Believing God for Greater Things
Interview with George O. Wood
by George O. Wood
The theme of the Assemblies of God’s 2013 General Council is “Believe.” It is also the catchword of a multiyear emphasis as the Assemblies of God gears up for its centennial in 2014. In keeping with this theme, Enrichment interviewed General Superintendent George O. Wood, focusing on what the Assemblies of God is believing God for as it enters its 100th year of ministry.
The theme of the 2013 General Council (GC13) is “Believe.” What message do you hope this theme communicates to Assemblies of God ministers and churches?
WOOD: At the 2nd General Council in November 1914, our forefathers and mothers in the faith unanimously passed a declaration resolving to do the greatest work of evangelism the world has ever seen. What tremendous faith they had. At the time they made that amazing statement, any observer would have laughed at the audacity of their faith. Yet, look what has happened. The Bible says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). What if every minister and church made this amazing statement during this centennial: “We resolve to …” You can fill in the blanks. It is really all about reaching lost people — and we must believe that the Holy Spirit will empower us as we release our faith to believe God for greater things. After all, He is able to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).
“Believe” is not merely the theme of GC13. It is a multiyear emphasis, especially as we head into our centennial year (2014). At a programmatic level, what does “Believe” look like in the months/years after GC13?
WOOD: At the National Leadership and Resource Center we are doing our best to resource the Fellowship, to stimulate faith among us. However, we cannot program the Holy Spirit. Instead, we must depend on Him. We must recognize anew that, although the Lord uses the skill sets we offer, in the last analysis — it is His work. He does the calling, the equipping, the empowering. I believe it is well for each of our districts and churches to set aside time — perhaps in a retreat setting — to fast and pray about what we are to believe for in all our individual settings. If we are content with the status quo, then God simply cannot use us.
At a programmatic level, we have developed two digital tools to help Assemblies of God folk pray and believe.
Like a lot of people, I always have my smartphone with me. I use it for e-mail, Web browsing, Facebook, Twitter … you name it. In fall 2012, we realized that we could use smartphones as an aid to prayer, so we developed the 7:14 Prayer app, which takes its name from 2 Chronicles 7:14. The app is set up to alert you to pray at 7:14 in the morning and evening, though you can also set up a custom alert time. It includes a daily Scripture reading and devotional, and users can manage prayer request lists. My favorite feature is the live map that shows the city and state of people across the nation who are checking in to pray at the same moment you are. You are not alone in your prayers. You are part of a concerted prayer movement.
Another digital tool is BelieveCampaign.org. When we pray, God gives us dreams and visions for how to reach a lost and dying world. BelieveCampaign.org harnesses the power of Facebook and Twitter to help Assemblies of God people share their dreams and visions with others. Like the 7:14 Prayer app, BelieveCampaign.org has a map that shows what people are believing God for, and where they are from. This time, however, the map is global. Can you imagine the power of an online map that showed hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of God-given dreams and visions?
What do you see as the greatest opportunities for the Assemblies of God as we enter our 100th year of ministry?
WOOD: Our greatest opportunities are so many I cannot articulate them all. Let me highlight just a few.
Youth. We continue to have the strongest percentage of youth under 25 than perhaps any other church organization — 33 percent. We must conserve this generation and make every effort to evangelize and disciple the youth in our churches and in our communities.
Diversity. We are a multiethnic fellowship, now comprising about 40 percent ethnic minority. A great opportunity lies in reaching the ethnic peoples within our own country.
Church planting. The most effective way to reach America with the gospel is to plant churches. Our district superintendents set goals in 2010, believing God that we would have over 14,000 churches in America by 2020 with over 4.4 million believers in them. Let’s see it happen.
Church strengthening. Why not believe that every Assemblies of God church will be a growing church, and a missionary-minded church. We are a Spirit-filled people. The Spirit has been poured out to empower us as His witnesses. A nongrowing Pentecostal church is a contradiction in terms. Let us see the great opportunity before us in strengthening every church.
Leadership development. The Lord has always used leaders. It seems He has designed for everything to rise and fall on leadership. The great opportunity before us is to believe God that a new generation of young people will hear the call of God, offer themselves to be trained to fulfill that call, and be mentored as they assume places of responsibility in the Kingdom. A challenge before every pastor is to challenge the youth in the church to seek God for His call on their life, and to encourage young people who feel a stirring to vocational ministry to follow that call.
