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A Legacy of Leadership

Leadership has always been an integral part of God’s plan. In the Old Testament we see men and women ordained by God to lead His people, Israel, and in the New Testament we see Jesus investing Himself in the Apostles to carry forward the task of building His church. The Apostles in turn invest themselves in growing leaders as can be seen in the relationship of Barnabas and Paul, Paul and Timothy, etc. These leaders would guide the church through its formative stages as new believers were added and discipled.

When the General Council of the Assemblies of God was formed in the first quarter of the twentieth century, regional councils were developed under the General Council umbrella. David McDowell was chosen as the General Presbyter for the Northeast region and was asked to form a District Council east of Ohio and north of the Mason-Dixon Line. A call was extended to Pentecostal believers throughout the Northeast to meet at Glad Tidings Tabernacle in New York City in June 1917 for this purpose. Fifteen spirit-filled ministers met and signed the roster. This meeting became the first District Council of the Eastern District, and from that meeting began an incredible legacy of leadership that would guide our fellowship through a century of effective growth and development.

Reflect with me for a moment how much change has occurred during the past 100 years! These leaders guided a movement through a century of modernization, two world wars (and several other significant military conflicts), a Great Depression, civil unrest and civil rights movements, and a technological expansion that is unrivaled in history. It is in this context that God has sovereignly poured out His Spirit, and entrusted that outpouring to believers and their leaders for the propagation of the Gospel. The Assemblies of God has been a key player in the Pentecostal movement, and the PennDel Ministry Network has contributed significantly to our region and to our national “General Council.” As you look at the photos and brief captions of each of our District Superintendents, you will see the legacy of 10 men who have been leaders and servants to our churches, ministers, and the Assemblies of God fellowship.

“Then Moses spoke to the Lord, saying: ‘Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, who may go out be fore them and go in before them, who may lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep which have no shepherd.’” (Numbers 27:15 – 17; NKJV)

John Coxe

John Coxe

John Coxe (1917) – served as the first District Superintendent for the newly formed “Eastern District.” The District was comprised of Pennsylvania and Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and the New England states. Coxe would serve only one year due in part to evangelistic meetings that he was holding in the mid-west.

Robert Brown

Robert Brown

Robert Brown (1918-1922) – Pastor of Glad Tidings in New York, was elected as the next “chairman” of the Eastern District. He would continue to pastor during his tenure of leadership, and would assist the fellowship in navigating the Oneness issue, sanctification as a second definite work, and women in ministry.

Joseph Tunmore

Joseph Tunmore

Joseph Tunmore (1922-1930) – after one year as both pastor and Superintendent, Joseph Tunmore was asked to do this work on a full time basis. Thus, Tunmore became the first full-time superintendent. Tunmore led the way for a basic constitution & bylaws to be adopted (written by J. Roswell Flower, and implemented before the General Council had such an instrument available). District “Home Missions” would begin under Tunmore, with the Great Depression posing challenges to the endeavor. Nevertheless, new churches were opened, and the work of the gospel continued.

J Roswell Flower

J Roswell Flower

J. Roswell Flower (1930-1936) – having exceptional organizational abilities, would lead the District in establishing a campground and Bible school (Maranatha, 1931). Under his leadership, district departments for young people, Sunday School, and foreign missions were established. Additionally, six “zones” (sections) were defined, and Presbyters were appointed to lead in their respective areas. An assistant superintendent was elected to assist Flower in his duties (Flem Van Meter of Highway Tabernacle, Philadelphia). Flower was elected as Assistant General Superintendent at the 14th General Council, and would eventually move to Springfield to fulfill those responsibilities.

Fleming Van Meter

Fleming Van Meter

Fleming Van Meter (1936-1943) – under Van Meter’s leadership, the District Secretary and Treasurer roles were combined into one full-time position. Despite the hardships of WWII, new churches were opened, and foreign missions giving continued to increase. A parsonage was built to house the District Superintendent.

