Connections: George O. Wood
Feb. 16, 2014
A Century of God's Faithfulness
General Superintendent George O. Wood was elected chief executive officer of the U.S. Assemblies of God at the 52nd General Council in August 2007. The U.S. Fellowship is part of the Assemblies of God global family, the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world. Wood also serves as chairman of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship.
Wood’s lifelong ministry has its roots in his parents’ missionary service, and includes decades of leadership as a pastor and assistant district superintendent in Southern California before he served as general secretary of the U.S. Assemblies of God from 1993 until his 2007 election to lead the Fellowship.
With plans in place to observe the centennial of the Assemblies of God’s formation, Wood spoke to Scott Harrup, Pentecostal Evangel managing editor, at the AG National Leadership and Resource Center in Springfield, Mo., about the Fellowship’s continued focus on communicating the gospel worldwide.
evangel: What is the significance of the Assemblies of God’s centennial year?
GEORGE O. WOOD: I don’t believe anyone at the beginning could have envisioned we would be where we are now. I think of Ephesians 3:20, where the apostle Paul describes God as “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (NIV).
Approximately 300 people met in Hot Springs, Ark., in 1914. Had they been able to look down the road 100 years, they would be stunned and amazed and grateful. Churches that are 100 years old — fellowships, movements that are 100 years old — sometimes lose their passion, lose their commitment to the Scripture, and lose their view of the exclusiveness of the lordship of Christ and the distinctive that brought them into being. But through 100 years of growth, the Assemblies of God has been faithful to our mission, to our doctrine, to our commitment to do the greatest work of evangelism this world has ever seen.
evangel: What can we expect as a Movement in 2014?
WOOD: Nationally, we’ve asked our U.S. districts to include in their district councils through the year a celebration of the centennial, and we are providing them media and print resources. From a global perspective, AG leadership from nations around the world is coming to Springfield for the Assemblies of God World Congress Aug. 5-10, which will focus on a centennial celebration.
In 2011, the World Assemblies of God Congress in Chennai, India, adopted a goal of having 500,000 churches and 100 million believers by 2020, growing from our current levels of about 350,000 churches and more than 66 million adherents. We want to continue to give focus to that as a means of fulfilling our unchanging priority of reaching people who don’t know Jesus.
evangel: The World Assemblies of God Congress in August will create a unique opportunity for Springfield, here at the very roots of the Fellowship, to see dramatic evidence of how God carried the Assemblies of God around the world.
WOOD: The past is a well of resource for the present and the future. When you look at how the Assemblies of God came to Springfield and why the National Leadership and Resource Center is located here, I really attribute it to the prayers of the early saints here, including a woman named Amanda Benedict who prayed and fasted on bread and water for a year for God to work in Springfield and use Springfield for His purposes all over the world. I attribute it to the prayers of five teenage boys who knelt on this site and prayed that from this place the gospel would reach as many people as there are stars.
The paintings on my wall are a constant reminder that the kingdom of God is about commitment, sacrifice, miracles, laying down your life — all of those things are a well from the past that drives us into the future.
One of my great concerns is we might become lackadaisical, that the church could become professional, polished, easy. The gospel is never easy; it always involves suffering.
I have shared a message that includes a number of missionary stories from our history. After I prepared it, I realized every one of the stories had a death in it except one, and that was about Florence Steidel, who founded the New Hope Town Colony, a leprosarium in Liberia, and she eventually worked herself to death.
The heroism of taking the gospel to unreached peoples, both in the U.S. and in the world, needs to be continually rekindled. The current generation must pass the torch of this commitment to the next generation.
evangel: You have many opportunities to see how the Assemblies of God is a vital part of the Church around the world.
WOOD: I recently traveled to China as a guest of the Billy Graham organization in a group of about 25 evangelical leaders. Some pastors of America’s largest churches were in the group, and I was asked to give the closing remarks at the closing banquet in Shanghai for the forum between the Chinese Protestant leaders and our delegation. That I was chosen to do that shows such a respect and love, I think, for the Assemblies of God from those outside of the AG.
I am amazed at how many people I meet in prominent ministry positions who say, “I grew up in an AG church” or “I was saved in an AG church.” In the Assemblies of God, we always take the view that the kingdom of God is bigger than the Assemblies of God.
evangel: How does the centennial touch the lives of the millions of people, young and old, connected with the Assemblies of God?
WOOD: When I preach missions conventions, I hold up a poster I’ve sized down to fit my notebook. The original poster hung on our church walls in 1939 for missions conventions. It is black and white, shows the outline of Africa, and has pictures of all the AG missionaries who were serving in Africa in 1939.
There are statistics at the bottom — 95 missionaries, 127 national preachers, 125 churches and preaching points, 13,000 believers. Recent AG statistics for Africa reported 71,445 churches and nearly 18 million believers and adherents. That is miraculous growth.
What is not on this poster are the people who prayed for the missionaries who are pictured and who financed them and sent them. And that holds true today.
Our missionaries could never have gone had local people abstained from missionary offerings or not been actively involved in support of their church and participated in ministries of their own. These are the people who teach the Sunday School classes, lead Royal Rangers and Missionettes and Mpact Girls Clubs. These are the people who take the time to work with young people.
That invisible crowd was not pictured in 1939, and there is a much larger crowd today.
I was studying Mark 14 recently, where Jesus sends Peter and John into Jerusalem and tells them they will meet a man standing with a water jar and that man will take the disciples to a man who owns a home with a large upper room. The room would be the location of Jesus’ final Passover meal with His disciples. And I looked at that narrative in a whole new way.
None of what took place at the Last Supper — Jesus washing His disciples’ feet, Jesus teaching, Jesus sharing the symbols of His body and blood with them — could have happened had the man with the water jar and the man who owned the home not done their tasks. Those unnamed men made it possible for Jesus to do what only Jesus can do.
And that strikes me about the millions of people who are in our churches, who simply are the water jar people or the home owner people. They are the people who make it possible for Jesus to do His work of salvation, of healing, of baptism in the Holy Spirit. They make that possible through their ministry, their prayer, their lay involvement.
As we celebrate this centennial, they are part of something that is bigger than they are, bigger than their local churches, something vast and wide in the kingdom of God.