1973 marked the opening of a new avenue of growth for the Prescott church. As
Mitchell began to launch churches he broke new ground, both spiritually and
physically. There was no pattern to go by and new blueprints had to be drawn up.
The Prescott church groped forward, looking for a way. Discovering dead ends and
being forced to try different paths was frustrating, but they were steadily
moving ahead. The only system for growth Mitchell had seen to that point was the
denominational way. The organizations had you send them your men and money, and
they took the responsibility to train workers and open new works. Headquarters
took young men and put them into their "preacher factory", where they would try
to crank out ministers. There, in an institutional framework, vague concepts
would be drilled into their heads by solemn and somber professionals.
Mitchell knew that head knowledge was the least important factor in pastoring. Intellect wasn't the requirement. What was needed was determination, loyalty, and heart. Sadly, Bible school actually hindered these things from developing by taking men away from their local church.
Worse yet was what often happened to the men after graduation. By the end of a few years many had lost their burden to preach. For those that still wanted to pastor the worst often still lay ahead. These young and inexperienced men would be cast out into a cold, cruel, religious world to fend for themselves. Usually given the least desirable churches in the organization, they would be devoured by deacon boards made up of professional pastor destroyers. Many a man just disappeared, a casualty of a heartless system.
If a man wanted to open a new work, he found that next to nothing was given him to work with. With no money, help or advice, he'd be forced to smash his way through barriers until he could stand at the top of the mountain and hold on to what was his. Yet, the schools had often bred out of him the very traits that would make that possible.
The whole design no longer existed to help the pastor or local church, but stayed alive by feeding off the church. The pastor didn't receive money, but was to send his money back to the organization. Help wasn't quick to come, but lists of rules and requirements often floodcd down. Mitchell was through with that.
The Prescott church didn't have a lot, but what it had would be used to help these young men. The more Mitchell became involved in church planting the less he wanted to organize and control it. God was leading him toward a fellowship of churches; men who worked together because they wanted to, not because they were forced to.
He decided to send the men out with a small but adequate salary along with the rent for the building. Prescott would pay for the opening revivals, movies, advertising, and expenses. The men would then be free to find the will of God for the city they entered. Above all, Mitchell would be there to help.
This wasn't something that he did because he had a lot of money laying around and nothing to spend it on. The church was made up of common people. There were no millionaires to underwrite expenses. In fact the economy in Prescott was one of the worst in the country. Arizona was a non-union state that had a very low wage scale. Many of the families were living on minimum wage because of the lack of any heavy industry in the town. In spite of the difficulties they felt the vision was theirs and were willing to believe God to help them.
God seems to like using the most unlikely places to insure that the glory will be His. He could make a little boy's sack lunch feed thousands and a handful of food fed a widow for years. God gave people a heart to give sacrificially, and somehow the church kept above water. Not only that, the people were blessed.
The Wickenburg church started with a bang. The problem was that the noise scared as many away as it attracted. The pastor cranked up the rock and roll bands that were popular in Phoenix and Prescott, only to discover that not everyone in cowboy country liked rock. The church opened in what had been the Old Texas Bar, and that alone was enough to scare many conservative Wickenburgers away. Where was the stained glass? The steeple? The choir loft? For many people, there couldn't be a church without these religious extras. Wickenburg started with a good little core of 50 but it took 4 long years to get past that number.
Ron Jones was launched into Flagstaff, Arizona, in November of 1973. A denominational church had opened up that had been dead for years. Ron came in ready to break it loose. He did break it loose, but it wasn't the break he expected. Everyone left. The only ones who came seemed to be flakes. It was hard for him to remember that those who first came to Prescott had leaned toward the flaky side, too.
Harold Warner left Prescott for Tucson. He took a crummy little building in a crummy neighborhood. The walls appeared ready to collapse and the floor looked like a roller coaster. His big decision was whether vinyl or corduroy would be cheaper to use in covering the altar. Not more than 60 people could fit comfortably into that building, but Harold didn't need to worry because that many seldom came for anything.
