An Open Door - The History of the Potter's House Christian Fellowship
If things had stopped
The heroes of the Jesus
People movement (with few exceptions), have faded from public view, but the
strength of the church in the mountains of
A major reason for this is
that Pastor Mitchell never drifted from his roots. His redneck upbringing was a
great help to his commitment to do God's will. He refused to accept the concept
of the travelling prophets. He challenged those reformed drug addicts to make
the complete change and go to work; it was the greatest challenge that many
of them ever faced. Most had never put in a good day's work in their life.
What distinguished the
church even more was that Mitchell began to allow these young men to
minister. He didn't want a one man show, so he started training the men around
him to share the gospel and bring people to Christ. There was no plan in the
early days to turn out preachers, just a sincere desire to help these men and to
Ron Jones was a good example of this. He'd said he wanted to help kids, and now he was standing in front of them in the newly opened "Door" coffeehouse scene. He jumped up after the opening concert to give the first altar call of his life. Even though he was a Bible school graduate, he'd never actually stood in front of a group with real live sinners who needed saving. The band had just finished singing, "Chains, the Devil had me locked up in chains, but they weren't the kind that you could see. No-o-o, the chains of e-e-e-vil had a hold on me."
Jones took it from there and harangued the audience about drugs, dope and booze. He never took a breath between his message and his altar call, and blurted out, "If anyone wants to accept Jesus, come on up." The people looked back and forth at their friends and instantly froze up. No one planned on being the first to get up in front of their friends.
The band played a few more numbers while a discouraged Jones drifted back towards Pastor Mitchell. Mitchell pulled him outside and asked him, "Haven't you ever given an altar call before?"
Jones, with head hung down had to say, "No."
"You'll never get anyone saved the way you're going," he told him, "but it's alright. No one has left yet and you can go back in and do it right. Start by getting them to bow their heads, then while no one is looking around, have those who want to accept Jesus raise their hands. Then get those people who raised their hands to come forward. Got it? Do it just like I do in church."
Jones went back in full of trepidation, but fifteen hands went up and all fifteen came forward. He had learned a powerful lesson, and Mitchell had seen a man released who would eventually become a powerful minister. Here was a secret to future multiplication; the training and release of men.
Those early days were
times of tremendous excitement and joy. The atmosphere was electric with
It wasn't just young hippies that responded to the move of God. The church is often thought of as some kind of "hippie haven", but in reality it is quite different. Many older saints have become a key part of the church. After finally seeing the move of God they had hungered for for years, many a religious refugee drifted over to join with the young people in what God was doing.
The church even ended up with a few community figures. Phil and Pat Payson were part of the Prescott elite. He was one of the best golfers in the city and on every community group that mattered, and his wife was a local society figure. With all of their success, the Payson's had one outstanding problem. Their daughter, Janet, was as wild as a March Hare. They had taken her to psychologists and seen no change. The pastor of the liberal church they attended hadn't helped. "A little wildness is only normal and she'll grow out of it," he informed them. They weren't sure they would live that long.
One night their middle class sensibilities were shocked when Janet came home talking about Jesus. This wasn't exactly the cure they had been looking for, but they loved her and anything seemed better than drugs. Then the day of reckoning came when Janet asked them to come to church. They really didn't think they needed that kind of thing, but they didn't want to discourage her so they went. In some ways it was all that they had feared. The old Lincoln Street church was a run-down affair on the wrong side of the tracks. A lot of pretty wild looking kids were going there. In fact, they didn't look much different than they had when Janet had done drugs with them, but now their language was spiced with "Hallelujah" and "Praise the Lord" instead of curses for every kind of authority figure.
The Pay sons were distinguished members of the local Methodist church, and were taken aback by the tambourine playing and clapping. Especially grating on their Methodist sensibilities was when Mitchell reached a high point in the service and lifted his hands and encouraged everyone else to join in and give God praise. This was a tonic to these young people, and in that small, packed building they would almost take the roof off. With hands lifted and eyes closed, a roar lifted from the throats of the saints. It was almost too much for a staid couple who liked their religion in small doses.
