Working Together for Reconciliation

December 11, 2018

Christians are called to work together for peace and reconciliation in every generation. Recent events in Hoover, Alabama have torn at the very threads of our community life. Last Wednesday over 70 pastors from area churches came together to pray and seek God’s direction on how we might spiritually lead our community into peace & reconciliation. As we prayed and worshiped together, a powerful sense of God’s empowering and unifying spirit came upon us.

We discussed options we could take as pastors leading local churches to impact our communities. Two words kept rising to the surface of our prayerful conversations: People Matter! The family of E.J. Bradford matters. We pray for their comfort, for answers to their questions and for justice to be served. The police officers and civic servants of our city matter – we know they grieve over these events and are dedicated to public service. Our schools and children matter – we want the next generation to see us leading in faithful ways with integrity as we move forward to heal our community. The employees of Galleria Mall and surrounding businesses matter and we pray & advocate for those whose jobs are threatened. All the People of our city and region matter to us as precious children of God.

As pastors we are committed to ongoing dialogue and to have helpful, life-changing conversations with one another, to listen and not judge, to be bridge builders and not rush to judgment. We also committed to having dialogue in our churches and to lead our people in the path of peace. (Luke 1: 79)

Our immediate step is to organize a tool to assist those who have become unemployed or lost wages in the aftermath of this tragedy. The pastors have set up PASTORS4PEOPLE. This fund will be used to assist employees of the mall and surrounding businesses who have lost vital wages. The fund will be directed by a board of laity and clergy and administered by Citizens Federal Bank. You can learn more at and direct people in need to this site.

These prayerful dialogues and this fund are only the beginning of our reconciliation  process.  We have much work to do. Please join me in praying for our community, be quick to listen and slow to speak, wait for all the facts to be assessed and don’t rush to judgment. There are many people who are hurting and needing the hope of faith, justice and mercy. Let us be the body of Christ, committed to his way and eager to learn from and serve one another in His name.


Theology and Science Reflection on a man born blind…

August 10, 2018

Last Sunday I was preaching on Jesus’ healing of the man born blind in John, chapter 9. Here’s how the story begins, As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.” (English Standard Version of the Bible)

In every sermon there is always more background material and good illustrations than a preacher can use in one sermon. Here is an excerpt from an article I read on the Biologis website that is relevant to my sermon.

TheologIcal Reflections on John 9: 1-7 by Dr. John Pohl

BioLogis: February 18, 2013

Now that we have gone into quite a bit of detail about one specific disease, I want to describe certain aspects of a Creator related to what we have learned about CF genetics.

  1. God is smarter than me (or you). It is amazing what He has done in regards to the complexity of life and inheritance.
  2. Disease and death are a part of reality, which is justified in a reading of the Bible. The blind man, just like a child with CF, had no sin which caused a debilitating illness. Much of the suffering that we see in the world of medicine is due to environmental and genetic consequences.
  3. Besides our immune system, there appear to be other mechanisms for protection against disease that are often difficult to observe in a first-world setting. We see this idea in how CFTR protein mutations may protect against certain infectious diseases. Whether God did this through a divine purpose or allowed a random mechanism to occur (or for what appears to be random to us, in our limited scientific understanding) is irrelevant. I can see that the process of mutation occurs, and I believe in a God that allows it.
  4. Finally, I am thankful that “modern” medicine has developed therapies in the basic science and clinical realms to allow an improved quality of life in CF patients, as well as for patients with other diseases. It is now common for patients with F508 mutations to live into their 30s or 40s. At the beginning of the 20th century, most CF children died well before 2 years of age. I use quotation marks around this word – modern – as 20 years from today, much of our current CF treatments will have changed, leading to even longer life for these patients. I am thankful that God has allowed us the capacity to investigate our world at an ever-advancing state through the use of the scientific method. That, in itself, is a gift for humanity for which we should always be thankful.

(John F. Pohl MD is a pediatric gastroenterologist and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah.)



