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Ep 237 – Hometown Hope with Brayden Buss

Replant Bootcamp
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Ep 237 - Hometown Hope with Brayden Buss

In this episode, we listen to the field to learn from the boots-on-the-ground story of Brayden Buss, a pastor returning to his roots at the First Baptist Church in Okmulgee, OK as he shares his journey of returning to pastor the church where he grew up, stressing the importance of understanding and respecting a church’s legacy while adapting to changing demographics and community needs.

He discusses the challenges and strategies associated with revitalizing a church, including leadership development, member mobilization, and the personal aspect of being a pastor in a familiar community. Brayden also touches on the significance of loving and caring for the church to foster revitalization effectively.

00:00 Introduction and Guest Arrival
00:52 Guest Background and Personal Journey
02:26 Challenges of Pastoring in Hometown
03:44 Legacy of Family in Ministry
05:46 Understanding and Adapting to Community Changes
08:39 Revitalizing the Church: Strategies and Challenges
16:57 Member Mobilization and Leadership Development
24:08 Final Thoughts and Prayer

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Show transcripts are an approximation of the podcast, audio should be consulted for exact detail

JimBo Stewart: [00:00:00] Here we are back at the bootcamp, back at it again. Hope you’re ready for the next episode. Our next guest comes to us from our fancy schmancy, brand new suggest a guest button at the top of our website with Bob Bigford, no longer being the co-host, I want to make sure I’ve always got somebody good to talk to.

And I wanted to hear from you as we listen to the field and at least to the future, how do we continue to be lifelong learners together, learning about the gritty and glorious work of church renewal from those that are. Boots on the ground doing it. So one of the submissions we got in was from a friend and former, guest of the podcast, Luke Holmes was on here to talk about the resolution that he wrote.

And so he sent in a suggest a guest recommendation for Brayden. Did I say that? Did I say your name correctly, Braden?

Brayden Buss: right. Braden bust.

JimBo Stewart: Excellent. Man, I’m excited to dive into your story a little bit today. Just tell us a little bit about yourself and where you grew up and where you’re serving right now.

Brayden Buss: Yeah, it’s great. It’s good to be here. [00:01:00] I grew up here in Okmulgee, Oklahoma.

JimBo Stewart: Say that, say that again. What, in what Oklahoma?

Brayden Buss: Okmulgee, Oklahoma.

JimBo Stewart: Okmulgee, Oklahoma. What, how did, where, what does that name mean?

Brayden Buss: So, uh, it comes from We’re the headquarters for the Muskogee Creek Nation.

JimBo Stewart: Okay.

Brayden Buss: As with most towns in eastern Oklahoma, the names come from the native tribal languages. And they mean different things. I wish I could tell you what it means. probably bubbling water, if I were to guess. But, that’s Most of the names have something to do with water, and So people struggle to say Oklahoma names, but it’s Okmulgee.

JimBo Stewart: Oak mogul.

Brayden Buss: Yeah, and I grew up here. Uh, I left for about 10 years, and the Lord called me back to pastor here at the First Baptist Church in Okmulgee. But I’ve got a wife and, we’re about to have our fourth baby on April the 15th. We have two sons, and a two year old daughter as well.

JimBo Stewart: So how, what are the ages of your kids?

Brayden Buss: [00:02:00] Wyatt is 8, Fielder is 6, Nora is 2, and the baby will be born in April.

JimBo Stewart: Man, that’s a full house.

Brayden Buss: Yeah, it’s awesome.

JimBo Stewart: I love it, man. I love it. That’s so good. man, I’m excited to have you on here. One of the things that Luke suggested we talk about is where you grew up because you have come, you grew up here. So now you’re, did you grow up at first Baptist?

Brayden Buss: I grew up in this church, yes.

JimBo Stewart: Okay. so What is that like pastoring where people changed your diapers?

