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.