RIDGECREST — The idea of a
transformational church is nothing new to James Gailliard. It’s just business
“Transformation comes by
making daily adjustments that make you look more like Jesus,” said Gailliard,
pastor of Word Tabernacle Church in Rocky Mount.
Gailliard was one of the
evening preachers at the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference at
LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center, which drew more than 1,000 participants
to North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.
In every sermon at Word
Tabernacle, Gailliard asks the congregation to find at least one thing they are
willing to change about themselves to draw them closer to the goal of becoming
“Real church forces change,”
he said. “Always.”
Gailliard said he constantly
challenges the status quo. “It’s just too easy to sit back and take it (God’s
message) in without letting it out. Too many of us brag on what we learn when
we spend time in the Word instead of letting it be about self-assessment.
“You get closer to God, not
just because you read the Word, but when you get challenged by it and make
those daily adjustments,” he said.
Sensing God’s vision
Being willing to adjust has
consistently been part of his church planting ministry through the years. As a
church planter in Philadelphia in 2003, he sensed God giving him a vision for
starting a church in Africa.
“I was willing, but I’d
never been to Africa. I didn’t even know anyone in Africa to call about it,”
Gailliard said. Even so, the idea intrigued him and didn’t go away.
“One day I was sitting in my
office and my phone rang,” he said. “It was Johnny Hunt (pastor of First
Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga.) and he asked me to go with him and a group of
pastors to South Africa to start churches.”
What made Gailliard certain
this was God’s divine planning was he didn’t know Hunt and Hunt didn’t know
him. The only connection was that Hunt had read about Gailliard being named one
of the North American Mission Board’s church planters of the year.
“I couldn’t believe it,”
Gailliard remembered with a laugh. “I guess if God wanted me to plant a church
in Africa, He could make it happen and use Johnny Hunt to do it.”
Gailliard’s ministry as a
church planter has led to him being involved in starting 24 churches in the
U.S. and abroad.
“I love planting new
churches,” he said. “I can’t believe God has let me be a part of that.”
In 2005, Gailliard went to
Rocky Mount, for a church planting training event and sensed God telling him it
was a place of opportunity. Word Tabernacle opened its doors there in 2006 with
14 people in attendance. Today, it has about 1,800 members. Its growth is
somewhat atypical, Gailliard said.
“About 55 percent of our
members have been baptized there,” he said. “We have communion and baptism
every Sunday afternoon. We haven’t missed a Sunday baptizing since that first
At Word Tabernacle,
Gailliard isn’t the only one who baptizes, either. Any church member can
baptize new believers they have led to Christ. The church always looks to
Scripture to make decisions rather than tradition, he said. “It’s not my
perspective, but what does the Bible say,” he noted.
“We looked at the Great
Commission (in the Gospel of Matthew) and didn’t see that it said a preacher
had to do the baptizing,” he continued, adding that it is meaningful to see
parents baptizing their children and students baptizing other students.
“When you lead someone to
the Lord, then walk with them through baptism, it puts a level of
accountability like nothing else,” Gailliard said.
Another unique aspect of the
church is that the invitation is at the beginning of the service rather than
after the sermon.
“We have our deacons and
other members explain salvation and invite people to come forward to make a
decision or ask questions,” Gailliard said. “We use the same wording every time
on how to lead someone to receive Christ. Our people hear it repeated every Sunday
so they learn it by heart. That way they know how and don’t have to worry about
what to say. You have to remember that most of our new people aren’t Christians
so we keep it simple and consistent.”
The church is located in
Edgecombe County, one of the most economically disadvantaged in the U.S.
“About a third of our church
is unemployed,” Gailliard said. Recognizing the opportunity to help, Word
Tabernacle has developed approximately 50 active ministries in tandem with its
spiritual ministries in the areas of food and clothing assistance, a medical
clinic, an apartment house and a relationship with a local community college
for job training and life skills.
“Last year, our church had
the most hires of any ‘business’ in the county,” Gailliard said proudly.
Having solid resources at
the church has made teaching and discipling easier and better organized, the
pastor said, voicing appreciation for what LifeWay has to offer in terms of
consultation, training and curriculum.
“We use the ‘YOU’ and ‘KNOWN’
curriculum as a part of our church-wide study,” he said. “Of course we do some
tweaking to make it work for us, like anyone would do, but it’s really good and
speaks to our congregation. I use ‘Facts and Trends’ all the time for sermon
illustrations, statistics and resource information. It’s on my desk right now.
And Jay Wells (LifeWay’s director of black church relations and consulting)
always has great suggestions and advice whenever I call him. We use all kinds
of LifeWay stuff! I trust it.”
Gailliard said he has been
attending Black Church Week, held July 19-23 this summer, for about 10 years
and always appreciates the fellowship and training but had a cautionary word
for those who might confuse having an enthusiasm with the event with having an
experience with God.
“Whenever I’m having an
encounter with God, it becomes an event,” he said. “I come here and get
wonderful training and have a great time, but it’s my time with Him that
(EDITOR’S NOTE — House is a
corporate communications specialist with LifeWay Christian Resources.)