Brayden Buss: That is for sure the case. people like to remind me of that. The sweet ladies in the church, like, I kept you in the nursery, you know. you know, It helps that I left for a season. I think that I couldn’t have done it had I not done that. I left to go to seminary, pastored a couple other churches. That was essential.

I don’t know that I could have just stayed here and gone straight into it. you never know on those kind of deals, but the plus side is. When I got here, I had to [00:03:00] build very few new relationships, so they already trusted me. my grandmother is a member of this church, so, you know, people aren’t going to come at me as much either, because they’ll have to deal with Grammy and me.

Uh, so, and she carries much more weight around here than I do, and so I’m grateful for that. But I have not had A lot of problems, with being the hometown boy. There have been some, of course. You know, people see you as the kid that you used to be. but mostly positive. That they, they already have a love for me and I already have a love for them.

So what would have taken somebody years to build, I had as a natural asset coming in, which has made my job easier.

JimBo Stewart: one of the things, even you talk about your grandmother, Luke told me that your grandfather was in ministry in Oakland, kind of a well known name, maybe in Oklahoma.

Brayden Buss: Yeah, he’s a hero to me, but, uh, and I [00:04:00] didn’t know it as a kid, but he’s an Oklahoma Baptist hero. he did pastor here in Okmulgee in the mid seventies. So I’m sitting at his desk right now.

JimBo Stewart: Wow.

Brayden Buss: Probably not the literal desk. I hope I’ve got a different desk than that. but then he left here and pastored at Southern Hills Baptist Church in Oklahoma City until he retired.

And then what I love about my grandfather, when he retired, he moved back here to Ocmulgee. So he was a church member. He passed away last year. but I got to be his pastor. But in his retirement, for 20 years, he served small churches as an interim pastor. So he left a church of over a thousand. 1500 ish, and decided to dedicate his retirement to serving struggling churches in rural Oklahoma.

So he is my hero. It was great to have him here in the church for a season.

JimBo Stewart: Man, that’s awesome to have that kind of legacy that not only in your hometown and your family, but literally in the same church. And so now your grandma is still there. She’s a member of the church. Not only is she your grandma, [00:05:00] but she is the former pastor’s wife.

Brayden Buss: Absolutely. Yeah.

JimBo Stewart: Now, I know a lot of guys hear that and, and maybe think, that’s a less than desirable situation to be in, Have you found it challenging to be your grandmother’s pastor?

Brayden Buss: absolutely not. if she would hang up some of my preschool and vacation Bible school drawings on her fridge that were absolutely terrible, she thinks all my sermons are great. No matter what. So, no, it is not a problem at all to have your grandmother in your church. It hasn’t been for me, but I have an exceptional grandmother.

JimBo Stewart: mean, I love that. you know, I think you obviously had an advantage of at least historically understanding the context. How much has the community changed since you grew up there? And now,

Brayden Buss: The community has changed quite a bit. population’s roughly the same, but demographics have shifted. Ocmulgee has become an, extreme low [00:06:00] income community. Quite a bit of racial diversity. the churches in the region have not navigated that as well as we’ve probably could have, for whatever reasons those may be.

And so that was a challenge coming in that we have to teach our church. And I have to remind myself, this is not the Okmulgee of my youth. And it’s certainly not the Okmulgee of the youth of some of our members. And it’s changed a lot in the last 15 years, but it’s changed a drastic amount in the last 30 years.

so, that’s a challenge to get people to see the actual Okmulgee where we live today. Some people want to see, not just the church, I mean the whole community. Some people want to see it as the Okmulgee in the 80s. And this is gonna be shocking to some and probably not to others. Some people see Okmulgee as it was in the 50s.

and that’s certainly not the case. this church had a full time chef on staff in the fifties.

JimBo Stewart: wow.

Brayden Buss: we don’t have that kind of budget power today. Uh, I’ve tried to get personnel committee to reinstate the position, but it’s just not a priority [00:07:00] today. It’s not the same. so there has been a shift, and we’re trying to navigate that right now.