Wesley Steelberg

Wesley Steelberg

Wesley Steelberg (1943) – was elected as Superintendent to lead the process of dividing the Eastern District into multiple districts. Pennsylvania-Delaware retained the legal name, and Wesley Steelberg became the Superintendent for the New York-New Jersey District. Steelberg eventually became the General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

A. Newton Chase

A. Newton Chase

A. Newton Chase (1944-1959) – saw the creation of a full time Sunday School/Christ’s Ambassador Director. Also during his leadership the Women’s and Men’s Ministry departments were created. A new office building was erected for the District, and parsonages for full-time staff were either built or purchased during this time.

Russell Williams

Russell Williams

Russell Williams (1959-1978) – wrestled with issues regarding having an accredited Bible college. Northeast Bible Institute became Northeast Bible College, and eventually moved to Phoenixville, presently the University of Valley Forge. Consolidating the camps, initiating a retirement home, and developing a district “building and loan fund” were hot button issues during William’s tenure of ministry. Property was purchased in Shippensburg to host a retirement home and central camp.

Philip Bongiorno

Philip Bongiorno

Philip Bongiorno (1978-2002) – initiated the “PennDel Loan Fund,” (now HIS Fund) which made financing church construction projects a much easier and friendly proposition. Bongiorno also led the way to consolidate the eastern and western camps into one central well-appointed conference center. A full time “assistant to the Superintendent” was added to the District staff to oversee Home Missions. Additionally, a new District Office was constructed under his leadership.

Steve Tourville

Steve Tourville

Stephen R. Tourville (2002-present) – initiated the motto “We’re Better Together,” as exemplified in the “C3” concept. Catalyst, Coaching, and Connect groups were formed, revitalizing fellowship and mutual encouragement for PennDel pastors. Although the term District is still functional, “Network” better describes the interrelationships and resourcing that are shared. Reproduction is another functional value that has driven a church planting movement throughout the Network. For the first time in our history, PennDel has crested the 400 mark, and presently lists 434 churches.

Kingdom synergy- boundless

This is a follow up post about the need for a church plant in the Lower Anthracite Coal Region between Hazleton and Shamokin:

I was on my way to Bethlehem today and met Todd Dewire for breakfast. He pastors the Foursquare church in Frackville. There is a young man in Teen Challenge right now who I met this weekend and he is from Todd’s church.
Todd is a former missionary to Honduras, 50 years old. He has an older Pentecostal church of about 30 faithful saints, and is looking to open a church plant in the Frackville Mall. Sounds like a stretch, but his heart is right. He just needs resources.
Is this an answer to our prayers concerning the tremendous need for healthy churches in the small coal towns of this region? Is this an opportunity for selfless kingdom synergy?
I invited him to our Catalyst group since we had been on a prayer journey through that area. He will share his heart with our guys and we will pray for kingdom growth there.

Road trip to a forgotten place

The primary purpose of the Catalyst movement is to reproduce and plant churches. Having been in the Lower Anthracite Coal Region for 11 years, I have become aware of a spiritual vacuum in the area between Shamokin and Hazleton.This area is filled with many small coal villages that have been deteriorating for decades. Places like Ringtown, Sheppton, Ashland, Frackville, Shenandoah, Mahanoy City, Hometown and Gilberton. They constitute a forgotten region, but are still populated with tens of thousands of souls. My research indicates that the Pentecostal witness in these towns in almost non-existent, and the church as a whole there is desperately ineffective in presenting the Gospel. The darkness and misery are almost palpable. Our hearts should ache with missionary zeal for these folks.
I recently received a call from a Christian man in one of these towns (Macedonia?) on an unrelated matter. When he realized I was a Pentecostal pastor he began to share his frustration in being unable to find a healthy spirit-filled church anywhere near his home. I knew of some good churches, but they were at least a half hour away. He and his wife are disabled.
Our Catalyst group will be taking a road trip through this region in May. We’ll be piling into our church van to chase a dream that God would send someone to break some new and difficult ground. The purpose of the trip is to birth vision and hear from God as we pray and take in the view. We will see abandoned coal structures, blighted cities, and we may even see a place that is literally burning underground (Centralia). We will engage the people and begin a conversation to get a sense of the cost involved to break the stronghold there. Darkness retreats when faced with the light.
Resources, human and otherwise, are hard to come by in these parts. The brain drain that Pennsylvania has experienced for the past decade or two began here in the 1960’s. The outlook is bleak and a church planter looking for obviously fertile ground will not find it here. Breaking through will involve toil, commitment, sacrifice and wisdom.
We tend to see white harvest fields where the population trends are moving up. I wonder is that what God sees? I am of the opinion that God delights to show Himself in such places. Where is the light more appreciated than in a desperately dark place.
I am pleased that Rodney Murphy in Hazleton shares this burden and will be joining us on this trip. He attends another Catalyst group and his church is located on the other side of this forgotten region. We seek a partnership and are asking God to send a team to discover and break the missional code for this part of the coal region. I will update this blog when we return from the trip.

