Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Special Message Part Two - A Vision For Our Future

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
                                                    Jeremiah 29:11
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
When you walk into a church for the first time what do you notice? At first glance most people notice the “warmth” and “hospitality” of a congregation.  They notice if members are more interested in conversations with one another or if they take notice of visitors and warmly reach out to welcome and engage them.
If a congregation wants to reach out with the love of Christ and grow, warmly welcoming visitors is essential.  Equally important are two elements of congregational life that if unattended will lead to a period of stagnation and decline.  The first is “identity” the DNA of a congregation.  Identity answers the question: “What is this congregation known for?”  For example, if someone mentioned the name “Community Lutheran” in your neighborhood:
  1. Would your neighbors know who we are? 
  2. If they have heard about us, how would they finish this sentence, “Community Lutheran, that’s the church that ________________.”
After our home meetings with over 180 members of CLC during the months of April, May, and June it is clear to me that our primary identity in this community is through our connection with Saddleback Children’s Center (SCC).  Some may know only the Children’s Center and a vague association with a church, which they can’t name.  Many others, though, know the name “Community Lutheran Church” and associate us with the Children’s Center/preschool.
In one way, that is a good thing.  It is better to be known through a positive association with a well-regarded preschool than to not be known at all.  I have heard many great stories from current CLC members who first came to the preschool and then were invited to VBS and eventually found a home here.  Several members commented that we need to continue to build our connections with SCC.  I wholeheartedly agree.
My hope for our future, however, is that people in our community would not only know us through our connection with SCC, but also through our core identity, who we are in Christ. In fact, our preschool ministry and how we share Christ with the children and their families is one reflection who we are in Christ.
As I wrote to you last month;  We are Community Lutheran, but not in name only.  We share a community that is richer and deeper than you will find in other places.  Ours is not a community in the general sense of the word.  People find community at the gym.  They find it in social organizations and with neighbors.  But the community we find here is a “Community in Christ.”
That’s our primary identity.  When people walk onto our campus and visit for the first time, we want them to notice Christ in us.  We want people to see Jesus in the way we worship. We want people to see Jesus in our singing, in our praying, in the sacraments and in the proclamation of God’s Word.  We want them to notice our care for one another as we share the peace of Christ and in our conversations before and after worship.  In our homes, in our workplaces, and in our neighborhoods, we want people to see Jesus in us.  In Christ, we are a new creation.  We are God’s chosen, loved, and forgiven people.  That’s our identity.
The second essential element of congregational life that flows out of a rich identity is “Mission.”
Mission is what happens when identity becomes a verb.  Mission is what happens when you are so thankful for all God has done for you, that you can’t help but pour your life out in love and service.
My hope for our future is that all our ministries (SCC, youth ministries, adult ministries etc.)
would reflect our identity.  And I pray that we would shine the light of Jesus so brightly that people would see and know us through our acts of mission. 
I pray that the Holy Spirit would raise up among us leaders and mission teams with a passion to shine the light of Jesus.  Nothing happens without leadership.  God is able to use people who step forward and say “here I am Lord.”  If you feel inadequate, remember the promise, “God doesn’t call the equipped.  God equips the called.”  God will give you a passion for a particular ministry or mission and then equip you for the task, as you commit yourself prayerfully.
Second, leaders need a team.  God may be calling you to serve on a ministry team.  I believe God has given everyone gifts for ministry and everyone is called to serve.  If you would like help identifying your gifts, please let me know. 
Third, mission or ministry teams need support.  Support is another word for faithful stewardship.  God calls us to manage all of the resources with which we have been blessed: our time, our talents, and our financial resources.  Please consider prayerfully how you are being called to support the mission of Community Lutheran.
Finally, mission is just a good idea until it becomes intentional.  The definition of intentionality is “good ideas turned into specific goals with follow-through.”  Since I began serving as your pastor I have been praying intentionally:
·         that God may strengthen us with power through the Holy Spirit
·         that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith as we are being rooted and established in love
·         that the depth of Christ’s love may so fill us that it flows out into the lives of all those God has given us to love (every neighbor, friend, relative, and co-worker)
After meeting in homes across our congregation, I heard many good ideas for the future of CLC.  Let us pray together over this list, asking God to raise up the ideas that need our greatest attention and our best efforts.  Please consider how God is calling you individually to serve:  as a leader, as a team member, or in the capacity of offering your full and generous support.
In answer to the question “What do you hope to see God doing through CLC in the future?” the following responses were shared multiple times by many people:
·        -  Offer more Bible Studies and opportunities to grow as life-long-learners
o   including a Men’s Bible study
·         - Offer small groups for all ages (for learning and for service, mid-week and Sundays)
o   groups will help people feel more connected to CLC and bonded through fellowship
·        -  Rebuild and strengthen our Youth Group
·        -  Rebuild and offer ministry to grades K-6th graders possibly on Wed. night
·         - Grow in stewardship support and in membership

The following ideas were also shared:

