Thursday, January 17, 2008

God's Church Growth Plan; The Book, The Blood, The Blessed Hope

I often hear ministers talk about "the call” and usually, I’m not all that impressed. Most of the time I find that those who really are called by God don’t need to convince people of it; it is blatantly evident to people around them. So what is it? How does God call a person to ministry? I think it is more simple than mysterious. It occurs when a Christian makes himself willing and available to do whatever God will require. I had a pastor friend (his name was Tom Hilterman) who told me this amazing but true story.

In 1954, Charles Billington was the pastor of Akron Baptist Temple, a large church with multiple ministries. They had a very successful bus ministry and one of this country’s largest Sunday Schools.

Pastor Billington became aware of a small church facility that had become available in a community about 60 miles away. He saw an opportunity to start a new church and so Akron Baptist Temple leased the property for one year, furnished it with chairs and hymnbooks and assigned one of their associate pastors to start the new church planting process.

After several months of unsuccessful efforts, the associate pastor gave up and returned to Akron. Pastor Billington sent Bob Harrah, one of the church’s young janitors, with a truck to bring back the chairs and books and lock up the property.

When Bob entered the building, he sensed "the call” and immediately telephoned his pastor with a proposal. He asked if Akron Baptist Temple would be willing to continue his janitor’s salary for the remaining time on the lease and allow him the opportunity to try to start the new church. Pastor Billington agreed and Bob immediately started to work.

Bob Harrah was thirty years old when he responded to God’s call and began knocking on doors in the community. At one home he met some ladies with their mother and their aunt. They visited for quite some time and Bob invited them to come on Sunday to the very first meeting of the new church. When Sunday arrived, they were the only ones who attended but Bob conducted the service anyway. He accompanied their singing with an old, beat up guitar. The next Sunday, still, only the six of them attended. But Bob was not discouraged. He continued knocking on doors, inviting neighbors to church and preaching the Gospel. God began to work in that church and, pretty soon, people’s lives were being changed. The church grew to about 350 members.

One of those first six ladies was my pastor friend’s wife, Barbara Hilterman.  During his initial visit to her home, the young pastor suggested that she read Romans 10: 9-10. When Barbara read “…if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved,” she believed God and He saved her.

That was about sixty years ago. At the age of 76, Bob was still pastoring that church and over the years, God had spawned about fifteen other churches out of that ministry. But the most amazing thing about this story is that Bob Harrah had no credentials, no experience, no education and no idea what he was doing. He employed no modern marketing techniques, no Starbucks Coffee, and no opinion polls to find out what the local community wanted in a church. He didn’t even have a clever twenty-five dollar church growth plan published by some megachurch guru.

In fact, he had no books at all. A few years ago, when Tom Hilterman saw that Bob’s bookshelves were empty, he thought, “Every pastor should have a library to help in his studies,” so Tom gave him some of his own books. The next time Tom visited, he noticed that there were still no books in Bob’s office so he asked where they were. “Oh, I gave them away,” he said, “I have the Bible; why do I need other books?”

And that was been Pastor Bob’s simple style all those years. Every Sunday, he stepped up to the pulpit, opened his Bible, and began to read the Word of God, and when he finished the passage, he always turned directly back to Isaiah 1:18 and read, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” From that passage, he moved the subject directly to the cross and he told his people how Jesus paid the penalty for their sins and provided for their salvation.

It is a very simple formula and Pastor Bob never deviated from it. He just made himself an available tool in the hand of the sovereign God. He preached “The Book, The Blood and The Blessed Hope,” and he let God do His work.

Stories like this should not surprise us. God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. And He does it, “…not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the LORD Almighty. Zech. 4:6.

Note:  Pastor Tom Hilterman was my friend and associate several years ago at my former church. He was a faithful servant of God.  He passed away Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017 at the age of 81.  He will be missed.  


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