By Richard C. Brown
The New Life Pentecostal Church of Tulsa, Oklahoma has certainly been “a church on the move.” Pastor Gary Howard explains why: “The church started out meeting in a large hotel room. From there, we moved to another hotel room with a bar. Then we rented space in two different elementary schools that we used on a service-by-service basis. Finally, we were able to lease a vacant school building and call it home for about three-and-a-half years.
“Afterwards, that building was sold and we were forced to move again. Then a man let us use his church for a while, even through it was much too small. And that’s pretty much how things went during our early years. We had no permanent facility to call our own. I think we’ve made 8 or 9 moves in the first 12 years. We jokingly referred to ourselves as ‘the church on the move.'”
Furthermore, “on the move” describes more than the church’s many locations. New Life Pentecostal has also been a church “on the move” in its growth. “During this past year,” Bro. Howard said, “about 85 or 90 people have been baptized and received the Holy Ghost. Our current average attendance is between 250 and 300, depending on the service.”
Understandably, the congregations steady growth has caused considerable challenges over the years.” After only a short time in one rented facility,” Bro. Howard recalled, “our growth would force us to look for something larger. After seven or eight moves, we really begin to get desperate to find property and build something that could grow along with us.”
“The Lord finally enabled us to purchase 5.9 acres on a major highway just south of Tulsa in suburb called Jenks. We then built a nice sanctuary to seat about 250, as well as classrooms and a parsonage. We also added a small annex building. But just as we were preparing to dedicate our new facility, the State informed us that the entire property was being condemned to make room for a new highway. Lord help us, another move!
“The State didn’t want to give us what the facility was worth,” Bro. Howard continued, “so we were forced into a protracted legal battle. They finally evicted us with only a 3-day notice and we had to move to a cramped storefront building for about ten months. However, I want to stress that through everything the Lord was with us and provided every need.
“Then, through a series of miracles, we purchased ten acres of prime property on a hilltop overlooking Tulsa. The location is easily accessible from all parts of the city and surrounding communities and has a steady flow of traffic in front. We have just completed a 21,000 square foot sanctuary which seats 450 and still have plenty of room for future expansion. We already have plans for expanding the sanctuary to seat over 1000 when needed. We are also planning to start our family life center in the near future.”
“Perhaps it’s because we have faced so much adversity that my favorite subject to preach on is ‘faith,'” he said with a grin. “But I found that when you build up people to believe that God will do what He said He would do, you enable them to take on any challenge. We are so prone to forget that God can do anything. So I often remind them of where the Lord has brought us from and the great miracles in the Word. It’s so simple, we need constant reminding.”
Looking back, Bro. Howard feels strongly that God began preparing him for the ministry from an early age. “I started seeking the Lord when I was only five or six years old and I received the Holy Ghost just before my seventh birthday. My parents were faithful members of Elder C.P. Williams’ church in Tulsa. They didn’t push me into the ministry but they encouraged me in that direction.”
Bro. Howard said he first felt called to preach when he was ten years old. He then began acting upon that call at age 17, and later attended Texas bible College. He graduated in 1969 and was married that same year.
After graduation, Bro. and Sis. Howard moved to Beggs, Oklahoma to pastor an outreach mission which had previously been started by their home church in Tulsa. “It started as just a Sunday School annex but quickly grew into a church. We saw great growth and revival in that little church and it became self-supporting after only a year and a half,” Bro. Howard said. “We were there for a little over five years. It was a period of real personal growth for us.”
The Howards then evangelized for awhile, and later pastored a second small work in Oklahoma City. Then, in January, 1981, Bro. Howard returned to the city he had once called home.
“A major event in my ministry was when God called me back to Tulsa to start a home missions church where I grew up. I had never desired to pastor here. I always took the Scripture, “a prophet is not without honor except in his own country” to mean that it was best not to build your ministry in your home town. But over a period of time, the Lord has helped me to accept the fact that He’s called me to this city. Today I’m very happy and content pastoring in Tulsa.
“Before returning to Tulsa,” Bro. Howard said, “my home church went through a period of tremendous turmoil which left a number of people hurt and disillusioned, including members of my own family. While in prayer for them, the Lord gave me a vision of returning to Tulsa. He said He was going to use my ministry to restore what had been lost through this unfortunate tragedy. So my minisry here, at least in the initial stages, was that of a rebuilding effort. I came only because of a clear directive from God. I would not have come otherwise.”
“In the early years,” he continued, “I spent a lot of time seeking God in fasting and prayer and believing God for revival. But I had not had any real church growth training. I didn’t know how to lead a church to growth. I think I really expected God to bring them in instead of me going out and getting them. Our primary evangelism method was myself preaching, ‘be faithful to church and bring somebody with you.’ And in spite of our lack of evangelism, we did see a certain modest amount of growth.
