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Rooted in Relationship
Coming back to what really matters. An interview with David Wells, recently appointed general superintendent of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.

David Wells, Chairman of the Board for The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, recently became the tenth general superintendent to serve the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada since it was chartered in 1919. In July 2008, before he officially took office, Testimony conducted this interview with him.

Stephen Kennedy (SK): You are fairly well-known to credential holders across the country, but there are many who … know nothing about you. Who is David Wells?

David Wells (DW): I was born in Edmonton, Alberta, in 1955, the year Disneyland opened in California. My family was not involved in the life of the church at the time of my birth. As a kid I played hockey and messed around with my friends in northeast Edmonton. My aunt and uncle went to Central Tabernacle in Edmonton, and they grew concerned that the Wells kids weren’t getting any spiritual training. There was a branch Sunday school in the Montrose section of Edmonton, so they offered to start taking us to Sunday school. That’s where I first heard of Jesus. Then they made sure we went to Sunnyside kids camp at Sylvan Lake.

That’s where I came to faith and was baptized in the Spirit at eight years of age. My mom and dad both felt they shouldn’t just be sending their kids to church, so they started going to Central Tabernacle themselves. I had some good influences in my life at that time. Pastor Bob Taitinger was one. He always seemed to know this little redheaded kid who was running around, and always had a kind word for me. There were Sunday school teachers and others who also showed interest in me. I’ve even received notes from some of those folks since I was elected superintendent, which is pretty meaningful.

I went to Northwest Bible College in Edmonton. That’s where I met Susan, my wife, who is originally from Campbellton, New Brunswick. She, too, had no Christian background in her family, but came to faith through the Pentecostal church in Campbellton. One of the people who showed a real interest in her there was Mrs. McKnight, Jim McKnight’s mother. So here we were, both of us from non-Christian backgrounds, yet these families—the Taitingers and the McKnights, who have been very instrumental in our Fellowship over the years—had an impact on our lives.

Susan and I were married in 1975, between our second and third years of Bible college. I helped out at the church in Leduc, Alberta—just outside Edmonton—while I was still in college.

Then, after college, I went back to my home church in Edmonton to help out for awhile. One of my mentors, Peter Cuke, was starting a youth ministry in Calgary, so I went to work with him. Then we worked for three years with Bob Norcross in Red Deer, Alberta. After that, it was Hamilton Bethel with Dave Shepherd, and then back to Calgary with Peter Cuke for a second time. That’s where I got tied in to the Olympic outreach. Then I worked as church ministries director in the Alberta District with Jack Keys for almost six years. At that point, George Smith came knocking from Broadway Church in Vancouver.

We really wanted to get back into the life of the local church, so we went there. I left there to work at National Office from 1999 until I was elected to the British Columbia/Yukon District in 2001. I served exactly seven years as superintendent in British Columbia/Yukon. Broadway has remained our home church, even while I was at both the national and district offices.

SK: Tell us briefly about your family.

DW: We have three children. Shannon, our oldest, is married to Eric, and they live in Brooklyn, NY. Jonathan is married to Melissa and they live in Burnaby, a suburb of Vancouver, BC. Jordan Andrew lives at home with us and works as a hardwood floor carpenter throughout the Lower Mainland.

Susan, my wife, is known as “the decorating coach,” and is also a certified stager, working with homeowners and real estate agents. But her real interest is sharing her story and drawing people to faith. She’s a great communicator. She mixes her interior design side with sharing her faith. It’s kind of like Martha Stewart meeting Joyce Meyer…I’m not sure she’ll appreciate that—I may be in trouble! I kid about Sue being the Canadian Martha Stewart without the prison record!

SK: Many of our readers may not understand the election process for this office. Describe the process as it happened to you.

DW: It’s a unique combination of a personal calling and an election process. We looked first for a strong sense of personal calling. I went through this process over a number of months, prayerfully considering my openness to this possibility.

But we are also congregational in governance. So your peers and delegates from the churches must choose you through a nomination and election process. It’s not an appointment; it’s an election. Even then, there is no personal obligation.

