(August 11, 2021) Robert and Maureen McQuillan remember and honour…
Mid last month, Dr James McConnell (84) – fondly known to his church, Metropolitan Tabernacle, Whitewell, Northern Ireland, friends and others as ‘the Bishop’ – passed on to glory (See Tribute to the Late Dr James McConnell and Whitewell Thanksgiving Service Dr James McConnell).
On-fire for Jesus
James McConnell was an outstanding man of God! Saved at a very young age and powerfully filled with the Spirit, he was so in love with his Saviour that he wanted everyone to discover what he had found. He was God’s instrument in thousands around the world finding Christ, not just his beloved Northern Ireland.
James McConnell powerfully preaching the gospel at Metropolitan Tabernacle
One of the great keys in his ministry was that he was always obedient to the Lord, even when it seemed a crazy thing to do.
Ordained a minister at a very young age, he had received a powerful prophetic word that he would minister around the world and had so much to look forward to. But then came a testing – out-of-the-blue two church leaders asked him to pastor a little rundown church of ten people!
Jim McConnell was thrown! He couldn’t understand this… but typical of the strong spiritual man he would be, always be, he said yes to the appointment and set his mind on evangelising the Whitewell area of Belfast. It was the beginning. Travelling around the world as special speaker and winning many to Christ would come later.
Back in 1995 when we had the joy of visiting and ministering in many countries around the world and interviewing various senior ministers and denominational heads, we caught up with Dr McConnell at his newly built church, the magnificent debt-free GBP 7 million Whitewell tabernacle, then with some 3200 attenders and one of the UK’s largest Pentecostal churches.
After a personal tour of the outstanding premises he relaxed us in his office and I asked him, ‘What are some of the keys to the success of your ministry and the incredible growth of this church which began with only ten people, some still around.
Jim McConnell, known for his love of Jesus Christ and his fiery undistinguishable desire to see people saved could also be unassuming and quiet spoken. His immediate, quick reply was like a retort and surprised us.
‘Keys? Keys!’ he exclaimed, turning his head quickly in a way he was well-known for and then turned back looking us straight in the eye, his own shining. ‘Everyone asks me about keys! Why, there are more doors than there are keys! I just believed that God wanted to bless me – and the people.’
I dug deeper and Jim forthrightly stated that on several occasions he had had visitations from God when he would be challenged to believe for the impossible.
‘Such as the time’ he shared quietly, ‘when I was accidently locked in the church on my own. I suddenly became aware of the mighty presence of God. The word from heaven was that souls would henceforth be saved every week and that every time the church, not just myself, endeavoured to share the gospel God would confirm his word.’
A powerful prophecy followed, Dr Jim told us, with the challenge to have the very love of Jesus in order to ‘receive the offscourings of society.’
Offscourings of society?
‘Almost immediately an influx of alcoholics, prostitutes, people with marriage problems, drug addicts, and even terrorists converged on the church’ he added. ‘People in distress, debt and desperation came and found the Lord Jesus Christ as the captain of their soul and destiny.’
Maureen asked how that it had all worked out and Dr Jim responded, ‘The church accepted them all, even as Jesus had, but not without external criticisms and taunts… which we dealt with. Matthew 25:35-36 which says ‘…I was hungry…a stranger…you took me in…’ became a reality and the church grew, not just in numbers but in maturity and in soulwinning.’
We had him on a roll now and he added, ‘Actually, it wasn’t always easy. We’re going to add a new building here for our youth… costing about a quarter of a million pounds, debt-free I’m believing. But I well remember those years of having only a few people. There was no finance, no church vehicle for me and I’d just walk and walk, knocking on doors and inviting people to church, especially to our Saturday night revival meetings. But mostly I’d walk and walk for hours praying and seeking God.’
He stopped, then smiled. ‘Then I’d come out of a daze and wonder where I was. I’d be so lost in God that many times I’d lose my whereabouts! Many, many times my shoes would be so worn out that my wife Margaret had to cut me cardboard insoles. But seeking God and inviting the lost to church were great keys. Those early revival meetings were dynamic. People were saved, people got healed, the Spirit moved. God opened doors!’
We listened engrossed. Later Maureen found herself reflecting on how the Lord had challenged her one Friday to go through a particular door. While helping me build our new church, she kept working as a sewing machine consultant and this particular ‘door’ challenge was to go on local TV the following Monday and talk about her company’s products.
She had been almost petrified that weekend. But then she recalled having been prepared in the strangest way by God some months beforehand… an unusual visit to a country TV station and hearing the whisper of the Holy Spirit telling her that one day she’d be on TV. With his help she did so well the following Monday that it led to other doors. (See Moving out of our Comfort Zones).
