Mike Connell, senior pastor of Bay City Outreach Centre in Hastings, New Zealand, brought his powerful ministry to City Harvest Church from June 29 to July 5. City News sat down with him for a catch-up on July 4 after an exhausting deliverance session at the Bible School.
Pastor Mike Connell is a beloved friend of City Harvest Church. Since the early ’90s he has been coming to CHC to minister, and since 1994, when City Harvest Bible Training Centre (known today as the School of Theology) was set up, Pastor Mike has been part of the school program, teaching a week-long module on deliverance every year. If you ask any SOT alumnus, Pastor Mike’s life-changing sessions at Bible school are often the highlight of the seven-month course.
This year, Pastor Mike preached at CHC’s weekend services, its leaders’ meeting and of course, at SOT.
Pastor Mike, you have sown into what will be 25 cohorts of SOT students this year. What kind of fruit have you seen from this?
Oh, there have been so many testimonies of lives changed! We find that people become free of torment; they experience peace, they experience a joy in their lives; sometimes they start to do things they would never have done, they get activated into their ministries more powerfully. It’s the freedom people feel and the ability to open their hearts to engage people differently that we mostly see. Even today, we saw one girl radically shifted, dramatically changed; walls have gone down and she can connect the way she couldn’t before.
So I’ve found with deliverance, people carry pressures inside them and tormenting voices and pain and they are held in bondage by demons; they are held captive. And when they’re delivered, healing takes place. It’s like there’s a new freedom. A person has been tormented for many, many years and the voice just stops, it’s no longer there—that voice they’re used to living with. And now they are free.
Do any of the SOT students keep in touch with you?
I come as a guest to serve the church, not to draw people to myself. However, there are some I remember and keep connection with because I feel an affinity with them. There’s one young man last year, he went through a massive deliverance. Since then, he’s had the same anointing, and he has been able to pray for people and they’ll get delivered. So he feels a special affinity for me because I’ve transformed his life. So I gave him my website details and he’s drawn a lot from them [the materials]. Because he had been so imprisoned and felt free, his desire is to bring others into freedom.
So I’ve prayed for hundreds. I find on occasion there’ll be one person I’m drawn to, to give them maybe a little extra attention. It’s the Holy Spirit who knows what they need, or what they can be, if they have a little extra help. So I don’t look at it as a crowd of people, unknown faces. I look at each person as valuable, each has a story, each has a future. And when God draws me to one, I’ll maybe just pray for them more than once or take a special interest in them.
Occasionally people follow up. We had one serious situation where I was asked to help, and I followed up on that one because it was touch and go whether they’d be suicidal or not. So I kept that connection, because with people in that [mental] state, the connection, once formed, if broken can really devastate them. It’s about loving people and treating them with honor, and it’s also about sensing what the Holy Spirit wants to do in particular. Once in a while, that would mean extra teaching that would help the person come out of [the difficult place] where he is.
You have talked about how you started your ministry, asking God for more of His love and presence. How did you seek the Lord for that?
What you’re talking about is a God encounter, encountering the Lord and having revelation come to you. The Holy Spirit brings revelation—that comes out of your hunger. You see it expressed in Psalm 27:4 when David says, “My one desire is to seek after and dwell in the house, to behold the beauty of the Lord”. He had the drive to have encounters with God. So we find that encounters come out of pursuit. Also, being in a place where the Holy Spirit is moving. “Pursuit” means I’ll take time to be in the presence of God. And fasting—that’s one of the most powerful ways to seek God.
How to prepare yourself to engage with God? Worship. Praying strong in tongues. You cultivate and nurture the hunger for God and the environment of worship. You don’t know when you’ll have encounters—sometimes you’ll have them more frequently than others. I choose songs that will touch my heart and I look in the Scripture sometimes. I spend seasons of, maybe, three weeks to break through the stronghold of rejection, and in doing so, encounter God that way.
Intentional prayer, strong prayer, through meditation—that’s a major way to have encounters with God. Meditation is when you take a Scripture, and you hold the Scripture over and over in your mind, you picture it as being real for you now—you embrace that. So it’s not imagining things, it’s using your imagination to see Scriptures in a way that your heart can respond to it.
The Bible has many stories of people having encounters, and when you meditate on those Scriptures, they open a way to have an encounter. Mark 1:41-42, in the story about the leper, Jesus’ compassion towards the man comes from the Father—you can encounter that compassion. In Luke 15:30, when the Prodigal Son returns home, you can encounter the Father’s embrace. But you have to memorize the Scripture, meditate and worship and hold it until [you internalize it]: what does it look like, what does it feel like, what would it be if it’s true for me now?
