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Competition or Cooperation?

Since the earliest days of the church, followers of Jesus have struggled with division and disunity, so it does not come as a surprise when we encounter it in the church today. It is common for me to visit a church and hear members speak with envy about what the other churches in their community are doing. And I get it: I have spent countless hours strategizing how my church could gain in “market share” so to speak! Too often we view our church in competition with others.
 
It is easy to see how this disunity and division must grieve God, especially the attitudes that seek gains for one congregation at the expense of another! But I also see that God may be at work in a mysterious way through our earthly divisions. I profess a Lutheran faith because I believe it to be faithful and true as I read scripture. But I also know faithful Methodists, Baptists, Catholics, Anglicans, and others who would earnestly say the same thing about their faith. And I do not think that it is God’s desire that we lock ourselves in a room together until we have hashed out an agreed upon faith so that there would be just one church on earth! Instead, the diversity of the church might be a part of God’s plan to reach the masses.
 
Christian author Ed Stetzer is famous for saying that it will take all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people. And while I still hold to the truth of our Lutheran faith, Stetzer makes a point that is worth paying attention to. What if churches stopped viewing one another as competition? What if we started to see that together we are on the same team and each playing a different role towards a common goal? What if the prize to be won were the unchurched instead of the “other-churched?” What if Christian communities celebrated one another’s kingdom victories instead of being jealous of them?

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Does Size Really Matter?

“Everything is bigger in Texas.” “Bigger is better.” “Do you want to SuperSize that?”
 
We live in a size-obsessed culture in so many ways. The assumption is often made that bigger organizations are always more able to do and accomplish what smaller organizations simply cannot. While there are certainly examples of this, it isn’t always the case. The primary difference is scale: larger organizations seem to accomplish more due to the scale at which they can effect change. Smaller organizations, however, typically can make a greater proportional impact on a smaller scale. The problem is that smaller organizations frequently assume that they cannot make much of a difference and regularly do not even attempt to do so.
 
Why does this matter or the church? We believe God is calling us to “Multiply Disciples and Churches” as Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ here in Texas. As I travel about the Texas District and have conversations with pastors and church leaders, I encounter a common assumption that church planting is an activity for either church bodies or mega churches. As an association of congregations, we are committed to congregational mission. The most effective model for planting new churches is when they are parented by one or more congregations that are actively involved in the new mission effort. Since the typical congregation in Texas has a worship attendance of around 65 or 70 people, most believe that they are far too small to do such a big thing as to plant a church.

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Facing Grim Realities with Resurrection Hope

As we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus in this season of Easter, we are reminded once again of God’s power to bring the dead to new life! And God is alive! “Christ is Risen!” we declare with all enthusiasm and confident faith. This is Good News! I believe, trust, and celebrate it! But the troubling question I often struggle with in the face of the resurrection reality is why so many churches look closer to death rather than reflecting new life in Christ?
 
Across protestant denominations in the United States in the past two decades, 2 to 3 percent of congregations close their doors for good in any given year. If anything, this trend has likely accelerated due to the pandemic. Here in LCMC Texas, we have seen four churches hold their final worship services in my seven years in this position. Across LCMC a 2-3% closure rate would equal approximately 20 congregations annually that cease to exist. This reality may be masked as our total number of congregations slowly increase due to churches joining from other denominations and new churches being planted to numerically overcome these losses.
 
About a year ago I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Years of struggling with weight and healthy physical habits have resulted in this present reality for me. Like the church, the statistics for diabetics are not great. I was referred to a doctor who has helped me to confront the reality of my unhealth yet did not leave me without hope. Instead, he pointed me in the direction of some lifestyle changes that, if I make them a priority, will greatly increase the likelihood that I live a full and healthy life.

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Time to Gather, Celebrate, and Pray

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:24-25
 
Each summer hundreds of members from Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ come together from across Texas for what we call our Annual Gathering. In a few short weeks on July 29-30, we will once again gather in Victoria to celebrate and pray for our mission, and you are invited to join us! Our theme this year is PRAY EARNESTLY based on Matthew 9:38: “Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Our objective is always to equip and encourage one another in mission for Christ. This year we are focusing on how to faithfully respond to our Lord’s invitation in our theme verse by praying with a missional mindset, discipling and equipping leaders, and working in the harvest.
 
We are blessed to welcome keynote speakers Jeremy Walloch, Lead Pastor of Olivet Lutheran Church in La Crosse, Wisconsin and LCMC’s Service Coordinator Mike Bradley from Gilbert, Arizona. We will be led in worship by our two Victoria host congregations, Our Saviour’s and First English, and receive messages from preachers Lalahery Andriamihaja, Senior Pastor of Our Saviour’s and Julie Smith, LCMC’s Coordinator for Districts and Fellowships from Springfield, Minnesota.

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Make Time for New Friends

I recently had the opportunity to preach on Jesus’ parables from Luke 15. Sometimes referred to as “the gospel within the Gospels,” Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son are well known for powerfully communicating the relentless pursuit of God’s love for the lost, even for those who have turned their back on God. We treasure these stories as they strengthen and encourage our faith and bring great comfort in knowing that God loves us so much, even when we are unlovable.
 
In these parables, I believe Jesus is not only bringing comfort in the message of the gospel, but he also admonishes and teaches using what Lutherans refer to as the third use of the law. Luke sets up all three of these parables in verses 1-2: “All the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen to him. And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” In other words, Jesus is really addressing the complaining scribes and Pharisees who did not appreciate the company he kept.
 
