Dr. William M. Wilson—better known as Billy—was inaugurated Friday as the fourth president of Oral Roberts University. I had the privilege of enjoying the pomp and ceremony, and of being reminded of the special vision that birthed this great educational institution.
What does this new administration mean for the future of ORU and even Pentecostal/charismatic colleges and universities in general, since many look to ORU as a trendsetter? What, if anything, does this mean for the future of higher Christian education—a cause for which I’m passionate? These were the questions I had when I flew to Tulsa.
As a young teen, I remember when ORU started in 1963. The fact that Billy Graham gave the opening address sent shock waves through the Christian community—the reason being that the gap between Pentecostals (the term charismatic hadn’t been coined back then) and the wider Christian community was much wider than it is now. In his lifetime, Oral Roberts went a long way toward bridging that gap. Even inviting Billy Graham was an example of this.
The fact that Graham accepted was monumental. A clip from Graham’s address was shown at Wilson’s inauguration. In it, Graham pronounced blessings on the fledgling institution. But, he said, if it ever drifted from its Christian values, he pronounced a curse!
Even though I never attended ORU, a few years after it was founded I visited my cousin, who was in one of the first graduating classes. It wasn’t until 1980 that I personally met Oral Roberts. In the next nearly 30 years, he had a huge impact on my life as I interacted with him many times and in many ways, becoming very familiar with ORU in the process.
A few years ago, ORU nearly went under financially after a series of problems prompted the second president, Richard Roberts, to step down. The Green family that owns Hobby Lobby in nearby Oklahoma City came to the rescue by pumping tens of millions of dollars into the university to pay off its debt and fix its aging properties. Four years ago, I attended the inauguration of Mark Rutland as ORU’s third president. Oral Roberts was there. It was the last time I saw him, and it was his last time to visit the ORU campus.
Now a man I consider a personal friend is taking the helm. And while I have very close ties to several Christian universities, I wanted to attend to show my support and to find out what we can expect out of Billy Wilson as the university’s president. Wilson comes from a small denomination and, while he’s enjoyed success, he’s never undertaken such a huge task.
I’ve known Wilson since he headed up the Azusa Street centennial celebration that drew 50,000 to Los Angeles in 2006. He has a reputation as a humble man who inspires confidence in those he leads, and he has a global vision for the Pentecostal movement. He helped found Empowered21 as a way to emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit in the 21st century.
Wilson helped coin the term “Holy Spirit empowered” because a lot of the other terms, like “Spirit-filled” or “Full Gospel” carry some baggage that prevents people from relating to or experiencing it. Interestingly, Empowered 21 was launched at ORU in 2008 partly because its location was central in the nation, but mainly because of the way ORU has been central in promoting the message of the Holy Spirit.
Last weekend’s inauguration ceremony, while elegant, was also simple, emphasizing themes I feel represent what’s important to Wilson. The first was his humility in the way he knelt so that members of the board of trustees could lay hands on him and pray for him.
There also was an impressive parade of flags carried in by students, emphasizing the global vision of ORU in a Wilson administration.
The message Wilson articulated in his inaugural address was not his own. It was to continue Oral Roberts’ mandate to “build a university on God’s authority and the Holy Spirit.”
This inaugural message centered around three napkins. The first was Roberts’ simple vision—written on a napkin in 1960—in God’s words to “raise up your students to hear My voice, to go where My light is dim, where My voice is heard small, and My healing power is not known, even to the uttermost bounds of the earth. Their work will exceed yours, and in this I am well pleased.”
The second napkin was one Wilson wrote on to explain the gospel to a Chinese tour guide who then accepted Jesus as Savior. The third was the napkin folded separately from the other grave clothes in the garden tomb when Jesus rose from the dead.
I believe Wilson will emphasize the power of the Holy Spirit in a way that Roberts would approve of. He will carry on the mission “to build Holy Spirit-empowered leaders through whole person education to impact the world with God’s healing.”
That’s important because so many of the other Pentecostal/charismatic institutions look to ORU as a trendsetter. ORU was the first Pentecostal institution to become a university. It also emphasized the whole person in a way most Christian colleges do today. It also emphasized excellence in an era when Pentecostals seemed content with mediocrity as long the spiritual aspects were emphasized. ORU has done both, and I believe under Billy Wilson, it will continue to emphasize the power of the Holy Spirit and excellence in academics.
What do you think? Give us your comments on Billy Wilson becoming president, on your opinion of ORU and on the role of Christian higher education.
But today some of the large legacy ministries are struggling. After seeing many of these organizations from the inside, and from my experience engaging today’s culture, here’s five things these organizations need to do to transition and stay relevant to the next generation:
1. Realize the world is changing and so should you. That doesn’t mean you compromise your message or mission, but what worked in the 1970s probably isn’t going to work now. The donor development campaign that brought in so much financial support in 1986 isn’t going to be as effective today. Get over it and move on. Robert Schuller founded his ministry on the revolutionary idea of a “drive-in church.” He was radically creative and original. But once the ministry grew, they stopped innovating. Was it fear? Who knows? But there is never a time to stop innovating and listening to the culture.
2. Different generations communicate in different ways. The group that built most of these ministries responded to direct mail. I respond to email. My kids respond to texting or online giving. That doesn’t mean you drop direct mail, because the older generation still likes that method. It’s not about how you want to communicate to them; it’s how they want to communicate to you. A smart ministry or nonprofit will always communicate its message through multiple pathways to reach every potential donor.
