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.

Elemental

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.

hope

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?

IRONMAN 70.3 FOCUSING ALONG THE JOURNEY

Do you ever have a tendency to lose focus?  I do.  It started to become more and more evident during my Ironman training.  One afternoon, I was running by myself, a seven my mile run, very hilly loop in the country.  The first two and half miles include about 350 vertical feet of climbing.  I started out great around an 8:30 pace.  For me it is great and I managed to keep it sub 9-minute miles through the first half of the run.

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The run flattens out nicely for the middle part and finishes off with more climbing.  What was fascinating, was as I was running on the flatter portion of the run, I looked down at my watch and found my pace had gone to around 10:30 a mile for the middle part of the run.  I was not breathing hard.  My heart rate was in the mid 130’s.  I was fine and so I picked my pace back to finish out my run.

So why does it matter?  Do it too often and you aren’t getting better, your just going through the motions to do them.

Is it possible this happens to us from time to time in our walk with Jesus?  We simply lose focus.  Things get easier; we “get the hang of it.”  We start doing things not push our self and grow but simply to do them because we are “suppose to.”

We have to learn to become nearsighted and farsighted at the same time.  I know that makes no sense, but it is important whether you are an athlete, a leader or a follower of Jesus.  I was far sighted.  My mind was set on April 7th.  All I knew was I would step up, well actually swim up, to the starting line of a 70-mile race and if I were not prepared, I would not make it.  A date had become my focus.  The problem was I began just doing all the things needed to get ready for the date, rather than focusing on all of the steps in the journey and getting better along the way.

Toward the end of my training, about 3 weeks away from the race, another swimmer at the pool I train at name Chris put it in perspective for me.  Chris is a great athlete; he is in his mid 50’s probably and has done some amazing endurance events including super marathons and full Ironman’s.  I asked Chris one day what his next big event was going to be.  He looked at me and said, “well I am going to swim the best I can to the other end of the pool and then I am going to swim back.”  I was expecting to hear, I am doing a marathon or an Ironman but his entire focus was on swimming the next 50 yards in the pool.

It occurred to me maybe I had missed the point of my training.  It was not to just do it; it was to get better.  Maybe we do the same in our walk with Jesus.  Focusing so much on the big picture and how the journey ends that we miss out on growing through all the little steps along the way.  The reason we read scripture is not to know the Bible better but to know Christ better.  To understand his will.  To spend time with him simply because you are hungering and thirsting for Him.

God feared this would happen to the Israelites, he feared they would lose focus.

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

It is amazing how easily we can lose focus as the terrain becomes easier.  It is in the difficult times we cling to the Father, we focus on Him and thirst for Him.   But when things are easier we tend to lose the nearsightedness required to walk with Christ.  It is in the difficult times we focus more on one step at a time.

In the last few weeks we have seen the Boston Marathon bombings, a Fretilizer Plant explosion in West, TX, have good friends who lost a child and others trying to understand the magnitude of a young father suffering with cancer.  It hurts me to see so many others in pain and I rush to say, “God where are you.”  Maybe his response would be the same as it was for Israel.  I am their leading you through this vast dessert.  Notice, God did not take Israel out of the dessert He led them through it.  And there is a huge difference.  He provided for them in the midst of their struggles, but he did not take their struggles away.

This song from Laura Story is such a great reminder of a God who walks with us through the trials…

Blessings

Maybe it is not until God has led us through the pain and heartache of the dessert that we are able to look back and see his finger prints all over canvas of our life.

THE IRONMAN EXPERIENCE – PART 1

So lots of people have asked me about my experiences from the past weekend at Ironman 70.3 in Galveston.  So I thought I would write a series of blog post about the weekend, the training leading up to the weekend and the things I learned on the journey.

medal

The part that impacted me the most was the ending.  9 months of training, hours upon hours.  In the pool, in the lake, on the road.  In rain, in cold, in wind and some days all three at once.  Pain, injuries, tweaked muscles.  You seem to experience a little of everything when training for something like this.

The weekend was amazing.  If you have never been to an Ironman event I highly recommend the experience, even if just a spectator.  Race day starts early.  4:30 AM breakfast and in the transition area for body marking at 5:30 AM.  Over 2,300 athletes over 2000 volunteers and literally thousands of supports lining the run course, cheering for you and encouraging you to keep moving.

But nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced at mile 13 of the run.  At the mile 13 marker you enter the finish chute to run the last .1 miles to the finish line.  The excitement is unbelievable.  I had tried during my training to visualize the finish, to imagine my name being announced but nothing I dreamed of could have compared to the experience.

At the moment I enter the chute all of the pain seemed to vanish.  It had been a very difficult day, 70.3 miles.  1.2 mile swim.  56 mile bike ride along a very windy coast.  A very hot 13.1 mile half marathon to finish out the day.  Struggles with swimming straight.  A small bike wreck.  Really bad muscle cramps and spasms in the first mile of the run.  But then there was mile 13 and everything I had been through that day to get to that point vanished as thousands of people screamed and yelled for me crossing the finish line.  They place a medal around my neck and give me a finisher hat, which is great, but in know way compares to the experience of crossing the line.

I want to experience it again.  I am hooked to the feeling of crossing the finish line.  It made everything else I experienced on the journey worth it.  So my plan right now is a few months off to do P90X2 to really work on my core and overall strength and then get ready for Ironman 70.3 in Austin, Texas in October.

There are lots of take aways from the finish line experience but the one which stands out the most is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians.

