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On Mission

 

CLICK HERE to get the latest edition of 'On Mission'...

 

 

How can you tell the difference between a job and a ministry?  Some Christians merely have a job(s) in the church.  Others are involved in a ministry.  There's all the difference in the world!  How can you tell the difference between a job and a ministry?

…Perhaps it may be how "success" is defined, but I believe that it is very important to measure ministry.  We need to know why we are doing a given ministry and what the goal of that ministry is.  A job on the other hand may be the goal in and of itself.

.... If you are doing it because no one else will, it's a job.  If you are doing it to serve the Lord, it's a ministry.  We have a number of people in our ministry - me included - who have done things because no one else would.  Sure, it was to serve the Lord, but it has sometimes been stuff that we could barely stand to do - not in the areas of our gift mix, but needed to be done.  Ideal?  Hardly.  But it's the reality of forging ahead for a vision about which we're passionate.  Bottom line - it's not either/or a lot of the time.

.... If you're doing it just well enough to get by, it's a job.  If you're doing it to the best of your ability, it's a ministry.  Will Rogers once said, "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing mediocre."  As a recovering perfectionist whose perfectionism led to ineffectiveness earlier in my life, I can testify to many things that have been done at our church this past year that were done "just well enough" - because just well enough was better in those instances than not at all.  Growing and transforming a church can be very messy and chaotic.  Sometimes "better done, than good" is appropriate.

.... If you'll do it only so long as it doesn't interfere with other activities, it's a job.  If you're committed to staying with it even when it means letting go of other things, it's a ministry.  We have a group of people in our church who are "leaving it all on the field" - that is, giving from deep reserves of extra energy and resources that are far beyond what we normally are able to contribute.  Maintaining a balanced life is one of the most challenging parts of ministry for me right now.  I'm doing a lousy job of being home and relaxed for family or even just for me.  Part of the balancing act is deciding sometimes that parts of the ministry are interfering with other activities and letting them go.  The double ring here is that letting them go is part of the process of staying with "it" - the overall vision and mission.  This is why multiplying leadership is so important.

.... If you quit because no one praised you or thanked you, it was a job.  If you stay with it even though no one seems to notice, it's a ministry.  True...but not realistic for anyone I know, including me.  I'm just human.  I need to be thanked every now and then.

.... If you do it because someone else said it needs to be done, it's a job.  If you are doing it because you are convinced it needs to be done, it's a ministry.  Not entirely true.  We have faithful, outstanding people who have been catalysts of transformation and growth at our church.  People who have done things only because someone said it needed to be done - even when they were not convinced.  Why?  Because they were convinced of the value of submitting to leadership as part of doing ministry as a team.

.... It's hard to get excited about a job.  It's almost impossible not to get excited about a ministry.  Not even close to true.  There is a dark side to leading even the most effective, transformative ministry.  It comes from the intersection of our own sinfulness with the sinfulness of others.  As I listen to other leaders who have been doing this a lot longer than me, I find validation for what I've discovered: there are periods in the rhythm when depression, doubt, frustration, anger, despair set in and it's very tempting to want to quit.  It's very possible to not get excited about a ministry - ask Jonah.

.... If your concern is success, it's a job.  If your concern is faithfulness, it's a ministry.  I'm a Lutheran - theology of the cross and 'hidden-ness of God' stuff course through my spirit.  I still worry about succeeding all the time - it’s only human.  I don't know many effective leaders who don't struggle constantly with needing to surrender more of this to God.  But that tension probably adds to the effectiveness of the ministry that God has given them.

.... People may say "well done" when you do your job. The Lord will say "well done" when you complete your ministry.  That's not what I'm telling people.  I'm telling them that God reaches out his arms from the cross and sings "well done" on a daily, second-by-second, eternal basis.

There is so much darkness in life and ministry.  Thank God that we're called to shine Jesus' light into those places.  In order to shine that light, I think we need to be honest and realistic about the darkness, because to minimize the darkness is to minimize the light.  If we only follow the original 'Job vs. Ministry' description (the BOLD sentences, above), then we run the risk of shaming so many faithful people who live in the tension between "job" and "ministry" all the time.  At least, that's the tension that I tend to live in.

