About sbrazzel

Husband to Julie Father of Holley & Courtney Director of ETC Ministries in Spring, TX

The Gospel & The Church

What you do with the gospel is the determining factor in whether your church is remembered. What you do with the gospel is the determining factor in whether you are remembered.

1. The Gospel must be Delivered

2. The Gospel will be Welcomed

3. The Gospel brings Results

4. The Gospel changes Lives

Listen to this message from 1 Thessalonians

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Expectations, Life, and Christmas

Thinking this morning about part of the message I preached this past Sunday, Christmas Eve 2017.

While working through the Christmas story found in Luke 2 it occurred to me that things didn’t work out the way Mary and Joseph probably thought they would. They probably thought their baby would be born at home, in the safety and security of their bedroom, with a familiar midwife helping with the delivery. It would be what we might consider the best of circumstances, but for them it was normal. There would be water nearby. It would be clean. Family would come to help. Their support system would kick in and life would be pretty normal, with the exception of having to raise the Son of God.

But a census command by Caesar Augustus changed everything. Now they had to travel when they didn’t want to travel. It was late in the pregnancy and travel would not be recommended, especially by donkey. They had to stay where they didn’t want to stay. Even after traveling, perhaps things wouldn’t be so bad if they could find a nice place to stay. But with so many others also going to Bethlehem there was no place for them to stay. I have no doubt Joseph worked hard to find some place, any place, indoors at least.

There would be no indoor birthing room. A dark, damp stable became their hospital room. A pile of hay the birthing bed. A feeding trough became a baby bed. It was outdoor, unsanitary, unhealthy, and they were feeling unwelcome.

Life often does not live up to our expectations.

Each of us can point to things in our lives that haven’t gone as we expected. There are hopes that have been dashed and dreams that have been set aside or cancelled. Maybe even your family Christmas gathering that you hoped would bring family unity turned out to be awkward and difficult. Our kids don’t do what we hoped. Our parents don’t do as we wished. Our friends fall away. We let ourselves down. Circumstances sometimes seem to be conspiring against us with concerted anger. Nothing seems as easy as it ought to be. Life isn’t turning out the way we thought it would.

What do you do? How do you respond? Quit? Take out your frustration on others? Get angry? Get even?

Consider this young couple in Bethlehem with no family around at the birth of their first born, sitting alone in a cave (stable) with their young child laying in the feeding trough. How had they envisioned the birth of the one they knew to be the Son of God? What did they think would happen?

Even when we may not understand how or why, we must remember this: Just because it didn’t work out the way you thought doesn’t mean that God is not at work.

It may not be the way you would’ve done it, but that doesn’t mean that God isn’t working. His ways are not our ways. Trust Him. Know that He works in all things (Romans 8:28) to accomplish His purposes in His way.

When life seems to not be meeting your expectations, take a moment to look around and try to figure out what God might be up to. Don’t quit and don’t get angry. Realize that God has a plan for your life and that He is working to accomplish His will in you and through you. Trust Him and trust His plan.

Preparing Your Team to Go on Mission

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There is nothing more frustrating for a team leader, and for a team than to get to the place of service and know you are not prepared for what is about to happen. To have no idea what is about to happen, what you are supposed to do, how you are supposed to function individually and as a group, leaves little hope for anything more than low performance. A mission team needs to be prepared logistically and spiritually.

Logistics refers to the how, when and what of the mission. What are we doing? When are we doing it? How are we supposed to do it? These questions should be answered as much as possible in meetings prior to getting on the bus, van or plane. While the demand to “be flexible” is given for all participants no matter how much preparation is done, there should be a basic outline for the trip made available to the team. Some cases require more of that information because of the ministry assignment. Children’s activities need more prior planning than adult activities in general. If you are going to be teaching specific material the preparation phase is vital to the ability of the team to be effective on the field.

Making plans known in advance also capitalizes on the talents and resources of the team members. When they know what they are doing and when they are doing it they will be able to add high value to the event. Learning the plans the day of the event limits their ability to be effective and go above and beyond expectations.

