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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. ...

Your Town, Your Mission Field

By Scott Harrup
Sept. 19, 2010

Sylvan Lanes Bowling Alley in West Bloomfield, Mich., was nearly deserted when Paul McCullough dropped in for a quick practice game in June 1984. The attendant directed McCullough to lane five and almost immediately forgot about him. The crash of cascading pins, however, soon caught his attention.

There’s a certain cadence to a game when the player achieves repeated strikes. The pins seem to jump away from the ball in a unified chorus before the pinsetter sweeps down with a new set of 10.

Crash. Sweep. Crash. Sweep. Crash …

McCullough finished his game by the time most players would be halfway through. He had scored 12 strikes in 10 frames and two bonus frames — a perfect 300. But in the absence of tournament officials, the game that remains his lifelong record has had to remain a personal anecdote.

McCullough’s 300 is a suitable metaphor for his ministry. There’s no official “score” for souls when you share the gospel. If it makes sense to aim at every pin in a bowling match, shouldn’t that hold true for telling everyone you meet about your Savior?

Dream come true
McCullough is not short on competitive drive. As a Kansas teen, he bowled a confirmed 816 series and set a state record. He was a citywide bowling champion in Springfield, Mo., while attending Central Bible College. In 1970, his senior year, a local businessman was prepared to sponsor him on the Professional Bowlers Tour.

That’s when McCullough made a critical decision.

“I was at a service at Park Crest Assembly and really felt impressed of God to cancel that sponsorship meeting,” says the affable 63-year-old senior associate pastor at Willmar (Minn.) Assembly of God. “I think you’re a winner more as a pastor dealing with people than trying to make it to number one all the time.”

McCullough came to Willmar Assembly in 1989 to help Pastor Dean Gross create a stronger connection between the church and the city. At the time, McCullough was pastoring a church plant in West Bloomfield, Mich., but had a vision for developing a community liaison ministry for an established church. He had sent an outline of that ministry proposal to AG churches from the East Coast to Hawaii. Gross saw the proposal, liked what he saw, and made McCullough an offer at that year’s General Council in Indianapolis.

“He handed me a job description,” McCullough remembers. “I was looking for what they were looking for. I could finally be the type of minister I had dreamt of being.”

He continues refining the tools he created for that task as he partners with current senior pastor Keith Kerstetter and the growing church of 1,000. For McCullough, reaching the approximately 40,000 people living in Willmar and in Kandiyohi County is not a dream but a daily mission.

Within the church walls, McCullough joins other ministry team members in performing marriages, offering pastoral counseling and overseeing weekly services. Outside those walls, he finds ways to integrate a pastoral presence in area businesses, medical centers and public service agencies.

Sunday afternoon after Willmar Assembly’s morning service, McCullough slips out of the house while Francesca, his wife and best friend for the past 40 years, catches a much-needed nap. He heads to the local Wal-Mart or Target or shopping mall. He buys a popcorn or soft drink and finds a table. He waits. Pretty soon, shoppers realize that “Pastor Paul” is open for ministry.

‘Pastor Paul’
“I was sitting in the Subway at Wal-Mart just the other day,” McCullough says, “and a little girl going by with her parents waved at me and said, ‘Hi, Pastor Paul.’ I have no idea who she was, but it reminded me you have to hold true to the calling.”

Over the years, the calling has continued on Mondays with a daylong circuit through greater Willmar.

“By the end of the day, I have personally and warmly greeted 100-150 employees and management at places like Life Science Innovations, Willmar Poultry Administration, Midwest Data, our local law enforcement center, and retail stores I come across on the way,” he says.

Along with the thousands of quick connections McCullough has amassed over the years, he faithfully nurtures long-term ministry relationships when the opportunity arises.

In 1994, a young man fatally stabbed his fiancée in a nearby town and stabbed himself in a suicide attempt. McCullough visited him in the hospital. After the man’s sentencing, McCullough began visiting him each month. He has continued that outreach for 14 years, following the inmate to three different prisons.

“I still see him,” McCullough says. “He’s not a Christian yet, but it’s all about planting seeds.”

Years of building a reputation for compassion can even open doors for McCullough during his everyday errands. Once, when he pulled up to his bank’s drive-through window, the teller commented on all the times she had seen him at Target.

“My husband was killed a couple of weeks ago in a trucking accident,” the woman told him. “Just walking into Target and seeing you sitting there was a comfort. You were the first person I thought of when I needed consoling.”

Community chaplain
In 2009, the Assemblies of God Commission on Chaplains granted McCullough a specialized ecclesiastical endorsement for pastoral care chaplaincy ministry.

“I can use that as a tool even after I retire from Willmar Assembly,” McCullough says. He says the endorsement will keep doors open for outreach across the community.

He is already on call for any number of emergency situations.

When Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Roe was shot in the leg while executing a search warrant, McCullough was one of the first people called. He met Roe’s wife, Barbara, to tell her of the incident.

“It was a very chaotic situation,” Roe remembers. “In our department, we’ve never had anything this serious happen, and to have the chaplain there immediately helped.”

Willmar is a railroad town. McCullough partners with Railroad Chaplains of America to serve the local Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway. This spring he visited a young man in the hospital who lost an arm and a leg after crawling under a train while under the influence of alcohol. Another recent call for ministry came from the family of a railway-related fatality in a nearby town.

Along with his service to the police and railway, McCullough serves as a chaplain for the Willmar Fire Department and is a regular presence at the KRA Speedway.

“It’s all about being a pastor where pastors aren’t normally found,” he says.

Tools of the trade
But for McCullough, his ministry as a pastor and chaplain is only part of the equation if Willmar Assembly, or any other church, is to be effective. He is convinced every follower of Christ has enormous potential for community influence.

For the past 20 years, he has continued to develop a curriculum for HUGS Ministry (Hosts, Ushers, Greeters, Senders). With appropriate permissions, he has modeled the content from several restaurants’ training materials.

“I put together what I call ‘hospitality manuals,’ and I put together a monthly mailing with tips for anyone interested in this kind of ministry,” he says. “It’s simple advice like, ‘Use people’s first name’ or ‘If someone looks lost, get someone to help them.’ That’s the way I try to train our folks to think beyond themselves. We are there to be hosts to every guest, whether a visitor or a member. And if they can do it out in the community, even better.”

McCullough was licensed to preach in 1970 by the Kansas District and ordained by the Ohio District four years later. In town after town across the Midwest, he has spent four decades building a network of connections among souls needing a Savior.

“Each town or city I’ve found myself in with pastoral duties,” he says, “I have endeavored in a variety of ways to meet folk.”

The statement is somewhat reminiscent of another “Pastor Paul” who ministered nearly 2,000 years ago.

“I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22, NIV).

SCOTT HARRUP is managing editor of the Pentecostal Evangel. News Editor John W. Kennedy contributed to this article.

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