JimBo Stewart: So when it was first Baptist in the fifties, I mean, it was like first Baptist. It was like the place.

Brayden Buss: Oh, absolutely. Actually, from the 20s to the 50s, Ocmulgee experienced two different oil booms. And during that time, this church planted something like 13 other SBC churches in the county. so we have this legacy of church planting, albeit some 100 years ago. and then the other, about 70 years ago, we still have that legacy back there, which I think is really a benefit to our church to have that in the DNA.

JimBo Stewart: Yeah, I mean, you’re tapping into two of the things I try to emphasize often. One is we have to understand that the missional context around us is changing every day. I mean, every day you wake up in a new missional context, which means you really have to think like a missionary. we can no longer.[00:08:00]

Ride the cultural winds of just having good preaching, good programs, and a good building, and that’ll grow a church. We really have to shift, as the demographics shift and our mission field shifts, to a missionary mindset, and what does it mean to reach the community that God has given us today. So that’s one, missional understanding and a missional focus, and then two is a respect for a church’s legacy.

I think one of the big mistakes that we see A lot of revitalization and replanting pastors make is they only face forward and push things forward without recognizing they’re standing on shoulders and building on the legacy of the past. Speak a little bit of that respect of a church’s legacy and how you’ve tapped into your own institutional knowledge of the church’s history as you’ve led the church in revitalization efforts over the last couple years.

how have you tapped into the legacy of the church?

Brayden Buss: Oh yeah, I, that was a significant thing for me. so when I came here, [00:09:00] I got a lot of questions, pastor, what are you going to do to save our church? And I said, you’re way ahead of the ball game. the church already has a savior and I hate to tell you, it’s not me. so. But we’re going to spend the first year, six months to a year, in assessing our current situation, and a big part of that will also be studying the church’s history.

So, me as a pastor, I sat down and I decided I was going to know the history of this church better than anyone who’s alive today, and I did that by interviewing church members who’d been here a long time. We have a lady who joined this church in 1947. I went down to the pastor wall of fame, you know, where all the pictures are and she told me stories about each of the guys she knew.

I interviewed people who grew up in the church. I read the church historical documents and I found underneath the baptistry the handwritten business meeting minutes from 1913 to [00:10:00] 1925. And so I read them all. all. it probably looked like a waste of time. I hope personnel committee didn’t come in and I’m reading these minutes every single day.

But it was important to me to know why we are the church we are. And I discovered some really incredible things in those meeting minutes.

JimBo Stewart: what were some of the key things that you’ve tried to rebuild or build upon out of the legacy of the church?

Brayden Buss: So one of the key things that We’re trying to rebuild. We’re still right in the middle of it. Is, like I said, we started these churches. Well, those communities have also shifted. There’s a shift everywhere in this country from rural to urban. So these churches we planted that were once in small towns are almost rural churches.

And those churches that we planted in the 50s that were rural churches are now really in decline. And so we feel we have a sense of obligation to them. Not just as brothers in Christ, but as the The Sending Church. [00:11:00] There’s no one in those churches today, or in our church, who are a part of those plants, but we still feel we have a connection to them.

So we’ve had our own struggles here, and we’re trying to rebuild, but we’re trying to train up leadership that can go and assist these other churches at the same time. And so that’s one of the major things we focused on, to build upon the legacy we already have. We’re not trying to rewrite anything.

We’re just continuing with what our founders carried on and do our mission. And then the other thing is just not just training leaders for the other churches in our community, but re engaging the leadership in our own church. when I got here in 2022, there were ministries that still weren’t restarted from COVID.

And so we needed to restart everything. And in a way, it was a blessing as a new pastor to come in and get to restart everything. But we had to build leadership structure for all this stuff. So, people development is a huge thing, and then re engaging the legacy [00:12:00] mission we already had. Those were huge focuses for us.

