Arthur Holland came to visit New Generation Ministries because his brother and mother kept inviting him. He had been very involved in other ministries, even to the extent of being an ordained minister in the church he was attending at the time. But what he felt that Sunday at New Generation blew him away.
“I experienced the true presence of God at a higher level than I had ever experienced before, so it was a very easy decision when God said that this was where I needed to be,” Holland said.
James and Elizabeth Francis, who are the pastors of New Generation Ministries and brought their church to Forest Park in January of 2007, agree with Holland’s assessment of what is happening at 848 Ferdinand Ave. every Sunday. James Francis said that after he speaks at pastors’ conferences, many ministers will say afterwards that God has trusted him to be a pattern and a template for that not many people have.
“We’re going to turn the church into what it is supposed to be,” Holland said, explaining that this new vision of church is something God has shown him.
Francis described what he refers to as old church culture by drawing an analogy between church and a school classroom. In the old church culture, he said, it’s like having a student who comes to class every day but doesn’t do his homework and shows no signs of changing. Although the class hasn’t impacted his life at all, the teacher passes him because of his perfect attendance.
“I don’t allow that here,” Francis said. “I don’t allow adults to come in here without pen and paper, without being prepared to take notes, because if man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, why shouldn’t he be intelligent enough to study it?”
Francis drew another analogy to describe the new paradigm being promoted at New Generation Ministries.
“The salvation of your soul is the beginning, but we are concerned with what happens after that,” he said. “The old church culture allows new born babies to never progress out of baby behaviors. You come but you don’t change, you don’t help us love people, you don’t give, you don’t allow us to train you.”
Change is what New Generation is all about, and that kind of ministry is very labor intensive. Arthur Holland’s brother, Ken, is a good example of how James and Elizabeth have made an impact. When they met, Ken was going through a difficult time in his life. James then spent hours mentoring Ken on how to apply Bible principles to his everyday life.
“Where doors used to be closing on him, now everywhere he goes he’s promoted to management, because he’s submitted,” James Francis said. “He began to trust more and more in my leadership, because what I was telling him was happening in his life.”
After teaching people how to get their lives together, the husband/wife team then trains their members for leadership in the ministry.
“When I came to the church, I didn’t know anything about building a ministry,” Holland said. “Pastor James has spent countless hours with me teaching me the skills necessary to lead God’s people.”
At present, Elder Ken is on the praise and worship team, teaches in the children’s ministry, is an intercessor and teaches Bible study. What’s more – and this is perhaps most important in terms of church dynamics – he along with his mother were instrumental in introducing his brother to the church. And so the process recycled and began with Arthur, who is now a deacon in the ministry.
The two pastors insist that what they are building is a system and not a clergy centered ministry.
“What we’re finding out is that people are being trained to go to church and love a man or a woman’s ministry,” James Francis said. He referred to these kinds of pastors as “ministry stars.”
James and Elizabeth are more concerned with creating a new culture or system that does not depend on their personalities. He and his wife are planning to attend a conference soon and will not worry a bit about how the service will go on Sunday afternoon. He believes that he and Elizabeth have done a good enough job in training New Generation’s leadership team that any visitors that day will experience the same level of worship, teaching and love that they would experience had the pastors been present.
“You can feel it here,” he said. “All the visitors say to me ‘your people are so nice.’ They’re nice, because that’s how we’ve treated them.”
People can’t get into the system or even know what it feels like, of course, unless they first come through the door and check the church out. It is for that reason that New Generation Ministries hosted a Valentine’s Day party last month. On a cold Friday evening, the church doors were opened and New Generation members and their invited guests walked into the social hall where the tables were decorated with red cloths and dance music was playing on the stereo.
Ken Holland got up and, with humor and coaxing, got five couples out on the dance floor.
“Any steppers in the room,” Holland shouted over the music. “I release you to have fun!”
After 45 minutes of dancing, the group lined up at the buffet table where they filled their plates with a catered meal. Following dinner, the congregation put on a talent show that included standup comedy, singing and a poetry reading by Ken and Arthur’s father, the man everyone called Papa Holland.
The ministry’s objective that night was to get people in the door and let them get a feel for what the people in the church are like. The final event of the evening was the renewing of marriage vows by several couples in the congregation, which gave visitors a no-risk glimpse of the ministry’s more spiritual mode.
Even during the renewing of vows, however, James Francis used a lot of humor and intentionally presented himself as an everyman.
“Our job is to love you enough so that you will listen to what we have,” he said.
New Generation Ministries is planning many more events and programs to bring people in the door. They are putting together a series of classes to train single women to be prepared for marriage: how to dress, carry themselves and “market” themselves as intelligent women. Francis wants to buy a machine that can cook more than a hundred hot dogs at a time and schedule movie nights for children. He wants to give classes on finances and parenting as well.
“It’s no different from when I was a financial advisor,” he said. “My job is to know what I know, and know it to be true. I position myself with the best products, so when I speak to you about anything that I’m representing, I’m not doing it to get over on you. I’m doing it to benefit you … and you should feel that when I speak about it.”