to receive good teaching, give good teaching and memorize scripture verses (an art that has almost perished from the earth). The coming of the Holy Spirit in power makes the discipline of receiving teaching, memorizing Scripture and wrestling with His Word all worthwhile.
A few years ago the late John Wimber invited me to have a meal with him in London. The same day I was to meet him the Spirit gave me a word for him. It made me a little nervous. In fact, I did not eat when I sat with him and his wife, Carol, that evening.
I waited for the right moment to say, "I have a word for you." He looked at me and said, "Shoot." I did.
"John, when I heard you speak at Royal Albert Hall on Monday evening I agreed with what you said," I began.
I then reminded him of his own words: "Luther and Calvin gave us the Word in the 16th century, but God wants us to do the works in the 20th century." He agreed that is what he said.
"John," I said with some fear and trembling, "you are teaching Pharaohs who knew not Joseph. In other words, people in the 20th century don't know the Word to begin with."
He dropped his knife and fork, pointed to his chest and said, "You have just touched in the very vortex of where I am." He went on to say, "I receive your word."
A clear understanding of the gospel should be prior to the prophetic word or signs and wonders. I wish it were not the case, but most people cannot write in a sentence--much less a paragraph--what justification by faith means. Some ministers and church leaders would have the same problem.
And, yet, it is also true that the Word alone is not enough. There are those who have the purest theology on the planet who are--as Lloyd-Jones used to say--"Perfectly orthodox, perfectly useless."
That is why the Word must be joined by the Spirit. When Paul said that his gospel came not in word only, he implied that it could have been that way. But he was able to say that it came also with power (see 1 Thess. 1:5). I fear that too much of my own preaching and teaching have been simply with words.
That is not good enough. We need the Spirit to produce the power that not only applies the Word effectually, but also which accompanies the Word with what is unmistakably supernatural. Then--and only then--will we see the world turned upside down.
ISHMAEL OR ISAAC?
One way I have described the relationship of the emphases of the Spirit and the Word is the relationship between Ishmael and Isaac.
So obsessed was he with making God's promises come to pass, Abraham took matters into his own hands and impregnated his servant, Hagar. Abraham believed that Ishmael was to be the promised son, but he was wrong.
Then came the wonderful news: Sarah was pregnant. But was this good news for Abraham? He now had to completely adjust to the idea of Ishmael not being the promised son. The thought of Sarah being pregnant was not only laughable, but disrupting.
It is my view that what we have largely seen in the church up until now is Ishmael. God had a definite plan for Ishmael--and it is my own opinion that we have hardly begun to see what God had in mind.
And, yet, Ishmael, though loved by Abraham, was not what God ultimately had in mind. God had Isaac in mind from the beginning but waited a good while before he revealed this.
God declared that His covenant would be established with Isaac--an "everlasting covenant" (see Gen. 17:19). Through Isaac, Abraham would be "heir of the world" and a father "of many nations" (see Rom. 4:13,17).
Ishmael represents what those on both the Word side and the Spirit side have understood as the ultimate promise of what God wants to do.
Those on the Word side tend to see sound doctrine and faithful expository preaching as being "as good as it gets." Those on the Spirit side tend to see the movement of the Spirit in Pentecostal and charismatic circles of the last century as being "as good as it gets."
I believe that both perspectives are wrong. Isaac is coming. He is being birthed as you read these lines. Moreover, the promise concerning the spontaneous combustion of the Word and the Spirit will be in proportion to the original promise about Isaac--far greater than the one regarding Ishmael.
For the Word without the Spirit and the Spirit without the Word--though achieving a lot--hardly compare with what is coming when the two are joined once again. It is then that the ministers of God will stand where no one has stood since the days of the early church.
This message probably offends some. It offended Abraham when he first heard it. "Word" people may say, "Are you telling us we don't have a place for the Holy Spirit?" I would answer that most evangelicals have a "soteriological" doctrine of the Spirit (the Spirit applies the Word but does not manifest Himself immediately and directly).
Spirit people may say, "Are you telling us we don't preach the Word?" I would answer that too many charismatics and Pentecostals stress the rhema of the prophetic but often seem utterly bored with the logos of expository preaching.
I humbly plead with you to consider these lines. Would you not agree that we need more than what we have at the moment? The world is going to hell, taking almost no notice of the church, and we delude ourselves if we say that what we have is "as good as it gets."
There is more. Let us fall to our knees and look to heaven with the Bible in one hand and the other reaching out to all God will give us. And it just may be that He will look down on us with pity and bless us. The result will be that both sound theology and the supernatural be re-wed in our time.
R.T. Kendall was the pastor of Westminster Chapel in London for 25 years. Educated at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Oxford University, Kendall is the author of more than 30 books, including the best seller Total Forgiveness (Charisma House). He lives with his wife, Louise, in Key Largo, Florida. read more
The biblical rite of ordination serves to communicate the responsibility and spiritual authority entrusted to the fivefold ministries.
The divine call always precedes the human call. But how should we recognize and commission those in our midst who demonstrate God's direction and anointing for lives of ministry?
The New Testament offers practical models for appointing leaders to equip and advance the church. More than a mindless ritual, the biblical rite of ordination serves to communicate the responsibility and spiritual authority entrusted to the fivefold ministries.
In the New Testament, Jesus is described as "appointed" (see Heb. 3:2, NKJV). In turn, Jesus appointed 12 disciples (see Mark 3:14-15) and, later, chose 70 others (see Luke 10:1).
Toward the end of His ministry, Jesus said to His apostles, "'You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit'" (John 15:16). In all of these cases, the appointment (or ordination in the KJV) was both the setting apart and giving authority to perform some special ministry.
Paul speaks of himself as appointed by Christ (see Acts 26:16; 1 Tim. 2:7), but his ordination was mediated through the laying on of hands by Ananias, who was told by the Lord to go to Paul, "'for he is a chosen vessel of Mine'" (Acts 9:15). After Ananias laid his hands on him (see v. 17), Paul was as ordained for his ministry as any of the other apostles.
Next, we observe that Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in the churches where they had been ministering: "So when they ... appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed" (Acts 14:23). Titus was asked by Paul to do the same thing in Crete (see Titus 1:5).
IMPARTATION OF CHARISMA
One of the clearest descriptions of ordination is found in 1 Timothy 4:14, where Paul warns the young preacher, "Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership." Although the word "appointed" or "ordination" is not used regarding Timothy here, this seems clearly to be his "ordination." Let us observe several points.
First, there was the impartation of a "special gift," or charisma. A charisma is a gift of grace, not a natural talent or achievement. What then was its nature? The answer seems clearly to be the gift of preaching and teaching. For immediately prior to the admonition "do not neglect the gift," Paul said, "devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching" (1 Tim. 4:13, NIV).
The office of ministry of the Word is a gift of God's grace. A person may surely prepare for it--indeed there could be years of preparation--but ultimately the office comes as a gift of grace. This means that there can be no claim to have earned it or merited it: it is wholly the gracious gift of God.
Second, the gift was bestowed on Timothy through prophetic utterance. Such utterance was doubtless inspired by the Holy Spirit and occurred while Timothy was being ordained.
A significant parallel to this event may be found in the commissioning of Paul and Barnabas for missionary work (see Acts 13:1-3). It was not that Paul and Barnabas were unaware of the call on their lives, but this was the moment when through prophecy, the Holy Spirit commissioned them for their upcoming work.
There seems to have been more than one prophecy in Timothy's case. Earlier in his letter to Timothy, Paul writes, "This command [or charge] I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience" (1 Tim. 1:18-19, NASB).
These prophecies in all likelihood refer to the occasion of Timothy's ordination when there was prophetic utterance. The prophecies at that time were of such significance that Paul could call them to Timothy's remembrance as background for the charge he was delivering to him.
Now let us try to view more clearly the scene at Timothy's ordination. Probably, as in the commissioning of Paul and Barnabas, there was worshiping and fasting. If so, this could have meant some extended time of preparation by both Timothy and those who were present to ordain him.
Then, when the moment came for the "setting apart" to occur, various prophecies came forth. They may have included words relating to the responsibilities in Ephesus that Paul was later to assign him.
In his second letter to Timothy, just after speaking again about the "gift [charisma] of God" that was in Timothy, Paul adds, "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Tim.1:7, NKJV). Perhaps prophetic utterance reminded Timothy at his ordination that, whatever his natural inclinations, God's would be manifest in these various graces of the Holy Spirit: power, love and a sound mind.
All of this has much relevance for us today. At the ordination of a minister there should be opportunity for prophetic utterance. There may be preparation through prayer and fasting, perhaps also a solemn charge to the candidate, but when the actual moment of ordination is at hand, prophecies may be freely given.
It is through prophecy that God speaks directly in human words. For the one being ordained, such words can have memorable significance for years to come. Many churches have almost totally overlooked, or looked down upon, prophesying and have allowed other ordination procedures to take its place. How much we need to recover the vital significance of prophetic utterance that Paul and Timothy knew and experienced.
Third, the climactic moment in ordination was the laying on of hands by the body of elders, who essentially acted as a unit.
Paul apparently functioned alongside the elders in laying hands on Timothy, for he says in 2 Timothy 1:6: "I remind you to stir up the gift [charisma] of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands."
