Can a lost person worship?

by Will Hall, |
As part of its January 2015 outreach to the community, New Heights Church gave 80 families enough non-perishable food items for a week. | New Heights Church

PINEVILLE, Ky. (Christian Examiner) – Plans were made for a four-day old-fashioned revival; an international ministry offered to supply non-perishables to give a week's worth of food to families; and, a fast food restaurant pledged to feed attendees one night.

But a question about a lost person made organizers re-think what they had envisioned -- to listen for God's small voice -- and commitments fell through, causing the coordinators to walk in faith.

In the end, despite details falling apart at the last minute, at least 14 lives were changed forever.

Mark Elkins is pastor of New Heights Church, a small but growing vibrant congregation in Pineville, a town of about 1,700 in the depressed coalfields of Bell County Kentucky.

Each year his congregation plans "something crazy" in January to connect with the community.

This year, working with evangelist Steve Paysen of Toccoa, Georgia, the contemporary congregation decided to do something they had not done before, an old-fashioned four-day revival.

The facilities were secured and everything started to fall into place.

"We're going to bring a truckload of food to give to the people," Paysen told Elkins, and a supporter of Paysen's ministry offered to feed everyone one night of the campaign.

"As we developed our vision, we contacted other pastors to invite them to be part," Elkins told Christian Examiner. "But we cautioned them this was not for church people -- that this was for the lost."

That thought put Elkins under conviction the next day.

Then a friend asked him, "Can a lost person worship?" causing something of a spiritual dilemma.

"I was a teacher for 18 years and no matter the topic, in my experience, when a student couldn't grasp the concept or understand the task, they felt frustration, discouragement, anger, and self-esteem issues that created barriers preventing them from learning," he said.

As he thought and prayed, God spoke to his heart that it was not about his plans or a company's donations or a ministry's contributions. "I heard him say, 'Not by might, nor by power, nor by your creativity, nor by your organization, nor by your charismatic approach, but by My Spirit says the Lord.'"

So, the leadership team "backed up and punted."

After some prayer, they switched from a four-day format to a Saturday night and Sunday night event. Instead of hymns that lost people would not know, they regrouped to identify "clean" radio songs everyone could sing and enjoy.

Although relatively youthful, the New Heights Church praise team learned some "clean" radio songs pretty quickly to step into the gap as musical entertainment for the community outreach. | New Heights Church

"We decided to do something that would make it comfortable for people we were targeting -- a happy, laughing, toe-tapping atmosphere to get them comfortable, and remove all the barriers so they would be open to hear the Gospel," he said.

Then God caused them to rethink their reliance on others to supply some of the needs.

The offer of non-perishable food went away then the original plan to feed the crowd one night fell through because of logistics.

"I had $500 to do the whole event," Elkins explained, and that would only cover the cost of the rented theater. "I already had been on radio advertising we're going to send you home with a week's worth of food when Steve called to let me know the deals fell through."

Adding insult to injury, the music leader who had committed to lead the event backed out.

But God showed He would provide.

"I talked to my music guy, but we have a young team -- two teens and a 30-something mom." It did not matter. "We've got your back," he told Elkins.

"I pulled enough money out of my account to buy an I-Pad mini and $200 in gift cards," he said.

Then donations came in one at a time, $100, $34, $208, and gift cards to take the place of a planned car giveaway that never developed.

"I cast this vision to a group of people, and a lady wrote a $1000 check," Elkins shared.

When all was said and done, he was able to cover the cost of the things he had purchased and had $150 left.

Paysen arrived the Thursday before the weekend event.

When he and Elkins talked the next day, "Steve said let's double down," Elkins recounted, "and he pulled $150 from his wallet and we went shopping [combined with what Elkins had in hand] to see what we could buy in terms of foodstuffs to give to families."

"Mike Long's Pic Pac helped us out and we got way more than what $300 should buy."

Paysen also had some good news about feeding everyone. He got a $500 donation from the fast food franchisee as a backup for not being able to send meals by a refrigerated truck.

But Elkins also was surprised with $200 from one man, and $150 from another, and on Saturday a $200 check arrived from a cousin.

"We were able to supply 80 families with chicken, rice, beans, pancake mix and gave away 45 items. People left happy," Elkins shared elatedly.

On top of that the local Papa John's donated 20 pizzas for Sunday, but made a mistake about the date and delivered them for Saturday's event—then brought 30 more pizzas for the Sunday Super Bowl party.

"Here's the great news, 11 people gave their lives to Christ," on Saturday, Elkins said.

In all, there were 130 people total for the celebration on Saturday, but only 85 who were there were "targeted" for the event, he said, meaning the rest were church members, so they had netted a good portion of the population they were trying to reach.

And that was just a start.

On Sunday Paysen preached to the congregation during morning worship and dozens of members came forward to recommit to a daily walk with Christ.

Then Sunday night was the Super Bowl party, a time for just having fun, Elkins said. "It wasn't an evangelistic event or any kind of religious experience." Except at halftime there was a celebration of three decisions that were made by holding a baptism service. One backed out, but the two others had an impact on those who came to watch the game.

The first was a woman who declared herself a prophetess of darkness who tinkered with demons. But she wanted out of that lifestyle and after intensive counseling professed Jesus as Lord.

The other candidate was a boy who just knew he needed to take the next step. Elkins described him as a good youngster who evidenced he had been raised in the admonition of the Lord.

Then Elkins felt led to open up the service to others who might be under conviction.

A 10-year-old girl came running down the aisle with her hand raised. Her mother confirmed the youngster had prayed for salvation a year earlier but the family had not found a church home ... until then. So the little girl was counseled and baptized.

After drying off and changing clothes, Elkins was told another teenager was in the hallway being counseled by her father and one more was with the youth pastor getting her heart right with God.

When all was said and done, there were 14 salvation decisions and 3 baptisms—all from a celebration with "clean" radio music one night and having fun watching the Super Bowl another evening.

Elkins was struck by what God had taught him.

"I realized God was telling me, 'I'm going to do it My way, so no one else gets the glory,' he said. "It was a real refresher that God works 'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.'"