"> An Open Door | Chapter 8

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

Chapter Eight


  Christianity often gets leadership and management confused. Nothing was more important to the Prescott church than their pastor. Here was a leader. Many churches function by committee, and hire men who are trained to follow. It's fine to have a program and a plan, but these can get out of hand and build small-minded pharisees who become so consumed with the details of some program that they forget the purpose of the church. God's plan is to use men of vision. When God has a task, He looks for a man. They may be eccentric in their dress or lifestyle, but they are men who can lead.
   Mitchell led because he knew that God had called him to lead. He wasn't just filling a job, he was fulfilling a divine commission. The young men he sent out to pastor were marked by the same attitude.
   In choosing men to minister, Mitchell wasn't interested in technicians. Word skills were meaningless to him compared to a willingness to believe and work. His prayer was for God to give him laborers for the harvest.
   While the church world emphasized intellect, appearance, and finesse,
Prescott was moving under the direction of vision. Not a vision that had given them a blueprint for what to do, but the vision of a man who had been touched by God. The fact is, Mitchell often felt lost as to what the future held. He knew that God was present, and he did what was necessary to maintain God's presence in the services. Beyond that the church moved from day to day. Many who see the Prescott church as it is now think there was some kind of master plan. They want to know how it was done. The truth is that it evolved by a process of blind stumbling on Mitchells part, but of divine plan on the part of God.
   Abraham left the secure city to dwell in tents. The twelve disciples never fully understood their destiny until they were in it. Even David had trouble seeing how he'd reach the throne from the cave, but all hoped, trusted and followed. They held the unshakable conviction that God was guiding them as they prayed and moved out into the unknown and the uncharted.
  This is how the critical ministries in the
Prescott church evolved. Every major ministry came spontaneously out of the body as God dealt with people. Mitchell had lost interest in church programs that required constant pumping up by the pastor. Great ideas are a dime a dozen. You can take any twelve people in America and lock them in a room for two hours and have a hundred great ideas on how to reach America. The problem comes when you try to find someone to implement them.
  Mitchell emphasized the basics. He preached, called for sacrifice and commitment, and pressed people to draw close to God. God then began to separate out the ones He'd use and told them what He wanted them to do.


