When I felt led to start a small church magazine, I barely knew what God had in store. That magazine released 36 years ago today, so I thought it was appropriate to reflect on what's happened, and more importantly what is on the verge of happening as we move boldly into the digital world.
Many of you know Charisma started at a megachurch in central Florida. I was working full time as a newspaper reporter then. My, how the media world has changed! The staff found this in the archives: a black-and-white photo of me holding a copy of The Rock, a youth newspaper that I published before Charisma. They had me hold an iPad to show the contrast. Back then I could have never imagined today's iPad! Yet I dreamed that maybe somehow we'd reach a million people. Do you know how many trees you'd have to cut down to print that many magazines?
So from 1975—before the personal computer was invented and a time when the electric typewriter I used was considered high-tech—fast-forward more than three decades and now Charisma (and our other magazines) are available in digital format that's almost beyond belief.
I wish you could have experienced the powerful connections that took place recently at our headquarters near Orlando, Fla., with high level ministry and business leaders. It illustrated the “power of connection,” which to me is important since I am a “networker” by nature.
Graham Power, a successful Christian businessman from South Africa who founded the Global Day of Prayer, shared from his rich experience in the marketplace and in ministry. He taught on principles of leadership and living out one's calling as a believer in the business world in a program he calls "Unashamably Ethical." Click here to listen to an interview with Power.
We also had time to talk in a confidential round-table setting about some of the opportunities and challenges we were facing in our different situations, share ideas, offer counsel and of course pray together. We all left encouraged and equipped. The emails I've been getting have told how much they got as members of the new Ministry21 Network.
M21 Network (as we sometimes call it) is a relational network bringing together like-minded pastors and leaders to develop their own leadership skills, connect them with others, provide needed coaching, continuing education and wonderful resources.
For many, mother-in-law jokes have a ring of reality. But for me they don’t. I had the perfect mother-in-law—Rose Ferrell who left us this week. In the 38 years I've been her son-in-law, we never had a cross word. It was well known in the family that she always sided with the in-laws if there was ever an argument.
She lived with Joy and me for the past 3-1/2 years. She was always independent and a pleasure to have in the home. She was a godly woman, and I would hear her praying for her six children, nine grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.
Now she’s gone. On Monday, at age 96, she breathed her last surrounded by family and friends. I had spent the night with her in the hospital on Friday, helping the nurses care for her. I fed her breakfast and she was doing so well I took off the next morning for the annual booksellers convention in Atlanta. But she had been hospitalized for congestive heart failure and Monday morning it was obvious it was a matter of hours until she died. As soon as I found out, I immediately flew home from Atlanta and arrived at the hospital in Altamonte Springs, Fla., an hour before her heart quit beating.
For nearly 10 years, I've been meeting three times a year with 10 business and ministry leaders in a small closed group we call “CEO.” We gave it that name because you must be a CEO to be invited. It's for accountability and for what the Bible calls “iron sharpening iron.” I can't tell you how valuable it is to discuss important issues I'm dealing with both in business and my personal life with men I know care about me, who have come to understand me and will keep everything in total confidence.
It was my small group experience that gave birth to the idea to start the Ministry21 Network—a relational network to bring together like-minded pastors and leaders to develop their own leadership skills, connect them with others, provide needed coaching, continuing education and wonderful resources. So far, we've had several hundred join; most are raving fans and tell me how some aspect of what they've learned has changed their lives.
Next week, I'm combining the two for a special networking meeting at our headquarters at 600 Rinehart Road in Lake Mary, Fla. I decided to reach out to the 35,000 who have signed up for my blog to see if you'd like to attend on June 16-17.
Last week, news stories about Randy White and Eddie Long had special meaning to me because there is a Matthew 18 story, which I have not revealed until now, where it says to go to your brother privately.
Bishop Eddie Long announced last week that he settled with four young men who accused him of having homosexual relations. Long had said he was innocent and would fight the allegations, but he settled for an undisclosed amount so "his ministry could go on." You can read more here.
The other news item was former Pastor Randy White who was picked up on driving under the influence in Tampa, Fla. You can read a secular report with the sad details. Suffice it to say, at one time, Randy was one of the brightest young pastors whose vision to reach Tampa with innovative ministries brought him a lot of accolades from civic and religious leaders. We once featured him and his ex-wife, Paula, on the cover of Ministry Today. It's so sad because, for reasons we'll never know, White let all that influence and potential go down the drain.
What wasn’t known until now is that in the late 1990s, I called Randy and asked to meet with him privately to share a concern. We both drove to the small Disney town of Celebration, Fla., about halfway between where we each lived. Over lunch I told him I was concerned that his success seemed to be promoting pride and he should be careful lest he fall. He thanked me for caring enough to come to him. He responded humbly and said he'd take the warning. I felt I had done what God wanted me to do and forgot about it.