3. Stop thinking your older donors are old-fashioned and traditional. I can’t even begin to describe how much ministries and nonprofits buy into the myth that contemporary styles and communication methods turn off older donors. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fastest-growing market for mobile devices is senior citizens, but you never see an iPhone commercial featuring an old guy on his walker talking on his iPhone. Old people want to be cool too. Just take the time to sell the re-brand. Embrace your older donors, and make them part of the change. After all, they want to reach their kids and grandkids and understand what it takes to make that happen.
4. Focus on your strengths. Back in the day, many of these huge organizations had the budgets to do everything. They did Bible translations, live evangelistic events, Christian education, media production, medical outreaches and food distribution, and they dug water wells, built Bible schools and much more. But today, it’s time to focus on your strengths. Have the courage to cut away the weak areas so you can strengthen what you’re best at providing. This is a “niche” world, so it’s far better to be amazing at one big thing than just average at many things. Everyone wants to see results, so focus your guns on a smaller target.
5. Tell your story more effectively. We live in a media-driven culture, and without video, social media and a compelling web presence, you don’t exist to most people. Here’s some tips to start:
Video is about emotion, not statistics or information. Stop boring your audiences with how many wonderful things you’ve done, and start telling compelling stories about lives that have been changed because of your work.
Social media is just that—social. Twitter and Facebook aren’t megaphones where you blast announcements. Social media is a conversation with your followers, supporters and donors. Engage and respond; don’t shout.
Yesterday it was about telling your story in a handful of ways—books, direct mail or broadcast TV. Today it’s about telling your story on multiple platforms. People won’t come to you, so you have to go to them. Get your story out there, and be original and compelling. And while you’re at it, share that message in a language and style today’s culture understands.
Perspiring, perhaps a bit wild-eyed and breathing hard, the preacher leans against the pulpit, both for impact and to steady himself. An hour-plus spent wringing the holy tar out of the devil can take it out of a fellow. Congregants weep and wave hankies, encouraging the preacher on. It’s the very picture of a Pentecostal service a generation ago.
But that was then.
Today, the Assemblies of God—the world’s largest Pentecostal denomination—offers a much different scene. Swiping screens on an iPad, the lead campus “spiritual architect” extends warm words to an overflow crowd. Elegant, witty and Steve McQueen cool, he sounds like Oral Roberts channeling Norman Vincent Peale reading Charles Spurgeon.
This is now.
Dr. George O. Wood has witnessed both scenarios in his lifetime of service to the church. Today, at 71, he’s become an unlikely bridge between generations, styles, systems and even ministry models—an “old school” veteran tasked with opening the door for a new generation of Pentecostal leaders. And despite the transition, as general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, USA, and chairman of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship, Wood isn’t about to let this segment of the church falter.
Not on his watch.
Fearless in the Face of Change
Wood, who has spent more than four decades in Christian service, discovered early on that fearlessness is an important part of ministry. It’s a quality he learned from his father, who stood undaunted in the face of opposition when those he pastored at a church in Oklahoma during the peak of the Latter Rain movement challenged his leadership.
“Dad was accused of not being spiritual enough—he preached with notes! He didn’t do some of the excesses,” Wood remembers. “One Sunday night at the altar service, two of the deacons accosted my dad. One of them put his fist on Dad’s chin—didn’t hit him, but put his fist on his chin. Told him he needed to resign because he was keeping the church from being spiritual.
“I remember one night during that time looking up at my mother. I was so impressed with my dad’s fidelity to what he understood to be the Scripture and the working of the Holy Spirit. So I told my mother, ‘I know what I want to be when I grow up. I’m going to be a preacher.’ And in 10-year-old language, I said, ‘And I’m going to tell it like it is!’”
Wood’s eyes light up at the memories, and he puts an exclamation point on them: “From the age of 10, I knew where I was heading.”
There’s also the impact that childhood years spent as a missionary kid in China—a land fraught with danger during that era—had on him. After three years, his family was forced to flee as the Communist Revolution swept China in 1949. They left on a flatbed truck, bumping for two days over a dirt road that wound up and around an ominous gorge until they arrived at a landing strip.
“We got on a Flying Tiger plane and flew out over Communist lines,” Wood remembers.
Experiences like these shaped Wood into a leader that can bring bold initiatives to a denomination in need of change. For him, the real danger point is doing nothing—and perhaps dying.
What kind of changes does Wood foresee for the AG fellowship that represents 3 million stateside members and almost 65 million globally? Not changes in doctrine or in reliance upon the Holy Spirit. No, the changes Wood has already begun to implement involve, among other things, technology and an increased effort to reach youth. To accomplish these goals, Wood is mentoring a new generation of pastors and leaders who also catch this vision and are primed to help bring it about.
“Dr. Wood has been fearlessly determined to make the changes needed in order for our fellowship to become an ecclesiastical leader in this next century,” says Scott Wilson, pastor of The Oaks Fellowship in Dallas. “Many church historians say that a denomination cannot thrive after 100 years in existence. That’s absolutely true if you don’t change. Dr. Wood’s leadership has given our movement a chance to prove the historians wrong. Time alone doesn’t make an organization obsolete … stubborn pride and a love for the status quo is what takes you down.”
And so Wood is blazing the trail of change. This includes a massive digital initiative for children and youth, as more and more churches drop their Sunday school offerings and leave a vacuum of support for youth in their wake. And an annual fine arts competition, featuring tens of thousands of young people participating in drama, dance, preaching and music categories, showcases the ongoing interest of youth in the church.
“I tell our churches, ‘If you don’t have a person working with youth, take a step of faith and add one,’” Wood says. “Almost all our districts have annual conventions for youth. One-third of the AG—1.1 million—is under the age of 25. So we have a huge and growing youth population. Getting them involved in church planting and missions is key.”