More important than logistics are the spiritual preparations that should take place before the team leaves home. Every team begins their trip with excitement. Adrenaline is flowing as anticipation of what will happen grows in the heart of each participant. Fear is also there. Feelings of inadequacy creep into the soul. As the days progress the reality of being around this same group 24/7 has transformed from joy to boredom to annoyance. The group is tired from long days of ministry and Satan is “roaming to and fro seeking whom he may devour.”

Prepare your group spiritually with a set of focused devotions. Remind them of the reason for the trip. Have them anticipate the challenges that plague any group of people who spend a large amount of time with one another. Open their eyes to the work of Satan as they involve themselves in the spiritual warfare of ministry. Encourage them to build a support team of prayer partners who will begin their work before the trip and continue it throughout the mission effort. Give them tools so that they can communicate with their prayer team while they are on the field.

Anytime we step into the battle for souls we are venturing into a spiritual battlefield that requires focus and faith. We must be focused on the Lord, not looking to the left or the right, and we must trust Him to accomplish His work through us. We do the work to plan and prepare the logistical aspects of ministry, but we also know that absent the work of the Holy Spirit nothing of lasting value will be accomplished.  Prepare your team to accomplish the mission God has given you.

Why it’s important to visit the mission trip location before your group goes?

Your group loads up in the van and you set out on mission. With Google maps guiding your every turn you feel confident about how to get there. You pull up in the parking lot of the church, at least what you think is the church, but no one is there. The building looks abandoned. A quick call to the pastor and now you have new directions. They moved from that location six months ago but their website just hasn’t been updated yet. The youth in the back are restless and then your phone rings. A parent wonders why you are lost. “Where are you taking my kid? Do you know what you’re doing?”

Once you get to the church it appears evident that what you had planned for the Bible Clubs just isn’t going to work in this neighborhood. Nobody has a yard. There is no place to play soccer. Now you are scrambling to update your ministry plan and the kids are quick to express their boredom. What are you going to do? The answer lies in having asked that question at least a month before.

Having led many mission trips, sometimes I took a pre-trip and others times I did not, I can say unequivocally that the best practice is to visit the mission trip location before you take your group. This is even more important when you are traveling to a location very different than your home. If you are going to another country, a different state, a city (when you live in the country) or some other highly distinct area, you need to see the place, experience the people, learn how to travel and how long it takes to travel. I know for many this seems impossible for your budget, but it’s important enough that you should make the short pre-trip part of your overall trip budget. If the pre-trip is prohibitive, then you need to enlist someone to help you who has visited the site before. You need to amass as much information as possible or get a great guide to help make your mission trip a success.

Here are 4 reasons you should take a pre-trip before your group leaves your church parking lot:

  1. You need to learn about getting around on your mission trip. What are the easiest ways to move your group? How long does it take to get to and from the airport? To the church? What roads should we avoid? What parts of town should we avoid? It’s always better to learn these things before you have a van full of teenagers or senior adults.
  2. You need to learn about the people and the neighborhoods. There are some things best learned by observation and experience, not merely reading. Look at the venue. Get a feel for the people and what works to reach them. See the space and think of creative ways to use it.
  3. You need to meet the people you will be working with, the pastors and missionaries. Visiting in person is different than over the phone or even in a video conference. It’s important to meet people face to face to both understand them and their passion as well as to help them understand you and your passion. Asking questions and solidifying a plan is much easier when you can sit across the coffee table from someone. Having confidence in one another makes a positive impact on your mission trip.
  4. You need to get a feel for the things that will and won’t work on your mission trip. Whatever preconceived ideas you might have about what you will do on your mission trip must be subject to the reality on the ground. When you see the location, meet the people, and experience the culture you can get a clearer picture of the things that will be effective. Being able to properly plan before you leave is better than having to change everything once you arrive.

