To Be or Not to Be a Pentecostal

The night everything changed for Jack Hayford

The time in Fort Wayne would be a milestone for Jack Hayford as a Pentecostal pastor. Ever since he had begun speaking in tongues in May 1955, he had continued the practice privately. But he was wavering in presenting himself and his Fort Wayne church as distinctly and publicly Pentecostal in practice.

He and Anna never questioned their own experience of Spirit baptism. In 1956, however, many evangelicals still looked down on Pentecostals. Consequently, Jack’s conviction regarding the importance of the baptism with the Holy Spirit as something to be forthright about was waning because, he thought, “it was an obstruction to gaining a following.” He recognized that, “It’s a lot easier to be like a Baptist Church.” As a result, the little church was Pentecostal in name but not much else.

This went on for over a year, and by October 1957 the church had grown to almost forty-five people, but the congregation was, in Jack’s words, “bogged down.” He was restless and knew something needed to change. According to Hayford: “As I would pray there would well up in me this heaviness that I didn’t know at the time the Lord was beginning to do a breakthrough job in ministering the gifts of the Spirit [sic]…. But I felt a complete failure.” It was not all bad, because the church had seen several conversions to Christ since the Hayfords had come, but Jack felt that the power of God was “anywhere but there.”

The breakthrough came weeks later on a Sunday night in the little sanctuary that would seat only fifty people and thus made the dozen or so present that evening seem like more. It was a very cold winter evening; Jack was pleased with the attendance and “had a good message prepared to feed the tiny flock.”

He began to preach but was dismayed as he watched his listeners either falling asleep or looking back at him with glazed eyes only thirty seconds into the message. Jack sensed “that something was happening here beyond natural explanation.” Without any obvious displeasure or irritation with the people, he simply stopped the message and told his listeners, “Folks … I really think we need to stop and pray.”

Hayford recalled what followed: “If I had [had] any idea of what was about to happen I probably wouldn’t have [had] the nerve to begin the prayer, because the opening months of this little congregation’s experience had involved almost nothing of what might be called pentecostal or charismatic activity.” But he continued. “Let’s pray.”

As he did, he saw a vision of “an indescribable blackness [that] began to churn like a cloudy veil.” Although he did not recognize it at the moment, he was “receiving a ‘word’—a prophetic picture-type message” for the people who were present that evening. It was something that had never happened to Jack before. He immediately understood that the awful blackness represented the suffocating “grotesqueness of sin” that blinded the “soul’s vision of God.” This was a lot more important than whether or not people were listening to his preaching.

“I had only begun my prayer with the words, ‘Lord God, I pray that…,’ when the vision burst over my awareness like a sudden storm. As it did, I could only begin to tremble with a sense of the horror of sins’ blinding capability. So I paused briefly, to gain my composure. And then continued with the words ‘…that You would help us see…’ Then it happened. The word exploded from my lips: ‘Sin!’ That single word rumbled up from out of my deepest being, breaking over my lips with force that shocked me. I virtually bellowed it. Just once. But the effect was staggering to everyone present: ‘Sin!’ I cried out, almost as if pained by the word itself.”

Since the whole incident was uncalculated, Jack was not sure what to do after shouting so explosively. One thing was obvious: no one was asleep any longer. Jack lifted his head, and “every head snapped upward.” With a boldness and authority that was uncharacteristic, he “pointed straight at those in the pews and ordered, ‘Bow your heads.’” Just as fast as the heads had popped up, down they went. It was a laughable sight in the midst of serious sobriety.

For Jack, “what made the moment most memorable wasn’t the shock of any human behavior, it was the Holy Spirit’s presence. It was the unforgettable onset of a genuine spiritual awakening for a season in that small congregation’s life.” The fruit was evident immediately as the whole group passionately sought God, with the men kneeling at the altar and the women kneeling in the pews. “The room was vibrating with an aliveness unbegotten byman.”

That night, back in the little parsonage behind the church building, Jack and Anna talked. “Honey,” Jack said to Anna, “I wonder what’s going to happen now. The people have never seen anything like this. What will they think when they get home? Do you think they might decide it’s only fanaticism—and never come again?” Anna did not need to answer, and in the end it did not matter what the people thought.

Although the next day the phone “bounced off the hook” with people calling about how wonderful the meeting had been, the real issue was that Jack Hayford had turned a corner. God had surprised him and he had learned the power of the Holy Spirit’s work in prophecy, when God speaks a word to his people. Jack was now willing to be a Pentecostal not only privately, but in public ministry, as well, just as he had told the Lord he would at the 1952 Oral Roberts crusade when he was a senior in high school.

In a 1973 message Jack spoke pointedly of what he had learned from the experience: “The human heart is hungry for the working of the Spirit of God and you don’t have to apologize for the working of the Holy Spirit. You don’t try and defend God.” As unashamed Pentecostals, the Hayfords began teaching their small flock the basic elements of walking in Spirit-filled life and ministry.

An excerpt taken from Dr. S. David Moore’s new book Pastor Jack: The Authorized Biography of Jack Hayford. © 2020 Dr. Seth David Moore. Published by David C Cook.