Friday, August 21, 2015


 Some friends play at friendship, but a true friend sticks closer than one’s nearest kin.” (Proverbs 18:24)
This past Thursday morning, I was awakened by my cell phone.  It was a family friend and member of my former church, sharing with me the heartbreaking news that the “Minister of Music and Worship Arts” at my former church had suffered a sudden heart attack and died just an hour or so earlier.

I was shocked and stunned:  Frieda Brown, my colleague and dear friend for the past ten years at East Cobb United Methodist Church, was now with the Lord.  And while my heart rejoices over her homecoming in heaven, my heart grieves not only for her husband Jeff and two sons Aubrey (a college Sophomore) and Mack (a high school Senior), but also for the members and friends of my former “flock,” as well as  for myself and Trish (who considered Frieda one of her absolute best friends in the world!).  My prayers are with them and with us all.

I wish that those of you who are members and friends of my current church at LaGrange First UMC would have had the opportunity to know Frieda and her contagious joy, her love for music and all worship arts, her compassion for others, her creativity, her love for people, but most of all her love for God and Jesus, and how that love shown through in all she said and did – Soli Deo gloria ('glory to God alone') is how she always signed her notes to our choir.  Our loss here on earth is surely heaven’s gain as she has now joined the choir eternal!

Lux Aeterna Frieda, my friend!

But even if you didn’t know Frieda, each of us surely knows people like her who we value, respect, and look up to. So, I’m writing this article today simply to encourage you (and all of us) never to take those special relationships for granted – to find time and ways to tell those around us who are special to us how much they mean to us and to say “thank you” for their influence on our lives.  We never know how much (or how little) time we have here on earth. Cherish every moment and every relationship that’s special!

Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

"Getting to Know Us" Survey Results Summary

“Plans are established by taking advice…" (Proverbs 20:18)

You may remember that the first week of worship after I arrived as your new Pastor, I invited you to participate in a “Getting to Know Us” survey to help me better understand the overarching values and vision of LaGrange First UMC so that I can better lead us in the future.  That survey remained open until the middle of July.  So, here at last are highlights of those results for us all to celebrate and consider:

First of all, THANK YOU to the 100 of you (yes, exactly 100!) who turned a survey in (64 via paper; 36 via online).  And while each one was prayerfully read and considered, bear in mind that what I share below are simply summaries of those results that relate specifically to our church’s values and vision:

QUESTION #1:  If there’s one thing you hope NEVER changes about LaGrange First UMC, what would it be?

● 25 responses referenced the variety and diversity of worship options, styles, and experiences that we offer.  While different responses obviously focused on differing things that people liked about our three Sunday morning services, what was clear across the board is that we all have a deep appreciation for worship and for making it as excellent and relevant as possible

● 11 responses mentioned the importance and value of our hospitality and friendliness as a congregation

● 8 responses focused on how much they loved the various small groups we have, including Sunday School classes, Bible Studies, Wednesday night programs, etc.

● 7 responses affirmed the many ways our church both connects with and serves our community, including the diverse offerings of our music ministry and various missions ministries like our soup kitchen, drug assistance program, meals on wheels, Camp Viola, etc.

QUESTION #2:  If you could wave a magic want and CHANGE any one thing about LaGrange First UMC, what would it be?

● 33 responses expressed in various ways their desire that our church continue to grow and be relevant in and for our community.  Some responses suggested doing this through expansion of current weekly programs, others through more outreach and mission, and still others through a more intentional focus on children (9 mentioned this), youth, and young adults through our connection with LaGrange College. So, even though there are differing ideas about how to do it, it’s clear that our congregation wants to grow and better connect with our community and world.

● 15 responses referenced the need to change various aspects and/or elements of our worship experiences to help us better connect with today’s culture and community.   Some of these involved suggestions for music, others were suggestions for changes in worship times, styles, and use of technology. So, while question #1 revealed an appreciation for our current worship, there is also a sense that work is still needed in this area in order to grow and stay relevant.

● 12 responses referenced the need to become more inviting, welcoming and hospitable, and less “clique-ish” (including responses about better accessibility in our Sanctuary and in our parking lots for senior adults).  I should point out that even though this area was referenced in question #1 by some respondents as a strength, it’s clear that others feel it is an area in need of growth, as well.

● 12 responses mentioned the need to change or modify our administrative and leadership structures to be more effective and efficient in our ministry.

QUESTION:  #3:  What’s the best piece of advice you could give Pastor Brian as our new Senior Pastor?

● 28 responses indicated that pastoral care, listening and communications, and being accessible to all should be areas of prime importance to me as your Senior Pastor.

● 18 responses mentioned their hope that I would take care of myself, be myself, and lead by following my heart and the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit (including the importance of offering loving challenge when appropriate, and not get lost in “church politics”, and even of maintaining a sense of humor and fun about ministry).

● 11 responses indicated the importance of partnership, teamwork, being available to all members and avoiding the appearance of “playing favorites”

● 8 responses asked that I seek to offer and encourage bold ministry that is relevant to people’s heart needs (such as preaching God’s word, connecting with current world and community events, and being involved in our community itself)

● 6 responses shared their hope that I would lead us to discover God’s vision for our church

What I’ve shared above are merely the “highlights” and my “take-aways” from the survey and not a recitation of every individual response.  If you wish to see more detail about the raw responses themselves, you can either contact the church office to request it, or you can click HERE for an online version.

Again, let me say thank you for your valued input in helping me to know and understand what you consider to be the most important things to our church’s mission and ministry! I and our leadership will be taking these themes into consideration as we together seek both to discover and then implement God’s Vision for us as His people here at LaGrange First UMC.

Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

I Am A Guest To Your Church

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)

“You cannot know the reason why I am here this morning. It may be as simple as a move to your community, or as complicated as a personal crisis that leads me to seek strength from God. In any case, I am here. And I will probably come back to worship here with you next Sunday if you will do something for me. Won’t you please...

• Smile at me as I walk in your door. You are my first impression of the church during the few moments I am in your building, and this impression will probably stay with me for a long time.

• Speak to me during the greeting time and after the service. I know you want to see your friends, but if you don’t I may find it hard to believe that you truly care for ‘the stranger in your midst.’

• Tell me good things about your church and pastor. I want to believe that I’ve come to a place where people love each other and believe that they are doing something exciting and important for God.

• Notice me even if I am not a ‘traditional’ family. I don’t want to feel invisible just because I am unmarried, a single parent, a teenager, or an older person.

• Invite me to become part of your class or small group. I need more than worship every Sunday -- I need to know that I’m accepted and affirmed by a group of people who know and care for me by name.

If you can find it in your heart to do these things for me, I will come back... a second and third Sunday, and maybe forever. I’ll worship with you, sing in the choir, work on projects, teach in your Sunday School, make financial commitments, and become a highly involved member. In so doing, I’ll find my life immeasurably and eternally enriched.”    [--Author Unknown]

LaGrange First members and friends, Fall is one of the key times of the year that we have new faces in our midst as we worship and gather. I trust that you’ll do your part to welcome each and every one of them with the hospitality and compassion of Jesus! Remember that God loves you and I do, too!