JimBo Stewart: So talk to us about the state of the church when you, arrive. ’cause you said when you got there, they asked, what are you gonna do to save our church? Which I, I love your answer. You’ve gotten a little ahead here. That’s you. You’ve already got a savior and it is definitely not me. that’s, that’s a good word, but.

What, what was motivating, like, why, why are they asking that question?

Brayden Buss: Yeah, so when I left here, when I graduated high school, the church was running right around 250 people. when I interviewed with that committee, at the end of 2021, average weekly attendance was somewhere between 75 and 90. it’s kind of hard to say how people were being counted, but it was somewhere in that range.

So you have a huge numerical decline, and there was a financial struggle, of week to week. budget stuff. When you lose that many people and try to maintain the same budget, there’s some difficulty. And then there are those things that you cannot [00:13:00] measure. what we call, like, the mood of the church, the tone of the church, the feel of the church.

people said it just feels Like dead and that you can’t measure but you can certainly feel it when you walk into the room And so when I was in a larger church, I was in a healthy church. I told my wife I said we could be at this church for a really long time It was an easy church to pastor It really was and we had we’re having great ministry We were in the glory days at that church it was kind of a unique experience and then this church called and I’m like I’m gonna have to take a step back and into a smaller church that is struggling, but a church that I’ve loved for my entire life, and more than that, a church who loved and took care of me.

so I wanted to come here because I loved them and they were in that struggling situation, and I did also want to make sure they knew I wasn’t a silver bullet. But my love for them and their love for me made a huge factor in me coming here to [00:14:00] help them.

JimBo Stewart: So in many ways you were following in your grandfather’s footsteps of going from a larger church to a smaller church because of your love for the bride of Christ and your love for the people there.

Brayden Buss: Oh, yeah, and he ingrained that into me. I remember when I was first expressing a call to ministry, first starting in the ministry, I was talking about a friend of mine who was going to a difficult church, and I said, Papa, he shouldn’t go there. That’s a hard church. And he looked at me. He never was stern with me, but that moment he was.

And he said, son, just because there’s wolves among the sheep doesn’t mean they don’t need a shepherd. And my whole experience and outlook on pastoral ministry changed. And then he said, and the pastor needs to be in the flock where there are wolves. They need him most. And it just sunk into me. And that’s why I wanted to come here because I knew the Lord wasn’t done in this church.

But beyond my grandpa was the pastor who was [00:15:00] here. he’s in many ways a grandfather, father figure to me. He’d hate that I said grandfather, but he, he was pastor here from 1993 until the day I came. so I followed my pastor who mentored me, brought me onto his staff as an intern, a great, faithful man of God.

And so I’m carrying on his legacy as much as I am my own grandpa. Biological grandfather’s legacy.

JimBo Stewart: Wow. That’s incredible. So did your wife grow up in this same community?

Brayden Buss: No, my wife is from a St. Louis suburb. She’s from Illinois. We met in college

JimBo Stewart: Okay. What has that been like for her coming back to hometown with you, where granddad was pastor, you were raised here, everybody knows you. So now she’s coming in as pastor’s wife, first lady, into a community that you already know and love really well, but they don’t know her.

Brayden Buss: Well first she wanted to see how far away the nearest Chick fil A was. That was a deal breaker. So we [00:16:00] measured the distance to the nearest Chick fil A and it was to her satisfaction.

JimBo Stewart: That’s fair.

Brayden Buss: and I will say, Coming here, the challenge is harder on her, because she doesn’t know people. And so, and she is much more outgoing, much more dynamic of a personality than I am.

And so she’s used to being this social person that everyone goes to, but While we’ve been here, the church has experienced some growth, and the primary growth is in people in their thirties. So, she has found friends here and connected with people and it’s made the transition so much easier now than probably when we first started.

She’s found a great way to connect with those mothers because they’re in the same life stage.

JimBo Stewart: Yeah, that’s good. So you say you’ve seen some growth since you arrived. What have been the key things that you focused on you think that have helped contribute to that revitalization effort?

