Month: July 2009

The Friends a Pastor Needs

I spent last week with five friends up in the mountains, hiking, fishing, and eating lots of grilled mammal flesh. I have known four of these men for at least five years and I would consider each of them a true friend that I trust completely. I consider myself to be rich in close friends, something I do not take for granted.

Most of my senior pastor friends find it difficult to live in that type of authentic community, especially senior pastors who lead large churches.   Sometimes, the loneliest guy in the church is the guy on the stage. While it is not realistic to believe the senior pastor can have more than a few close friends, the fact is, the senior pastor still needs friends.  I have found there are three primary groups of people who try to be friends with the senior pastor. Which group do you belong?

 

1.      Super Fans

This group believes the pastor is a combination of Superman and Chuck Norris.  They believe he is a holy giant who has a private phone line to heaven and would have a book in the bible if he had been born when it was being written.  It is true that all pastors need compliments and affirmation, but we do not need flattery. Many times, an insecure or needy leader will make this group his inner circle and over time, the leader actually begins to believe he is super human. Why not, all of his friends tell him so constantly. 

2.      Chronic Critics

This group feels they have a mandate from heaven to correct and criticize the pastor no matter what he does.  This group approaches the pastor with a smile that seems genuine, but behind that smile are the teeth of a piranha. An invitation to their house for dinner turns into a kidnapping. You are trapped at their house while they filet you with their “suggestions.”  I do not mind input, but this group wants friendship to be wrapped around their agenda. They give input but usually get offended when you push back or disagree. This group is the reason that pastors disengage from the tribe and isolate themselves in the green room on Sundays.

3.      Real Friends

This group respects what you do, but loves who you are. They will give you input, but most of the time, the pastor has to ask.  They are relaxed around the pastor which allows the pastor to take off his church mask.  They know how to talk about “normal” things and not just “church” things.  This is the group I spent last week with in the mountains.  This is the same group I traveled with to Africa each June and the same group that met at least once a month in one of our backyards for hours of talking, listening and eating.

I realize the problem is not always in the pew.  Pastors also have to be willing to engage in authentic community and they have to invite people into their lives. I have found that ministry without close friends at your side is the most miserable occupation on the planet. Isolation and loneliness drive pastors away from ministry all the time.  I felt really alone in the first few months at New Life, but that has been replaced now by new friends and the occasional company of old friends. I believe it is better to live in tribe with real friends than to be alone on the stage of a big church.

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Gifts, Power, and Authority

Matthew 7:28-29 NIV

“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”

 

Matthew wrote these words as he remembered the Sermon on the Mount, taught by Jesus to a crowd of people on a mountainside near the Sea of Galilee. Notice that Matthew did not say the people were amazed at the humor of Jesus, the exegesis of Scripture or how Jesus was dressed. They were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority.

 

No one has ever confused my teaching skills to those of Jesus, but I am wondering if the same authority Jesus taught with is available, in some measure, to the rest of us. It is clear in Scripture that all of us who follow Jesus have been given spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12) and there are times when each of us is given power from the Holy Spirit to use these gifts (Acts 1:8).  But how do we get this authority that Jesus obviously had?

 

Recently, I watched a young lady minister whom I have known for several years. She has always had recognizable spiritual gifts, and she has, for years, ministered with the power of the Holy Spirit.  When I saw her this time, though, she had authority. Her words had weight. She spoke and the words seemed to carry more punch and connected not only to the minds of those who were listening, but to their hearts.

 

I believe this authority is given to those whose hearts have been radically changed. We cannot give away what we do not have and we have only as much authority as we are under. When we really surrender our hearts to God, and submit to His authority in heaven and on earth, we are given authority.  I believe a lot of people want this authority, but few are willing to pay the price.

 

I have a position and title as Senior Pastor of New Life Church. I have spiritual gifts and the Holy Spirit has given me the power to use them, but I am asking God for a changed and submitted heart so my words have more authority. Not to impress people or build a spiritual reputation, but so I can be more effective in the assignment He has given me.  I suspect this journey will be painful at times, but I believe it is worth the risk. I sense as I write this that many of you who read this are about to take the same journey. Let it begin today.

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The Truth about Orphans

Warner Brother’s new horror movie Orphan proclaims that it must be hard to love an adopted child as much as your own. As the dad of two adopted children, that is simply not true. Pam and I do not have any biological children to compare with the two we adopted, but I cannot imagine loving my biological child any more than I love Abram and Callie.

 

There are certainly challenges associated with taking an orphaned child into your home. Most of the children who have been orphaned have been traumatized, abandoned, neglected or abused.  Parents need a lot of prayer, counsel and support before, during and after the adoption.  Ask any family who has adopted, and many will tell you it is difficult, but they will also tell you the rewards for rescuing a child are eternal.

