How the River Changed our Church
A pastor hungry for more gets transformed in God's presence - which in turn transforms his church!
It was October 2000 when my wife Cindy and I paid our very first visit to Toronto. We attended the Catch The Fire conference not knowing that it would alter our destiny and that of our congregation!
"there was a hunger in our hearts for more than 'church as usual.'"
We weren’t visiting Toronto out of a desperation born of failure. We had been senior pastors since 1986, having pastored three churches successfully. The third church was one we had planted, and we were happy with its growth. We started it in 1996, and it had grown to 150 members by 2000. We purchased our first building after 2 years of existence and our services were lively and meaningful.
But we were desperate nonetheless. After years of fruitful ministry, there was a hunger in our hearts for more than 'church as usual.' We wanted to experience MORE of God. We had seen moves of God, but we wanted to be part of one.
A DRAMATIC EXPERIENCE
In our first week at TACF, God worked me over! The last night of the conference one of the ministry team members laid hands on me and prayed. I fell and was pinned to the floor for more than an hour! I couldn’t move. People all around me were reacting to the Spirit with laughter, weeping, shaking and crying out. I was experiencing none of these; I was simply stuck to the floor.
I began to get angry with God and asked Him, “Why am I down here listening to all these manifestations?” I found myself getting irritated with some of the ways people were responding to God’s presence during those moments. The Lord didn’t answer me right away. He let me lie there and “stew in my juice” for a while.
Finally He spoke, "I am delivering you from your need to judge every manifestation that you see. What happens to people is between them and me. It’s not any of your business to judge them.” I was flabbergasted. The Lord put His finger on something in my heart that was so subtle. I had never noticed it before. Whenever anyone around me responded to the move of the Spirit, I secretly decided in my own mind whether or not it was of God. I never spoke these things out loud; it was just a habitual thought process. I suppose it made me feel superior in some way, or more “in the know”. But whatever the reason, God wanted to deliver me from something I was doing unknowingly that was blocking renewal from happening in my life and in our church!
“The most amazing thing to us was that none of our members had ever been to Toronto; so they were not imitating anything they had seen before.”
After I repented, He let me up off the floor. I was a new man! We went home from Toronto with a new zeal, waiting to see what God was going to do, and we were not disappointed. Our very first service following “Catch the Fire 2000” was like a mini TACF conference. As we prayed for our church members, the floor became strewn with people, all enraptured by the presence of the living God. All the same reactions that we had seen in Toronto were happening right here in our home church. The most amazing thing to us was that none of our members had ever been to Toronto; so they were not imitating anything they had seen before. They were simply responding to a dramatic increase in His mighty presence. Our church, The Father’s House, has been in renewal ever since.
GOD ASKS FOR MY RESIGNATION
I attended the TACF Pastor’s Conference in January of 2001. I was sitting in a workshop listening to guest speaker Sunday Adelijah, and I made this statement to Jesus, “Lord, I’ll do anything for You. Whatever You want me to do, just tell me and I’ll do it!”
I suddenly felt like I was in a cloud of His glory. I heard the Lord’s voice saying, “I want you to resign as pastor of your church.” I was stunned, to say the least! I was certain it was Him speaking, so I responded, “OK Lord. If that’s what you want, I’ll do it. But what do you want me to do from here?”
He spoke again: “From now on, the Holy Spirit is to be the Senior Pastor of The Father’s House. I want you to stay at the church, and be His assistant pastor.”
My natural question was, “Well, OK, but what do I do? What tasks do I perform?” His response was so freeing, and it still makes me laugh when I think about it. “You do what any good assistant pastor does. You ASSIST the PASTOR.”
From that day forward ministry became simpler and easier than it had ever been. I learned to continuously pray these simple heartfelt prayers, “Come Holy Spirit”, “Take over this service today,” and “More, Lord”. He was good to His word. He took over each service and still does to this day! He came in power, and He continues to come and does what only He can do.
FILLED TEETH AND FILLED LIVES
In March of 2001, my wife Cindy and 20 members of our church made the trek up to TACF for “The Father Loves You” conference. During one of the services, John Arnott prayed and asked the Holy Spirit to do a miracle in people’s mouths. John prayed for dental miracles and gold fillings. The Spirit of God hit the members of our church. Every one of our members in attendance, including my wife, saw the fillings in their teeth change to gold. Then they prayed that the same miracle would happen for the rest of our church back home in Akron.
