Dead church springs to life in Pilot Grove
By Allen Palmeri
March 30, 2004
|Rob Etherton, pastor, Pilot Grove Baptist Church. When Etherton took over as pastor last February, the church averaged 12 in worship and 6 in Sunday School. Photos courtesy Pilot Grove Baptist Church.|
Holy Spirit convicting at rapid pace
PILOT GROVE – Rob Etherton, pastor, Pilot Grove Baptist Church, has a theory about revivals.
“Only God can make a wave in the ocean," Etherton said.
On March 18-20, Etherton invited his friend, Tony Shaw, pastor, Trinity Southern Baptist Church, Versailles, in for a revival. He knew the Holy Spirit was moving as Shaw preached—and March 21 was the proof.
“We had a 45-minute altar call," Etherton said. “I had never seen this before in 12 years of ministry. My father, who was a pastor for 40 years, happened to be in town and was at the service. He said the same thing.
“The Holy Spirit blew the roof off that church."
When Etherton took over as pastor last February, the church averaged 12 in worship and 6 in Sunday School. In other words, “the church couldn’t have been any deader," Etherton said. Now, due to the work of the Holy Spirit in a year-long outpouring, the church in the Cooper County town of 750 is making waves. The March 21 altar call yielded eight salvations and six people joining the church by letter.
“The Holy Spirit was so thick inside the building that you could cut it with a knife," Etherton said. “He was hovering like a mist over the crowd. Baptists who sit in the back and just never say much were jumping up and shouting ‘Hallelujah!’"
Since January, 36 people have been either baptized or are scheduled to be baptized. Sunday School attendance has grown from that “dead" number of 6 to 39, with “20 or 30 more who are ready to come in," Etherton said.
Not bad for a Missouri Baptist church in a town that is known for its Roman Catholic leanings.
“When I first came here, everyone said that Pilot Grove, Missouri, was a Catholic town," Etherton said. “There are two Catholic churches and a Catholic school. There’s never been a successful Protestant church here. I just said, ‘Well, God sent me 2,500 miles for a reason.’"
Indeed, Etherton had no idea that he would be leaving the pastorate of Emmanuel Baptist Church, Fallbrook, Calif. He was comfortable serving north of San Diego, in one of the nicer climates in America. That’s when the Lord told him to go to Pilot Grove. He resigned his church not knowing what the future would hold.
“’Guys, I know this sounds crazy," he told the men at his church, “but I have a message from the Lord that I am to go to Pilot Grove, Missouri.’ We sold everything and we moved here on faith. God said, ‘You’re going to come there and you’re going to build up a church.’ I did some checking and realized that Pilot Grove Baptist Church had been without a pastor for some time. So I said, ‘That’s it.’
“We had everything in storage in St. Louis, and two weeks later, the church called me as their pastor."
In November, Etherton said he received confirmation from the Lord that the church was going to become mighty in 2004. That has come true.
“Each week has been bigger," Etherton said. “It’s just remarkable."
Etherton is completing a series of sermons on Revelation that he started in July. His commitment to expository preaching has carried him through Revelation 21, and he aims to finish the book in April. The focus has been simple: Put Jesus first. “A new day is dawning" has been a secondary theme.
The revival was conducted in the spirit of Point No. 8 of the church’s doctrinal beliefs: “The salvation of man is wholly a work of God’s free grace and is not the work, in whole or part, of human works or goodness or religious ceremony. God imputes His righteousness to those who put their faith in Christ alone for their salvation and thereby justifies them in His sight." Etherton clings to this.
“No pastor can create a revival," he said. “No church can create a revival. It’s just about keeping Jesus Christ the center of everything."