Businessman-revivalist gives $1M for church revitalization programs
Harold Mathena has “dabbled” in business throughout his life. For him, business has always been secondary to his desire to serve the Lord as a pastor and evangelist. Business was his means to ministry, not the end itself.
Most people’s dabbling, however, rarely results in a successful business, sold after 22 years for $240 million.
Mathena is not most people.
‘Major new emphasis’
Because of his business acumen and God’s blessings, Mathena has given Southern Seminary a $1 million gift to fund a “major new emphasis” in church revitalization, said the school’s president, R. Albert Mohler Jr.
During his annual report to the Southern Baptist Convention, June 11, 2014, Mohler announced the Mathena Center for Congregational Revitalization, an initiative to train ministers in reviving declining and dying churches.
“We are so thankful for this gift because it will enable us to provide both instruction and special experiences for students in order to help them to understand the great challenge and opportunity of church revitalization in this generation,” Mohler said in an interview with Southern Seminary Magazine.
Mohler noted that as important as the recent emphasis in church planting is for Southern Baptists, revitalization of existing congregations also is critical.
“We need young pastors to recognize the incredible, untapped opportunity of those churches and to recognize that even as church planting is a courageous calling, so also is going into a church and helping it to recapture its vision, re-embrace its convictions and re-address its community in the world with an opportunity for missions and evangelism,” he said.
Mohler said many Southern Seminary alumni are demonstrating leadership in church revitalization, citing as examples Mark Dever at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., Aaron Menikoff at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Sandy Springs, Georgia, and Greg Gilbert at Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.
Mathena’s gift will also support the seminary’s new doctor of ministry in church revitalization degree, Mohler said.
Starting in the oil fields
Starting out after high school, Mathena, now 79, worked in the oil fields in south Louisiana, learning the industry and eventually developing oil field drilling equipment. After 20 years, Mathena left the industry for a time in order to take a pastorate in Yukon, Oklahoma. After eight years as a pastor — five years full-time and three years bivocational — he began an evangelism ministry, having started his first company to support it.
“The reason for starting the company was to make a living so I could do evangelistic work,” Mathena told Southern Seminary Magazine in a recent interview. “I couldn’t work for someone else and have the freedom to do revivals.”
Four years after starting Omega Equipment Company, Mathena sold it in 1982. By 1990, he was ready to start another business, Mathena, Inc., also providing oil field equipment.
Launching the company during a significant economic recession for the oil industry in Oklahoma didn’t prevent Mathena’s business from thriving. “It was just a God-thing from the very beginning,” he said, noting the “miraculous” blessing on his business in spite of an otherwise down economy.
“God just gave us an unusual amount of wisdom and discernment about the work we were involved in and it was wholly of Him,” he said.
Business for evangelism
Mathena is certain that God’s blessings on his business were for the purpose of advancing his evangelistic ministry.
“When we started the business in 1990, I wrote a prayer in a little spiral-bound notebook I had in my shirt pocket asking God to bless our business and committing my efforts to be successful with God’s help,” he said. “And God honored that prayer and allowed us to be successful in the business and it was totally of God we were able to do what we did.”
In 2012, Mathena sold Mathena Inc. to a Scottish company — directing the buyer to give $21.6 million in proceeds to his home church, Quail Springs Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, as a testimony. The gift, one-tenth of the sale price after a portion set aside in escrow, was no different than his first tithe of $25 as a new believer in 1958, Mathena said.
“Having tithed all those years that we served the Lord, when we sold the company, it was no issue, it was no problem, and it was a normal and natural thing to do to give a tithe of what we’d received from the company,” he said.
More than just tithing on the sale of his business, Mathena and his wife, Patricia, have given generously to other Christian causes, including Southern Seminary.
Mathena became aware of Southern through his son, John, who served as a member of the Board of Trustees, 2002-2012. While the senior Mathena has ministered throughout his life without formal theological education, he was “impressed” with what he experienced while visiting the campus and seeing the “young people that had been trained” at Southern.
“I wanted to support the ministry and this was an opportunity to do that,” he said.
“We all know there’s a great need in Southern Baptist life for revival,” he said concerning his gift to support church revitalization efforts at Southern. “In every church you go to, there’s a need for spiritual awakening. … We need to do everything we can to train and project young people into society and into our culture to make a difference.”
Mathena’s giving, however, is not generosity — it’s stewardship, according to Hance Dilbeck, his pastor. “He lives with a keen sense of the Lord’s ownership of 100 percent,” Dilbeck told Southern Seminary Magazine.
The Mathenas are “model church members,” Dilbeck said, noting Harold teaches a Sunday school class and is faithful in worship attendance.
“Harold Mathena has the gift of evangelism,” according to his pastor. “He preaches the gospel with passion and clarity. As an evangelist, he gives a clear and compelling invitation. His preaching is consistently productive.”
John Mathena said his parents’ faithfulness in stewardship has had an impact on the entire family — and are models for others.
“I truly believe that God has blessed our family because we have been good stewards of what he has placed under our care,” he said. “Dad and mom have been great examples for all followers of Christ to watch when it comes to stewardship.”
His father’s virtually life-long bivocational ministry was demonstrated in the fact that “he rarely separated” his business interests from his role as a pastor and evangelist.
According to John Mathena, his father’s ministry of evangelism is joined with a concern to “encourage the pastors to run the race with endurance.”
Mathena has no plans of slowing down in his revival ministry, which generally has him preaching services in churches every other week in the spring and fall. With no website or other promotion, invitations come via word-of-mouth — keeping his calendar full.
“I just think it’s a remarkable thing that any church would want a 79-year-old man to come and that in itself is a God-thing that I have an opportunity to preach at all. And of course, as long as I have opportunity, I’m going to do what I can.”
James A. Smith Sr. is executive editor and chief spokesman of Southern Seminary.