Throughout the whole process, I needed to sense that God was preparing me for the possibility of being elected. I had to sense that this was part of my calling, which I did come to peace with over time. There were steps all along the way that clarified it, so when I was sitting there in Toronto, I was prepared to let my name stand. But it still came back to affirmation by the delegates at a conference.

SK: Were you surprised at all?

DW: By the time I actually arrived in Toronto, I knew that I needed to have it on the front burner of my prayer life! Exactly how it unfolded was somewhat surprising. It was very humbling. I felt depths of emotion that I haven’t felt very often in life. It was a mixture of tremendous humility and yet a firmness of calling — almost paradoxical.

SK: How did Sue feel throughout the process?

DW: She’s always been a champion of God’s call on our lives. We’ve always respected our mutual calling but allowed for the distinctiveness of our individual callings. They work in tandem, so she knew we had to process this. When it actually happened, it was quite overwhelming. While we were at conference, the Lord did a very deep work in her heart, solidifying that this is right, this is good, and we’re going to do it together.

SK: You stated in your first Testimony column in July, “I know who I am and who I am not.” Help us understand what you mean by that statement.

DW: I have a clarity of calling: I know what I bring to the table. Call it self-awareness or self-differentiation, but I am at peace with what God has called me to be. I’m called to the role of leadership. God has given me gifts to equip the church. I have clarity about how I do that. So that’s what I mean by “I know who I am” in the sense of calling.

I need the whole body of Christ and all their gifts, not just mine. And I know I still have some growing to do…

I also know, to a great degree, who I am in my character. I know my Achilles’ heel, my fault lines, my lack of perfection — as well as the strengths and the good things God has built into my life. I think you want someone in leadership who knows who they are, both in character and in calling.

But you also want someone who knows who they aren’t. I know there’s no one who is “omni-competent.” I need good people working with me. I need the whole body of Christ and all their gifts, not just mine. And I know I still have some growing to do—there are some gaps in my life between the ideal Dave Wells and the real Dave Wells. Just ask my kids. They sometimes bring out the real Dave Wells!

SK: As a superintendent in BC/Yukon District, you have been a member of the General Executive for a number of years. How do you see this being of benefit as you come in to this office?

DW: If the Lord asks you to do something like this, He prepares you. In the BC/Yukon District, I really tried to lead from the street as well as from the office. I tried to be connected to life in the church, to leaders, to culture, and to things going on in our neighbours’ lives. So it’s not like I’m coming to this office from an ivory tower.

As a district superintendent, I experienced our Fellowship nationally and internationally. I think I have a realistic picture of who we are as a Fellowship. I don’t have a lot of pipe dreams and I’m definitely not coming in ignorant of the realities—that’s for sure.

Working alongside Bill Morrow and other leaders at the national level for almost ten years has been an advantage. I know the transitions we’ve gone through over the last decade, the restructuring, the new initiatives in International Missions and Mission Canada. I know the people I’ll be working alongside. I’m fresh to the role, but there’s a sense of being connected. We’ll just take the next steps now.

SK: When I interviewed Bill Morrow a few months ago, I asked him which two things he would leave on his desk for the incoming general superintendent. His first answer was the staff he has worked with. Second, he said he wanted to leave the gains that had been made during his tenure. Can you name one or two of those gains that you believe in and want to see go forward?

DW: One would be the partnership of the local church with International Missions through shared funding. It’s so much more than just funding—it’s a philosophy. It’s an opportunity for individuals and local churches to be in relationship with specific missionaries and to develop local strategies for support and involvement. The leaders who really grasp this concept are helping their churches to be Great Commission churches. We have provided a good foundation. It’s not perfect—that’s why we have to keep working on it. I do view it as building. I’m not looking to tear a bunch of stuff down and start from scratch.

The other gain—and it’s one in which Bill Morrow was a catalyst—is in recognizing the need for a missional church right here in Canada. With the shifts in our culture, we need to engage Canada with a totally different mindset. I think we are in a New Testament environment. The first and second generation church worked within a pluralistic, hedonistic culture. Pentecostals have always felt connected to that church, and to the empowerment of the Spirit. We don’t have a home field advantage anymore. We have to trust God and be creative. We need to embody the Gospel, earn the right to be heard, and be present in people’s lives. I’m all for equipping the church to understand that and live it out.

