An Open Door - The History of the Potter's House Christian Fellowship


Chapter Two




  The West has always been known as a wild dangerous place. Indian battles and claim jumpers have abounded. Pancho Villa made his raids into Arizona and Mitchell has fought some real battles of his own there. They seemed small at the time, almost humorous, but their consequences would be felt throughout his ministry.

  Armed with a degree, this young scholar was ready to tackle the world. He stopped in Phoenix for a few months as a Youth Pastor.  His main accomplishment there was to enrage the religious folk. At times this seemed to be his calling in life. He found it impossible to play by “The Rules”. He could not understand those who neither loved nor hated Christ, but simply ignored Him with their day to day emphasis on the world. Wayman was consumed with lost humanity. As youth leader, it was obvious to him that many of the kids were just playing at Christianity. One day at a youth meeting he saw his chance to strike a blow for righteousness. He went for the throat, pulled out all the stops, and conviction fell. It seemed a great success, until the next day when he found himself called on the carpet by the pastor. The parents who had chaperoned the event felt he had embarrassed their children by insinuating that “the little dears” might have a sin problem. Worse yet, in their book, he had shown no tact by doing this when their friends were there. Mitchell knew that this church wasn’t the place to begin what God wanted to do.

  Finally, the big day came. A church was offered to him in the town of Wickenburg, Arizona. The scenery was desert and the temperature in the summer did an excellent imitation of a blast furnace. It had a uniform effect on the disposition of the 2,500 people who lived there. It made them mean. This one horse town on the Hassayampa River gloried in the title “Red-neck”, and had always been a tough spiritual nut to crack. Straddling the highway that runs fro Phoenix to Los Angeles and Las Vegas, the city made a comfortable living off dude ranches and milking tourists. The people who lived there were locked into such deep ruts of lifestyle that attendance at a new church was the last thing they ever thought of.

  Pastor Mitchell took it because (as mountain climbers say) “it was there”. Less than twenty people showed up regularly and most of them belonged to the geriatric set. It was a church with a long history of tragedy and failure. Worst of all he was totally unprepared to change it. Seeing God move was rare in the denomination Mitchell had been trained in. There were about 4 churches that had some touch of revival, and he had heard of them over and over, but for the hundreds of other churches next to nothing was happening. Mitchell found himself in a difficult city with no idea of what to do. Today, any member of Pastor Mitchell's church could go out with a good idea of how to stir a city, but it was a hidden mystery in the late fifties.

  Pastor Mitchell loved the challenge of difficult things and his lean and wiry frame pointed perpetually forward. "When in doubt, do something!" he thought, so he decided to have revival. He wrote to several people who were holding meetings at the time and laid his ignorance bare. In his letter of invitation he asked, "How do you have a revival?" The Westburgs, who he'd never met before, wrote back that they would be glad to come and laid out a strategy for the meeting.

  It was one of those changing weeks. People actually came and were filled with the Holy Ghost. What today seems just the natural impact of the gospel was an astonishing display of the power of God to this young minister. To see that people could actually be drawn into a revival service was a turning point in Mitchell's life.

  All through school he had been taught to play down his Pentecostal affiliation. The professors had made it clear that the wise purveyor of the gospel didn't mention speaking in tongues. The latest doctrine was that the beast approach was to claim to be Evangelical (or at the least, full gospel). That way you could escape the stigma of "Holy Roller". Yet the Westburgs would come to church thirty minutes before service and get right up on the platform, praying and speaking in tongues. It was amazing to this young theologian that the Westburgs didn't seem to know that this Pentecostal display would drive people away. Even more amazing was the obvious fact (as people came to church and brought others with them) that it didn't. It blew his mind, and from that moment he was irrevocably Pentecostal. While other groups chose to smooth out the gospel and make it more palatable, Mitchell chose to go with the rough white-lightning impact of the new wine. It's hard to comprehend today what that meant in a time when there was a stigma associated with the term "Holy Roller", but Mitchell didn't care. If he was going to bear reproach, he was going to claim the blessing too. No more hiding for him; the first thing he did was change his sign and put in big letters, "PENTECOSTAL." From that point on, he began to contend in all of his churches for open prayer and praise.




