Catch him if you can! Pastor Steve Willeford of St. Louis is a man on the run. A persistent person – such as an AIS reporter – can occasionally catch him for an interview. But for the most part, Bro. Willeford stays on the move. But this is no idle running that Bro. Willeford does. From his work as the newly-elected Missouri district secretary, to his role as a Christian school administrator, to his pastoral duties, to his various outreach endeavors, Bro. Willeford’s is serious business. And, as Bro. Willeford himself often points out, “God’s business requires serious-mindedness and diligence.”
“I’ve had ministers tell me that they observed a serious-mindedness in me concerning the work of God. But God’s work is serious business, and I often try to convey that seriousness to others, particularly my congregation.”
There’s little doubt that Bro. Willeford has, at least to an extent, communicated this attitude to his church. Apostolic Pentecostal Church in St. Louis, Missouri is experiencing solid growth, currently averaging about 365 in attendance and about 415 when adding their various “extension” ministries. Bro. Willeford attributes their success to the saints’ individual burdens.
“I’m encouraged by the fact that the congregation has a vision for revival. It’s not something I have to continually pump into them,” he said. “We have an annual dinner for those people in the church who are actively involved in ministry. At a recent dinner, I was pleasantly surprised to find that over 100 people attended. The fact that about one-third of our congregation is involved in reaching out, I think is a pretty good average.”
Bro. Willeford’s no-nonsense approach to ministry is nothing new. It has stood him well throughout his life and especially throughout his church experience. Practically his entire life has been spent at the church he now pastors. Bro. Willeford grew up in this church, having received the Holy Ghost there at age 10. During his youth, he attended the University of Missouri for a year and then received his B.A. from Gateway College of Evangelism in St. Louis, Missouri.
“Bro. W.C. Parkey, who was the Gateway president while I was there, was one of the most influential men in my life. He had a great concern for young people, especially young ministers,” Pastor Willeford recalled. “Also, my former pastors, Harry Branding and Winfred Black, had a tremendous impact on my ministry. Bro. Branding influenced me because of his strong leadership skills, and Bro. Black’s positive revival attitude impressed me.”
It was also during his youth that Bro. Willeford’s seriousness concerning the ministry first began to develop. He was always actively involved in the church’s various outreach ministries, such as bus ministry and door-to-door visitation.
Eventually, Bro. Willeford was asked to serve as the church’s Christian school supervisor and principal. He later served as assistant pastor.
“It was in March, 1981 that [former pastor] Louis Green indicated his desire to resign. Upon his resignation, the church considered my name and voted me in as the new pastor.” Since that time, growth has been the agenda at 13th & Gravois.
“And,” Bro. Willeford stressed, “we are anticipating further growth. We’re right now bordering on the 400 mark in attendance. Our current facility only holds about 400-450 comfortably. So we are in the early stages of projecting for growth and starting a building project. We anticipate the new building will hold about 700-800 people.
Up until now, we’ve managed to get by with minor remodeling, such as knocking out some walls and re-doing the Sunday school layout. This will be our first major expansion since I’ve been pastor. We’re talking with a builder and hopefully, by the end of this year, we’ll be fully into the actual building program.”
Bro. Willeford said the one obstacle he has fought during his pastorate is communicating the passion and vision he has to his congregation.
“Sometimes I seemed to have trouble getting the vision across to the people – getting them to see that it takes time and getting them to see what actually needs to be done. I think maybe I had some difficulty communicating the seriousness of this vision, and then, getting them to cooperate with that vision.
Cooperation is a key,” Willeford emphasized. “The church is a team, and growth requires team effort.” Lately, though, Bro. Willeford seems to have organized his “team” effectively. He has several departmental ministries operating at peak efficiency.
“We have a youth department, a Christian school, a music department, a Sunday school department, and an outreach department. I try to keep the leaders in these departments informed and motivated. I have an annual planning retreat for them, and we also have monthly planning sessions for the church’s ministers. I also try to teach them leadership principles about once a year.
And of course, Bro. Willeford tries to keep himself informed, as well. “I go to seminars. I read a lot of books, and just feed my mind with new ideas. These are things that lead to positive church growth,” he stressed.
But if the organizational structure is effective, the outreach program at Apostolic Pentecostal Church is more so.
“Basically, the programs we use,” Willeford said, “are bus ministry, Spirit of Freedom ministry to alcoholics, home Bible study. nursing home, prison ministry, and one of our most effective programs: Enroll To Grow.
It was about 1986 when we first started using the Enroll-To-Grow program. We have called it Prayer and Outreach Revival.” En-roll-To-Grow entails workers going to neighborhood homes and offering them the services of the church; they become “members” of the Sunday school, entitled to all the privileges of being a S .S. member. Willeford continued:
“Enroll-To-Grow has really increased our average attendance significantly. Although I’m not sure of the exact number, we graphed it out. And from the year that we first implemented the program, we saw a definite rise on the graph.”
Bro. Willeford said that there are other keys to having revival besides good outreach methods. He said that having a strong move of God is also crucial.
“To have revival, you need to have strong spirituality in your church’s worship services. That’s one of the things that people see that is different about our church. They see spiritual, power-packed services, along with people who convey a family atmosphere. Then, on top of that, you need to have solid Bible teaching.
“Beyond that, you also have to prepare for growth by setting goals and organizing your church structure. You must have short term and long term projections.”
Plus, said Willeford, there are important things that only the pastor can do to facilitate revival:
“A revival pastor needs to keep himself open to new ideas. Read and attend seminars and conferences to obtain fresh ideas. But most of all, the pastor himself needs to be spiritually strong. He must maintain his own prayer time and Bible study.”
Bro. Willeford, as business minded as he is, stresses the need for balance in one’s life. He said that a pastor cannot allow himself to become overwhelmed.
“The minister must place a priority upon his own spiritual well-being. Don’t get so
caught up in church activities that you ignore prayer. And of course, if he has a family, he also must balance his time between church work and his family.”
Bro. Willeford also advised pastors that they be tolerant of flaws in his church. He said, looking hack,
“If I could have changed anything about my early years as a pastor, I would have been more patient. A pastor needs to be patient of his people’s shortcomings.” He said that it sometimes takes awhile for the congregation to catch the pastor’s vision for growth and revival.
Any final advice to other pastors hungry for growth and revival?
“Yes. I would simply encourage them to be patient and stay the course. Don’t give up too soon. Be positive, and preach a positive Gospel.”
As for Apostolic Pentecostal Church, they seem to have clearly caught Bro. Willeford’s vision of being ‘serious about God’s work’s.