HOLY SPIRIT BIRTHS NEW KIND OF CHURCH IN GAINESVILLE, TEXAS
By: Frank Tunstall
Pastor Phil Larson has emerged as the Holy Spirit’s point man in Gainesville, Texas. He went to Gainesville four years ago unknown and unannounced. His first agenda was to start building relationships in the Chamber of Commerce with community leaders, including the county attorney, the district attorney, and the ministerial alliance. Progress has come slowly. Lesser men would have given up long ago; the road has been full of pot holes. Phil knows what it feels like to launch a new church, and relaunch it, and then launch it again. Each rocket has fallen into the ocean. But Phil is a man of prayer who has done numerous personal prayer retreats seeking the mind of Christ for the area.
It all started in a DCPI church planting seminar in the Heartland Conference. During the seminar I felt led to cast the vision for a church in Gainesville, TX. Phil Larson was in that seminar, and he said the Holy Spirit spoke distinctly to him and told him to accept the challenge of Gainesville. He went home and told his wife what the Lord had said. Her response was, “You can’t afford not to.”
The world’s largest casino is positioned just north of the Oklahoma / Texas border on Interstate 35. Gainesville is a Texas town (population 16,000), just south of the border on I-35 (and about an hour’s drive north of Dallas). Cooke County is on the south side of the border with Gainesville as the county seat, and Love County is on the Oklahoma side. A large porn store sits on the west side of I-35 almost on the border. The casino is the largest employer in the area. It boasts beautiful construction on the outside, but on the inside gambling births all kinds of ugly evil that spreads throughout Love and Cooke counties, and beyond.
Alcoholism is widespread. Illegal drugs are readily available in the area. Broken homes are filling up the landscape. Immorality is common and so is abortion – suicide too. So many children are growing up in one parent homes, or in foster care. Absentee dads are epidemic. Gangs have their turf and fight their gang wars. The evil in Cook County alone spawns a steady stream of police incarcerations. And the list goes on.
The IPHC church and parsonage in Gainesville were empty and in run-down condition when Phil took it. I received counsel to sell the church and withdraw IPHC from Gainesville. My response was, “absolutely not.” Thank God, we didn’t. “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord lifts up a standard against him” (Isaiah 59:19).
Pastor Phil is a man in his sixties who is a certified teacher of life skills for probationers, including family enrichment classes, and especially anger management. When the judge and district attorney learned of Phil’s training, they started sending probationers to him. These men and women pay a fee and attend the classes as a condition of their probation. Phil was responsible to report attendance to the judge. Out of those classes Phil started winning men and women to faith in Jesus Christ.
In an area surrounded by evil and corruption, Phil’s dream is to see the goodness of God become more evident than the expressions of evil. No, he does not plan to compete with the casino’s flashy billboard signs and striking architecture. His “billboards” are people who have found peace with God and are rebuilding their homes and families – and their faces radiate it.
Phil has no vision to grow a mega church, or a church with transfer members. The people he is reaching, with their prison backgrounds and problem past, would feel unwelcome in most traditional churches. The Holy Spirit is building the Gainesville church with people who have a broken yesterday but who have found a new birth in Jesus Christ. Their joy is palpable; in Christ they’re coming from death to life. Now they have hope and a future. Hope Connection is the church’s very appropriate name.
The Heartland Conference has faithfully continued its monthly support. United Way has helped some. The program has come to the attention of the State of Texas Social Services. Friends of the ministry who share the vision give some support.
Pastor Phil’s vision is for a congregation in the small church model, with a heavy reliance on social media for communication, including Facebook. He loves the people and wants them to have “their” church where they feel safe. He also dreams his vision will begin to catch on in other parts of the nation; the model is very reproducible.
Three blessings have come together in the last couple of weeks. The first is the support of the State of Texas that came to Pastor Phil without his asking – not a windfall, but enough to give some encouragement. The second is the Holy Spirit has sent Pastor Phil six people whom he is training to be facilitators in his classroom program. The third is Phil has been asked to serve as president of the Gainesville Ministerial Alliance. The retiring president told Phil before the whole group, “We need what you have to offer.” The alliance had been meeting four times yearly, built around fellowship and a meal. Phil’s first decision was to call for monthly meetings that would be built around prayer and intercession for each other; the meal is now secondary.
A miracle of the Holy Spirit is happening in Gainesville, right in the middle of a pit of hell.
If the Holy Spirit prompts you to contact Pastor Phil, you may do so at Phil@ShepherdOK.Com or 405-388-8037.