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.
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:
- Would your neighbors know who we are?
- 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,
firstname.lastname@example.org (I would love to hear responses to this column)