Paul by no means suggests that Timothy's ordination required his apostolic authority and presence, because he makes no reference to himself in 1 Timothy 4:14. It was the local body of elders who did the ordaining. Timothy was ordained "with the laying on of the hands of the eldership." To sum up: his ordination occurred through and with the laying on of hands.
It is important to recognize the importance of the laying on of hands. In both accounts of Timothy's ordination, the laying on of hands is stated. Prophecy is not mentioned by Paul in referring to his own participation, as if to say that while prophecies are indeed valuable, the critical action is the imposition of hands. Prophetic utterance assured Timothy of his call to the ministry of the Word, but it was by the laying on of hands that Timothy was placed in office.
We may ask, "Did the laying on of hands automatically convey the gift of ministerial office to Timothy?" The answer must be no. Three other factors need to be kept in mind as well.
Life of faith: For a valid ordination to occur, the candidate must be an individual of sincere faith. Without such faith the whole procedure is null and void. Timothy was a man of genuine faith.
Before Paul wrote to Timothy about stirring up the gift of God that was in him through the laying on of Paul's hands, he wrote the words, " ... I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also" (2 Tim. 1:5).
A "genuine" faith dwelling in Timothy was the human context for the charisma of special ministry to be received. Recall that the statements in both 1 Timothy 4:14 and 2 Timothy 1:6 speak of the charismatic gift as being "in" Timothy. Because Timothy was a man of sincere inward faith, the gift could likewise be received within.
Body of elders: Second, there was the activity of a valid ordaining body, namely the elders of the church. The elders themselves had been ordained to office, and because of this they could convey the gift of special ministry to others. While the presence of the congregation is important because it is the members whom the ordained will serve, they do not participate in the laying on of hands. It is the body of elders that has this particular responsibility.
Presence of the Holy Spirit: Third, there was the all-important operation of the Holy Spirit. While prayer and fasting may be needed for requesting God's grace in the Holy Spirit to be manifest, we must recognize throughout that the Holy Spirit alone can confer the spiritual gift that makes ordination a valid and living experience.
That prophetic utterance occurred was in itself evidence of the Spirit's presence, for prophecy is one of the manifestations of the Holy Spirit. In the commissioning of Paul and Barnabas the Spirit spoke through prophecy; doubtless the same thing occurred in Timothy's ordination.
The critical matter was not so much prophetic utterance itself but what it implied--that the Holy Spirit was Himself actively on the scene. The ultimate validation of Timothy's ordination was the presence and the power of the Spirit.
Let us note three additional points: First, while ordination occurs within the setting of a local church, and the one being ordained is usually installed there as minister of the Word, the ordination is at the same time an action of and for the whole church of Jesus Christ.
Thus he becomes an ordained minister of the Word to serve the whole body of Jesus Christ. Timothy himself may have been ordained earlier in his home church at Lystra (see Acts 16:1), but he is called by Paul later to serve the church in Ephesus.
Second, in ordination a real conferring of grace occurs. It is a charisma "gift given" (see 1 Tim. 4:14), namely, a gift for teaching, or ministering the Word.
Third, there is no need for further ordination. If it has been a valid ordination, repetition is unwarranted and unnecessary. Ordination is for one's whole future ministry in the church.
STIRRING UP THE GIFT
There is, however, the possibility of neglecting this gift of ministry. Paul writes, as we have noted, "Do not neglect the gift that is in you." Then he adds, "Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them ... " (1 Tim. 4:15).
The ministerial office, while a definite gift from God, is no guarantee of automatic success. Rather it is an office of high and sober responsibility that needs constant diligence and unremitting devotion. Neglect can--and often unfortunately does--happen, to the great detriment of both the minister of the gospel and his people.
A stirring up of the gift may be needed. Even to Timothy, a man with rich indwelling faith, Paul felt constrained to write, "I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands" (2 Tim. 1:6). Timothy had received the gift several years before, but now it needed to be freshly stirred up and fanned into flame. The gift was not gone, but it was like embers burning low that needed to be rekindled into a fresh flame of ardor and zeal for Christ's high calling.
Paul's words are surely relevant to many ordained ministers today who may feel that they are accomplishing little for the kingdom and wonder if their ordinations mean anything. Paul's word is very timely: "The gift is in you"; you need only to "stir up the gift," the charismatic fire. Truly, the challenge of ordained ministry of the gospel can shine with renewed brightness and zeal.
J. Rodman Williams, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of theology at Regent University Divinity School in Virginia Beach, Virginia. An author of several books, Williams has served as a pastor, and a college and seminary professor. He is married and has three children. read more
He has the heart of a pastor, the affability of a high school quarterback and the guts of a heavyweight boxer. Here's how pastor Scott Hagan is striking a blow to racism--not with his bare fists, but by 'loving without limitation.'
Michigan pastor Scott Hagan has already made plans for August 14, 2032. That night, Hagan and his wife, Karen, plan to gather with their children and their spouses--and their grandchildren--to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.
"If this comes to pass," laughs Hagan, who is only 40, "it means a lot of things went right in life."
That's the first thing you learn when you meet Hagan: The man dreams big--and talks big. He puts his money where his mouth is.
Several years ago, Hagan, author of They Walked With the Savior, sensed God calling him away from sunny California to Grand Rapids First Assembly of God. The result? He is bringing healing to one of the nation's oldest wounds: one that politics, ultimately, cannot heal: racism.
"A politician doesn't know how to heal it," Hagan explains. "All they can do is compensate for it with a system. Churches, we're the healers of the heart. The pastor, the people who speak prophetically, we're the only ones who can really bring the message of transformation."
Hagan has seen walls of denominational and racial division breaking down in Grand Rapids. Pastors are meeting for prayer and fellowship, holding joint services and assertively reaching out to their community.
Churches working together to build greater unity in their cities is nothing new. But Grand Rapids is no ordinary city.
"Evangelical Christianity is to Grand Rapids what Mormonism is to Salt Lake City," he says. The city of 200,000 houses some of the nation's largest Christian publishers, including Baker Book House, Eerdmans and Zondervan, a leading producer of Bibles, including the widely read New International Version. Locals say Grand Rapids has been called "Little Jerusalem" because of the influence its publishing houses have had on the broader body of Christ.
It was in Grand Rapids in 1947 during a General Council meeting that the Assemblies of God made an infamous decision against the ordination and inclusion of African Americans into the denomination.
Hagan is quick to point out that the Assemblies is now "bold" and "courageous" in its approach to racial reconciliation. But, he explains, "When you go back and read through the minutes of that General Council, it was very, very painful and difficult to see."
He adds: "When I read about this decision to exclude African Americans, Grand Rapids became a city of spiritual significance for me personally. I felt this spiritual awakening and this confirmation that the Lord wanted to do something very special, specifically in the area of inclusion and belonging in this city."
A SHEEP IN SHEPHERD'S CLOTHING
Raised in Seattle, Hagan describes himself as "a sheep who for several years has doubled as a shepherd."
Four years ago, Hagan was in Sacramento, California, leading a thriving church with more than half of its members nonwhite. Then, the Lord led him and his wife, Karen, to leave their California oasis for Grand Rapids First when former pastor Wayne Benson retired from the church.
"Only the voice of God could have taken us away from [the Sacramento suburb of] Elk Grove," Hagan says.
Harvest Church was the couple's first church plant, a ministry that Hagan wanted to reflect Revelation 7, where people of every tribe would gather together in worship. He took special pains, crafting letterhead that portrayed people of every ethnicity even before the church began.
"We wanted everything we had to say, 'This is the church we want to head toward,'" Hagan says. "'We have no idea how to get there, we have no idea what the bumps will be, but this is where we want to head.'"
For Hagan, the process began by developing friendships with people of color who visited the church. "I made a point to have dinner with them right away and stated my heart to them," he says. "I said: 'This is what God has put in my heart, will you help me? I need your help. I need you in my life. Would you teach me?' And whenever I would say this, this feeling would come over people like, yeah, this is right."
Naturally, he says, people of color rose into leadership, and in eight years it grew to 1,500 members. The ministry planted seven daughter churches, and Hagan became area presbyter for the Sacramento region, overseeing about 25 churches. He says he was happy and content.
Then the Hagans received a call from Grand Rapids. "We really felt God wanted to do something fresh," Hagan says. It didn't hurt any that during a prayer meeting the night before he received the call, someone prophesied to him that God had a big assignment for him.
Two thousand miles away, the prominent Assemblies of God congregation in Michigan was in the wake of a four-year revival led by evangelist Stan Rijfkogel of Memphis, Tennessee. "We saw thousands saved, and the lives of members transformed ... but the underlying, deep invisible work of God was preparing the church for change," says former pastor Wayne Benson. "That word 'change' became a theme during the revival."
After the revival, the church was hungry for racial diversity in its membership. The ministry even hosted racial sensitivity training to prepare.
Enter Scott Hagan, with his passion to "love without limitation."
"I am convinced theologically this is the heart of Jesus," Hagan says. "When I look at His life, when I look at the Word of God, this isn't a thing He's showing the church. This is who Jesus was. It should have been this way all along.
"You could fire me over one of these issues because I would have to give up what I believe is the heart of Jesus, which is to love without limitation."
Change didn't come without a cost. Hagan changed the church's worship style, incorporating a multicultural worship team and gospel choir. He canceled Sunday evening services for cell groups, and he opened a coffeehouse.
