(Photo: AP Images / Chris Schneider, Pool)
How does one bounce back from a tragedy that threatens to crash your whole career, break up your family and end your faith? What may be a hard question for some has been the defining question for Brady Boyd, pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs.
Four years after a church shooting killed two of his members, Boyd is encouraging those facing life’s dark valleys to stand strong in their faith, in his latest book Fear No Evil. The senior pastor explained that no one is promised problem-free, valley-free lives but stressed, “The valley is not your home. It’s certainly a part of our story and a part of our journey, but it’s not our home.”
To survive trying times, people have to be honest about the pain and hurt, and cling to God, he said.
Boyd speaks very candidly in his book about the December 2007 shooting that rocked his church to its core. A hundred days after he took over as senior pastor, 24-year-old Matthew Murray opened fire on New Life’s campus after a Dec. 9 church service. He killed teenagers Stephanie and Rachel Works and injured three others before taking his own life. Boyd, who watched the attacks from his window, said it was the darkest day of his life.
It was a dark day because of the shooting, but it was also a dark day for Boyd who had left a relatively quiet career at Gateway Church in Texas to accept what he believed would be a great, new challenge in a role larger than his previous one of associate senior pastor.
He said those thoughts are typical among people facing dark times. “We all think our destiny is somehow we’ll all end up with the American dream when, in fact, sometimes our destiny, our place of arrival is a dark place, a place of great challenge and sacrifice, ” he shared.
In that moment, Boyd was instantly drawn to Psalms 23 and its portrayal of David’s journey through hard times.
“The 23rd Psalm is a brilliant portrayal of life for all of us,” he explained. “Some days are great and awesome, and we feel successful. Then other days or even other stretches of months and years, we find ourselves in dark valleys.” However, David was reassured by the fact that God was with him.
It was that passage that helped him respond quickly.
In the book, Boyd describes how he worked feverishly in the 10 days that followed the shooting, comforting the Works family, visiting the wounded in the hospital and consoling the church.
While he found his grounding very quickly, the valley was especially dark for New Life Church – a congregation of more than 10,000. Boyd said the shooting incident was a “death blow” to a church that had already been struggling to emerge from the scandal that surrounded their previous pastor, Ted Haggard.
Haggard fell from grace when he was exposed in a highly-publicized drugs and sex scandal involving a former male prostitute and methamphetamines. As a result, Haggard resigned from the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) where he was president, and Brody took over as senior pastor of New Life Church months later.
Media coverage of the shooting rampage ended up exposing the old wounds of Haggard’s indiscretions. Counselors later told Boyd that many congregants who started their sessions talking about the shooting ended up also discussing Haggard’s departure. Boyd explained that when things happen, it exposes cracks that are hidden underneath the surface.
Hard times also force people to fall back on their core convictions, he added. Fortunately, New Life Church had a strong tradition of worship at its core.
New Life’s worship team has several CDs full of praise songs. In the chapter, “Every Sunday needs a Wednesday,” Boyd describes the special effect singing praise and worship songs had on the church after the shooting tragedy. “Our church has this fabric of worship in the presence of God already in it; that’s why we survived,” he told The Christian Post.
Boyd acknowledged that many people may still be in different stages of healing. When Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, her staffer and constituents were shot during a gun rampage in January, Boyd said that New Life Church prayed and grieved for the victims and noted, “We’re still sensitive.”
But the church is showing signs that it is thriving. Just last year, over 900 new believers were baptized. Boyd calls the church "a miracle."
Boyd does not hold gun violence accountable for the violence that struck his church.
In the wake of other tragedies, living victims have called for stricter gun laws. On Tuesday, Kelly O'Brien, the fiancé of the Giffords' staffer killed during the January attack, joined the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence to take a stand against high-capacity magazines like the one used by gunman Jared Loughner in Arizona.
Although Murray also was reported to have used a banana clip during his rampage, Boyd said he is a registered gun owner and supporter of the constitutional right to bear arms.
He holds the evil of this world, rather than state gun laws, accountable for the attack against his church. “Evil is just so present in our world,” he said. “We’re walking through this very dangerous place. It’s so dangerous, things will happen to us.”
New Life now tries to counteract that kind of evil by reaching out to the Matthew Murrays of the world, people who are hurting.
Since the shooting, New Life has reached out to Murray’s parents, forgiving their son for his actions. The Works family, which lost two daughters in the shooting, has since formed a friendship with the family of the shooter.
Boyd is also reaching out to others facing dark times through his book. In the book, he shares that the key to surviving those dark days, months and years is to realize that God is there experiencing the bad times with you and seeking to comfort you.
“God is with the mom that just lost a child, the dad who just lost his job and everyone that finds themselves in this unimaginable darkness. This book is for them.”
The book’s official release date is April 26. Advance copies are currently available on Amazon’s website. The proceeds of the book will go toward the Dream Centers of Colorado Springs, a medical clinic and counseling center that New Life plans to open.