Memories wrapped up in an old house

February 10, 2018

When I was a 9-year-old kid, this house seemed huge to me. My mom would often drop me off here while she went to practice the organ or have her hair fixed for the weekend. You see, my great-grandmother lived here. She was in her mid-80’s, had Alzheimer’s disease and was cared for by a sweet African-American lady who lived with her. They would play card games with me, my great-granny would bake sugar cookies and her caretaker would chew snuff and tell me fascinating stories from her childhood.

Miss Grandmothers home

The house was built around 1900 and still stands today. My great-grandparents were its’ first occupants – he was the foreman at Avondale Mills in Birmingham. During the depression of the early 1930’s my mom, her sister and their mom moved in with my great-grandparents because they ran out of food, money and my grandfather went off to work in the Works Progress Administration. He would send money home when he could and return home about every 3 months. It was a long, painful 3 year separation – yet they were thankful to have a place to go when life seemed to offer very few opportunities.

My mother grew very close to her grandparents. She often talked about how they made her childhood full of love, family and faith. They all worshiped at the Woodlawn Methodist Church where my grandmother sang in the choir and my great-grandparents taught adult Sunday school classes. Life was good and a blessing even though the depression seemed to take a huge toil on everyone. They ate from the large garden my great-grandfather maintained and unemployed drifters often came to the back door for food and hot coffee. Later they found that a “hobo” had painted a mark at their curb indicating this family would share food with hungry folks.

Last year I decided to drive through this old, forgotten part of Birmingham and look for my great-grandparents’ home. Could it still be there? What shape would it be in? I was thrilled to find it and even see  that someone was restoring it. It has a wrap-around porch because back in the day, folks sat and rocked on their porches and talked at length with people who walked by on their way home from work, to school or to the neighborhood store. It had a “sleeping porch” in the back that was walled in by just a screen – the coolest bedroom in the heat of the summer!

When my parents married in 1948, they moved into this sleeping porch and lived with mom’s grandparents. This enabled them to save money and buy their first house in 1951 at the huge price of $12,000! That seemed like a fortune to them. I know I should not grow too attached to places, houses, cars and things. Yet we can treasure the memories they bring home to our hearts.

I’m sure that when Jesus returned to Nazareth or sailed on the Sea of Galilee, he remembered all the people who had poured into his life and helped make him the man and teacher he became. His carpenter father, his mother’s steadfast faith, his priest’s teachings, the fisherman who brought his family fresh fish, the blind man who sat by the side of the road…all of them made impressions on his life and heart.

It’s the same for us. This old house reminds me that my life is richer because lots of good folks poured into my heart and mind along my life’s journey. Mrs. Simmons who taught me in 8th grade, my grandmother who sung in the choir, my aunt who took me to fine restaurants and taught me manners, my uncle Bob who was so patient, Jack Shores my scoutmaster, Rev. Wayne Graham who let me preach at our church and encouraged my call to ministry, my mom who paid for my music lessons and my dad who showed me what it meant to truly love our neighbor regardless of skin color, economic status or where they came from.

What people and places have shaped the trajectory of your life? Give God thanks today for those generous people and special places where your journey went deep and life lessons were learned.

Keeping Your Well Full

January 23, 2018

overflowing well

A leader in any community organization runs the risk of running out of steam often. The needs of your community, your staff and family never cease because humans are frail and need care as we traverse the journey of life. It seems that stress, anxiety, depression and fatigue are much greater in our culture today than even ten years ago. I attribute it to the rancor of our politics, the distance between people and their extended families and the increasing use of media that keeps people “on the job” and on-call for longer hours of every day. I often hear people say they never get a vacation or break from their job because they are expected to constantly check emails and texts or they just can’t shut down and let it go.