Hagan describes the adjustment as "spiritually and emotionally difficult." He says the church's lack of diversity was a reflection of the stratification in the broader community. Upon his arrival, he had four initial goals: to see the church make a clear, prophetic declaration that they were moving in the direction of unity; to initiate lunches with 100 local pastors; to teach a series titled "The Cross of Many Colors"; and to hire minority staff from outside the community as positions became available.
Now two years on, 10 percent of the church's members are people of color. Michael Daniels, who is African American and has been a member for 15 years, says he has become more involved in the ministry now that it has stronger outreach efforts into low-income and inner-city communities, and he says he feels more connected to his church family.
Helping people from diverse and sometimes divided backgrounds has been one of Hagan's critical challenges, both in Elk Grove and in Grand Rapids. But Hagan has the affability of a high school quarterback (though at 6 feet 3 inches tall he played college basketball) and a disarming charm.
His relational style has helped foster fellowship among local pastors from various denominational backgrounds and helped move them beyond cultural differences.
"Ninety percent of your life is common; culture is like the outer 10 percent," Hagan says. "... The differences are simply ... the bow on the package. The gift inside, the content, is still the same."
Hagan can easily rattle off statistics showing income and educational disparities between whites and nonwhites, he can put African Americans' spirituality and Democratic political leanings in historical perspective, and he can even sit through a meeting with civil rights activist Al Sharpton and understand his point of view.
But Hagan says the process wasn't easy. He read history books, watched documentaries--and listened carefully to two close African American friends.
He notes, "At the turn of the 20th century, the body of Christ experienced our most historic and revered modern revival, Azusa Street. For nearly three years Azusa Street bloodied the lip of racial prejudice that saturated post-slavery America. But the work was never fully completed."
Hagan says that almost no discernable change has occurred in the 97 years since Azusa Street. "Our cities remain socially and spiritually bankrupt while denominations lob their lifeless messages of reconciliation from behind their safe cultural walls. There are many friendly churches in America, but we lack the desire and mechanisms to aggressively heal the collateral pain of many Americans."
Area pastors say Hagan has served as a catalyst to help get ministers from diverse cultures and denominations fellowshipping together. Says pastor Wayne Schmidt of Kentwood Community Church in Grand Rapids, a Wesleyan congregation. "You tend to reach people like yourself most easily and effectively. The problem with that is that it doesn't look like heaven. Pastors are rethinking the way they do church."
"I thank God for bringing Scott into the community to be a catalyst," Schmidt says. "This is not going to be done with an event. It's not going to be something that's not met with skepticism. But there needs to be a group that will persevere."
For African American pastors, deeds have been more meaningful than words. Hagan endeared many to him when he became the only white pastor to participate in a prayer meeting targeting the city's attempt to quash efforts to name a local street after civil rights hero Rosa Parks. He later was the first white pastor to host a service honoring Martin Luther King Jr.
But, Hagan admits his own learning curve was "personally very humiliating." He says he's made insensitive comments--as recently as last year--and though he can't explain why, he says several years ago he opposed interracial marriage--but only between blacks and whites.
"It was an irrational, emotional reaction that I had," Hagan says. "When I stepped back intellectually and looked at it, I said, 'There's no justifiable position for what I'm thinking here, so why am I so emotionally connected to this, and why am I reacting to it?' That had to completely work itself out of my system."
Following Hagan's transparent example, longtime Grand Rapids First members Marilyn and Ron Wierenga, who are both in their 60s, say their views of other cultures have changed as they developed friendships across racial lines.
"Our parents, we knew they had some strong stereotypes," Marilyn told Ministries Today. "They thought they were doing better than their parents. We thought we were doing better than our parents. You think you're not prejudiced. I wanted [nonwhites] to have the same things we had. But it really falls short because you don't develop relationships."
REMEMBER THE TITANS?
The picture in Grand Rapids is beginning to remind Hagan of his favorite movie, Remember the Titans. "[The film] showed the joy of that reconciliation and the feeling of victory, that feeling of triumph when we get past those man-made walls," he says.
The two coaches--one black, one white--"have these moments of awareness, where the lights went on about their own internal stereotypes. They realized that the way they had been raised, the things they had thought, things they had promoted were not true. Seeing people come into the light like that is just tremendous."
Those "aha" moments are what keep Hagan motivated, and they serve as one of the tools he uses to measure his effectiveness in ministry. "When you continue to touch one life at a time, it's like tiny little tributaries and trickles that come down a mountain and form into a little creek, then a stream that fills up into a river. All these little victories along the way are going to form a change in our society and a change in the church. You gotta believe that, one life at a time."
Walking With the Savior
Scott Hagan is pouring his passion for God's people into a new series of books. His message: There are no 'minor players' in His kingdom.
Pastor-turned-author Scott Hagan likes to read between the lines.
In his new book, They Walked With the Savior, Hagan writes about minor players in the Bible who came face to face with Jesus and accepted major roles in God's kingdom. In the process, he helps readers to draw closer to Christ and helps them plug into His eternal purpose for their lives.
Christians often think of themselves as a gift to those that don't know God. But many times it's the other way around, says Hagan, who observes that non-Christians can help believers by "showing us how far we have drifted [in our faith]."
The lost "have a way of bringing out the spiritual weakness in all of us, especially on their turf," Hagan writes in They Walked With the Savior. "Sure, it's one thing to be bold in the church lobby. There are lots of spiritual giants in a church lobby. It's safe turf and the numbers are on their side."
When Christians encounter an unbeliever, the non-Christian searching for answers "[gets] someone who hasn't prayed in months. Or they need someone to stand up and be courageous, but instead they get a blank stare from someone gripped by fear."
Yet that realization can drive Christians back to Jesus to renew their relationship, Hagan says in reflecting on the story of Peter's betrayal of Christ. The servant girl who asked Peter whether he knew Jesus--prompting the disciple to deny that he did--"made him feel empty and in need by her words," Hagan says.
In one of a series of reflections on people mentioned only briefly in the Bible, Hagan speculates that the girl's question may have come from curiosity about Jesus. "Maybe she was like most of the world to come, caught somewhere between the facts and fictions of faith," he writes. "Maybe she was trying to find someone with an answer. Instead she found someone without a spine."
Along with the servant girl, Hagan finds faith lessons in 19 other biblical encounters with Jesus, including Simon of Cyrene, Martha, Bartimaeus, the Samaritan woman and the boy whose lunch was multiplied to feed thousands of people. Charisma editor J. Lee Grady says that "more than just describing the lives of these minor characters, Scott unfolds their lives and their stories so that we can uncover hidden meaning in the words of Scripture."
Hagan blends his thoughts on the different encounters with personal stories and observations--among them the day a change machine's rejection of his dollar bill because of its bent corners caused him to wonder about Christians who fear they will be turned away from heaven because of their imperfections.
Published by Charisma House, which like Ministries Today is a part of Strang Communications, They Walked With the Savior is the first in a trilogy in which Hagan shares different lessons from the Bible's large "supporting cast." For more information, visit charismawarehouse.com or call (800) 599-5750. Read a sample chapter at www.ministriestoday.com.
The Cross of Many Colors
Seven practical steps any pastor can take to break down the walls of racism that keep people in our communities--and churches--apart. By: Scott Hagan
1. It begins with celebration, not toleration. Most people can tell immediately when they are being tolerated. Heartfelt enthusiasm for people and their stories goes a long way when it comes to modeling the love of Jesus.
Discrimination is denying someone the right to have. Segregation is denying someone the right to belong. Jesus didn't die so we could have things; He died so we could belong. Communicating that sense of belonging is the responsibility of pastors and the church.
2. It happens best in a house. Until we begin breaking bread with people who are different from us in our homes, we will not have reconciliatory breakthrough. Your home is your sanctuary far more than your church. Having someone in your home is worth more than a hundred meals at a restaurant.
3. Seek to understand. Passion flows like gravity. People in our churches feel dismissed from the journey when they see their own leader lacking a personal passion for reconciliation. We each need solid and safe relationships where we can ask someone from a different race or culture to help us understand. Three simple words can change our lives and communities: Help me understand.
4. Acknowledge the power of social conditioning. When Peter told the Lord three times that he wasn't interested in mingling with Gentiles, he was basically telling God that the power of his upbringing was stronger than the Holy Spirit in his life. It's vital that we recognize the power our upbringing has over God's ability to use us freely for His kingdom today.
5. Stop going out of your way not to reach people. To become a church that looks like heaven, the pastor must see color as the blessing, not the barrier.
Satan often tells the church it will take sacrifice to reach people. Actually, it is the opposite. We must go out of our way not to reach people. By avoiding places we fear and people who are different, we are essentially saying that the time it will take to reach out matters more to us than lost people. To experience the joy of oneness, we must pass through the needs before us and no longer avoid them.
6. Recognize that legalism and racism are the two major enemies of God's kingdom. When you look at the ministry of Jesus and the writings of Paul, there were always two major opponents to the kingdom: legalism and racism. Both stood like Goliaths joined at the hip, and those giants still mock the church today. The pastor of the local church has the exciting opportunity to live out the core message of redemption, which is reconciliation.
The local church must make certain that the injustice that keeps many of our children from the basic opportunities of food, clothing, shelter, education and opportunity are addressed. Why do we classify those things as "political" and not expressions of the same grace you and I received?
Most people are not prejudiced; they are ignorant. Even fewer are actually racist. But when prejudice or racism rears its ugly head, the pastor must bloody its lip.