 

I have two friends who are close to finalizing their adoption of a little girl from the state foster system. They have battled through sleepless nights, wrestled with doubt, and heard horrible stories about the little girl’s past, but I have also seen God give them strength for the journey. Most importantly, a little girl’s life will be forever changed for the good because a young couple had the courage to adopt.

 

Right now, many families in our city are praying about adopting orphans from our state’s foster system through Wait No More. In the past months, over 200 children have found permanent homes because of the efforts of churches and ministries across our state.  By faith, I believe Colorado will have a waiting list of parents wanting children and not a waiting list of children wanting families. There are over 3000 churches in Colorado and less than 600 orphans.  It is realistic to believe our state could be the first in the union without any foster children.

 

I do not plan to see the movie, Orphan, but I do plan to champion the idea of adoption for the rest of my life. It’s pure. It’s undefiled. It’s religion that pleases God.

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Three Things I Cannot Live Without

Psalms 51: 10-12 (NKJV)

“Create in me a clean heart, O God. And renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit.”

 

There are three things I cannot live without. No matter how good my life may seem on the outside, I must have these three things for life to be good on the inside. 

 

1. A clean heart

 

I have learned that I am in control of what takes up residence in my heart and I am the one who determines if my heart is clean or corrupt. I have lived with a corrupt heart and I have lived with a clean heart, and I have discovered that living honestly before God is a much better life. Condemnation, guilt, shame and despair are lousy roommates compared to grace, mercy and peace.  I have learned that confession is indeed, good for the soul. I have learned that If I am honest before God about the areas where I struggle, God is quick to forgive and generous with His grace. If I hide, the enemy has a feast on the dark places. If I walk in the light, the enemy runs because he cannot torment me when the rooms of my heart are illuminated by God.

 

2. The presence of the Holy Spirit

 

I cannot think of a more miserable life than one without the Holy Spirit. Jesus was right – the Holy Spirit gives us power, guides us in the way of truth and does not leave us as orphans.  Life with the Holy Spirit guarantees immediate access to the throne of God, the ways of God, the mind of Christ and the voice of heaven. Life is too dangerous, too risky, and too mysterious if we do not have the Holy Spirit. I am grateful to live in the age of the New Covenant where the Holy Spirit has made us His temple and chooses to make us his permanent dwelling place and not just a place of occasional visits.

 

3. The joy of my salvation

 

I am born again and I can’t get over it. I remember how my life was a train wreck before Jesus. I remember the joy I found 21 years ago, next month, when I said yes to following Him. Since then, life certainly has not been a perpetual Disney experience and I have not always enjoyed life or always been happy. Psalms 51 was written after David was exposed by Nathan the prophet as an adulterer and murderer. King David not only had lost his moral compass, he had lost his joy. Not long ago, Pam asked me if I was enjoying life. At the time, I had to be honest. I told her no. Since that lunch two months ago, I have been on a mission to rediscover the simple joy of following Jesus. I realized, once again that day, that life is better if there is joy. I am determined this joy will not be taken from me again. It is a gift from heaven and I cannot imagine life without it.

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Four reasons I am not worried about the next generation

I am not super worried about the next generation. I am concerned, but I am not worried. For sure we have a crisis on our hands as alarming numbers of students are leaving the church after turning 18 and the youth culture continues to grow darker. But, all is not lost. This summer, around 6000 students came to our campus in Colorado Springs for one of two Desperation Conferences. I watched them worship, pray and seek God and it has renewed my faith in this new tribe of Christ followers.  We should all be hopeful.  Take a look at my reasons below and even add your own if you wish.

 

1.      They have seen the worst of Christianity but the best of Jesus

The next generation expects very little from their older adult leaders. We have failed them for the most part – promising to live with integrity, but allowing ourselves to become corrupt. The next generation has instead put their hopes in Jesus and has become less impressed with spiritual rock stars. I think that is a good thing. The next generation is not impressed with hype and can spot a poser almost immediately. They appreciate sincerity, authenticity and candidness, but immediately reject flamboyance, arrogance or pride. In some ways, broken leaders have done them a service. The focus was always supposed to be on Jesus and the cross and not on those who could speak or sing well.

 

2.      They love tribe

This next generation will survive and thrive because of their pure devotion to God and to each other.  They love and appreciate community. They love tribe.  They still struggle with selfishness and believing they are the center of the universe, but they have a deep appreciation for authentic friendships.  They love the safety of relationships even at the risk of hurt or abandonment. They place a high value on loyalty and cling to the idea that together they are more powerful than when alone.