Brayden Buss: There’s a few things that we set out to [00:17:00] do as a leadership team, and that first was to rebuild the leadership team. So When I came, pastor of 28 years retired, the minister of music left, and the youth pastor had just left two months before that. So we had to hire a whole new staff team. Three, we decided instead of going with full time people, we were going to hire multiple part time staff.

Budget wouldn’t allow us to do anything otherwise.

JimBo Stewart: And none of those were the chef.

Brayden Buss: No, unfortunately, the chef, is not on staff, nor was he when I got here. That would not have been a position we eliminated. But we, raise people up from within. I, it’s, this is the pragmatic side. It saves you a ton of money, because they already have jobs and you don’t have to move them, but they’re already invested in the church.

And it was a great thing. We, we brought in one guy from the outside and it was a great move. And then all the others we raised up from within. And so the first step our missions process or our revitalization strategy, [00:18:00] we called member mobilization. We wanted to engage our membership in the work of ministry, and maybe engage isn’t the right word, re engage.

Because we had people who had carried the baton for decades who were discouraged by the decline in the community, decline in the church, and just everything that happened between the years of 2020 and 2020. 2022. That was hard on people. And then the pastor of that long retired. It was a lot on people.

And so we wanted to re engage people in the ministry. We, for example, we were having annual business meetings, which most pastors would say, Oh, that’s great. A first Baptist church with annual business meetings. But we moved back to quarterly meetings and we don’t vote on stuff. We just let people give report on what kind of ministry they’re doing.

And we have dinner and it’s a great. time of celebration. And people would come to me in tears after the first one. And they said, man, we just [00:19:00] feel like our church is alive again, that we feel like we’re a part of the ministry. And some of it was as simple as looking at the lady who ran the senior adult ministry and just saying, I appreciate what you do in this church.

I’ve noticed it. All it took was me walking to the fellowship hall down the hall from my office and saying that, and she just. started crying and said, no one’s ever told me that before. And just encouraging individuals and engaging them in ministry went way further than I thought it would coming in.

JimBo Stewart: That’s awesome. So talk to me more about the member mobilization. What is that, look like? And so for our listener, what are things they could take and learn from what you’ve done with member mobilization?

Brayden Buss: it is a more difficult way to do ministry because it’s not efficient. It’s easier to do it yourself, right? but when they engage in the work, for example, our deacons are now doing what [00:20:00] deacons do. They’re doing hospital visits. They’re doing home visits. And I currently have a chairman who will hold them all accountable.

The start of every meeting, who did you visit this week? One by one they have to tell who they visited. And so I’m not having to go, I do visits, but I’m not having to do all the visits. And so it wasn’t efficient to start, but once you get the buy in, it, it alleviated a bunch of stress from me. And that’s just one example.

We made a nursery coordinator, you know, someone who can take ownership of this program, children’s ministry, reengaging people in that and saying, you you’re gifted in this ministry. You need to go ahead and do it because. I can’t. I’m the pastor. I don’t have time to do every single thing. And I’m not as good at it as you are.

That’s the reason you’re here. stuff like that. Just, it’s, there’s no, like, system. There’s no program. It’s just finding the right people and getting them in the right position. And that makes my job as a [00:21:00] pastor tremendously more fun, first of all, and easier in the long run.

JimBo Stewart: What have been the biggest challenges that you have faced since arriving?

Brayden Buss: The finances are difficult. Nothing against our seminaries. I love our seminaries, but we don’t get finance training. You know, you’re thrown into a church and they give you a 400, 000 budget, and they’re like, Pastor, here you go. You oversee the budget. It’s like, oh, no. And then you’re not bringing in enough money. The only way you can increase income is to get more givers, or your givers give more. there’s no program. There’s no solution to that. We can’t, like, raise the price of something we sell, you know. That’s, that’s a challenge. And plus, we’re a historic church, so we have 500 designated accounts and you know, the flower budget, the library budget.