For most of us who serve as pastors, if we had a deacon or elder living in adultery and we chose to sweep it under the carpet, it would cost us our ministries. Yet we allow racial pride to exist in our midst without a loving confrontation. May God renew the courage of the cross in our lives.
And may we see it as a colorful cross from this day forward.
Adrienne S. Gaines is news editor for Charisma magazine. read more
People sometimes fall into a 'performance mentality,' in which they become so busy doing good works for God that their hearts never really change. How can we encourage people to let God mold their hearts and be transformed by His power?
Ministries Today recently met with Juanita Bynum, author of the best-selling book Matters of the Heart, and asked her to share why allowing God to mold our hearts is so important, and how we as leaders can help others realize the benefit of submitting to His deep work in our lives.
Ministries Today: What prompted you to write your book Matters of the Heart?
Bynum: I was dealing with some issues in my life. When I pulled my car into my garage one day, the Lord just spoke to me, "You need a new heart." He began to show me areas about my personality that were not pleasing to Him. I began to rend my old heart, and I told God: "I want You to take this religious heart that I have. I want to give it to You, and I want to experience Your heart."
That's what initiated the writing of the book, though I didn't even know it was going to be a book. I was just processing something the Lord was ministering to me, and eventually He began to tell me, "I want you to write this."
Ministries Today: Was this a process or something you saw change overnight?
Bynum: When I asked God to give me a new heart, that was an instant thing that happened; I was in that car for hours. Immediately I began to see things about me change. Weeks came, and days went by, and with some of the things I would do, I would hear the Holy Spirit say: "Now, that right there is what I'm after. This right here is what you have to bring to Me in prayer." I can hear Him now really challenge my character in every area because I had received that new heart experience in that garage.
Ministries Today: The book has quickly become a best seller; it seems to have really struck a chord. Why has this message hit home with so many people?
Bynum: People really want to be sure they're not just having a church experience but a real experience with God. I think one of the things causing the book to sell is the fact that it is confrontational. It challenges you to stop and ask yourself, "Where is my relationship with the Lord?"
With 9/11 and the war, I think a lot of people now are starting to say: "Wait a minute. Am I really saved? Am I really where God wants me to be?"
Ministries Today: You encourage people to get a new heart. Can you explain what exactly that means?
Bynum: The Scripture says, "'Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh'" (Ezek. 11:19, NKJV). I'm only encouraging people to ask for what God promised to give us. Jeremiah 17:9 says that the "'heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.'"
Ministries Today: How could a pastor learn from this book?
Bynum: Make sure your heart is right with God. And preach to the congregation about their hearts.
Your heart betrays who you really are. You cannot, for example, go around the church, and give everybody a hug and a kiss, and tell everybody that you love everybody, and then go up to somebody you really don't like and though you just said, "I love you," on the inside the love of God has not really been birthed in you for that person.
Ministries Today: How could the body of Christ, more broadly, be changed by this message?
Bynum: When they embrace the heart of God, they will begin to see and feel about sin the way God feels about sin. We in Christendom have a dislike for the devil, a bad taste in our mouths to the point we don't want to sin, but we don't have a hatred for Satan.
Since I got this new heart experience, I'm beginning to hate the devil the way God hates him. I think when you begin to have this new heart experience, you will begin to feel what God feels. You will begin to love what God loves and hate what God hates.
Ministries Today: What do you feel God is saying to leaders in this hour?
Bynum: Because of the hour we're living in, I believe the Lord is really trying to show some leaders that it's time now for them to stop majoring in minor things and minoring in major things. The major thing right now is that every leader has been given a responsibility to carry people in the spirit realm, and they have been assigned to a particular group of people. Their responsibility is to cultivate those people's lives to make them ready to stand before God in judgment, to hear Him say, "Well done."
Now is a very crucial time for every leader to preach the gospel to their people, to get them ready to walk in the Lord and meet the Lord. That's why I believe this book can become such a tool for leaders.
Ministries Today: What causes you the most concern when you look at what's going on with the body of Christ?
Bynum: My passion is to make sure the people of God are not having a church experience, but a God-relationship experience. A church experience doesn't cause your character to change. It doesn't provoke integrity. It doesn't provoke commitment. It doesn't provoke submission to God.
But a relationship with God will provoke a person to walk in integrity and character. My real concern is that the people of God would really begin to have a one-on-one relationship with the Lord.
Ministries Today: What gives you the most hope?
Bynum: In the natural sense, the fact that the book has sold so many copies in record time says to me there is a nation of people who not only have passion for real relationship, but who have relationship because they want it. There's a nation of people out there who have an appetite for this message, and that gives me hope. If enough leaders, preachers and evangelists begin to preach this kind of gospel, there's already a people out there who are waiting for it, who want it.
Ministries Today: About what do you think leadership should be most prayerful?
Bynum: There are so many things really, because you are a leader. I don't think you can pick one. But if I were to choose, one of the things a leader should be most prayerful about is that the word that he gets will be a timely word and received by those who have heard it, and that there will be an impartation that will provoke change.
Juanita Bynum is a sought-after speaker and author. Her new book, Matters of the Heart (Charisma House), is available at bookstores across the country or online at a special discount. Log on to www.charismahouse.com. read more
As every pastor knows, the root of many people's problems is unforgiveness. So we asked R.T. Kendall, best-selling author of Total Forgiveness, to tell us more about the power of forgiveness and how leaders can help others experience the freedom it can unleash. Ministries Today recently sat down with respected church leader and author R.T. Kendall to talk about forgiveness and the important message he shares in his book Total Forgiveness.
Ministries Today: What prompted you to write a book such as Total Forgiveness?
R.T. Kendall: My book was born in the darkest hour of my life. The story can never be told. But I did in fact share it with an old friend from Romania, Josif Tson. I did it thinking he would say to me, "You have a right to be angry; get it off your chest."
But instead he looked at me and said: "R.T., you must totally forgive them. Until you totally forgive them, you will be in chains. Release them and you will be released." Nobody had ever talked to me like that in my life. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend," Proverbs 27:6 says.
I once wrote a book called God Meant It for Good. One chapter in that book was titled "Total Forgiveness." The book Total Forgiveness is a detailed elaboration of that chapter and deals with every question I could think of.
Ministries Today: The book's message has really struck a chord. Jim Bakker even said that it not only changed his life, but also saved his life. Why has this message hit home with so many people, including church leaders?
Kendall: I think the answer is, we all have a story to tell--whether we are church leaders or have no profile whatsoever. We have all been hurt by someone.
In the case of Jim Bakker, he read God Meant It for Good, and the chapter called "Total Forgiveness" was partly what moved him. When you have spent time in prison over an injustice, you have a lot to be angry about. Jim instead chose to forgive--totally.
But apart from Jim, there is not a church leader under the sun who has not had his or her share of strained relationships in the church, marital tensions, people falling out with you, deacons not speaking to each other, being lied about--the list is endless. Church leaders have feelings too! And they, too, need to forgive.
God will not bend the rules for any of us. The funny thing is, most of our problems tend to be with those closest to us or even fellow Christians. As the saying goes, "Living with the saints above, O that will be glory; living with the saints below, well, that's another story."
Ministries Today: You use the term "total" forgiveness. What is that?
Kendall: First, it is the way God forgives us. The blood of Jesus Christ washes away all sin. God will not hold our sins against us. He will never bring them up. He will not allow us to feel guilty once we have confessed them and turned from them.
He will not let anyone know what He knows about us. He will not let us be afraid of Him. He will not allow us to feel guilty. He will let us save face; He protects us from our deepest secrets and fears and--best of all--He keeps on doing it!
Second, total forgiveness is forgiving ourselves. I deal with that in the book, too. It is not total forgiveness just to know we have been forgiven, but it is to forgive ourselves--the hardest thing of all for many of us.
Third, it means to forgive another person in such a manner that you absolutely do not hold it against him or her any longer; you will keep no record of wrongs; you let them off the hook and even ask God to let them off the hook! That is total forgiveness, it seems to me.
Ministries Today: How do you know if you have totally forgiven?
Kendall: You know you have totally forgiven when you stop reminding people about "what they did." Telling people what they did is our effort to punish those who hurt us. First John 4:18 says that perfect love casts out fear--and fear has to do with punishment. When we tell what they did, it is our way of punishing those people--so we look better, they look worse and will be discredited and not admired.
God doesn't like that. He won't tell what we did. He does not want us to tell what they did either. We therefore know we have totally forgiven when we stop talking about our hurt, refuse to let people be intimidated by us, and we will not let them feel guilty.
This means we do not wait for them to repent (nobody was repenting at the cross, and yet Jesus prayed that they be forgiven--Jesus, not the old covenant, should be our model). We let them save face. We know we have totally forgiven when the people who hurt us don't even find out it was a problem.
And, yet, perhaps, the most neglected thing of all is, we keep doing it. It is not enough to say, "I did it yesterday." I have to do it tomorrow. Day after tomorrow. Next week. Next year. Forever. Like God does.
Ministries Today: What can a pastor or church leader glean from this book on a personal level?
Kendall: That God does not bend the rules for us church leaders. We have to forgive just as those to whom we preach. Sometimes our hurts are very great indeed. But God won't let a single one of us off the hook. If anything, He is tougher on us, according to James 3:1-3.