Christianity Today Top Ten books for ministry leaders 2008

Here is a link to an interesting list of books from Christianity Today to provoke thought and conversation for ministry leaders.

From the article: “Charles Spurgeon counseled his students to be discriminating about what they read, and to bathe in good books “until they saturate you.” He said, “A student will find that his mental constitution is more affected by one book thoroughly mastered than by twenty books merely skimmed.” But which books to choose? Each year in ministry, leaders find there are more books to read and less time to read them. That is why Leadership is presenting the ten books of 2008 deemed most valuable for church leaders. The titles were compiled from submissions by a diverse group of more than 100 pastors from across the country. Our contributing editors then voted to determine the winners in two categories: The Leader’s Inner World, and The Leader’s Outer World. We hope this canon contributes to your development as both a follower of Christ and a leader of his church. And yes, we know canon means “list” and not “artillery,” but we still liked the image.”
ALSO- for those interested in growing your library cheaply with local library Book Sales sign up here for automatic notification of sales in your area. Books typically sell for between $1-3 for hardcovers, and .50c and $1.50 for paperbacks at these sales, but arrive early.

Communitas: intimacy through adventure

Many of us crave teamwork, adventure and risk in our leadership environment, but most of the time these are sorely missing. We are caught between our need for stability and success in ministry, and the powerful lure to live an edgier form of Christianity, like we imagine Jesus Himself and the apostles lived.

How many times have we bemoaned the lack of commitment we see from church folks? No matter how hard we promote and cajole, it seems like the same folks always make up the core of volunteers. There must be a better way to carry out Christ’s mission. What began as an amazing safari turns into a tedious trip to the zoo.

I think I may have found an answer in what Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost call “Communitas”. Dictionary.com defines it as “the sense of sharing and intimacy that develops among persons who experience liminality as a group.” “Liminality” refers to a place of threshhold, where a group is out of their normal environment and culture and moving into a new phase of experience.

Communitas describes what I felt on the cold and wet soccer field or in the suffocating wrestling room as my fellow athletes struggled together chasing the elusive goal of greatness. It is found in perhaps its most extreme form on the field of battle, when soldiers very lives depend upon their intimate relationships with their comrades.

I have always wondered why I have not found a greater sense of teamwork and closeness in church life, even among peers in our denomination. I have found most relationships to be pretty much surface level, and cooperation to be short-lived. I know I am not alone.

As a fraternity brother in the 1970’s the pursuit of communitas in the house was very intentional. In fact, it was the main goal when bringing new members into the house. The hazing and rituals were all about creating a “brotherhood” through liminality. While Christ’s methods and goals are very different from those of a secular fraternity, lessons can be drawn from what they are able to achieve.

There have been times when I felt a greater sense of communitas, as opposed to the shallow and paltry sense of “Community” we usually end up with in the church context. Short-term missions trips produce this level of relationship because they place us in a foreign environment with limited resources and uncertain outcomes. Folks feel united, exhilirated and renewed after such an experience, and are generally disappointed when they return to “normal” church.

But I have identified a few other practical ways to promote and create communitas in our churches and lives. Group fasting creates a type of communitas, as do retreats, certain types of small groups, spiritual discipline groups, and intentional missional outreaches. Articulating purpose and vision and plunging into it with others is what these ordeals are all about, and they energize people. There are innumerable ways to do this.