The preaching began to get under their skin in an even more profound way. As the Payson's listened to those early sermons they began to see their own need for the first time. They had always been good people, but Mitchell had a way of causing the gospel to come alive as it never had in their own church. They began to realize that it wasn't just their daughter who needed saving. For the first time they realized that their own goodness couldn't stand long before a perfect God.
Mitchell watched them in those early days, and he made a vow to himself that if they were to get saved he wouldn't make it any easier for them than for any other sinner. It wasn't long before the two of them lifted their hands during the altar calls, but then they just couldn't bring themselves to get up and walk down to the front like "common heathens". It would have been easy for Pastor Mitchell to take them into the back room for a special prayer, but he kept the heat on. They finally broke. In front of everyone they were saved and gloriously changed.
This couple turned out to be a key ingredient in the Prescott church.
They started the tape ministry, led Bible studies, started the men's prayer breakfasts, and began a small report that has now grown into a quarterly paper reporting news about all the fellowship's churches in the U.S. and around the world.
Many others of every type and description have been dragged by the Holy Ghost into the church. Dave Robinson was a real cowboy. Arizona had lots of the drug store variety, but Dave and his family had a ranch that stretched from horizon to horizon. He was the real thing. He found himself surrounded by what every redneck hated: hippies. But he loved God and was soon drawn into the fellowship and salvation. Later he pastored a church in the little town of Truxton, a town of about 80 people. At one conference he stood to report that he had "about 40 head comin' ".
The Prescott church became a strange mixture of the accepted and the unaccepted. Had they all met before they got saved a horrible brawl would have resulted, but through the Holy Ghost they became God's family.
In the early days of the revival, the Prescott church was fumbling around looking for what God had for them. In many ways it still resembled the more traditional churches around it, but it wasn't a comfortable fit. Mitchell had stopped the rummage and taco sales. He knew that these were a giant waste of time and effort designed to help people avoid having to support the church with their own money. They had a few church softball teams in the beginning days, but these soon disbanded when they interfered with revival. Mitchell was convinced that the church shouldn't be an entertainment center, but a place where a living God was manifest. People who had met God would naturally express His love to one another, so the churches' organized attempts at fun were needless. Mitchell stripped away dead program after dead program from the church until he had a lean, powerful force engineered to win souls.
It was a time of intense effort. The church kept hopping day and night. Mitchell brought in lots of evangelists. It wasn't uncommon to have a revival for two or even three weeks in a row. To those who were there, it was like a great continuous circus. Every evangelist was unique and a revival was a great time, especially when the preacher had a gift ministry. Who knew who might get called out? What secret might be revealed? What unspoken hope might be confirmed by God?
The young men were often marked by more zeal than wisdom, but Mitchell didn't care. He wasn't concerned about reputation, he was concerned about the Spirit of God. The city never knew what to expect next, but this one fact stood out: those who had once pushed drugs were now pushing Christ. It wasn't long until the rumours began to fly, and not always without foundation.
When "The Cross And The Switchblade" came to town, theatre goers were unprepared for Hank Houghton and Ron Burrell. These two couldn't stand it when the movie didn't end with an altar call. The ticket puncher wondered about the briefcase held in Houghton's hand, but he wasn't exactly the type you stopped for small talk. Needless to say, the management was shocked when, at the end of the show, these two soldiers of the cross leaped up on stage with a portable PA and gave an altar call.
It didn't help the reputation of the church, either, when word got around about how the Potter's House handled people who caused a disruption. At a concert in the Boy's Club, Houghton and Greg Johnson were working the crowd as bouncers. They noticed a drunk cowboy giving his girlfriend a hard time in the crowd. Johnson came up to him and, using all the diplomacy he could muster said, "Why don't you shut up!" Figuring this would handle the situation he walked off. He didn't notice that the wiry little cowboy was now following him. Houghton saw trouble coming and slipped over behind the guy just as he hauled off and belted Greg.