Along with increased outreach to youth, the denomination is also noting and responding to the needs of other demographics—particularly women called to ministry. Jodi Detrick, a columnist for the Seattle Times who also serves as the national chairperson for Network for Women in Ministry, is one of the important voices headquarters is heeding in this area.
“God’s call to ministry and leadership at all levels is for both genders and all ethnicities who answer that call and prepare themselves accordingly,” Detrick says. “The number of women looking for ways to grow and use the leadership gifts God gave them is on the upswing. This is reflected in the increased percentage of females enrolled in seminaries and those pursuing ministry credentials, as well as those moving forward into leadership roles in a number of fields and professions that were previously held primarily by men. This past year in my own Assemblies of God fellowship, six out of every 10 newly credentialed ministers have been women.”
In other words, this is a time ripe with opportunity for outreach, support and change in the denomination—and the fearlessness Wood brings to the table is meeting these opportunities head-on.
“I think under the leadership of Dr. Wood, the Assemblies has begun to realize so many things we avoided for years are actually great ministry opportunities,” says Rob Ketterling, pastor of River Valley Church in the Twin Cities metro area of Minnesota. “We’re making great strides in music, technology, media and leadership. I believe Dr. Wood is the right leader for right now to lead us to the right way of doing things to impact future generations—not to just to be thankful for what God did in the past.”
A Uniting Focus
For Wood, the building blocks for developing a healthy—and long-term—church began decades ago, as he expanded his borders beyond local church experience and decided to tackle seminary at what was then the flagship institution within evangelicalism, Fuller Theological Seminary.
“Very few Assemblies of God people went to seminary in those days, for several reasons,” he recalls. “One, we were told, ‘The Lord is coming soon, and you’re going to waste your time in more school.’ I thought, ‘Well, if Jesus could wait to start His ministry at 33, I can wait until I’m 24.’ A second reason was, ‘You’re going to have your Pentecostal faith washed out of you.’ And third, ‘It’s a cemetery.’”
Despite such denominational resistance from well-intentioned people, Wood crossed the path into seminary, and it was a decision that would change the course of his ministry. Wood says he didn’t know when he enrolled that Fuller housed the evangelical luminaries of the day or that he’d be around people like Charles E. Fuller, Carl F.H. Henry or Edward John Carnell. George Eldon Ladd, who wrote the book Jesus and the Kingdom and moved evangelicals into a different stance than they had previously held, was one of his professors.
It was in seminary that, as Wood puts it, he saw the kingdom as “so much bigger than [he] thought it was.” A Presbyterian roommate wasn’t the “frigid, ice-cold image” Wood had of Presbyterians—and even had better piety than Wood saw in himself. As an added bonus, Wood emerged from seminary with his Pentecostal faith intact—proof there was life in the “cemetery” after all.
Wood’s unfolding understanding of the diverse population of the kingdom helped him work easily with other denominations once he found himself on the other side of his education. Indeed, his eclectic background, which includes a law degree from Western State University College of Law in Fullerton, Calif., and 14 years as the AG’s general secretary, further expanded his view that working with people of different backgrounds, well, works.
“I have great appreciation for believers in other denominations or the nondenominational,” he says. “The kingdom of God is bigger than any one group. We’re grateful to be in our part.”
A Growth That Gains
Perhaps the most astonishing goal Wood has directed AG leadership to work to achieve is in the area of sheer growth. At a time when many denominations and church structures are losing members—or as some put it, “market share”—Wood sees things differently for the body he’s called to lead.
“We are vigorously involved in church planting,” he says. “In the last five years, we’ve seen 1,597 new churches open, and our goal is to get to where we can consistently see 500 new churches open a year. We trust that by the year 2020, we’ll be somewhere over 4.1 million people in the U.S. and 100 million worldwide. We are really projecting growth. We’re going to believe God for great growth!”
How does he believe that growth happens? An encounter he had with his family’s former pastor in China in 1988 provides the answer.
Wood had been gone from the country 40 years at the time of his return to China and was anxious to see what had transpired since. “Our old pastor was still there,” he says. “He’d preached the last Sunday we attended in 1949. He was the same age as my dad, 39, at the time.”
But much had happened in the intervening time. Soon after the Wood family left China, the persecution came. At the time, the pastor’s church had about 500 members. The Communists seized the church property and put the pastor in prison for nine years. Upon release, he was placed on probation for 16 years. Finally, at age 72, he was called in by the authorities and was told that after having reviewed his case, the authorities came to the conclusion the pastor had been dealt with unjustly.
Wood retells the pastor’s story: “He said, ‘They wanted to give me papers of exoneration and apologize to me, but I said that wasn’t enough. I then told them I wanted the property back. I wanted to preach again. I wanted my granddaughter to have a travel visa in order to reach other provinces. And I wanted a pension!’”
The rattled authorities agreed to the man’s requests, and when Wood arrived back in his old stomping grounds, the aged pastor smiled and had a twinkle in his eye. Wood was secretly chagrined to learn that only 30 people had been in attendance when the pastor resumed preaching a few years before.
“My heart sank,” Wood recalls. When the pastor’s wife brought out the notebook listing the church’s members, Wood watched her unlace the yarn that held the cardboard cover in place.
“I looked at the first page, which listed baptisms, names, addresses,” he says. “There were about 15 or 20 names, and I thought, ‘Well, that’s good.’ Then the same thing on page two. Then page three. Then, page after page!”
The pastor told Wood that the church now had 1,500 baptized believers. When Wood asked how they had done it, the pastor replied, “Well, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. And we pray a lot!” By the time that pastor passed away at age 97, the church had baptized more than 15,000 new, adult believers.
The tale impacted Wood, and obviously still does today. When he looks into the future ahead for the AG, he sees nothing but a chance for growth upon growth.
