A Modern Day Parable

She grew up not far from the botanical garden. She would walk by almost everyday, peering through the wrought iron fence supported by beautiful brick columns. She would think to herself, one day I would love to work there.

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As she grew older she fell in love with art. She would spend hours sketching, drawing and painting in the botanical garden. Each season brought new beauty and new color. It was as if every changing of the seasons unveiled a new and glorious world never before seen. Still, she longed for the day she could work there.

Finally the day came. She put in her application and because she had spent so much time there, the director knew who she was. Just by listening to her talk he knew she loved this place. He knew she would be committed to keeping it beautiful. So he felt very confident, that even though she had never had a job, she would work very hard to keep the place she loved beautiful. Her face lit up when he peered over his desk and said, you begin tomorrow. I will see you at 6 am. The next morning she awoke to the alarm on her phone at 4:30. No way would she be late for her first day; Her first new day at the place she loved.

She got ready, ate breakfast and packed her lunch. She headed out the door to simply go and do what she loved. As she got out of her car a sense of satisfaction came over her. This was the very thing she was made for. She walked along the dark grey, crushed, gravel path leading to the maintenance shed to meet her coworkers, and get her instructions for the day. She was so glad to be a part of this team. To be a part of something bigger than herself. To be able to make a difference in the world. To bring beauty and enjoyment to people, especially little girls who like her had a deep sense of wonder for this place. The flowers, majestic. The grass, perfectly cut. The animals, at peace in nature. All she could see was the beauty of the place she loved.

Her supervisor said, I would like you to pick up trash. Keeping the park clean and litter free was one of the most important jobs she felt she could do. She hurried out with her thick, black, plastic trash bag and long spiked pole. So the day began picking up trash. The day was amazing. She got to work in the place she loved and keep the park beautiful and clean just as others had always done for her. Her favorite part of every day was dawn. The very moment, the sun would peek over the edge of the horizon and sunlight would glimmer over the fresh morning dew. So everyday she came to work surrounded by beauty and fully believing this was the reason she existed.

So years went by and the love never seemed to fade. Then one day, she got to work and stepped out of the car as she had done for years. But today was different. Oh, she didn’t know it was different, but it was. As she shut her car door, she saw a candy wrapper right at the edge of the dark grey, crushed, gravel path. The same path she had walked for years. Then she saw an empty bottle and an event flyer ushered in by the wind. What was so different about today? After all, picking up trash and keeping the park clean had been the most significant part of her job. Today was different though because today, for the first time, she failed to see the beauty she was surrounded by because trash had become her focus. The litter she had worked so hard to keep clean was now the only thing she could see.

Friends, today is a new day, a precious gift. A day of resurrection. A day new life is bursting forth all around you. Today, don’t become so focused on all that is wrong with world that you fail to see the beauty of this day. Life is a miracle, each and every breath you take. Each and every moment you have with the people you love. Don’t miss today, you don’t get it back.
HE IS RISEN!


Life Lived in Focus

The new year is fast approaching. Somehow it seems like I blinked and it is 2015. In February Cami and I will celebrate our 10th anniversary. WOW! Just 2 months ago we welcomed our 4th child, Kaylee Albritton. Even more WOW! We are now a family of 6. Life is busy to say the least. I am sure the same is true of your life as well. Whether you are single, a single parent, newly weds, a growing family, or empty nesters, I am quite sure you find plenty of ways to keep yourself busy.

With so much going on, our brains primary goal is to simply, to take our everyday tasks and send them into auto pilot. This is why as you drive to work everyday or pick up the kids from school, there are times you cannot remember a certain stretch of the road. You know the feeling, when you are waiting to go through the light and turn in and think, I don’t remember passing ________. And it kind of scares you. You think, did I fall asleep? No, your brain was just on auto pilot simplifying our everyday processes.

Elemental_focus

In his book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg talks about an experiment where rats were placed in a maze and their brain activity was measured as they made their way through. The first time or two, their brains were running at near maximum capacity. All of their senses were clicking, but the more they ran the maze, the more their brains and senses disengaged from the process.

Our brains ability and capacity to transition tasks to routines, allows us to do more. So while routines are good, stay in a routine long enough and it becomes a rut. And ruts can be difficult to get out of. Especially in ministry. If you have gone to church any length of time you know exactly what I am talking about.

As a leader it is important to avoid getting stuck in ruts. People don’t want to follow some one who is stuck and going no where. One of the ways I try to avoid getting too bogged down in routine is by developing new focus areas as I move into the new year. These areas could use a little more attention both in my personal life and my leadership roles. So here is what I do. You don’t have to do it exactly like this but find a method that works for you.