Jesus always told parables to make a point. The question we must ask is “What’s the point?” These verses give us clues as to Jesus’ purpose in sharing these stories in the first place: he wanted to encourage religious people to not be afraid to make time for some new friends! Truth be told, it is quite easy for those of us inside the church to look at those outside the church with a similar judgmental spirit as the scribes and Pharisees who looked down on the “sinners” that Jesus hung out with. Even though we identify as Christians (“Christ ones” or “little Christs”), our heart for “sinners” all too often does not reflect Jesus’ own heart of openness, love, and compassion for those who have yet to join in following him.

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An Invitation to Pray Earnestly

My alarm went off on my phone this morning at 9:38. Every Monday through Saturday since February my phone has made its obnoxious beeping noise to interrupt whatever I had been doing. It has startled me, annoyed me, and, on a few occasions, awkwardly interrupted something important. But ultimately, I thank God for these alerts that ring loudly each and every day. Why?
 
Because that alarm reminds me of Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 9:38 to pause and “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” At the end of July, over 250 folks gathered in Victoria for our District’s Annual Gathering around this theme and Jesus’ invitation to “Pray Earnestly.” Together we studied this bible passage as speakers and preachers led us in pondering deeply what this means and what it would look like to live into Jesus’ invitation.
 
So why the alarm? This past winter I had the honor of asking Jeremy Walloch to join us this summer as one of our keynote speakers. He immediately accepted and went to work on his outline. Soon thereafter I received a text message from Jeremy. He sent a few of his initial thoughts about his talk, but he shared a sense of conviction for having neglected Jesus’ invitation in our theme verse. As so often happens, conviction is really God’s way of pointing us to Christ’s invitation or call to live in faith. Jeremy asked me to join him in setting a daily alarm to go off at 9:38 a.m. everyday and to covenant with him to pause whatever we were doing and pray.
 
And so it has been ever since. Every. Single. Day.

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Think Like a Missionary

I have the distinct privilege of teaching the Church Planting & Revitalization course for Harvest Workers, our
online ministry training program. Recently, my first two students successfully completed the course. It was an
absolute joy to teach them, mostly because I had a front row seat to watch them grow!
 
Every Harvest Workers course has a list of expected demonstrated competencies that we hope to observe in
all students by the end of each class. For my class, there are several specific areas that I have listed. As I
supported these first students through the course, I discovered that there is a single, over-arching hope that
summarizes all that I desire for my students: that each begins to think like a missionary.
 
Missionaries the world over strive to bring the life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ to people who have no idea
that it is at all necessary or relevant for their lives. Some may have never heard of Jesus before while others
may be familiar but have either rejected the faith or have yet to respond. Either way, missionaries need to
figure out how they can meaningfully connect and communicate with those outside of faith in Jesus Christ.

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And Who is My Neighbor?

“Then an expert in the law stood up to test him, saying, ‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘What is written in the law?’ he asked him. ‘How do you read it?’ He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ‘You’ve answered correctly,’ he told him. ‘Do this and you will live.’ But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” – Luke 10:25-29
 
If you’ve spent much time at all in the church, chances are high you are quite familiar with this text. This conversation between a lawyer and Jesus serves as the introduction to what is perhaps Jesus’ most infamous parable: The Good

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Accepting the Savior’s Invitation

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30
 
I recently returned to my day-to-day duties after 2 months off on sabbatical. This was my first sabbatical in my 20 years of ordained ministry and a much-needed rest. I am forever grateful to the District for providing this season of rest and renewal. I knew I needed a sabbatical… but I needed it more than I knew!

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Where Do Pastors Come From?

Note: This guest post is by David Mayer. David is the interim pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Seguin, Texas, and teaches New Testament for Harvest Workers.
 
Every year there are more pastors retiring. So, where do new pastors come from? Where are the gardens in which future pastoral candidates are grown? Apart from one candidate who I helped nurture and mentor, I admit that I have acted as if pastors “just keep coming,” as if there were an automatic stream of people eagerly filling the ranks left empty by retiring pastors. Is this how congregations think? Is this how pastors join the ranks, always from somewhere else, but never from any place in particular?

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Reflecting on Advent & Christmas

Note: This guest post is by Kari Malinak. Kari serves as the Associate Pastor of Living Word Lutheran Church in Grapevine. Kari was elected to the District Council in 2020.

Happy New Year! Well, as I write this, happy new liturgical year! With Advent, the Christian Church begins a new cycle of seasons and liturgy. Advent is a special season filled with hopeful anticipation, expectation, and joy knowing the celebration of Christ’s birth is only a handful of weeks away. Advent is also a penitential season in which we reflect on the need of God entering this sinful world and our own sinful nature. In our modern world, though, we can lose the meaning in a hectic holiday season. So, writing this now, I hope we can appreciate Advent and Christmas in a calmer time.


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WWJDIHWM?

Note: This guest post is by Jeremy Walloch, instructor of preaching for HarvestWorkers.net and lead pastor of OlivetLutheran.org.
 
I was raised in the era of the “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelets. Anyone else? Still have yours? It’s a great question, but it can be problematic. Why? Because Jesus was an unmarried, childless rabbi in the first century.
 
He was not a single mom. He was not a retiree. He was not a product designer, photographer, or dog groomer. He did not have a smartphone or Instagram account. So, to answer the question “What Would Jesus Do?” I do not advocate you trade in your Adidas for sandals and trade in your current career to be an itinerant preacher. So, maybe a better question is, “What Would Jesus Do If He We Me?”
 

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