 

3.      They have been tempted by the best but have overcome

No other time in America has the culture been more obsessed with sex and possessions. The web, movies and all of pop culture is filled with landmines that can kill, steal and destroy our purity and worship. Yet, a growing number of students are saying no to the intense temptations of our age and have committed themselves to the paths of righteousness. They may smell like smoke, but they have not been consumed by the fire.

 

4.      They are willing to live for something bigger than themselves

It is amazing how many students at New Life have given up Saturdays to serve others or gone oversees to build orphanages and help the poor. They are willing to sleep in tents in the bush of East Africa for weeks or pick up the trash in a poor neighborhood. They have filled our hallways with canned goods so local food banks can be re-stocked. They have said “yes” to the Great Commission.

 

We should continue to pray passionately for the next generation, but rest assured, there is a new tribe forming that has already decided to live free and change the world.

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Helping a Hurt Church Heal

Helping a Hurt Church Heal

Charisma Magazine asked me to consider writing an article about the healing that is happening at New Life. Here are some thoughts I am having today. I would enjoy hearing your feedback, especially if you are a New Lifer who has been on this journey with me.

In August 2007, I became the Senior Pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs. 10 months earlier, in November 2006, the church was rocked by scandal when the founding pastor, Ted Haggard, admitted to a relationship with a male prostitute. It was a story that made international headlines and caused great hurt among the 12,000 members of the church. Four months after I became the leader, a gunman came on our campus and killed two teenage girls, wounded two others before taking his own life in the hallway of our main building.  In 13 months, the church twice made international headlines and suffered more traumas than any single church in America had experienced in the past 30 years.

I am not an expert on helping people heal but I am experienced.  What did I learn the past two years that could help others heal? What should leaders and pastors do to help a church who has suffered?

 

1.      Talk about what happened

Christians are notorious posers.  We have even been taught erroneously that talking about bad stuff is bad confession and proof that we have no faith. What theological baloney! If you have been hurt, the worst thing you can do is ignore what happened.  I had to lead by talking about it in Sunday talks, in staff meetings, and in private conversations with members. I regularly discussed my own hurts and my own disappointments which gave everyone else permission to talk about what they were experiencing. When people are allowed to be authentic and take off their “church masks” their hearts are opened to the Holy Spirit and real healing can begin.

 

2.      Deal with the pain

I believe the bible teaches us that is ok not to be ok.  It also teaches us that it’s not ok to remain in the dark places of life. I believe in the power of the Gospel to repair and restore all of broken humanity, but we must cooperate with the Holy Spirit to experience this healing.  Hours after the shooting, hundreds of pastors and volunteer counselors began meeting with New Lifers who had been traumatized. In many cases, after talking about the shooting for a few minutes, many New Lifers admitted they had never dealt with the pain of the scandal.  It was a reminder to all of us that time does not heal all wounds, it only hides them.  We were determined to deal with the pain, so we kept trained counselors on hand and offered several settings where people could receive nurture, prayer and inner healing. We did not get in a hurry with this process and allowed people to process their own pain at their own pace. Many leaders want instant healing when the human soul often takes time to heal, even under the best circumstances.

 

3.      Move to the next exhibit

When I take my kids to the zoo, they often want to stay at the lion exhibit or the monkey exhibit for what seems like forever. I often have to move a few steps away from them and act like I am walking completely away to get them to look at another exhibit.  Once they see me walking, they pry themselves away from the monkeys and join me at the giraffe exhibit. I have learned that I could not ignore the pain of the church, but I also could not spend the rest of my life looking at the same exhibit. Scars are a reminder of a traumatic event, but we do not have to be defined by them. At some point in the journey we must move forward. Fresh wind of heaven has to fill our sails and move us to new waters.  God is not finished with any of us and He certainly has not forgotten how to take a broken piece of humanity, restore them and set them on new path to higher places.

Miraculously, New Life is thriving today and experiencing what can only be described as God’s favor and blessing.  No one at New Life would say we are completely healed, but most New Lifers would agree that a great deal of restoration has already happened because we talked about it, dealt with the pain and we moved to the next exhibit in our lives.

Twitter – @pastorbrady

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Seven Favorite Memories of New Life

I am approaching my two-year anniversary at New Life and I have been reflecting lately on all that has happened to me and to the church in such a short period of time. It seems we have packed ten years worth of experience into the past 24 months.  Certainly, there have been some dark days, but there have also been some funny and memorable events that I will never forget.

 

7. President Bush shakes my hand

A few months after the shooting on the campus, the White House contacted my office asking me and Jeanne Assam to meet President Bush in Denver.  He was sincerely moved by the story at New Life and wanted to tell us personally how proud he was of the church and the community. Watching Air Force One land and seeing the president come down the steps was magical and a memory I will never forget.