I enjoyed attending the 19th annual Expolit trade show in Miami, Fla., last weekend. Miami is a world of its own—or, as the joke goes, one of the few places in the United States where a passport is required. Miami is certainly one of the most international cities in the country and is perfect for distributors from around Latin America. It makes sense, then, that the premier trade show for the Spanish Christian book and music industry is held there.
Luis Fernández, an industry veteran of more than 20 years, described Expolit to Dr. Don Colbert, our bestselling health author who spoke at Expolit, as “partly like NRB [National Religious Broadcasters], partly like the International Christian Retail Show and part bazaar.” I know that to be true because I’ve been attending Expolit for 18 years. I’ve seen the growth of the Spanish publishing market, and I have come to appreciate Expolits’s cultural aspects: the trade show closing for afternoon siesta, then staying open until midnight; the crowded aisles in the exhibit hall; or the music blasting from nearly every booth, each one louder than the one next door. I especially enjoy drinking sweet Cuban coffee!
Think Reinhard Bonnke and his ministry are all about the numbers? You better believe it—and here’s why that’s a good thing.
I was a young journalist attending an international conference in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1984 when I saw fliers all over town for a German evangelist named Reinhard Bonnke, who was holding huge crusades throughout Kenya. Knowing Germany wasn’t exactly a hotbed of evangelism, I was curious. African friends told me about this man’s passion to see all of Africa saved. Soon we were covering his ministry in Charisma. One of our first stories was about his massive revival tent that held up to 34,000 people. In 1985, a storm destroyed the tent in South Africa—but in the end, it didn’t seem to matter since it couldn’t have contained the hundreds of thousands who showed up.
I first met Bonnke in Brazil in 1989 when he was there for his daughter’s wedding. My wife and I had flown down to attend a Charles and Frances Hunter crusade in Rio de Janeiro, and we stayed at the same hotel as Bonnke. A friendship developed that continues today. Little did I know he would one day move his international headquarters to Orlando, Fla., which allows us to interact several times a year—most recently when he wanted to introduce me last fall to his successor, Daniel Kolenda. I actually knew Daniel’s family and visited his dad’s church in Port Charlotte, Fla., when Daniel was a little boy. In Charisma’s March issue we covered the incredible story about how after some unsuccessful attempts to find a successor, God supernaturally told Bonnke that the anointed must be appointed.
When I recently began inviting leaders to serve as guest editors for Ministry Today, I never dreamed someone of Bonnke’s worldwide stature would agree. But when we mentioned to him our vision to devote an entire issue to the topic of evangelism—and just how important it is for the church—he jumped at the chance. Bonnke served as guest editor for the May/June 2011 issue of Ministry Today. His successor, Daniel Kolenda, was the co-editor. Bonnke can explain better than I how Kolenda is transitioning to fill his huge shoes.
This isn’t just an opportunity to take over a large ministry, but also to win millions to Christ. When discussing people and souls, that word—millions—boggles most of our minds. Yet I believe it. I’ve observed how conservative Bonnke’s ministry is on reporting numbers. Sadly, many evangelists have exaggerated so much that evangelistically speaking has entered our everyday language to mean “exaggeration.”
L to R: Reinhard Bonnke, Anni Bonnke, Joy Strang, Steve Strang, Frances Hunter and Charles Hunter
But I’ve seen the multitudes with my own eyes. In 2000, I traveled to Lagos, Nigeria, to attend one of Bonnke’s massive rallies. One of the greatest spiritual experiences of my life was being there the night he ministered the baptism of the Holy Spirit to a crowd estimated at 1.6 million. For at least 20 minutes, waves of power rolled over that crowd as seemingly everyone spoke in tongues at the top of their voices.
On another night, I walked the crowd with one of his staff. I saw how they marked off areas on the ground, actually counted people in the squares and multiplied by the number of squares. I determined their numbers were believable. And during the day I saw firsthand the Fire Conference for 20,000 pastors and how they distributed the decision cards that had been filled out. African leaders told me how Bonnke’s crusades built the local church and how churches cooperated as a result.
It's estimated Bonnke has been instrumental in bringing 60 million souls to Christ and we believe that number is at least close. (Only God knows the exact number.) But the point is not entirely the number. Bonnke uses the number—as do we—not to brag but to give a frame of reference of the absolute enormity of this ministry and to give glory to God.
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Pat Morley and Man in the Mirror ministry are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. They are to be congratulated for outstanding contributions to the lives of many people—including me—and for advancing the kingdom of God.
I’ve known and admired Pat since the late 1970s when he was an up-and-coming real estate mogul in Central Florida. He was well on his way to making his Morley Properties as big as Trammel Crowe in Dallas, which was his goal.