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27

We live for a singular purpose, the purpose of building His kingdom here on earth so that when we cross the finish line the prize is eternal.  In some ways I think it will be much like my mile 13 experience.  I always talk to people who are trying to imagine what it will be like.  I don’t think you can, because I believe the experience will be something so far beyond what we can imagine.  In the race, the finish line was not my focus, it was too far ahead of me most of the time to be my focus.  My focus was simply taking one more stroke in the water.  One more rotation of the pedals on the bike.  One more step on the run.  So if the finish is not the focus, what is our focus then?  Let’s borrow for the Apostle Paul once again.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:2

Make Jesus the focus.  Make being more like him the next step of your journey, because at times the finish line can seem so far off.  Our promise though, is that He is never far away.  Focus on Jesus, He is more than enough to sustain you!

THE HOPE EASTER BRINGS

Easter, it comes around every year, where believers around the world celebrate an empty tomb.  But his year I needed Easter.  There are times in ministry where it seems like everything is flowing smoothly and ministry is going great.  There are other times that tend to be more difficult.  Times there are more questions than answers.  Times of uncertainty.

emptytomb

For me, the last several months fall into the more difficult category.  Not that ministry has been bad, it is just changing.  New students stepping up and needing to step up into new leadership roles.  More families struggling and going through difficult times.  More kids struggling.

In these seasons it is easy to lose focus.  It is easy to get discouraged.  Questions begin to arise in your mind…  Is my ministry making an impact?  Am I making an impact in peoples lives?  Are student’s lives really being transformed?

Can you think about what it would have been like for these early disciples.  They had literally given up everything to follow Jesus and now He is gone.  Worse of all, he did not even put up a fight.  The one disciple who really tried to fight for him in the garden, Peter, is reprimanded for doing so.  He invited them to join him on this mission to reclaim a lost humanity.  Now the leader is gone and they are left wondering what to do next.  I am sure questions flooded their minds.  What now?  Was He really who He claimed to be?  Were the last three years a waste?  All hope seems to be lost.

But can you imagine the hope that might have begun to slowly seep into their minds as they heard news of an empty tomb?  I am sure the over whelming thoughts were, no way.  It’s a hoax.  But I have to imagine, in the back of their minds were the questions, “what if.”  But then, to see him, to touch him, to hear him.  Hope was not lost because He lives!

While the resurrection is something we remember throughout the year, this year I needed the reminder more than in the pass.  I needed the reminder because in the midst of families falling apart, students struggling with decisions, in spite of what seems like hopelessness there is hope because the tomb is empty.  Because He lives!

I love the words to this hymn,

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.
Because He lives, all fear is gone.
Because I know, I know He holds tomorrow.
And life is worth the living, just because He lives.

Such powerful and true words.  Words of hope in the midst of despair.  We find hope in an empty tomb and a risen savior.

He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee:
Luke 24:6

THE BEST DATE I NEVER WENT ON – SORT OF…

Today is my 8th anniversary.  Cami & I met for the first time in June of 2004.  We had a rather awkward first meal together with a family of six, and another single guy at a Chinese buffet.  I can at least say it was memorable.  She was planning on moving to Cleburne to work for a friend (the dad in the family of 6) and handle his accounting.

cami_and_kids

I had been the Youth & Family Minister at Central for a little over a year and had yet to meet anyone in Cleburne I really connected with.  I was discouraged and thinking I needed to find a job at a bigger church with a singles program.  We walked away from lunch that day thinking we would never go out, friends sure, but dating never.  The next time I saw her was July 28th when she was beginning her new job, I remember the date because it was my birthday.

The next week her boss and his wife were heading out of town, she was going to house & baby sit while they were away.  Her boss gave her my number; she got board and gave me a call.  We talked a little and I even went over one evening to hang out with her and the kids.  Later that week we talked on the phone several times, one night for three hours.  The next week, she was getting settled into her house and I decided I wanted to go out on a date.

I had just bought a house and our secretary at the time gave me, as she called it, “a house wetting present.”  A 10 week old black lab puppy I named Kramer.  Knowing no girl in their right mind could resist a puppy, I used Kramer to my advantage.  I called Cami and asked if I could swing by and show her Kramer.  Also, the day before my sister had offered me 2 tickets to see the Rangers and Yankees, second row behind the Rangers dugout.

If you know me, you know I love baseball, especially Rangers baseball.  I said yes and I knew exactly who I was asking, Cami.  After all, I had always told my parents, I will know the girl for me when I ask her what she wants to do and she says, go watch baseball and eat a steak.  So I went to her house, armed with a 10 week old puppy and a pair of tickets to the Rangers game.  It was can’t miss!

So I show up, and trying to get up the nerve to ask her out, and just before I made my move, she says, “My brother-in-law is in town performing in an opera and I wanted to know if you wanted to go with me?”  I said sure and she tells me it is the same night as the game.  Oh man, I had to make a choice.  So that night I went home and called my sister to tell her I could not go to the game, I was going to the opera.  Haha  When we hung up the phone she called my dad and said, “I don’t know who he is going to the OPERA with but Gary is going to marry her.”

Now, I love baseball, but I could not tell you what happened between the Rangers and Yankees that night, but I can tell you I went on my first date with my future wife.  We did eat steak that night but no baseball, and I don’t regret it.  The past eight years have been amazing.

We have 3 amazing kids, Gracie who turns 6 this month, Ryan who is 4 and Caleb is 3 months.  We love life, love ministry (most of the time, haha), love our family and church family.  Best of all, I am married to my best friend, a beautiful woman and an amazing mother.  I love you so much Cami and I am so thankful for the past 8 years and look forward to many more to come.