Publication: One-to-One, Summer 2015
As we celebrate 60 years of ministry, we look ahead to the future!
My life has been greatly influenced by my parents, who were missionaries among the French-speaking people in the south Louisiana bayous during the 1930s. What I learned about the Lord, faith, and perseverance, came from them. My earliest memories are of south Louisiana swamps, hard working people during the great Depression who took survival seriously but not themselves.
In 1942, we moved to south Alabama where my parents remained and my father pastored for the next 35 years. it was a rural, farming area where I learned to work hard and gained many practical lessons. Dad and mom believed that work was good and I got my first job at the age of 9.
I met the Lord when I was 14, after hearing an evangelist preach on hell like he had just returned from there. I soon began to share my faith and see others come to Christ. But two things happened that eroded my commitment; one was a gradual growing involvement in the culture, and the other was a fear that the life I had given to Christ might actually be required.
A two-year battle with myself and with the Lord convinced me, in some frightening ways, that I was dealing with a Sovereign god Who cared little for what I wanted. I was not only called, I was threatened! I decided to respond to the call of Christ when I was 18. Though I did respond and was licensed to preach, I was reluctant. I took up boxing in college, but before I had my first official fight, I was asked to speak at a mission the very night of my first fight. I could not believe that it was a coincidence, so I began to preach. My first message was to a small group in what had been a bar.
Soon I was being invited to speak at youth meetings, churches, and then became an interim pastor at age twenty. I continued to commute to college a hundred miles away and in my junior year, I became the senior pastor of that church.
We both began to commute to seminary from 1960-1963. Meanwhile, the church grew almost ten-fold. After six years of commuting, pastoring, and studying, the pace finally took a toll on me, and in 1963, I dropped out of seminary.
My plan was to simply focus on the church with hard work and to teach the Scriptures. But it wasn’t long before I began to realize my personal limitations. When I preached from the book of Acts, I could clearly see that what the disciples produced and what I was producing was not the same kind of fruit.
I became interested in the work of the Holy Spirit, and in February of 1964, my friend Ken Sumrall testified to being baptized in the Holy Spirit. I began attending his prayer meeting in Pensacola, Florida. I was hungry to the point that if the Lord did not meet me, I would have to quit the pastorate. In April of 1964, He graciously baptized me in the Holy Spirit, resulting in new found peace and joy.
A NEW CHAPTER
The first Sunday after my experience, I returned to the pulpit; I was different and the results were different. People responded before I concluded the message. Soon people were realizing the dramatic changes; some loved it and others were frightened by it. We lost half the church. But beyond the losses, the Lord added to the church from numerous denominations and non-Christians as the power of the Holy Spirit became evident. We became the first denominational Charismatic church in our area and we doubled our original size.
Then I began to receive invitations to travel both in the United States and abroad. There was a worldwide movement taking place and I was blessed to be a small part. My denomination wasn’t happy about this movement, and so I spent a lot of time before committees. Because of the growing demands, I invited John Duke to be my associate pastor. John was also a Baptist pastor and had recently been baptized in the Holy Spirit and “released” from his congregation.
I met a lot of other ministers who were involved in the renewal, among them Derek Prince, Bob Mumford, and Don Basham. I came to highly regard them and we were invited to help create a magazine called New Wine. in addition to that ministry, we began a TV station and other outreaches. In 1971, I moved to Fort Lauderdale to join the other teachers. In 1974, we were joined by Ern Baxter, who I regard as one of the most eloquent ministers of our time.
The five of us focused on building biblical foundations within the exploding Charismatic Movement. We taught on Spiritual Authority, Worship, Deliverance, Prayer, the Kingdom of God, Discipleship, and other subjects often overlooked by a more emotionally-driven movement. The local controversy that I had known was dwarfed by an international storm. When one embraces truth, consequences can never be calculated. Walking in faith does not preclude mistakes, and we made our share, but none of us were prepared for the blowback.
I moved back to the gulf Coast in 1973 to work with Glen Roachelle, who had begun a fellowship in Pascagoula, MS. John Duke, Terry Parker, and others joined us in establishing what eventually became Covenant Church of Mobile. I continued to work with the other teachers and leaders in a variety of denominational groups.
The New Wine teachers continued to work together until Derek withdrew in 1983, and the rest of us dissolved our relationship in 1986 due to the continued controversy. We did not want to continue the polarization nor deal with the tensions that were arising within and among our spheres of influence. We had grown too fast to handle all of the results.
CONTINUING THE MISSION
One of the byproducts of our efforts was the beginning of Integrity Media of Mobile in 1986. The worship music that it recorded and distributed reached millions of people. Michael Coleman was Integrity’s founder, and I was privileged to serve on the board.
The book that best describes the journey of the New Wine teachers is Dr. S. David Moore’s book, The Shepherding Movement.
The Great Commission did not begin or end with any of us. It has been there since Jesus spoke it and will be until he returns. Our task in our time remains and we are still commanded to make disciples of all that He taught. The means to accomplish our mission has changed dramatically with technology and travel, but the mission is the same.
When we embrace the truth as we understand it, there is always more truth to come because we are embracing the One Who is the Truth; as we follow him, he reveals more and more of himself to us.
The apostle Paul wrote in First Corinthians 16:9 that there were open doors and many adversaries. Open doors and adversaries go hand-in-hand. Adversaries range from mere opposition to brutal savagery. Yet many in the Western World and in the Church remain naïve and uninvolved in the spiritual war that is raging. Let me list some of the adversaries:
• First of all, the battle is spiritual; we battle evil forces (see Ephesians 6:12).
• Our greatest battle is within ourselves; we battle ourselves (see Romans 7).
• Secularism is a militant opponent that has gained power in the Western World.
• Militant Islam is another opponent. So many in the West remain ignorant and naïve as to the aims of savage, fundamental Islamists.
The question is, can we fully embrace God’s truth with the understanding that we must lay down our lives? Can we move from a culture of indifference to a place of apostolic commitment?
Jesus was clear in His invitation to disciples, “if any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23) So to be true disciples we must heed what Jesus said without knowing all that it may require. Romans chapter 8 gives us further counsel; our call is to be led by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will help us in prayer and obedience, knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of God. We are not given a map; we are given a guide, and the Word of God.
We can expect tribulation. Jesus was clear about that as well (see John 16:33). His peace passes our understanding of the way things appear. Our trust is not in our understanding, it is in Him. It is through Him that we overcome and we will (see Romans 8:31).
People love formulas: “Do this and get that.” I have not found formulas to work for me. When I was ordained, I was given a Bible, and my father pointed to the Timothy letters for sound advice for leading a church. Specifically I was told that no matter the environment, “PREACH THE WORD IN SEASON AND OUT OF SEASON” (Second Timothy 4:2). I lay no claim to achievement or to an error-free life, but my aim remains the same: to be a good steward of that sacred trust handed to me by those who gave their lives to pass it on. This one thing I have learned, and I pray to pass on. God honors His Word.
Whatever honor I have received for simply surviving 60 years in ministry is due to my Dad’s advice. It has humbled me in my best days and carried me in my worst days. I love and honor God and His Word. Heaven and earth will pass away, but His Word shall stand (see Matthew 24:35)! Jesus, the Living Word, is the Truth, and our call is to embrace Him with our lives. That is all that we can actually give, but that will be enough.
Scripture Reference: 1 Corinthians 16:9, Ephesians 6:12, Romans 7, Luke 9:23, John 16:33, Romans 8:31, Timothy 4:2, Matthew 24:35