Cleaning the Face of Jesus
For the man tasked with bringing Pentecostalism into the 21st century, the changes taking place in the church add up to only one thing: Jesus. By way of example, Wood remembers visiting the Sistine Chapel more than 30 years ago.
“When I was there in 1982, I saw the famous frescos of the last judgment, the creation, et cetera, and I thought, ‘Why does everyone come to see this?’ So many centuries of candle smoke had laid a grimy film over it,” he says. “But when I returned recently, the image was the same, yet so different. A wonderful restoration project had produced dazzling results, and it was all so clear!”
It was a moment of clarity for the leader, who realized the task of the church is to clean the face of Jesus.
“We must remove the grime of tradition, even Pentecostal tradition, liturgical tradition—all the kinds of stuff that gets layered in that prevents Jesus from being seen as He really is,” he says. “The task of the Spirit-filled church is to get as close as possible to what the early church believed and practiced. If we don’t get there, then we’ve got a grimy Jesus and a grimy church.”
For Dr. George O. Wood, the task is continually worth the effort.
Jim Fletcher is director of Prophecy Matters (prophecymatters.com) and can be reached email@example.com. He writes for a variety of online sites, including RaptureReady, theJerusalem Post and Beliefnet.
Former Army chaplain, author and minister James C. Pippin died on July 16. He was 91 years old.
Pippin entered the U.S. Army in 1951 as a chaplain and eventually rose to the rank of full bird colonel. According to The Oklahoman, “He was one of the highest-ranking denominational clergymen to minister in the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”
Pippin resigned as senior pastor of the 3,600-member First Christian Church in Oklahoma City, Okla.—one of the five largest churches in his denomination—in 1972. His work in ministry saw him travel all over the world, including Melodyland in Anaheim, Calif., where he began a longtime friendship with the Rev. Ralph Wilkerson and served on the board of directors for Nora Lam Ministries.
He had A.B., M.Div. and D.D. degrees from Phillips University, where he met longtime friend the Rev. Oral Roberts. He also received a doctor of ministry degree from American Christian College and Seminary in Oklahoma City, where he was a professor.
Using laughter as a vital part of his ministry, Pippin hosted Laughing With the Lord! a weekly series on Trinity Broadcasting Network. Creation House published his autobiography, A Miracle a Minute! in 2001, and he had hoped to write a second book, titled Laughing With the Lord: The Humor of Christ.
Pippin and his wife of 62 years, Allene, owned Flower Mini-Mart and Parr’s Flowers. He is survived by Allene, daughter Anne, granddaughter Alecia and great-grandson Otis.
For nearly six months, Billy Wilson has been looking forward to starting a new chapter of his life as president of Oral Roberts University. During a busy first day, Wilson granted Charisma News a one-on-one interview and talked about his adjustment to his new surroundings, his and his wife’s recent 35th anniversary and the continuance of Oral Roberts’ legacy.
Charisma News: How has the first day on the job gone? Have there been any surprises?
Wilson: No real surprises, but it certainly has been very busy around here. It’s been an exciting day. We had an alumni luncheon, some local television station interviews, a lot of media things and, of course, I’m trying to get settled into my office.
CN: It’s been a busy couple of days for you. What did you and your wife, Lisa, do to celebrate your 35th anniversary yesterday? Wilson: We did get to celebrate a little bit at a Mexican restaurant in Tulsa last night, but we’ll celebrate a little more fully at another time. Of course, we’re continuing the transition here to ORU, and we worked a little more than usual yesterday. So, I certainly owe my wife for that.
CN: How has the adjustment to Oklahoma gone so far, especially in lieu of the rough weather the state has endured lately?
Wilson: We were here on Friday afternoon, and we saw the storms coming through on Friday night. Of course, we’re heartbroken over the tragic loss of life, and we’re certainly praying for the Oklahoma City area. We’re coming from Cleveland, Tenn., and we’ve seen some storms there in recent years, so it’s not really a distant thing for us. But after 29 years in Cleveland, we’re excited to move to Tulsa. It’s a great community, and we’re really looking forward to serving the Lord here.
CN: What led you to take this position, and how much different will this role be for you personally? Wilson: This was not something that I necessarily sought. When I was asked about serving as president, I committed this opportunity to prayer, and I discovered that this was where God wanted me to spend this season of my life, pouring into this next generation. We have a real heart for new generations. Empowered21, of course, helps the older generations turn toward younger generations, and that’s another reason why this opportunity appealed to me. It gives us an opportunity to equip new generations of leaders that will impact the world.CN: What are some of the biggest challenges you will face in your new role as ORU president? Wilson: The challenges are good challenges. ORU has emerged from a season of storms. But it has stabilized, and we’re grateful for that. We appreciate the four years of Dr. Mark Rutland’s leadership, and now we’re in a position to do what God wants ORU to do globally. There is a global platform for ORU to help this generation of students reach the world for the gospel. It’s an exciting challenge.
CN: Do you have any major initiatives planned over the summer or for the fall semester for ORU? Wilson: One of the first things we announced today was the formation of a presidential task force for the globalization of ORU—a creative think tank of internal and external thought leaders. We have a dream of what ORU will be in the 21st century and that there will be a global harvest, equipping new generations of leaders around the world. The board of trustees will launch those directions early next year. We’re looking forward to a very exciting fall semester and the continuation of summer classes here now. We’re excited to see what God will do at ORU this fall.CN: Empowered21 has had a tremendous impact worldwide. How is that project going right now? Wilson: It’s going great. We just finished a large congress in Asia in May, consisting of 43 nations. I was personally impacted spiritually. We believe there will be dramatic repercussions in Asia in the days to come. Pentecost Sunday was a huge hit this year for us, with thousands of churches around the world standing with us to proclaim the power of the Holy Spirit. We appreciate Charisma and Steve Strang standing with us over this past month and promoting it. We had reports where in one church, 200 to 300 people received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It’s an exciting season for us with Empowered21, too, because it is coming back here to Tulsa with us at ORU.