I have gone through numerous periods of my life where I realized I was not relaxing even on my off day and could not mentally disconnect from my job even when hundreds of miles away. I often felt like I had cheated myself or my family when I did not rest and connect just with them when I was supposed to be “off the clock.” When we never get off the fast track eventually it catches up with us and we hit the wall. I see many people who suffer from this and it shows in their physical health, emotional well-being and spiritually they are spent and often in despair rather than thriving in God’s hope and promises.

Jesus gives us a very good pattern to balance the demands of calling, job, family and personal needs. He is the Son of God, fully divine and fully human, full of the Holy Spirit and cared for by angels. Yet he retreated from the fast track and got away often to rest, to be renewed and listen intently to his heavenly Father. If Jesus needs this on a regular basis, so do I and you as well! No one can run at 100 MPH 6-7 days a week be content, on top of their game, rested and fun to be around. We are not wired to be constantly in high gear and producing results.

We read in Luke 5: 16, “Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” It is obvious to me that Jesus loved being with people and was drawn to crowds, the hurting and hopeful because of his compassion and sense of mission. He came to seek out the lost, the lonely, the broken and hopeless. I believe he was energized by the crowds, sharing with them the good news of God’s love and healing them of their sicknesses and diseases.

Yet Jesus demonstrates wisdom and balance in getting away to rest, pray and listen to God’s voice. I also notice in scripture that he was exercised regularly, was careful to not overeat and he observed the Sabbath for worship, rest and to connect with his community of elders and friends in the faith. He knew and valued the influence of the community of faith.

If you are a business leader, a pastor, a teacher, government official or medical professional, it is vitally important that you develop and practice healthy habits. If you or I ignore or neglect practicing healthy habits we will not be able to sustain our health and focus for the long haul of community service. I have found that these habits sustain and even insure I can thrive in my vocation:

  1. A good balance of work, rest and play. I find that a hobby or sport can be a healthy distraction when going through stressful days and busy times.
  2. Eat smart and watch your weight. When I am over-weight I am usually prone to fatigue, more susceptible to sickness, sluggish and have a hard time staying focused. If you suffer from poor nutritional habits or are overweight, talk to a nutritionist and get on a smart diet. You should not starve yourself, just eat smart and make healthy choices.
  3. Exercise 4-5 days a week. Recently I started wearing a Fitbit that tracks my steps and encourages me to monitor weight, my water intake, sleep patterns and to read more about healthy habits. Monitoring my steps and exercise motivates me to make my goals and I feel much better than I did 6 months ago.
  4. Start the day in reading scripture and prayer. I like having a worship guideline like This website sends me a daily devotional to read, meditate on a theme and has a prayer focus. Then I pray for my family and colleagues by name and pray over my schedule for that day. I now look forward to this 30-45 minute retreat. I even get up before my family so I can enjoy the peace and quiet before the day starts.
  5. Have an accountability partner who will ask you about these healthy habits and speak truth to you in love if you revert to working overtime, neglecting your family, your health, not taking time off or not observing Sabbath rest and worship.
  6. Take a day off every week. No one is indispensable. Organize your work so you can disconnect at least one day a week (2 is best!). And take at least 2 weeks of vacation even if it’s a stay-vacation where you enjoy your home town and just rest at home and around your town. Vacations don’t have to be expensive to be restful and meaningful!


The Church at a Ball Park? Really!?

December 10, 2017

The leaders of a local church drove by the municipal ball park each Sunday on the way to worship. One staff member thought, “What is wrong with these parents that they are not at church with their children? What are they thinking!?” The next week she drives by again and this time she is mad at her city officials for allowing baseball games on the Lord’s Day.

Then she attends a Fresh Expressions Vision Day. We start talking about taking the church to the community. Her mind returns to her Sunday drive and passing the ballpark. She thinks of the 2500+ parents and children and wonders how her church can take Christ’s love and presence there. She discovers that every Sunday the park takes a hour break at 1:00 p.m. for the parents and children to have lunch and rest. She envisions her church setting up a tent with free water, snacks, Christian background music, free books and materials, bug spray and first aid supplies.

