So far, we’ve examined how effective leadership and a missional, outreach-oriented mindset play into a church’s staying power through decades of ministry in the face of cultural shifts and societal change. But perhaps it all boils down to another key value we discovered in churches that have longevity: They place a high priority on showing the love of Christ in practical ways to the people they encounter, and they emphasize being sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading in every situation, ministering in the fullness of His power.
“To love the unlovable and enjoy it … to offer forgiveness and grace no matter what, and quickly,” are big lessons he has learned through the years, says Scott Orchard, senior pastor of Family Life Center (Sheridan Foursquare Church) in Sheridan, Wyo. “I can’t fix myself or anybody else—the Holy Spirit has to do it.”
Scott shares the story of one couple whose lives were changed after someone they knew introduced them to Family Life Center. The couple had been married but got divorced, a tragedy at least partly attributable to the fact that the husband would go on drinking binges for three weeks at a time, and the wife had a similar lifestyle.
Through prayer, says Scott, and “just plain loving these people,” both of them have been fully restored and are walking in freedom from alcoholism. Scott had the privilege of re-marrying them, and he notes that they are now faithfully growing and giving back to others.
“The love of God for His people to lead them to salvation, and to help them grow and be sent,” are values, Scott says, that drive him. “I do my best to serve, and be loyal to love Him and people each day. The greatest challenge is not allowing your heart to become hard toward people, to love people who are unlovable at times. But I was just as unlovable [at one point] too.”
Allen Phipps, senior pastor of Hope Temple (Minneapolis Foursquare Church) in Minnesota, shares the story of a single father of four who was on drugs, resulting in devastating consequences to the family. He started attending Hope Temple, and eventually gave his life to Christ and was baptized. His children are a part of the church now as well and worship faithfully, says Allen.
But just as the Holy Spirit’s power is what changed this father’s life, so is the fact that people in the church showed love to him and his family in exceptionally practical ways.
“One family in church helped them with housing, furniture, clothing and financial planning,” Allen recalls. “Their college-age children helped this family with school work, sports and fun activities. Today this family lives in their own apartment, and the father is working a better job.”
Ken Swett, senior pastor of Modesto Foursquare Church in Modesto, Calif., details a similar account. One couple in his congregation and their children are very active in church ministry. The husband is the men’s group leader, and the wife is one of the teachers in the children’s ministry. Their two oldest sons have been involved with the worship team, and one has attended Life Pacific College.
But this family wasn’t always so together. When they first visited Modesto Foursquare, the picture looked quite different.
“When this family came through our doors, they were facing divorce and the loss of their home,” Ken remembers. “They accepted the Lord and began to live their new lives in Christ with enthusiasm. Through the church reaching out to this family, loving them and discipling them, they continued to grow in their faith and became key leaders in the church—reaching out and bringing others to Christ in the process.”
The Power of the Spirit
Jim Scott, senior pastor of New Hope (Lubbock First Foursquare Church) in Lubbock, Texas, tells the story of a man whose wife had walked out on him, taking their two young daughters with her. Devastated, the father, who once had called New Hope his home church but had been away for more than a decade, returned to the church, repenting of his sins and recommitting his life to the Lord. Even though his wife filed for divorce, Jim says, this man continues to grow in his faith.
“He brings his daughters to church and is serving in many capacities,” says Jim. “God’s grace is sustaining him. His testimony to God’s grace and strength is bringing hope to many. It gives me great joy when people like him are saved and restored by the power of the gospel. There is no greater joy than to be a part of that process.”
And, herein, Jim makes an important point. We are a crucial part of the process—but we are only a part. The rest is up to God, which is why we must, as leaders, be filled with and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit. And why we must teach those in our congregations to do the same.
“We must pursue the supernatural aspect of the gospel,” Jim asserts. “Only God can do God’s work. Though He’s called me to serve Him and participate in that work, He really meant it when He said, ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain that build it.’ His requirement in ministry is so simple a child could obey: ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ “
Churches that never lose sight of that goal will remain, serving as perpetual beacons of hope and healing in their communities.
You are reading Part 3 in a three-part series.
Read Part 1: Churches That Endure
Read Part 2: The Community and Beyond
By: Bill Shepson, a Foursquare credentialed minister and freelance writer in Los Angeles