I was saved in 1975 during the early days of the Holy Spirit renewal in Singapore. For the next 13 years I worshiped in a small Anglican parish. My plan was to become an Anglican priest. However, in 1989, after being caught in the middle of a church conflict, I became disillusioned with church politics and decided to be a missionary to the Philippines.
But that was not to be. A group of 20 teen-agers asked me to be their Bible study teacher. On May 7, 1989, under the covering of a local Assemblies of God church, City Harvest Church was born. The group of 20 would soon grow to 1,300 and despite the early years of inexperience and foolish zeal, people just kept getting saved. In retrospect, the reason was simple: The church was in revival and God was working for us.
However, for the next three years, the church ran into a wall. In spite of every effort we made, the attendance languished at around 1,300. So we turned our attention to consolidation and achieved a fair amount of success.
The people grew strong in prayer and even stronger in spiritual warfare and deliverance. Praise and worship took on a new front as the church started producing professionally mastered "live" CDs, which was a first in Asia. Bible education was growing with the birth of City Harvest Bible Training Center, at present, the largest international affiliate of Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Overcoming the wall hindering growth. Although the church was known all over Southeast Asia as a ministry with strong, radical Christians, Sun and I sensed that something was dreadfully amiss. No matter what we did, the church simply would not grow.
After Bible conferences and seminars, Sun would often ask me, "Is that all there is to the Christian life and ministry? Is organizing event after event what a church is all about?"
Despite all the praying, worshiping and sermonizing, there seemed to be a lack of true purpose among our people. Both of us were in the depths of desperation.
By early 1995, we were crying out to the Lord for a breakthrough. In February of that year, I was invited to preach at a camp meeting in Honolulu. One night, while in the hotel room at Waikiki Beach, a strong presence of God came upon me and moved me to read Matthew 22:36-40. For the next hour, I read and meditated on this passage over and over again.
The Holy Spirit began working powerfully in my heart, revealing to me that Christianity in its simplest essence had one simple basic theme: loving God wholeheartedly and loving people fervently. Everything a church does and every direction a church takes must move its members to love God and people more.
It became clear to me that the way God loves people is by saving their souls. Therefore, if our church was to live out the will of God, we had to do everything we could to save the lost. I began to understand that soul-winning is indeed the primary purpose of God--everything else is secondary.
I saw how so many people in our church would get into deep intercession, and yet never win souls for Jesus. They would get so aggressive in spiritual warfare and so deep in the Word, and yet never lead others to Christ.
It dawned on me that while our congregation had the basic pillars of prayer, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and Bible education, these pillars were not supporting the foundational purpose of the church, which is winning the lost to Christ. That night, I got a fresh revelation about the need for soul-winning.
The final challenge came as God spoke very clearly to my heart: "From now on, everything you do in City Harvest Church and every vision you have must be based on these two principles of loving God and loving people. And if you can take the anointing I have put within your people outside the four walls of the church, then in one year, I'm going to double your attendance and bring growth beyond your imagination."
Thus armed with this new revelation in my spirit and mind, I returned home and ruthlessly evaluated all our church programs. Sun and I immediately discarded any program that did not fit those two aims of loving God and people.
Our prayer meetings started to have a focus on the lost. The songs we sang started to have a focus on the lost. Everything we did started to have a focus on the lost. Gradually, the spiritual atmosphere in the church began to change as a sense of destiny, purpose and faith surged through our people.
I discovered that many of our members, including church workers, simply did not know how to share the gospel with non-Christians. We had to teach everybody from scratch the basics of soul-winning.
The church also took up new challenges to reach out to the poor, the elderly, the AIDS inflicted, the street kids, the handicapped and the disadvantaged. We were determined to find a hurt and heal it, and find a need and meet it.
True to His promise, God started adding to the church in a dramatic fashion as we reached out to the lost. In the next 10 months, the congregation leapfrogged from 1,300 to 3,200 members.
Why had we stagnated for so long? As I looked back, I realized that during the first three years of our church, the Lord was working for us. It was a time of revival. Yet, we forgot that the whole purpose of revival was to empower the church for the task of the Great Commission. Yes, God wanted to work for us, but He would rather work with us.
Dr. Mark Rutland's
National Institute of Christian Leadership (NICL)
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