Staying simple to stay true

• Alva Church of God's new senior pastor keeps his eyes on the Bible, his heart in community

 

Kathleen Lourde

The Braudricks: (from left) Milo (age 2), Pastor Nathan (38), Seth (14), Prestyn (13), baby Ivy (6 months), mom Chasity (38), and Austin (16).

Nathan Braudrick became senior pastor at Alva Church of God at the beginning of April, and it was a wild ride of a launch, he said.

"I tell you what," he said, laughing, "starting in April – that's a rough month to start, because there's Holy Week, Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday; it has been a mad rush, and there's a lot going on. I have hardly had time to collect my thoughts."

Despite the hectic pace, Braudrick was not just willing to spend an hour to give Review-Courier readers a look inside his heart and world – he didn't seem remotely harried by the unexpected hour out of his schedule.

'Great Core Group of Pastors'

Braudrick's 10 years as associate pastor in Mustang showed him how difficult the job can be on a pastor. Being the guy who's supposed to have all the answers can be lonely in both a professional and spiritual way.

"One of the things I've loved about coming to Alva is there's a great core group of pastors in the area – the Friends church, Hopeton, Nazarene; several of the churches," he said. "A small group of us pastors meets every Tuesday morning at the eXtreme just to talk, just to pray. It is great. It's been a great outlet for all of us to kind of unburden ourselves to other pastors in a way that you can't to other people. Because the idea that the pastor has all of the answers is a heavy weight to bear sometimes, because I'm no different than anyone else in my congregation – I just happen to be the one that God said, "Hey, get up and say this."

Braudrick, who refers to himself as "just a down-to-earth guy," said he doesn't see himself as significantly different from the people in his congregation. For example, the church's Wednesday night Bible study is small and "conversational, and I learn so much from those people," he said.

"So maybe I'm the spiritual, you know, leader of the church, but I'm no closer to God than some of the other people. We're all – me, the other people in this church, the other pastors as long as they're preaching what the Gospel says – we're all in this together, and it's been a great community experience here in Alva that I've appreciated."

From Free-Will Baptist in Mustang to Church of God in Alva

Braudrick came to Alva in May of 2016 to be associate pastor to long-time Alva Church of God pastor Bob Brown.

Before coming here, he was youth/associate pastor at a church in Mustang for 10 years – but it wasn't a Church of God. It was a Free Will Baptist Church.

"This is my first time in a Church of God," he said. "I didn't grow up in any particular denomination, I just went wherever I could."

But he doesn't see a whole lot of theological differences between the Free Will Baptist Church and the Alva Church of God. The church bylaws are where you'd see most differences, he said, "but as far as theology it's basically the same."

And what is that theology, then?

"This church is based completely around Jesus Christ, obviously. Jesus Christ is everything he said he was: he's the son of God, but he's also a God. He's part of the trinity. He's the only way to heaven. He died on the cross for our sins. Our sins are forgiven freely if we accept what he did. So, basically it's the theology of most Bible-teaching churches."

It's a conservative church, he said, but that's not because a conservative theology is dictated by the larger Church of God organization. In fact, each church receives a lot of latitude to be exactly what the congregation and pastor feel God wants it to be.

"For the Church of God in general, as far as what the Sunday morning worship is, it can vary," he said. One church's services may be characterized by organ music and hymns; others are very "upbeat with lots of music and lots of lights," he said. "So there isn't one rule that says 'If you're Church of God, this is how you run your church service.' Every individual church is kind of free to figure that out for themselves," he said.

The Alva Church of God is under an umbrella organization that is based in Anderson, Indiana. Braudrick said a couple other organizations also call themselves Church of God, "but they're different from us."

The Indiana-based Church of God, said Braudrick, was based on the idea that "we are not subject to man in any capacity. We're subject to the Lord. So they structured it to where there cannot be a governing body telling you what to do. And I really appreciate that."

The Alva Church of God doesn't have much of the hierarchy, symbolism, and rituals of many other churches, he said. "The closest thing we have would be communion. We don't believe that the bread is the actual body of Christ; we don't believe that the juice is the actual blood of Christ." Rather, communion represents the Last Supper and is a time for the congregation "to remember the sacrifice that Christ made," he said.

The Alva church pays dues to the Anderson, Indiana, organization and is on the church register. The organization shares information about missionaries and provides conferences, speakers, and other assistance, Braudrick said. The organization also has a couple of colleges, one of them being Mid-America in Oklahoma City.

In fact, Braudrick, despite not being raised in the Church of God, went to Mid-America and received his ministry degree there.

"I did go there, but I didn't know it was a Church of God college," he said, smiling. "I just knew 'Here's a Christian college where I can get my ministry degree." It's just how God worked it out."

Holding True To What's Most Important

Braudrick and wife Chasity are both certified Biblical counselors, and they really enjoy that aspect of their calling. Still, preaching, Braudrick says, is his favorite part of being a pastor.

"I love preaching; I love it so much," he said. "In fact, it's my favorite thing I've ever done. But it's difficult sometimes" because you know that your words will have different effects on people in different situations.

"But when I'm preaching what God wants me to, I have to try to ignore that," he said.

He "absolutely" feels God moving through him when he's preaching, he said. "But I also prepare heavily beforehand. Most of the time, if I'm not doing a series on something, I'll just start reading my Bible. And sometimes a story will jump out and I'll say, 'That's good stuff,' and all week long I'll pray about it, write notes, highlight things. But once I'm up there – and I pray extensively before I go – it needs to be God, it needs to be the Holy Spirit" communicating with the congregation. "It's His church; it's His people; it's His word. I can add nothing to it."

He works hard to educate himself on what the Bible says, praying for God's guidance, and tries to make sure he doesn't try to inject his own thoughts into a biblical message.

"The Bible says what it says, and if I try to change any of it, they should fire me. I need to be just factual; tell you 'this is what God said.' Anytime I'm going to say 'here's what I think about this,' I try to make sure they know this is an opinion of mine; this is how I look at it; this is not gospel. You can completely disregard it if you want. I'm like every other human being: I'm fallible in my opinion and subject to my own inadequacies."

Spiritual leader notwithstanding, he's not what's important, Braudrick emphasized. Neither are the peripheral elements of worship service, like gorgeous music or a grand building.

"I don't want (the church) to be known for our music; I don't want to be known for me. I don't want to be known for our building, I want to be known as a bunch of people who love God and love others. If we do that then we're being like Christ, and that's my goal. And I think I've got a good church that's going to be on board with that."

 

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