A vision for Africa & the local poor
RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)--The idea of a transformational church is nothing new to James Gailliard. It's just business as usual.
"Transformation comes by making daily adjustments that make you look more like Jesus," said Gailliard, pastor of Word Tabernacle Church in Rocky Mount, N.C.
Gailliard was one of the evening preachers at the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center, which drew more than 1,000 participants to North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains.
In every sermon at Word Tabernacle, Gailliard asks the congregation to find at least one thing they are willing to change about themselves to draw them closer to the goal of becoming like Jesus.
"Real church forces change," he said. "Always."
Gailliard said he constantly challenges the status quo. "It's just too easy to sit back and take it [God's message] in without letting it out. Too many of us brag on what we learn when we spend time in the Word instead of letting it be about self-assessment.
"You get closer to God, not just because you read the Word, but when you get challenged by it and make those daily adjustments," he said.
SENSING GOD'S VISION
Being willing to adjust has consistently been part of his church planting ministry through the years. As a church planter in Philadelphia in 2003, he sensed God giving him a vision for starting a church in Africa.
"I was willing, but I'd never been to Africa. I didn't even know anyone in Africa to call about it," Gailliard said. Even so, the idea intrigued him and didn't go away.
"One day I was sitting in my office and my phone rang," he said. "It was Johnny Hunt [pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga.] and he asked me to go with him and a group of pastors to South Africa to start churches."
What made Gailliard certain this was God's divine planning was he didn't know Hunt and Hunt didn't know him. The only connection was that Hunt had read about Gailliard being named one of the North American Mission Board's church planters of the year.
"I couldn't believe it," Gailliard remembered with a laugh. "I guess if God wanted me to plant a church in Africa, He could make it happen and use Johnny Hunt to do it."
Gailliard's ministry as a church planter has led to him being involved in starting 24 churches in the U.S. and abroad.
"I love planting new churches," he said. "I can't believe God has let me be a part of that."
In 2005, Gailliard went to Rocky Mount, N.C., for a church planting training event and sensed God telling him it was a place of opportunity. Word Tabernacle opened its doors there in 2006 with 14 people in attendance. Today, it has about 1,800 members. Its growth is somewhat atypical, Gailliard said.
"About 55 percent of our members have been baptized there," he said. "We have communion and baptism every Sunday afternoon. We haven't missed a Sunday baptizing since that first Sunday."
At Word Tabernacle, Gailliard isn't the only one who baptizes, either. Any church member can baptize new believers they have led to Christ. The church always looks to Scripture to make decisions rather than tradition, he said. "It's not my perspective, but what does the Bible say," he noted.
"We looked at the Great Commission [in the Gospel of Matthew] and didn't see that it said a preacher had to do the baptizing," he continued, adding that it is meaningful to see parents baptizing their children and students baptizing other students.
"When you lead someone to the Lord, then walk with them through baptism, it puts a level of accountability like nothing else," Gailliard said.
Another unique aspect of the church is that the invitation is at the beginning of the service rather than after the sermon.
"We have our deacons and other members explain salvation and invite people to come forward to make a decision or ask questions," Gailliard said. "We use the same wording every time on how to lead someone to receive Christ. Our people hear it repeated every Sunday so they learn it by heart. That way they know how and don't have to worry about what to say. You have to remember that most of our new people aren't Christians so we keep it simple and consistent."
The church is located in Edgecomb County, one of the most economically disadvantaged in the U.S.
"About a third of our church is unemployed," Gailliard said. Recognizing the opportunity to help, Word Tabernacle has developed approximately 50 active ministries in tandem with its spiritual ministries in the areas of food and clothing assistance, a medical clinic, an apartment house and a relationship with a local community college for job training and life skills.
"Last year, our church had the most hires of any 'business' in the county," Gailliard said proudly.
Having solid resources at the church has made teaching and discipling easier and better organized, the pastor said, voicing appreciation for what LifeWay has to offer in terms of consultation, training and curriculum.
"We use the 'YOU' and 'KNOWN' curriculum as a part of our church-wide study," he said. "Of course we do some tweaking to make it work for us, like anyone would do, but it's really good and speaks to our congregation. I use 'Facts and Trends' all the time for sermon illustrations, statistics and resource information. It's on my desk right now. And Jay Wells [LifeWay's director of black church relations and consulting] always has great suggestions and advice whenever I call him. We use all kinds of LifeWay stuff! I trust it."
Gailliard said he has been attending Black Church Week, held July 19-23 this summer, for about 10 years and always appreciates the fellowship and training but had a cautionary word for those who might confuse having an enthusiasm with the event with having an experience with God.
"Whenever I'm having an encounter with God, it becomes an event," he said. "I come here and get wonderful training and have a great time, but it's my time with Him that sustains me."
Polly House is a corporate communications specialist with LifeWay Christian Resources.