by Mark Akers (M.A. 2011), pastor, Victorious Life Assembly of God, Lewisville, Texas
AGTS has made a real difference in my pastorate. Growing up, my pastor’s model of church was “Love God, love the people, pray a lot, preach the Word, and the church will grow.” That is the model I carried with me for most of my ministry; yet I found that this approach had limits. The growth we experienced did not remain. There was something missing.
I started looking for that missing piece. I attended all kinds of church-growth seminars. I’ve been Maxwell-ized, Hybel-ized, and Warren-ized. These approaches emphasized pieces of the puzzle, but I could never get all the pieces to fit into a unified whole. By attending AGTS and the Orlando Branch cohort, I finally got a working model of how all the pieces fit and flow together—a workable model of what church life is supposed to look like.
Over the last 24 months, since my attending AGTS, our church has grown 36 percent. On Easter we had more than 500 people in attendance—which, for us, is a big deal. Sure, getting them in the building is only the first part of the process—and frankly, the easiest part. Now we know what to do with them once they have come.
Another aspect of my experience at AGTS that has impacted me has been the relationships I developed. I’ve always found the ministry to be a lonely place. A lot of that is my own fault. I’m not all that good at the “networking thing” and pastors are just so busy. I was always so absorbed in doing ministry that I didn’t have time for relationship building. However, in the cohort I found the greatest bunch of people it has ever been my privilege to associate with.
We started off as acquaintances, then became friends, and then ministry partners. By the time the cohort ended we were praying for each other, sharing class notes, book reviews and even our graded papers. It became a team effort to leave no one behind. There were a couple of times I was so stuck on how to do a paper I couldn’t get started. At those points, someone would share with me their paper or their approach and it helped break the logjam in my thinking. I did the same with others. Competition had given way to collaboration and partnership. I will carry with me the relationships I made at AGTS for the rest of my life.
That sense of relationship is not confined to the Orlando branch, either. It extends to the faculty and staff on the main campus of AGTS. Attending AGTS while pastoring an active church was a grueling experience. In addition, a routine medical examine revealed potentially dangerous findings for my wife during the fall 2010 semester. We knew immediately it was going to require surgery, but not what kind or how. The “C” word hanging over us. I needed to make plans to be with her. I emailed Dr. Randy Walls and explained our situation and asked if I could take the upcoming course by directed research. He was very gracious and said that they would work with me whatever I needed to do. Four hours later, I received a personal email from President Byron Klaus saying, “Randy shared with us in the Finance Committee meeting the situation with Sharon. I want you to know that we had fervent prayer for her …”
When I shared that email with my wife a few hours later, we had a good cry. We were so touched that people 500 miles away cared enough about us to interrupt a committee meeting to pray for us. Thankfully, we discovered it was not cancer. They caught it in a precancerous state.
I want to finish by saying thank you to the faculty and staff of AGTS for all you have poured into my life. You are sending me back to my church a better pastor than when I came here.