Anchorage -Shepherding the Church of God


Anchorage -Shepherding the Church of God

May 27th, 1969

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
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Anchorage, Alaska


Dr. W. A. Criswell

Acts 20:28




…all of which is an amazing surprise to me, this whole world up here.  And if they get earthquakes up here and shake all the mountains down, and if there is a hole out here in the Pacific and all the water of the Cooke inlet runs into it, and if all the other things up here level off, I think God can make some more mountains, and I think God can create some more water, and I think God could do a whole lot of other things to replace what He might level off in this rugged country.  But I do not know what in the earth God’s going to do when something happens to Felton Griffith.  There is nobody like him that I know of on the horizon!  That is you.  Ah, lad, I just never saw anybody like you, and I think that is what your wife says also, she says that too.  Nor could I tell you my surprise in looking at this church.  I was not prepared for it.  I just cannot imagine so fine and spacious a building and a glorious preaching place.  Whoever built this must have been somebody who loved to preach the gospel.  It is a magnificent preaching place.  I wish I could take some of my own folks here and let them look at what you are doing.  I feel exactly like that old rooster who came across an ostrich egg, and he called his hens together, and showed it to them, and said, “Now I ain’t a-finding fault with what you’re a-doing, but I just want you to see what they is doing in other places.”  That is the way I am about this here; I just am overwhelmed by everything up here.  And I have to admit that Alaska really took the wind out of us in Texas; it just humiliated us.  We just “ain’t” the same no more.  No, and when you take the brag and the wind out of a Texan, you do not have much left, you just don’t.

Did you hear that story of the Alaska lion and the Texas lion looking at one another across the Canadian border?  And the Texas lion said to the Alaska lion, “What makes you so fat?”  And he said, “I get fat by eating these Alaskans up here.”  And then he said to the Texas lion, “What makes you so skinny?”  And the Texas lion said, “Well, I don’t understand.  I can’t tell you why.  I’m just starved to death all the time.”  He said, “I get behind a bush, and I see one of those tall Texans riding by, and I jump on him, and knock him off of his horse.  And when he hits the ground, it knocks all the wind out of him, and it’s hard to get fat on a ten-gallon hat and a pair of leather boots.”

But I like this world up here, oh, oh!  And this town, I can’t imagine a town stand out there on that main street and look down that way, and you’re looking into the Pacific Ocean; and look that way and the street runs into the most beautiful mountains up there.  Can you imagine just walking out, and for nothing, doesn’t cost you a thing in the world, look down to the sea, look up to the mountains, and all of the glory of this giant land besides.  Let me tell you something, dear people, you better get ready for the tourists that are going to come up here in the summertime by the jillions.  It’s coming.  You’re going to be a bee’s hive here in the summertime.  Oh, and I envy everybody that comes.  I have a little boy we’re fetching up in our home, a little fellow who will be ten years old next month; and when I go back and tell him that Felton Griffith has a hideaway lodge on a clear lake, and he can go out there and look at a big, five ton bull moose, and he can go out there and look at a fifteen pound rainbow trout, and he can go out there and look at the biggest bear in all the earth, that little old boy is going to say, “Daddy, you have a special call to go up and hold a meeting with Felton Griffith.”

Lad, you’re not going to have any trouble getting me to come up here and hold a meeting.  Oh, dear, dear, dear!  What a place to come to.  Oh my!  Well, I could just love talking to you all night long—and this sermon’s still going to be a continuation, you’re going to think of just talking to you.  But I’d like to say something about how to build a church.

In the twenty-eighth verse of the twentieth chapter of Acts, Paul having called those Ephesian elders to Miletus—and he says to them, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, that you feed”—shepherd, to shepherd, to care for the church of God—“which He hath purchased with His own blood” [Acts 20:28]. To shepherd the church of God, to care for the church of God, “to feed the church of God” [Acts 20:28]; the Lord never said, “My wife,” or He never said, “My home,” or He never said, “My child,” but He did say, “My church” [Matthew 16:18].

“Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25], and He asks us to care for the church, and to shepherd the church, to build the church, the house of the Lord [Acts 20:28].  Now there are several things in building the house of the Lord, the church.  First: you have to have a pastor.  You can’t build a wonderful church without a wonderful pastor.  You must have a preacher, first of all.  And it is a fortunate church that has a pastor that loves God, and loves the Book, and loves lost souls.

You’ve got one here in this church.  Do you know what I heard about the pastor of this church?  That upon a day one of the mothers in the families of the church—a mother got sick, and they called for the Methodist preacher to come to see her.  And he knocked at the door, and the little girl came to the door, and the Methodist pastor said, “I suppose that Felton Griffith is out of town, because your mother’s sick and you’ve asked me to come see her.”  And the little girl said, “Oh no: our pastor, Brother Griffith, is not sick, but mother has a contagious disease, and we didn’t want to expose our pastor.”  Oh, that’s real love.  God bless him.

I walked through his office today, and on the bulletin board is a picture of Dr. George W. Truett, who was pastor of the First Church in Dallas for forty-seven years.  And I said, “What you got his picture up there for?”  And he said, “Well, we had a little service down here with a group, and we played a record, one of the sermons of Dr. Truett.  So we put his picture up there.”  Well, I said, “That’s a magnificent picture.  He was one of the most glorious men that ever lived.”  I told Brother Griffith that last Sunday there was a man who came to our church, to visit our church, and after the service was over, why, he said to one of the old time members in our congregation, “Well,” he said, “I’m glad to see your pastor.”  I’ve been there twenty-five years, and he was sure a long time coming to see me.  But he said, “I’m glad to see your pastor, and I have just one thing to say about him:  he’s not nearly so handsome as Dr. Truett was.”  Well, I said, “That’s right, Dr. Truett was one of the handsomest men in all the world, and I am not handsome like Dr. Truett.”  And Felton Griffith said, “You know, that’s just like that old story of the woman who went up to the pastor—they had had ten of them in two years, and he was the tenth one—and she said, ‘Oh no, you’re not going to leave, are you?’”

“Yes,” he said, “I’m going to leave.  I can’t take it anymore.”

“Oh,” said that woman, “that is so bad; that’s so bad.”  She said, “You know, we’ve had one succession after another of pastors, and every one of them is worse than the one before.”

Oh, you can’t build a church without a wonderful pastor.  And bless the church that has a glorious preacher, an undershepherd, somebody to love and care for the flock.

Second, to build a church you have to have one where people are.  God sent us to witness, to testify.  And Brother Krohn, wherever people are, there you ought to establish a church.


Let me have my church on a village street, or a city street, where the race of men go by—

The men who are good, the men who are bad,

As good and as bad as I.

I would not sit in the scorner’s seat

Nor hurl the cynic’s ban—

Let me have my church on a village street, or a city street,

And be a friend to man.

[adapted from “The House by the Side of the Road,” Sam Walter Foss]


Wherever people are, there we ought to be.

Our church has seven missions, and all seven of them are established in sub-marginal areas of that country, of that town, of that city.  And we minister to those people, we put thousands of dollars; the Lord only knows how much money and effort goes into those ministries.  Even in our budget we have $100,000 a year going into those seven chapels.  Sunday a week ago, we took fourteen Negroes into one of those chapels.  Just ministering to people, period.  God loved them and died for them, and we are ministering to Mexicans—I don’t know how many of them—to Negroes, to Anglos; we have a Japanese ministry, we have a Chinese ministry, we have a ministry to the deaf, we have a ministry to the oral deaf, we have a ministry to the poor who are pressed against that downtown section of the city.  I love that kind of a ministry:  if it’s somebody that needs God, God called us to minister to them, and we’re a-trying, we’re a-trying.  I just wish I could do it better, and love them more, and put my arms around them.  And that spirit is growing in our church.  Why, you wouldn’t believe it.

