Pam and I were attending a pastors’ conference a few years ago when one of the speakers invited all of the pastors and spouses to come to the front of the auditorium for prayer. It was at that moment that God spoke to me in a way that I will never forget. Ironically it was not during the prayer that I heard His voice, but it happened as I was walking back to my seat.
I had one of those dreaded name tags on, and as I was making my way through the crowd, an older gentleman stopped me and asked, “Are you related to Hartley Wigfield?” I knew this man by reputation. He pastored a very large church and had led thousands of people to Jesus Christ. I responded, “Yes, he’s my father.” But the gentleman continued, “No, he would probably be much older than your father.” Then it hit me. “Oh, that would be my grandfather.” He responded, “Did he plant a church in Paw Paw, West Virginia?” I answered affirmatively.
He then told me the story of how my grandfather led him to Christ at age eleven. He began to weep. Through the tears he said, “Everything that I have ever accomplished in my life that was of value, I owe to your grandfather.”
That moment, the impact of those words changed my entire outlook on ministry, and ultimately on business. This was one of the top five God-Moments of my life. So let me explain the back-story.
My grandfather was a businessman. He owned a paint store and became very successful running his store, painting houses and hanging wallpaper. But my grandfather had another passion…church planting. Every summer, he would take his family to a nearby community where there were no churches, and he would set up a tent and hold evangelistic tent meetings. His family would camp out in another tent or nearby barn and call that vacation. Throughout the summer, he would lead enough people to Christ to be able to start a church. Then he would do something radical. He would mortgage his own home and use the money to actually build a church building in that community. He would find someone to pastor the church, and then he would take his family back to Cumberland, Maryland where he would work in his business to pay off the mortgage. The next summer, he would do it all over again in another community.
He did that six times…He planted six churches and built the church buildings from his business earnings. Today, some seventy-five years later, all but one of those churches are still in operation. He was also instrumental in starting about six other churches, but he did that with other friends.
Here is the clincher. As a very young child, I was able to attend the last church that my grandfather planted. There were only about twenty-five people in the church. I later found out that he never pastored a church with more than about twenty-five people. Seems rather unremarkable, doesn’t it? But there is one man I met in a pastors’ conference would push back on that thought. He alone led thousands of people to Christ. And that does not count the thousands of people my father has ministered to over the years; nor does it count any of the people whose lives I have been able to intersect with. That’s what God showed me in that moment a couple years ago. The kingdom of God does not work the way we typically think. Jesus has a history of taking a few things and turning them into infinite miracles. At this point, there is no human way to even count the number of people who will spend eternity in Christ because of a small business owner that decided to use his business to serve God’s purposes. What an amazing business plan!