Colleges. The next generation of leaders will come, to a great degree, from our endorsed postsecondary schools and Chi Alpha. The young people are the gold mine for the future of the Assemblies of God. A great opportunity lies before us to throw our hearts and wallets, as never before, behind our schools and Chi Alpha workers.
Women in ministry. At long last, we are beginning to fulfill the promise of Pentecost in recognizing that the Spirit is poured out on women as well as men. The opportunity before us is to make sure we are opening doors for women — especially young women — whom God has called to vocational ministry, and to recognize as well that God calls women also to be senior pastors.
How are we seizing the initiative in these areas?
WOOD: I often say that leading the Assemblies of God from my chair is like pushing a string rather than pulling it. We are NOT a top-down-driven organization. If it does not happen at the grass roots, it cannot happen. All those of us in leadership can do is “blow the trumpet” — to provide inspiration, encouragement, motivation, and resources.
We are making progress in all the areas I have talked about above. I just wish the progress could be faster. We are an eschatological movement and that means we believe the Lord’s coming is near. As such, it’s time to be wide awake and working hard to fulfill the Master’s business.
That said, let me highlight a few initiatives:
Kids: My grandson, Reese, is a digital native. He does not know what it’s like not to have a smartphone or tablet device. If we are going to reach kids like him, we need to utilize digital technology in our kid’s curriculum. This General Council, we are unveiling several products that do precisely that. The Kid Bible Heroes app tells the stories of biblical kids, such as David, who did great things for God. It includes games and other activities. The Fire Bible for Kids Companion app includes puzzles, memory verses, and other interactive activities. Its coolest feature is its 3D images and scenes. Yousimply point the camera of your iPad over thechapter intro pages in the Fire Bible for Kids (NIV), and 3D images — like a 3D replica of Solomon’s temple — appear on the screen. I might also mention Incredible Islands, which is an online virtual world that churches and families can use to extend thetypicalSunday learning experience throughout the week. We have also teamed up with Veggie Tales creator Phil Vischer for What’s in the Bible? Church Edition, a fully customizable small group DVD resource. Vischer’s partnership also brings Jelly Telly to our market. Jelly Telly is a tiny TV network for kids with over 100 hours of videos for Christian families.
Publishing: My Healthy Church is quickly becoming the premier resource provider for churches, not only in the Assemblies of God, but also for other Pentecostal denominations. We are publishing a broad range of resources from Spirit-filled authors for the Spirit-empowered church. In addition to publishing, we are partnering with new groups to bring the best resources to our Fellowship and beyond.
I am excited that, in addition to our core curriculum offerings, we are publishing great books that are available through My Healthy Church. People can also find these products in Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, and other brick-and-mortar retail stores.
One of our most exciting developments has been our renewed effort to expand our reach in the United States and Latin America with Mi Iglesia Saludable (My Healthy Church — Spanish). This increased focus allows us to better serve the fastest-growing segment of the church that represents one third of the Assemblies of God worldwide.
Worship Music: Influence Music is our new worship label. God is raising up a generation of worship leaders who are creating new, dynamic, and Spirit-inspired music in our Assemblies of God churches. It is an exciting time. Our goal is to bring those songs to the global church to be shared and celebrated and to help unite us in worship. We are releasing the inaugural release, entitled We Believe, on August 6 in a partnership with Integrity Music.
There are other initiatives I could highlight if space were not limited: the ongoing consolidation of the national schools, our continuing efforts to plant new churches and revitalize existing ones, and the important task of funding these initiatives through AG Trust. The important thing in all these initiatives is that we be on the leading edge, not the lagging edge, whether it is in technology, cross-denominational cooperation, or innovation in how we carry out our four reasons for being: evangelism, worship, discipleship, and compassion.
What do you see as our greatest challenges?
WOOD: I go back to our original reason for being. The founders felt, for example, that we should come together so we could do missionary work more effectively. As a result, we developed the missiology from the Book of Acts of the indigenous church. This has produced amazing results. One of the challenges we are facing is to not forget this. Many churches today are essentially developing their own missions program — with heavy emphasis on the popular compassion and justice causes of the day. Don’t mistake me — these are important. But there is no substitute for establishing the national church and equipping its leaders to do the work of evangelism, discipleship, worship, and compassion. It is easy to raise money for some projects — but we continue to place greater emphasis on putting missionaries on the field as “boots on the ground.”
