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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Partners With the Spirit

By George O. Wood
Jan. 10, 2010

Church planting is the most effective means for evangelization. New churches, by their very nature, have to grow to exist. People are motivated to get out and reach the lost. New converts more effectively reach other new converts because they still have a lot of non-Christian friends. When you plant a church in a community, you have a wonderful opportunity to impact that region with the gospel.

We must strategically plant new churches. We must recognize no existing church or ministry has a fiefdom or a territory. We must work together to see churches begin filling the thousands of communities we have yet to reach.

One of the most successful church plants I have ever seen was in Fresno, Calif., years ago when Dave Gable pastored Full Gospel Tabernacle, an historic Assemblies of God downtown church. Another AG church started in the same neighborhood.

Many of the families attending Full Gospel Tabernacle had moved to the suburbs and were driving back into the city for services. Dave realized his church had a big gymnasium and his congregation was largely middle-aged and older. The new church had mostly young people and children.

Dave approached the other pastor. "Look," he said, "you guys don't have a permanent facility. Why don't you come and use our gymnasium? You're short on mature Christians. We'll have our mature Christians help teach your Sunday School. We'll combine Sunday School and have different worship services."

So they had two AG churches in one building - two churches with totally different styles. The newer church grew so much that the older church planted a new church in the suburbs and kept on growing.

You can go to just about any major street corner in America and see two, three, or sometimes four gas stations. That does not mean each station has less business. There is a synergy in multiple organizations pursuing a common goal. With the gas stations, consumers simply decide whether they want to buy Brand A, Brand B, or Brand C. They are happy to have the choice. In the same way, there is room for far more churches in America to create far more chances for people to choose Christ.

At Newport-Mesa Christian Center in Costa Mesa, when we hit 500 people we outgrew our location and could not expand because of zoning restrictions. Planting a church was the natural solution. I brought a person on staff for six months to recruit as many people in our congregation as possible to plant a church in a neighboring community. About 80 people joined the effort, and we held a commissioning service on the last Sunday before we sent them out.

I asked the congregation, "How many of you have come to this church in the last six months and have made it your church home?" More than 80 people raised their hands. We had already replaced the people who were leaving.

I've heard this story countless times from other church planting pastors. Whether we want to believe it or not, the Scripture is true: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." The problem comes when we get into maintenance mode or status quo and are not pushing the envelope. Churches must have faith to continue to push the envelope for the next work God has in store.

Pastors need individual faith and congregations need corporate faith in constant pursuit of God's vision. The Lord has dreams and visions for the pastor and church who will take time to listen to His voice. The Holy Spirit certainly wants to reach our communities in America. If the Holy Spirit wants to reach our communities, then as we quiet ourselves and wait for His leading, He will show us what to do.

The Holy Spirit may not speak in an audible voice, but I've learned over the course of my life that the strong impressions that come in prayer are almost always from the Lord. I'll share one example.

When I left the campus pastorate at Evangel University in Springfield, Mo., I was preaching to 1,000 students a week. I was the first full-time campus pastor in the Assemblies of God. I had just finished my doctoral work, and I intended to stay at Evangel the rest of my life.

In October 1970, just two months after completing my doctoral work, we had a Spiritual Emphasis Week. A great revival hit the campus. As I was praying, I looked across the students in chapel and I felt the Holy Spirit say to me, George, look around here. This is not going to be your place of ministry much longer.

I tried to write off the impression as a stray thought. I was prepared to serve there for the rest of my life. I found out months later that the church I would ultimately go to had set aside that last week of October as a week of prayer and fasting as they began to search for a new pastor. The Holy Spirit connected us.

In March 2007, I stood on the beach at Seleucia (in southeast modern Turkey) where Paul and Barnabas sailed from on their first missionary journey. As I stood on that beach, I had an incredible spiritual encounter. I realized at that moment that when Paul and Barnabas first set sail no book of the New Testament had been written, none of the Gentile churches had been founded except the church in Antioch, and Paul had no idea that in the next 15 years he would plant churches in Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth and Ephesus. He had no hint of all the correspondence that would take place and form the New Testament. He could not see that Luke would come along as a partner and write Luke and Acts.

When Paul stood on the beach that day he knew none of that. As far as we know, he did not even have an itinerary. He had no five-year plan or 10-year plan. There is nothing wrong with such plans. But Paul had a sensitivity to the Spirit. He was willing to step out of the known, out of the great revival going on at Antioch. And that great church, where hundreds of people were coming to Christ, was sensitive to the voice of the Spirit and willing to give up its premier leaders in Paul and Barnabas.

Those missionaries literally did not know where they were going, except as the Spirit directed them. And the next 15 years became an incredibly productive time for the Early Church.

I believe the Spirit wants to replicate that in our lifetime. He wants to take not only the young leaders anxious to get out and make a mark for God, but He also wants to take senior veterans and launch them into new ministries they never would have imagined. And as we partner with the Holy Spirit across this Fellowship, there are great churches in communities as yet unreached waiting to be born, waiting to impact their world for Christ.

May God burden our hearts and give us the vision for His great churches of the future.

Excerpted from Core Values: Serving Christ's Cause With Effectiveness and Excellence (Gospel Publishing House, 2007).

GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

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