A Handful of Books: Gordon Runyan

From the December 19, 2015 edition of the Baptist New Mexican:

By Kevin Parker

Gordon Runyan

Gordon Runyan

The 2015 Tucumcari Baptist Association annual meeting closed in an unusual way. John Hinze, the host church pastor, had turned the final session over to a colleague, Gordon Runyan. Runyan pastors Tucumcari’s Immanuel Baptist Church, located on the corner of South College Street and East Hines Avenue, one block off Tucumcari’s historic Route 66. The church boasts no electronic signage and claims only one corner of a city block. But, inside its simple stucco walls a hunger for revival is forming, especially in its pastor. God is at work.

The associational meeting had contained all the usual elements: business actions, reports, and worship—with some of the formality of parliamentary procedure mixed in. An unanticipated situation caused canceling the annual sermon. So, things moved swiftly, and it appeared the meeting would adjourn early. Then, the meeting reached the concert of prayer, and Runyan took charge. Hinze had explained that Runyan was leading the prayer time because of the way God was stirring his heart. It spilled out into the meeting.

This last item on the agenda consumed its time and the time originally allotted to the annual sermon, too. Runyan explained a few principles from Scripture and read several Bible passages before prayer began. Then, individuals started walking to the front microphone to voice prayers while others remained seated, heads bowed. No one hurried or eyed the clock. One after another, they came, praying for revival.

Gordon Runyan is bivocational, like many New Mexico pastors. For his full-time job, he works a United States Postal Service delivery route as a mail carrier. Day after day, he follows the same route, seeing the same houses. He said, “I’ve got the one route, so I’m used to seeing these neighborhoods day after day; and, they kind of know me.” The routine has given him the opportunity to see and think about the people of his city.

Runyan had begun reading about revival. He said, “I’m not a scholar or an expert in revival history, but I’ve read about a handful of books on revival.” Through those books, God challenged his heart. He explained, “If you had asked me a month ago, ‘Do you care about the lost? Do you care about what’s going on in your town? Do you care about these people that you see?’ I would have said, ‘Yes, I absolutely do.’ ” He continued honestly, “But, God has … been faithful to show me that I was not even seeing ‘the tip of the iceberg.’ I haven’t loved like Christ loved. And, I don’t have the same attitude toward the lost that I’m supposed to have.” These realizations were part of Runyan becoming open before God and listening, rather than asking for things.

He described his need for revival, “Here I am, a pastor, and people are supposedly looking to me spiritually, and I’m realizing that I’m not in the right place [spiritually]. I need to get my heart right [with God]. I need a work of God to come and do that. … I need God’s Spirit to come and revive me first.” God’s new work in his life is fresh and unfinished. These new perspectives are unfamiliar. He said the burden to get right with God was the stirring pastor Hinze referred to at the beginning of the concert of prayer.

Jonathan Edwards began public preaching in 1729, eight years after his conversion to Christ, and soon became a catalyst for the Great Awakenings of the 1730s and 1740s.

Jonathan Edwards began public preaching in 1729, eight years after his conversion to Christ, and soon became a catalyst for the Great Awakenings of the 1730s and 1740s.

Runyan encountered two dangers as he read. First, one rarely sees sweeping revival events personally, as an eyewitness. “Things don’t happen when I preach that happened when Jonathan Edwards preached” he said. “So, its easy to get discouraged.” He referenced the psalmist’s lament in Psalm 44 about hearing of God at work in the past, but not seeing it in the present. Runyan agreed with the psalmist, “You know, we’ve heard the stories, and we’re just not seeing it.” Discouragement is a danger.

The second danger Runyan observed was Christians being “tricked into thinking that just because all the revivals we’re reading about started with prayer … that’s where revival starts—with prayer.” He discovered something behind prayer. “I’m convinced that you have to go back a step. It’s not just the prayer,” he said. “God has to open our eyes to the depth of our need before we can really start praying those prayers that eventually result in God’s answer.” He uncovered an attitude of desire and openness to God, which precedes God bringing revival. It takes prayer, but it takes more than prayer, too.

Ultimately, Runyan’s readings mattered. He told the Baptist New Mexican, “It inspires in me a thirst that I can’t get rid of.” To clarify, he described how that thirst related to his preaching ministry, “I love preaching. I feel called to preach.” Then, his description morphed into a prayer, “I don’t want to preach again without Your power. I don’t want to do it in my own strength. If Your Spirit is not moving through me and doing things in people, what’s it about? I want to see the Word go forth and do stuff to people.”

He doesn’t want his church to hear mere preaching, but rather to encounter God in the preaching—something he doesn’t feel he can do alone. In fact, reflecting on the preaching of great revivalists, he observed, “I preach basically the same messages that they’re preaching, but I don’t see the same things. Of course, that’s all in God’s sovereignty and His timing.”

Runyan hopes churches will come together to pray. He longs for a movement with two parts. First, he hopes churches in his area will adopt common prayer days, so they’re all praying for revival in unison—not at the same time, but on the same day. Second, he hopes to see churches gather monthly in one place to pray for revival and seek God together. He recalled people gathering to pray during the 20th century until God “did something.” Those prayer meetings became the Welsh revival.

Runyan warned that revival affects a person’s “wanter,” that part of a person that desires things. “It’s one thing to read these histories and think that’s what would be great for us. But, its another thing to have our ‘wanter’ changed,” he explained. “Revival has to start with the Holy Spirit coming in and getting a few people and really changing their ‘wanters’ so that … they are fixated [on seeking revival]. … So, that’s what’s got me fired up.” That’s the impact of a handful of books.

Runyan tells his story in this New Mexico Matters podcast titled like this article, “A Handful of Books.”