Malcolm Tyree

A collection of thoughts on things that matter

Archive for the category “Memories”

Pastor Appreciation Month: Brad Kendall

My time was nearly complete. I had reached that place that many 20-somethings dream of: I was in my final semester of college. In looking over my graduation requirements, it turned out that I needed to complete not only the courses I had signed up for, but I also needed one more community service project. Yes, the private Christian college I attended had each of us serve somewhere around 15 hours a semester for six semesters of our enrollment as a graduation requirement. In looking over my records, it turned out that I had satisfactorially completed the requirments of level II and level III service projects, but I was only half way there on a level I project. For those of you who were there during that time or who have known me, I know you are struggling to imagine that I had only partially fulfilled the level I type project. After all, level I is the observation level. I am quick to move from observation to action and this proved true during my years at Mid-America Bible College (now Mid-America Christian Universtiy).I was a senior, what was there left for me to observe? Hadn’t I seen it all already? After 21 hours of college credit under Cliff Sanders; multiple hours with professors Greg Robertson and Marvin Middlebrooks; countless hours volunteering on campus; working with a small congregation 20 miles from the college; hadn’t I served and learned enough? What more was there for me to see? Yes, I can be a bit over-confident in my abilities and knowledge.

Fortunately, my good friend, Shannon Smith, was short on the same type of service that I was. We both needed a level I observation style community service project. Shannon was older and smart enough to know when to sit back and take an easier path. He was married and had three kids. The last thing Shannon was looking for was a service project that would eat up too much of his time. So, I signed on board with Shannon and the two of us began our semester of community service level I: observation.

The question remained, what would we observe? We both knew we would be graduating soon and that meant we would be potentially entering into ministry employment, church work. What would it look like to start a new role at a church? What would it be like to be a new pastor? What would some of the transition issues be like? How would a pastor shape his staff? How would the congregation respond? These questions led us to the newest Church of God pastor in Oklahoma City: Brad Kendall.

 

Brad and Kristel Kendall

Brad and Kristel Kendall (picture from Facebook)

Brad was in his first months of serving as the new senior pastor for Shartel Church of God. He had come from Indiana after serving as senior pastor there. Brad was well connected in the Church of God. His father, Paul, had been a Church of God pastor. His brother, Gary, and his brother-in-law, Rolland Daniels, were each well respected pastors in the movement. Brad and his wife Kristel had the right pedigree of Church of God heritage and connections.

Shannon and I chose to observe Brad.

We met multiple time throughout that semester trying to get a behind the scenes look at what the transition looked like. We heard about the meetings with the board memebers. We witnessed the hiring of staff and the stuggle of what to do with exisiting staff who were well loved but not fully in alignement with Brad’s style of leadership. We began to grasp how a family would be welcomed into a congregation as its leader.

Brad had a unique style of humor and was big on smiling. He was not quick to dismiss others and really wrestled through the struggle of trying to bring people together. Brad worked long and hard to please others while being faithful to his calling as a minister.

After my semester of community service, my wife and I stayed a part of Shartel and Brad was our pastor. As I wrestled through my search for a place of ministry, Brad was there. He prayed and encouraged us in the process. He knew how hard it was to find a congregation. He knew the challenges before us. As we announced our impending move to Odessa, Texas, Brad celebrated with us. As we packed up, Brad and the Shartel Church, blessed us with a baby shower for our first born who wouldn’t arrive for another 6 months.

Brad was the last pastor I sat under week to week, voluntarily, for 12 years. Since then I have only chosen to sit week to week under two other pastors. Both of those proved to be temporary in arrangement as I would soon be employed in church ministry after listening to each of those men for a short season of six months or less.

Brad is now a chaplian in Texas. I am looking forward to the days where our paths cross in this great state.

One of the things I learned from observing Brad was that there is still more to learn, even when you think you’ve reached the end.

Advertisements

Pastor Appreciation Month: Cliff Sanders

College can be an intimidating place. You walk into a lecture hall, the podium up front has a microphone and there’s a large screen on the wall for a series of points to a lecture. The professor starts up, “Ahem!”
Profs with a hoary head of gray hair, goatees, and spectacles tend to capture the imagination of their students. When the prof has a commanding presence and leads you to see a subject or an idea in a different way, it’s really easy for the student to fall into awe of the prof. You can almost see the prof as beyond human. That is until you have lunch with them.

When I went to Mid-America Bible College (now Mid-America Christian University) in the fall of 1997, I enrolled in a required course for all traditional students at MBC; Biblical Life & Witness. The professor was in his mid 40’s and loved tweaking with the minds of the incoming Freshmen. Unbeknownst to me or my classmates, we were about to embark on an upheaval of the way we perceived God and ourselves.

 

picture of Cliff Sanders

Cliff Sanders, D. Min. (photo from Facebook)

 Cliff Sanders was my professor at MBC. In my time as a student, I had seven course with Cliff; 21 undergraduate hours. From Introduction to Old and New Testament and Biblical Life & Witness to the three inductive Bible study method classes and How to Teach the Bible, Cliff shaped (warped) my mind into a new way of viewing the sitz im laben of the scripture stories and how to draw out practical applications for today.

I admired Cliff and thought one day I might be like him; a college professor shaping young minds. Cliff had served as a pastor prior to coming to MBC and carried with him real world thinking as well as what I perceived to be a solid rational thinking about how to interpret the Bible. With his Masters of Divinity and efforts at earning his Doctorate in Ministry, I found myself looking at Cliff and wondering what it would be like to be him.