It takes time, and then you encounter God. Once you’ve had one encounter, it’s much easier to reencounter that. Many people had an experience with God, but they don’t actually build on that experience. If you look at the Bible, it’s filled with people having experiences with God—it’s to inspire us: we can have that too. The encounter always comes out of hunger and pursuit and persistence—until you have a breakthrough.
How should SOT students hold on to what they learn in Bible school?
Jesus taught the fundamental parable of the kingdom in Matthew 13 and Mark 4—the parable of the sower and the seed. It’s really the parable of the heart because the seed is planted in the heart, so now the heart is the place where faith grows, where love grows, where the relationship with the Lord grows. Everyone is responsible for their own hearts, so we have to guard our hearts because as Proverbs 4:23 says, whatever gets into our hearts determines the outcome of our lives and the borders of limitation. In the parable it’s very clear that the same seed that is sown into different people yields different heart responses. For some, they have joy for a while, but when it gets difficult, they quit because the seed never took root in their heart. So the key issue is not the problem with the seed or the sower; the problem is the heart condition, and the responsibility to nurture the heart by placing priority and value on God.
So I think that’s what happens in Bible School: people are sustained by the atmosphere that others have built. The danger of it is they cruise, gaining information but not deepening their personal life with God. So I would think the major problem is their personal devotional life with the Lord and their encounters with the Lord and what they allow to sit in their heart. One year at SOT, we had about 200 Bible school students come up for altar call to be delivered of sorcery. They were involved in sorcery through online game playing! They’re in Bible school, giving a year of their lives to serve God, yet engaging in demonic activity in their past time! So, it’s no wonder they have a struggle when they get out; there’s a seduction in there which they weren’t aware of until we gave revelation of it and they got delivered. And hopefully they won’t go back.
Also, I think too much emphasis can be placed on performance and doing, and not enough on cultivating the heart and getting people to be transparent about where they are. You can get caught up with busyness in Bible School. Even for me in ministry, with travelling, moving around. Busyness becomes an enemy ultimately of your personal life with God. Because everyone wants to be busy and go to all these meetings, but I value having time alone with the Lord because even Jesus, with all the pressures in life, drew aside to be alone.
Please tell us what your personal daily devotion time is like.
When I’m home, we schedule fasts and periods of fasting; maybe three weeks in the beginning of the year or through the year, maybe three days or a week. Sometimes we do it, sometimes we don’t (laughs). When I’m home I schedule a lot of time to just read and study—we [his wife Joy and him] see the need now to make space in a year to rest properly and to supercharge our engagement with the Lord because we’re giving out a lot. Typically I will do this: I will pray in the spirit and worship with music for maybe an hour; the focus is entirely on the Lord. Then I may spend about 25 or 30 minutes in prayer to strengthen my inner man by affirmations from the Word of God. Then I’ll pray 20 minutes or so, for family members, their spouses, our grandchildren, for spiritual sons and daughters I have around the world. Then if the Lord gives me anything specific regarding ministry then I’ll pray over that area. So it’s quite easy to fill an hour and a half to two hours—and that’s without the devotional part. That’s why I like that time; I’ve really come to value the time because it’s the time I feel the presence of God. Sometimes, it may be as I worship and I feel the presence of God, and I’ll just sit down and let one song to keep playing and allow Him to touch my heart and I journal. I’ve been journaling regularly: writing out a prayer and then listening to God talk, so you develop a flow of communing with Him. Journaling is a very powerful way of developing intimacy because you engage in speaking your heart and listening, and you start to develop sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, to His voice. And God speaks about many things. So, journaling is very powerful.
In your sermons on the weekend you said that many Christian churches are powerless. How so?
Well, I think much of the Western church has been seduced away from the power of God. There is no record of Jesus commissioning anyone without imparting them the ability to move in the supernatural power of God. There is no exception to it—it’s all through the New Testament: Jesus empowered the apostles, the 70, the whole church. So, His model for ministry is preach and then demonstrate. The church has drawn back from demonstration and He specifically introduced the ministry of deliverance, setting people free from demons.