  1. Define FOCUS AREAS. I would recommend keeping this list pretty short. such as 2 to 3 areas at a time. They can be simple or complex. However, the more complex, the fewer you should tackle at once. In the past, I have focused on prayer, on developing a specific ministry program, church structure, spiritual disciplines, intentional time with family etc. If you struggle with finding them, ask the question, “what are the routines I have turned into ruts?”
  2. Determine a SPECIFIC LENGTH OF TIME. This does not have to be a year long process. Maybe there are four things you want to focus on building and you need 3 months for each. Be specific and write it down. Maybe it is getting out of debt and you know it will be a 3 or 4 year process. You are not tied down to a calendar.
  3. Clarify the WHY. Why are you doing this? Why this focus? Why now? Bring clarity to the process. Have a reason you are choosing to focus on this area of your life.
  4. Define the WIN. Begin with the end in mind. At the end of this specific time period, what will it look like if you have accomplished your goal? This should be short, with one sentence defining what it will look like.
  5. Determine your ACTION STEPS. You have to move. There has to be some muscle behind the mind. Ideas, thoughts and concepts need to be surrounded with action or they are going to ever happen. So what are 2 or 3 action steps you need to take to start moving? Write them down. As you get moving you will add more to the list but just get started. Make them simple. Something you can do right away. Just get started.

All of this is for the purpose of bringing clarity and purpose to our life and leadership. So often we have big ideas, dreams and goals that are never realized. Why? Many times this is simply because we never take the time to clarify what it is we want to do or how we are going to do it. So saturate this process in prayer. Evaluate, Define, Dream, Focus. May God bless your life, family and ministry as we move into 2015 and beyond!

This is a series of blogs for Shiloh Road Leaders (staff, shepherds, deacons, and ministry leaders) to help you prepare and plan your ministry as we move forward into the new year and beyond. If you lead a team, get together as a team to work through these exercises. If you are over several ministries, encourage those ministries you oversee to make this a priority.


The Ever So Popular Brain Vomit…

So here is how my typical week goes. Sunday I preach so Monday I am brain dead. On Mondays I typically stick to meetings and administration. Tasks I need to get done, but don’t require a lot of critical thinking. Tuesday, my brain turns back on, somewhat anyway. So I typically spend a large portion of Tuesday locked away in my office studying, praying, meditating and listening.

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So when I go home on a Tuesday my head is so full of information, ideas and stories, and just like a good steak, the ideas need some time to marinate. On Wednesday, I usually start my day with prayer, a blank sheet of paper and a pen. Then I vomit…

Now, I do not actually vomit every Wednesday morning. It’s a metaphor. Okay, so I know its not the prettiest picture in the world, but I think it communicates a point. I call it a brain vomit (other people do too). My head is full of ideas, illustrations, thoughts, stories, commentaries and I need to get all the important stuff out there.

So how does a brain vomit work. Like I said, I sit down at my desk, with my door shut. I take a blank sheet of paper, I turn on the timer of my iPhone for 15 minutes and I go. I write down every single thought that comes to my mind, every story, phrase, verse, etc. that comes to my mind. There is NO filter, I just write it down, even if it doesn’t make sense.

So why is this so important? Far too often our ideas never make it out of the realm of imagination. We have a thought, it escapes us and we really aren’t sure if we can get it back. For me this exercise helps me get everything floating around in my head out on paper. Sometimes thoughts form little streams, other times they never develop, other times they don’t come out in the sermon but in other areas.

Not only do I do this basically on a weekly basis writing sermons, I also do it sporadically with my ministry. So after spending some time looking back at ministry in 2014 and defining your ministry as we move forward, now its time to dream.

Take out a sheet of paper. Set a timer for 15 minutes. Answer this question… Remember, no filter, don’t let money, resources, space stop you. Just write it all down. Think in terms of ministry structure, impact, reach, needs, etc. Write it all down! Ready, set, GO!

Question:  As your ministry moves forward into the future, what would you like to see happen in your ministry in 2015 and beyond.

This is a series of blogs for Shiloh Road Leaders (staff, shepherds, deacons, and ministry leaders) to help you prepare and plan your ministry as we move forward into the new year and beyond. If you lead a team, get together as a team to work through these exercises. If you are over several ministries, encourage those ministries you oversee to make this a priority.


Defining the Direction

Earlier on in my marriage I had gotten a new phone. It was one of the first smart phones with GPS built in. My wife and I were going out to eat in Dallas for our anniversary, so I put in the name of the restaurant and headed for Dallas. Going from Cleburne, it is easiest to jump on HWY 67 which basically drops you off on the outskirts of downtown.

