By Ronald E. Keener
December 9, 2007 a gunman entered New Life Church in Colorado Springs, CO, and killed two people in a shooting spree.
Five months prior pastor Brady Boyd says he was enjoying a simple life in Dallas, TX where he was on staff at Gateway Church, “relishing the warmth of summertime,” he says in his new book, Fear No Evil: A Test of Faith, A Courageous Church, and an Unfailing God (Zondervan, 2011).
He was the new senior pastor, taking over in the pastorate of Ted Haggard. He speaks unguardedly about the tragedy of that Sunday, but also of the following Wednesday when the congregation would grieve and try to find meaning in the senseless act.
Calling it “Bloody Sunday,” Boyd also writes in his book: “Sunday wouldn’t define us, though, because three days later Wednesday arrived. And although I didn’t know it at the time, Wednesday would be our church’s opportunity to say to ourselves, our God, and anyone else who happened to be listening that we refused to be defined by tragedy and that hope was still ours to claim.”
Pastor Boyd responded to Church Executive’s questions about that week:
It’s a sorry state of affairs, isn’t it, when even churches experience violence in the sanctuary?
Yes it is, but sometimes we as Americans are insulated from the same violence that affects many other Christ followers around the globe each day. It has been a stark reminder for us to pray for the persecuted church around the world. Our empathy for them has certainly grown a great deal.
Does it tell you anything about our society – or maybe the church – that shooters look for a church to commit their deeds or work out their angst?
Church is a public gathering much like a shopping mall or any sporting event. Any time a group of people are in one place together on a regular basis, there is an opportunity for violence. We were certainly targeted because we were a church, but many times, the violence happens because the shooter knows where to find their victims.
What was the emotional state of New Life when you arrived in the pastorate?
New Life was a broken but resilient group of people when I arrived. They had just walked through a dark season because of the moral failure of their pastor months earlier. When I arrived in August 2007, there was a sense of hope and a cautious willingness to move forward.
Did you do anything in particular after you arrived at the congregation after Ted Haggard’s departure?
We just decided to be a family. We prayed a lot together and made sure it was OK to not be OK. We talked a lot about living with authenticity and not wearing our fake church masks around each other. We also talked a lot about health and rest and not necessarily about church growth or a lot of new ministry ideas.
Were there any points of repentance you felt the congregation needed to make as a response to the shooting?
We were the victims. Repentance is always needed in our lives but we had done nothing wrong to warrant the shooting.
You had a bout of depression 18 months after the shooting. Can you explain its cause and how you worked it through?
I simply had lost my joy, which is not the same as happiness. Joy is internal; happiness is based on outward circumstances. I had failed to guard my heart and almost quit. I went away for a few weeks and really had some personal encounters with God that ultimately redeemed my soul for public ministry. Pastors and leaders must always make sure their tanks are full or burnout is inevitable for all of us.
Are there ways now that the church sees a ministry for grief and depression that it might not have felt before?
New Life has always been a compassionate church, but we are certainly more aware now of the real pain caused by suffering and depression. Once you have walked through the valley of the shadow of death yourself, it is much easier to walk alongside others who are doing the same.
Tell me about the sabbaticals you told your staff to take. What was gained?
The pastoral team was exhausted when I arrived because of the weight they had carried as leaders after the scandal. Before we could move forward, they needed rest and recharging. I asked each of them to take staggered six-week sabbaticals. We paid them to get some rest. We gave very specific instructions that they were to disengage from ministry and focus on their emotional and physical health. It was one of the best decisions we made, for sure.
What is the meaning of “stretcher bearers” that you reference and how is it applied at New Life?
It is impossible to navigate life without family and close friends. Authentic relationships were essential to our journey and our healing. It takes a long time to become old friends and I am thankful for the plethora of men and women whom God has placed in the life of our fellowship who chose to love us when we were hurting.
December 9, 2007 well known Dr. Jack Hayford was the speaker that morning. What were his later reflections on the entire matter?
Pastor Jack is one of the Godliest leaders I know today. The fact that he was there on the day of the shooting and stood beside me as I made critical decisions was truly orchestrated by God. I wondered as we were being led out of the church by the S.W.A.T. team if he would ever speak at New Life again, but he did months later. He later told me of a time when he was a young pastor leading his church through a crisis. He felt the same grace at New Life that he felt 40 years earlier in California.
How large was the church three years ago and what is it today?
New Life was about 10,000 members three years ago and is the same today. That is a miracle. We should be a big used car lot. No church I know has survived and thrived after a scandal and a shooting 13 months apart. God be praised for he has done among us.
Did people rush to their cars to retrieve their own guns?
We don’t know that anyone did, but Colorado is certainly home to a lot of trusted people who carry weapons. I have my concealed-to-carry permit and regularly carry a pistol, but our people were responsible on the day of the shooting to let the police and our security team handle the crisis.
Is this a huge risk that bystanders could be confused as being second shooters?
This is a huge concern. Our security team has the unenviable task of making that decision and I only hope that our innocent members would not pull their weapons and be harmed. That would be tragic.
You speak of restoring your belief in the existence of “healthy church.” In what way had your faith been shaken earlier in your career?
I grew up in church but never really experienced a life giving fellowship. There always seemed to be strife and tension. Pastors were summarily dismissed after some random vote and we were certainly not focused on the important issues that Jesus seemed to talk about in scripture.
I am thankful for being exposed to the power of the Holy Spirit in the little churches I attended, but I certainly never wanted to be a pastor. I told God I would serve him with my hair on fire if only I did not have to be a pastor.
Certainly, he had other plans for me and I am thankful now that he chose not to listen to me.
My mom was the one who prayed for me most and influenced me to follow Christ. When I was 21 and entering my senior year of college at Louisiana Tech, I surrendered my life to Christ while driving my red pickup along a narrow country road in North Louisiana. It was August of 1988 and my life has been radically different ever since. I am forever grateful for grace and the privilege of being adopted in God’s family as a son.
‘God is for us and God is with us’
”Fear No Evil is a story of a group of people called New Lifers who found themselves in the darkest place imaginable but chose to trust God to lead them forward. This is a really hopeful book and I believe it will be a huge encouragement to parents who have lost children, to those who are suddenly unemployed, to a single mom trying to survive, or to anyone who wonders if the valley will always be their home. We know firsthand as a church that God is for us and God is with us.” — Brady Boyd
‘How did we get here?’
”A memory from that dreadful day-after I will carry with me for a long time involves Lance Coles, the longest-tenured pastor on our staff. When he and I and the other pastors entered the church building that morning, police officers had shown us the doors that had been shot to pieces, the hallways that had been punctuated by ammunition shells, and the floor where the shooter had died.
“I swallowed hard as I stared at the large pool of dried blood that covered the space. By that time, we had already called for custodial help to come and clean the building. But that didn’t matter to Lance.
“Without saying a word, he tugged on rubber work gloves, reached for a scraper, crouched on his hands and knees, and laboriously sawed at the stain on the floor until that spot was shiny white. I stood there paralyzed by his presence of mind to tackle such a task, by his generosity of spirit, by how compelled he was to make right all that had gone to terribly wrong. As I watched him work, I thought, ‘How did we get here? How did I get here?”
— From Fear No Evil by Brady Boyd (Zondervan, 2011)