It's been a long journey for Pastor Brady Boyd, who took the helm at New Life Church in Colorado Springs five years ago following a scandal involving the church's former pastor, Ted Haggard. Within a few months' time, New Life also became the scene of a tragic shooting that left two sisters dead.
Boyd spoke with The Christian Post recently about his new book Sons & Daughters, where he recounts his own personal journey and lets readers in on the most important revelation he had in his life – that is, sonship.
Realizing one's identity as a son or daughter of God may sound simple but most Christians haven't been able to catch on to that truth. In fact, many are living as "spiritual slaves," he said.
"My contention is that the vast majority of Christ followers do not understand who they are," Boyd wrote in his book.
And it's not simply about knowing one's identity, but embracing it as well.
"What I am asking you to do is believe," he wrote. "You are a son or a daughter of the most high God, the one who spread out the heavens and who numbers the hairs on your head. That God – he is the one who calls you his own. Your part, then, is to believe you have a prized place in his family and to live as though that belief is true. Because it is.
"This single revelation changes everything."
CP: What I took away from the book is that most Christians haven't embraced their true identity as God's children and are thus missing out on the joy, grace, security and even excitement that comes with being a child of God. Is that how you'd sum it up?
Boyd: Yeah, no doubt. Here's what I found. I've been a pastor now for over 15 years and here's the big idea I was trying to wrestle to the ground, I hope I communicated it well but I think that most people have a hard enough time believing that God could forgive them. So if you think about someone who's had maybe a lot of sexual immorality or who have had seasons of their life where they've just been really rampant, maybe they've been divorced a few times, or they lost their business, or they failed as a parent and their prodigal kids are a mess. People who are walking through life like that have a hard time believing that God could even forgive them.
The whole book is based on Luke chapter 15 – the prodigal son. So when the prodigal son finds himself in the pig pen, he comes to his senses and on his way home he says maybe my dad will make me like one of his hired men. The best thing that he could imagine was being a slave. What his dad did was beautiful. This picture of God when he runs out and embraces this messy, stinky, sinful son and instead of making him a slave, he gives him back his identity, puts a ring on his finger, puts a robe on him. That was the picture that I was trying to portray in the book. God has something more than just forgiveness and forgiveness is awesome, I mean my gosh. The best thing we should ask for from God is just forgiveness. But then God, it's because He's God and He's so gracious, one ups us. He says not only am I going to forgive you, I'm going to make you my son or my daughter. That's just way overwhelming for people to even capture. Most people say, gosh if you'll just forgive me, that should be enough. God, out of His grace, says no I'm going to do more than just forgive you. I'm going to make you son and daughter and give you all the rights and privileges that you had before you made bad decisions. And that's just too much for people to believe I think.
CP: You distinguish between a slave and a son or daughter. It seems like Protestantism 101 where people are not saved by their works but by faith yet why do you think so many Christians still have this identity or mentality of a slave? Like you said in the book, it really does seem hard to believe that it can be that simple – that you can just rest in God's grace.
Boyd: This has been an age-old struggle. Since Jesus came, for 2,000 years people cannot wrap their minds around grace being unmerited favor. They just cannot believe that. Especially in our western world, we tend to be very self-sufficient where we actually applaud people for performance. We're the most hero-driven culture probably since Rome. We cheer on our sports heroes, we cheer on our entertainment heroes, based on what they do, not who they are. In fact, sometimes we don't even care who they are. Tiger Woods, for example, can have all kinds of moral failures. But if he wins on the golf course, he's fine with us. We don't really care about who he is. We care about what he does.
We think God doesn't really care who we are. God wants to know what we're doing. That's the slave mentality that's so easy to fall into. Jesus didn't come to abolish the law, he came to say, listen, I've got something better, a new covenant, for you. This is a message that resounds in my heart because I was the best Christian slave ever. I volunteered for everything, I did everything, I was at every event, I was doing it out of really wrong motive. I wasn't doing it to be fruitful; I was doing it to be accepted. I think if you ask most people and they were really honest, why they're doing what they're doing, they're doing it to be accepted by God or by people. And it's not a joy to them. If you ask anybody who's been in slavery if they enjoyed their time in slavery, no one ever says that they did. It's bondage.
CP: This slave identity doesn't just affect laypersons but also pastors, you mention in your book. They're counting achievements, trying too hard and getting burned out. That's a huge problem right now with pastors getting burned out.
