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How to Grow Your Church

In my role as Director of Mission Growth, a common question that church members and even some pastors ask me is “How do we grow our church?” I love this question because it tells me a few things about the person asking it. First, the very question itself communicates that the person asking recognizes that their church has a purpose to connect to more people and reveals a “holy discontent” with the present reality. Secondly, the question also informs me that the asker is genuinely interested and open to learning and implementing new ideas. Both having a heart to connect with more people and a teachable spirit are key components to ministry success and congregational revitalization.
 
The question also presents a bit of a challenge: Growing a bigger church should never be the mission of the church! Instead, church growth is a biproduct of a church engaging in and accomplishing its true mission and purpose. So, what is the true mission and purpose of the church? In my opinion, it can be summed up with “connecting people to Jesus.” Exactly what this looks like in each congregation and community can and should be very different: no two congregations are alike; nor are the contexts in which those congregations minister.

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2024… Call to Prayer

For more than a decade, Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC) has invited members of congregations to engage in an intentional period of prayer at the beginning of each year. Known as “Three Days of Prayer”, former LCMC Service Coordinator Mark Vander Tuig established this annual practice to draw our collective attention back to the throne of grace. He boldly shared his conviction that “the church of Jesus Christ will never rise up until it first falls on its knees.”
 
Once again, the call goes out to you and to me. On January 2-4, 2024, we are invited as the body of Christ to follow our Lord Jesus’ example to pray, pray, and pray some more! And if you are reading this message after those specific dates, please set aside your own three days of prayer. There’s nothing special about the particular days themselves, other than it is an annual reminder to set aside an intentional time for focused prayer.

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Advent: More Than a Countdown

As a kid, I LOVED Advent! Why? Because it was a countdown to the best day of the year in the minds of most kids: Christmas! Why? Because Christmas meant PRESENTS! What kid doesn’t love getting to unwrap Christmas presents?!? As I have grown and matured (hopefully) I have come to realize that Advent is so much more than a countdown… it is an invitation to give the best gift of all: God’s grace through Jesus.
 
Entering the season of Advent, we are reminded of the extraordinary gift of God’s grace given in the advent or arrival of Emmanuel (God with us), Jesus. As we anticipate the Christmas celebration and reflect upon the gift of God’s grace in sending His son, I can’t help but take note of what I think is often overlooked: our call to share that grace with others. Advent is a season of intentional love and outreach in Jesus’ name.

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All Hands on Deck: Training Church Leaders

I recently returned from LCMC’s Annual Gathering in Missouri. It was a great Gathering, as always. This year’s theme was “All Hands on Deck” and reflected our present need for the whole church to offer ourselves, and all our gifts and abilities, to Christ and his Kingdom-building ministry in the world. Our association (along with many other denominations) is facing a leadership crisis. As pastors retire or leave full-time vocational ministry, not enough new people are entering to keep pace. Simply put, we no longer have enough active pastors for established congregations, never mind planting new ones!
 
The reality is that the old models that previously sustained leadership development for the American church for over a century have been in trouble for a generation or more. While some sounded the alarm 25 years ago, it has only been in the past few years that the issue has become front and center. At this year’s Gathering, our association had the courage to address this directly. Hundreds of pastors and other congregational representatives met in focus groups to share ideas, listen to concerns, and pray for God to raise up future leaders to lead our congregations in mission for Christ.

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Lord, Open Our Eyes!

Have you ever found yourself reading a familiar Bible story when suddenly you are struck with a revelation? Isn’t it a joy to read and receive Good News in fresh ways?!?
 
Recently I was reading Matthew 20 and read once again the story of Jesus healing two blind men along the road outside of
Jericho. Jesus performed so many miracles and healings that we are prone to sometimes gloss over them and miss the
magnitude of what is happening. Compared to his many other miracles, this one can seem mundane.
 
In this particular story, the two blind men had heard that Jesus was going to be passing by on the road. So, they began
crying out to Jesus: “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” While the crowds sought to shush them, the blind men were
persistent in their cries. Hearing their persistence, Jesus calls out to the blind men, “What do you want me to do?” The men
replied “Lord, open our eyes.” Jesus healed their sight and immediately they followed Jesus.

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Mission: More Than a Middle Name

As an association of congregations, I love our name: Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ. It brilliantly captures our aspirations: a network of autonomous congregations united by a Lutheran theological foundation and a common commitment to a greater mission for Jesus Christ in the world!
 
We recognize four core values that shape our association. We are 1) Free in Christ, 2) Accountable to One Another, 3) Rooted in the Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions, and 4) Working Together to Fulfill Christ Great Commission to Go and Make Disciples of All Nations. While all values are important, it is the fourth one that defines our purpose… our mission.
 
Yet as I survey our congregations, this fourth value is far less obvious. If you were to ask someone to observe our member congregations and describe our association based on what our churches are doing and how they are spending time and resources, I doubt that our mission to go make disciples of all nations would be noted as our clear and obvious purpose.

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Gathered & SENT

As I sit down to write this article, my mind is full of all the last-minute arrangements that are yet to be completed for our 2023 District Gathering in New Braunfels, Texas. Yet as many of you read this, the Gathering itself will already be in the rearview mirror. I am praying for a wonderful Gathering that inspires and empowers God’s people to be SENT by Jesus to be his witnesses in the world!
 
