As we mark the arrival of 2007 there is more to celebrate than simply a New Year. This year, Bethlehem begins a process of transformation. During the time Pastor Jeremiah was here, you as a congregation and your leaders on the church council spent a great deal of time and energy reflecting on the identity of Bethlehem Lutheran Church, and where it might be that God is calling us. A big part of that was in the call process, making the leap of faith to call a new pastor rather than some of the other (and frankly, cheaper) options that were before you. Listening to you all talk about this over the past several months, I hear in this decision a deep trust that God is calling Bethlehem to a new ministry, to be the Church in a new way, and that a bold step in faith was needed.
But you also knew that a new pastor was not going to be a fix-all, and so Bethlehem took another bold step in faith, linking itself to the division for Evangelical Outreach and Congregational Ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Through this branch of our wider Church, the ELCA assists congregations in re-centering their congregational lives and ministries into mission. It does this in part financially—we will receive $30,000 over the next three years to aid in our mission—but also through training, support, and by holding us accountable. The ELCA has structured this assistance into what it calls “Transformational Ministry.”
Transformation begins by the recognition by the congregation that the future that “business as usual” is ultimately leading is the death of the congregation. This is a difficult thing to recognize and come to terms with, but is essential to the process of renewed life and mission. Some sort of radical change needs to take place—new leadership (both pastor and lay leaders), a new vision, a new sense of ministry, a new way of being the Church in our time and place—so that we can participate in the mission into which God is calling us.
This is where we as a community are right now. We’re aware that something needs to change, that we need to listen to the call of God and allow the Holy Spirit to transform us into something new. Just where it is that God is calling us, or who it is God wishes us to be, is not so clear—but we trust that God has an amazing transformation in store for us.
A part of this transformation process is a “Transformational Ministry” training in Seattle that a delegation of leaders from our congregation will be attending in March. During this four day training we will learn the skills and concepts that have helped many other congregations transform from a focus on “maintenance” and move into “mission”—and thereby transform from shrinking congregations with a lack of community into healthy and growing congregations empowered with a sense of God’s call and sent out into the world. They have found that churches focused on survival tend to struggle and turn inward, churches focused on mission find renewed purpose and turn outward, and find that people are drawn to be a part of the mission God is calling them to. The call of transformation is to become a community in mission.
These are exciting times to be a part of Bethlehem Lutheran Church and I hope that you too will take up God’s call to be a part of this transformation. Please pray diligently for our leaders and for our whole congregation as we enter into this time of transformation. Happy New Year!