Our First Priority—People
“A revival pastor should place his priorities on people,” says Pastor Edwin S. Harper of Apostolic Life Cathedral in Huntington, West Virginia. “We’re in the people business. We need to keep our priorities on those in the church that are the most productive in bringing more people into the church. It’s the 80/20 rule, 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work. You want to put your priorities on that 20 percent and the rest will fall into place. We also need to put priority on our own soul winning efforts, the person we’re personally winning to the Lord.”
Priorities for Revival
Pastor Harper says, “There are three things that you have to do to be effective as a pastor of a revival church. The pastor has to be a soul winner himself, anything from home Bible studies to service in the community. He has to have a personal one-on-one relationship with people. Often times I have the privilege of spending time with several of those who carry high profiles in the city. However, to keep things in perspective, if I spend time in the day with some of these people, I make it a point that same day to try to help someone who can’t help themselves. Soul winning doesn’t have dollar signs.
“The second thing is a pastor cannot be afraid to be a public figure in the community. I read an article several years ago about the most important people in a city that the pastor can know to help his church. A pastor needs to know the mayor, the aldermen or the councilmen, the city council as a whole, the sheriff, and the prosecuting attorney. He must know and understand who the number one businessman in town is, the number one realtor, and the president of the number one bank.” Pastor Harper firmly believes in the value of this. “In whatever city that I pastor, I want the people to remember Apostolic Life Cathedral. If they want to be baptized, they’ll know and won’t be afraid to call Bro. Harper.”
In the third component to a revival church, Pastor Harper points out an interesting fact. “Many pastors resign their churches two years after they’ve started. The worst day of the year is the day after Christmas. There is such anticipation leading up to Christmas that the day after is a let-down. There is more joy in the hunt than in the killing of the game.” So, the third component is, “Once you have some big affair in the church, such as a building dedication, on the night of the event you should announce the next big goal of the church. You need to go from mountain peak to mountain peak. You’ve got to always have a goal in front of you and your people. If you don’t do that, a pastor can get very discouraged. You’ve got to keep moving ahead.”
Growth Ministries and Methods
Pastor Harper has a Sunday school drive every summer called ‘Enroll to Grow.’ He explains, “That’s where we go door to door and enroll people in Sunday school. This past summer, we enrolled 57 new families. Out of these people we get Bible studies, conversions and new members. It’s very important to have a large inflow of guests and visitors into the church.”
A second outreach effort involves Fall, Christmas, and Spring attendance drives that run for four weeks. “We make it a point to promote it in the church. We have a gold team and a silver team that compete to see who can get the most to church.” During the Spring/Easter attendance drive “we have a ‘Kick-Off Sunday’ which is a ‘Family Day’ because family should always come first. The next week is ‘Friends Day.’ The next week is always Palm Sunday, and it is ‘Children’s Sunday.’ Then, we have ‘Victory Sunday’ which is our Easter Service. We use that same principle for Homecoming in the fall and Christmas. It’s all about people.
“In Matthew 13, Jesus gave us the Law of the Harvest. Years ago, I was asked to be chairman of a United Way fund campaign. They sent us away to volunteer school. They taught us that in volunteer organizations, if you have four volunteers, one will last three months, one will last a year, one will last five years, and one will be a lifer. Jesus was pretty smart. That’s the hard ground, shallow ground, thorny ground, and good ground. If you’re going to have revival, you’ve got to invite people. Out of half of the people you invite that commit to come probably you’ll get one to the altar to pray through to the Holy Ghost (out of about ten). From there, you’ve got to win four to keep one, and you’ve got to win twelve to get two people you can put to work.”
Organizing and Managing Revival
According to Pastor Harper, there are several ministries at Apostolic Life Cathedral, including Sunday School, Nursing Home, Home Bible Studies, Bread Breakers (Young Marrieds) to reach out and start Home Bible Studies through sharing meals with people, Super Church Children’s Ministries, Men’s Fellowship, Women’s Growth and Worship Program, Media, a functioning food pantry, a free community dinner every Friday night, Enroll To Grow, Prayer every Tuesday morning, and a Spanish church.
“Whenever we’re getting ready to launch a new project, we’ll call everybody in and have two Saturdays of meetings. The first Saturday, we’ll introduce it. Then, everyone goes home and works on his/her part of it. Then, we all come back for the second Saturday with a points bulletin and share ideas, then break it all down.”
Last year for their midweek services, Pastor Harper and his wife started a new program. “On the first midweek service of the month is a Bible study focusing on a specific book of the Bible, the second week the men and woman are separated into Men’s Fellowship and Women’s Growth and Worship, the third midweek service of the month is an evangelistic service preached by various ministers in the church, and the fourth is a Youth Program planned and run by the youth.”
Pastor Harper meets with all of the Sunday school leaders every Sunday morning. The midweek services are used to meet with the other leaders on their nights during the month. “We have constant interaction.” Each leader hands in monthly reports and has job descriptions. “Accountability is the key to production,” says Pastor Harper.
Pastor Harper has 40 to 50 percent of his members involved in some form of ministry, and tries to make sure there is something for everyone to be a part of. “We have an evangelistic core of about 15 people that are pretty aggressive.”
In order to promote involvement, “We just keep it in front of the people and make heroes out of the ones that are doing it.”
Philosophy of Revival
Pastor Harper believes in being available to help people. “It’s my job to help people,” he says. “Jesus said you must be a servant to all.”
His focus is on “whosoever will—just people. Everybody is a candidate. If the community will sustain it, we will grow more. When I came here, the population was around 80,000, now it’s around 50,000.”
Pastor Harper took the church in 1985. At the time, the attendance was around 350. For outreach, “we used Bible studies and, up until a few years ago, I had a radio ministry. Now, we do a lot [of promotion] on the Internet. We’ve used newspaper and other stuff as well.”
Currently, Apostolic Life Cathedral averages about a convert a week. The congregation number ranges from 500 to 600 people.
“My late father-in-law gave me a philosophy of ministry when he was on his deathbed. He called all the family in one by one. When it came to my turn, he said, ‘Edwin, I’m going to give you a gem to pastoring. In your course of pastoring, if you will make every man that is older than you your father, every man that is your age your brother, every man younger than you your son, every woman that’s older than you your mother, every woman that’s your age your sister, every woman that’s younger than you your daughter, if you have to make decisions as a pastor regarding their lives, if you do this, you will never make a wrong decision. A pastor that doesn’t understand how to love can never pastor.’
“This Apostolic message is the absolute message of the New Testament church and no one should try to alter it or detract from it. We just don’t have a choice. This is the only message. Paul said it like this, ‘If this gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.’”