Part of what drew me to Cliff was his willingness to go beyond the classroom and lecture hall. Cliff would eat lunch with the common folk. Nearly everyday, Cliff would hold court at a table in the cafeteria. Carefully wrapping his salt and pepper shakers with a napkin as he seasoned the “delicacy” of the day, Cliff would joke, laugh, talk smack, and engage students, staff, and faculty around the table. It was at those many roundtable lunches with Cliff that I first experience the power of eating together to form community.

Even though Cliff was working on his doctorate, he was more than willing to have lunch with 18-22 year old punk, know it alls, like me. He welcomed us to the table and treated us as equals. He did not come across as “better than us.” Sure, Cliff would brag a bit too much about the Texas Longhorns in the room filled with fans of SEC teams or that University just south of the campus; mocking the fight song “Boomer Sooner” in a horrid cry. I am sure the cafeteria staff was glad to see the table empty of Cliff and his fans because it meant the room would quiet down and they could finally close up for the day. But as a member of the table, I miss those lunches.

Cliff carried such influence for me, that I went a step further in my gluttonous learning from him. I asked Cliff to provide pre-marital counseling for me and Christy. He was quick to sit us down and tell Christy how difficult it was going to be for her. He recounted stories of how he could see similarities between me and him, and therefore knew some of the challenges we might have. Cliff shared how he had to learn to love his wife, Becky. He was straightforward with me about how I would have to be intentional not to “forget” Christy in my daily life.

Though Cliff was not formally my pastor, he was one of my pastors during my years at MBC. 

I was honored to serve at MBC alongside Cliff when I graduated and worked in the Campus Ministries office. I remember being a part of the faculty and staff prayer time each week as we would pray with one another. I watched Cliff wrestle with Becky’s cancer battle. I was allowed to see my professor as vulnerable and transparent. We had grown beyond the loud antics of lunch and the debates in the classroom to the place of colleagues, friends, sharing life together. 

In many ways, my relationship with Cliff has helped me move from being intimidated by God to seeing that I am welcomed at his table, for lunch, prayer, and friendship.

Pastor Appreciation Month: Gene Lanham

I grew up in a typical American family. My parents divorced when I was five. My dad remarried when I was 10. I have two younger siblings, a brother nearly 3 years younger and a sister just over 14 years younger. My Dad served in the Army, was a part of Operation Desert Shield/Storm. My moms worked. My parents had grown up with a bit of church in their lives, but as a family we didn’t go to church, pray, or even really talk much about God and faith. We went about our business of work, school, and living life.

As a high schooler in the early 90’s I was introduced to the theology of Garth Brooks. His music had a way of capturing my imagination and my thoughts of the time. I won’t forget how true I believed the song “Unanswered Prayers” to be. Probably more than any other thing I had heard up to to that point, Garth Brooks was shaping my theology.In my Junior year, my best friend got a bug to try out a church in town. I tagged along, because that’s what friends do. I was probably a bit too pious in my Brooks theology and nearly created a fight in Sunday School when I asserted the wisdom of “Unanswered Prayers” to a class of seasoned church goers. Needless to say, we didn’t go back.

Nearly a year later, I went with the same friend to a different church. He had been attending there for a few months without me. The church’s building was located close to a mile from my house. One day my friend invited me to join him for a Friday night movie at the church. I went; mostly because I didn’t have anything else going on. 

After that night, I found myself returning to the church Wednesdays and Sundays. The 200 or so member church was led by Bro. Lanham. He was a distinguished looking guy with his finely trimmed mustache and silver hair. He would wear short sleeve button up shirts with a tie and a jacket on Sundays. I can’t recall ever seeing him wear a pair of blue jeans. He would preach every Sunday and often sing. He liked a country and western styled Gospel music. His wife, Sister Lanham, was the church secretary and leader of the women’s ministry. She was often found wearing a dress and a big welcoming smile.

On Easter Sunday, 1993, I went forward in the church and prayed. It is that day that I accepted Jesus’ work on my behalf and asked him to change my life.

In June of ’93, Bro. Lanham baptized me, my best friend, and our classmate who had led my best friend to attending that church.

 

picture of the Lanhams

Bro. and Sis. Lanham


Bro. Lanham was my first pastor. 

I can’t recall anything special about what he preached. Nor is there anything special about the way he preached. He made it all seem pretty simple. He would remind us to love and serve God and be holy. Looking back, I think he extended a simple plea for us to be saved and sanctified, week after week. Bro. Lanham was never overly stern. He was gracious and humble. 

Bro. Lanham was brave enough to let me cut my teeth in ministry. It started with mowing the church lawn. I’m sure it was really hard for him to give up that responsibility. Then I asked if I could change the marquee sign. When our youth leader left, I volunteered to teach the lessons on Wednesday. All the time, Bro. Lanham said “yes.” I am sure there is more to these simple memories on his side, but for me that is how it seemed. He even let me “sing” solos and gave me my first opportunity to preach. 

Bro. Lanham had a first name. It was a long time before I knew it. Turns out, he didn’t even go by his first name. My guess is I learned his first name, not long after I learned the name he went by. But for me, his first name was “Brother.”

I am honored to have had Leslie Eugene “Gene” Lanham as my first pastor. His ministry at the First Church of God in Clarksville, Tennessee, shaped me in my earliest days. Like a baby learning to roll over, crawl, walk, talk, and run, Bro. Lanham was like a parent in my faith.