However, I believe that an ‘average’ church is filled with people doing 'jobs' - while a ‘great’ church is filled with people involved in 'ministry'.  If God calls you to a ministry, for heaven's sake (literally), don't treat it like a job.  If you have a job in the church, give it up and find a ministry!  God doesn't want us feeling stuck with a job, but excited, fulfilled and faithful to Him in a specific ministry.

 - (Author unknown)

 

 March 2012

 

 

April 2012

 

 

May 2012

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

THE YEAR OF THE INVITATION! (contd.)

YOU can do this. “This” is inviting someone into the life of your congregation in 2012. How do I know that you can do this? I know because I have experienced the way the Holy Spirit works when you are in prayer about this and open to the possibility.

I have two examples of ways that this has worked recently in my life.

Not long ago I happened to be flying on a jet coming back to Pittsburgh from a meeting in Chicago. I was sitting next to a woman and over the time of the flight we ended up in a conversation. We talked a bit and in the midst of the conversation she asked if I lived in the Pittsburgh area. I said that I did and that I live in Shaler. I asked her if she did and where. She shared the little town in Western Pennsylvania where she lived.

I was surprised because I knew that I had been invited to preach at the Lutheran church in that town in just a few days. I mentioned that and invited her to come to church. Sure enough, she appeared there at their early service on that Sunday. I learned from the pastor that she did not return for another visit, but had come by that Sunday.

I had no expectation that I would be inviting anyone to this little town that was far away from where I live – especially on a jet flying back from Chicago. But, the Holy Spirit had other ideas. All that this took was being open to a conversation and a willingness to invite.

Another and different example comes as I had challenged another congregation to this “Year of Invitation” last year (2011). I preached there in January of 2011 and suggested that if everyone there that Sunday would pray for God to lead them over the coming year to someone they could invite into the life of their congregation, the potential for growth was 100% by the next January. It seemed like an interesting idea, but like many sermon ideas, everybody nodded their heads and then never got around to taking the encouragement seriously and personally.

But, over that year I encountered a friend I knew in high school that lived near that congregation. I knew that I would be preaching again there in a few weeks and invited him to come. As the day neared, the pastor’s plans changed and I was no longer needed as a supply for them that day. I let my friend know that I would not be there that Sunday. Yet, interestingly enough, he has worshipped there a couple of times since. Again, this was just a situation where I knew someone that ended up living near a church and invited them to attend. The Holy Spirit is doing the rest.

I have suggested the following phrase be added to whatever regular prayers that you pray:

And please lead me to the person you want me to invite into the ministry of our congregation.

How is that going? Have you gotten around to it? Prayer matters. Witnessing matters.

                                                                                                                                                (5/12)

 

June 2012

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

THE YEAR OF THE INVITATION! (contd.)

I have suggested the following phrase be added to whatever regular prayers that you pray:

And please lead me to the person you want me to invite into the ministry of our congregation.

How is that going? Have you gotten around to it? Prayer matters!

 

In Luke 11:9-13 our Lord Jesus teaches this:

 

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

 

Asking God for “things” in prayer is a wonderful part of the learning about God on our journey with God through life and on into eternity. We can spend a lot of time with prayers that are built upon figuring out how to get God to do what WE want God to do. This passage reminds us that God is the finest example of a loving parent. Here Jesus works with the aspect of reminding that a parent is very willing to give good things to children as they ask for good things. Jesus wants us to realize that God is even more ready to do this than we human parents, who carry our own selfish sinfulness, are ready and able to do. Pray. Ask. Search. Knock.

The analogy holds, though, I believe as we may ask for things that are not good for us. At times, a parental answer of “no” is the most loving and caring thing that can be offered. This is also true with God. In fact, I have found that this journey tends to lead toward requests that have less and less to do with getting what I want and more and more to do with discovering what GOD wants! I guess that is what I mean by the “wonderful part of the learning about God” that prayer brings.

 

The fun is in discovering the will and direction to which God is leading!

 

So, the fun in this prayer toward invitation is in the discovering who God is leading you to!

 

Lead me to the person YOU want me to invite is what we are asked to pray. That person is there – I guarantee it. Prayer helps open our eyes, our ears and our hearts to discover who that person is that God is preparing. How is it going? Have you prayed yet? God is ready, are you?