“But finally, I realized that God would only work if the church worked. So as a congregation we began active soulwinning. The thing that has worked best for us has been simple one-on-one evangelism — people witnessing to folks on the job or at school or during their daily activities. I’ve tried to train them to let their light shine and to be bold in sharing their personal testimony.”
Pastor Howard also said that effective organization was an important element in their outreach efforts. “In order to do the work of God efficiently, you need to have an organized effort and a systematic approach. You must keep people working together in harmony. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is the value of establishing clearly defined goals. A few years back, Brother Time Massengale came and helped us implement the Total Church Growth program. Besides helping us define our long range goals, it has helped us learn the importance of keeping track of our progress so we can evaluate our strengths and weaknesses.”
But facilities alone have not been the only obstacle this church has had to overcome. Growth, Bro. Howard stresses, will come only if you are willing to fight many battles. “One obstacle we have fought is the general attitude of native Oklahomans. I am one myself, so I feel I have a right to speak about it. Their philosophy has always been to hang on to what you’ve got, avoid unnecessary risk, and don’t think too big. I’ve had to really work on helping people expand their vision to fit God’s plan and program.
“Another obstacle has been the religious climate here. We’re a part of the so called ‘Bible Belt.” Also, Tulsa is advertised as the Charismatic capitol of the world. So when we take a stand for old-time Pentecost and separation from the world, we meet considerable opposition.”
But Brother Howard is quick to point out that, in spite of these challenges, the revival continues. “At the present, there is a real move going on at Oral Roberts University. They are being stirred by the truth of God and Jesus’ Name baptism. In fact, we have converted some to the truth who were attending the School of Theology at O.R.U. So we are excited about making inroads into the false Charismatic doctrine that is so pervasive in this area.”
And if New Life is a “church on the move,” then there are certain keys that have turned the ignition. Bro. Howard shared some of his keys for revival.
“First thing,” Pastor Howard said, “is to realize that there is a big difference between a crowd and a church. It is very important that, as you grow, you build people people in Spirit as well as in number. If you are not establishing your church in basic Apostolic doctrines, and teaching them the importance of maintaining a personal relationship with God, and if you’re not stressing the value of separation from the world, then you’re not really building a church. You just have a crowd of people.
“Don’t get so caught us in the numbers game that you fail to perfect the church and have your people ready for the Lord’s soon coming. You must have soulwinning, evangelism and worship, but these must go hand-in-hand with a clean, godly life. I have a strong conviction that real revival, true lasting revival, is going to come only to those who have weathered the storms of liberalism and have continued to contend for the old paths. We must reach back to our Pentecostal heritage and roots and reach forward with an attitude of progress for revival and outreach. These two things are not only compatible, but are essential for true Apostolic revival.”
The primary element that Howard cited as essential for producing a progressive revival atmosphere is to center the church around personal relationships. “A pastor needs to develop a personal relationship with God, with his church leaders, and with the congregation. He needs to work on his relationship with God so that he can be a man of faith and conviction. He then needs to constantly develop leaders and teach them how to assist him in the work of God. This is essential. Finally, he needs to constantly pour himself into his people, because they are the very foundation of the church.
“The key to having a revival church is having people that are excited, trained and involved. I also find it helpful to gather around me and associate with preachers who believe in revival. I like to have other revival pastors preach to my church on a regular basis.”
Bro. Howard believes that a revival pastor must keep three things constantly before the congregation: A revival atmosphere, soul-winning, and worship. He said that these must be stressed repeatedly.
“It’s very important to keep people’s attention focused on evangelism and reaching the lost because the devil has a way of side-tracking us if we don’t keep coming back to our purpose. So I constantly keep before the people our objectives of winning souls and reaching this community. My priorities are revival, souls and worship. I suppose I mention these three things at practically every service.”
Adversity may continue striking New Life Pentecostal Church. Bro. Howard realizes this. He said that Satan will oppose any church that actively opposes his kingdom. But Pastor Howard said he pledges to continue the fight, and to maintain a “church on the move.”
“The Bible says we wrestle not against flesh and blood. We cannot get caught up in fighting personalities, but we must attack evil spirits. building a church is a work of the Spirit. So a person must constantly pray and fight against the spirits that hold man in bondage.
“There are also spirits that hold areas in bondage and you must fight them to have a breakthrough for revival. And it takes a lot of just hanging in there, because it does get tough at times.”
Doubtless, Bro. Howard will “hang in there.” And New Life Pentecostal will not only just “hang on,” but will continue moving forward. A church on the move never rests for long.