Clearing the Stage
Troubled by an overemphasis on spiritual manifestations that he perceived had come to dominate The Oaks Fellowship, the congregation he pastored, Scott Wilson set out to restore order to church services.
The megachurch, planted in Dallas in 1921 as Oak Cliff Assembly of God, had been birthed in the roots of Pentecost. The church had hosted Spirit-moving revivals and miracle crusades. A host of prominent preachers had spoken in its pulpit. But by 2001, Wilson, who became pastor after being on staff for 14 years, recognized that the church had drifted to become overly focused on personal experiences.
"When I became the pastor, I felt we had become a self-indulgent revival center -- a church more focused on spiritual goose bumps than on reaching the lost," says Wilson, 45. "We had services filled with anxiety over what someone might do and so no one felt comfortable bringing an unsaved friend."
Church growth had stagnated.
"People weren't getting saved," Wilson says. "What does Pentecostal gifting matter if we're speaking in tongues, but we're not winning the lost?"
Rick Dubose, superintendent of the North Texas District of the Assemblies of God, is familiar with the popular evangelical "seeker" model that attracted Wilson as a pendulum-like reaction away from uncontrolled exercising of Pentecostal gifts in corporate worship. The result, Dubose says, is "Pentecostal lite."
"A number of our ministers have had good Pentecostal doctrine, but the church is out of control -- 'wildfire' -- and they pulled away because they saw excesses," Dubose says. "We end up with an unhealthy church."
In October 2012, Wilson's friend John C. Bates, pastor of the nearby AG congregation Freedom Fellowship International, called to say he had a prophetic word for him from the Lord. Wilson recalls the conversation began with Bates asking him this question: "Would you be willing to give God a minute in your service if He wanted to speak through a prophetic word or a gift of tongues?"
"Absolutely," Wilson responded, adding that he welcomed God doing anything He wants. "I just don't want the fake and weird," Wilson says.
Bates told Wilson he sensed he was putting services together and asking God to bless them, "instead of asking God to lead the services and trusting He knows better."
That message resonated with Wilson.
"If you ever elevate your personal experience above the authority of Scripture, you're wrong," he says. "We want the power and gifts of God, but we want to see fruit of the Spirit, not just gifts of the Spirit."
That Sunday, Wilson repented and declared a "new day" for his church.
"I'm not going to lead the church," he says "Christ is the leader. I'm the lead follower."
Wilson and Bates describe the transformation at The Oaks in an Influence Resources book to be released Sept. 1 titled, "Clear the Stage: Making Room for God." Their new book explores what it means to be accessible to potential new Christians as well as being open to the movement of the Holy Spirit in church. Wilson and Bates conclude that the Holy Spirit's guidance dramatically influenced the way they approach Sunday morning services.
Overall response to the changes at The Oaks has been positive. Average attendance at the church has risen to 2,900 in three weekend services -- an increase of 258. Within two years, giving to missions rose from $236,000 to $1.25 million, Wilson says.
"Much of this growth has come from the deep working of the Spirit in people's hearts," he says.