The first outreach he had was a concert at the Pueblo High School auditorium. He scheduled the gospel rock group Nazareth to come in, and he couldn't have been more excited or had greater faith. He went out inviting people and knew that the 700 seat auditorium would never hold the crowds that would come thronging in. If visions and dreams could build a church, Harold was going to start with a thousand. He even called Brother Mitchell and told him they'd made a mistake by not getting a bigger place. His balloon burst instantly when the night of the concert camc and the place was close to empty. As if that wasn't a hard enough lesson to learn, he also discovered that all of those who came forward to pray didn't always stay.
Harold found himself fighting to get just one or two to come regularly to services. Months followed with no one attending faithfully except his wife, Mona. One lady came more than most and brought her mentally retarded son who left puddles behind him on the floor after every service. Finally one, then two, then three began to come, but each one was like pulling teeth.
That summer Gary Kelly would go to Bull Head city looking for work. While there, he opened up his home and began to form a core for a church. Also opening churches would be Peter and Starla Edwards in Cotton Wood and Jack and Pattie Harris in Nogales. None of these would be easy places.
When asked what school they had attended, these young men often replied, "Prescott School of the Practical." Their lack of traditional credentials was hard for many Christians to understand.
When they tried to fall back on the Bible they found that few were interested. People hated the church they'd grown up in, but at the same time they wanted the church to be the same as it always had been. This left pastors in an impossible situation. Breaking the traditional mold would take time to find acceptance. People didn't care that the Apostles weren't graduates of Bible school, and most Christians were not really interested in going back to New Testament standards. This was hard on these young gospel knights. They had thought that the revival they had left guaranteed revival where they went. They found out how wrong that kind of thinking could be. Every city would have to be spiritually pried open by prayer, action and believing. The devils in their cities seemed to care little that these men came from the Prescott church.
It began to be obvious why most churches don't plant workers. It's an impossible
task. If looking at immediate results had been what moved Mitchell he would have
pulled back or at least re-directed his energies. Church planting isn't a simple
method to bring revival. In fact it would seem hard to find a more difficult way
to spread the Kingdom. Each church that was sent out represented a major
investment by the Prescott church in both finances and its best people, only to
see them face terribly difficult times.
A whole new dimension of problems was added to Mitchell's life as these young men began to call back frustrated, rebellious, and ready to quit, but he knew that God had called them. He had never expected it to be easy and slowly but surely doors in these cities began to be pried open.
Even today, after hundreds of churches have been started, each new church still seems as impossible a task to accomplish as it was at the beginning. Each church struggles for life like a dying man labors for breath, and some even die. This very battle for life is where strength comes from. It is like the butterfly as it attempts to break free of the confines of the cocoon. A desperate struggle takes place. Throwing itself back and forth, it fights to drag its enlarged body free. Resting from exhaustion, its inner drive compels it to fight again. Without this battle the butterfly would never have the strength to fly. Just like this, wisdom begins to come to the struggling minister and head knowledge begins to be transferred to heart knowledge out of the battles.
The building of the Kingdom has always been a monumental task. In the New Testament, every church Paul started appeared, at first glance, to be a failure. Anyone with any sense at all would have quit and returned to Jerusalem. Paul never wasted time evaluating the cost. He was called to a task, and his life is the record of tremendous exertion for apparently small benefits. Prison terms lead to only a handful of converts here and great sacrifices birthed a small core there. Each new church only seemed to bring new problems, yet Paul pressed on and history shows that the end result was victory.
When other pastors were told about these first attempts at planting churches
their response was uniform. "That's nice," they said, "but it's too slow to win
the world." Christianity is always looking for the knock-out punch; the one new
tool to win the world without any effort or sacrifice. Everyone would like to
believe that TV will do it, or maybe we can send an evangelist out to do it, or
maybe we can send an evangelist out to do it for us. Mitchell knew that only the
New Testament church restored would fulfill the task. With no books, TV, radio
or transportation much better than their own feet, the early church
shook the world. The same method would work in the Twentieth Century, but work
and sacrifice were needed.
Mitchell determined that the Prescott Church would be that restort;d New Testament church. They would not send money to someone else to do the job they could do themselves. Whether it would shake the world or even Arizona depended on God. They started the process by reaching out.