She shares this vision with her church’s outreach team. They catch the vision, make plans and soon they will launch their ballpark Fresh Expression of church. They will serve families where they are rather than judging them for not being where the church building is. I can imagine all the good press they will receive. I can foresee all the people they will serve, refresh and expose to true Christian love and caring. They could add Christian books to give out, an occasional witness or Christian singer. This has so many possibilities.

Take the church to the ball park! Oh yes!!

Start Fresh Expressions with Affinity Groups

November 2, 2017

Some of the most productive Fresh Expressions of church are being started among affinity groups. Christ followers who are biking enthusiasts will start a group that bikes about 10 miles, stops for a meal and worship and then bikes back to the starting point. The authenticity, fellowship and group building is awesome and gives way to sharing faith, praying for one other and coming together for community service. One biking group in east Atlanta offers Sunday morning worship on extended bike rides for people who have biked for long distances together for the weekend.

Other affinity groups that are starting Fresh Expressions of church include sowing groups, cooking classes, travel groups, RV campsites, walkers, kayakers, food pantry recipients and even zip-line enthusiasts! All of these are taking the church to where people are in the 21st century. This is what the early church did as well as John Wesley; and the Salvation Army has always practiced this model. Go where the people are because the church is not a building, it is a movement of God’s people sharing God’s grace and hope with people everywhere!

Recently I met with Rev. Richard Rybka in Springfield, Alabama. He is the pastor of a 20 member church in a very rural community. This small church in starting a Fresh Expression of church at an ATV Park. Dozens of people come to this park every weekend to ride ATVs, stay in the park’s lodge, enjoy campfires and just hang out. The owner is a Christ-follower too so he welcomed the church to start a Fresh Expression of church there.

ATV picture.jpg

They just kicked off the ministry with a marriage retreat at the ATV Park Lodge. Seven couples attended: 3 from the church and 4 that they are mentoring in having a Christ-centered marriage. The weekend included discussions about their marriages, Bible study & mentoring by the older couples, shared meals, trust walks for the couples, leisure activities and concluded with Holy Communion on Sunday morning. The couples have covenanted to meet occasionally in the future to encourage and pray for one another.

What do you enjoy doing in your leisure time? That’s a good place where God can use you to start a Fresh Expression of church in your community. Gather some friends and read Ken Carter’s book on Fresh Expressions together. Keep it simple, plan a strategy, promote it among your associates and start sharing your faith in Christ. May God bless your leisure time and your work for the Kingdom!



Fresh Expression Fishing Guide

October 15, 2017

I have been fishing in lakes and oceans all my life. Having an experienced guide or a friend who knows the body of water and the personalities of the fish is key to a successful catch. The same is true for churches who want to “fish for people” in new waters. Churches in changing communities, churches that decide to minister across town or to different people groups often do not know or understand the fish they are seeking to catch for Jesus.

My coach, Jim Ozier, recently said in a workshop:  “People are hungry and want to be fed.” I have often heard people remark that their church was not “feeding” their spiritual needs. This is not a selfish or shallow statement. People need spiritual food. That is why Jesus gave physical bread to the hungry crowds in Galilee and proclaimed to them the bread of life. People expect the church to feed them the rich food (sustenance) of heavenly things, truth that sets them free and offer grace that liberates our souls from guilt and regrets.

People also want to serve. I see this in our American culture more than ever, especially among young people. The best way to connect millennials and teens to your church movement is to give them meaningful ways to serve and impact their communities. That is attractive fish food!

The One Direction Community (ODC) is a house church network in Huntsville, Alabama led by Rev. Gary Leiderbach. ODC reaches people from all across the social spectrum. They have connected people to Jesus that most churches will never see: the poor, the wanderers, the folks that hang out in Waffle House, work at the flea markets, drug addicts, former addicts, runaways and professional burnt out with traditional churches that are isolated from hurting folks in our community. They feed people good food and the Word of Life found in following Jesus Christ. They also call everyone in their church network to serve – and people respond powerfully!