CN: A reliable source has told us that some Pentecostal colleges are attracting more mainline (non-Spirit-filled) Christians. How does a Pentecostal school stay true to its roots with the rising student population that isn’t Spirit-filled? Wilson: ORU has traditionally been called a charismatic institution. These days, it’s a different language, and we’ve moved to the phrase “Spirit-empowered institution.” It’s very unusual because in Oral’s vision, this university was founded on God’s authority and the Holy Spirit. We are the only university and only school in the world that was founded on the Holy Spirit. We’ve been given a wonderful opportunity to invite new generations to meet the power of the Holy Spirit. We’re honest with potential students up front here, in that we tell them they’re going to have ample opportunity in their time here to meet the Person of the Holy Spirit.
CN: Is this a broader trend that we should be looking at? Wilson: We really hope so. We’ve had some discussions with college presidents over the years and with my colleagues in presidential offices all over the country, and we’re finding a real heart among them to say this generation needs to experience the Holy Spirit. We cannot relinquish this ground that God has given to us. We need to empower a new generation that is hungry to know God, one that is not afraid to experience God at the greatest depths and the highest heights. … We believe it is a trend and that young people are getting more serious about their faith.
CN: You’ve been quoted as saying, “We will continue to ‘make no little plans here.’” That’s something Oral Roberts himself said, isn’t it? What can you do to continue that legacy?
Wilson: I’m sitting at my new desk as president of ORU. Oral Roberts had a sign on his desk that said, “Make no little plans here.” My staff, on my last day of my previous position, gave me a set of bookends that said the same thing. Now, every day when I come in this office, I will see this motto. The man that built this university was a great man of faith, and he was the father of this movement. This university was built on raw determination and faith, and I believe that’s what the future of this university will be run on: faith. I’m praying every day, “God, are what your plans for this university? You are the God of the entire universe, so what do we do to honor You?”
I will forever remember as though we were standing there now, as you read these words.
The place: The walking bridge connecting the student parking lot to the bustling campus of Oral Roberts University, where the grandiose buildings and space age architecture were a daily reminder to the thousands of us students of Dr. Oral Roberts’ charge to “Make no small plans here.”
The time: 25 years ago.
The experience: A life-changing encounter that would set the course for my spiritual future in ways I would never have imagined when I woke up almost late for class that beautiful spring morning in Tulsa.
With a mere six weeks remaining before graduation, and with a dream in my heart far bigger than myself, I was ready to go from this incredible place of preparation to be used by God to fulfill the Great Commission and reach our world for Christ.
Serving as a youth pastor in a local church, as a worship leader in another, carrying a 10-foot cross and sharing the gospel with whomever would listen across Tulsa, preaching on the streets, outside bars, leading evangelistic teams to Florida’s beaches during Spring break to witness to the masses of college students that swarm there from across the country—now coupled with my ORU experience—I was ready to spread my wings and take the next exciting step in God’s unfolding plan.
I drove my old car from the student apartments to campus, parked in the lot outside the Mabee Center and began my trek to class. I had done it hundreds of times. Grab my books, slam the car door closed and begin my brisk walk with a spring in my step to be sure I get to the first class of the day on time.
Connecting the parking lot and the campus is a simple white cement walking bridge spanning across a creek that divides the lot from the ORU campus, a well-traveled daily route. But I was soon to find out that this day would be unlike any other.
As I set foot on the bridge, I encountered a tangible presence and heard a voice that I knew only too well—and it stopped me in my tracks. Students scurrying to class by the scores walked past me as I stood still at the midpoint of this small bridge. Perhaps a minute passed, and now I was standing alone on the bridge.
I was unexpectedly stopped by a wonderful presence and challenged by the unmistakable voice of the Holy Spirit. The words are as fresh today as they were 25 years ago:
“Greg, what would you think if I called you to serve another man’s ministry that had the same vision that I have put in your heart, and by doing so, you would reach more people for My kingdom than if you did so on your own?”
I stood motionless pondering this heavenly proposition. A few straggling students passed by on the bridge, I’m sure wondering if this skinny 6-foot-9 motionless statue of a fellow student had lost his marbles!
Knowing how I responded to this divine moment would surely set the course for God’s future plans for my life. And marveling what a gentleman our God is. To present a “what would you think?” question, and not some “thus saith the Lord, you will do such and such …” command! I stood there and pondered.
Give up the idea of launching “my own” ministry … Serve someone else’s ministry that had the same heart as I do; reach more people; be more effective for the Kingdom of God. The more I mulled it over, it was a clear no-brainer!
“Sure, Lord. If I can be more fruitful and reach more for You by helping someone else who is already doing what You have put in my heart to do, then count me in!”
Two weeks later, the ORU chapel service guest minister—worldwide evangelist, apostle and prophet Dr. Morris Cerullo—was introduced to the students. Another life-changing encounter. As this servant of God spoke from the words of John 6:28, “What must we do that we might work the works of God,”the Mabee Center chapel shook as the anointing of the Holy Spirit was poured out mightily upon the students.
Soon all were out of their seats, dropped to their knees, and crying out for God to use their lives; as was I. As I slowly began to stand after this season of prayer and communion with God on my knees in this powerful chapel service, that same voice I encountered on the bridge spoke again.
“Greg, I am calling you to stand by Morris’ side and help him in the ministry.”