Today, as I sit here typing this out, I am still impacted by his life. You see, what I didn’t mention is that Bro. Lanham began praying for me before we even met.

One Christmas season, Bro. Lanham was working at the mall as Santa Claus. One of the ladies working as Santa’s Helper was a mom to two teen aged boys and a toddler girl. He prayed for that family and the oldest son wandered into the Church of God and moved out of the Brooks school of theology because God answers prayer.

To See More Clearly, Know More Dearly, Feel More Nearly

In 1997, I moved from Clarksville, Tennessee, to attend Mid-America Bible College (now Christian University) in Oklahoma City. As a new student I was required to take a class called Biblical Life & Witness taught by Cliff Sanders.

I had come to MBC like most 21 year olds, arrogantly. I had been involved in ministry for about 30 months or so and thought I knew all I needed to know. After all, I had experienced a successful ministry and my pastor was sending me to college to get the necessary degree so that I could get a job at a church. Little did I know, how little I knew.

Bib Life (as we called it) challenged my view of God. The class provoked me to ask myself if I really knew the character of God and if I allowed him to know me. And Cliff’s teachings inspired me to live a life of evoking the imagination of others as they think about God.

This video message is a summation of Bib Life. I still have my notebook from the course, though I really don’t need to look at it. The course set me on course in such a way that I can recall much of it without even looking.

Cliff’s prayer at the end of this message is one you should stick around for, as is the entire message something that can move you in the right direction.

I realize one message won’t change your life. I was fortunate (ahem) to have Cliff as my professor for seven courses while at MBC. The messages were only part of my journey down a better path. Witnessing Cliff’s life for nearly five years was another significant part. So, don’t just listen to this message by Cliff. Connect with those who will challenge you to know God more deeply, see him more clearly, and feel him more nearly. Spend time with these people. Share life with them. Together, you will inspire others to imagine God as he wants us to see him.

The Jesus-Shaped Life – Sanctuary on Vimeo on Vimeo

via The Jesus-Shaped Life – Sanctuary on Vimeo.

12 years in 12 days (part 11)

This series is intended to be a brief sketch of my time in Odessa, Texas.

Moving into the summer of 2012, I was leading Grace Point into a potential opportunity that would secure a headquarters for our ministry operations. After a series of conversations over nearly three years, we were officially making an offer on the old fire station located across the street from Jordan Elementary in the new subdivision with more than 500 home being built in the three year span of time. Much to our surprise in June, we discovered that we did not win the auction, even more surprising, the city of Odessa leaders chose to keep the property to convert it into a community center.

OFS8.South

At the time, I did not realize the impact of the loss of the property. We had talked about it for nearly three years. It had become a key piece in our ministry vision. Additionally, the years of being portable were beginning to wear on our team members. The loss of the opportunity to transform the building into our ministry headquarters was a significant blow to our morale.

There was little time to grieve for me as I was quickly on to another adventure. This time I was headed to Denver, Colorado, for the International Youth Convention of the Church of God with teens from GP. We had a great time white water rafting, rock climbing, and camping along with the Convention program.

To help prepare Jordan Elementary for the new school year, our team took a Saturday and painted the cafeteria.

IMG_1265 IMG_1275 IMG_1276

Als that summer, my friend Brent gave me some flying lessons. He allowed me to pilot his plane from the DFW area to Midland-Odessa and then later from Scottsdale, Arizona, to Odessa. It was fun learning from a pro like Brent.

IMG_1254

In August, Christy surprised me with an amazing birthday gift! She had been working since May to arrange for me to go skydiving with other guys from GP. She caught me completely off guard with this gift. Though none of the other GPers joined in the adventure, I had a great time skydiving!

School started up, with another change to our routine. As the 11-12 year came to a close, we decided that Christy would step away from teaching. Though she enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the students, the educational system had changed and Christy felt it was time to step away. She returned to being a stay at home mom.

IMG_1649

As for me, I was now serving as the PTA president for Jordan and our district’s council. The two proved to be very challenging yet rewarding. The district council needed to be restarted and so I was tasked with leading that charge. Thanks to the help of the district administration, principals, and parents we were able to reestablish the PTAs presence in the district’s operations.

IMG_2586

I also began working full time with the Sewell Team that fall. This was a tremendous opportunity to work alongside a faith based company committed to leadership growth. I served as the Learning and Development Coordinator through May.

As you can imagine, my schedule was pretty full between Sewell, PTA at Jordan, PTA for the city, and Grace Point. I was loving it!

Out of nowhere, Grace Point began to see our strongest ministry season in the late winter and early spring. As we approached Easter for 2013, we knew this was a prime opportunity to reach our neighbors and coworkers. It was also during this season that Christy stepped up to lead the worship band.

IMG_2637

On Easter we had 149 people in attendance. That was two times the size of our normal attendance at the time. We shared in baptisms and had fired up the grill for lunch while the kids hunted eggs and played. We also held a balloon launch reminding us of the resurrection.

IMG_2470

The spring had been a great season of ministry and now it was time to move into summer. Big changes were on the way for our family.

IMG_2618

12 years in 12 days (part 10)

This series is intended to be a brief sketch of my time in Odessa, Texas.

As we wrapped up the Spring of 2011, we were in for new steps of faith with Grace Point and our membership. These new steps of faith would send many of our members on some type of service trip.

