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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. ...

Put God in the Driver's Seat

By George O. Wood
June 5, 2011

During my first six months at Newport-Mesa, the church emptied out. You could have fired a shotgun in the sanctuary on Sunday morning and not hit anybody. Even the church finances began drying up. I had been faithful to build on the strengths God had given me, but I was a total failure.

That’s when I came face to face with this principle of godly leadership. It’s not enough to build on your own strengths, because they’re not enough to build God’s kingdom.

God-powered finances

By mid-summer we were getting disconnect notices from the util­ity company. I had to take a check in person to the utilities office one day to keep the church’s electricity from being cut off. We were that tight. I hadn’t said a word to the congregation about our fi­nancial straits. For one thing, I didn’t want to admit I was already a failure as a pastor. And I was trying to tough it out as if my last name were Mueller — except I didn’t have George Mueller’s faith.

As a pastor, I’ve always found it difficult to talk about money, but I decided to bring the problem to the board. I asked the sev­en deacons to begin meeting me every Saturday at 6 a.m. for breakfast at a restaurant where we could have a private table. We would do three things: eat breakfast, pray, and decide what bills to pay during the upcoming week.

For 17 years, our board met on Saturday morning, and even though we eventually moved the start time to 7 a.m., we were always done by 9 o’clock. I thought that was great. If you have evening board meetings, husbands and wives — we had men and women on the board — begin to resent their spouses being absent. Second, people who have worked all day can be a bit tired and crabby at night. On Saturday morning, though, their kids and spouse are still sleeping, they get out of the house, and they’re home a little after 9. Everybody’s happy, and you get good ser­vice out of your team.

By the third Saturday in August 1971, we were in really bad shape, and deciding which bills to pay was especially difficult. While we were discussing the bills, though, one of the deacons pointed out, “You know, Pastor, since you’ve been here, we have not met a single missions commitment.” He was right. I’d been pastor of the church for eight months. Our missionary commit­ments were $257 per month, but we had not met a single monthly commitment.

We can’t pay our bills; how can we pay the missionaries? I thought. We’re supporting no one with more than $10 per month, and some of them with just $5. They’re not going to miss it anyway.

The deacon persisted. “I think we ought to take whatever comes in tomorrow’s offering and pay at least two months’ mis­sionary commitments before we pay any bills.”

That’s $514! I thought to myself. We never see an offering like that. But they all, being deacons (whom I discovered many times had more faith than I), thought it was a great idea. So they agreed, and we prayed.

When we finished praying, the deacon who’d made the motion looked at me and said, “Now, Pastor, you understand the bills we won’t pay also include your salary.”

That was when Jewel and I were selling stuff out of the house just to make ends meet. But I said to them that, while I had not re­alized the motion also included not paying me, it was OK. If that’s what they felt we should do, I would go along.

So Sunday morning arrived, and we had our usual handful of people. I said nothing to the congregation about what the board had decided. I didn’t make a special appeal, didn’t talk about the prayer we’d prayed, or mention anything about money. The ushers took the morning offering and then another on Sunday night.

I’ve never allowed money to be counted while

the service is going on because I’ve found that those who miss the service to count money grow spiritually dry over time. It’s important that they be in the service and be nourished by the worship and proc­lamation of God’s Word. So we didn’t count the money until after the Sunday night service. (As our church grew, we took this practice a step further and kept the offering in a safe and counted it on Monday morning.)

The two deacons who counted the money that night came to me, looking very happy. “Pastor,” they said, “guess what the offer­ing was today.”

I had no idea. I don’t remember the exact amount now, but more than $1,350 had been given. I was astounded. Not only was our overall giving trending downward, the third Sunday in August is supposed to be one of the lowest Sundays in the year for most churches. It certainly had been for our church — I went back and looked at the records, just to be sure! People are on vacation — and they take their tithes with them. But here we were with a record-breaking offering.

The next morning, as usual, I was in my office, but my thoughts weren’t “usual.” I said to the Lord, “Whatever the lesson is, help me to learn it from this offering.”

Another impression hit. I felt the Lord say quietly, to my heart, George, I’m not interested in building this church on your personal­ity; I’m interested in building it on Mine. Put Me and My cause, My kingdom, front and center, and I’ll take care of you.

The first part — “I’m not interested in building this church on your personality” — was a direct rebuke. I had been 29 when I became pastor of that church and felt I had a great pedi­gree for ministry. I was a missionary kid, an evangelist’s kid, a pas­tor’s kid. I had “seen it all” while growing up in church. I had a bachelor’s degree, a master of divinity degree, even a doctorate in pastoral theology. I was as well trained and prepared as you could get, and I thought I was just the answer to that church’s problems. I was super confident that I would come in and turn things around overnight. Instead, they went south.

What the Lord allowed me to understand in that desert time was that I wouldn’t be the one to turn it around. While it may be true that a leader should build on his or her own strengths, per­sonal strengths are not enough. Unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain.

From Road Trip Leadership by George O. Wood (Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 2011). Excerpted with permission.

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

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