Our theme this year is SENT and is derived from Jesus giving the Great Commission in Acts 1:8, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” It is my firm belief that the church is defined by its mission. We do not simply occupy space in this world while consuming resources. We are SENT by Jesus for a mission! The challenge is for each person, and every congregation to discern what that looks like in your day-to-day life in your community and context.
 
I would like to invite you to take inventory of all the activities that occupy your day-to-day life, both personally as well as for your church. Typically, our lives are filled with those activities that could be broadly categorized in one of three groups: activities required to sustain life, the things that we enjoy, and then everything else! While it may be worth analyzing the stewardship of all three categories, it is this third that needs our greatest attention.

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It’s Gathering Time! #SENT2023

Each year one of our highlights as a District is to come together for what we call our Annual Gathering. If you’ve been before, then you know what a treat it is! LCMC Texas has Gathered each summer since it’s inception in 2009 with only one exception in 2020. On July 28-29, our District will gather for the 14th Annual Gathering at St. Paul’s, New Braunfels! I hope you will make plans to join us this year!
 
Our theme for the 2023 Gathering is SENT, based on Acts 1:8. As Jesus gathered with his disciples in his final moments before ascending into heaven, he sent them out saying “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” What does it look like to be sent by Jesus in 2023? What does your Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and ends of the earth look like for you and your congregation as you respond in faith to Jesus’ commissioning?
 
We are privileged to welcome Pastor Tilaye Daba to be our keynote speaker this year. Tilaye is the Director of the Global Mission Society for the largest and fastest growing Lutheran church body in the world: Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus. He has dedicated his life to the mission of Jesus and been a leader in evangelism and theological education.

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What exactly is Harvest Workers?

Four years ago, a group of pastors began dreaming about what it might look like to create an online ministry training program that was affordable, accessible, and effectively equipped those God was calling to greater ministry with a solid biblical and theological foundation while emphasizing practical mission and ministry instruction. After all, if we were ever going to plant and revitalize churches, we needed to invest in developing more mission-minded leaders. These conversations eventually led to the Texas District’s most ambitious project to date: Harvest Workers!
 
The program we set out to develop was not intended to be a seminary. Instead, we envisioned a ministry training program for those for whom traditional seminary might not be affordable, accessible, or the best fit. Harvest Workers actually inverts the emphasis of most seminary programs: instead of emphasizing academic studies in Bible and theology while providing a basic introduction to practical ministry, Harvest Workers introduces students to biblical and theological studies while diving more deeply into a wide variety of practical courses in mission and ministry.

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Wants and Needs

One of the things that I love the most about my job is when I get invited to walk alongside congregations in pastoral transition. When a church council or call team asks me to share my thoughts on best practices for a good call process, one piece of advice seems to surprise them more than any other: Do not ask “What do we want in a pastor?”
 
As I speak these words, exasperated church leaders stare back at me and occasionally someone gives voice to the look on their collective faces: “How else are we supposed to figure out what to look for in our next pastor?!?” The answer lies in the sage wisdom passed down from generation to generation in understanding the difference between wants and needs.
 
Parents of young children learn to make this distinction with their sons and daughters. At some point we all learn the hard truth that we don’t always get what we want in life. Instead, we should rejoice and give thanks to God as he provides for our basic human needs. In our faith communities we are reminded of God’s goodness of provision as we pray and ask him to do it again in the Lord’s prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.”

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How Deep the Father’s Love for You and…

On Sunday, February 26 at 3:28 p.m. I got the kind of phone call that every parent dreads. My youngest son was calling… for a second time. I was in Zoom meeting and had ignored his first call. In our family, we have a code: if the first call goes unanswered and it is an emergency, call back a second time.
 
“Dad, I’m pretty sure my car is totaled. I’m really sorry.” My heart stopped. “Are you okay?” I asked. He replied, “I’m okay, but I’m pretty sure the car is totaled!” I responded, “I don’t even care about that right now, as long as you are okay!” He later was able to describe what happened, that another car lost control around a curve and came into his lane and collided with him head-on.
 
Oh, how it could have been so much more tragic! I really love cars, and I loved my son’s car, but I would much rather mourn a car than my son! Even though he faces lingering challenges of whiplash and the hassles of replacing his car, the main thing is that he was alive…and he was loved and cared for by his mother and father!

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Kingdom Investing

Recently I have had several conversations about finances that have led me to think more deeply and biblically about the subject. Even though the financial realities of investing over the past year and a quarter have been less than enjoyable, I thoroughly enjoy personal finance. I also take great pride (undoubtedly sinfully so) in being a good steward of God’s resources. As a full-time church worker, I am ever mindful of spending the resources entrusted to our ministry with great care. I have pridefully shared with others how much we do together as a district with how little resources we spend doing it like it is some sort of badge of honor.
 
While my sin of pride is something I need to confess and repent, good stewardship of kingdom resources is indeed a good thing. But I recently realized just how stark the difference in mindset can be between personal and ministry finances. In the name of good stewardship of precious resources, we in the church tend to strictly guard the financial resources entrusted to us. When dollars are spent, we often see it as kissing them goodbye! If this is the case, it is no wonder we think twice before parting with these dollars!

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