Channon and Elizabeth joined the team from Houston First Church of God on a trip to Haiti. Their work including a building project and assisting in a medical clinic.

About 25 GPers ranging in age from 7 to 82 began serving with a local homeless ministry team. This team would spend Sunday mornings preparing lunches for 60 people once a month through December.

IMG_1252

Some of you may be wondering how we could send a team on Sunday mornings. This was possible because we had changed our worship gathering time from Sunday morning to Saturday night. We made this change for a couple of key reasons. First, we were committed to reaching people not going to church and we thought maybe a reason people didn’t attend church was because of other obligations on Sunday morning. Secondly, we had been unable to find a worship leader for several months and meeting on Saturday nights would allow us to utilize some of our friends in the community who were worship leaders at other churches.

The Saturday night worship gatherings was clearly announced as an experiment. We ran the program through the summer. By late July we had come to see that it was really hard to change your Saturday routines. So, we in August we announced we were going back to Sundays after Labor Day Weekend. The amazing thing, during that season of experimenting, we didn’t lose a single family. Sure, many were not as faithful in attendance as they could have been, but everyone of them stuck through the season and returned with us in the fall!

While we were still in the midst of our Saturday night services, Christy went on a trip to Asia! Working with Project Partner, she was a part of an English Teaching Team. The more than two weeks away proved to be extremely challenging for her. Some of the challenge was physical, some emotional, and some spiritual.

DSCF8454

The physical challenge was a result of a car accident we had been in about a week before she was to leave. We were returning from a meeting of Church Planters in Austin, when a pick up truck carrying a 20′ flatbed trailer, rear ended us. At first we didn’t think the accident was that major. We couldn’t see any significant damage to the vehicle and none of us had any visible bumps or bruises. The next day, Christy began to feel the pain. The accident had jarred her body and created significant back pain. In an attempt to relieve the issue, she was prescribed a steroid pack that she reacted badly to and then we had serious doubts as to whether or not she would be going on the trip.

As I said, she did end up going, but as she was flying to Hong Kong, she nearly passed out on her flight. She had the unnerving and movie like experience of hearing, “If there is a doctor on the plane, please press your call button.” She knew that was for her. For the first few days of her trip she could barely participate. After receiving an acupuncture treatment, she was in much better condition for the remainder of her journey.

DSCF8554

The physical pain was intensified by the emotional separation. This was Christy’s longest trip away from the kids! She was also traveling with a group that she barely knew and she struggled because she thought she was a burden to the rest of the team. When the trip was over, and she stepped through the secure area at the airport in Midland, she collapsed into the arms of her babies with tears flowing.

IMG_1450

Christy’s spiritual challenge was trusting that God could care for her and her family when they were separated by half the globe.

About a month before Christy left, her grandmother, Teena, went into the hospital and the doctors had told the family she was in her last days. After moving Teena to the Hospice House, family members in Texas and Arkansas came out to be with Teena in her final days. After more than two weeks at Hospice, Teena rebounded and was transferred to a long term care facility.

IMG_1398

The summer was filled with emotion.

While Christy was away, the GP team served the homeless and also held our final backpack giveaway. This time, instead of hosting a special service asking families to come to us, we chose to set up a booth during registration at Jordan Elementary. We chose to set up at Jordan because this was the community we were directly trying to minister to. Our team sat there each day and offered backpacks to any and all who needed or wanted them. Left over packs were given to the school district’s student assistance and support team to be distributed as needed.

In October, I went to Berlin, Germany, with three others from GP and a team of pastors from the Texas General Assembly of the Church of God. The trip was an educational trip as we learned from missionaries about the work they were doing to help reach residents of this international post-Christian city.

When I returned, we had our first baby boom at Grace Point. We had four babies arrive! So we held a baby dedication for the families.

IMG_0119

As Halloween approached, I couldn’t let the previous year’s trick or treating success go without begin challenged. So, once again I brought out the video projector and this time I connected our Wii Game System. We had fallen in love with the Michael Jackson Dance Experience as a family so we shared the game with our neighbors and trick or treaters. Using computer speakers and the video projector shining onto the garage door, we danced to Thriller throughout the trick or treating. At different points there were 20+ kids and adults dancing on our driveway!

IMG_0149

In December, I baptized Andrew. He is a bit of a ham and highly expressive. So, when the water turned out to be hotter than expected, he practically climbed up my shoulder like a cat when I went to submerge him. It was truly a moment you had to see.

IMG_0280

 

We made sure the water was warm that day because we had already seen our share of snow that December. But the desert cools and heats quickly!

IMG_0253 IMG_0258

 

After a nice winter, we picked up the paint rollers to help with some spring cleaning at the local YMCA daycare. A team of more than a dozen GPers came out to repaint all the classrooms of the center. It was a lot of work, but a lot of fun too.

IMG_0324 IMG_0495

Shortly after the work day, Christy’s sister’s family was able to come to Odessa. The wind blew them all the way in from Michigan.

IMG_0607IMG_0606 IMG_0609 IMG_0617 IMG_0623

Easter 2012, was once again a highlight for the GP family. We celebrated the day with egg hunts and baptisms. We baptized three that day.

IMG_0460

Closing out our 10th year in Odessa, some friends gave us a new dog. You may have seen pics of Dee Dee in some of the previous posts. She probably more than the rest of us was impacted the most by the arrival of Theo! I will say, I’m not sure he would have survived house training if he weren’t so cute.