ODC feeds people spiritual bread and delicious food for their bodies at house church meetings and at their Dinner Church on Monday nights. The Dinner Church gathers for fellowship and Pastor Gary and his wife Nancy hug everybody who walks through the door. A generous meal is served and you only pay what you can. This is followed with praise songs and prayers, then a hopeful message from the scriptures and everyone is invited to receive Holy Communion. When my wife and I left, we both said it really felt like a New Testament way of church. A true Fresh Expression!

This Fresh Expression of church feeds people from all walks of life. ODC now offers house churches in 3 homes, a flea market, the local rescue mission and in a closed school in a poor section of their city. They serve the needs of the community in each location and you will see poor and rich, young and old, black and white folks working hand in hand together in these places.

Check out their website for more about this unique, Kingdom centered community of faith:


Funding a Fresh Expression of church

August 10, 2017

This new form of church is attractive for its simplicity and focus on a specific context and meeting a particular community need. Most of the time these are led by Christ-followers who are not clergy and not connected to a church with large funds for risky missions and new ideas. So how do you fund your vision and support a Fresh Expression?

As I have visited these new faith communities, I find a host of creative methods for funding. A good way to start is for your Lead Team to ask friends and family to give a launch gift similar to GoFundMe. Send out a letter or email explaining your vision, how you will impact the community and ask for their prayers first and foremost. Then second, ask for financial support as they are able. Acknowledge every gift and give your prayer partners and donors an update and progress report including pictures.

One new church I recently visited set up an LLC that owns the building & the church rents space as needed. The LLC board is made up of church members and rents out the facility for receptions, parties and community events. The LLC runs the coffee shop and maintains the facility. The church is able to say that all offerings go to ministries and missions, not a building!

Many Fresh Expressions fund themselves through Coffee, tea, food & desserts. This provides a meeting place, fellowship and employs people in the community. Make it exceptional to draw a crowd and build a good reputation for your service.

Bread baking can raise funds and involve the people in a common project. It also teaches young people to bake and learn a skill. Sale the bread at community events and invite folks to your church. Market it on Facebook and develop a distribution chain. Again, great bread makes a mark for the church!

Rent sports equipment if you are in a vacation area. At most beaches and lakes, the rental prices are very high. Charge a lower rate that sets you a part. People will ask you about this and it gives an opporentiuty to tell about your church. Offer tours as another service and a way to connect with people passing through.

Make rag rugs and plastic bag rugs. I saw this in an Asheville, North Carolina storefront church. The members made beautiful rugs and sold them through outlets & even in several countries. It provided jobs for local artists, the unemployed and was a unique mission.

Some churches sell hot pads and other local crafts. In poorer communities, the people can give in this special way. Then the church sells the handmade merchandise at festivals, fairs and storefronts.

Quilting, knitting, seamstress services, alterations, & shoe repair/polish. These are talents that are rare and sought after. People will drive long distances to your location to purchase these items and receive these services. Many neighborhoods no longer have these services – fill that gap!

Note cards, religious jewelry, books, art. This is a more difficult route yet some churches have made it work. Get sound business advice when you start and have a good accountability system.

Childcare/schools/tutoring/homeschool networks. Churches have been doing some of these for decades. Now the newest trend is to support home school families.

Some other ideas I continue to see: Flowers, decorations & yard art. Again, handmade and unique is the key. Gardening, vegetables, canning, preserves, Farmer’s markets. Adult day care or specialized care for autism, alzheimers, etc.

Three Essentials in a Fresh Expression of church…

July 14, 2017

Before you attempt to start a Fresh Expression of church to reach people in our post-Christian society, it is best to first prayerfully address these essentials.  I had the privilege this summer to spend 6 days with Rev. Graham Horsley, the Connexional Fresh Expressions Missioner for the British Methodist Church. He was involved in the originating group of Anglicans and Methodists that came together with Archbishop Rowan Williams of The Church of England in 2004 to imagine and pursue a fresh approach to being the church in the post-Christian, western world.

