The Valley Christian Center in Fresno had grown over the years to thousands of people who called this ministry their spiritual home. The church had a beautiful facility and school. Its ministry impacted a city and a region. On several occasions I heard Roger speak and he is one of the most solid and balanced leaders I had ever listened to. I still have some of his notes from when I was a student and they ring as true today as they did decades ago.
When Roger stepped up to speak at the conference the following (to the best of my memory) were some of the first words out of his mouth. Roger said,
“Many of you think what is taking place in Fresno is because I am some great leader. You see the numbers of people coming to our church and think its all happening because of me. Let me tell you the truth. God decided to do something special in Fresno and I just happened to be the pastor leading the church when all of this happened. It wasn’t because of me. It was because God decided to do this under my watch.”
When Roger finished speaking there was a pause. The atmosphere of the meeting began to shift. Something strange took place – I could sense a collective sigh of relief sweep across the room. I was one of those sighing. Something was being broken off of our lives.
At the time of this conference pastors in the American church were in the midst of a season when we were being asked to attend conferences with titles like, “Breaking the 200 Barrier.” Numerical markers were being laid down to denote ministerial success. Your emotions and self-worth were determined on which side of the numerical barrier you found yourself.
A subtle message was being sent out via the large glossy conference invitations that came to our church mailboxes inferring that only beyond certain numbers could we really be doing something significant for God. It didn’t help that denominations across the nation supported this error of thinking by platforming pastors of larger ministries as a way to encourage to us “break out.” It didn’t work. It just got a lot of us depressed in the process of comparison.
As Roger Whitlow’s words of freedom were released, the weighted yoke of having to produce something defined as numerical “success” began to lift off many of the leaders present that day. What was being broken off was the yoke of the lie that says, “Bigger is Always Better”.
Today, many of the leaders I talk to within the Church are waiting for something to happen. The danger in times like these is they can become similar in response to what we did 20 years ago when we succumbed to the false belief that the answer to our inquiry was the discovery of another shallow solution. What we really need today, like we did 20 years ago, is an encounter with God. We really don’t need another conference or the acquisition of a new skill set.
Most of us have attended the conferences, enrolled in the self-analysis programs or even added a fresh skill set in an attempt to do old things in a new way. These attempts have failed as a jump-start to our lives and ministries. They fail because they try to do what only God can do.
Anymore, when I pray for people, I only pray for an encounter with God. I pray for one of those supernatural Book of Acts kind of encounters that so radically shifts the life of a pastor that the culture of the church they lead is also shifted. When the Church discovers God in a fresh way the culture will also share in the shift. This is the domino effect of a God-encounter.
Over the years, I keep hearing the words of Roger Whitlow. They make more sense today than when I first heard them twenty years ago. Roger reminded us then that what we need is for God to show up, not another leader at a conference who makes us think that anything other than a God-encounter will make a difference in the long run.