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To the churches of Medina and Streeter, the loyal children in the faith we all share:
Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior, together one with the Holy Spirit.
If there was one word that could drop a Lutheran dead in their tracks it would be the word Evangelism. Often times that word carries a connotation of young men going around door-to-door unashamedly asking the residents, “Do you know where you are going if you were to die tonight?” For a variety of reasons this act of evangelism has never really gained traction within the Lutheran Church as a whole, and I would assume the same has held true for our specific Lutheran churches throughout the years as well. The truth is we, Lutherans as a whole, seemed to have become very content with sitting back and waiting for “new” people to come find us, and join our ranks as contributing members. As such, living out our calling as Christians to “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) has unfortunately fallen to the wayside. However, in the 5th chapter of their book Discovering Hope: Building Vitality in Rural Congregations, authors David Poling-Goldenne and L. Shannon Jung make the claim that one of the reasons the churches in their study of effective rural congregations are effective and vital, is how they approach evangelism.
What is surprising here, however, is that the way they go about evangelism is not in the way that one would expect. These rural congregations that have shown themselves to be effective are not going about evangelism as a program of the church, or as a function of a specific committee within the church, but instead is an integral part of everything the church does, and it begins for them with relationships. Poling-Goldenne and Jung write, “Not one of the congregations in the research study reported going door-to-door proselytizing. Instead, the focus is on helping the people of the congregation to invite others from within their natural webs of relationships: their friends, relatives, neighbors, and business and school associates” (61). The people in these vital rural congregations are engaging in evangelism simply by sharing their faith with the people they are already having conversations with on a day to day basis, and then inviting them into a relationship with the church. The understanding here is that the relationship with the church is not just a relationship with a building or the people in the building but with Christ Jesus himself.
In these vital, effective rural congregations evangelism becomes the work of every single person. While the pastor of these congregations serve as the chief evangelist, through preaching, teaching, and encouragement, the pastor is not and probably will not be the most effective evangelist in the church (61). The most effective evangelists are those who are sitting in the pews; from those who have been life-long church members, all the way down to those who are just beginning their faith journey. What these churches have discovered is that the most effective people to be inviting others into a relationship with Jesus through the church is the youth. But it is important to recognize, here, that they become such effective inviters by having a good model from the adults in their lives.
The main take away I took from this chapter on Discovering Hope is that there is no cookie cutter way to approach evangelism other than sharing the faith and relationship that we have with Jesus through our church with those around us. We cannot take what works in Fargo, for instance, and assume that it will automatically work here in Streeter and Medina as well. The only constant between effective churches, in regards to evangelism, is that it begins and ends with us sharing our faith with others. For us, the Lutheran churches of the Medina-Streeter Lutheran Parish, it begins with how we end each and every worship service. Living out our call to be God’s shepherds, doing God’s work daily. And not just saying those words, but actually doing it in our everyday lives.
Grace be with all of you,
Greetings to you all, in the name of our Lord and Savior, our Emmanuel, the Christ child Jesus.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!
As we begin this new year of 2016 we are given a chance to reflect upon the year we have just left behind and look ahead to the year that stands before us. As is common among people worldwide, this is the time to look at where we are in our lives and see what areas we need to improve in our lives and which parts we should probably consider getting rid of all together. These resolutions give us an outline for how we want the next year of our lives to go. The same practice should be done within organizations as well, including churches. As we continue on in our series of Discovering Hope we are given the opportunity to do just that.
Last month we focused on the foundation of building hope and vitality in our rural and multipoint parish: worship. This month we get to build upon that foundation. At the end of Matthew’s gospel we are given words from Jesus in which he implores his followers, and us as well, to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (28:19-20, NRSV). The apostle Paul echoes this commission from our Lord by speaking to the growing church in Colossae saying, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:16-17, NRSV).
What we see from these texts is that we are to make disciples, but in order to make disciples we ourselves must first be disciples. This is done, starting with the foundation of worship, and then building upon that foundation through bible study, devotions, prayer, etc. Making discipleship a priority in the life of the congregation and the people therein. In our book of focus, focus Discovering Hope: Building Vitality in Rural Congregations, the authors, David Poling-Goldenne and L. Shannon Jung, make this point by using the analogy of a dead car battery. They say, “Jump-starting a discipleship focus in a congregation is not unlike turning over a near empty or dead battery in a car. The battery must be connected to a power source that is running and fully charged” (47). In short Poling-Goldenne and Jung are saying that in order to make disciples we must be fully charged disciples ourselves. This is done through worship, but also through intentional daily devotionals, prayer, spending time in the scriptures, and continually learning from God through bible study. The congregations that participated in the study for this book saw the greatest revitalization when they began “turning up the temperature on Bible study, learning, and discipleship” (47).
This, however, can be a stumbling block for some congregations and the people therein. A common misconception is that once you have completed the requirements for confirmation, a person no longer has to spend time learning and growing in their faith. In this sense confirmation is more like a graduation. But the truth is learning and growing in the faith is a lifelong process, and it is difficult to learn and grow without actively engaging in some sort of faith formation. Worship is a great starting point, but that is only about 1 hour a week. Worship should then be seen as the starting point, followed up then with Bible Studies, Devotions, Prayer, or other such daily or weekly faith formation practices.
Now, it is one thing for me as your pastor to be fired up about discipleship and discipleship formation programs, but my enthusiasm in this area can only go so far. It also takes enthusiasm from lay people within the parish that want to be a part of the programs currently going on or to actively seek out new ways in order for this to occur. As Poling-Goldenne and Jung point out, “While pastors have a significant role in shaping this culture, clearly it doesn’t necessarily begin or end with the pastors. Indeed, in each of these settings, lay leaders carry the vision deep into the congregation” (48). Currently, looking at the landscape of the churches of the Medina-Streeter Parish, it appears that most of the faith formation is happening for the people in the congregations between the ages of five and eighteen. We do have our WELCA bible studies in each church, and in Medina we have the MOPS group that has started and a weekly text study trying to get off the ground. And in each church we have people who receive quarterly devotional materials through the Christ in our Home publication. Now, don’t get me wrong, these are wonderful programs to have and we should continually strive to make them as accessible and meaningful for as many of our adult age people as well. But, I can’t help but wonder, is there more we can do in order to ensure that we are fully charging our batteries when it comes to discipleship?
This book offered some great insights into some new ways that we as a parish can consider implementing. Not necessarily changing the way we are doing things now, but looking at ways in which we can build upon the foundation of what we have already started to build when it comes to discipleship. As we begin this new year, let us as a parish do so by making a resolution to get more active in our formation of our discipleship and use that to help us continue to grow and be a vital rural and multipoint parish. As you go about setting your personal resolutions this year, I would strongly encourage you to think about what a resolution for your own faith formation and discipleship would look like, and how that could help you in fulfilling Jesus’ great commission to make disciples of all nations, while also keeping in mind that Christ will be with you, even to the end of the age.
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