  It began to be obvious that they were on the cutting edge of what God was doing; they were moving in a direction that others in the church world weren't really interested in. Jesus had warned that those that had tasted the old wine would not be interested in the less smooth taste of the new. It was true 200 centuries later.
  Mitchell had tapped into the Jesus People movement well before it reached the rest of
Arizona. Here in a little town of 13,000 God was doing new things. The "Door" functioned in Prescott for almost a year before anything like it hit the Phoenix valley. Mitchell tried to get other pastors interested, but they weren't looking for the type of people that came with it. When he talked about the prospect of getting young people saved, other pastors could only think of how little these hippies would put in the plate and that none of them owned a razor.
  One of the first outreaches the church did was to Mitchell's old home church. Seventy-five people spent the day covering
Phoenix with flyers, promoting a concert at the church. This was the first use of what later became known as "guerilla teams"; sending a group of saints from other churches to descend on a city to stir it up became a standard practice in planting churches.
  That night the building was packed. Every type of individual imaginable showed up. They were dressed in all the colors of the rainbow.
Krishnas, drug addicts, and bikers in chains came. One outrageous character wore a bolt action from his gun around his neck. Eden played, and at the end ten kids responded. Although one of these later became the youth leader at that very church, the Phoenix church totally rejected the idea of ever doing anything like it again. Instead of seeing the potential, all they could see were the problems. They acted just like the ten spies who went with Joshua and Caleb; forgetting all the good God had done, they came back screaming their report of giants. Like most of the church world they preferred to play it safe with the handful they had rather than risk what they were unsure of, even after God had promised them blessing.
  The band went down to
Phoenix for another concert about six months later. A Baptist preacher who had gotten filled with the Holy Ghost set up a concert at Paradise Hills Baptist Church with Prescott's group, Eden. As Mitchell and the group arrived they were astounded to find over 3,500 already there. You couldn't even get near the place for the kids. They had to park blocks away and carry their instruments with them. The church world had never seen anything like it before. Some couples were openly making love on the lawn, while others smoked dope. Kids and cars seemed to stretch forever. Eden cranked out their music, and everyone there soaked it up. A man from the Hollywood Free Paper gave three altar calls during the day, and kids streamed forward every time.
  Mitchell could see that what was bringing hundreds into the
Prescott church could have brought thousands into a church in the giant Phoenix valley, but by the time churches got around to responding most of that initial excitement had already passed.
  The conflict between what God was doing and what the church world was doing stood out greatest at church camp. When Mitchell loaded up his wild crew and took them to camp, it was a disaster. Most of the kids there were from Christian homes and Mitchell's troops were straight off the streets. It was like arranging a nice social evening between the Ku Klux Klan and the Black Panthers.
  The thing that devastated the
Prescott kids was that they found more sinners at church camp than out in the park at home. These kids could fool their parents, but not these street wise new converts. It was obvious to them that these kids weren't slipping off into the woods to pray and study the Bible, but had come up to pick up on the girls and sneak off and smoke dope.
  Somehow Hank Houghton had been appointed a counselor, and he terrorized these religious sinners. When he found guys in his group out smoking, he threatened to break their arms if they tried it again. These poor kids had never met anyone who had studied at the John the Baptist School of Church Discipline and Holiness before.
  The kids from the Potter's House had come to do business with God, but they found a religious institution that was only geared to play games. The saddest part of the whole business was that because these kids still had long hair they were the ones who got harassed. No one would believe they were really Christians.
  The church world was after a certain look. Their narrow definition of what was acceptable just wasn't flexible enough to deal with the fresh movings of God. As a result much of the church would be left behind, trying to attract people with gospel quartets while the world was moving to a stronger beat.
  It wasn't always easy to flow with what was going on or see much hope in those who were coming in. They weren't exactly what the church world was looking for to add to its ranks. Many of these young people had picked up some bizarre and anti-social habits. Some had fried their minds on drugs and could hardly carry on a conversation, but as they patterned their lives after the Bible the fascinating result was kids who turned out to be the kind every pastor dreams of having. They soon began to adopt the very look and habits that the church had grown to expect. It took a redemptive heart, though, to bring them through the process of change.