Houghton, with lightning reflexes, was on the guy, his fist in his throat and his neck bent forward to choke him out. The only problem was that Greg thought Hank was holding the guy so he could work him over. Houghton ended up having to try to keep Johnson from killing the guy while he dragged him out. It was this kind of incident that cut down on the number of disruptions, but caused a lot of people to wonder about the Potter's House.
While other churches shoved these kids away because of incidents like this, Mitchell could see that God was bringing them in and threw his arms wide open. He wasn't too excited about their excesses, but he felt a need to be redemptive. The twelve disciples hadn't been a mellow crowd themselves. Filled with the zeal of the young, they had been ready to start a revolution. Jesus taught them how to do it, but it was a revolution that was different than any other that had come before.
Sinners in the city never knew what hit them. It had been a tradition that the kids would head out into the boondocks to party and get high, but now, somehow, Jesus freaks always turned up at the parties witnessing and spreading the gospel. This was the birthing ground of many a future evangelist and preacher. Like Paul, they cut their teeth on the streets, in the marketplace and beside the river, preaching and teaching Jesus.
Larry Reed had been a spark to this tremendous move of God and he was always an adventure when he returned to Prescott to fan the flames of revival. Mitchell had Reed back again and again. When he came to town, even the most radical could be shocked. On his first trips, he contented himself with preaching at the fair and in the park. Soon, though, he showed up in a little van that he loaded up with saints, and at key spots they would unload with a portable PA and blast whatever crowd could be found. Finally Reed fulfilled one of his biggest dreams. He bought a Greyhound Bus. Great big red letters on the side proclaimed "THE ARMY OF THE LORD", while across the back was "THE BLOOD OF JESUS". And, of course, over the front window was the destination, "Heaven". He had built a platform on the top of the bus and attached two giant speakers that could be heard for miles. Now when he came for revival, the whole city got a taste of it. He was a rolling tent revival, taking church outside the building onto the streets.
The best time was in the revival services themselves. In those days, Reed was always an experience. He dressed in an outrageous style. He wore the baggies that were in style in Los Angeles at the time (they might be some burgundy colour), with yellow platform shoes and silk shirts. What could even be more shaking was to catch him in the restroom after the service. Drenched with sweat from his preaching gymnastics, many a young saint was shocked to see God's man with his shirt off. He looked like a comic book, tattooed from arm to arm and neck to belly button.
He was a leaping, dancing, preaching machine. To 'new converts, Reed was always the greatest show in town. The young people would sit spellbound as he leaped, bounced, ran, squatted, and generally cut up all over the stage. The church would always be packed out with many sitting on the floor open mouthed. For Reed's illustrations, every Bible figure took on the actions of a drug addict.
Reed might be preaching his classic Prodigal Son sermon. In that gravely voice, broken by too much preaching on the beach, Reed would have the prodigal at the bottom of the line, ready to fill his belly with the husk of the swine. Then in an instantaneous transformation, the prodigal's not with pigs anymore but pleading, "Just give me a fix. I'm sick man, I need it bad. Just give me the geees. Just give me the geees off the cotton." No one knew for sure what the geees was, but they knew it was a desperate situation.
He was never a refined speaker. In fact, in moments of excitement he was known to slip back into the slang of the streets. After praying for people half the night at one of the first revivals, some girls came and asked, "Brother Reed, could you pray for this girl to get the Holy Ghost?"
Larry was feeling good and replied without hesitation, "H--- yes, I'll pray for you." No one would have been the wiser, but Reed was never one to do things in a small or subtle way. Realizing what he had just said, his eyes rolled toward Heaven and he fell down in front of everyone crying out for God to forgive him. Mitchell had to come up quickly and try to keep things going while Reed got things right with his Maker.