Boyd: I just talked to a pastor recently who's admittedly in the middle of burnout. One of his associates told me he just doesn't have the adrenaline anymore. It broke my heart, when he said it on the phone, he said "Brady, he just doesn't have the adrenaline anymore." I went, when do we start leaning on adrenaline? I mean adrenaline is a powerful chemical in our body that's there for a reason, God gave us adrenaline. But it was not to be our source. It was supposed to be a part of who we are but I know so many pastors who are going so hard and so fast, their pastoral teams are going so hard and so fast, they never come up for oxygen, they never come above the water to catch their breath. I'll tell you the pastors that scare me the most are those that don't know how to slow down and have fun and laugh and relax. I'm around these type A, hard-driving, and they pastor small churches and big churches, this is not just a big church phenomenon. It's just as prevalent among churches of 50 or 100 as it is 10,000.
I just spent some time with Eugene Peterson at his house. He's such as contemplative, reflective pastor. And he said that pastors have to figure out a way to use their adrenaline, their competitive nature in other ways than ministry because ministry was not designed to be run by competitive, adrenaline-fueled pastors because it's just not a race that we can win. We have to depend on the Holy Spirit. I'm so concerned right now with pastoral leadership in America because we tend to celebrate, we talked about this at our staff meeting recently, that we applaud guys that are just going 100 miles an hour, writing 10 books every 10 years, speaking at every conference, leading a church, we think "wow, they're doing so much for God." When they drive their car over the cliff, their spiritual car over the cliff, we go "how did that happen?" We were cheering them on the whole way, right over the cliff. The contemplative, reflective pastor who leads the congregation well, but has a good balance in their life where they can stop and rest and spend time with their family – when was the last time we celebrated that? We don't celebrate that. We don't think that that's successful but actually it is successful.
CP: What initially got me interested in your book is your chapter on hype vs. the Holy Spirit where you talk about high-profile pastors hyping up their services every week. You say it's not actually the churchgoers who are to blame but the pastors for this consumerist culture in the church. Could you talk about that more?
Boyd: It really started happening back in the 1950s when pastors realized they could grow a church if they created a product and create consumers who wanted that product and that's exactly what happened in the local church. We created a God produce and we packaged it in a way that would be easy for consumers to consume. We realized that if we could package the Gospel and church in a tidy little package then people would buy it better. That's exactly what happened in America. We are probably the most consumer-driven culture probably in the history of the world so it would make sense in a sad way that the local church would pick up on that. So if you want a big church, growing church, "successful church," then let's package our God product in a way that would be easy for consumers to buy and purchase. So we built marketing strategies, we became leadership experts, we became corporate experts and we begin to borrow the practices of the entrepreneurial, free market, capitalistic world to apply them to the local church. And you know what? They worked beautifully in the sense that, the megachurch movement started in the '50s. These huge churches, the American church landscape before 1950 there was 85 … churches with over 2,000 people. Now there's three or four thousand churches that big.
So if you're a young guy, and you have ambition, and nobody's being evil, nobody's being dark about this, they all justify it saying I want to be great and big but we're doing it in the wrong way and it's not sustainable. That's what we're finding is that this model, we're adopting the world's model to build God's church, it's not a sustainable model. While we may build big churches, do those churches transition from one generation to another? Very rarely, because they're built on marketing principles and not the Holy Spirit, in many cases. Or they're built on both and you can't combine them. It's like oil and water.
CP: You talk about a hype-free recipe and not relying on big personalities. Do you think pastors are afraid they won't be competitive with the culture if they follow that recipe?
Boyd: I think the culture is actually trending toward that. I think the under-30 generation that's coming up, they're very wary of the big show on Sunday. I think actually the trend in the next generation and this is something I'm hopeful about, I think it's amazing, I think it's a great trend, what's happening now is the under-30 crowd, they're looking for authentic leaders. They're looking for people who are vulnerable, transparent and authentic. The big personality, the big charismatic personality will always be able to draw people, human nature is always drawn toward that kind of personality. But I think a lot of the under-30 crowd, the millennials, they're looking for something that's more concrete, they're looking for something that's more stable. Their parents, my generation, grew up with the big buildings, big personality, megachurch crowd and I grew up in that environment, I don't mind it, it's been very beneficial to my life. But I think there was something missing along the way. The call to being a pastor has always been a relational call. And that millennial crowd is longing for community, they're longing for relationships, they're longing for conversations and not lectures, they want their voice to be heard but they also are looking for something that's more predictable. That's encouraging to me. I think we've got some good things ahead of us. Every generation tends to correct the mistakes of the past generation. This generation is going to correct some of that and that would be a good thing.
CP: What are some of the hopeful signs you see with this book?