 

6.  The fire alarm goes off at the end of the 11am service.

Pastor Ross was just wrapping up a great talk about serving in our city, when the fire alarm went off and forced several thousand people to evacuate. It was as if God was telling us to get out of the building and go be salt and light. There was no fire, but we will always remember the big ending to the service.

 

5.  The porcupine in the petting zoo

It is true – we had a porcupine in the kid’s petting zoo for Hallelujah Night in 2007.  Kids were not allowed to touch the prickly critter, but it was funny that a porcupine was next to sheep and baby goats in the little indoor zoo we had created.

 

4.   Kill the Devil T-shirts

This was the best selling T-shirt at last year’s Desperation Conference when over 4000 students came to our campus to worship and pursue God. Everyone was wearing t-shirts that read, “Kill the Devil”. While it is theologically impossible for the Devil to be killed, it did make for a killer t-shirt.

 

3. Wait No More

In November 2008, over 1300 people from across the state of Colorado came to our campus to kick off Wait No More, an ambitious ministry idea birthed at Focus on the Family. We challenged the 3000 churches of Colorado to adopt the 750 children in the state’s foster system that were waiting for homes. That number is now under 500 and we believe that soon Colorado will have a waiting list of parents wanting children rather than a waiting list of children hoping for parents.

 

2. The Thorn

This year was my first Thorn experience and it was life-changing.  Over a thousand volunteers worked for months to produce a Broadway quality musical complete with pyrotechnics, dancers, scary centurions, acrobats on ropes, and the debut of Doubting Thomas. Hundreds of people committed their lives to Christ and over 35,000 came during the Easter season to see the eight performances.

 

Number 1 – The Wednesday Night Family Meeting

Three days after a shooting on our campus, our tribe of people gathered for a time of mourning and remembrance for those who lost their lives. In the midst of great sorrow, hope arose from the ashes. At the end of the meeting, the worship team sang, “Overcome” and heaven literally came to the earth inside our packed Living Room. We sang the song with a holy defiance. We were determined that God was for us and that nothing could take the lamp stand from New Life that He had placed among us.  When we were at our weakest moment, God became strong among us.

 

There are numerous great memories of my time here at New Life, but these seven came to mind today. Some are just things that appeal to my bizarre sense of humor and others are a reminder that God often leads on paths that are dangerous, mysterious and risky, but will always give us joy for the journey.

 

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Overcoming a Spouse’s Affair

After last week’s talk at New Life, many people have asked me how someone can recover when their spouse has been unfaithful. I believe in the power of the Gospel to restore all of broken humanity including those who have experienced the deep hurt and trauma of adultery. While the road to complete recovery is sometimes long and demanding, healing can definitely happen. 

How can someone overcome a spouse’s affair?

 

1.      Forgive the person who violated the covenant.

Forgiveness means you are releasing your spouse to God and trusting God to work deeply in their heart for lasting change. You are not responsible for your spouse’s behavior, but you are responsible to keep your own heart free from bitterness. This is when your heart will begin healing.  When you really release your spouse to God, the spouse no longer has the ability to corrupt your heart and God is released to do what He does best – convict, redeem and restore. 

 

2.      Get help from someone who can really help you.

This is not a road we are supposed to walk alone. Find a mature, trusted friend or pastor and let them walk alongside you. It is best that this person is objective and able to see above the emotions of the moment so they can give you clear and wise direction. It is certainly ok to go a licensed counselor to deal with the deep inner issues that have surfaced during this trauma in your life.

 

3.      Talk honestly about your feelings.

You feel the way you feel. If you hurt, say so. If you are angry, yell a little. It is ok not to be ok. Stop all the religious talk and speak candidly. You need ministry and God works best when we have an honest heart before Him.

 

4.      Do not expect the same relationship as before.

Many times the spouse who has committed the adultery wants you and everyone else to simply forgive them and act as if nothing happened. It is not that simple. You have been violated and abused so the offending spouse cannot be allowed the same trust as before. In fact, the relationship will never be the same as before. Trust is difficult to earn and even tougher to get back. You are not required by Scripture to trust your spouse as before. You have to set new and tighter boundaries for their behavior until they have proven over time they can be trusted. This may take years and that needs to be communicated up front. Anyone can jump through hoops for a short time in order to win back a hurt friend, but someone who is really remorseful and repentant can live free for a lifetime.

 

 I know couples who have overcome adultery and lived together in strong marriages because they made these fundamental choices up front. I am sad that other couples I know have lost their marriages because they ignored these principles.  Marriage requires a lot of hard work and an unwavering commitment to God and each other. Rest assured, marriage can survive an affair and can even thrive afterwards. This is the power of the Gospel which gives us hope that nothing can separate us from the love of God and because of Him, two people can love again even after the darkest of days.

 

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