IMG_0652

As we prepared for the summer of 2012, we were making a bid on the dream property and I had an adventure to Denver awaiting as well as an unexpected birthday surprise!

12 years in 12 days (part 9)

This series is intended to be a brief sketch of my time in Odessa, Texas.

In comparison to the summer of ’09, the summer of 2010 was relatively quiet. We started the summer off by taking two groups to Camp Powers in the Piney Woods of East Texas. I took the teens for the first week, and Christy took the older elementary aged kids the second. Camp Powers was become a special place for our family and for the emerging GPers. For many, it served as a place to hear from and think about God more clearly. Camp Powers was also just a great place for desert dwellers because it is encircled by trees! Trees are a rarity in Odessa and they helped make the nine hour drive across the state worth it.

IMG_1747

During the summer of 2010 I began working part time for the local newspaper. The job wasn’t anything glamorous, it was just helping us make the ends meet. This was necessary because after reviewing the finances of Grace Point, the leadership team and I were uncomfortable seeing more than 60% of our income being used to cover rent and staffing. We chose this as a temporary fix. As a family, Christy now became the principal income as I took a 75% reduction in pay. The cut seems dramatic, and it was, but it was necessary if Grace Point was going to continue. Though we had been able to attract people to our Easter gathering earlier that spring, we had not been able to capture their attention to return. Income was down and attendance was too. We had lost about 25% of our attendees in the move from Blanton Elementary, in a central area of town to Jordan Elementary, on the far north edge of town.

In July, we took a trip north. We drove through the panhandle of Texas and Oklahoma to see our friends, the Littichs, who had moved to central Kansas. It had been a year since they had left and we missed them. From their house, we pushed on further to Ottumwa, Iowa. Christy’s parents had met and married in Ottumwa. Cheryl’s family still lives there today. It was fun to connect with Christy’s family. On the way home, we picked up a stowaway. Zachary, Christy’s nephew came back with us to spend a few weeks in Odessa.

IMG_1832 IMG_1847

As the new school year approached, Grace Point had saved enough money to purchase 400 backpacks for the community. Additionally, we choose to pre-fill the packs with basic school supplies to cut down on the chaos we had experienced the year before. We worked as a team for about three weeks preparing for the big day of the give away.

Unlike the year before, the economy was headed in a positive direction and the need was not nearly as great. We had just over 200 people show up to receive a backpack. We took the remaining packs to the local park near the Boys and Girls Club and gave them away at the end of their day camp.

As school started, things were changing for our family. Christy had moved from teaching 6th grade to now teaching 3rd. She was excited about the change as the pre-pubescent hormones of 6th grade had begun to wear on her. Andrew was entering Kindergarten and Caitlyn was entering 2nd. The biggest change in this was that Caitlyn would now be attending school at Jordan Elementary, our neighborhood school, and Andrew would be attending Dowling Elementary, where Christy was teaching. This was a big change. No longer would the girls be headed out in the morning with the boys to figure the day out. We were now divided oldest and youngest. Christy and Andrew, both youngest, would head to Dowling around 7am, and Caitlyn and I, the oldest, would walk to  Jordan around 7:25am. We were fortunate enough to have Caitlyn’s Kindergarten teacher, teach Andrew too. Mrs. Evans holds a special place in our family. After all, she’s the one who taught the kids to do The Friday Dance.

IMG_1910

With time on my hands, I began to volunteer at Jordan Elementary, hosting the monthly Super Student Lunches. This was a great time to celebrate the accomplishments of students at Jordan as well as to begin to serve the community where we were know hosting our worship gatherings.

In September, my dad and brother came out for a visit. It was the first time they had been out in sometime. With the new house, there was plenty of room to play and they took full advantage of the space. My brother, Grady, introduced the kids to Nerf War in the house!

On 10-10-10, we celebrated Grace Point’s 4th Anniversary. For our official celebration we took a group picture. It is one of my favorite moments of GP.  Some of the faces were first time guests, but everyone jumped in for a great big smile.

DSCF8016

As Halloween approached, I wanted to try something different than the usual trick or treat experience. Many had suggested the Grace Point host a Halloween Night Event. This was very common throughout Odessa. Most churches host some sort of fair or trunk-n-treats type event. I wanted to see if we could use the night to get to know our neighbors a bit better.

Partly inspired by Randy Frazzee telling a story of sitting on his door step with a pot of chili, I grabbed one of the video projectors from the church and set up a movie on the garage door. I thought the Veggie Tales episode, Where is God When I am Scarred was a perfect story for Halloween. This was also the first year for Halloween in the our new subdivision. Wow! The streets flooded with Trick or Treaters. It looked like a scene from Norman Rockwall’s American images. In our previous eight years, we might have seen a dozen kids on Halloween, combined. This was different. We ran out of candy had saw over 100 kids. Our neighbors across the street ran out of candy, but they loved watching the kids come up and stair at the giant singing vegetables.

Near the end of the trick or treating time, a pick up truck pulled up in front of my house and the driver just sat in his cab. I was busy talking with some guests and entertaining friends, but I noticed the driver was really slow to get out of his truck. I gently stepped to get a better view of the driver because by this point he was beginning to wig me out. As he got out of his truck, he approached me very directly. I intentionally stepped back, away from the party on my drive way to engage with this man.

He quickly said, “I know this is going to sound weird but I need to talk with you. I saw you earlier tonight with your kids going house to house and I knew I needed to come find you. So when I was coming down your street with my kids, I knew where I could find you. I know this sounds weird, but you have something I need! Here are the names of my family.”

