Archives For Brandon Cox

BOOKS TO TAKE NOTE OF

Screenshot 2016-02-05 14.10.39Rebuild: Reset Your Life. Renew Your Church. Reshape Your World., by Tommy Kyllonen

Rebuilding is way harder than building. But sometimes God calls you to this stretching work rather than starting something new. Pastor and hip-hop artist Tommy Kyllonen faced this journey when God led him to an abandoned Toys “R” Us building in inner city Tampa and said, “Rebuild this into a church.” How do we rebuild in a healthy way despite living in a world of brokenness? Drawing on Nehemiah’s example as the rebuilder of Jerusalem’s walls, Kyllonen reveals the struggles and joys that he, his family and his young urban, multiethnic church experienced as they pursued a seemingly impossible dream of restoration. Their story will encourage and inspire you to pursue God’s rebuilding work in your own life, church and world.

Screenshot 2016-02-05 14.14.08Philippians Devotional: The Eight Places Joy Is Won or Lost, by Tom Holladay

Based on Tom Holladay’s popular podcast, Drivetime Devotions, this personal study is designed to be read daily, five days a week, so you have the margin to stay on…

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Is God calling you to serve Him in ministry?

First of all, it’s a big YES.

God draws lost people to himself to save them, and his desire is that all saved people serve people. So, if you’re a believer, you are called! Obviously, however, there is a kind of “calling” that sets certain individuals apart for positions of ministry leadership. The New Testament refers to some people as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. And they are given to the church to teach, preach, shepherd, equip, and instruct.

It should be noted before moving any further that everyone within the body of Christ is of equal worth and importance. We may serve different functions, but the gap between “clergy” and “laity” is an imagined one. All believers are “ministers” even though a few may receive a special calling to lead and to take responsibility for the health and welfare of the flock as undershepherds who follow Jesus.

Some of these leaders are paid and some are not. Some work for churches full-time, some part-time, and others on a volunteer basis. Regardless of their formal relationship with a particular church body, they are called to a…

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Calendar

I’ve spent the last month or so mapping out the next year of preaching. That doesn’t mean I’m preparing a year’s worth of sermons in detail or that I won’t make changes along the way. Sometimes a congregation experiences unexpected transitions or cultural events, and sometimes God just makes it clear that what was planned isn’t the best message for the moment. So I’m flexible, but I want to think ahead.

I believe annual sermon planning is vital for several reasons.

1. TO BALANCE WHAT THE CONGREGATION IS BEING FED.

When I map out a year of sermons I try to be intentional about balancing certain factors, such as:

  • I want to teach from both testaments and every major genre of literature – narrative history, prophecy, poetry and wisdom, the gospels, and the epistles.
  • I want to touch on all of the major areas of systematic theology – bibliology (the Bible), soteriology (salvation), pneumatology (the Holy Spirit), anthropology (mankind), ecclesiology (the church), etc.
  • I want to talk about all five purposes of the church, and of life – worship, evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, and ministry.
  • I want to plan series designed to reach seekers, ground new believers, and take…

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Change

We like change that directly benefits us – a job promotion, a new home, marrying our dream mate, etc. But we’re terrified of change that threatens our sense of stability, security, or significance. Having been a Pastor for eighteen years now, I’ve seen my share of missed opportunities for new, fresh growth resulting from the fear of taking risks that might cost our comfort.

God is living, active, and dynamic. Furthermore, he is sovereign. We like to treat God as a product – apply, rinse, and repeat – who will give us the same results forever as long as we never change the way we use him. But God has a tendency to be elusive, calling us out of our comfort zones and drawing us into the sometimes crazy adventure of following him on his terms, not ours.

Growth and forward momentum are created by significant catalytic changes.

We’ve watched this already in the short life of Grace Hills Church. We started meeting in an office building with about 30 people. When we moved to a local hotel, we grew to 70. When we launched in our first movie theater location, 174 showed up and we averaged…

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Family Laugh

Guitars sound nice because of stress. Great guitarists know how to turn the tuning pegs just enough that all six strings are in harmony with one another and on key. But too much stress, too much tension, can stretch or break a string.

In the same way, every family will experience stress and tension. It’s inevitable, and it’s possible to experience peace together even in the middle of tension. But too much stress can cause us to snap and lose our harmony.

Families are experiencing unprecedented stress today. It results from economic hardship, the rat race at work, global and cultural events, high educational standards, peer pressure, and much more. I’m convinced that home ought to be a little like a island – a safe place in a war zone. And the Bible gives us some simple wisdom about some valuable practices for peaceful homes.

Learn to Laugh

Proverbs 15:13 says, A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.” (ESV) Laughter is like medicine, and laughing together as a family is highly therapeutic. And it doesn’t take a lot of effort to find things to laugh about. My daughter and…

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Rocky Road

Having an ambition to lead is great, but it doesn’t produce actual leadership. Taking risks does. The best leader in the room isn’t the one with all the answers. The leader is the one who volunteers to go first and show the way. Every great leader I know has been scorched by the pain of making the hard, and sometimes wrong, decisions.

But the only way to change the world is to take the risks of leadership, such as the risk of

  • Casting a bold, impossible vision.
  • Writing the first check.
  • Releasing people before they’re quite ready to fly.
  • Opening up and getting nothing back.
  • Opening up and getting slammed.
  • Losing consensus.
  • Praying the bold, public prayer.
  • Choosing a conviction over compromise.
  • Confessing a wrong turn.
  • Wasting time on a failed endeavor.

Real success stories are never built out of an unbroken chain of successes. They’re pieced together with wins and losses, tough seasons, temporary setbacks, and half-dead dreams.

