“The Myth of Heroes and Success” by Garris Elkins

by | Apr 2, 2013 | Church, Identity, Kingdom of God, Leadership, Revival, Transition | 4 comments

Twenty years ago, I sat in a large convention center with
several thousand pastors.  We were attending
a denominational conference.  One of the scheduled
speakers had to cancel at the last moment and Roger Whitlow, a pastor of a
large and impacting church in Fresno, California, was asked to speak in his
place.

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.

4 Comments

  1. John

    Thanks Garris, a very encouraging word. Blessings from Prineville, John Allen

    Reply
  2. Andy John Smith

    Thanks much a needed word for today's church

    Reply
  3. Dave Jacobs

    I like, "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."

    Thanks for sending out encouragement to the men and women who pastor normal sized churches.

    Reply
  4. Unknown

    Garris, this is terrific! Thank you. There are a lot of us who have felt the same frustrations, and are now feeling a similar stirring. May God save us from "the next big thing".

    Reply

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