Alumni Spotlight on Brad Blyth: Bringing New Life to Congregations
March 4, 2009
Churches and congregations, just like individuals, experience life by moving in and out of various stages. Each church is on a unique journey--taking steps to fulfill its mission within God's Kingdom. Some are just beginning to establish roots in unfamiliar soil. Others have seen better days and must close or combine with nearby congregations. Many find themselves at crossroads sensing that they must adapt in order to remain relevant. And yet, others thrive.
Why is it that some churches thrive while others struggle to maintain? There doesn't seem to be a clear cut and definitive answer. Perhaps, some thrive because the right combination of factors--like vision, spiritual gifts, and ministry needs--have all come together at the perfect moment in time. Or, maybe it is simply part of God's larger plan.
At Sioux Falls Seminary, our alumni are equipped to be servant leaders for the ministries of Christ. Graduates go out and serve across the United States and around the world. Brad Blyth is one of our graduates who is working hard to bring new life to the congregation he serves. He is one of the many Sioux Falls Seminary graduates striving to keep the church relevant in today's world.
giving long-term history new life
In 2003, Sioux Falls Seminary M.Div. and MAMFT graduate Brad Blyth was asked to step in and serve as an interim pastor at then Latta Road Baptist Church in Greece, NY, a suburb of Rochester. The church, founded in 1851 and previously located in Rochester, has a long-standing history with the North American Baptist Conference. In its early years, with such close proximity to the German Baptist Seminary (now Sioux Falls Seminary), Latta Road's health thrived under the influence of the seminary's strong theological teachers.
However, by 2003, the church was experiencing epic amounts of turmoil and drastic declines in attendance within the congregation. Some potential pastors may have felt uncomfortable or even unqualified to deal with the church's situation. However, Blyth says he instantly felt "an almost palpable peace from the Lord" that this was where God wanted him to be.
Monday, October 13, 2003, was Blyth's first day at Latta Road, now named Orchard Community Church. Realizing the sensitive situation he was entering, Blyth prayed that God would use him in his will. "I asked for wisdom and discernment far beyond my years in order to heal and lead the people," said Blyth. "I am so blessed that God has used me as the person I am--faults and all."
By taking small steps one at a time and entering into countless discussions with members of the congregation, Blyth has led the church to new life. "I have greatly loved and invested in the people and challenged their 'old' idea of the church," he added.
During Blyth's first year at Orchard Community Church, nearly everything changed, including the church's constitution. Initially, not everyone was on board. However, Blyth continued to facilitate discussion amongst the congregation, asking questions about how existing systems of leadership, worship, teaching, and preaching were working. In time, clarity and vision for the future became clear, and the congregation emerged more unified than ever.
new life: a congregation revived
Today, Orchard Community Church is achieving its mission of "making disciples through prayer, biblical education, building bridges to the unchurched, celebrative worship, generous giving, genuine care, and living with integrity." As Blyth and the members of Orchard Community Church live out their vision, they are experiencing new life in this historic church.
One of the larger outreach efforts by the church is the annual Trunk or Treat, which Brad's wife, Melissa, played a critical role in creating. Nearly 400 community people attend the event, which includes distribution of treats by church members, hayrides, inflatables, carnival games, face painting, and more. Melissa's contributions to the congregation go well beyond the Trunk or Treat. Whether leading worship or sharing her gifts for ministry, she has helped contribute to the identity of Orchard Community Church.
One of the practices in which the church prides itself is the warm and welcoming environment that is provided to anyone who walks through their doors. Being practical and community-minded in their faith is another. Members, who range from spiritual seekers to committed Christians, are invited to come as they are--no meaningless rules and regulations, no suit and tie requirement.
This way of functioning has helped the congregation start anew, heal past wounds, and realize growth. The children's time started with under five kids and has now grown to around 30-40 children, all under the age of 10. "I truly believe that God has a plan for the church which includes raising up people in the church to be community ministers," said Blyth. "We are providing a place for worship that is very relevant by blending rockin' Lincoln Brewster with sacred hymns."
Blyth is confident that in the weeks, months, and years to come, Orchard Community Church, one of the oldest churches in the North American Baptist Conference, will continue reaching out to the community with God's love and grace. "Honestly, each pastor has a combination of his/her personality in concert with the calling on his/her heart. [If I am no longer here] I assume God will bring in someone who can continue the growth and multiply the impact of the church on the community."
But for today, as the church continues to bloom and experience a new stage in its life, it plans to keep its presence in God's Kingdom known. How so? By listening to God and continuing to serve him--"making disciples through prayer, biblical education, building bridges to the unchurched, celebrative worship, generous giving, genuine care, and living with integrity."
Q&A with Pastor Brad Blyth, M.Div., MAMFT, 1994
What led you to answer the call to ministry?
I had felt called into ministry since I was young. By the age of 15, I had my plan in place to attend Bible college and then seminary for my M.Div. My heart has always been burdened to help people. In addition to extended family, the three oldest cousins in my family are pastors. My grandparents were missionaries. For us, ministry is true love for the Lord in action --a joy.
How did seminary prepare you for service?
There were so many professors that enriched my ministry I can't even begin to name them. Much of who I am now in ministry was started at the seminary in Sioux Falls. One situation stands out in my memory. In my first semester, now president Mike Hagan was my Old Testament Professor . . . . I went to see him about something, and he confronted me about my pastoral skills. Then, he shut the door. To be succinct, he told me that I better quit being the way I was or I would never make it in ministry, nor would he recommend me. Mike essentially said that ministry required a selfless love and devotion to the Lord that needed to have a depth so much more than I was displaying. That was a turning point for me. It has caused me to create many moments of self-examination throughout my spiritual growth even to this day . . . . It has made me further orient my entire life around Jesus as Lord. That is what makes me who I am today as a pastor.
The alumni spotlight is part of the Spring 2009 newsletter. To download a .pdf of the article and the entire Impact, please click here.