Probably the greatest battle the pastor of a small church can fight is the one with finances. The Mitchells were far from wealthy, yet they had made a decision to put the church and study first. He got a job in Phoenix working one day a week. The pay was barely enough to survive on, but it left a lot of time to lay the foundations that would be built on in future ministry. It wasn't that Mitchell couldn't get more hours. They begged him to work, but ministry was first. He had heard of the need for a pastor to establish a prosperous image, but he couldn't afford it. His wife became an expert at stretching hamburger and Spam. They juggled bills and used things until nothing was left to use. Though Sister Mitchell would have enjoyed better things, she didn't complain. It was her support that made the difference.

  A family in the church asked to speak with him. Under the guise of concern they said, "We're putting in about ten dollar a week, but that's really more than our tithe, and we're not sure that we're going to be able to keep it up." That amount seems small until you realize that the total offerings of the church were less than $35 a week. The principles of many have been sold out for much less in the face of unprincipled bribery.

  This was all just a ploy to let Mitchell know who was in control. The husband was a wimp who had given control of his marriage over to his wife, but one man to boss around wasn't enough for her. She had dominated all the previous pastors of the church, and felt she was the key to revival and spiritual health. She was, but as the key turned it was to let her out the door. To have backed down here would have bred the spirit of people pleasing that cripples most churches. The question before him was whether he'd be a prophet or a puppet. Mitchell would never be one to cater to the allure of numbers or bend because there was a financial gain to be had. Unity of purpose would always be worth more than the temporary appeal of numbers.

  Without batting an eyebrow, he said, "That's all right. God will supply!" It was as if he had slapped them in the face. Again and again, as time passed, they locked wills like two wrestlers seeking for a hold, but he was not going to bend. It wasn't a matter of great wisdom or foresight on Mitchell's part. He just refused to be manipulated. She could pray against him, lie about him, or even curse him but he wasn't going to sell anyone the pastorate.

  The battle and the victory were a real eye opener to Mitchell. Out of this, he learned that a major problem in many Pentecostal churches is strong, domineering women. Men in Pentecostal circles had been out-numbered badly in the early years. Many women had been forced to take roles they were not designed for, as a result, something unpleasant had risen in their character. Like mini-Attila the Huns, Wayman saw the problem these uncovered women caused and was determined that he would never allow a church of his to be manipulated by man or woman.

  The Wikenburg church began to prosper. It grew to 55 people and became financially stable. God showed Mitchell that if he would preach, the Holy Spirit would convict. One woman brought in $179 in back tithes, and another woman remembered that she had promised God that she would tithe on the sale of her house in Michigan, She was so exited that she couldn't wait for church and took the money straight to sister Mitchell. You could have knocked Nelda over with a feather as she watched her count out ten $100 bills. In just a few weeks the church offerings went from about $120 a month to over $1,700. This was proof to Mitchell that God's people didn't have to be beggars. He saw that poverty was a spirit which could stop a church from doing the will of God, but liberality would release untold blessing. Out of this came the discovery of several principles of financial dominion, which were stepping stones to taking dominion in all the areas of God's working.




  Mitchell had agreed to come to Wickenburg, understanding the limitations of the city, but he had made it clear that he had no intention of being buried there. He began to feel stirrings to leave, but at this time he was totally innocent to the inner workings of a denomination. He was green enough to think that if he prayed, God would speak to those in charge. It was years before he learned of all the politics and manipulation that lay buried beneath the veneer of concern.

  When a church in Courtney, Canada was offered to him he could hardly contain his excitement. Here he was with a chance to go to another country. Only later did it begin to dawn on him that there had to be an insult tied to the offer.

  In those days the Mitchells could haul everything they owned in a 4' x 5' trailer. So, with his wife and four kids he embarked on the great adventure of the will of God. It was a trip of many small miracles; bald tires (that somehow held together) and old cars that escaped the junkyard by the use of bubble-gum and bailing wire.

  Their first stop was his old home church in Phoenix where the Mitchells received a love offering of $196, and it was a good thing they got it. Right at the beginning of the trip a cracked head on the car engine cost them nearly the whole offering. Finally, they arrived in a strange town in a new country with a total of $35 and found a church that was divided into warring camps. He knew next to nothing about the church except that much of what had been promised turned out to be an exaggeration.

  This was a church with major problems. The pastor had moral problems and was living in the city, and his deserted wife still attended the church. The church itself had split down the middle and half were seeking to join the Assemblies of God. It dawned on him that this offer was not a signal that he was expected to "go places". He was being labeled a spiritual janitor best used for cleaning up messes in devastated churches.