Immediately my plans to enroll in the ORU seminary that fall flashed before my mind’s eye. I asked God, “What about my plans to attend seminary?”
A quarter of a century later, God’s four-word reply has proven over and over again to be the understatement of my life: “This will be greater!”
On my knees in that ORU chapel service, I could not have imagined the blessings that God had in store these past 25 years serving as the vice-president of ministries for Dr. Cerullo.
I have a beautiful, godly wife and eight incredible, healthy children. By the grace of God, and their hard work, each were offered full scholarships to attend some of the top universities in the world. I have three adorable grandchildren, and a praying mother that loves and includes our family and the ministry of Dr. Cerullo in her prayers daily. I have a younger brother, Glenn, who has a heart of gold, and another brother, Gary, who pastors one of the great churches in America.
I had the opportunity to stand by Dr. Cerullo’s side as communism fell (as he prophesied for 14 consecutive years prior from the platform of the Royal Albert Hall) and conduct the first historic public crusade in Moscow before 50,000 people in the Olympic Stadium.
I have been privileged to stand by Dr. Cerullo’s side and to give birth to week-long Mission to London outreaches from world famous Earl’s Court to capacity crowds of 16,000 per night for six successive years. These events shook Britain and garnered unprecedented national and worldwide attention for the message of the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I have been fortunate to personally preach by a spontaneous miracle to 200,000 protesters on the University Square in Bucharest, Romania, following the fall of the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. I was in there meeting with key leaders who had invited Dr. Cerullo to conduct a national school of ministry and crusade later that year.
Now on my fourth passport, having been privileged to have seen millions saved, healed, set free, receive the impartation of the anointing, and being used by God on every continent … yes, there is unquestionably an incredible blessing waiting for those who will rise up to accept the calling to serve another man’s ministry.
To do so we will have to rise above a culture and an era that celebrates the entrepreneur, the self-made man or woman who blazes his or her own trail. That same spirit has permeated the church, particularly the independent, charismatic segments, where we are frequently bombarded with all the messages, encouragements, “words from the Lord” and marketing tools to launch your own ministry: get ordained, start your website, launch your own worldwide ministry and go!
In sharp contrast, Jesus said, “And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?” (Luke 16:12, KJV)
If we agree that there is a calling to serve another man’s ministry, then it is my prayer that many will rise up from their church pew as a spectator each Sunday and find an exciting, blessed place of service alongside the ministry of which they are a part.
I Corinthians 12:28 highlights the importance of the ministry of helps in the God-ordained structure of the church, listing it right after apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, and gifts of healings: “And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues” (NKJV).
Kim Harrington of Master Builder Ministries said it so well in her article on “The Ministry of Helps”:
“People approach the church with pretty much the same consumer mentality they bring to the shopping mall—you better deliver the goods, be nice and user-friendly, or I’ll simply take my business elsewhere. The concept of servanthood and faithfulness, sacrifice and dependability seems to be a thing of the past, or at least something that doesn’t apply to church anymore.
The desperate need in all sorts of Christian ministries is for those who will dedicate themselves to the ministry of helps, a rather inglorious sounding title, but listed in order right after miracle and healing ministries in the above text. The Greek word translated ‘helps’ means ‘to lay hold of, so as to support.’”
In other words, a minister of helps is someone who commits himself to another ministry in order to support and assist in any way he or she can.
I’m impressed by the ministry team of Billy Graham in this respect. One of the great reasons for his enormous success has to be the dedicated team that has worked with him since the early 1950s—Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea, and others, have been with him from the very beginning. They didn’t see their work with Billy as a stepping stone toward their own independent ministries, but rather as a lifetime calling.
And in the process of helping his ministry, they have achieved personal ministerial success that they never could have attained on their own. How many records has Bev Shea sold, how many millions of people has Barrows taught over the years that never would have been possible outside of Billy Graham’s ministry? When you commit yourself to the ministry of helps, you lay hold of personal success that you might never have achieved otherwise.”
Is there a Barnabas, a Silas, a Timothy, an Aquila or Priscilla who is ready to serve the next Apostle Paul? Or is there a band of mighty men ready to serve the next David? An Elisha to serve the next Elijah? Or the next Kenneth Copeland who will serve at the book table of the next Oral Roberts?
God has ordained an amazing journey for you, and secret number one to experiencing this incredible blessing is settling the question once and for all. Yes, as a New Testament Christian, I am called to serve another man’s ministry.
But on Friday, I have the opportunity for a significant first: After years of working in the same market as Paul and Jan, founders of TBN, I’ll interview them together. TBN will be celebrating its 40th anniversary this May, and the Crouches have given us an exclusive interview.
I was inspired by the presidential debates last fall when they asked ordinary people to submit questions on YouTube and then asked the candidates those questions. Paul and Jan are among the highest-profiled and most-respected Christian leaders. They have had a profound impact on the body of Christ.
I plan on asking Paul and Jan about their past successes and future plans, but I also want you to be part of this “first” by helping me formulate questions for them. If you had a chance to sit down with the Crouches, what would you ask them?
This exclusive interview will be published in a question-and-answer format in the May issue of Charismamagazine, which coincides with TBN’s 40th-anniversary celebration.
This is your opportunity to submit questions. Please write them below and we will go through them and pick the best ones to add to the questions that we already are planning. I think it should add a lot of interest and variety to our interview.
Wilson: I’m scheduled to begin July 1. Dr. Rutland will continue as president until that time. I will be president elect and assume full responsibility July 1.
Charisma News: What vision will you forge for the future of ORU?