Successful leaders push through. They keep going. They trust one more time. They try one more time. They take the risk, embrace the pain, and celebrate recovery along the way.

Stop thinking of leadership as synonymous with continual victory. As long as you define leadership this way, you’ll do whatever it takes to not mess…

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Hot Coals

John Maxwell said, “Teamwork makes the dream work, but a vision becomes a nightmare when the leader has a big dream and a bad team.” When it comes to church leadership, there isn’t any room for lone rangers. We need a team. We need to be making more disciples, and empowering more leaders to fulfill the mission Jesus gave us.

Tony Morgan was spot on in a recent blog post in which he spelled out the two keys to breaking through any growth barrier. He boiled it down to developing more leaders and developing better systems. The problem is, some churches are terrible, unhealthy incubators for potential leaders. From churches that still think nominating and voting on volunteers is actually effective to those that create a culture where volunteers are afraid to mess up, many churches reflect a set of values that stifles leadership development.

I recently met with the Grace Hills staff to remind us all of some of the key values of a church that allows volunteers to emerge as leaders and develops great teams. These may seem a little random, but they actually flow together.

  1. The leader of leaders must be growing

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Remember the Once-ler? From The Lorax by Dr. Seuss? He was a fairly normal guy who wanted to build a big business at the expense of the environment, so he kept “biggering and biggering” until all the trees were gone, the wildlife had vacated the landscape, and his business crashed. The little children’s book seems to leave us with the impression that biggering is bad. But I’m not convinced that should be the big lesson.

The story is told of Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A, that he once sat quietly through a board meeting listening to his executives brainstorm about how to get bigger. He suddenly interrupted the chatter with a declaration: “If we get better, we won’t have to worry about getting bigger.” Talk about an Aha! moment!

We can make the church grow, or we can watch the church grow, and the difference boils down to bettering instead of biggering. This clip from an upcoming movie called When God Left the Building illustrates, from Pastor Rick Warren’s perspective, why biggering is simply not the right goal. (And hat tip to Joshua Griffin for the find.)

I often warn people who attend Grace Hills that if they’re just looking…

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Danny Kirk, Grace Hills’ Community Pastor, started a back porch discussion off the other day with this question: what do you think are the basic, essential qualities a leader must have to be an effective church planter?

The more we talked, the longer our list became. And I even thought of Charles Ridley’s excellent list of 13 characteristics of a church planter, which I can’t improve upon. But before I get into it, let me issue this disclaimer to ward off those who will nail me for being overly pragmatic… God can use anyone he wants to use to do anything he wants done. Skilled or not, talented or not, charismatic or not, God can do amazing things through ordinary people.

Having said all of that, some people seem to lead well while others struggle. In general, these are the characteristics of leaders I see influencing growing numbers of people for the kingdom’s sake…

Character in the heart

Every leader’s influence is merely temporary, no matter how large, if there isn’t solid character being developed at the core. Trustworthiness is really the foundational quality of a leader. It’s not the product or the fruit; character is the root….

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Paul addressed the issue of sincerity in preaching on several occasions throughout the New Testament. One such instance is 2 Corinthians 2:17, “For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.” As I have reflected on this verse, it’s given me some comfort to know that the issues that plague modern Christianity also faced the apostles. I’ve also found an important value in preaching – sincerity.

Sure, there are false teachers, hucksters, and impostors in pulpits across the land today. There were in Paul’s day too. It’s nothing new. But the contrast to this trend is a revival of sincerity in the pulpit. Preaching has been defined by D. Martin-Lloyd Jones as “the communication of God’s truth through human personality.” So we preachers get to represent God’s truth through our very personality. The prayer, “hide me behind thy cross, O Lord,” doesn’t reflect an accurate understanding of what preaching is all about. God has called me to represent Him as only I can, and for you to do the same.

So sincerity is a key…

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“The New Testament is the only model we need!” There, I went ahead and said that for you. It’s out of the way. For those pastors and church leaders who highly value the New Testament AND actually want to accomplish something meaningful, read on…

Every church follows a model. Most of the church leaders who criticize following a model follow a model that tends to criticize models. Follow that? There are traditional models with an age-graded Sunday School, a morning worship service, evening worship service, and a midweek prayer meeting, plus some other programs. W. A. Criswell (one of my biggest heroes) was a pioneer in this model in the 1940’s. Back then, grading ministries by age was innovative.

Other churches follow the “simple church” model. They have weekend worship, small groups, and that’s about it. The ministry and mission is carried out by the groups and the individuals in them. It works well for those who do it right. There are also house churches, and still a few quarter-time churches that only have a Pastor once per month. There’s the Amish and Mennonite model – very community-centric. You get the picture.

We…

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Affirming Words

Want to change the whole world with small, bite-sized steps? Affirm people. We’re starving for it. We live in a highly critical age when civility has been replaced with sharp-tongued sarcasm. We celebrate witty criticism far more than we celebrate affirmation, but affirming people is a missing ingredient to deeper relationships, mutual emotional healing, and basically, a better world all the way around.

You can most likely identify with what it feels like to live in a vacuum of praise, where affirmation is hard to come by. Statistically (and hopefully you’re an exception), you probably grew up lacking genuine affirmation from Mom and/or Dad. You’ve probably worked in an atmosphere were correction was far more plentiful than congratulations on a job well done, especially when the “performance review” rolls around. And you may have even been labeled a rebel or a juvenile delinquent by teachers, school administrators, or even the local police.

Let me clarify, first of all, what affirmation is not.

  • Affirmation isn’t empty flattery – words with no foundation in truth.
  • Affirmation isn’t appeasement or agreement, especially with actual error.
  • Affirmation isn’t saying words without action, but saying words plus action.

In other words, correction isn’t always bad….

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