God works in the small. Only God could take an old man like Abraham and tell him that his heritage would outnumber the stars. Only God could make a ragtag bunch of slaves from Egypt take the greatest piece of real cstate on planet Earth. David, a shepherd, couldn't defeat a giant. Twelve men couldn't win the world. A nation captive for seventy years couldn't come back, but God says, "For who hath despised the day of small things? .... Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts .... and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it."
Mitchell wasn't discouraged by the small struggling start. He had learned to appreciate small victories. Too many Christians read of past revivals only to despise what God is doing today. Mitchell had been raised in an organization that wallowed in its illustrious past but left little room for God to move in the present. Many a young man would come to regret asking when they would see great things happen. Mitchell would respond, "They'll happen when you make them happen." For him, today was great enough. These small churches were great. God would have to accelerate growth, and Mitchell would do what he could do to help.
Growth comes not out of anyone church exploding in revival but in an enlarging base of many smaller churches pressing out into new areas and the many being put together to make an explosive multiplying force of revival. It's as true today as it was 2,000 years ago that Jesus builds His church.
Servant Not A King
If Mitchell had just been looking for something to make him famous, he'd have
quit right after starting. Church planting only seemed to bring problems. It
disrupted his own church, did little to make him friends in the organization,
and on top of this these young men tended to blame him for their problems and
looked to him to bail them out of their mistakes. It seemed like a losing
proposition, but he wanted to help, and he did.
Each man went out expecting to see an explosive start, only to face the difficulties of reality. It shook some of them to their very cores. Many of these men had never really done anything hard in their lives. They were professional quitters and blame passers who would have run like rabbits if given half a chance. Mitchell found himself not only counselling his church but encouraging these men to trust God and stick it out. The problems they faced often caused every bad habit or problem in their life to surface. Rebellion that had been held in check in Prescott often flared away from home. Marriages started to come unglued from the pressures. If this wasn't bad enough, Mitchell found that several of the young men he was helping were complaining back through the Prescott church grapevine that he didn't give them enough money, and that he did everything wrong.
It took the patience of Job to keep putting them out, but the Spirit of God kept opening doors. Slowly, as these men faced themselves and began to turn to God, real ministry began to arise, and the churches slowly moved forward.
The church in Cottonwood, Arizona had to be closed down after the couple there lost their bearings and began to show signs that they wouldn't last. Mitchell wasn't going to leave them to die, and in spite of the problems it caused, he brought them home to be re-equipped and sent out again later. The determining factor, for Mitchell, wasn't whether the churches made him look good, but whether it was helping the young men to find their place in the Kingdom. That is what discipleship is, and he was called to disciple. He never thought of quitting and only looked for other ways to help.
At about this time Johnny Metzler came to Prescott with an idea for a
deliverance convention. He'd bounced around some ideas with other evangelists,
and now he laid it out for his old friend Mitchell. Most Pentecostal pastors
were leery of this kind of thing, but not Mitchell. He loved the operation of
the Spirit and got excited about the concept.
A conference was set up for August of 1974. Wes Baker and Al Fury were scheduled to preach. At that time five churches had been started, in Wickenburg, Flagstaff, Tucson, Bull Head City, and Nogales, Arizona. Plans were laid to bring each man back and allow them to bring some of their people with them at the Prescott church's expense.
The evening services were packed out, but much of the real work was done during the day. Only a handful came to those first morning serv- ices, but the impact would be felt for years. The people who had been brought in had been laboring with seemingly no impact in their cities. It was hard to catch a vision of reaching their area, let alone the world. As they came together with other churches involved in the same struggle, they saw for the first time what their pastors had been talking about. They went home copying the praise and prayer, filled with a new zeal.
In the last service the pastors were called forward and prayed for. Wes Baker prophesied on each of the young men, and those words of encouragement did much to give them perspective for the future battles.
The conference had been so beneficial that Pastor Mitchell decided to have one every six months. In a revival that summer, Al Fury had prophesied that the Prescott church would become a training center for pastors who would come from around the world to be inspired and sent back to their own nations. At the time it seemed to be only the rantings of a mad man, but out of the small beginnings of that first conference the ground work was laid that over the years would bring the fulfillment of that prophecy.
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