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What Are We Devoting Ourselves To?

The Day of Pentecost is upon us this year on May 31. Each year we pause to celebrate the birthday of the church and the day when the Holy Spirit was made manifest in powerful ways in and through the followers of Jesus as recounted in the second chapter of Acts. It is a day to remember that the Holy Spirit continues to work in and through the followers of Jesus today in small and mighty ways and to pray for God to revive and renew the Church through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. It is indeed my prayer that the Day of Pentecost is a beautiful celebration and that Holy Spirit once again moves with power in and through followers of Jesus the world over.
 
But perhaps even more important than the activity on the Day of Pentecost is what happens next. In Acts 2:42-47 we read about what the followers of Jesus were up to after this glorious day: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. … They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

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What Business Are We In?

A colleague recently sent me a thought-provoking article entitled “Leading Beyond the Blizzard” by Andy Crouch, Kurt Keilhacker, and Dave Blanchard. The article posed important questions for businesses and organizations to consider in light of the COVID-19 Pandemic. The authors suppose that this crisis that we are currently in will significantly reshape culture like nothing anyone alive today has seen before. They forecast that we are not in a blizzard (like many first thought) during which time we hunker down to wait out the passing storm, nor is it a bleak extended season of winter in which we long for spring to eventually arrive, but rather that COVID-19 is perhaps ushering in the beginning of an ice age that could endure for years to come.
 
Whether or not the result of this crisis is a long winter or the beginning of an ice age, the authors suggest that organizations, including the church, need to redefine our business as COVID-19 has shut us down: “If your nonprofit organization depends on gathering people in medium or large groups – and it is truly daunting to consider how many do, whether for fundraising banquets, afterschool programs, or in the case of churches for corporate worship – you are not in the same business today. And this is not just a blizzard that you can wait out.”

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The Church is ___________ ?

When I have the opportunity to preach, I enjoy engaging the congregation. Sometimes, I’ll bring along a beach ball and play a game. I’ll pass the beach ball around the sanctuary and whoever catches it completes the sentence, “The church is _________.” I find this to be a fun way to get to hear all sorts of thoughts or images about the church before launching into my sermon.
 
I’d like to share with you a new way I’ve begun to think about the church: The church is more than a Sunday gathering. As the COVID-19 Pandemic systematically shuts down life in America as we know it, we are quickly having to adjust ministry in response to this new reality. I understand the frustrations that so many have, especially in remote small towns and rural places that feel so far removed from the problems of the more densely populated urban and suburban cities. You may be asking, “Why do we have to adjust our ministry when we feel safe?”

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More Than Counting

Imagine having the opportunity to get to know people in your own community in a non-threatening way. Just think about what you might learn if you could go door-to-door through neighborhoods and ask basic questions of the people who live there. Now envision getting paid while gathering this information that will help you lead your congregation to better minister to the people who live all around you.
 
Every 10 years, the United States Census Bureau hires part-time, temporary census workers to work in their own communities. Personally, I can’t think of a better opportunity for Christians to take a fresh look at the people who live around our churches than to participate in the Census. And good news: you can still apply! Schedules are flexible to work around your life, but typically require 20 hours per week of evening and weekend work, May to July. Employees are paid for training and reimbursed for travel in addition to a generous hourly wage. To learn more and apply online, go to 2020census.gov/jobs.

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Recipe for Community Ministry: The Left Out

In over four years here in Texas serving as a mission coach, I have often been asked what a church can do to revitalize its ministry and grow? I firmly believe any congregation can by responding to God’s call to engage in the kind of ministry Jesus did and reach out to the least, the lost, and the left out. Jesus gives us this recipe for community ministry in Luke 15 through the stories of the lost coin, the lost son, and the lost sheep.
 
In Luke 15:4-7, Jesus engages his listeners in a little story about sheep: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’” Commentators will often note that a shepherd wouldn’t leave the ninety-nine alone, but with other shepherds and often in some sort of safe enclosure or pen. And I believe this points to the scandal in Jesus’ story: that this shepherd leaves the 99 in the open and vulnerable in order to rescue the one who is lost. For me it begs the question, “who would do that?” The answer: Jesus.
 

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Recipe for Community Ministry: The Lost

What can your church do to grow? I believe God is calling every congregation to engage in the kind of ministry Jesus did and reach out to the least, the lost, and the left out in your community. Jesus gives us this recipe for community ministry in Luke 15 through the stories of the lost coin, the lost son, and the lost sheep.

In Luke 15:11-32, Jesus tells a story about a son who does the unthinkable and asks his father for his share of the inheritance while his father is still very much alive! Worse yet, this son goes and squanders all he was given in “foolish living.” He literally financially bankrupted himself pursuing a morally bankrupt life! He hit rock bottom and found himself longing to eat the food he was feeding to pigs. He decides to return home and confess his sin and ask his father for mercy and to hire him. As Jesus tells the story, while the son was still a long way off, the father sees his son, runs to him, throws his arms around him and kissed him! He throws a party to celebrate the return of his lost son and welcomes him back in the family. Oh, the love of the father!