SK: Are there a couple of words that you will be guided by in this office?

DW: Yes—relationally based and missional. We won’t be effective in our mission until we’re effective relationally. It is really about recapturing our first love with the Lord, being rooted in a relationship with Him, and experiencing the work of the Spirit in our lives.

If you read the Scriptures, God calls us to be in genuine relationship with one another. Pentecostals use a selective reading of Acts. We play up the power passages and sometimes ignore the Christ-like community passages. The authority of the early church was as rooted in their unity and community as it was in the empowerment of the Spirit — although they can’t be separated, we try to do that. One of our great crises right now is Pentecostal community. We need to understand that the prayer of Jesus in John 17 matters. Where there is unity, God commands His blessing. I want to be a catalyst for that kind of relational ministry. We tend to be empowered activists, which is great if we understand agape. But if we don’t understand agape, we tend to do a lot more damage than good.

I also want to call our leaders to a relationship with the broader community of faith in Canada, beyond the Pentecostal community. We’re already doing this in many contexts—we realize the church is bigger than us—but I want to see how the Lord will work if we partner with other brothers and sisters in the kingdom in fresh and diverse ways. I’m trying to model that with my involvement in Vancouver. I’m working with the Christian community there to create an ongoing platform for witness and social justice on a far broader scale than any one denomination can do. I believe in it, so I’m going to have to lead that way.

As for the word missional, I believe followers of Christ should engage their world and bring the good news to people in their everyday context. We all need to be in vital relationship with at least one close friend who doesn’t know Jesus—not as a cause, but as a friend—because we care for that person. I believe it keeps us rooted in reality.

SK: You’re sitting at a table with young leaders who, by virtue of their credentials, are attached to the PAOC, but in their heads and hearts they are wondering if they belong. What would you say to them?

DW: I’d talk about family and the family values that really matter to me. I’d want them to know we can share experiences and do some substantial and meaningful things together that will make a difference in people’s lives. I try to lead by coming alongside my friends and hearing what God is stirring up in their lives. At this stage of my life I want to be a bridge: I want to bridge anything that would get in the way of the fulfilment of my friends’ calling. I want them to build and go way beyond anything that I’ve ever experienced. I wouldn’t ask them to come and help us maintain something. They’re going to see beyond anything we’ve ever seen. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. They have to experience the hard knocks. There are lessons they must learn for themselves. I’m not going to take that away from our young leaders. I’ve got some scars; they should have some too!

My passion to see them go beyond is tied to my view of the church. The list of things that are non-negotiable in the church is not that long. So for me, their creativity can take them anywhere God calls them to go. Just be about Jesus. Be about the Word of God. And be about those core values that we share as a family. Beyond that, go for it.

SK: Will you be moving to the GTA?

“What really matters?” … I believe it’s our own intimacy with God and our dependence on Him..

DW: I have a fair level of commitment to the Christian community in Vancouver for the 2010 games. I am committed to the organizers there to help establish chaplaincy in the athletes’ villages. So I need to follow through on those commitments from a sense of calling, not just a sense of duty.

I’ll spend quality time at the office in Mississauga with fellow leaders and national committees to see that the work here is well cared for. I’m going to be on the road, across Canada and internationally, quite a bit this first year. We won’t move from Vancouver right away. I value what goes on in our National Office and I’ll definitely be here enough to fulfill my part in it.

SK: Last words?

DW: I believe the Spirit of God is bringing us back to what really matters. Out of our love for God and for others, as we are empowered by the Spirit, we go and help people become disciplined followers of Jesus. It’s that basic. We are being driven back to that simplicity. We need to welcome that and ask: “What really matters?” and “What is God calling me to?” I believe it’s our own intimacy with God and our dependence on Him. It’s the value of Christian community and our active participation in building up the body of Christ. It’s about being in relationship with those who are on the outside looking in, engaging them with humble selflessness, just like Jesus did.

Stephen Kennedy is the editor of Testimony.

Originally published in Testimony, September 2008.




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