Pastor’s Report on ministry in 2008
This past year has been one of beginning to live into our Guiding Principles. It was one year ago that our congregation met as over a foot of snow fell outside around us (which seemed like a lot at the time) and committed to six Guiding Principles: Jesus is Lord and Savior, Everyone is welcome, Love changes people, We are called to work in God’s world, God uses ordinary people like us, and God shows the way. We had spent many months previously in prayer and conversation about what the central principles were for the ministry God was calling Bethlehem Lutheran to be about. These six statements emerged, newly articulated but core to what this community has held central from the beginning. And for 12 months we have been living those principles out in many ways—figuring out what they mean for us and the purpose God has for us in the world. And we have only just begun this adventure.
Some mission moments that have come from our living out our Guiding Principles:
The ministry of caring at
Our connection to our synod and other Lutheran congregations in our area has grown a great deal in this past year. Where once we were cut off from our neighbors in faith, we are now becoming ever more connected and interconnected. The synod assembly this year included a whole host of mission workshops which were open to not only delegates, but all the people of our congregations—and many of you went and learned some amazing things about mission and how to be a part of what God is up to in the world (and have been putting that to use here at Bethlehem). For one of these workshops, our congregation was asked to share the story of how God has been working through us in Transformational Ministry. I heard just the other day that the story of our struggle and how God has been present through it (and transforming us) has inspired a small rural congregation in another part of our state to renewed hope for their congregation too. Our connections with the other Lutheran Churches in our cluster over the past several years has this year shifted into a real sense of collaborative ministry—which has been named “Lutherans Together.” Beginning with shared youth ministries, this relationship is evolving to include a network of small groups for young adults, and likely soon a network of Bible studies throughout our congregations. And that’s just the beginning of where God is leading us together. God uses ordinary people like us. God shows the way.
The work of the church council has been transformed in the past 12 months. When I first got here nearly three years ago, church council meetings were exhausting 3-4 hour marathons in which the common complaint was “But we never actually DO anything!” For the past year we have spent the first 45 minutes of our meetings—before any business or discussion—in prayer, scripture reading, and worship. We pray for our congregation and for what God dreams for us, we pray for the world, we pray for those in need, and we pray for one another. We share the Lord’s Supper, and invite God to be present in our meetings—to show us the way. And you know what? The meetings rarely go over 2 hours—even with less time for “business.” We’ve remembered that our first business as the people of God, and as leaders of God’s church, is prayer. And so much more is getting done. The miracle this year which you will see today is that we actually have more people running for council than there are spots to fill. Jesus is Lord and Savior. God shows the way.
Another mission moment has come through this transformation in the council. Rather than spending all our council time doing all the work of the church and making all the decisions, our council is shifting into a new mode. No longer to we see our task as “gatekeepers” limiting what goes on at Bethlehem, but instead we are vision shapers and permission givers—helping to shape the vision of where God is calling us, and to get people in our congregation to participate in making that a reality. When conversations about changes to our church property came up, our council appointed a task force to listen to God’s calling for the use of our property, shape a purpose statement to reflect this, and empowered them to get to work making it a reality. This task force would be led by our property chairperson—who no longer needed to be a council member. Through prayer, Bible study, and conversation the task force appointed by our council came up with this statement: The purpose of Bethlehem Lutheran Church’s property is to make clear that everyone is welcome and help everyone encounter God in this place. The task force then set about thinking of ways to make our property more in line with this purpose—and began to dream some dreams for the
These stories, and the many others like them, give me great hope about the future of our congregation and its place in God’s mission in and for the world. But there are a few areas which we have not engaged as fully as I have hoped, and that will be some of the primary work ahead of us in the year to come. One is developing and stating a purpose statement not just for our church property, but for our church community as a whole. The question before us is: What specific role is God calling us to play in what God is up to in the world? The second area is renewing our connection to our neighborhood and to our neighbors. The second set of questions we need to ask ourselves (which are harder to ask, let alone answer) are: If Bethlehem Lutheran blipped out of existence tomorrow, would our neighbors care? Would they even notice? How are we making the Good News of Jesus real and present in the lives of our neighbors?
Answers to these questions are already beginning to bubble up among us, and God is already at work making these dreams a reality. Our call is to respond to this task and through prayer, Bible study, and conversation to engage in the tasks before us. What an exciting time and place to be the church! Isn’t Transformation fun?