None of these mean you won’t still have to invoke one of the cardinal verses of mission trips: Steve 4:6 “Be flexible.” Making that early visit to the site does allow you to have a better beginning from which to change.

One last thing: If you can’t afford to take an overseas pre-trip, you can help yourself by arriving a day or two before the rest of the group. On that extra day, which will only cost you housing and meals, you can do much of the legwork to help with travel and you can also begin thinking about any other program changes you might need to make.

Don’t Always Do the Same Mission Trip

Same Old Same OldWhen you are putting together your mission calendar for this next year don’t fall into the lazy habit of doing the exact same trip every time. We don’t say it out loud, but there are several reasons we do the same thing year after year. “It’s easy because it’s familiar.” “It’s non-threatening to our members because they know what to expect.” “It falls within their comfort zone.” “I know I can get people to go on this trip because they’ve been on it in the past.” “We know how to do this.”

The challenge in all organizations is to get people to move outside of their comfort zone, to stretch themselves. In church we don’t just talk about stretching mentally, but spiritually. We like trips that are spiritually familiar, where we are doing things we have done before. Don’t jump ahead of me, I believe in doing things at which you are good. But there is a place for the challenge, the trip that pushes us spiritually, that stretches our faith and our willingness to trust the Lord.

Consider these things when you are putting together your plan for the mission in your church:

  1. Do something that is entry level mission. This is a trip that anyone could go on, even someone who may not be a believer. Often this can be a construction or disaster relief type trip. Non-believers benefit from being around believers all day, seeing their attitudes and listening to the way they speak to one another.
  2. Do something that requires spiritual preparation and depth. This might be a children’s or youth ministry trip that offers a sports camp or VBS type of ministry. The work may be familiar to many but it also demands more preparation. You might find some new VBS or youth workers on this type of mission trip.
  3. Do something that challenges your church staff. Helping a new church plant get off the ground, teaching discipleship, street evangelism, cross-cultural relationship building or direct outreach opportunities are examples of things that require more from the missionary. Taking your members on this kind of trip can open their eyes to the opportunities that abound right across the street.

Don’t mistake the entry level trip for something that isn’t spiritual, just recognize that there are some things that are more spiritually challenging than others and we all need to be stretched. You’ve got some people in your church who have done so many construction trips that they don’t even think about the spiritual dimension of mission anymore. They need to be challenged.

One last thing, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to be challenged spiritually. Go to the International District in Houston to reach the nations. Go help the church plant in the next town as they canvass a neighborhood. Go!

3 Key Questions to answer as you search for your Church Mission Strategy

strategy-promoChurches usually strive to be strategic when it comes to outreach, worship, discipleship and putting together the yearly calendar. Why then do we tend to ignore being strategic when it comes to mission? We will hear about an opportunity, know someone in need, see a news story about tragedy and fire up the church van to take a group to do missions. Not that these are wrong, but are they strategic ways of involving your church in the work of spreading the gospel?

When we talk about a mission strategy what we are referring to is a specific plan to engage our church in the work of mission around the world that is unique to us, that fits us and that challenges us to accomplish the mission better at home. To begin, try to answer these 3 questions:

1. Where is the heart of our church?

Think about countries, people groups, states and communities that are on the heart of your church body. Expand that thought to types of ministries that are on your heart. Do you have a burden for planting churches, revitalizing churches, engaging in social ministries and/or reaching unreached groups.

2. What if money were no object? What would you do? Where would you go?

It helps to push yourself to think beyond all limits. We are prone to self-censorship when it comes to mission. We eliminate some options without even realizing it because they are expensive to get to or expensive to accomplish. Expand your thinking to allow God room to share His dream with you.

3. What are the benefits to our church of going on mission trips and of sending our own to the mission field?

We must begin to see how participating in the mission helps our church become who God intended and that without going we are stifling the work of God in our midst. Mission is not merely a good option to include in the list of things your church is involved with. Mission is the purpose, it is the reason for your church’s existence. There are things God does through mission trips that can not be accomplished by staying home.