Ministries Today: In what ways would this book's message be helpful to a pastor's congregation?
Kendall: It will increase his own anointing. It will set the Holy Spirit free to work ungrieved in the congregation.
It is my opinion that totally forgiving one another will bring us closer to true revival than 1,000 people engaging in a 40-day fast. Why? Because if there is bitterness in our hearts at the beginning of the 40-day fast, there will be bitterness afterward--if God does not somehow break through to us. I can almost guarantee this.
God is sovereign and can bring revival anytime and anywhere He may choose; but, generally speaking, a lot of praying and fasting will not compensate for bitterness in us.
Ministries Today: Give us an example of an instance in which you had to practice this message in your own life.
Kendall: I will never reveal names or details. All I can say is, it is probably the best thing that ever happened to me. I totally forgave those people. And guess what? I never told them! We never talked about it.
It has to happen in the heart. Don't ever go to people and say, "I forgive you for what you did." They will say, "What did I do?" And then you will say, "You surely know." They'll reply, "Well, I don't," and now you've got a fight on your hands. Most people you would have to forgive (even if you were to hook them up to a lie detector) sincerely do not think they have done anything wrong.
Ministries Today: What happens when a person chooses not to forgive?
Kendall: The consequences are horrible. The person grieves the Holy Spirit, loses anointing, risks becoming yesterday's man or woman, often develops health problems and stays moody and hard to live with.
Even many non-Christians are discovering the value of forgiving. It puts Christians to shame. The bitterness some choose to live with is always counter-productive, and the people who do not forgive will one day be very sorry.
Ministries Today: Is forgiveness a one-time thing or a process?
Kendall: It is both. You have to do it at a point in time, but you also do it in stages. You think you have done it and realize later you hadn't, and then you renew your forgiving spirit. The main thing: You have to keep on doing it.
Ministries Today: What would you say to encourage the pastor out there who is struggling and facing a tough time in ministry or has been wronged?
Kendall: You just described 99 percent of all church leaders. We have all struggled. We have all been hurt. Most of us have had our eras of bitterness. I did. And I still keep reading Luke 6:37 every day because I am tempted to point the finger. But, God won't allow it! So I read Luke 6:37 every day to remind me of the best way forward for a greater anointing.
Speaking personally, I would rather have a greater anointing than anything else in the world. Luke 6:37 promises this--by totally forgiving all who have hurt me, no matter what they did. And remember, God will not bend the rules for any of us.
R.T. Kendall was the pastor of Westminster Chapel in London for 25 years. He is well-known internationally as a speaker and teacher and has written more than 30 books including Total Forgiveness (Charisma House). Log on to www.charismahouse.com. read more
Father of the faith Oral Roberts candidly shares from experience the principles he has learned through the years that have kept his ministry and personal life on track.
Solomon, the richest and most successful man ever to live, uses the term "meaningless" no fewer than 31 times as he laments about his life in the book of Ecclesiastes. For him the struggles of youth had brought great obedience and focus. But he allowed the success of maturity only to bring him great distraction and ruin. It is a powerful lesson to us to remain vigilant.
As we submit ourselves to the Lord, pursue Him with our whole heart and seek His guidance and wisdom, then we will succeed. But it is precisely at that moment of success that we will need to be the most submitted to the Lord and to our calling.
Pastor Randy and Maribel Landis are living proof that God can use ordinary people to shatter the racial, cultural and denominational barriers that typically divide the church.
At first glance, it looks like a picturesque postcard. Posing as America's little getaway, this town is complete with historical museums loaded with 17th-century European paintings and unique sculptures. In the spring, its tree-lined streets and cobblestone roads exude warmth and friendliness. In the winter, blankets of snow beckon children to play.
But Allentown, Pennsylvania, is anything but the typical, off-the-beaten path Small Town, USA. As thousands of travelers rush through Allentown's bustling Lehigh Valley International Airport, many of the city's 106,000 residents scurry to their daily routines.
Allentown boasts a multicultural society. Even Billy Joel, in his hit song, "Allentown," sang the city's praises. Allentonians pride themselves on their rich, ethnic diversity, and the thriving medical industry keeps the flourishing economy strong.
City life, however, isn't the only thing moving at warp speed in this place. People in search of a church moving in the Spirit head south on Airport Road and turn left on Union Boulevard. They proceed seven blocks and stop at the corner of Maxwell and East Cedar Street, arriving at Church on the Move (COTM).
COTM has spent years moving through the hearts of Christians and unbelie vers alike. While the ministry is building bridges of unity in the body of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, its message of hope draws people by the droves. The church motto frames its mission as "The Gathering Place" for the downtrodden, the disenfranchised and the wounded.
What seems to resound the loudest, however, is its heart for racial reconciliation among blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics and other ethnic groups. And no one knows this any better than the church's senior pastor, Randy Landis, and his wife, Maribel. As an interracial couple--he is white, and she is from the Dominican Republic--the Landises have sown seeds of unity in the hearts of their racially diverse congregants.
Randy and Maribel seek to model the love of Christ by precept and example. Randy reflects that his interracial marriage is just one of the reasons the ministry attracts the kind of people it does.
"It takes being very sensitive to the ethnic diversity and cultural differences that are among us," he says. "It is a great challenge to help others move from a position of tolerance to a position of acceptance while embracing our differences and celebrating them." Landis knows it is a process and that people go through the journey at their own pace.
Married for 15 years, the couple doesn't flaunt their distinction. Instead, they exemplify the biblical principle that marriage is symbolic of the church. As with other interracial marriages, it is not uncommon for this husband and wife ministry team to experience obstacles that are a direct result of their color. But they say it's a challenge they are willing to take on.
"God ordained marriage, and we know He is faithful to protects us," Maribel says. The couple is used to stares and whispers, but they have weathered people's comments and reactions well.
Conservatively speaking, 60 percent of COTM's members are people of color, and 40 percent are white. But something happens to people as they rush through the doors of the 11,000-square-foot sanctuary. With uplifted hands, they seek God together through Spirit-led worship and passionate praise, regardless of racial background.
Maybe that's why Tanya Brown finds it easy to come here. "I love this church because you can get totally lost in the presence of God here," she says. "It's really interesting--when I come here, I don't even notice whether the person standing next to me is Asian or white." And as far as the Landises are concerned, that is the way God intended it to be.
Ministries Today spoke with the Landises about their ministry in Allentown and racial reconciliation in the body of Christ. Their story is inspiring and offers hope to those who are willing to yield their lives to Christ.
BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER
Randy Landis was born and raised in Allentown and says starting a church in his hometown was his greatest challenge. "It had nothing to do with the racial makeup of the city nor its economic status," he says. "It was just the thought of growing up here as a child, as a teen-ager and then being transformed because of Christ."
But the young pastor rose to the occasion and started mapping out ways to draw people to the Lord. He decided to call his ministry Church on the Move because of the positive impact a good friend, pastor Willie George, had on his life. George started a church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and called it Church on the Move, and Landis followed suit. The two ministries are not affiliated.
Landis says COTM is a "no labels" ministry. It is considered transdenominational because it transcends cultural, ethnic and denominational barriers--sort of a "many streams, one river" church. The uniqueness of the church draws people from different streams--charismatics, Pentecostals, evangelicals, Word of Faith adherents and purpose-driven ministries--as well as prophetic and seeker-sensitive worshipers.
The pastor says the concept is considered a genuine expression of God's nature.
"The church strives to somehow extract the pureness of God from all the streams, and allows them to flow and make one life-giving river," he explains.
One goal of the ministry is to build what reflects the kingdom of God. That is why COTM places major emphases on the value of people from different backgrounds and all walks of life.
Accessible to residents in Lehigh Valley, the church is positioned between Philadelphia and Harrisburg. Once people walk through the doors of the sanctuary, they receive teaching that is both practical and relevant.
During Sunday worship services, attendees hear challenging messages such as the pastor's recent series titled, Life Was Never Meant to Be Boring--Live It on the Edge. Strategically planned, all the services are designed both to feed believers and to attract nonbelievers.
In June 1990, COTM opened its doors with great expectations of what God would do in the city. And members say "something great" is what God did. Since that first Sunday in June, the ministry has catapulted to a 1,500-person membership and has experienced a tremendous move of the Holy Spirit evident by changed hearts and lives.
It is not uncommon for affluent people, single moms and recovering drug addicts to share pews together. Neither is it unusual to see well-known speakers such as Cathy Lechner, Latin evangelist Carlos Annacondia or Bernice King--daughter of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.--ministering at COTM.
Why? Because the church knows that people from all walks of life will seek out a church that doesn't focus on the color of their skin or the size of their income. They know that Jesus Christ is Lord of lords at COTM.
Says longtime member Tanya: "COTM is sensitive to people. I like it because you don't have to give up your culture. We celebrate diversity."
As the minister of music and the pastor's wife, Maribel Landis is one of three worship leaders at the church and oftentimes leads worship in Spanish and interprets the songs. But ministering to spiritual needs is not the only thing COTM does. The community is grateful to COTM for sacrificing buildings owned by the ministry so low-income children can receive a quality Christian education at The Kings Way Academy. The academy is designed to offer children the best possible educational experience while instilling a strong biblical foundation.
The church staff knows that sacrifices will be made for the benefit of ministry, and Maribel says she is willing to make those sacrifices for God. She gave up a promising career as a bilingual oncologist nurse educator and a comfortable salary to help her husband in ministry.