It hasn’t been but just almost months ago, when to have had a colored person in that church would have been unthinkable.  And it hasn’t been too long ago when a Mexican to join that church would have been very, very unacceptable.  But all of that has changed, and is changing, and is constantly changing.  We’re growing in grace.  We’re getting right with God.  We’re beginning to do what we should have done a hundred years ago.  O Lord, how could we ever have so missed the love and grace of God that we never noticed, that all of us are alike in His presence?  He died for us all [1 Corinthians 15:3; Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2], loves us all, saves us all, who in faith and in God’s grace come to Him [Ephesians 2:8].  Well, that’s a second thing about building a church:  you must have a pastor, a preacher, and you must have where people are.  You can’t minister where people are not, but where they are, there we ought to be. 

All right, third: we ought to have a wonderful program.  Now that’s why we’re in these conferences here.  We’re trying to get all of the ministries of our church knowledgable and effective; and that’s good.  I made up my mind so long ago I can hardly remember when it was, that I was going to live in this generation, and in this age, and in this time, and that meant I was going to try to learn the latest methods and the most effective way to do the work of that church; to teach the Word of God, to mediate the mind of Christ, to get a hold of these teenagers, and these youngsters, and these children, and the babies, and the old folks, all the gamut of human life.  And wherever there is a method or a program that is working and God blesses, I’d like to know about it, and I like to implement it, like to train our people in it because there’s such a thing as living in a bygone day, and following methods of a long ago.  But they don’t fit now, and they don’t . . . they’re not effective now.  And I need to learn what is effective in this day and in this generation and in my age.

I’m not going around in an ox cart.  Dr. Truett went around in a buggy; and he never did learn to drive a car.  He died having never learned to drive a car.  And he died having never ridden in an airplane.  Now isn’t that something?  There were three great Baptist preachers in Dallas at the same time:  Truett at the First Church, Craig at the Gaston Avenue Church, and Wallace Bassett over there at the Cliff Temple Church; and no one of them ever rode in an airplane.  Now isn’t that something?  Isn’t that something?  Well, I said, “Brother, I’m going to live in this age, and when they wind those things up and they take off in the wild blue yonder, I’m going to ride one of those things.”  And I made that announcement long time ago to my little congregation, and you never saw such consternation in your life.  They gathered round me, and said, “You’re going to fall out of the sky.”  And that’s what I expect to do when I go around with Krohn, in that little old insect that he’s got.  I just expect to do it.  Well, that’s what they expected to happen: “You’re going to fall out of the sky.  They’re going to pick you up with a blotter.  You’re going to be a greasy spot.  You’re going to be a cinder down here.  Oh you can’t ride in an airplane!”  I said, “Yes sir, I’m going to ride in an airplane,” and I went down to the counter and bought me a ticket, just like that old Texan who went down and put a five hundred dollar bill on the counter, and he said, “Son, give me a ticket.”  And the clerk said, “Where to?”  And that Texan said, “Anywhere, son, I’ve got business all over.”  Well, that’s the way I was.  I went down there, and I bought me a ticket on that thing, and I got in it, and they wound it up, and it took off into the high wide blue sky, and scared me to death.  I looked across the aisle there, and there was a fellow reading a newspaper.  I wanted to jerk it out of his hand and say, “Man, put that down and start praying!  Don’t you know we are up here in the sky?”  Well, bless you, when finally I got enough nerve to look out the window, I looked slap dab smacky-doodle right square into the middle of the cemetery.  And it seemed to me that every tombstone in that cemetery was waving at me up there in the sky.  I’m like that fellow who took his first airplane ride, and he said, “You know, I did pretty good until a buzzard flew alongside, looked in the window at me, and winked at me.”  But I rode it, and I’ve been a-riding those things ever since.  I came up here in one.  We’re going back in one.  That’s the age in which we live, and the church ought to minister, not in that ox-cart age, and not in a buggy age, even one with a fringe on top.  We ought to minister in this age.  And the finest ways by which we can mediate the truth and message of Christ, we ought to do it.  And we’re on the way, I tell you, a-learning them.  And God blesses us.

