Rural Pentecostal Lights
There are 88 towns in West Texas with a school, but no Assemblies of God church. That number has dropped from 93 in 2009, when John T. Murdoch, 67, senior pastor of Christian Life in Lubbock, Texas, took action to reopen a closed AG church in nearby Brownfield.
That church, now named Christian Life Church as well, had closed after defaulting on a loan. Murdoch, with the blessing of the West Texas District presbyter and superintendent, took over the unpaid note, gave the facility a facelift, found a pastor, and reopened the church eight months later. Before closing, the church had fewer than 20 regular attenders. Today it averages 90.
Since then, Murdoch, with the support of his wife, Sue, and Christian Life, has rescued or reopened five more churches in rural West Texas towns. No two stories are exactly the same. Murdoch prays regularly for these towns, and when he hears of a church closing or struggling, he asks questions, prays some more, and waits on the Lord.
“If God gives us an open door, we go,” says Murdoch. “We don’t have specific goals for planting churches, but if we know there is a need, we’re open if God is.”
In 1985, Murdoch says he had a vision of a revival in sparsely populated West Texas, one that would “spread to the four corners of the world.” He still holds that vision in his heart, and it’s what keeps him going after 45 years of ministry.
The vision is unfolding. West Texas is saturated with resettled refugees from those four corners, and is also home to a huge Hispanic population. Abundant Life, a Christian Life affiliate church in Post, Texas, is a predominantly Hispanic and African-American church. Another, Lifepoint Church in Dumas, Texas, is reaching 19 different language groups through an English as a second language program it hosts and administers for Moore County.
Lifepoint celebrated its first anniversary on Easter 2016. In its first year, 15 people were baptized and several couples who met at the church married.
“It’s a testimony that God is doing something here,” says Jared B. Berry, 35, pastor of Lifepoint.
Murdoch called on Berry and his wife, Candice, to pastor Lifepoint and oversee the ESL program.
“I felt I shouldn’t pastor, but when that call came I knew God had other plans,” says Berry. “Pastor John doesn’t give up on people.”
Christian Life’s other affiliated churches are Canadian River Cowboy Church in Borger; One Way in McLean, which recently merged with First Baptist Church at that pastor’s request; and Springs of Life in Roaring Springs, a church that had closed after dwindling to five attendees, with the property sold. Murdoch stepped in after an 80-year-old woman called to tell him she had nowhere to go to church.
“I promised her she would be the first member of a new church and would see it full,” says Murdoch.
Before the woman died, Springs of Life had as many as 100 people in attendance, according to Murdoch.
“No church is too small if it’s got people in it, no matter how many,” Murdoch says. “Jesus died for everybody. Every person counts.”