He handed me a notebook with his name, along with a woman’s and three children names and contact information. As you can imagine, I am a bit skeptical and partly freaked out by the guy.

I replied, “Well, you should know I am a pastor.”

“That’s it!” he quickly responded. “I’m the black sheep of my family and I need your light.”

We talked for a bit more and I agreed to meet with him at a later date to talk about his situation.

As he left, I remembered meeting him earlier that night, one street over while taking Caitlyn and Andrew trick or treating. I had commented to the oldest of the kids how I liked his costume’s hat. It was a stove top style hat and the boy was dressed as Dracula. Beyond that, I don’t recall saying anything else to the group.

When we did meet, about a month later, I found out the names he had given me where of his common-law wife, her two oldest children, and their shared child. They had been through a major family crisis over the past year and were needing some guidance and help. Eventually, the mother and kids began attending Grace Point. He would pop in every now and then. I was honored when they asked me to officiate their wedding some two years later.

That story is still one I marvel at.

In November, Christy’s paternal grandmother, Teena, came to live in Odessa with Terry and Cheryl.

DSCF8109

We had settled into a good rhythm as a family and a church. Attendance was stabilized and many of the folks attending seemed to know each other before showing up for the first time. This was a stark contrast to years before as most of our attendees had never met one another until they came to GP.

It was around this time that I began to look for further opportunities to supplement my still reduced income. I was introduced to two groups in 2009 that paved a way for two conversations in mid-December that would prove to be blessings to my family’s financial situation as well as my development as a public speaker.

The first conversation was with a local business owner who I had met at a Men’s Retreat in 2009. Collin Sewell was working hard to lead his companies in a Christ-honoring fashion and so I offered to help in any way he saw fit. After a few conversations we identified a need among his team for areas of enrichment and development in personal lives, so I began working for Sewell. At first I lead a financial management course and then later I served as the lead trainer for new hire orientations.

The second conversation was in Chicago with a team that trains public speakers. EDC Inc, challenged me as a public speaker in ways I never could have imagined. I had always been comfortable speaking in front of groups, but I did it by intuition. EDC helped break down the mechanics of the best communicators into a reproducible skill set. After the Chicago conversation, I worked with them for nearly 18 months to become one of their trainers.

As 2011 kicked off, Grace Point was coming along and the winter and spring months proved to be pretty stable and quiet. Since that’s not my personality, things needed to change! Easter was coming and we needed to remind the neighborhood that we were here and that Jesus mattered!

So for Easter we hosted a huge Spring Fest in the park on Saturday. We had 5,000 eggs, kites, face painting, feed the elephant, and more crazy festival type events. The turn out was great. Some joined us for Sunday’s worship gathering.

215412_10150154076688309_603148308_6656069_4606155_n 215532_10150154072963309_603148308_6655942_3748995_n 217412_10150154072453309_603148308_6655923_3588868_n

2011 turned into a big year for Grace Point to serve others. More on how we served others in the next post.

12 years in 12 days (part 8)

This series is intended to be a brief sketch of my time in Odessa, Texas.

The summer of 2009 proved to be an emotional one. Our dear friends, Henry, Kate, and Emma Littich, were moving. The Littichs had been among the closest to our family and Emma was like a sister to Caitlyn and Andrew. Henry had accepted a new position in Kansas and they moved in June. Along with the Littichs departure, two other families we had journeyed with left Grace Point as well. One moved out of the area and another felt lead to participate in another church in town. This was not how we had hoped to start the summer.

In May, Grace Point had received a sizable gift from the West Texas District of the Church of God in Texas. We were anticipating taking GP to the next level in part because of this gift, but also do to the momentum and success we had developed over the previous year. The hope was we could use this money as seed money for a new ministry headquarters or some other way to bless the community we lived in.

We were finally hitting a healthy stride and the carpet felt like it was taken from underneath us with the departure of these key families.

Just as they were leaving, a new family was coming in. Christy’s parents were moving to Odessa. Terry had retired from ministry and they wanted to be in the warm weather with the grandkids. It was great having them in the area.

DSCF8005

About three weeks after they moved to Odessa, Christy and I signed a contract to build a new home in a developing subdivision, four blocks from Terry and Cheryl. After living more than 14 hours away, we would now be less than 5 minutes from each other.

The new subdivision was emerging in 2009. Christy and I had worked hard throughout the spring to position ourselves to be able to move there and serve as missionaries to the new residents. We had heard good thing about the property developers and we saw this as a prime opportunity to get into a bigger house, but also to grow with new families and friends.IMG_0328

DSCF8071

Closing out the summer, we also celebrated by baptizing five people, including Caitlyn. After the baptism in a member’s pool, I declared the pool open for swimming and Andrew jumped right into the deeper section, without his floatation device. We scrambled to rescue him! Afterwards, everyone remarked about how calm I was. The the truth is I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of everyone by hollering at him like I really wanted to!

DSCF8016

DSCF8017

DSCF8021

So our summer was mixed with emotion.

The summer of 2009 also brought an economic downturn for the city of Odessa. Unemployment spiked just before school. With most families living paycheck to paycheck, GP lead the charge to help in a tangible way. We held our first backpack giveaway. Using some of the money from the large gift from earlier in the year, we purchased 500 backpacks and mobilized GPers to bring in additional school supplies to be given away just before school started.