Answer these three questions and then begin praying asking God to open your eyes to His desire for your church. Ask Him to expand your thinking, to give you wisdom and guidance and to burden the heart of your church for the places and ministries He desires for you.

Where will we go on our mission trip?

6360794828408897211891631757_mission-trips-1The Great Commission is clear; we must go to the world. Every day we walk outside our home we are going, but we also must go outside our normal patterns, our normal life path. When we get beyond our day to day life we are given the opportunity to grow, to be challenged, to learn new things, to explore new paths and perhaps to hear something fresh from the Lord. This is one of the best things about going on mission trips and one of the reasons church leaders want to see their members on mission trips both near and far.

But where will you go? How will you decide where to go? I can’t say I know where you should go, though I’d love to make a few suggestions J. I can say I have a learned a little over the years about how to find the place that fits your church, your goals and your ministry.

  1. Always begin with PRAYER. The number one goal is to find the place where God wants you to go. If we can agree that the Lord has called us all to go, then the only question is to discern His leadership as to the place. Don’t get so spiritual here that you are looking for God to form the clouds in the shape of the country, but do begin by seeking His guidance and asking Him to guide you as you seek His direction.

There are some practical things you can do that I believe God uses to help us understand what He wants. Don’t throw darts at the map, prayerfully seek Him as you work towards His guidance.

  1. What is your budget and how much will you ask people to spend on a trip? It is not unspiritual to ask this question. Funds are a limiter for most people and groups. Obviously the more you have available the farther you can go, but that doesn’t mean you should go as far as your money will take you. It can mean that you understand the limits you have on where you will look.

Of course, the Lord can burden your heart and provide the funds to go beyond your perceived ability, but don’t take that step before the Lord has led you to do so.

  1. What kind of group do you want to take? Think of this in two ways, size and age. Are you taking youth, families, senior adults, median adults? Different ages can go different places to do different things.

Are you planning to take 150, 50, 25, or 5? Again, the size of your group directly affects the places you can go and be helpful. A large group may overwhelm a small church and leave large numbers of your group with nothing to do. A small group may not be able to accomplish the task, meet the need at one location but would fit perfectly at another.

  1. When are you planning to go? How long will you be gone? Will this be a summer trip? Spring break? Fall? Of course, this affects who will go but it also impacts how far you can go, how long you can stay. Don’t plan a week-long trip where you will spend 2 days driving up and 2 driving back, leaving only 3 days for ministry. At the same time, it’s difficult to recruit people to spend $3000 to go overseas if they only get to spend a few days in the country. Not many people will give up their entire spring break for a mission trip either. Plan accordingly.
  1. What skills do your church members, potential mission team members, have? What have you done in the past? Consider not only what you have done on mission trips but also at your own church, in your own ministry field. Do you have people who will go who are good at construction or experience working with children or teens? The answers to these questions may help guide you as you explore opportunities to serve, but don’t limit yourself to past experiences.
  1. Are there some things you haven’t done but would like to do? The mission trip can be an opportunity to train your team in new skills that will be useful on the trip and also when they return. Jump start evangelism training by taking your team on a trip where part of the task is street evangelism. By training to do something on a mission trip they will learn skills to use at home and gain confidence to share their faith at work or school. I learned to share my faith while I was in high school, preparing for a mission trip to Pittsburgh.
  1. God often uses past relationships or passing acquaintances to open doors for you. Who do you know already who is in a place that could use your group? Who have you met recently that might be able to open a door for ministry? Call them or send a quick email. They may not need a team but they might know someone who does.

Ask your friends in the ministry where they have been. Talk to other pastors, denominational leaders or mission leaders to discover good opportunities.

  1. Finally, consider what kind of strategy you want to have as a church as you approach the world of mission opportunities before you. I’ll talk more about this in a later post, but you should begin to ask questions like: How do we want to impact the kingdom? Where in the world is the heart of our church? Do we want a long-term relationship?

Pray, Pray, Pray. The Lord will lead you and your church to the opportunities He has for you.