The idea of liminality is crucial because while we go to great lengths to make people comfortable in church, the way to intimacy and greater commitment may lie in calling them, counterintuitively, to a higher level of separation and sacrifice.

I am still researching this idea, but believe that the renewal of our movement and churches may lie in pursuing communitas. Paul had communitas in the churches he planted, and in his planting team. Jesus had it with His disciples, and when given the chance to opt out of it they replied, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life.” John 6:68

Bell to Well

Some futurists and cultural observers are positing the demise of the familiar Bell Curve which charts normal distribution and the ascendency of what is being called the Well Curve. Some have said that this only happens in times of great social upheaval and transition.
In modern times it was a given that there was a large middle and smaller extremes. The middle class was the norm, with the very rich and very poor at the fringes- smaller in number.
The theory of the well curve assumes that the middle has been slowly disappearing, and the extremes are on the rise. This is hard to argue with when you consider the evidence in education (achievers and dropouts), economics (rich and poor), technology (small and big), politics (liberal and conservative). There are examples in almost every aspect of life.
I heard Leonard Sweet touch on this at a conference last year and was intrigued. I looked for signs of this phenomenon in church life and the news. I am seeing more evidence as time goes on. The megachurch movement is an example. It seems we are seeing rises in large churches which value diversity and excellence, and also in small and house churches which value community. The “plain vanilla” church with little to distinguish itself, is becoming less attractive. I spoke with a seasoned ministry pioneer recently about a church plant in a certain community and he said the only thing that would work would be something that had “an edge to it”. That’s the edge of the well curve as I see it.
It seems this is already affecting our churches as we have some folks who are very involved in our mission, and others stay aloof and merely attned on Sunday. Some churches are doing away with membership, while others are raising the bar or providing options for membership.
Perhaps this explains the difficulty many churches are having with maintaining a viable Sunday School. It is based on a premise that everyone wants the same thing on Sunday morning. Vanilla is no longer the preferred flavor- everyone wants a custom flavor.
I think this is something to watch in the days ahead. There may be adjustments we need to make to maintain our “edge”. I think Jesus lived there!

Can God Speak Through ESPN?

Throughout the years I’ve been enamored by the similarities I’ve seen between coaching a football team and pastoring a church. I don’t know how many times, while watching an NFL Films documentary of some historic gridiron battle, that the coach’s passion, instruction or frustration matched perfectly with what I had at some time experienced in ministry.

Now I’m not a jock or a sport’s junkie or anything along those lines. In fact, the closest I’ve ever come to the chalk-marks was when my sons were younger and we became part of the fantasy football phenomena. I say “we,” but it soon became “I.” Like many of you, I don’t do anything in a small way, so I soon found myself studying the lineups, depth charts and injury reports so as to gain an advantage in the weekend match-ups. Through a brief vision the Lord revealed that this “little hobby” had innocently become a “little fox” that was stealing much from my spiritual life. (“Everything is permissible for me—but not everything is beneficial”). Before this correction, I seemed to be able to harness the conviction of the Spirit as I stood in worship on a Sunday evening; hands lifted and mouth moving, while at the same time wondering how many points my running-back and tight-end were racking up in the late starts that day. Since then, with fantasy football forsaken, it’s been all things in moderation.

This past Tuesday, however, I was once again challenged by a parallel between the coaching and pastoral worlds, and I believe God had something to say to me though ESPN. Perhaps you saw the news conference where Bobby Petrino, the head coach of the beleaguered Atlanta Falcons, resigned mid-season to accept a new position as coach at the University of Arkansas. Petrino, who was only in his first season in the pros, smiled gleefully at his press conference, noting that “it was a sad but glad day” as he severed himself from the Falcons to head back to the collegent world where he had experienced immense success the year before at lesser Louisville.