The kids coming in were excited and filled their time with fellowship and church. They organized their own attack squads; loading someone's car or van to bursting, they would head out looking for sinners. Every event on the evening news seemed of dramatic importance. They would often stay up half the night talking about something they'd heard on the news and how it related to the coming of Jesus, trying to guess how soon it might be.
The "Door scene" was an outrageous experience. Bodies were packed together like sardines into a sweltering room. Yet, the discomfort somehow seemed to make the whole thing just that much more exciting.
Every new convert was a great trophy to be wondered at. Everyone would listen spellbound as they stood and shared their lurid pasts. When the happy endings of salvation came, the room would break into spontaneous praise and applause.
Harold Warner remembers an
event that typified those days. Jack Harris had an old Volkswagen which he
barely kept running from paycheck to paycheck. He picked Harold up from
work one day, and headed out for
Revivals throbbed with life, and it was all Mitchell could do to keep the saints from packing up and following the different evangelists around the country. When Johnny Metzler prayed for someone they usually fell backwards under the power of God's touch into the arms of the pastor. It was always exciting to watch people standing in a line fall one after another as Metzler touched them. He often took people with back trouble and set them on a chair on the stage. There, he'd lift their legs to show how one was shorter than the other. Then, as he prayed the prayer of faith, the crowd would gasp as the short leg leaped out to the same length as the other. Here was a demonstration of God's power right in front of people's eyes, and everyone would leave wondering how anyone could ever doubt God's reality.
Another popular evangelist was Wes Baker. He could be recounting the story of David and Goliath, and as those minds that had opened up to drugs opened up to the words of the story, it became a living thing with David's dripping sword and Goliath's ugly head, severed and held high in triumph.
What frightened and yet drew these young people like moths to a flame was the moving of the Spirit. Special times were cherished as an evangelist, moved on by the Spirit, called up a young saint to tell him or her the secrets of their heart, or to reveal a picture of God's plan for their future.
Jack Harris had been saved about nine months when Larry Reed came to town for another revival. The church was so packed that Jack had to stand crammed into the back of the building. Reed had been prophesying over people, and Jack's heart had made one of those silent prayers, pleading with God to speak to him.
Reed came stomping off the platform at that very instant, shouting, "All right, all right, I know you're here, where are you?" It nearly scared Jack to death. A minute ago he wanted God to speak, and now he was terrified that it might indeed happen. Reed stomped towards the back of the building, looking to and fro. He walked by Jack, swung around, pointed a finger at him and cried, "It was you!"
Before he could run or faint Larry said, "God's speaking to you. I see you in the ministry. I see you in other countries. I see people getting out of wheelchairs. I see blind eyes opening."
Jack was dumbfounded. He couldn't believe that God would use him like this, yet that word helped him and it became a point of reference in all his future times of trial. It was only four years until the prophecy began to be fulfilled. Hardly a month goes by in his life now that an outstanding miracle doesn't happen somewhere in the world as a result of his ministry.
It was because of Mitchell's willingness to use evangelists that many great things happened. He knew that he alone couldn't meet all the needs of the people. In those early days there weren't many evangelists to choose from, and many of these were less than startling. But whether it was a musical slide show or strange and even boring sermons, something always happened. Mitchell wasn't afraid of losing the people's loyalty to other men, and so he played them up.
He knew, firsthand, the problems these ministries could cause. His use of outside ministry led to many of the greatest challenges that he ever faced, but also to his greatest open doors. He had to straighten out many erroneous teachings and unsound practices after some meetings. Some evangelists had even taken advantage of his open-hearted attitude to try to get money or even to turn the people's loyalty away from him. The problems didn't invalidate the ministry, though. The New Testament shows these same struggles. Jealousies troubled Paul, wolves came in to attack the sheep, and those who he set as pastors in churches turned against him. Yet, God builds His church, and the New Testament is a record of shared ministry.
The good outweighed the bad, and Mitchell was always looking for men who could bring a new insight or a fresh moving of the Spirit.Chapter 7
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