  • More service opportunities for youth group
  • Involving our youth in leading worship
  • Video tape  Sunday Worship and share with Retirement Homes
  • Caroling – Walk The Neighborhood/Park Terrace
  • Every member offering their time and talents
  • Work more closely with SCC and reach out to our preschool parents
  •  Design our website to better reach those seeking a church home
  •  Take part in Community Events like Rancho Fest
  • Begin partnership with a sister Congregation in an urban area or another country
  • Offer a Children’s Choir
  • Need a Home/Space For Youth Group  (the youth room in the office building is a good start)
  • Mission trips for all ages
  • A sign or banner with our website address facing the bike path
  • College Age ministry – meet on Patio and go out for Sunday Brunch
  • Local Charities/ Feed OC / Stop Hunger Now /Global Mission
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Continue Facebook outreach – post good news from CLC and share with friends
  • Send stories and pictures to OC Reporter and local publications
  • Build a fellowship hall
  • An improved sound system with an occasional video message (i.e. from our Bible Camp, our Lutheran colleges, or to enhance a mission project or Annual meeting report)
  • Increase worship attendance
  • Offer a sermon pod-cast for commuters
  • Increased outreach to our community
  • A group to focus on social justice issues
 As you pray over this list, pay attention to which ideas cause you to feel God stirring an excitement or passion within you.  Consider how God might be calling you to serve.  Talk to me or visit with one of our Council members. 
May we be filled with the love of Christ.  May our identity drive our mission, so that all may know we are Christians by our love.

Serving together with you in Christ,
Pastor Marty
pastormarty@clcrsm.org   (I would love to hear responses to this column)

Special Message Part One - Congregation and Community Meetings Recap

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
                                                John 15:5
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Have you ever felt that God has blessed you in more ways than you can count?  Over the last nine weeks I have been blessed to hear story after story of God’s amazing grace touching the lives of so many through the ministry of Community Lutheran Church. 
Meeting with over 180 members and friends of Community Lutheran has been energizing and awe-inspiring.  Thank you, first of all, to the wonderful hosts who opened their homes and so graciously offered their warmth and hospitality.  You welcomed us as if welcoming Christ himself.  The level of sharing and personal connection we felt was made possible by your love.  Thank you also to each of you who cleared your calendar and attended one of our gatherings.   Your presence and your willingness to share your stories has been a great gift to me and has deepened our connection to one another in Christ. 
I started each gathering by asking, “What initially brought you to Community Lutheran?”  While the obvious answer is that God had a hand in bringing each of us, I wish you could have heard the variety of ways that happened.  Here are just a few: 
  • friends who said, “we go to a great church with wonderful people, come visit with me”
  • the reputation and ministry of our preschool and Vacation Bible School
  • a family visited, and one child announced afterwards, “Let’s go to that church!”
  •  the deep friendships that form here, and the feeling of having a “church family”
  • the sermons which are based on Scripture and apply to daily life
  • the depth found in the Lutheran church
  • Pastor Minor’s handshake, infectious joy, and his “coffee appointment in your home”
  • a child who met Mary and said, “Dad, I like that lady”
  • finding a church where questions and doubts are welcome and recognized as a desire for deeper understanding
  • the sense of genuine authentic community, where you are not just a face in the crowd
  • the experience coming to worship for the first time and seeing people who know each other and really care about one another
  • a hymn that touched someone deeply and after the service a member offered a hug and words of assurance  “it’s going to be okay”
  • a new sign along El Toro road
  • the experience of feeling like a participant in worship not just a spectator or audience member watching a performance
  • an internet search, an ad in the newspaper, or an article in the local paper

What did I learn from all these responses?  First, that God has faithfully blessed this community and continues still to draw people to Christ through our partnership in the Gospel.

The word that keeps running through my mind from all of these stories is “Community, Community, Community.”  We are Community Lutheran, but not in name only.  We share a community that is richer and deeper than you will find in other places.  Ours is not a community in the general sense of the word.  People find community at the gym.  They find it social organizations and with neighbors.  But the community we find here is “Community in Christ.” 

We are a diverse group of people.  We don’t all have the same preferences and we don’t all approach decisions in the same way.  But above all, what holds us together and gives us life and joy as a community is our unity in Christ Jesus.  Jesus said, “I am the vine. You are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.”

Together we have a mission.  Jesus calls us to remain in Him:
  •  to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly
  • to receive the sacraments with the promise that our sins are forgiven
As we remain in Christ, Jesus promises that we will bear fruit.  Jesus will pour out his grace and truth and mercy through us.  Those who have been forgiven much will love much.  We will go out into a hurting world and bear the fruit of the love.  God will open our eyes not only to our friends who gather on the patio after worship, but to our visitors who come looking for community.   God will open our eyes to see those who are standing alone, those who are not yet connected to this body.   God will open our eyes to our neighbors and friends who do not have a church home and have not been invited.   God will open our eyes to those who live in our community who are hurting in many ways and God will show us how to care for them.  As we reach out, we will hear Jesus say, “just as you welcomed the stranger, you welcomed me.”
Together in Christ, we offer this world a hope that satisfies like nothing else; a hope that is with us in times of joy and in sorrow.  Together in Christ, we offer a joy and a peace that goes beyond human understanding.  Together in Christ, we offer a beauty that lifts our eyes beyond the material things of this world and ushers us into a world of worship; where we begin to treasure things that will last. 
Together in Christ we have a mission to share our faith with each new generation.  In our home meetings I heard many stories about what members hope to see God do through Community Lutheran in the future.  Next month, I look forward to sharing those stories with you.
"The mission of the church is to remind the world what for the most part it has forgotten about itself, that it is deeply loved."

Serving together with you in Christ,
Pastor Marty
pastormarty@clcrsm.org   (I would love to hear responses to this column)