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Recipe for Community Ministry: The Least

I am often asked what churches can do to grow. I have found myself repeatedly encouraging congregations to engage in the kind of ministry Jesus did and reach out to the least, the lost, and the left out in your community. I believe Jesus gives us this recipe for community ministry in Luke 15 through the stories of the lost coin, the lost son, and the lost sheep.
 
In Luke 15:8-10, Jesus tells a parable of a woman who loses a single coin and turns her house upside down to find it. When she finds it, she calls together her friends and neighbors to celebrate. Biblical scholars point out that the monetary value of the lost coin was miniscule. Who among us would waste our time searching for a penny?! And who of us would throw a party when we found one?! From our perspective, it is just a coin of low value. But Jesus shares that what we see as insignificant is in fact of great value in God’s economy!
 

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Recipe for Community Ministry

Ever since the invention of the written language, people have recorded recipes. Handed down from one generation to another, and from one friend to another, we pass on the secret to culinary delights that have been discovered by or passed on to us. Recipes of old were often a bit vague and assumed a certain familiarity with the baking or cooking process. I saw some of my grandmother’s recipe cards that sometimes were little more than an ingredient list. Measurements might be “a pinch of this” or “a dash of that.” Recipes today have gotten specific with every detail and measurement precisely identified to leave no room for error. If followed to the letter, reliable results can be repeated time and again the world over regardless of the chef or baker.
 
I am often asked what churches can do to grow. People want to know what the secret recipe is to successful ministry today. Ultimately, I believe they are looking for a specific recipe that, if followed to the letter, will produce reliable results. This sort of copy and paste approach to ministry never really works. However, I do believe Jesus gives us a recipe for community ministry that can produce reliably faithful results, but it looks more like some of the recipes I remember my grandmother using: “a pinch of this,” and “a dash of that!”
 

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Is God Pruning His Church?

Yesterday morning in two consecutive and unrelated phone calls, the person on the other end of each call made a reference to God pruning the church. I don’t know about you, but the topic of pruning doesn’t typically come up in my conversations: not daily, weekly, or even monthly! So when it was brought up twice in unrelated conversations within an hour, I figured God just might be trying to get my attention!
 
Before yesterday, I remember the last time I had a conversation with someone about pruning. In early August, I went to visit my dad in Iowa and he had just finished cutting the dead branches out of a three-story vine that had been left to grow for several years up the entire side of his house. Apparently, a late freeze had killed more than half of the vine, so my dad cut out only the dead branches, leaving all the branches that still showed signs of life. And the vine now looks terrible, so Dad and I discussed pruning even the living branches to promote new growth and to help revitalize the vine.
 

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Lessons from a Short-Term Mission Trip

Five years ago, my wife, Lisa, and I had the privilege of leading a group of 10 from our church in North Dakota on a week-long mission trip to Belize. This was the first such mission trip in the church’s 127-year history! Our group consisted of farmers and ranchers in addition to two students. Not a one of us felt particularly well-equipped for what we had agreed to do, but we each answered God’s call to go anyway.
 
We were given a list of optional mission activities for our week and were asked to choose three. When I saw the list, I thought for sure the group would cling to the safety of hands-on projects like construction and painting. Much to my surprise, the group chose children’s ministry, mercy ministry, and evangelism. I was shocked, excited, and scared all at the same time! What will we do? How will we do it? Lord, help us!

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Training Workers for the Harvest

As a District here in Texas, we believe that God is calling us to multiply disciples and churches. To support our congregations in this mission, we are committed to church planting, church revitalization, and leadership development. In this “Mission Moment,” we explore our work in the area of leadership development.
 
Healthy, disciple-making and multiplying churches need healthy and well-trained leaders. While every congregation is called to develop leaders, we believe that this is a vital area for our District to provide support. Therefore, we host our Annual Gathering and Pre-Gathering Seminars each Summer; regional Reboot | Retool | Refuel workshops in the Spring and Fall; and our Winter Leadership Retreat in Concan. We are grateful that these events help leaders with opportunities for education, inspiration, encouragement, and spiritual renewal.

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Church Revitalization: Getting Moving Again

As a District here in Texas, we believe that God is calling our association of Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ to multiply disciples and churches. And to support our congregations in accomplishing this mission, the Texas District is committed to working in three strategic areas: church planting, church revitalization, and leadership development. In this edition of “Mission Moment” we explore the topic of church revitalization.
 
Virtually everyone agrees that church planting is a good idea, but it is also important to assist established congregations in their mission to make disciples.  Long ago, the Texas District recognized the need to support congregations in need of revitalization.  But when does a congregation need to be revitalized?

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