Relational Leadership: Thoughts from Rev. David Brasher

Date Posted: 3/9/2017

It’s always easiest to do nothing.  In fact, many pastors in Rev. David Brasher’s shoes would leave well enough alone when their church was flourishing, but, according to Dr. Jesse Brannen, “David challenged his congregation to participate in Vibrant Church Initiative and begin a new growth curve while things were already going quite well.” Adds Jesse, “By all measures, Bullard UMC was doing fantastic, however David, as a visionary leader, decided to rally his church to embrace this opportunity and give it their full focus.”
Why Now?
In the 6 years that I’ve been here,” shares David, “we’ve been reaching new people for Christ, we’ve seen an increase in younger families, the average age of attendees have gone down considerably, we added a Children’s Director to our staff to meet the needs of our growing children’s ministry, and we had to expand our parking to accommodate the increase in worship attendance.  But, the hurdle we’ve run into, time and time again, is the magic number of 200 in average worship attendance.  We keep bumping up against that number and sliding back down.  We began looking at options for our church to help us cross that 200 mark.”
Another factor that led church leaders to consider the Vibrant Church Initiative was the fact that Bullard is in a growing area of the county -- about eight miles from the fast-growing southern edge of Tyler on Hwy 69. “We’ve already begun seeing the impact of that growth on our community with an influx of new homes and a recent completion of school renovations and new construction.  Tyler is growing south and Bullard is benefiting from it as a community.  As a church we want to be ready for this growth as we continue to welcome new faces every week.” Adds David, “We looked at other options but VCI was affordable and a good fit.”
Tammy Woodard, VCI Co-Leader and Chair of Evangelism/Outreach, describes her beloved pastor as a “uniquely gifted servant leader.” Adds Tammy, “When I say uniquely gifted, I mean that David doesn’t just have a few strengths that make him a great pastor, he has many strengths that make him an extraordinary pastor and a highly effective church leader. David embraces change, not as a necessary evil, but as a blessing and a way to reach out beyond our walls and make disciples.  He is ever positive, yet not afraid to confront challenges that may hinder the accomplishing of our goals as a church.  His positive, visionary leadership is why we are doing so well in the beginning stages of the VCI process.”
Leadership Lessons
Pastor David describes his leadership style as “relational.” Adds David, “Back while we were in college together, my friend Matt Russell, who is also a pastor in our Annual Conference, told me that ministry is all about relationships. And, in my 18 years of ordained ministry, I’ve discovered that he’s right about that, time and time again. Everything boils down to relationships - relationships with your church members, guests, church leaders, and the unchurched.” He now sees the truth in old axioms such as: “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care” and “You earn the right to be heard.”
Tammy and other church leaders believe their pastor has earned this right, many times over. Shares Tammy, “A visionary leader must be a great communicator and David is that. He effectively uses technology and social media to cast the vision of the church not only to the congregation, but to the greater community so they can see that we are vibrant and making a difference in the lives of others. Effective communication from the pastor is critically important for the church to thrive. It’s also important to note that a church can’t flourish solely by having a great pastor, no matter how extraordinary he may be.  David encourages and empowers the laity to do the ministry of the church.  Through his encouragement and leadership, we are excited about our future and the difference we know we can make in the name of Jesus.”
Adds David, “I find inspiration and guidance from the seasoned pastors who are further down the road of ministry than I am.  I look to pastors who are showing effectiveness in their ministries and those who have a healthy understanding of the balance between ministry and family.” He has recently found podcasts to be a helpful way to learn and grow as a leader.  Listening -- especially when driving to and from the hospital and events and meetings helps him maximize car time. “I listen to a variety of podcasts, such as Rainer on Leadership, Unseminary, NT Wright Podcast, Asbury Chapel, The Productive Pastor, The Threshing Floor, The Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast, Extreme Productivity, and the New Room Podcast,” he shares.
He believes the benefit of listening to the leadership podcasts is twofold - one part information and one part inspiration. “They contain good information which helps me know what other leaders and churches are doing and what's worked and hasn't worked in other ministry settings and for other leaders. For example, as the church has grown and become more active, time management has become something I've had to work on. One of things I've learned from a couple of the podcasts is about batching your time where you set aside a block of time to do similar things all in one setting. One way I've applied that knowledge is to set aside a block of time in the afternoon for the majority of my phone calls. I keep the time blocked off on my Google calendar and then add names and numbers to the event description.  This way I'm focused on each phone call and I also remember to make them.”  
The VCI Timeline
The numeric growth at Bullard will take some time to bear fruit, but growth is already evident in other areas. “There is a renewed energy and excitement around the church, especially as it relates to our new vision for the church.  We’ve understood our mission, ‘to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world’ for some time now.  What’s exciting is that we now have a threefold vision for how we will support and accomplish this mission.  We fulfill our vision by helping people “LOVE God, GROW together in Christ, and SERVE others in Jesus name and we have visual icons to serve as reminders.” 
District Superintendent Marlin Fenn says Bullard First UMC is an example of what happens when a gifted pastor, a congregation with strong, positive leadership, and a community growing in opportunity are matched together. “David brings the kinds of gifts that draw the best from the people around him.  He encourages people, casts vision, and stays focused on what really matters,” notes Marlin. “People respond well to his leadership because they know he cares about them. His uplifting spirit encourages leaders to use their gifts for the high calling of Jesus on their lives, and they respond in ways that build unity in the church and build hope in the community around them. There’s a lot of need in the community around Bullard.  The church has some excellent leaders who give generously of their time and resources together and they experience God’s blessings of love, joy, and peace in doing so.  Those blessings make Bullard the kind of place where people want to be. David’s spirit has much to do with building that kind of spirit in the church.”
His Faith Journey Thus Far
 “I grew up in the United Methodist Church at FUMC Temple and was also heavily involved in the Wesley Foundation at Texas Tech University while in college,” he shares. “I began full-time ordained ministry in the Northwest Texas Conference where I served for three years before transferring to the Texas Annual Conference. I came to faith in Christ at 14 years old while attending Waco Youth Week at FUMC Waco, which was an evangelistic outreach to teenagers in the Central Texas area.” He responded to God’s call into full time ministry just after college while serving as an intern at the Texas Tech Wesley Foundation, and from there went on to seminary at Asbury Theological Seminary.  

Looking to the Future
As a visionary leader, David would love to see Bullard UMC in the years ahead become a church which has grown numerically in average worship attendance, “but more importantly by far,” he shares, “I would love to see a church which has grown in the fulfillment of its mission and vision.  I want to see more people loving God individually through a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, together through corporate worship, and by helping others to come to know the saving love of Jesus Christ, I want to see more people growing deep roots in their faith as they study the Word of God together and apply it to their daily lives, and I want to see people being the hands and feet of Christ as they serve the community of Bullard and beyond in many and various ways which bring glory to God.”
Congregants respond to David’s transparency. Notes Tammy, “More important than all the talents and gifts he brings to church leadership is the love he has for Jesus Christ and the desire to make sure that others have the chance to get to know Christ when they come here. David knows that we can’t make disciples without forging relationships with others, and he sets an example for the rest of us by the way he extends hospitality to the community.”