Petrino is now perceived to have “used” the Falcons as a stepping stone to a better position in the college ranks. Adding an NFL coaching job to his resume was in some critic’s minds a clever way to raise his stock as he waited for the right opening at a power-house football school. Arthur Blank, the Falcon’s owner, bemoaned the fact that “he felt betrayed” by Petrino’s resignation, seeing that the coach had apparently told him the day before that he would remain with the team.

The players were even more shocked and outspoken. Veteran tackle Grady Jackson, who was cut this season by Petrino, spurned, “It just shows his true color, like a coward with a yellow stripe down his back!” And again, “He probably didn’t want the job anyway. He was probably waiting for a better job to come along, a college job. He wanted out of Louisville.” Safety Lawyer Milloy added, “This league is for real men. I think he realized he didn’t belong here. I feel like I’ve been sleeping with the enemy.” When defensive-end Jamaal Anderson was asked about how Petrino would be remembered, he replied, “One word: Disloyal!”

But it was during cornerback Deangelo Hall’s phone interview with ESPN anchor Scott Van Pelt that something stirred in my spirit. “…We were a little bit disappointed in the decision he made,” Hall said. “But when you see him out there celebrating and smiling and having fun, you tend to be a little angry. This was the guy who wanted us to buy into his system. I was one of the guys who was a little bit leery at first, and I guess I had right cause to be because he obviously had ulterior motives when he came. He came to the Atlanta Falcons as a stepping stool to get where he wanted to be, and that’s, a better college job.”

As I listened to the comments of the “Falcon congregation” regarding the departure of their “lead pastor,” I realized that these are the same feelings and emotions that arise within the church when the shepherd “chooses” to move on to more pleasant pastures after having just convinced the congregation to “buy into their system.” I say “chooses” because, while I can’t discount the fact that God can and does move people in ministry, I am not convinced that every pastoral transition is in obedience to the Spirit’s voice. Sadly, Petrino is a parable of many of the leaders of our day. Hirelings and opportunists who move from church to church, bolstering their resume in pursuit of that illustrious ministry, yet willfully ignorant of the great hurt and disappointment they leave in their wake.

Petrino’s world was surely complicated by the negative press associated with the arrest, trial and conviction of quarterback Michael Vick, who was sentenced the day before the coach’s resignation to 23 months in prison on dog-fighting charges. But Petrino knew it was going to be a demanding position even before he inked-out his five-year, $24 million contract (OK – this is where the pastoral parallel breaks down). We must ask ourselves as spiritual leaders; “Are we going to quit simply because we are facing the challenges we were told to expect when we first answered the call to ministry?” Are we really to be surprised when the going gets tough or opposition rises against us? The Apostle Paul’s instruction to “beware of dogs” in Philippians 3:2 isn’t a warning to mailmen (or quarterbacks). Instead it speaks of the spiritual dogfights which we can expect to encounter as the Kingdom of God advances against the darkness of this present age. This league really is for real men! Sadly, many leaders transition out mid-season in their ministry because results don’t come as quickly as expected. Like Petrino, who resigned after dropping his tenth game of the year, many pastors decide to “go back” to their comfort zone; back to the where all of the challenges are understood; back to the realm where they are guaranteed some measure of success.

At his responding press conference, owner Arthur Blank, looking like he’d been stabbed in the back, made reference to a sign on the wall posted by Petrino in the team meeting room soon after his hiring. The sign listed the traits the new coach demanded from his players. Blank made special reference to Petrino’s final characteristic – Finish! My friend, this word is not limited to the locker room but should be etched indelibly upon every leader’s heart. Speaking sarcastically, Blank added, “I don’t think quitting after 13 games is equal to the word ‘Finish!”

Is it Monday yet? Da-Nuh-Nuh; Da-Nuh-Nuh!