Why, I’ve never seen such goings on in my life as around our church.  We got teenagers by the acres.  We’ve got young people by the acres, and got all the rest of them, and they’re just doing things, great gracious, I just don’t know what all.  We have camps, and retreats, and revivals, and study courses, and meetings, and recreation, and oh, just a ten thousand . . . I can’t even begin to keep up with it.  I like that.  I like that.  Man, they just a’going.  That means they’re not in somebody’s bar, isn’t that right?  When they’re down there at the church, that means they’re not parked out on somebody’s lane, isn’t that right?  They’re not out smoking marijuana and all the rest of those unnamable drugs, and they’re not falling into ten thousand other things that come out of boredom.  We’ve got them in the church; and they’re busy, and they’re working.  And that’s what every church ought to be, just like that:  day and night, getting a hold of these people.  And God blesses it.  That’s the way to build a church:  make people love it. Their hearts are there, their lives are there, their interest is there.  And God blesses them.

Why, Felton, did you know the deacons say to me, that in about a year and a half our church will be giving more than three million dollars a year to its budget?  In about a year and a half.  We’re giving now at the rate of about two and a half million dollars a year.  And in about a year and a half, the deacons say to me we’ll be giving more than three million dollars.  Why, it’s just fantastic!  And I just am amazed and overwhelmed that all that arises out of the love of the people.  That’s their life.  That’s their joy. And put us all together, and when God adds us up, it’s a stupendous thing.  Why, we run on any good day now over five thousand in Sunday school.  It’s just a marvelous thing, just to see it full of the activities that bless our people.

Well, we can’t go on forever.  One other thing, and then I’ll stop.  Not only a preacher, a pastor, a shepherd that loves the flock, and not only where the people are, and not only a program, but there has to be back of all of the effort of the church, there has to be a great moving dedicated passion, compassion for people.  You don’t fool folks.  You don’t say you love them and then not in your heart, and deceive them; because they just know, they just do.  And with a great compassionate heart, like that that moved Jesus [Matthew 14:14; Mark 1:41, 8:22; Luke 7:13], you’ll just find folks loving to come, loving to listen; you’ll find them opening their hearts to the message, you’ll find them being saved, down here at the front at that mourner’s bench, God bless it—we’ve had one in our church, from one side of it to the other.  I was talking to the pastor just before we came in here, and he said, “You know, I want to write a book someday, and I want to write about people who have been saved in this church here in Anchorage.”  Oh, I hope he does it.  I hope he does it—people who have found the Lord here.

Upon a day in our church, after I had preached—I have a lower platform where I go down on the floor; I preach the sermon up here behind the pulpit desk, then I go down to that lower platform, where I exhort people to come to Jesus.  And it’s around all of that that we have that mourner’s bench.  Well, upon a day, we had a gracious harvest, and among them was a girl about, oh, she would be about seventeen or eighteen years old; gave her hand to me, saying that she’d taken the Lord as her Savior, she’d given her heart to God, and she wanted to be baptized and be a member of the church.  So she sat down there.  And then as I pressed the appeal, she began to cry, and finally to sob. 

So I turned to the singer, and I said, “You just continue the service.  I’m going to sit down by the side of that girl.” 

So I sat down by her side, and I said, “Girl, what you crying for?  What you crying for?” 

And she took the membership card that they fill out, and she said, “Do you see my name?” 

And I said, “Yes.” 

“Well” she said, “I write Mrs. in front of my name.” 

I said, “Yes.” 

