Fall is upon us. The signs are everywhere: waking to the crisp cool air in the morning, leaves showing signs of changing color, college football (need I say more?), and Saturday soccer games with the kids. I love fall, it is my favorite time of year! My wife thinks I am a little crazy, but it reminds me of growing up in Minnesota. As I pen this article I am enjoying one of my favorite seasonal drinks: a frozen pumpkin pie latte. Fall is definitely here. Ahhh.
As we move from one season to the next, whether we like it or not, we move through a change of sorts. Summer to fall, fall to winter, winter to spring, and the cycle goes on. Speaking of seasonal change, as a church we are moving from one season to another. Even though we may be headed into a new season of church life at Redeemer, the God of the Seasons lovingly has His hand upon us breathing the fresh wind of His Spirit upon His people.
There has been a lot of conversation at church about various ministry enhancement projects, but if you are like me, you wonder why go through all the effort? Wouldn’t it be easier just to keep doing what we have always been doing? Well yes, it would certainly be easier, but that is not what Jesus called us to when He led us to become His disciples. Jesus clearly says in Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” In my Bible these are “red letter” words, meaning, they are words Christ Himself spoke. They are some of the final words He spoke to His disciples. Since they are Jesus’ final words, they are words that will stick in their memory, a place of both encouragement and challenge. Basically, Jesus is saying, “If you follow me, this is who you are, you are my witnesses.” Jesus did not put this up for some vote, but it is our God-given task from now until we are called to our heavenly home. The disciples were sold out on the mission of sharing Jesus, willing to do whatever it took to reach those on the fringe with the Gospel’s life-transforming message of forgiveness.
These are words the Church needs to heed once again. We have become lulled into institutional succor rather than “being” the Church for the sake of the community. A recent article from The Lutheran Layman highlights striking statistics about our own church-body. Do you ever look around at the world around us and wonder where it is all headed? Community and Church are radically changing right before our eyes. The question is, will we just continue to let these changes happen or will we be proactive about what stands before us and where it is all headed. According to this article, within the LCMS in 2010, 54% of churches reported no adult Confirmations while 11% reported 1 adult Confirmand. Combining these totals reveals a whopping 64% of LCMS congregations had 0-1 adults brought to faith. Since the 1970s membership has plateaued and turned toward decline. According to more recent statistics, 87% of LCMS churches have either plateaued or are in a state of decline. Think about that statistic for a moment: 87% of churches are not growing, and are in fact, in decline. They are dying. Are we okay with this? I hope not. Read on:
Imagine the names of all the LCMS congregations that did not report any adult confirmation last year flashing in front of you. If you watched from the beginning, seeing all the Advent Lutheran Churches, through all the Epiphanies, St. Johns, St. Matthews, and St. Martinis, until you got to the last Zion Lutheran Church, how long would it take at the rate of one per second? The answer is 53 minutes. (The Lutheran Layman, 7)
Ouch! These words are not meant to be morbid or down on the Church. I absolutely love and adore the Church, that is why this article was written. The Church is the Bride of Christ, God’s chosen vehicle to share the Gospel with the world. I want there to actually be a church for future generations of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to be a part of in a vibrant way. I dream of a Church that engages the community in a meaningful way, discipling toward a missional movement both inside and outside the church’s walls. Thus, it is imperative that we, as Church, take the first step by seeking ways to engage our community once again. God uses us as His “witnesses”, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to carry out His mission.
On Sunday, September 23, Dr. William Utech, a professor at Concordia Seminary (St. Louis) joined us for a healthy dialogue around the issues highlighted above, focusing largely on the Church and its mission. As people of God we have been entrusted with a mina. The question is, what are we going to do with it (I encourage you to read Luke 19:11-28)? In Jesus’ own words: “…Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” (Luke 12:48) What are we doing with the mina in our hands? Keeping it to ourselves? Sharing it? Nurturing it? We have been blessed to be a blessing to someone else. At times we need words of challenge to draw us into action. Yes, the words of Jesus are certainly comforting, but they are also extremely challenging. Thankfully we live under the grace of God, a constant source of hope when we fall short. One comment Dr. Utech made keeps running through my mind: “Are you willing to do whatever it takes to reach people with the Gospel in a way that they can hear it?” What a powerful question! So are we? Are we willing to do whatever it takes to reclaim a distracted generation who have lost their way? I hope so. That’s the call of a “witness”, to share the Gospel through words and action to a watching world.
Personally, one of my big “aha” moments surrounded a section Dr. Utech highlighted four main pillars upon which a healthy, missionally engaging church is built. It is something I had never heard of before, but it makes complete sense and fits very well within our discipleship model of “Gather, Grow, and Go”. Basically, the model describes an overall process of mission and ministry for a church as it works to lead people from the fringe (someone “lost”) toward a living relationship with Jesus Christ as well as His Body (someone “found”). As a faith community leads people from being “lost” to “found” the bridge that most effectively reaches into people’s lives is one that includes the following four pillars at the base of the bridge:
(1) Community Engagement
(2) The Sunday Experience
(4) Servant Leadership
Within each of the above pillars, there is not necessarily movement through a sequential order in their placement but they certainly impact each other in a synergistic way. Right now, much of our dialogue at Redeemer has been around the enhancement of the pillar around the Sunday Experience, but as you can see, we are at the beginning stages of deeper conversations as they relate to the other three pillar areas. There is not enough time and space to go deeper on this now, but I plan on talking about each pillar in future articles. So I encourage you to join with me as we explore what living upon this bridge might look like at Redeemer: What steps should be considered? Is there anything preventing us from moving forward with sharing the Gospel with those God in the community has placed us? How might we better engage our community? There are many questions to wrestle with as we consider how to be a “witness” for Jesus in the place God has stationed us as a missional outpost.
Bottom line, words cannot express how proud I am of you and how you are engaging the ministry development process we are currently traveling upon. This is not for the faint of heart. It would be much easier to keep doing the status quo. As I look around on Sunday morning and during various meetings through the week I observe people, such as yourself, wrestling with meaty issues facing the Church today. I am so proud to be your pastor! It is not an easy road we are traveling upon, but as disciples of Jesus, this is the historical and cultural context in which God has placed us. It is the road God has placed us on. Living at this moment in history as a Christian is an exciting time, one which forces us to lean upon God’s guidance as He shepherds us through the dark valley of shadows to the other side!
Can you feel the winds shifting? Can you see the leaves beginning to change? A new season is upon us. True, seasons come and seasons go, but the good news in the midst of the shifting tide is that Christ is inside us, leading us toward a great tomorrow. Let us move to where He is leading, jumping feet-first toward the marvelous plan He has already prepared for us as His dearly loved Church. What this particular plan looks like, nobody knows, but God alone. Trust His capable, strong hand. He has navigated the Church through even darker seasons in the past, and I firmly believe He will do so once again. In the meantime, we have been given a task by the Lord Himself, to be His “witnesses” to a lost and confused generation. The time is now, my friend, for the Church to stand up to let His light shine in us and through us upon a dark, dark place! I take solace in Paul’s words:
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
I love the season of fall! Don’t you? At the end of the day, as we move from one season to the next, it means spring is just around the corner! Ahh, spring!
Sold out for Jesus!