(6/12)

 

July 2012

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

THE YEAR OF THE INVITATION! (contd.)

 

This is a 2012 ongoing encouragement to the people of our synod – rostered leaders, lay leaders and every person in the pews – to make this a year in which you invite someone into the life of your congregation.  It is my hope that this becomes an annual goal of every person in our synod to make at least one invitation a year to someone, inviting them to be a part of your congregation and its ministry. One invitation a year – each year!

 

Here is a true story from a Lutheran congregation in our synod:

A family with a Lutheran background moved into the Pittsburgh area in early spring. As part of getting settled they began to look for a Lutheran church to join. They decided to visit a few churches over a period of time.

Meanwhile, the wife was a golfer and joined a local women’s golf league. She played in the league, week after week, all summer.

As she and her husband continued to visit churches, they went for the first time to a Lutheran church in late August or early September.  As the woman walked into worship, she realized that there were 4 or 5 women from her golf league that were members of this congregation.

They talked after the service. They laughed a bit about the irony of having spent all summer together and just now discovering that they had Lutheran Christianity in common. The couple decided to join that church.

 

It was ironic! Here were active, friendly, engaging women who were talking about all kinds of things that were going on in their lives over the weeks together. It was likely revealed that this one woman was new to the area. They probably talked about their families. They probably talked about some of the places they had lived before. They may have shared pictures.

No one brought up their life with Christ and the experience in the church. These were all very active people in their congregations. Yet, it never came up. It never came up!

There is someone in your circle of friends that God is preparing for you to invite into the life of your congregation. Are you praying for that person to be revealed to you?

I have suggested the following phrase be added to whatever regular prayers that you pray:

And please lead me to the person you want me to invite into the ministry of our congregation. Please keep open to this and look for the opportunity. It is there.

(7/12)

 

September 2012

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

THE YEAR OF THE INVITATION! (contd.)

 

Sometimes it can be helpful for us to see a biblical model for the kind of invitation I have been encouraging to take place this year.  I have used examples from my own life and stories from congregations.  What about the scriptures?  Are there examples there of people who invited someone they knew to meet the Lord?

 

Well, the Gospel of John can be a useful source for just such examples.

 

In John 1, Andrew was one of the followers of John the Baptist.  As John pointed to Jesus and exclaimed, "Look, here is the Lamb of God!"  Andrew went to follow Jesus - but first went and invited his brother, Simon Peter, to come with him.  Andrew brought Simon to Jesus.

 

Later in John 1, Jesus encountered Philip and invited him to come by saying, "Follow me."  Philip went and found Nathaniel and talked with him about Jesus.  Philip finally invited Nathaniel with the words, "Come and see."

 

Later in John 4, we have the wonderful story of Jesus' encounter with the woman at the well.  This special story takes a Samaritan woman, who is at the well at an unusual time of day - likely avoiding the rest of the village - and after a powerful conversation with Jesus, she runs into that very village and invites everyone to come and see this man who revealed to her everything she had ever done.

 

Invitations.

 

By the way, did you notice that there were invitations from Jesus in those stories as well?

 

This is the prayer that I have asked you to include in your daily devotional prayer lives:

"And please lead me to the person you want me to invite into the ministry of our congregation."

It is pretty simple, and actually a comfort, in this calling to invite.  It is a reminder that God is at work in this invitation.  You are just asking to be led to the person that God has already prepared!

 

It may be a family member - like Andrew experienced.  It may be a friend - like Philip experienced.  It could even be someone that you have been avoiding for whatever reason, but that God moves you toward an invitation - like the woman at the well.

 

God is at work.  God's work.  Your hands or, in this case, your words.  To whom is God leading you?  It is worth a prayer.

(9/12)

 

October 2012

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

THE YEAR OF THE INVITATION! (contd.)

 

As we journey through this year of encouraging the people of our congregations to invite someone they know into the life of their congregation, it may be helpful to think about what different possibilities might exist within congregational life to which people could be invited! In fact, some congregations create events that are specifically held to invite people outside the life of the congregation to the event. Just keep in mind that this is an opportunity to be with them in an activity and invite them to come with you!

