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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.
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.
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.
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."
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."
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