Within a couple of hours of this prayer, I began receiving phone calls from our home in Ohio. Numerous church members where asking, “What’s going on? I looked in the mirror and noticed a gleam in my mouth, so I looked closer. My fillings have turned to gold!”
"We...marveled at the works of God."
After that, gold fillings became a regular occurrence in our services. Members and visitors had their fillings changed by the power of God. Sometimes they would leave our services and find that they were “carriers.” One visitor came back and testified that when she returned home from our renewal service, her husband’s fillings were transformed and so were her father’s. And her father was not even a Christian yet! We tried to keep count of how many people this happened to, but we lost count. We also saw many physical healings and marveled at the works of God.
This was all new to me and very exciting; but even more exciting was the passion for God that I saw in our people! You could walk through our building at any time, day or night, and find people praying, worshipping, and soaking. I would stumble upon them in classrooms, between rows of chairs in the sanctuary, almost any place you could think of. Some were members of our church and some were not. Many simply had heard what God was doing and wanted to come during the week just to sit in His marvelous presence!
WORD GETS OUT!
One day I received a call from our local newspaper, the Akron Beacon Journal. They had heard reports of miracles in our congregation and asked if they could send a reporter and a photographer to one of our services. They did an interview, took pictures, and talked to some of our members after the service. Afterwards, the paper featured a very positive and encouraging story on our church.
I didn’t know that the story with pictures would go out on wire services to newspapers all over the country. Soon we began receiving phone calls from people in different states asking us to pray for them. We didn’t feel like we were anybody special, but we were honored to pray for them.
The publicity caused word to spread to other hungry pastors. Pastors who were hungry to see renewal happen in their churches wanted to be infected with the wonderfully contagious virus. I was excited to hear that because being a pastor myself, I had known that feeling of dryness and 'business as usual'. I loved the River of God, and I loved pastors and always enjoy helping to fan the flames of renewal in other congregations both here and in our outreaches to Mexico. What a joy to watch the River flowing in these Mexican churches!
We now offer an annual free medical clinic for the poor in Acuna, Mexico where we bring teams of people to run tests and give away medical supplies that are shipped in advance. We have started doing medical clinics in Mexico, bringing medicines and medical supplies to the poor. By God’s grace, we’ve been able to save many lives of Mexicans who cannot afford medical care. And we’ve also seen the Lord bring people out of wheelchairs and miraculously open the ears of the deaf and the eyes of the blind. Last year we helped plant a church in Mexico called “Casa de Padre” (The Father’s House), in the city of Acuna.
A WORD TO PASTORS...
As we blessed them, the Lord blessed our church with a new facility twice the size of our previous one. We were able to sell our first building for four and a half times what we paid for it! We bought a larger building out on a main drag and have since remodeled it. Our Friday night “River Meetings” are now in their seventh year and are still full of life.
"I need to learn how to embrace the Father’s blessing, and never let go."
In my travels, I have met and spoken to many pastors who love renewal yet many of their churches are struggling and having difficulty. I wonder if one cause may be focusing on renewal itself, rather than allowing the revival to strengthen the spiritual life of the church. We still need to teach the flock, counsel them, help them develop healthy relationships and evangelize those who don’t yet know Jesus. I believe that God wants revival to make a local church grow strong in the community where He has planted it.
When renewal first swept over our church, The Father’s House, I decided to make myself a fixture at TACF conferences. I felt I had a lot to learn, so I went to conference after conference, hungry to soak up as much as I could. And although I loved the larger meetings, the part I looked forward to the most was going to John Arnott’s workshops. I thought to myself, “I want our church to be in the River forever. If that is going to happen, I need to learn how to be a good steward of this wonderful move of God. I need to learn how to embrace the Father’s blessing, and never let go. I attended workshop after workshop. Often I went away with some new pearl of wisdom that helped me steward this revival.
GRATITUDE TO GOD
I am extremely grateful to God for renewing my ministry and our church. I am also grateful to John and Carol Arnott for their faithfulness and kindness. The first time John ministered in our church, he drove all day to get here and then led a five-hour meeting. Afterward he said, "I want to see your new building so I can pray over it." I will never forget his fatherly concern.
I believe that when a local church responds properly to revival, it will cause the local church to survive and thrive. I am now staring at my 30th year in Christian leadership, and my 20th year in full-time ministry. I am more passionate than ever and more excited to see the River flow wherever I go! I pray that you, too, will jump in and not look back. There is no better way to live and minister.