Graham and I traveled to Fresh Expressions churches so I could see example places and leaders that are having Kingdom success, and one place that is struggling and about to regroup & relocate to better engage their growing metro area. As we drove through the idyllic countryside of the rural Cornwall region west of metro London, I asked Graham to summarize what is essential in starting a Fresh Expression of church.

He immediately referred to the teachings and exercises from a book British Methodists follow when they establish a Fresh Expression community. Michael Mynah and Rob Peabody’s refresh, published by Monarch Books in 2016, is an excellent 92 page overview and guide that a team can use to get started. This book leads your team through the stages of prayerful reflection, discovering God’s preferred future for a community, imagining a process to engage people and develop processes that enable the fresh expression church to be effective as to a specific area of need and hope.

refresh book

Graham instructs his leaders to first address the Context.  What are the needs here? And what’s the culture of this community? What kind of fresh expression will speak the Gospel of Jesus Christ into the hearts and lives of people in this community?

Then look at Missiology. A fresh expression that succeeds in Kingdom effectiveness will have a handful of people from the start who continually bring new people to gatherings, service projects, information sessions and introductory events. These folks are contagious because of their love for each other and new people they are meeting in their neighborhoods, workplace, sports field, school, everywhere! They are known for their loving, non-judgmental presence and warmth. Bottom line: they are people who love other people and their love influences the emerging fresh expression of church to be a contagious people of love. Nobody has to even say it – folks simply experience being loved in this new community.

And a fresh expression leads to church – a group of people who become a body of Christ like the early church we read about in the New Testament. So we need to address Ecclesiology. A fresh expression of church has a process for intentional discipling of people coming into the new community. They are intentionally building a Christ-centered community. They are united as a body around a simple vision to be the love of Christ wherever they are and to whomever God brings into their lives.

A Fresh Expression of church trains mentors for people coming to faith in Jesus Christ. This new community offers relevant worship in a style that speaks to its specific community. The leadership is committed to worship that communicates the Gospel of Jesus in a way that ministers to who is in their community. They will together work for justice and mercy, live out the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to every follower of Jesus and be prayerfully looking for ways to assist another team somewhere else start a fresh expression of church in their community.

A Fresh Expression where a bank & church serve the community together

July 11, 2017

Nineteen years ago a historic church located at the Lambert South tube station in London was purchased by a bank. Since that time the community has flipped and is now primarily people who moved to the city from all over Great Britain and the world. They are struggling to assimilate, get good jobs, care for their children and rebuild their lives.

The bank’s main customers moved to other areas and it was struggling like the community. That’s when a Fresh Expression team from the Anglican Church brought a plan to the bank. Oasis Church proposed to team up with the bank. The church would open a childcare center on an empty floor of the bank bldg. The bank would work with the church to offer accounts, financial advice and planning, and low-interest loans to the newcomers so they could start small businesses needed in the struggling community. The church would hold Sunday worship in the bank’s conference room; counseling and daily prayer services before the bank opened; family activities, singles gatherings and language classes in the evenings.

The arrangement worked so well the church & bank then teamed up to open the Hub Coffee House. It provided a safe, inviting place for newcomers to gather. The church has a financial info carousel in the cafe and the church set up a reading table on prayer, parenting, following Christ, marriage and dealing with depression, addiction & health. The pastor and trained laity hang out and work the cafe so they can engage people & answer questions prompted by Art, posters and services advertised there.

After 5 years, they worship 70-125 people a week. The childcare center is full at 90. The pastor has baptized about 3 dozen new believers. They have had 62 complete the Alpha class. 21 new businesses have been launched in the community & 18 have succeeded, employing over 80 people. There is high turnover in the church due to constant relocation of the people moving thru this community. Yet due to their early partnership with the bank, the church became self-supporting in 18 months.