Another reason for our founding was to provide schools for the youth of our Fellowship. I am now going to be very direct: It is easier to raise money for a water well than supporting one of our schools or a Chi Alpha worker. This ought not to be. We can do both. But, if we are not putting substantial resources in our schools and Chi Alpha, we are forfeiting our future. It is just that simple. As a pastor, my church gave approximately 20 percent of its missionary budget to our endorsed schools because of our commitment to plant “seed corn” for the future.
We are facing a massive and rapid cultural shift. I am experiencing that right now in terms of statements I have issued on homosexuality.1 I do not want us to be known for what we are against, but there is also a time when we must stand our ground on moral issues. I believe a day of persecution is coming for Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians. That persecution starts with marginalization as the secular worlds of politics, entertainment, and media seek to push us behind the four walls of our churches, out of the public square. We are going to be increasingly called bigots and hate mongers for our not accepting immoral behavior. The secularist would like to believe that the first amendment means only freedom of worship; but it says instead “freedom of religion.” Christians are facing a culture that is increasingly more hostile. We need a Great Awakening in America.
Another huge challenge is the breakdown of the American family. The promiscuity rate and divorce rates among Christians do not differ much from those who do not claim Christ. Churches are going to be increasingly challenged to teach morality while, at the same time, minister to those who are the result of the brokenness in marriage and family.
How are we rising to meet these challenges?
WOOD: That depends on whom you mean by “we.” In my opinion, the National Resource and Leadership Center can provide ministers with the resources they need to address these challenges. But it is pastors in churches who will determine how well the Assemblies of God meets these challenges. What they do determines whether or not we rise to the challenges.
I would ask them three diagnostic questions: First, are you filled with the Holy Spirit? Second, are you leading your church to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Third, are you leading your church for mission or for maintenance?
Baptism in the Holy Spirit is an initial event — but life in the Spirit is meant to build on that. This is why our pioneers talked about the Baptism and fullness of the Holy Spirit. Throughout the Book of Acts, we see the early Christians being filled with the Spirit again and again as need and opportunity arose. It is not enough to say, “I was baptized in the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues many years ago.” You and I and those in our churches need to be filled today. We need to cultivate a vital relationship with the Spirit of Jesus Christ every day of our lives. So, how are you doing in your walk with God? How is your prayer life? Are you growing in your knowledge of Scripture? God cannot use you to accomplish His mission in the world if your heart is busy with other things than Him.
But if your heart is full with the Spirit of Jesus Christ, then you will go where the Spirit leads. Where is that? Wherever there is a lost sheep, a lost coin, or a lost son (Luke 15). Jesus said, “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7). The great temptation of pastors, however, is to focus their energies on the 99 rather than on the one. The 99 are maintenance; the one is mission. Obviously, I believe that the church is called to do more than evangelism. We have four reasons for being in the Assemblies of God, not one. But evangelism is the crucial factor. If we are making new converts, we are gaining ground on the culture, for a true convert is also a worshipper, disciple, and compassionate person. If we are not making new converts — if we are just maintaining what we currently have — then we are actually losing ground. The only way forward in an increasingly post-Christian nation is mission.
So, once again, I would ask pastors whether they are filled with the Spirit right now, are they leading their people to be filled, and are they leading their church toward the lost?
What are you personally believing God for in this season of ministry?
WOOD: Several months ago I had a dream in which I sensed the Lord asking me, “If I could do one thing for you, what would it be?” I thought of Solomon’s request for wisdom and Jabez’ prayer. But another alternative came quickly to my mind. I said, “Lord, if you could just give me one thing, I ask for your favor.” So, I am believing for God’s favor on my life and family, my work and ministry, and upon this Assemblies of God fellowship.
Any final words of encouragement for pastors who are struggling to “believe” in this current season of ministry?
WOOD: My parents were pioneer ministers in the Fellowship. Their names were never in the “lights.” They were not well known. They were never asked to speak at a district council or General Council — in fact, they could not even afford to go to most of them. They labored in hard places with little visible result. But today the works they established are all flourishing — and some with amazing results. My mother used to say to me, “On that day, God will not ask us if we have been successful, He will ask us have we been faithful.” That’s a word of encouragement I constantly give. All God asks us is to pray hard, work hard, believe hard — and then leave the results in His hands.
1. See, for example, George O. Wood, “Open Reply to Phil Snider’s ‘Open Letter.’ ”