And so we’re working to, to consolidate some things. But that’s difficult. aside from the finance. Doing ministry in a shifting [00:22:00] town is a challenge. And I’m careful as a pastor not to talk about it to our people, like the town is the problem. cause we can’t view that way. The Lord has put us in Okmulgee, so we have to be First Baptist Church Okmulgee.

and these people are here, and they’re the ones we’re called to reach. But shifting our ministries to reach 2024 Okmulgee is a challenge. and one that we’re not as equipped for as we should be, or could be, but we’re working at it.

JimBo Stewart: So how many, you talk about, you know, designated accounts and flowers, how many flower rooms do you have?

Brayden Buss: They’re locked, so I don’t know. No, not really. The flower rooms are slowly declining because, again, we, we’re giving ministry to the people and so, there’s a lady in the church who’s really gifted and throwing stuff away, and

JimBo Stewart: You need, you always need somebody in a church revitalization that [00:23:00] is gifted at throwing things away.

Brayden Buss: oh yeah, and she doesn’t ask, so, and I don’t get to blame.

JimBo Stewart: You get plausible deniability.

Brayden Buss: Exactly, and so you find that lady and she starts cleaning stuff out.

JimBo Stewart: There you go. Man, I can share so many stories just like that. That’s so good, man. Just so, just to summarize some of the things that I learned listening to your story. As you have focused one, there’s a few areas where you’ve really kind of honed in on. one is a respect for a church’s legacy, understanding the church, its history, its legacy, its unique dynamic and DNA as a body of Christ.

a missional focus on, shifting demographics and a new community and that we all have to re engage in that way. And, leadership development from within kind of Ephesians 4, 11 through 16, equipping the saints for the work of ministry in that re engaging members in mobilization. Is there anything else [00:24:00] you would want to add as just like a last tag for anybody listening that’s entering into similar revitalization situation?

Brayden Buss: Yeah, probably that, you have to love the church. You know, that’s what Jesus asked Peter. Do you love me?

Because I have a long history with these people, I genuinely love them, and I’m not saying I do it right every time, but they forgive a lot of my mistakes because I genuinely care enough to say, I appreciate you and I love you, and I have found that they’ll love you back when you do that, and that will go way further than you think it will.

JimBo Stewart: So the hometown prophet is seeing some good things when he comes back home.

Brayden Buss: Yeah, in this case I think, so I hope they don’t try to throw me off the cliff like they did Jesus and Nazareth.

JimBo Stewart: Hey, look, man, is there a way that our listeners could be praying for you, your family and, or your church?

Brayden Buss: Yeah, we got the baby. Come in, pray for us in that, and because we [00:25:00] made good hires last round, some of our staff have been stolen by other organizations. Actually what I mean is we’re sending them out as missionaries. That’s what I meant to say. So we’re doing that again two years later, which I guess is the case for many churches, but pray for us, right now as we’re rebuilding some teams again.

JimBo Stewart: Excellent. Would you mind closing us by praying for those that are listening?

Brayden Buss: Yeah, absolutely. Let’s pray. Father, we know that you are good. We know that you love your church. That you love your church so much that you gave your one and only son to pay for her, to be the price of our redemption and our salvation. Father, I pray that you would help us as pastors to care for the flock of God.

I pray that you would remind us of who the Savior is. I pray that you would strengthen our churches, that you’d unite our churches. Father, I pray you’d even bless our churches. And I pray it all in the name of Jesus. Amen.

JimBo Stewart: Amen. Brayden, thanks so much for taking the time to come on today.

Brayden Buss: No, it’s [00:26:00] an honor. Thanks.

Brayden Buss, church revitalization, family, hometown, leadership development, legacy, Love, Luke Holmes, member mobilization, missional focus, oklahoma, okmulgee, Respect for a Church's Legacy

Jimbo Stewart

Replant Bootcamp Co-Host

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