Pat was always known as a strong Christian. He even started a prayer breakfast in Winter Park, Fla., where Charisma began. It has changed and flourished and influenced many. Pat was among those who persuaded Campus Crusade and other major evangelical ministries to relocate their headquarters to Central Florida.
Note from Steve Strang: Attending this meeting of leaders was a great honor. Please read my commentary on what I learned. I took the opportunity to bring home "flip camera" interviews with about half of the participants representing churches and ministries around the world. Each one is only 2-3 minutes but gives you more information about that ministry. If you view several or all of them, you'll begin to get a feel for what is happening around the world—and that is my goal.
What a global network of megachurch pastors can teach us
For more than three decades I’ve been reporting on the move of the Holy Spirit around the world. Much of what’s going on is wonderful. The church is growing, people and churches are being revived, miracles are happening. These are what motivated me as a young journalist to start Charisma.
However, much of what is happening isn’t wonderful. In the American church there’s more scandal and divorce, while a few so-called leaders seem more interested in enjoying a Hollywood lifestyle than in having godly character. There’s persecution around the world and culture wars at home. There’s a growing threat of humanism and militant Islam around the globe.Yet when I’m tempted to get discouraged I am reminded that no matter how bad things may be, God is in control.
This happened recently when I was invited to meet with a small group of Christian leaders in Seoul, South Korea. I’d never heard of their network, which consists mainly of several dozen megachurch pastors outside North America who meet for friendship, fellowship and to work together to fulfill the Great Commission. They have no website, and while they have a name, they’re so low-key I won’t use it here.
To be invited into the network, the churches (or networks of churches from a single church) had to have 20,000 members. Some were much higher. In Korea, 450,000; in Africa, a network with 250,000 members; in India, 80,000; in South America, 20,000.
This year, for the first time, they invited a few megachurch pastors from the U.S. They also invited CEOs of large parachurch ministries such as Campus Crusade, The Navigators, Mercy Ships, Open Doors, Alpha and several others to talk about how we can work together. I was the only one specifically invited from media and was honored to be included.
Because the meeting was below the radar screen, it wasn’t a “news event” to cover. Instead, I decided to write my opinion on the group and what I observed:
First, I came away encouraged at the state of the church worldwide. The pastors seemed full of vision. Even in countries with very difficult circumstances such as poverty in Africa or persecution in the Islamic world, they seemed to be encouraged.
I was impressed with the humility and character of those who attended. Instead of displaying huge egos as we have become accustomed to in the West, these leaders talked about their ministries with humility.
Dealing with Islam was the central theme of the meeting. Yet these pastors didn’t seem alarmed by the threat of Islam, unlike many American pastors who are stunned when they discover there’s a mosque in their town. They shared how thousands of Muslims are coming to Christ through signs and wonders, and through dreams and visions. One Arab pastor shared how his church is dealing with political unrest in his nation, adding that its churches “applaud the overthrow of the regime.”
Yet there are grave dangers and much persecution of Christians in the Islamic world. An Indonesian pastor shared how he and his wife learned to forgive the terrorists who planted a bomb in their car that exploded and left his wife without a leg.
An American attendee named Joshua Lingel has a vision to train the church in apologetics and Muslim ministry. He told us Muslims are trained in Islamic apologetics and most Christians don’t know how to answer them. His ministry, i2, has amazing training materials and a success record in winning Muslims to Christ. Well-known Christian apologist Josh McDowell added that many American evangelicals leave the faith when confronted with anti-Christian ideas because they don’t know what they believe.
Because of this extraordinary meeting I’m motivated to help American Christians understand their faith; to network more—none of us can do the job alone—to fulfill Christ’s command to share the gospel and make disciples; and to pray for more visionary, humble leaders to lead the church through theses difficult times. We Westerners have a lot we can learn if we would bother to listen.
It was early evening yesterday, April 28, when a cell-phone call let me know the devastating news: David Wilkerson had been killed in a tragic traffic accident. Dr. George Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, had just learned the news and felt I would want to report it. Knowing how important this was, we had a story online within 40 minutes that included a statement from Dr. Wood until we could get more details. The traffic on our website was so great the site temporarily crashed, and the article had more forwards on Facebook than any in the history of Charisma News.
That’s because David Wilkerson was one of the great Christian leaders of our generation, and his passing is a loss to the global church. He was the model of integrity, and he finished strong in a day when some televangelists are photographed in foreign countries with women they aren’t married to while others are exposed for secret gay activity while publicly opposing the gay agenda. Wilkerson was the paragon of virtue and his influence was tremendous.