IMG_0334

 

IMG_0337

On the Sunday that we gave the supplies away, the line was nearly a block long. The guests filled the gym to a standing room crowd and when the supplies and backpacks were given away there was little left behind. It was an amazing day.

In September, Terry had a heart attack while at a Men’s Retreat south of Austin. He had the attack at about 3am on Sunday morning, so I was scrambling to get Cheryl to him as well as figure out how to get things taken care of for GP’s worship gathering just a few hours away. Austin is approximately 6 hours from Odessa. We started on the road around daybreak. One hour south of Odessa, a deer ran across the road, colliding with Cheryl and I in our minivan. We had just paid it off two weeks prior. The deer totaled the van. We ended up flying Cheryl to Austin. Fortunately, Terry was with his brother at the retreat. After a short stay in the hospital, Terry and Cheryl made it home without any other issues.

IMG_0480

In October, Christy’s aunt Linda died. Christy, Cheryl, and Terry traveled to Illinois for her funeral.

Our hope was the backpack giveaway would translate into additional ministry opportunities in our community and new families would participate in GP. This did not happen and ministry turned difficult. The loss of key families at GP along with a series of personal family crises for us had a ripple effect. Though we did have new families come in, they were not able to immediately fill the void created and we needed a fresh start.

When we began planning to move to the new neighborhood, we did not anticipate moving Grace Point as well. Yet, as we began to survey the neighborhood, there was a great building that stood out as a potential ministry headquarters and community center. The Old Fire Station had been turned over to a non-profit group. The group had dwindled in participation through the years and the building was in need of some TLC. After talking with the group, we thought there might be a possibility of obtaining the facility from the group, while allowing them to continue to operate their non-profit at the center.

IMG_0319

So, with that in mind, we moved Grace Point from Blanton Elementary to Jordan Elementary at the turn of the new year.  2010 would be a fresh start for GP.

The move was hard on GP. There had been some grumbling by a long time family that was unhappy about the direction of GP. I had to have the hardest conversation of my career during this time. Over a hot dog, I had to say to my friend of many years I could no longer be the pastor for his family. Things had reached a point where for the sake of GP, we had to part ways. It was the hardest thing I’ve done as a leader. No one had ever trained me to ask a parishioner and friend to find another pastor. I am still amazed at the grace he showed to me in moving on. I’m glad to know I can still count him as a friend today.

As Christy and I settled into the new house and neighborhood in January, we had a lot of work to do personally and professionally. Christy was struggling with teaching sixth graders and I was struggling to find new people to attend GP.

Caitlyn continued to excel at school.

IMG_1697

Andrew had won the hearts of his preK teachers to the point that they were now attending and serving at Grace Point. As we moved into the new location, Ms. Lori and Ms. Kim brought a freshness to the ministry efforts, especially in our children’s ministry areas.

Easter was becoming a big deal at GP. For 2010, we worked hard and nearly tripled our regular attendance. Instead of a big egg hunt, this year we opted to give away kites. We also baptized two on that day. Dená and her son Trace had come to our Easter service a year before.

IMG_1456

IMG_1458

IMG_1466

IMG_1477

IMG_1476

The year was full! As we entered the summer of 2010 progress was being made, but it was different than expected.

12 years in 12 days (part 6)

This series is intended to be a brief sketch of my time in Odessa, Texas.

To kick off the summer of 2007, it only seemed appropriate to have a backyard party! This made a great excuse for me to destroy the old metal shed in the back yard and replace it with a nice new Lifetime plastic shed from Lowes. Henry and I enjoyed tearing down the old one, but assembling the new one tested our patience.

100_2835

100_2840

This backyard upgrade made hosting a Luau party all the easier. Many of our friends from Grace Point joined in the fun and we celebrated the arrival of summer.

100_2863

100_2874

100_2875

100_2876

100_2877

100_2882

In an attempt to reach new residents in Odessa, we subscribed to a “new movers” list and had a welcome to the neighborhood card sent out. We decided that it would be good to follow up with these “new residents” by providing them with a practical gift. So we put into action OPERATION GP TP DROP.

This was one of the best worst ideas we had. We took toilet paper roles and wrapped them individually in a decorative party bag and then dropped the tp roll with a note attached on the door step of the “new neighbors.” The notes were punny. We had sayings like:  “Sometimes Life is Messy!” and “Our Pastor’s on a Role” and more. It was a lot of fun in the preparation side and delivery, but no one responded and it turned out to be something we flushed out of our plans. After talking with a few of the people on the list, it turns out they weren’t “new neighbors” they had just changed utility or phone providers.

100_2910

100_2909

100_2912

In the fall, we continued to partner with other churches in the city to sponsor a ministry reaching out to emerging adults (18-28yrs). This weekly worship gathering met on the campus of the University of the Permian Basin. I would speak once a month and help facilitate the audio-visual needs using GP’s portable equipment.

100_3157

DSC00350

For Black Friday, we assembled the GP Team to stand outside of Walmart and provide Hot Chocolate for the early morning shoppers. Our team arrived before 5am to serve the crazy shoppers. DSC00373

As the year changed, many new faces rotated in and out of GP. Easter rolled around and we opted to go less extreme on the egg hunt.  That was a good thing because the weather forced us inside. The kids of GP hunted for eggs in the library of the school where we were meeting.