Wilson: Of course the history of ORU is a wonderful history. Students from Oral Roberts University are impacting the world literally on every continent. I am incredibly humbled and honored to be asked to serve as the next president. We are very excited about the future. One of the things that God is leading us toward is a further internationalization and globalization of ORU’s work. Oral’s vision in starting the university was that his students would ultimately go to the uttermost bounds of the earth. There is a great opportunity globally to train leaders to equip marketplace individuals to make an impact for Christ. We see that as one of the great horizons ahead. ORU will soon celebrate its 50th anniversary and we think this is going to be a great moment to not only reflect on the past and celebrate what God has done, but really look to the horizon to see what things God would have us do in the days ahead.
Charisma News: What are your personal feelings stepping into this position, following Dr. Mark Rutland and, of course, Oral Roberts?
Wilson: No one in the world could ever fill Oral Roberts’ shoes or really even Dr. Rutland’s. Mark Rutland has done a fabulous job for this university at very critical time and we honor him very highly for his work. I am grateful to God and I am looking forward to this challenge. It is a significant challenge, but we’re very excited about the future and to say I’m honored and humbled is a bit of an understatement. I’ve been a bit overwhelmed the last few days as I reflected on what all of this means for my life and ministry. I don’t feel worthy in many ways by accepting this task, except by God’s grace. A lot of prayer has gone on and I’m going to need a lot of prayer and His strength going forward. At the same time, we can do all things through Christ, which strengthens us. Oral had a saying on his desk—make no little plans here. This is really the drive of my life. I love to dream big, and I believe ORU gives us that possibility and capability to dream big for the future.
Charisma News: What do you plan to tell the students at ORU?
Wilson: I’m going to tell them some of what I have just described. The fact that God has opened a whole new horizon and vista in my life, and I do feel called of God to do this. It’s been a process over the last few months, especially these past few weeks of bringing me to the point of saying yes to this. I’m also going to share with them that I hope to begin my service here at ORU by listening and praying. We will begin a president-elect listening tour, first on campus with our faculty and staff and students. And then, we’ll extend that to alumni around the world, listening to their views of what ORU is, and what they are sensing God is saying. Lisa and I have made a commitment right off the bat to pray for every student associated with ORU by name and ask God to give us a heart for this student body that I know He has. ORU is a Christian university. The great distinction of Jesus is that He is the least of all and the servant of all. As ORU leads in the Spirit-empowered movement, we want to be a servant to this movement. God is calling us to serve. My prayer is that ORU will have a servant mentality and a servant heart. I want us to serve our community and our world at large, and I especially want us to serve the Spirit-empowered movement in a way that enhances all the ministries we touch around the world.
Charisma News:You’ve been a networker with your years of ministry experience. What is a unique quality you have that lends itself to running this university?
Wilson: I believe in the 21st century, relationship is key to any leadership paradigm. I’m grateful for the relationships God has given me over the last several years, especially in the spirit of our community around the world. We’re going to continue those relationships. We are grateful that the International Center for Spiritual Renewal Board has requested Empower 21 be assumed by ORU. It began here a few years ago. That initiative, Empower 21, will be returning to ORU. We’ll continue to network with leaders around the world and of course, among our leadership team here in Tulsa, we’re delighted. We have a brilliant leadership team, a brilliant faculty and seeing them connect, intersect and dream together is going to be a delight of my journey.
Charisma News:Today’s college students are vastly different from what they were 10 years ago. You’ve seen that trend, so how do you think that’s going to benefit your leadership at ORU?
Wilson: Two or three things: Number one, this generation is brilliant. Their potential to impact the world for Christ is beyond any generation in the history of the world. Because of that, there is great spiritual warfare and great attack on them. I’m looking forward to seeing that brilliance shine and these young men and women shine. We have wonderful students at ORU and we’re looking for more around the world. This generation is really hungry for authenticity. I think the message of servanthood, of making our lives count in an intangible way, coincides so wonderfully with ORU’s mission and vision of taking God’s healing power to the world and going into every man’s world for Christ. I believe we’ll see that develop in the students. One of the cries we hear around the world that I consistently hear in this generation is for spiritual fathers and mothers. For a connection with generations beyond themselves. I’m really looking forward to connecting personally with these students; loving them, sharing with them, listening to them. We’re also hoping that others will join us and adopt our student body at ORU and love them, be mentors to them, and see a whole new generation rise that really can shake the earth.
Charisma News: What kind of exchanges have you had with Dr. Rutland in the last couple of days?
Wilson: We met briefly. We just finished with a meeting with the ORU board of trustees. Dr. Rutland and I are planning a series of meetings in the days ahead. He’s been gracious; he’s been a statesman, a wonderful gentleman. I’m looking forward to that time of transition. He has a wealth of knowledge. I’m going to be probing that, of course. [There is] so much giftedness in his life. So, I’m grateful for that relationship. We have been friends up until this time and that will continue to be a real blessing to me in this transition.
Oral Roberts University (ORU) has named William “Billy” Wilson, 54, as its fourth president. ORU is announcing the successor to Mark Rutland at a press conferencing happening right now at the Tulsa, Okla., campus.
Charisma News caught up with Wilson just hours before the official announcement to discuss his vision for ORU in an exclusive interview. (Click here to read the entire conversation with Wilson.)
“To say I’m honored and humbled is really an understatement,” Wilson said. “I’ve been a bit overwhelmed the last few days as I’ve reflected on all this means for my life and ministry. I don’t feel worthy in many ways of doing this task except by God’s grace. A lot of prayer’s gone on up to this point, and I’m going to need a lot of prayer and His strength going forward. At the same time, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.”