Her own personal experience with a child who has special needs has made her extra sensitive to the needs of others. And she knows the best way to relate to them.
"It is important to be who I am," she says. "I like to be real. I am the same person at church as I am at home."
THE IMPACT OF AUTHENTICITY
It is such authenticity that drew Ruth Alpha to the church in 1991. Although Alpha's mother was already attending COTM when she decided to attend, she says it was the realness and genuine love that the Landises showed to hurting people that caused her to stay.
Alpha, 48, was living in the pain of a troubled past and needed a way of escape. Her problems began as early as the 1970s. When she was 16 years old, Alpha, who is white, had an interracial baby with an African American man. With heroin as her drug of choice, she was arrested and convicted for the possession of a narcotic substance and sentenced to 3-1/2 to 5 years, though she only served 1-1/2 years.
"Ruthie," as she is affectionately called at the church, says the birth of her interracial baby is one factor that led to her drug addiction.
"I was wounded from the way I was treated because of my baby," she says. "I felt rejected and judged by society." Her newborn son was immediately taken from her care and placed in a foster home. Alpha spent the next year in a juvenile home.
Today, Alpha is the director of Women of Destiny, the women's ministry at COTM. The ministry focuses on five major areas that meet the needs of the spirit, soul and body.
Her interracial son, James, is now married. He and his wife, Angie, have three children: Michael, Shiann and Zion David.
"I am free from the pain of my past," Alpha declares. "The ministry at Church on the Move has impacted my life in many ways."
Carmen Renden would say the same thing. She recalls the time when, as a 19-year-old college student who did not know Christ, she decided to abort the child she had conceived out of wedlock. But there was one problem with Renden's decision: Her boyfriend did not want her to abort their child. As Renden was nearing the end of the eighth week of her pregnancy, her unborn baby now had a beating heart, arms and legs, and fingers and toes.
While contemplating abortion, Renden's boyfriend, Jesús, who is now her husband, was not a Christian. But "G," as he is known among church friends and family members, grew up in a Christian home and could not imagine doing it.
"After a lot of heartfelt conviction, I asked Christ to come into my heart. Since that time, I've had no regrets," he says.
After his conversion, Jesús, now 30, encouraged Renden to attend a Friday night revival service at the local YMCA. The young preacher delivering the message was Randy Landis.
Although she had made up her mind to carry out her plans to end her pregnancy, Renden accepted her boyfriend's invitation. "I did not grow up in a Christian home," she says. "I sat in my seat, and my hands and feet felt like they were tied by the enemy."
But as Maribel Landis prayed the sinner's prayer with Renden, the young woman literally felt the spiritual shackles that felt like weights fall from her body. With uplifted hands and tears streaming down her face, Renden told God: "Lord, I'm giving you two weeks. If You will change my life, I will be Yours forever."
Today, 11 years later, the Rendens enjoy the Spirit-led life at COTM with Briani--the child they had once considered aborting. The couple also has three other children: Krielle, Cheyanne and Marlynn.
Briani says she would someday like to be a child evangelist. She started pursuing her goal earlier this year when she led a classmate to Christ in the bathroom of her elementary school. Says Briani: "I asked God for a little space to tell a friend about Jesus Christ."
The youngster also prayed a prayer of healing for a friend who was diagnosed with cancer. "The friend is recovering nicely," says her dad.
FACING THE CHALLENGES
Although Randy Landis graduated from Rhema Bible Training Institute in Tulsa and was employed by Kenneth Hagin Ministries for a short time, it was his travels as an itinerate minister that strengthened his teaching skills. During his years of travel, he was exposed to more than 200 churches.
Landis has experienced firsthand the challenges of building a ministry. And in one respect, his success is ironic: He recalls saying he would never pastor a church. But in May 1989 in Hickory, North Carolina, he says the Lord impressed upon his heart to start a church.
The pastor believes quality leadership is critical. "The church today is literally crying out for authentic leadership," he says. "They want their leaders to be real. They want to know that leaders have the same struggles and issues as they have." It is that type of conviction that keeps people coming to the church.
Mayor William Heydt of Allentown is a frequent attendee. "Church on the Move has had a tremendous impact on the city," he told Ministries Today.
"The church is growing dramatically, and it encompasses all ethnic groups. What amazes me are the young people. They are in church because they want to be there and not because their parents force them to come."
Adopting a unique approach to ministry, COTM operates from a team concept. With nine pastors on staff, each pastor is assigned the oversight of a group of ministries, and each ministry has a department leader. Landis meets with the pastoral team to review the effectiveness and strategy of each department.
"We are a purpose-driven church. We try to keep everything in the context of our mission and vision statements," he says. "Most of the ministries at the church have a clear and defined mission and vision statement printed in brochure-form for members and visitors to view."
Everyone at COTM is needed to support the ministry for the cause of Christ--and young people are no exception. "The media may have labeled our youth 'Generation X', but we are a generation with a purpose," says associate pastor Bill Cummings.
Highvoltage Youth Ministry affords students the opportunity to express themselves through Christian activities and group meetings. Activities include a youth band, a drama team, street witnessing and many others. The purpose of the ministry is to change trends in the community.
The Landises are committed to racial unity in the church, but old strongholds die hard. Although residents of Allentown do pride themselves on ethnic diversity, the city is one of only a few cities in the United States that do not recognize Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday as a holiday.
"That's obviously been a war," Mayor William Heydt said during a telephone interview. "I continually talk with the local NAACP and explain that my people who work with the city have slated certain holidays as a personal day; they want the flexibility of work, and the same thing applies to Dr. King's day."
According to COTM's "core values" statement, racial harmony begins with a respect for all of God's people. So, with or without recognition of a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Randy and Maribel Landis embrace the fundamental principles of what King stood for.
A church that is on the move for God, COTM does not focus on the color of someone's skin. What matters the most, they believe, is the people's willingness to look beyond race, denomination, gender and cultural barriers to see a God who cares about one race: the human race. *
Vanessa Lowe Robinson is a free-lance writer. She lives in Queens, New York.
Pastor Profile: Randy and Maribel Landis
Age: Randy, 41; Maribel, 39
Family: Randy and Maribel have been married for 15 years, and they have two children, Natalie, 12; and Olivia, 10. Randy has two sons from a previous marriage, Randy Jr., 20; and Isaiah, 19.
Education: Randy attended Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas for one year and then transferred to Rhema Bible Training Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he received a diploma and his ordination.
Church Background: Raised in a Christian home, Randy accepted Christ at age 19 and six months later accepted the call to ministry. After completing his seminary education, he worked briefly with Kenneth Hagin Ministries. The experience he gained during his travels as an itinerant minister was needed during his service at his home church, Grace Fellowship, in Tulsa. In obedience to the Lord, Landis stopped traveling and returned home to Allentown to plant Church on the Move.
About Church on the Move: Slightly more than five years ago, Church on the Move purchased the former United Weslyan College for $765,000, which was valued at $2.4 million. Located on eight acres of prime property, the church is situated in a garden-like setting. With a huge sanctuary, education facility, an administration building and a resource building, residents see the ministry as both a church and a community center.
Pastors and Family: "As a pastor or minister, you must learn to prioritize your life," Randy Landis says. "If you work in ministry, you must make sure you're doing the important things that bring you a return. There is no return like your children."
Landis enjoys spending time with his family and playing basketball with his daughter, Natalie. The entire family constantly showers daughter Olivia, who has Down's syndrome, with love and attention. Randy has two young-adult sons from a previous marriage, with whom he spends time and dispenses fatherly advice.
"I unwind by working out in the gym with my wife, and I enjoy playing golf," Landis says. He says Maribel is his best friend and greatest support. He describes his wife as a "very strong gracious leader," not only to the church's women's department, but to the community as well.
Mentoring: Landis says mentoring is very important in the church today. While mentoring, he focuses, among other issues, on two areas: "I want them to walk life with me. I want them to see how I relate to my wife, how I relate to my kids. I really allow them to 'do life' with me. Then I focus on the ministry aspect," he explains. "We work on character issues and developing a Christlikeness."
The late John Osteen of Lakewood Church in Houston impacted both Randy and Maribel. It was Osteen's well-known heart for people that continues to reverberate with the Landises.
The Future of COTM: Landis says the future is ever present in his mind. Aside from cultivating the current church and the relationship it has with the community, he often considers the possibility of satellite churches in various locations across the country. Autonomous in nature, each church would have the freedom to meet the specific needs of their community.
Landis believes his desires are simply prophetic words coming to fruition. He says that he received a prophetic word on May 3, 1998, from Cathy Lechner: "God is going to give you prime property at the gate of the city with lots and lots of land." read more
Larry Huch used to be a violent man who smuggled drugs into the United States from South America. Today he and his wife, Tiz, pastor one of the fastest-growing churches in the nation and have helped hundreds of wounded pastors find restoration.
There was a lot of activity in the sanctuary of New Beginnings Christian Center when the church hosted its seventh-annual World Leadership Conference in Portland, Oregon, last August. But it wasn't the electric guitars, saxophones, synthesizers or the worship band's smooth urban sound that caught the audience's attention. And it wasn't the multi-ethnic choir's stellar performance and gospel rhythm, either. It wasn't even the youth group's flawless original multimedia rap number or their impeccably choreographed techno-dance selection.