 

Obviously, the number one event that is offered by every congregation and available to new people would be worship. One may want to consider what worship service would be best accessible for your invitee. Maybe one of your holiday services would be helpful for them. Maybe a Sunday when you congregation has a fellowship time afterwards where other congregational members could be met. Maybe there would be a special choir presentation that this person would enjoy. Maybe your pastor might be offering a sermon series that would interest them. Maybe the Lenten season evening services would be at a more helpful time for this person.

 

Maybe this person would find it helpful to first attend a fellowship event. You could invite them to a dinner sponsored by your congregation. Maybe you are having a bowling evening or a trip to a Pirate game. Maybe you have a group of friends who are members of the church that you get together with over dinner and you could invite this person or couple along. Maybe your church has a softball team. Maybe you have a church picnic coming up.

 

Maybe this person would find a learning opportunity to be helpful. Is there a Bible study going on at your congregation, or getting started, to which you could invite them? Is there a Sunday school class that you enjoy and could bring them along? Is there a class you would like to attend and would prefer to have company and could ask them to come along with you?

 

Maybe this person would find a service event to be interesting? Is there an activity that your congregation participates in that would welcome a couple of additional participants? Maybe you go to a food bank to help or a shelter to provide a meal. Maybe you do odd jobs for people who cannot do whatever the work is themselves. Maybe you volunteer for a Meals on Wheels program. Maybe you take some time to make bag lunches for a homeless program.

 

This is just a reminder that there are many different doors into the life of a congregation through which you can bring a friend.

 

Pray for them and about what would be the best opportunity to bring them into the life of your congregation and into a deeper journey with our Lord! God will provide the guidance!                                                                                                                  

10/12

 

 

November 2012

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

THE YEAR OF THE INVITATION! (contd.)

 

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

This is a reminder.

Invitation can sometimes be seen as bringing someone into a group for the sake of the group. We have many congregational contexts where a tendency to focus inward and to the past is typical. Therefore, conversation and encouragement around invitation can be interpreted as merely trying to bring more people into our congregation so that there are enough people to pay the bills that are being faced – meet the budget. Often, the thought of invitation can immediately go to inviting people who used to be a part of the congregation and have left for all kinds of reasons over a significant period of time. Yet, the thought is that if we could just bring many of them back then things will be like it used to be when the congregation was thriving – a goal to relive the past.

Everything that has been encouraged in this “Year of the Invitation” has been around the goal of fulfilling the above commission of our Lord toward today’s context and a positive future of mission.

Congregations come alive as they prayerfully discern how they can fulfill the Lord’s calling into mission in this time and this context for the sake of those in need of the Gospel as they encounter them in the current world.

This invitation is all about bringing someone into the exciting calling of mission that your congregation is responding to in this time.

Our prayers center on who God is leading us to invite this year into that mission and ministry. We seek to be a connection between our Lord and the lives of our neighbors.

When we are fully focused on carrying out the calling of mission, our ministry challenges fall into place, sometimes in amazing and surprising ways. God is at work as we are about mission. Survival goals are not mission goals.

Thus, as we invite someone this year into the life of our congregation, this is just a reminder that we do so with a sense of mission opportunity. And, the “all nations” to which Jesus calls us may very well be right there on your block!

11/12

 

December 2012

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

THE YEAR OF THE INVITATION! (Final article)

 

This has been a multi-month series that encouraged the reader of this article to be someone willing to invite someone else this year to the life and ministry of your congregation. I have encouraged you to make this a prayer goal.

Many of these articles have included this challenge or encouragement to add this line of prayer to your regular prayers in whatever form they take:

And please lead me to the person you want me to invite into the ministry of our congregation.

There is still time.

Some may be reading this leading up to Christmas. There is no better opportunity to invite someone into the life of your congregation.

The music and stories are familiar. Sometimes there are Christmas pageants or choir cantatas that are a part of the season to which someone can be invited. Sometimes there are special holiday outreach ministry opportunities that might be right up your neighbor’s alley of interest.

Sometimes there is someone who has recently lost a loved one and will find it hard to go alone to holiday worship services – your invitation may just be the perfect encouragement and caring offer.

Key to this ongoing, multi-month effort was to lift up the essential nature of invitation for the life of our congregations. Every article about growing churches includes a paragraph or more on the fact that new people come to congregations because of a personal invitation from people active in the life of those congregations.