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As we approached 35W, the GPS began telling me to head north on 35W. I am driving and thinking to myself, “this GPS has no clue what it is talking about.” So, I keep on going thinking it will realize the “correct” way to get there, but it does not. It begins says, Recalculating… make a U-Turn. After the second and third Recalculating, I begin talking to the GPS (as if it could hear me) “No, I will not make a U-Turn!” Finally, after realizing the errors of its ways and my superior intellect, it remaps our trip the way I want to go. We are flying and everything is going good I was right and the GSP was wrong.

About 10 miles from Dallas a warning appears in the middle of the screen, “Warning Construction Ahead, expect delays.” Now, my own phone was mocking me, as if the bright red stream of taillights illuminating the night sky was not enough, my phone needed to rub it in. So we wait, and wait, and wait. Eventually we made it to the restaurant, and yes, the GPS would have gotten me there much faster.

It knew a better way to get there and had a much more complete picture. The problem was it did’t show me the bigger picture. If it had taken the time to say, “Gary, if you go this way you will get there, but you are going to get stuck in Dallas Construction Traffic, so go this way, trust me,” I would have done exactly what it told me to the first time.

As a leader, you have to try to paint a clear picture for people of where you are going and how you plan on getting there. People want to follow someone who has a plan. People want to follow someone who knows where they are going. So if as a leader, you are not real sure of where you are going, or how you are going to get there, or what it is suppose to look like, then you will always have a hard time convincing people to follow you.

Many times the problem leaders in the church face stem from not really knowing where we are going. Leading when you don’t have clear direction as to where you are going is next to impossible. So, as leaders it is really important that we work to define three things. One, where we are heading. Two, how we plan to get there. Three, what will “there” actually look like.

As you are defining the ministry, begin with the end in mind. You are not just building with what you currently have, but what you hope to have. So, below are several questions to help you as you define the ministry that you are leading. It is also very important to revisit these questions on a regular basis, clarifying and redefining as you are growing and learning.

Where are you going?
Who is this ministry trying to impact?
What is the purpose of this ministry?
How does this ministry play into the over mission of Shiloh Road, to KNOW God and make Him KNOWN?

How do we get there?
What resources do we need for this ministry to be successful?
What are the challenges you anticipate along the way?
Draw an organizational chart for the teams and positions you need in place for this ministry to function at its fullest potential?


What does “there” look like?
We will consider this ministry to be successful if…
What will be the first indication that this ministry is no longer effective in fulfilling its purpose?

A few reminders as you engage in this process. 1. Priority of prayer throughout the process. 2. Invite other people into the discussion who are passionate about this ministry. 3. Begin with the end in mind. 4. Think big. We serve a God who is more than enough, who exceeds our expectations. 5. If you want to go deeper into this process, here is a strategy-worksheet_srcc we have adapted for Shiloh Road. It will go much more in-depth into this process of defining ministry.

This is a series of blogs for Shiloh Road Leaders (staff, shepherds, deacons, and ministry leaders) to help you prepare and plan your ministry as we move forward into the new year and beyond. If you lead a team, get together as a team to work through these exercises. If you are over several ministries, encourage those ministries you oversee to make this a priority.


Looking Back Before Looking Forward

This will be a series of blogs for Shiloh Road Leaders (staff, shepherds, deacons, and ministry leaders) to help you prepare and plan your ministry as we move forward into the new year and beyond. If you lead a team, get together as a team to work through these exercises. If you are over several ministries, encourage those ministries you oversee to make this a priority.

When I was in Cleburne, my good friend and secretary Lisa Jo alerted me to a bad habit I had developed. I have a tendency to get frustrated with people when I had “throughly and adequately” explained something to someone. Once I realized they did not understand I would explain myself again. This time only slower and louder. The instructions would not change, just my tone and frustration level. I would keep saying the same thing, hoping it would finally get through.
So many times we do this in ministry… What is the plan for the coming year? Same thing as last year. What do we need to budget this year? Same as last year. Sound familiar? The scary thing is many churches and ministries operate like this.

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Here is the problem. We serve a creative God. More than that, you were made in this God’s image. Yes, the God who created the heavens and the earth made you in His image. That means you are oozing with creativity. Most of the time when I tell people that, they respond with, “oh, not me.”

My guess is as a kid you had an amazing imagination, you were a doctor, athlete, policeman, fireman, nurse. You never left your home but could travel around the globe. You had the ability anytime, anywhere to let your imagination fly. My guess is somewhere along the way someone convinced you it was no longer necessary, or maybe even dangerous to have such an imagination.

So we find a routine, we get comfortable and we settle in. It’s life. However, I believe God called you to more than just a routine. He has invited you into his story to serve, lead, and impact the kingdom. His desire is for you to fully engage your mind and your creativity.

Most people think the creative ones just “shoot from the hip” and everything is just thrown together haphazardly, but I would disagree. The most creative people I have come across are planners. The carve out time to think and dream and plan.