   He discovered that in the organization's mind he wasn't of the caliber of pastors who were offered choice churches. He lacked the toothy smile, the plastic look and manner of the winner that marked those who, besides pastoring, could moon-light as game show hosts. He was too much of a "hick". He was considered able to take struggling works, but little else. Yet, "all things work together for good," and this very rejection would be the tool to sharpen God's instrument and bring him to maturity. Character isn't built by the easy road, and what others meant for evil only strengthened Mitchell's reliance on God.

  When they arrived it looked as if everything was going to full apart, but the Lord healed the split and things began to move along.




  These were days when Sunday school programs were the rage. Mitchell pulled out all the stops in getting the kids in. He pushed every gimmick and program going, with great success. Some of those attend­ing the church enjoyed working with children, and the building was soon bulging with kiddies. One Sunday they broke the all time Sunday school attendance record when 250 showed up. For Mitchell, though, it was a hollow victory. It didn't take great discernment to see that all he was doing was acting as a glorified baby sitter. People came to Sunday school, then left before the morning service. This wasn't what he entered the ministry to accomplish. He saw that, although· Sunday school was a valid church expression, it wasn't the way to build a church. Kids were wonderful and Mitchell had a full quiver of his own (some said a quiver and a halt), but Jesus hadn't sent the twelve out on a bus route, and Paul never put on a clown outfit to make high attend­ance Sunday. Now came a real time of testing that nearly ended his ministry. He was a success by denominational standards, yet he felt that he had failed. He looked at the people and knew that there was no real change in their lives.

  Mitchell is of the breed of doers. Inventive and inquisitive by nature, he looked for the right combination that could bring together God and man, but like Edison's frustrations in trying to create the first light bulb, most of the early experiments were failures. He couldn't escape discouragement, but at least he was learning what not to do in the


  Vision can be as dangerous as it is helpful, because a man consumed

with a vision can't settle for business as usual. When he sees enormous potential and nothing happening he opens himself up to doubts, attacks and assaults. Mitchell could see that all he had was another dead denominational church and he had no idea how to change it. In dis­couragement he threw in the towel and went back to Phoenix. He planned to never preach again.

  Many attack the tinsel ministry of Christian radio and television. Its emptiness and lack of depth can often be appalling, but one good thing came from the church of the air. As a discouraged young man listened to one especially stupid show it dawned upon him that he could do better than that. He might not be able to shake the world, but if that guy could preach then Mitchell could too. He picked back up his man­tle and put the amour back on.

  In Phoenix he had begun to attend Fellowship Tabernacle. At the time it was the "going" church, but the longer he was there the more he knew that it wasn't what he was looking for. He could see that they were building on the latest fads and ideas that were sweeping back and forth through the religious world at the time. He wanted something more solid.

  While attending there, he met another dissatisfied Foursquare pastor who was making his living in the appliance business. At the time Way­man was doing the same thing and the common bond drew them together. It wasn't long until the conversation turned to their frustration with what was happening in their respective churches. One thing led to another, and they found themselves goading each other into starting one of their own.

To Mitchell, this wasn't an idle challenge. His vision had been rekindled  and the battle was ready to be joined. Never one to sit around and waste time, he began to scour the land for a building. In Scottsdale he he ran across an old deserted house that had been bought by speculators. Soon they had worked out a deal to rent it on a month-to-month basis and People's Church was launched in Scottsdale.

  They caught the fringe of the beginning Charismatic move, and from the day the church opened they had about 75 people. The people were hungry and it grew from there. For a while things went along great. One would preach and then the other, but Mitchell soon saw that co­-pastoring only breeds a deformed child with two heads. Disagreements arose over the way that things were being done. It was a lesson that he would never forget. Because of this, he was never again tempted to play down the authority that the Bible put in the hands of the pastor. Others would be tempted to flow with theories of democracies and multiple ministry, but Mitchell would hold to the local church and its dignity under a man of God. He didn't have to be burned twice to learn. The final break came over the handling of money. Mitchell realized that he could never be happy just going to church and listening to another man; he told God that if He would just open a door where he could be honest and not play any games that he was willing to go anywhere. That was all God was waiting for.


Chapter 3


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