Wilson is recognized as a global influencer with unwavering ethics and strong business acumen, who has a passion for building Spirit-empowered leaders to impact the world. He currently serves as executive director of the International Center for Spiritual Renewal in Cleveland, Tenn. He has forged national ecumenical coalitions with more than 250 denominations and parachurch ministries through the Awakening America Alliance.
“One of the things we feel God is leading us toward is a further globalization of ORU’s work,” Wilson said. “Oral’s vision in starting the university was that students would ultimately go to the uttermost bounds of the earth. There is a great opportunity globally to train leaders and equip marketplace leaders to make an impact for Christ—and we see that as one of the great horizons ahead.”
Wilson is no stranger to ORU. He was recently elected to the ORU Board of Trustees, where he serves as vice-chair. He also serves on numerous other boards and committees, including the Mission America Coalition (Lausanne USA) facilitation committee and the Pentecostal World Fellowship advisory board. He will take the presidential reins from Rutland on July 1.
“The presidential search committee, Board of Trustees and I are confident we have found the best candidate to lead ORU to a bright and successful future while remaining true to its founding vision and core values,” said ORU Board Chair Mart Green. “Chancellor Oral Roberts founded this university on big thinking and innovation. In this day and age where technology and culture are constantly shifting, Dr. Wilson’s global vision, experience and relationships will be a catalyst for growth and transformation.”
Wilson was selected as the result of a nine-month search process led by the ORU Presidential Search Committee made up of representatives from the ORU Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, alumni and students. The board leveraged the expertise of CarterBaldwin Executive Search. More than 170 presidential prospects were nominated for consideration.
“Oral had a saying on his desk: Make no little plans here,” Wilson says. “This is really the drive of my life. I love to dream big, and I believe ORU gives us that possibility and capability to dream big for the future.”
Wilson has fostered unique global partnerships through Empowered21—an initiative launched at ORU that brings together ministry leaders, scholars and next-generation voices from the Spirit-empowered movement. Empowered21 has expanded exponentially and today influences nations through 12 regional cabinets with significant ministry leaders.
“As ORU leads in the Spirit-empowered movement, we want to be a servant to this movement,” Wilson said. “God is calling us to serve. My prayer is that ORU will have a servant heart and a servant mentality. I want us to serve our community, I want us to serve the world at large, and I especially want us to serve the Spirit-empowered movement in a way that enhances all the ministries that we touch around the world.”
During more than 30 years of ministry, Wilson has served as church administrator, international youth director, senior pastor and international evangelist. He has traveled to more than 75 nations to minister the gospel. He has also authored numerous articles, sermon series’, video projects and books, includingFasting Forward: Advancing Your Spiritual Life Through Fasting, Foundations of Faith, and his latest book, Father Cry. Through his weekly program, Voice of Salvation Ministries’ World Impact, Wilson shares the gospel in all 50 states and 200 nations, with a potential viewing audience of 650 million.
Wilson also served as the executive officer for the Azusa Street Centennial in 2006 in Los Angeles, where more than 50,000 people gathered from 106 nations of the world to celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the Azusa Street Revival.
A native of Owensboro, Ky., Wilson graduated from Western Kentucky University with a Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education in 1979. He graduated from the Church of God of Prophecy Bible Training Institute in 1983. He received his Master of Arts degree with a concentration in Evangelism and World Missions at the Church of God Theological Seminary in 1997. He earned his Doctor of Ministry program at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary in 2012. He is an ordained bishop with ministry credentials from the Church of God.
Wilson and his wife, Lisa, currently live Cleveland, Tenn. They have one daughter, Sara, who is serving as a missionary in Paraguay with her husband Shaun and children Abigail and Samuel. The Wilsons’ son, Ashley, is currently pastoring a new church plant in Lexington, Ky., along with his wife Jamie and their children, Anna, Aaron and Amelia.
ORU is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Founded in 1963, ORU serves students from 49 states and more than 50 countries, representing more than 40 denominations. ORU offers more than 60 undergraduate majors, 14 master’s programs and two doctoral degrees, plus NCAA Division I athletics.
Millard Maynard, a pioneer in Indian ministry, has gone home to be with the Lord. Maynard passed away on Sept. 5.
Born on Nov. 11, 1925, Maynard was ordained as a minister in the Church of God in 1946. He was later ordained as a bishop in 1954. He retired from pastoring Saddletree Church of God in Lumberton, N.C., some years ago, but remained a mentor to many in the area—including singer and pastor Judy Jacobs.
“Dr. Maynard was my very first pastor growing up as a little girl. My mom and dad had 12 kids so I was at church before I was in the world,” Jacobs says. “When I came into this world, he was one of the people that was there to help shape and mold me. He really spoke into my life.”
Not only was Maynard Jacobs’ first pastor, she also launched her music ministry in his church. After high school, he gave her a position as minister of music. Jacobs is the founder of His Song Ministries. She travels the globe ministering to thousands worldwide about the joy of just “letting go” in our worship time with Jesus.
“Dr. Maynard was pioneer in his day of bringing Pentecost to the area. He helped to bring revivalists to Lumberton, like Oral Robertsand Dr. T.L. Lowery,” Jacobs recalls. “These men introduced us to realPentecost and the power of God. He was a mover and shaker. He knew what to do and how to do it. He was a very educated man. He helped a lot of people.”
Married to a Caucasian, the Indian preacher helped establish many churches in the region, both Native American and white congregations.
“He was an advocate for equality. He believed in people of all races coming together. He loved the whites, Indians, blacks, Asians … He loved all people,” Jacobs says, noting he was also a prolific singer and songwriter with a beautiful voice.
“He was a gospel preacher. Many thousand of people have been saved under his dynamic ministry. He’s traveled the world holding crusades,” Jacobs says. “He was a very loved man of God. I will miss him.”