Boyd: This message, "Sons and Daughters" message, is really resonating with young people. The book just came out Tuesday but the conversations we're having right now about what it means to be mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, we spent three hours in our staff meeting talking about it and a lot of pastors who are over 50, they've been very honest to me, "I was raised as a slave." I just had lunch with someone who's in his 50s and he's been pastoring for over 30 years and he said "I wish I read this book when I was 20, it would've changed my life." He said "I'm in my 50s now and I realize I've been a slave, I've led like a slave, I've been led like a slave, and while I was doing great things for God, I wish I would've known this when I was raising my children, it would've changed the way I would've spoken to my kids, put rules and boundaries around my kids, it would've changed the attitude in which I did it."
CP: So this book seems to be a reflection on your own personal journey as a Christian and a pastor. Could you describe how you came to that revelation of being a son and would you say the embracing of the that identity was your biggest revelation?
Boyd: It was brewing inside of me but I'll tell you how it culminated. It culminated about five years ago when I became pastor here at New Life Church. We adopted my son Abram who's 14 this weekend and my soon to be 12-year-old daughter Callie. We adopted both at birth. But we really hadn't told them that they were adopted. When we moved here to Colorado Springs, because it was such a media event – my arrival here – it leaked into the media that I had adopted my two kids. So I had to tell Abram and Callie before they found out in the hallway of our church. We pulled them aside one day and we told them they were adopted. They were wonderful when we told them, they didn't really have a lot of questions.
So one night, I'm putting Abram to bed, I tell him a story, and he says "hey dad," as I'm walking out of the room, turning the light off, he says "dad, thanks for adopting me." So I thought maybe he was wrestling with something so I asked Abram [why he said that]. He said, "I thought if you had not adopted me, we would not be buddies." It broke me. I walked out in the hallway and I had this moment with God where I said "God is there something going on with Abram?" He said, "No, that was for you. I want you to know that's how I feel about you." That started the journey about five years ago on a personal level where I said to God "I want to get this right. You adopted me the way I adopted Abram." So I began to read Ephesians 1, before the creation of the world, I chose to adopt you and it gave me great pleasure. The whole Gospel is about adoption, it's about God choosing you before you chose Him. Abram didn't choose me, I chose him. I just think it's a beautiful picture of what God did for us.
CP: It's such a simple yet very foundational truth and many people are missing it.
Boyd: I was missing it. I was the pastor of a big church before I ever got it. It's not like this is simple to get. I think it's hard. It's just as difficult to believe that God would adopt you as it is that God would forgive you. Here's what happens. Once you get this, if you believe that God is our father and not some distant deity that doesn't care. Number two is, if He's the father does He want me as a son or daughter. That's the hardest one to wrestle to the ground. The third part is life-changing because now it changes the way I treat people (staff, wife, children, friends). It changes everything because being a son or daughter takes so much pressure off you. This is what the bottom line is I could live the rest of my life without having to prove anything to anybody. Think about the pressure that takes off of us. I still work hard, I still am very diligent, I still am productive, but I don't have to prove anything to anybody. Just think about living your life like that. Think about the weight that comes off of us when I realize I don't have to prove myself to anyone. I can be who I am. That's when you're most powerful.
CP: You've been at New Life for five years now. How is it going leading that church?
Boyd: It's going well. The church has gone through a lot of trauma. When I came here I was following a scandal, it was on the front page of every newspaper. I was here 100 days and we had a murder in our parking lot, two girls were murdered. In 13 months' time, our church went through the most serious traumas I think of any church in America in the last 50 years. I think that's being candid. New Life Church is a testimony of how resilient the local church really is, … of how much God loves the local church and wants to sustain it even after you've gone through horrible trauma. Our church is thriving again, we had over a hundred new guests last Sunday – I'm not saying that to throw numbers around; I'm saying that's a miracle. Our church could be a used car lot right now and really it should be. Every Sunday I am overwhelmed by how miraculous New Life is. God just put His hand on us. Here we are, five years later. If you came to New Life now, worshipped with us, you would never know anything tragic ever happened here. That's the grace of God, no doubt.
CP: What about these Dream Centers you're setting up?
Boyd: We opened our first dream center a year ago, a women's medical clinic here in town. We've seen over 1,100 patients already. We're in the process of purchasing our first apartment complex for homeless, single moms. We're about to open our second house for young men who have emancipated out of the foster system. When you turn 18, they don't have a home to live in, so we just opened two homes for young men to live in and get their feet on the ground and we mentor them and disciple them.
The spirit of it is we want to redeem and restore families and people. We don't see them as numbers on a spreadsheet or numbers that we can promote to gain more donors. We see them as human beings. It changes why you do it. We're doing it to rescue sons and daughters, forgotten sons and daughters. There's nobody more forgotten in our culture, at least in Colorado Springs, than the poor, the homeless, and the orphan. We're trying to find what groups of people in our city have been forgotten and neglected and what can the church do to reach out to them and give them back their identity as human beings first and as sons and daughters of God.