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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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Churches Planting Churches

The vision God is calling us to as an association of Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ here in Texas is worth repeating: to see disciple-making and church planting movements in and through our congregations. From this vision we define our mission simply as “Multiplying Disciples and Churches.” 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.
 
As an association of congregations, it is vital for local congregations to be actively engaged in church planting if we are going to experience a church planting movement. The vision for church planting is not a top-down strategy where the District does church planting for us. Rather we believe that the best church planting comes from local churches raising up and sending out leaders to live on mission and establish new churches.

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Vision for the District

I have the privilege of walking alongside congregational leadership from time to time as they explore their vision, mission, values, and strategies. It is one of my great joys to join them in their process of discovering God’s particular call for their church. And I often seek to impress upon these leaders the importance of not only discovering vision, but also effectively communicating it over and over again.
 
But what about LCMC Texas District? What is the vision God is calling us to as an association of Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ here in Texas? Even though the Texas District discerned vision several years ago, it is worth repeating … and remembering … the call that God has placed before us: to see disciple-making and church planting movements in and through our congregations across Texas. We have distilled this to a mission that more plainly states it: “Multiplying Disciples and Churches.”

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You Can Lead a Horse to Water…

I don’t know about you, but I grew up hearing the wise old proverb: “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” And even though this wise old saying is certainly not in the Bible, I have heard it thrown around in the church so much that it almost makes you think it might be! The saying, which appears to have originated in England during the 12th century, has often been used when giving up on another for his or her inability or unwillingness to do the simple thing that would be most beneficial for him or herself from the perspective of the one repeating the proverb.
 
In the church I have often heard this phrase come up when discussing evangelism. Before we go on, let me be clear: I do believe that there is truth to this proverb as applied to evangelism. It is absolutely true that we can do everything to share the Gospel clearly with someone and yet cannot make them receive it. But more often than not, this proverb is used as a reason to not even try to evangelize instead of describing the reality that occasionally occurs when we do.

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The Expanding Family

by Guest Author Percy Smerek
 
My family has expanded.
 
My children married. That brought some new members, a daughter and sons into my family. Their children have married and I now have a new granddaughter and new grandsons. This is what happens in a real family: People move out and yet expand the family.
 
What happens in the family of God? We stay in the house and the family grows; maybe or maybe not. Our natural children move out and sometimes return to the community, but often move out, but others are filling in spots around us who may not be in the family ever.

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HeBrews 10:24 on the Move in SA

In 2017, I introduced you to Chuck and Azeneth Knudson of New Braunfels who have been called to live on mission and to plant a church in San Antonio. God has given them a great vision to establish a church-owned coffee roasting / coffee shop “business” as a means to engage the Dellview community in ministry while providing sustainable financial support for their new church plant. Unfortunately, this vision has been difficult to live into as more obstacles than we could ever have imagined have interfered and delayed their efforts.
 
But today I have Good News: God is on the move as HeBrews 10:24 has experienced breakthrough in San Antonio! A large, neglected retail space in an old strip center in the heart of Dellview has been offered at a below-market lease rate. This would be an excellent location for a coffee shop and worship space. Located in a redevelopment district, HeBrews 10:24 will have an immediate impact in the community!

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How Will You Be Remembered?

On September 20, my world was rocked with news that my mom had stage III-IV pancreatic cancer. While the doctor said her life could be extended through chemotherapy, her cancer was inoperable and likely terminal. Over the past three months, Mom has suffered through chemo with incredible grace. Even though the cancer and its treatment has taken so much from her, we are so grateful for getting to spend some quality time with Mom since her diagnosis. However, the end of her life on this earth is very much on our minds.
 
During one of my recent visits, Mom asked if I would be willing to have a role in her memorial service. Suddenly my mind began to race as I thought about what to say about the woman who gave me birth; who changed my diapers and bandaged my wounds; who counseled me and coached me; who taught me about Jesus and living life with purpose; who always stood behind me as I grew to be a husband, father, and pastor.

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