It used to be that when Christian missionaries went to far off places like Africa and Asia to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ they assumed that their job was to bring God into a place that God hadn’t ever been before. What missionaries have come to realize in recent years is that there is nowhere on this earth that God is not already at work. More often now missionaries begin by asking: “What is God up to in this place?” That question then becomes the first step, to see what God is already doing among whatever people they find themselves with. If they don’t ask this question they might miss the amazing and wonderful things that God is doing.
“What is God up to in this place?” is a question that you will hear from me a great deal, especially in our first few months together. In part I will ask because I don’t know. How is it that God works among the people of Bethlehem Lutheran Church and how is it that the people here respond to God’s gifts and the call to use those gifts in service of the neighbor? I know that there are many wonderful ministries that nearly all of you take part in. From copying the bulletin, to leading the choir, to reaching out to the needs of the community, it is already clear to me that nearly everyone in this community has a part to play, large or small. Finding out what God is up to in this place means, in part, finding out the many (often hidden) ways that you all serve here.
I also ask “What is God up to in this place?” because as we seek new directions and new energy for the life of our congregation this is a question we should all be asking ourselves. Our job is not to figure out the most amazing strategy for church growth or to attract as many people as we can and get them to give as much money as they can. Instead, our job (both as a community and individually) is to prayerfully discern what God is calling us to do in this time and in this place. You see, God already has a dream for this community, already has a plan and a way to make things happen here. Our task is to not get in the way of God’s working through us, and little by little to clue into what it is that God has in store for us. “What is God up to in this place?” I’m not sure, but I’m looking forward to figuring it out with all of you.