“Well,” she said, “I’m no Mrs.  I have never been married.  I write Mrs. in front of my name on account of my little baby boy, who is in your nursery.”  She said, “You know, when he was born, I brought him down here to the church, and I thought, what a wonderful place in which to raise my little baby boy.”  She said, “I’ve been listening to you preach, and today I felt that I wanted to give my heart to Jesus and I wanted to be a member of the church, so I came down and told you that I’d taken the Lord as my Savior and that I wanted to be baptized.  But,” she said, “having come and sitting here, I’ve been thinking about what I did, and who I am, and,” she said, “I have made a mistake, for if you knew who I am, and what I have done, you would not want the likes of me in the church.  And I have made a mistake; I should not have come.”

 I said, “Girl, is that why you’re a-crying?” 

And she said, “Yes, I’ve made a mistake.  You would not like such as me in this church.”

Well, there’s no one of us here that would have loved to have been where I was seated by that girl, whom somebody wronged; she’d trusted somebody, and she misplaced her trust.  She loved too much, too deeply, and somebody betrayed her.  For it is a faithful saying that Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom that child is chief, of whom I am chief [1 Timothy 1:15].  To have told her again of the love of God and the blood that washes away all of our sins [Revelation 1:5-6]; I wouldn’t be telling you this were there any possibility in the earth that you’d ever know of whom I’m talking.  But you could stand with me at the head of that marble stairway on the Patterson Street side of our educational building, and every Sunday see a young woman come up that stairway holding a little blonde-headed boy, leading him by the hand.  And as I stand there and watch her come up with that little boy, still writing Mrs. in front of her name, I said, “You continue doing it.”  I thank God every time I see her for the love of God [John 3:16], and the grace and mercy of Jesus [Titus 3:5], and for the church to which God added her, and into which I could baptize her, and for the little boy who is growing up in those ministries of Sunday school, and Training Union, and Sunbeam Band and Little Cherub choir.  Oh, I love it!

As I have said ten thousand times, I’d rather do what I do for nothing than what anybody else does for money.  That’s God’s work in the earth.  And that’s your work, and that’s mine.  The most blessed, the most precious, the most wonderful, the most unbelievable goodness, gloriousness, preciousness of anything known or experienced in human life:  loving God and serving Jesus in His church [Ephesians 4:15-16].

I want to ask you something.  Would you bow your head?  Would you bow your head?  All of you here tonight, as under God, all of us humble before the Lord, if you have given your heart to Jesus, you have asked Him to forgive your sins, if you were to die tonight you’d go to heaven, you’ve been baptized, as He said in His Word [Matthew 28:19; Romans 6:3-5], and you belong to the church where you live, if you have taken the Lord as your Savior, and you’ve followed Him in membership, with nobody seeing, just God, would you raise your hand?  “I have trusted the Lord as my Savior, and I belong to the church where I live.”  Thank you.  Thank you.  Almost all of us raised our hands.

If we were to sing a song tonight, if you didn’t raise your hand, if we were to sing a song of appeal, tonight, somebody you, would you trust Jesus as your Savior?  Or somebody you, would you put your life in the fellowship of His church?  Would you raise your hand?  Would you raise your hand?  Is there one?  Anywhere?  If we were to sing a song of appeal, would you give your heart to the Lord, or would you put your life in the fellowship of the church, would you do it?  Is there one here tonight?

Our Lord, it’s been an incomparable joy to my soul to be here.  Oh, what a destiny, what a future lies before the city of Anchorage, and the state of Alaska.  Our Master, these who have poured their lives into this work, like Felton Griffith, oh, may their eyes see the glorious harvest God is preparing as a reward of their love and labors in days passed.  God bless these men who are here, who have planted their feet on this soil, whose eyes have seen for years the potentiality of this great land.  O God, bless them as they welcome these families and as they invite these people.  And as Alaska grows, may the witness of Christ grow under their hands and Thine, and Lord, employing the latest methods, and preaching the old gospel, may the Holy Spirit work with them, and may God save the lost and add to His church.  And we’ll love Thee and praise Thee forever for answered prayer, for trophies of grace.  In the Spirit of Jesus, and in His precious name, amen.