Many of our people love their congregations and the ministries happening there. They find themselves growing in their faith and their congregations are a key experience in their lives. Yet, their interest and involvement is often a well-kept secret. It never occurs to them to share their experiences.

It is time to open up a bit and be willing to invite someone into the life of your congregation. You can do this. God is on your side in this.

And now, let’s take this same journey into next year!

Each year if we could just continue to pray for God to lead us to one person or family that we could invite into the life of our congregation, their faith growth and the vitality of our congregations would be powerfully blessed. God is on your side in this!

12/12

 

January 2013

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

Have you visited the site Living Lutheran yet? It is just full of stories of mission. Some are articles. Some are blogs. Some are videos. All are opportunities to be inspired by the mission and ministries of congregations and people across our church. All are opportunities to learn some new ideas for ministry in your own congregation.

One such story comes from Salem Lutheran Church in Flint, Michigan. You can go to livinglutheran.com and type in “A Place of Hope” in the search box or use the following address:

(http://www.livinglutheran.com/stories/a-place-of-hope.html).

It is a wonderful story of a church in Flint, Michigan – a city that is economically challenged and has been for a few decades.

Salem was going to be welcoming a new pastor, looked around at their building, and realized that it needed some work! So, they pulled together a group of volunteers to spruce up the place. They painted the church’s interior, made repairs to the bathrooms and other fixtures, and then went to work on the overgrowth around the outside of the building.

The building had been erected in 1952. In recent years there had been less and less care taken to the outside bushes and trees. This group dug in to the mammoth task and, when they did, they made an amazing discovery.

Deep inside those bushes and overgrown trees there was a large cross that nobody now connected with the congregation knew was there. It was nearly eight feet tall!

The exciting aspect of this discovery was that it was taken as a sign to be something more. They decided to make it the focal point of a prayer labyrinth. They planted shrubs in the appropriate patterns for the labyrinth. The community was drawn to the new feature at the church and it has become a sign of hope for that area.

It has inspired two new gardens – one of flowers and vegetables on another part of the church’s property and a second on the site of a burned down house that fell victim to a series of arsons in the community. The second site became a project of an Eagle Scout in the congregation.

The article does a wonderful job of telling this story and the further impact of this cross and the congregation’s ministry to their neighborhood.

It leaves me wondering how many congregations we have across our synod that have something like that cross – a hidden sign of new beginning just waiting for prayerful energy and ministry to bring it to light. I have no question that there are many out there. I am just wondering if it happens to be your congregation that will be next! Check out Living Lutheran!                                                              

1/13

 

 

February 2013

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

Each year the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America provides a resource for free to all of its congregations entitled, “Stories of Faith in Action.” This year’s version uses some wonderful headings for its articles that each begin with the phrase, “We are a church… “. You will receive a copy of this resource if you attend this year’s synod assembly. If you participate in the training that we offer for stewardship education called “Stewards for Stewardship,” you will receive one of these resources. If you invite me to work with your stewardship team or committee or a planning team or committee, you will receive one of these. You can order free copies of this resource for your congregation at http://resources.elca.org/Congregational_Life-Stories_of_Faith_in_Action_2012-2013.html.

The resource is useful both as a tool for Mission and a tool for Stewardship. Thus, I thought that it would be at the center of both of my articles for the ECHO this month.

On this mission page, I would like us to consider the mission and ministries of our congregations. How would you complete the phrase, “We are a church that …”?

The title of the first area, for example, states: “WE ARE A CHURCH THAT BELONGS TO CHRIST. THERE IS A PLACE FOR YOU HERE.” Wouldn’t that be a helpful phrase for your congregation to work with as it considers reaching out into your neighborhood and the world in the name of Jesus?

Later, there is another title that reads: “WE ARE A CHURCH THAT ROLLS UP ITS SLEEVES AND GET TO WORK.” So many of our congregations have ministries that would be examples of how we roll up our sleeves in mission into the needs and challenges of our neighbors. I could see a bulletin board with pictures of multi-generations of people from your congregation involved in ministry with their sleeves rolled up. Maybe it is in putting canned goods into a food cupboard or helping someone carry groceries to their car. Maybe it is in a context where someone’s home is being renewed or their lawn is being cut.