Changing bulbs

Changing Bulbs

It seemed like a radical idea. Last week we decided to transition all of the incandescent light bulbs in our home to the new earth-friendly CFL bulbs. I am not under the delusion that this will somehow “save the planet”, but they last ten years and use 1/4 the power. I can live with that!
I was able to get a great deal on a whole bunch of them on Ebay. We changed every bulb in the house for under $35. I should recover those costs in a little over a year. After that, it’s all gravy! I am more than willing to have others consider me environmentally responsible, but I must confess that my real motivation was capitalistic!
The question my kids and wife had was “will they be as bright as the old bulbs?” As I installed the first few new bulbs, I got a little nervous. They were definitely not as bright as the old ones. In fact, they were downright dim! Instead of being praised for such a responsible carbon-neutral decision, I would now be mocked for my foolhardy scheme. Oh the shame.
But alas, I soon noticed that the bulbs were brightening. In fact, they were clearly brighter than the old incandescents, and my fear turned to brimming pride. My daughter came out of the bathroom and said, “I can see myself in the mirror better than before!” Case closed.
You see, the new bulbs start out slow, but after less than a minute they warm up and outperform the old bulbs easily. We are now bathing in cheaper, stronger light, and we won’t have to change bulbs for another decade!
Now for the metaphor.
We are in the midst of a huge shift in our culture, and in how the church functions and fulfills its mission in the world, especially here in America. There are many of our colleagues who fail to see how to make the necessary changes to transition their flocks. They are used to the yellow incandescent glow, and cannot imagine trying something new.
I must admit that initially the results of the changes we are making (Penn Del C3, attractional to missional, corporate to apostolic) look a little dim. My belief is that we are in the warming period. The full glow will not be seen for some years, but I am certain it will come if we stay on course. We must continue to change to stay on course. It’s fluid.
I sense God’s hand in it, and His pleasure as I let go of my tried and true formulae and grab a hold of His mighty coattails for a free ride into the light. I sense it when I share what God is doing and saying with a group of pastors. They either lean forward and their eyes light up, or they look away, fearing what the changes might mean for them and their church.
We were promised boldness when the spirit came upon us. Lord, deliver us from fear, and propel us with missionary zeal to embrace your change. These are radical days and they call for radical measures. I don’t care to bask in the afterglow of dying embers when the Lord is starting a new fire. (sorry, I guess I switched metaphors there :))


I listened to Nancy Ortberg at the Catalyst Labs in Atlanta a few weeks ago. Her workshop was titled “Authentic Leadership” and was good, but one sentence became defining for me this past week. “Conflict is the only way to intimacy.” I was intrigued by it at the time, but it has come to embody so much of what we have been through for nine years.

I am not drawn to categorical statements like this one. I tend to see things in shades of gray rather than black and white. “Conflict can’t be the only way to intimacy,” I thought, there must be some other paths. There may be, but we experienced the power of conflict in a leadership meeting last week and it did bring us to the place of intimacy. And there are other applications as well.

The first and most obvious reality here is that the determinate conflict of the cross produced the ultimate opportunity for intimacy for the entire human race- any who will respond. The battle raged in the twisted and bloodied body of the Savior and broke a course for us to enjoy the real and awesome, intimate and personal presence of the Father.

Likewise, a birthing mother emerges from the grueling battle to tenderly embrace the little one in the epitomic act of intimacy. Without her struggle there would be stillbirth. Her conflict forces life out of her and into the child. We pray for her in the struggle, and celebrate with her in motherhood.

I am testing this truth in other places too. As I enter the conflict of my 50th winter, with all it’s winds and bitterness, I do so anticipating the tender quiet walks in the warming spring air that will inevitably be possible on the other side. The conflict helps me appreciate the peace and growth that will surely come.

In our leadership meeting last week we were reviewing a recent conflict that ended with the departure of one family. I had not the slightest idea how the meeting would develop, but simply trusted God to lead us. There were some extremely tense moments, and the Lord had to prophetically intervene, but the conclusion was tears and revelation that had the effect of creating a new intimacy among us. I was exhausted at the conclusion, kind of like giving birth.

Our church is located in an old coal mining culture that has made an art out of conflict. Our church family has been through some major battles in the past 25 years, and some casualties have fallen. Having weathered some conflicts here myself in the past nine years I have wondered if anything good can ever come from the splits and quarrels that have sometimes divided us. Now I have some hope that we can transition into a culture of peace and close relationship, modeled by our leadership, if we will learn to allow the conflict to create intimacy.

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