No, what really caught their attention was when dozens of pastors flooded the altar after Larry Huch, pastor of New Beginnings Christian Center (NBCC) and host of the World Leadership Conference (WLC), encouraged all ministers who were dealing with feelings of failure to come forward to get their vision back. Or when he got choked up while talking about street children in Portland who needed somebody to love them. Or when he called an older ministerial couple onstage and told them they wouldn't have to worry about their retirement because his church would take care of their financial needs.
What caught their attention was a man who didn't allow the applause and accolades of 4,000 conference attendees to distract him from noticing the needs of that one pastor in the crowd who might be hurting or have a special need.
Eric Thomas is one example. When he received the invitation to attend last year's WLC, he thought for sure there must be a catch. The 24-year-old pastor of Bethel Christian Church in Gainesville, Florida, was told that if he and his wife, Natasha, came to the six-day conference, all of their expenses would be paid--including registration, airfare, hotel accommodations and food. It sounded too good to be true.
But it wasn't. What Thomas didn't know is that Larry Huch and his wife, Tiz, planned to pick up the tab for 800 ministers at the August 2000 conference, spending almost $500,000 on these sponsorships alone.
Although Thomas wondered if the offer was a gimmick, he and his wife hopped on a plane to Portland, joining more than 4,000 leaders from around the world who attended the weeklong event. It didn't take long for his suspicions to disappear. The Holy Spirit ministered to the couple in the very first service, and they quickly recognized that the conference was an answer to prayer--saving their marriage and ministry.
"I was just about ready to wave my flag and say: 'I quit. I'm not going to do this anymore,'" says Thomas, admitting that both his marriage and ministry were on the rocks before attending the conference. "But this has been a time of reconciliation for me and my wife."
Bringing reconciliation and healing to hurting pastors is exactly why the Huchs started WLC, which was first held in 1994 with 100 ministers and their spouses. The conference has grown annually and was attended last August by delegates from almost 200 cities across the United States and more than a dozen other countries, including Brazil, Indonesia, Ukraine and Ghana. Keynote speakers included T.D. Jakes, Keith Butler and Marcus Lamb.
"We had to turn down 200 applicants because we just had no more room," Huch told Ministries Today. "And there were 193 churches from Africa that couldn't get out of the country. Our goal is to eventually get up to 5,000 delegates whom we can bring in and touch."
WLC was birthed out of NBCC, the Huch's inner-city, independent charismatic church in northeast Portland. NBCC has grown from 10 people in 1990 to more than 5,000 members today, including 1,200 children and 400 teen-agers. The church is racially diverse and is known for its comprehensive ministry to street kids, drug addicts and prisoners.
That same passion for reaching the down-and-out in Portland is what drives the Huchs to find pastors who are on the verge of giving up and to bring them to the WLC each year for a time of healing and refreshing--all expenses paid. The 49-year-old pastor and author of the recently released book, Free at Last: Breaking the Cycle of Family Curses (Albury Publishing), believes the return far outweighs the investment. At the August 2000 conference alone more than 30 couples canceled their plans for divorce after the first service.
"The curse in our marriage and ministry was broken at this conference," Eric Thomas says. "I told my wife that next year when we attend, I want to sponsor 20 people. I want to continue with what's been done for us."
Ministries Today met with Larry and Tiz Huch on the 60,000-square-foot ministry campus of NBCC to find out why the busy pastors of one of America's fastest-growing churches invest so much time, energy and money in other church leaders they don't even know. In characteristic candor, the Huchs talked about their struggles and successes, their love for hurting people and the vision God has given them to bring healing and deliverance.
"People ask us, 'Why would you care about us?'" says Tiz, who co-pastors NBCC with her husband, Larry. "It's because we know what it feels like to be out there struggling and feeling the strain of having no one to turn to. We just want to build a bridge for them to come across, so they don't have to feel what we felt for so many years [in our own ministry]."
HEALING WOUNDED PASTORS
Building bridges one person at a time is the Huchs' modus operandi and how the WLC first started. Larry Huch was attending a meeting for pastors in the mid-1990s when, he says, the Lord dropped Galatians 6:1 into his heart. The verse reads: "Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted" (NKJV).
At first Huch wasn't sure why the Holy Spirit directed him to the verse. But as he pondered it, he felt the Lord speak to him.
"God said that He wanted me to take 10 percent of our church's money, as part of our missions giving, and then find pastors who may have fallen or stumbled, or were just hurting and out there by themselves," Huch says. "Tiz and I knew what it felt like to be by ourselves, to be afraid, to not know who to talk to, who to go to, or who to trust."
Then, on a break during which Huch was greeting people, he noticed a man standing off by himself. Although he did not know the man, he could tell by his expression that he was having a difficult time. In his typical friendly fashion, Huch approached the stranger.
"I went up to him and said: 'Listen, I'm going to have a Bible conference up in Portland. I'd love for you to come.'"
The man, who recognized Huch from his Called to Conquer TV program on Trinity Broadcasting Network, told Huch that although he would love to come to the conference, he wasn't doing well and couldn't afford it. Then he asked when the event would be held.
Huch's reply was a shock. "Well, first off, I don't know when it is because God just told me to do it a few minutes ago," he answered. "And second, we will pay for your airfare and hotel room. We just want you to come and get a touch from God." The man began to weep.
Thus began NBCC's annual World Leadership Conference, which has remained a priority for the Huchs since its inception in 1994 and has grown in attendance each year. The growth has occurred almost entirely by word of mouth.
"Many pastors whom we've flown here in the past recommend friends or others they have heard about," Tiz says. "Or members of our congregation or one of our pastoral staff members may hear of somebody. We just hear of a need, and we try to fill it."
>And there are plenty of needs in the pastoral community, Larry Huch observes.
"Ministry is the greatest job, but in many ways one of the toughest jobs there is," he says. "There are people pressures, and the stress on you and your family is tremendous because you're fighting the devil. On top of that, if you're not getting the breakthrough you need in your own life, if you're not seeing the victories you want, that adds to the stress. It just wears these guys out."
Pastors seem to be wearing out in record numbers. "Statistics show that 1,500 pastors per month roll up the carpet and quit," he says. And where are they turning?
"We get phone calls from people who have attended WLC who say that at first they thought it was some kind of cult," he continues. "Think about that--they were here, thinking it might be a cult. So I've asked them why they came if they thought that. Their reply: 'Nobody else was reaching out. I have fallen; I've messed up; I'm hurting.'"
That's why the Huchs are striving to create an environment where pastors from any denominational background can feel they have a safe place to run to and get healed. Ministers in need of God's touch are simply too important to let fall through the cracks. "James told us to confess our sins to each other," Larry Huch says. "There is power in finding somebody you can trust to tell your stuff to without it making the church bulletin the following Sunday. That's the beginning of the cleansing and healing process."
"The biggest thing we see is the discouragement that comes from working in the 'people business,'" Tiz adds. "But who helps the hurting pastor? If you stop caring, or if you get hard and calloused, you become totally ineffective. So we try and show people what we have learned--that you can still care, you can still love people, you can still open your heart to them, but you can live above the pain. You can tap into God's resources and receive grace to continue to care, even in the midst of bad things that happen.
"We want to equip more and more pastors so they will have the tools needed to stay in the ministry," Tiz continues. "They need the tools that will help them to stay in the fight, to stay on the front lines, to pastor effectively and to stay victorious in their personal lives."
The Huchs speak from their own experience.
OVERCOMING THE PAST
Perhaps it is Larry Huch's unconventional background that gives him the compassion and understanding needed to reach out to those who are facing their own challenges and struggles. After all, he wasn't always the designer-clad picture of prosperity that people around the world see today. As a kid he never even went to church--unless it was to rob one. "The only time I had been in [a] church [was] when the doors were closed!" he jokingly recalls. "So when I became a Christian, I didn't know anything about what denominations were or who Jesus was."
But he did know about the narcotics underworld. Huch grew up in St. Louis and was surrounded by crime and violence as a child. He became a heavy drug user--including heroin, cocaine, marijuana and LSD, to name a few--and in fact overdosed just a year before he found Christ.
By his early 20s, the young man had become a full-fledged drug smuggler, secretly transporting drugs into the United States from Colombia, South America. He had also become very rich. He owned a ranch in the Andes Mountains, was surrounded by chauffeurs, servants and bodyguards, and typically, he says, carried around $60,000 in his pocket just for fun.
But it didn't take long before his reckless lifestyle took its toll. He became a strung out addict, mainlining up to $10,000 worth of cocaine a day. After only eight months in Colombia, he went from 215 pounds to 145 pounds. His life was spinning out of control, and he knew it.
Huch also knew, however, that there had to be more to life than this. And even though he did not have a relationship with the Lord, he recalls crying out, "God, don't let me die until I find out what happiness is."
The answer to that prayer would come about unexpectedly.
>It started when Huch found out that the man to whom he had been selling drugs was actually a narcotics agent. Sensing that his days were numbered in Colombia, the desperate smuggler packed a few necessities and fled to Flagstaff, Arizona, to hide out for awhile. It was there, at the age of 26, that he would encounter Christ.
"It was a setup from the Holy Spirit," he says. "I ran from the arms of the law right into the arms of God."