100_3473

 

Our sixth year closed out with two special celebrations. Kristian Gregg graduated from Boot Camp in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. My sister, Chasity, graduated from High School in Harvest, Alabama. We were able to attend both ceremonies.

100_3497

101_3632

As we prepared for the summer of 2008, we were excited about the future.

12 years in 12 days (part 5)

This series is intended to be a brief sketch of my time in Odessa, Texas.

12 adults! That’s how many said yes to coming on board to help start a new church in Odessa, Texas.

In June of 2006, a group of us came together under the belief that the city of Odessa did need another church, but not like the other churches in town. We would be clear, this would be a place where no perfect people were allowed. It would be focused on making faith seem normal to our lives. The new church would reach out to those not already in a church. We would emphasis family, acceptance, and try to not take ourselves too seriously. We were committed to encouraging others to take the next step in their journey of faith in Jesus.

100_2036

Early in 2006, I had met Tim Halstead of New Life Church in Odessa. Tim and his wife Melinda, along with nearly 70 others had opened New Life in the summer of 2005. The Halsteads were a huge encouragement to us and were champions of our efforts to launch another new church in town. The New Life Team allowed our team to come and learn from them for three weeks. We participated in the set-up/tear-down routine. We observed how they did children’s ministry and refreshments. We learned how to be a portable church from the new life team.

As we were ramping up our efforts to open the new church, Christy was struggling. She did not know what was wrong, but she knew something was physically wrong with her and it was impacting her emotionally and spiritually as well. She wanted to see a specialist to have some blood work done to see if they could determine what was impacting her. This was very scary for me on a couple of levels. First, I was “busy” planting a new church. I couldn’t imagine being side-tracked! (Bad Husband, I know!) Second, I didn’t know how we would pay for this $500 test. We were barely making our monthly expenses between what little support we had raised and the part-time job I had. We sent out a request asking for some help to pay for the test for Christy. We had three friends from our college and high school days step up and pay for the test! Christy was diagnosed with an autoimmune thyroid disorder. It still affects her life today, but at least now we know what the issue is. The response from our three friends was amazing and reminded us that we weren’t alone.

100_2617

The training with New Life Odessa and through the financial and prayerful help of partners across the country, including Church Multiplication Association and New Life Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas, along with the commitments from the 12 adults who signed on board, we launched Grace Point Church in October.

LOGO

For our first service, our friends at Crossway Church in Midland came and joined us to cheer us on.

grand opening.001

The beginning of Grace Point was probably premature. Looking back on it, I know we did not have a large enough team. Even with our guests for the from Midland, we had less than 70 people in attendance. Some of the research on church planting says you will likely double the number of people of your launch team for the first service. We were within those stats.

Though our opening did not go as planned, we kept at it. After all, we were up and running now. To be honest, when we started Grace Point, I knew what to do on Sundays. What I didn’t know was what to do throughout the week. Even though I had spent some time as a senior pastor, I did not know what to do to develop disciples, lead teams, and invite guests to our services. I did know how to preach and organize a worship service. I did know we needed a great kids’ class and nursery. I did know how to produce marketing material. What I didn’t know was how to develop strangers into community. I had a lot to learn.

In December,we witnessed Josh and Jessica getting married.

100_2362

We also held our first baptism service. We met at the home of one of our newest attendees. They had a hot tub and we witnessed Fred’s baptism. Later in the spring we returned to that same house for Misty’s baptism. These were encouraging steps we were taking.

100_2593

In February of 2007, Church Multiplication Association gave us a grant for a mailer to be sent out to our city. We had not done this for our opening due to limited finances. For the first time, we started to see some traction in attendance. We bumped up from averring less than 30 to more than 50.

Heroes cover

For Spring Break, Christy, the kids, and I took a vacation. We drove to Alabama to drop the kids off with the grandparents, then Christy and I drove to Nashville, Tennessee, to fly to San Francisco, California. It was our first time away, without kids, it nearly five years.

100_2686
100_2710

As Easter approached, we knew this would be a great time to reach out to our city. I came up with an idea to host what I believe to be the largest Easter Egg Hunt in the city on the Saturday of Easter Weekend. We partnered with Grace Baptist Church in town to stuff some 10,000 plastic Easter Eggs. We purchased door prizes like bicycles, kites, and fun toys for kids. We were going all out!

peeps

100_2744

On Friday, April 6, 2007, the weathermen began reporting a potential problem to our plans. Rain would have been easy to overcome. Instead, on Saturday, April 7, it snowed!

We had some 10,000 Easter Eggs loaded into my minivan. The fumes from the sugary candy and gum was nearly sickening. And as I looked outside around 7am, snow was falling. This was not good. When the snow falls in the desert, people stay inside. The temperature had dropped and the snow covered the roads. Everything that day was cancelled. Including our amazing Easter Egg Hunt!

Now you may wonder, what do you do with 10,000 Easter Eggs? We certainly did. I knew we weren’t going to have enough people present on Sunday, plus the grounds were still wet. So I decided to postpone the hunt to the following Saturday.

100_2766

As you might have guessed, there isn’t the same enthusiasm for an Easter Egg Hunt after Easter. We got the word out the best we could leading to Saturday. As 10am approached on April 14, six days after Easter, 69 kids showed up to collect the eggs. In case you are wondering, that works out to be 145 eggs per child! We were encouraging parents to let the kids hunt a second and third time!

100_2770

100_2782

I’ll never forget that Easter.

As the spring came to a close, we prepared for our first summer as a new church start.

Post Navigation