There are so many things I am thankful for at Shiloh Road and I am so excited about what God is doing. So as we move forward into 2015 I want to invite you to sit down and evaluate and dream. Over the course of the next 3 weeks, there will be 4 blog posts (Evaluate, Define, Dream, Focus) to help you to effectively and creativity plan with 2015 and beyond. This is not for a grade, you do not have to turn it in, this is simply to help you plan for 2015. You will get an email link for each one, where they will be posted to my blog, garyalbritton.com.

PHASE 1: evaluate
1. What did you do this year? (not in terms of tasks, what did you do that made a difference as we strive to make God KNOWN.)

2. What aspects of your ministry did you enjoy most over the past year?

3. What aspects of your ministry did you enjoy least over the past year?

4. What are the things in your ministry that allow you to serve out of your giftedness? (ie. communicating, organizing, artwork, etc)

5. Are there areas in your ministry that are outside of your giftedness which you could pass on to someone else? You do not even need to have someone in mind. (ie. communicating, organizing, artwork, etc)


RESIGNATION LETTER TO WESTHILL

2 weeks ago was a very special day for me, I began my 11th year of ministry here at Westhill.  For the past 10 years Cami & I have poured our hearts and souls into this church and this church has poured their hearts and souls into our family.  We have experienced incredible relationships with truly loving and compassionate people.  I did not grow up at Westhill, but I did grow up at Westhill.  This is my first job, my first home, where I got married, began our family, had our children, developed leadership and a passion to preach.  Abilities I never saw in myself.  Best of all, I believe the best days for Westhill are still to come.  Unfortunately, we will not be a part of that future.

Cami & I have accepted a job to become the Preaching Minister at the Shiloh Rd. Church of Christ in Tyler, TX.  We will begin this time of transition next week.  We will be in Tyler next weekend with Shiloh Rd. to be introduced to the congregation.  We will return to finish out the summer with VBS and Summer Camp.  Our last Sunday at Westhill will be Sunday, August 4th.  This has been an incredibly difficult decision to make but one we have felt God is calling us to for a while.  God has opened every door through this process and we believe it is where He has called us.  I am constantly telling our students to listen to the call of Jesus and follow His voice.  What kind of a person, much less minister would I be if I ignored my own advice.  Following Jesus does not mean life will be easy, in fact, it will probably be more difficult but it is what I have given my life to do.

We have a plan in place for Westhill Student Ministries as we go forward that many of you will be a part of.  We have also have begun to discuss the new Student Minister, and putting feelers out to get some leads on possible candidates.  We are not leaving because we no longer love this church, this is our family.  We are not leaving because of a “better job.”  We are making the choice to leave Westhill because we feel God is calling us to begin a new chapter in our ministry together and we want to be faithful to his call.

This verse has hopefully been the foundation of our ministry here at Westhill and the foundation for ministry from the adults we have surrounded you with.  So I leave you with the message Paul gave to the church at Thessalonian.

1 Thessalonians 2:8
Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.


FINDING HOPE IN THE MIDST OF DESPAIR

This has been a really difficult week.  A CHS student made the decision to end his life.  Knowing a young man chose to end his life is excruciating.  Even worse, is that I knew him.  So it has been a very difficult week.  Talking with students who have so many questions and ministry opportunities that have opened.  Tonight was one of those.  In fact it was a first in my ten years of ministry.

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I have never had a group of students, with no connection to our church and not invited by a friend, who just showed up.  Four guys, just randomly picked our church, walked up and said, “is it okay if we start going to church here?”  They had no background in any church.  As I got to talk to the guys one of them was good friends with the student who ended his life.  He was searching for something.  For me that is cool but not the amazing part.

All week I have been debating over whether or not to scrap everything for tonight, message and all and focus on suicide.  Monday, I was going to focus on it.  On Tuesday, I decided to go ahead with the original plan and work suicide into the discussion.  Wednesday, I was thinking the same thing.  One of our parents asked how I was going to handle it tonight?  I told her the plan, but as the day went on I felt I really needed to address it.  So I texted her back and she agreed.  I did not know why, I just felt God wanted me to talked about it.  So at 3:00 I decided to make the change.  I had nothing planned, nothing ready but really felt this is what I needed to do.

When the four guys showed up, I was overwhelmed.  I got to spend some time with the guys but at the end of the night one came up to me and said he was so glad he was here.  He felt like God was speaking to him tonight.  He had to have been, because I could not tell you what I said.

It amazes me how God shows up and works through our life when we simply allow him to be present in our life.  It amazes me how he can take something so unspeakable and use it focus peoples attention on him.

God is at work in our life and the lives of people we come in contact with everyday.  The true question, are we going to have our eyes opened to see him at work?


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