It happened on a day when the young outlaw was smoking dope on the front porch of a run-down house he shared with two female friends. But he wasn't so high that he didn't notice a young Mexican kid walking back and forth past the house. "He walked past about six times," Huch remembers. "I thought he wanted to come over and buy some drugs, or maybe rob the place, but finally he walked up to me and said: 'I've never done this before, but Jesus told me to tell you that He's who you are looking for. Jesus saved me, and I know He's gonna save you.'"
Intrigued, Huch accepted the boy's invitation to visit a small inner-city church that was showing the film Gospel Road, starring Johnny Cash. The truth presented in the film penetrated his heart.
"I just knew Jesus died for me," Huch says. At the end of the service he went up to the altar to receive Christ. He was instantly delivered from his drug habit.
But that pivotal night left an impression on the young man for another reason, too. He says that because of how he looked--T-shirt, old jeans, ratty ponytail and beard, needle-marked arms--nobody in the church would pray with him. And when one of his Christian friends did find out he was saved, the first question she asked him was what denomination he had become.
"That has always stuck with me," Huch says. "So when Tiz and I formed WLC, we decided there would be no denominational barriers. One of the neat things is seeing the unity God brings."
That spirit of openness and unity is the foundation of the Huchs' ministry.
Larry and Tiz Huch met in a small Pentecostal church in Arizona the same year Larry was saved, and they got married shortly thereafter. A lot has happened since those early days together. Besides raising three children--Anna, 22; Luke, 18; and Katie, 13--the Huchs have pioneered six churches in their 20 years of ministry, including two in Australia. They are familiar with the ups, the downs, the blessings and the demands of pastoring.
Although the dramatic growth of New Beginnings Christian Center and its impact in Portland have been astounding, the couple are careful not to take it for granted. That's why plans for NBCC's new facility in Gresham--a suburb of Portland just a few miles from the church's current location--include a special focus on meeting the community's social and economic needs. The new ministry complex, which will comprise 30 acres, is scheduled for completion by August 2002 and will be built debt-free.
"We're not just building a church," Larry Huch says. "We want to build a center, more than just a place used on Sundays."
Plans include a multimillion-dollar youth and children's facility with free video games, movies, rides, sporting activities and weight rooms, all with adult supervision. The facility will be open every day before and after school hours. But that's only the beginning.
"There will be people who will help them learn English, help them with their homework and counselors they can talk with about drug problems or domestic abuse," Huch says. "We already have safe homes for women who need to escape abusive situations, and we're going to have more." An office complex that will provide medical and dental services is also being considered.
The impact of such outreaches for the kingdom of God could prove to be extraordinary. That's why Huch encourages other pastors to stay in the fight and to dream big for God. It's why he goes after those who have become weary or weak and does what he can to help them find renewed vision in the power of Christ. He knows that to win a battle, you need strong warriors.
"We are not in competition with each other," he says. "We ought to be partnering. If I help build another pastor's church for Jesus, then Jesus will help me build my church. If the church would quit fighting with each other and start to work together, I really believe we would see a massive revival."
Preventing Ministry Burnout
According to some studies, 1,500 pastors per month quit the ministry. You don't have to be the next statistic.
Ministries Today asked Larry Huch what he believes pastors can do to prevent burnout. Here's what he had to say:
Keep your priorities straight. God comes first--if I don't have a relationship with Him, I can't minister for Him. Second is my wife. If I lose her, I lose my destiny. Third is my children. Why do we work so hard to get other people into heaven and then ignore our own children? Fourth is your staff, and fifth is your church.
Enjoy life. Jesus says that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. This doesn't mean you don't work hard--you just don't work "worried." You have to believe you are going to win and keep the victory. One of the ways you do that is through the right fellowship with others.
Don't give everything away. Don't sacrifice everything for the church. God does not need that. I know of one man who wants nothing to do with Christianity because even though his father was a pastor and everyone thought he was a great man of God, he had a mistress. If the mistress needed carpet, furniture or money, it was there; but if the man's wife or family had a need, it wasn't there. The "mistress" wasn't a woman--it was the church.
Don't let everyone dump on you. You cannot let people call you 24 hours a day. My job is to motivate and teach. I have trained my staff to handle various areas of responsibility; they don't come to me with everything. You have to guard the anointing. Know when it's time to step up to a new level. When you're pioneering a church, you do everything. But as the church grows, you have to train people to do the work of the ministry. As a pastor, you need to stay fresh in your relationship with God so you can bring a fresh word to the people.
Don't put people in a position to win their loyalty. Pastors spend too much time trying to lure people in, or back into, the church, when these people aren't going to make it anyway--they just want to manipulate you. Quit baby-sitting Christians and win souls, and you'll stay fresh. If somebody backslides, I'll go after them. But not if somebody leaves because they're mad nobody called them. I'm not here to baby-sit. If you're three weeks old, we'll change your diaper; but if you're 30 years old, we have a problem.
Know your calling. Many people who are pastoring churches are doing something they are not called to do. Maybe they're called to be pastors, but not senior pastors. If you are not on the right position on the team, it will wear you out. Take Joe Montana, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. If you give him the same ball, the same place, the same game and the same team, but change his number to a linebacker, not only will he not be the best, he'll die. He won't make it because he's in the wrong position. You have to know your calling. And no matter how good you are, you have to build the right team around you.
Get good training and mentorship. In addition to biblical knowledge, you also need to have other skills, such as people skills and hands-on ministry experience. I like the pattern of some of the large churches in South America. First, you have to be saved; then filled with the Spirit; then able to win people on the streets; then able to build a cell group, and out of that birth other cell groups; then you start a church that becomes self-supporting; then you are brought home, and leadership lays hands on you; then you are called a pastor. There must be a mentoring process for ministry.
Embrace God's love. God is a good God. He is more interested in you, the worker, than He is your work. You are not alone. God will build relationships--we are in this together. You will see visions and dreams that were stolen given back. This is the greatest era the church has ever seen.
What a Pastor Needs to be Successful
During the World Leadership Conference in Portland, Oregon, last August, Ministries Today asked several pastors representing various church backgrounds and church sizes to identify what they see as the top needs of ministry leaders.
Inspiration. "You need someone who will inspire you to try new things so you won't just keep doing the same old thing," says Dwayne Shigg of Holy Bible Way Christian Church in Compton, California. "Maybe you have an idea that sounds crazy. You need somebody to say, 'That's a good idea; tweak it here, tweak it there, and go for it,' as opposed to someone who says, 'You can't do that.' You've got enough people telling you that you can't do it."
Fellowship. "We intermingle with people from different denominational backgrounds at this conference," says Joseph Lephiew of Praise Chapel Christian Fellowship in Phoenix. "Pastor Huch organizes fellowship times. We get to know each other, encourage each other, and we exchange cards and e-mail addresses and develop relationships. The camaraderie is stimulating. You need that."
Mentoring. "I was looking for mentorship," says Eric Thomas of Bethel Christian Church in Gainesville, Florida. "My wife and I felt so alone, like we were doing this on our own. We knew God is with us, but where are our fathers? Where are the people to teach us? We didn't have that. But pastor Huch has begun to father and mentor us. I'm going to have something to take home to my congregation."
Accountability. "You've got to have somebody you can go to," says Steven West of AWANA Bible Fellowship in Long Beach, California. "I need to be able to pick up the phone and say, 'I'm struggling, pray with me.' And I don't mean casual accountability. I mean accountability where I'm going to allow you to get in my face and say: 'Man, how are you doing with your sexuality? Your finances? Are you paying your bills on time? How are you really doing?' We're kind of in this situation nowadays where everybody's like, 'I'm alright; me and the Holy Ghost are alright'--be real!"
Family. "The relationship with your spouse and kids is so important," says Sam Resendez of Victorious Life Christian Center in Wichita, Kansas. "I go and preach in other pastors' churches, and I see their wives and children hurting. I don't know how we fall into the trap that if we give more attention to the ministry and neglect our wives and children, then we're going to get more money. It doesn't work that way. Four years ago I failed in this. But thank God, He opened my eyes so that my wife and I could help others."
Encouragement. "I know a lot of pastors I've talked with say it seems like people don't encourage them," Steven West says. "After a service at one church where I spoke, a deacon came up and said, 'Pastor West, I want you to know you're message really hit home.' That encouragement carried me for another three months. Encouragement is a big need for pastors, but a lot of people don't think we need it." Charles Pringle, a pastor who is pioneering a church in Tacoma, Washington, is a testimony to the importance of encouragement. During the ministry time on the first night of the conference, T.D. Jakes gave him a prophetic word that released a dramatic emotional healing for the struggling pastor.
"A warm glow went over me," Pringle says. "All I know is, I was on the floor when I woke up. My life has really changed. I'm not the person I was before I came here. I am taking home a clearer understanding of the Holy Spirit. This has been a training session to get me ready for what is to come. I feel all the trials and tribulations I've been through were getting me ready for this time."
Rest. "You need to get away," Joseph Lephiew says. "You need to get fed, develop relationships and get in touch with yourself."
"Jesus did that," Eric Thomas adds. "He went into solitary places--away from the disciples, the training and the imparting. It was good for Him."
For more information on New Beginnings Christian Center or the annual World Leadership Conference for pastors, contact Larry Huch Ministries, P.O. Box 66700, Portland, Oregon, 97290; call (503) 256-6050; or log on to www.newbeginnings.org.
Bill Shepson is managing editor of Ministries Today and associate editor of Charisma magazine. He lives in the Orlando, Florida, area. read more