I was in Korea the day the earthquake occurred in Japan followed by the devastating tsunami. Last time I was in Korea I stopped in Japan on the way home and met with missionary Ken Joseph Jr. This time I'm glad I didn't stop! But I've developed a friendship with Ken who emailed me the day after the earthquake to tell me how horrible it is. As I flew home I knew I had to do what I could to help. That's when I decided to reach out to you. One of the things I have through Charisma Media is influence. I want to encourage you to help in some way—even if it's small. There are many ministries helping. We are publicizing the good works of many of them as we find out what they are doing. Help us or help them, but please do something.
February 1 is a significant day for our company. It's the day we drop the name "Strang Communications" which we have been using for nearly 30 years and go by our new name: Charisma Media. We've sent out "news releases" so you may have heard about this. But I decided to send this to you because I felt you would be interested.
I shared "my heart" in a column in the February issue of Charisma and told why, as the founder of this company, I feel led to make this change. The easiest way for me is to let you read my actual column below. And then below that is the press release we sent out which has the "who, what, when, where and why" journalistic angle to the story for those of you who are interested.
Much has happened since Charisma was started in 1975in the church, in our culture and with technology. Over those 30-plus years Ive been blessed to be part of many powerful moves of the Holy Spirit. Yet seasons change.
Growing up in the 1950s, I knew there were two Christian leaders who stood head and shoulders above the rest—Oral Roberts and Billy Graham. I never dreamed I would get to know Oral personally, publish one of his books, serve on one of his boards and even visit him “to say goodbye.”
Once Oral told some leaders that if they were ever asked to speak and were unprepared, they should tell their testimony. Now I feel inadequate to pay tribute to a man who did more than probably anyone in the 20th century to bring God’s healing power to the church. So I’ll just tell my testimony of knowing him.
I met Oral through my mentor Jamie Buckingham. I was barely 30 when I was invited to a meeting of about 100 leaders in the newly built City of Faith, on the Oral Roberts University (ORU) campus in Tulsa, Oklahoma. During the meeting Oral walked around the room and prayed for each person. When he came to me he said: “Never doubt the gift that’s within you.”
I had only recently started Charisma. Oral must have sensed I was unsure about God’s call on my life. Yet he saw God’s hand on this fledgling magazine. He told me later he read every issue. And once he recorded a short endorsement that I’m so proud of I put it on the special online tribute we posted (charismamag.com/index.php/oral-roberts-tribute).
Once Oral asked me to serve on ORU’s board of regents. I felt as a journalist I needed to keep my objectivity, so I declined. Now, 25 years later, my son Cameron (who graduated from ORU) is the youngest member of ORU’s new board of trustees. Instead, I served for many years on the International Charismatic Bible Ministries board. It brought me to Tulsa for many years and I enjoyed rubbing shoulders with this great man.
I have met heads of state and titans of industry. But never had I met a man who could humbly walk into a room with such a commanding presence. But Oral wasn’t perfect, and he spoke candidly of his shortcomings.
And while he lived in utmost moral integrity, he sometimes did things he must have regretted. When he was desperate to keep ORU’s medical school afloat in the mid-1980s, he threatened that “God would take him home” if he didn’t raise the money.
I wrote an essay in our local newspaper explaining that many Christians believe after they accomplish all they can, God will call them home. That comment is often made at funerals to provide comfort when someone’s life is cut short. Apparently Oral felt that if he failed to save his medical school he would have nothing more to accomplish and he’d go to heaven.
The money did come in, but it wasn’t enough to save the medical school. ORU suffered a great setback and it left ORU heavily in debt. Yet the university and his vision survived and lives on.
The day of Oral’s funeral on December 21 I looked out my hotel window to the beautiful campus that had once been a farm on the edge of Tulsa. I’d heard Oral tell how he had walked that vacant property, prayed in tongues and then interpreted back to himself direction from the Holy Spirit. I have used that prayer technique many times.
After Oral retired to Southern California, I arranged to visit him “to say goodbye.” I took my friend R.T. Kendall, who wanted to meet him. Oral admired several of Kendall’s books, so he wanted to meet him and I went along to help conduct an interview we published in Ministry Today.
I saw him only one more time—at Mark Rutland’s inauguration as the third president of ORU. After the ceremony others on the platform exited amid great academic pageantry. As Oral was helped off the stage by his caregivers he gave a great wave as if to say goodbye.
Later Mark spent some private time with ORU’s founder. After their conversation, Oral put his feeble arm around Rutland’s shoulder and said, “Now I’m ready to go home.” Rutland assumed he was ready to go back to Southern California. Later he realized Oral meant he was ready to go to heaven.
Oral Roberts inspired millions, including this former newspaper reporter. I’m thankful he saw a gift in me. His legacy of faith makes me want to use that gift to its maximum impact.
Steve Strang conducted several interviews with Oral Roberts, including this one in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the early 1980s.