So now, churches leave people with demons, and instead, they preach a lot of motivational messages—what has happened is replacement. The power of God has been replaced with motivation. Where people normally preach the Cross and the power of God, it’s now just motivational messages. Where the power of God brought deliverance, now that’s replaced with counselling. It’s not that I’m against counselling but without the power of God, there’s no transformation. Then instead of the worship and presence of God, church becomes low key entertainment. A shift is taking place, and I think it’s the pressure of the culture to conform to the world and please the world and it comes under the thing where we want to be “relevant” and “contemporary”. But Jesus’ ministry is the model. When you change to another model, you have rejected the pact and there will be consequences to that. When people are tormented by demons, the church is the only one authorized to deal with that. When people are traumatized and wounded, the church is given the power to heal their broken hearts, otherwise they are counselled to manage the problem but they are not healed in the heart. So it deeply concerns me that people’s real needs are left unmet. Some churches tend to be lukewarm because there are no fresh encounters with the presence and power of God.
I think it’s partly the pressure of society—they tend to please and connect to the world. I also think people have not been trained in the supernatural, never been taught or discipled, and they are not under apostolic ministry where they become pastoral-minded. I think the people in church themselves have failed to receive ministry, therefore they don’t understand the necessity for it and what it can do to transform their lives.
And then I think there have been excesses—unbalanced ministry which destroys the credibility of deliverance. And people say “I don’t want that” and they’re right to say it; I don’t want that either! These distortions put people off, they are a misuse of prophetic gifts. But I think there needs to be the receiving of apostles and prophets to church, recognizing and giving them room to function because the apostle activates other gifts and governs and guides other gifts. If we don’t have apostles, then things go out of balance.
Does City Harvest Church have it?
Pastor Kong is an apostle. He’s a pioneer. See, the thing is the church is not used to it; they don’t recognize the role, they just call everyone “Pastor”. You don’t find that in the New Testament: it’s not Biblical. In the Bible there are always the apostles. Jesus is the great apostle; Jesus raised up apostles—apostles are pioneers. So you look up what He has done: He showed us many signs of the apostle, and with that comes all the difficulties and misunderstandings and conflicts. Look at the church from the beginning: it’s always about having encounters with God. It’s always had strong praise, strong worship, and belief in the power of God. It has embraced deliverance, healing and miracles.
I just think that sometimes on the journey, we lose focus of who God says we are and we’ve got to rediscover it again. But I’ve been coming here to SOT for nearly 30 years, and they have welcomed me to train their leaders in the supernatural. so that tells me the supernatural is in the church. The worship I remember, at the beginning [of my relationship with CHC], no one could come to that without being exhilarated in the spirit: by the fire, the passion, the energy that was the most inspiring worship I’ve seen anywhere. Churches go through seasons; they develop and grow and you have to reestablish things, refocus on things that are foundational, the DNA. it’s always about the passion and love for God and expression of love, love for people. CHC, like any church, goes through a season where it’s difficult. If we respond right to God in our own place, then God lift us up and put it [the calling, the anointing] all back on us again. Some people get very critical and there are reasons for that, but God sees past that. He just wants us to hear what He’s saying and respond to that. So what excites me this visit particularly, is to see the fire burning in the next generation. They are talking things that we talked about at the beginning; they are having encounters with God, all excited about the Lord, they are moving in the supernatural. I see a generation alive and hungry for the Lord. That’s good news for the church.
What is the next phase of ministry God is calling you to?
More to be part of an apostolic team that Apostle Guillermo Maldonado has put together. I have a particular ministry that adds to what he does, so there’s a great increase of fruitfulness when different ministries come together. I’ll be doing more in ministry schools [in Miami, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and the Philippines] with several thousand leaders and pastors; more conferences with these pastors and leaders, to empower them and equip them and minister to them. Apostle Maldonado has a tremendous capacity to bring the supernatural realm into reality: creative miracles, all kinds of miracles, miracles for things have not been created, things that were not there before. Because he is apostolic, he has the great ability to bring out ministries together into a team, which you don’t see very often. So when I’m working with him, he will have a worship team that will bring a creative flow of prophetic worship. And then various ministers that will work with the people. So it’s very much working the five-fold ministry to equipping the body.
You and Sister Joy are going to celebrate your 50th wedding anniversary next year! Congratulations!
Yes, we are going to go across Europe on a cruise and we’re getting a couple of family members to go together with us. Joy is always with me, we travel together pretty well everywhere. Joy is with me almost all the time and occasionally another family member. Joy is part of the ministry, talking to people, praying for people, she’s got her own particular gift and strength. We’re just happy to be together.