For some four years Maureen did her presentations on three TV stations programs, leading to meeting viewers in the streets and marketplaces, sharing encouragements, even getting me on one program to share about our Children’s Church work. It encouraged Maureen’s development in her unique communication skills… all helping to grow our church which we had just planted when no one else was church planting.
Personally, I found myself recalling the first occasion three years previously that I had visited Dr Jim’s church… then the second one his congregation had built in Whitewell.
I had phoned him from Melbourne and introduced myself as my denomination’s Nation Publications Director and would be ministering in England and some Northern Ireland churches enroute to Norway to cover a large World Pentecostal conference.
‘Our Northern Ireland general superintendent has suggested I visited you and your church, that you’re planning to build a huge one on what’s regarded as waste land. May I, please?’ I enquired. His quiet, prompt response caught me by surprise: ‘Yes, come along on Monday night to our prayer meeting just before you fly out the following morning.’
Although inconvenient, I agreed, little knowing that this was one of those doors and I was being given a key.
Jim’s next words caught me totally by surprise: ‘Could you bring a wee word?’ he asked matter-of-factly. For a moment I was stunned. ‘Wee word?’ I queried in my mind, not having heard that phrase for many years since we’d left home in Northern Ireland (just down the road from Whitewell actually, Whiteabbey, where we had attended Brian Bell‘s home church, Abbots Cross Congregational where we had led its large youth group back in the early 70s and were pastored by that other great evangelistic stalwart/Bible teacher, Reverend Sam Workman).
‘Ah… what do you mean, a wee word?’ I asked hesitantly. ‘A wee word… to bless the people’ he responded. Preach at a prayer meeting? I asked myself, but quietly agreed.
I was to meet James McConnell in his church vestry and be so blessed by his presence, cheerfulness, warm welcome and hug. He asked what other local Pentecostal churches of our denomination I’d been ministering at, and I happened to mention that one pastor had bluntly demanded that I didn’t operate in the Spirit, giving prophetic words to people.
Jim, completely sold out to the Holy Spirit and the anointing, surprised me by immediately apologising about that pastor’s attitude. His expression said it all: he was disappointed that any Pentecostal minister would so deny the blessed Holy Spirit and his supernatural.
Then he took me into the prayer meeting. Prayer meeting? For a Monday night the church was full! So surprised I readily joined with the genuine exuberant worship, so delighted to be among people who loved and adored God. My next surprise came when I was traditionally invited up to bring that ‘wee word’… ‘up’ was not to a platform but up into the highest pulpit I’d ever come across!
But wait a moment… this article isn’t all about me or Maureen! Let me complete those fond memories…
I shared a simple word that night about Moses and his willingness to give up everything to serve the God of the supernatural that he’d just discovered in the burning bush… his future, his shepherding career, even what was in his hand. And to be taken through some unusual doors that God would take him through.
I wrapped my ‘wee word’ up with the challenge of ‘What’s in your hand that God can use?’ Dr Jim came up to that high pulpit and graciously commented to the people ‘What a word. Now then, what’s in your hand for Jesus tonight?’ Then in his typical evangelistic way gave an appeal that touched hearts. Here was a servant of God who with the greatest ease could unhesitantly invite people to accept Christ. And responders would indeed find the captain of their soul and destiny!
We too would honour this great man of God who not only won thousands to Christ, saw countless outscourings of society come into the house of God, but also was a spiritual father to many individuals, including the late Bob Gass, encouraging them to develop their ministry!
Future keys and doors
It’s true that the future of regular church meeetings is uncertain with covid-19 continuing to cause so many disruptions. But even if we’re not salvation-minded pastors like Dr James McConnell, we ‘the body of Christ in the community’ can also hear God’s voice and receive keys to doors yet to be discovered and boldly opened.
God wants to bless and increase any church willing to governed by him.
A question though… are we prepared to receive the ‘offscourings of society’ in our desire to extend the kingdom and see our churches increase?
Jim McConnell was. And Jesus is!
Dr Robert and Maureen McQuillan’s links are OnlinerConnect@gmail.com and Facebook (Scripture/other emphases in this Onliner ours. Appreciated images/pics: various general sources). Links: Geraldine Brandt’s Many Claim to Have Unfailing Love But.. / Carol Round’s Walking the Talk / Brian Bell’s Jesus- the Voice of Hope
Perhaps some of your readers may not be familiar with Pastor McConnell, however I can confirm the enthusiasm the Holy Spirit gave him during his ministry, to the many lives transformed by the grace of God and your ‘tribute’ in this article is very fitting. It’s so true, we still need keys to doors in this community and across the world today. It doesn’t matter what ‘church’ we belong to, just as long as for Calvary we stand, if we’re washed in the blood that was shed there, I’m your brother so give me your hand.