International Influence Primes D.C.-Area Pastor for Convention 2023 Platform
By Carl Stagner
He happens to be the younger brother of legendary Church of God theologian Gilbert Stafford, but he is not defined by his family. He happens to pastor one of the most dynamic congregations in the Church of God movement, assembling each week just outside one of the most powerful cities in the world, but he is not defined by position or location. Wielding widespread influence that extends internationally, he’s also not defined by the number of people who look up to him as a high-capacity leader, catalytic minister of the gospel, compassionate mentor, and faithful friend. Though the pastor of Fairfax Community Church for thirty-six years certainly has the credentials to take the platform at Convention 2023, it’s his identity as a child of God and his love for people—especially the next generation—that best describe Rod Stafford.
Seventeen years separated Rod and Gil, but very little else did. Sibling rivalry wasn’t a factor, and neither aspired to be in the Church of God spotlight. As Rod puts it, Gilbert Stafford was more of a second father figure to him. Rod Stafford considered Gil a role model, though he himself had never planned to follow in his family’s ministerial footsteps.
“When I came into the world, Gil was basically graduating from high school!” Rod explains. Their father D.C. Stafford was also a role model to both boys, plus another brother, who went to seminary at Anderson before teaching at the university. While Rod was growing up, Gil served as pastor in Boston, Massachusetts, and Midland, Michigan, and was teaching at the seminary when Rod was in high school. But all the traveling and teaching didn’t deprive Rod of the chance to learn from his older brother, at home, in the pew, or in the seminary classroom.
“It was kind of funny,” Rod has reflected. “We never tried to hide how we were related, but we had friends in classes that never knew we were related.”
Rod didn’t go on to author some of the most widely used theological books in the Church of God like his brother, but he did go on to pastor one of the largest and most active churches in the Movement—one that reaches across the globe and has yielded kingdom fruit like few others. God gifted Rod generously with traits and skills for the specific purposes he’s had for Rod. “But much of my approach in ministry was shaped by my brother, including the way I think about things theologically,” Rod has explained. “Whenever I was thinking through church issues, theological issues, political issues, or social issues, he was often the person I would turn to and say, ‘Gil, I’d love to process this with you.’ Since he passed away in 2008, that’s one of the things I’ve missed the most about him.”
Though Rod initially had other ideas for his life, he ultimately found his way into the ministry. He remembers feeling called more to a particular church than a role, which has resulted in longevity in only three ministry settings. With a kindled fire in his soul for a very specific kind of ministry in that which he calls “cities of influence,” Rod and his wife Donna started down the fundraising path to plant a church in Boston. But, in the midst of that process, God directed them to Fairfax, Virginia, a suburb of another very influential global city—the nation’s capital.
“When I came to Fairfax, it was a church of a hundred,” Rod recounts. “But they had a huge heart for mission and a huge heart to reach the next generation. When I came, I sensed this would be the place where we would spend our lives. My first year or so, the leadership board asked if I had a one- or two-year plan for ministry there. I said, no, but I have a forty-year plan! I just had a sense that if we could get focused on the mission God was calling us to that, in one generation—roughly forty years—we could make a difference. [Since then] we’ve seen God do some absolutely amazing things.”
God has definitely done some amazing things in those thirty-six years. Fairfax Community Church now sees attendance approaching a few thousand. Tangible impact has been made on the Washington, D.C. area and around the world. And they’ve helped plant or restart numerous churches in global cities, which have gone on to plant many more “granddaughter” churches of Fairfax. With such broad experience, Rod has learned a thing or two about being a leader with great influence.
“Giving God a chance to work is important,” he says. “What I mean by that is you have to be willing to hang in there when things are not easy. God can do amazing things over a period of time, but sometimes we get a little anxious and try to run ahead of God’s timing.”
He mentions another. “Surround yourself with great people. I think the thing I love doing the most is identifying the strengths and passions of people, and then placing them in roles that reflect those strengths and passions. When people get aligned with how God has wired them, they can spend their time at their best, and the kingdom of God advances the most.”
But if he were to describe what the recurring focus of his ministry has been, it involves the next generation. “Most of my ministry has been about encouraging and empowering the next generation of leaders in our church, in our Movement, and in global cities around the world.”
At the dawn of 2022, Rod Stafford was diagnosed unexpectedly with cancer. When he speaks at Convention 2023, he plans to reveal more of the testimony on the other side of such difficult news; until then, he rejoices that “God’s miraculous grace in so many ways, time after time,” has been on full display through this new journey.”
Don’t miss this year’s Church of God Convention, slated to welcome guests from around the world for an especially global occasion. Hear speakers from beyond the borders of the United States and Canada, as well as those with remarkable international influence—like Rod Stafford.
“He’s got the whole world in his hands.” What an encouraging reality! Be inspired by it, be challenged by it, and experience it firsthand at Convention 2023 and General Assembly, June 22–25 in Tampa, Florida. Learn more and register at www.chogconvention.org.