Harold Warner

  Harold Warner was a good picture of this. He had been raised in Massachusetts in a well-to-do family, but the summer before he was saved he'd gotten strung out on heroin. Months had been invested in just getting high, followed by the shaking, wrenching consequences of withdrawals.
  It was at this time that he wandered into
Prescott chasing his cosmic visions of the future. After being in town for just a few days he noticed that his eyes were turning yellow. The hospital informed him that he had serum hepatitis and put him in isolation for ten days. On getting out of the hospital he moved into a place with some of the most notorious dopers in town. He crashed on their floor and violated all the doctors' orders.
November 15, 1970, Eden was playing at the Armory. Harold had heard about how some of the town's most notorious druggies had gotten saved and went out to hear Eden play. He looked the part of a good hippie with hair that hung down his back and a pair of bright red bell-bottoms that fit as if he'd been poured into them. That night was the first time in his life he heard the gospel. The word "saved" was as foreign to him as something spoken in Swahili, but the exposure touched him. What got him even more was a young girl he met that night. He thought, "If this is what Christians are like I might check it out some more."
  He went to the Sunday night service and, though he couldn't remember anything that was said, it penetrated enough to get him up to the front praying for forgiveness. As he came back to his seat everyone was crying and hugging him, telling him how happy they were. He wasn't sure why they were doing it; he wasn't even sure what he'd done. He 62 hadn't had an overpowering experience, and didn't even have enough theology to quote John 3:16. In fact, he honestly didn't feel any different, but time would prove that it was real.
  The same night they were having a baptism and Harold was asked if he wanted to join in. He hadn't brought a change of clothes, but said he'd go in naked if they didn't mind.
  They turned his offer down and found him something to wear, and Warner started off on the Christian life. He remembers almost nothing of that first year because his mind was so blown from past use of drugs. It was hard to see great potential in him.
  Sister Burgess, an 80 year old lady, took in this ex-drug addict and treated him like a son. Harold's main talent at the time was an ability to greatly exaggerate the truth. He spent a good part of his time expanding on his illustrious past to whoever would listen. The first memory he has of talking to Pastor Mitchell was at a Bible Study at the Payson's home. He was peppering his conversation with half-truths while Mitchell listened. It wasn't so much that he wanted to lie, it was just that he'd lied so much in the past he wasn't even sure what the truth was anymore.
  One of his most crucial tests was when he realized that the girl he'd come to church for wasn't interested in being his Christian girlfriend. He had spent his life running. For the year before he'd gotten saved his parents hadn't even known where he was. Now, the spirit that cried, "
Split!" was on him again.
  He started asking if there were any good churches back in
Massachusetts. It was one of the most critical decisions of his life. He chose to stay. He got one of the first jobs of his life as a logger. It was a sad joke to see this kid who hadn't worked a day in his life trying to play the woodsman. It took him three days to get fired.
  He decided, then, that it was time to cut his hair. He dropped in at the Jones' barbershop and faced the music. Joe Jones loved cutting those long brown locks, and sniped them down to a suitable length for employment. Up until this time Harold had not been very successful at anything, let alone employment. Under the influence of salvation there began to be a noticeable change.
  Purpose began to enter his life. It showed first in his determination to witness. Not much of what went on the first year stayed with him, but one thing that did was the level of emotion that coursed through him when Mitchell preached on world evangelism. Something deep within cried out to be satisfied. Sitting in the front row during one of these sermons was like having his heart torn out. A burden for souls and a desire to reach them began to consume him. He was moved by the preaching in a way that he had never been before.
  The job he finally landed was at a grocery store as a meat cutter. Many of his customers thought he was part Mexican because they heard him singing all the time in a strange language. Little did they know that it was a tongue that only angels could understand. A battle for souls began to be waged over those slabs of meat.
  The store was owned by Mormons who weren't excited about their store becoming the conduit for souls into a Pentecostal church. He promised to stop witnessing, and then witnessed some more.
  His East Coast aggressiveness would push through doors that weren't always open. He displayed this talent to Mitchell. Bashfulness was never one of Warner's strong points, and he made himself a regular fixture at the Mitchell home on
Audrey Lane.
  In constant contact with Pastor Mitchell's patience and concern, a dramatic change began to take place. More and more, Harold became a man who was set apart. A determination was born that awed others around him. He decided he would give his life 100%, and did it.
  He learned to preach in the Door scene like a parrot of Mitchell. Their voices and deliveries even now are almost indistinguishable on tape. He looked for every possibility to be a witness. One day, while cutting meat, an idea hit him about writing a column in the local paper. He left work and went straight to Mitchell's house. He was excited as he told Mitchell about his idea of putting testimonies in the paper of lives that had been changed.
  These were the things that Mitchell was looking for. Not plans that he had worked up, but ideas that were obviously generated by the Holy Ghost. He encouraged Harold and even suggested the name, "Metamorphosis," and a new ministry was born that impacted that small mountain community. More than that, a young man found a place of service and a dignity that began to release God's purpose for his life.
  When Harold became engaged to Mona, he refused even to kiss her until the night before they got married. He had become a man who had absolutely no desire to play with his destiny.
  This young man who had been headed towards obscurity or prison was changed into one of the most astounding preachers in the Southwest. He went on to pioneer a church that, in just ten years, numbers hundreds and has planted over twenty churches. Only an eye of faith and a heart of redemption could have seen beyond the pushy young braggart he had been when he had first entered the church.

Chapter 9

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