Another title reads: “WE ARE A CHURCH THAT IS A CATALYST, CONVENER AND BRIDGE BUILDER.” Many of our congregations participate in ecumenical worship experiences and ministries. Conversations at these events often are heard where people of different traditions say, “This was wonderful. We need to do this more often.” This happens even as many hold back and do not participate and never hear how special the event was for those who were there. There are great stories to tell of ways we are more united in Christ than many realize.

“We are a church that …” What ways could your congregation complete that line? There are ways that congregations across the ELCA have done so. Take a look at this year’s “Stories of Faith in Action” and learn some wonderful new ideas for ministry within your fellowship, within your neighborhood and across the world!

                                                                                              2/13

 

March 2013

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

It has been a while since I have shared a simple two-step fact for renewal in mission in a congregation. These two steps have not changed in the three and a half years that I have served as your Director for Evangelical Mission. They are just as true, actually, as they were in the First Century and the apostles were stepping out in mission to take the Gospel across the known world.

 

We live in a world that is changing. Somehow that should not come as a surprise to us. Yet, it seems we are so often surprised that the world is changing. Every generation lives in a world that is changing – some maybe more than others – but change nonetheless.

 

Statistics show that the Protestant denominations traditionally seen as main-line (including the ELCA and the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod) have been in significant decline in numbers. This is also true for the Roman Catholic tradition. But, it is also true across many other established denominations and religions that have generally avoided this in previous decades.

 

I have a daily religious “comic” calendar on my desk. The one for April 25 has one pastor out to lunch with another and sharing: “We’re in debt, the deacons have all quit, and we’ve not had a visitor in six months. But thank goodness none of the other churches are doing any better.”

 

I get the ironic sadness of that comic, believe me! This is not my intention in sharing the difficult news above.

I share it to remind us that it is a challenging time for our churches because we can no longer keep doing the same old thing and expect different results. Change is happening. Look around. The world is not staying the same. We are changing in unplanned ways in spite of ourselves.

 

Could it be that we need to discern what new thing, new possibility, new direction to which God may be leading? What were those two steps for renewal in mission again?

1.      The congregation has a clear sense of vision for the mission to which they are being called by God, and

2.      They are willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish that mission.

Where is God leading us? Let us study, pray, share, learn and grow together to discern that.

 

Once discerned, are we willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish what our prayerful study and discernment has led us to? It is time to step out into that calling in obedience to the Gospel.

3/13

 

 

April 2013

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

It is helpful from time to time to remind you of what is available from our Synod’s Outreach Committee to support your congregation in its mission.

 

We believe that mission planning is essential for a congregation – aim at nothing and you will generally hit it! Therefore, we have multiple resources available to help congregations do mission planning. First, we have the basic Congregational Mission Planning guide available on our synod website (www.swpasynod.org). We can provide guidance to help your congregation work through this planning resource. We can provide a more in-depth journey of congregational renewal using the ELCA Transformational Ministry process. Here, we work through a transforming journey of spiritual renewal of the team, the congregation and then taking that renewal work out into one’s community. We can also provide a planning journey through Natural Church Development. This resource enables a congregation to evaluate its ministries based eight key characteristics of congregational ministry. We then work with you to focus upon one of those eight areas toward a strengthening of your congregation’s ministry and mission.

 

We are continuing to redevelop the Mission Partners ministry of our synod. Here we help congregations to connect with a partner congregation in ministry to provide support in a cooperative fashion that can be renewed each year. These partnerships have proven fruitful for both congregations as they seek to strengthen and expand their ministries.

 

Healthy Congregations is a resource to help congregational leadership in developing better communication. It is based on Family Systems theory and has been a wonderful, renewing resource in congregations across the country. The learning provided in this training is invaluable and proves to be a blessing not just in each person’s congregational involvement, but also in their relationships in their families, workplaces and neighborhoods.

 

Sometimes a congregation is looking for just a few new and creative ideas for ministry. Asset Mapping is a fun and productive 2-hour experience that enables a congregational group to explore the assets already available in the life of the congregation and to see new ways they can be combined for ministry.

 

We continue to explore new ways of Cooperative Ministry between congregations. There are many ways that relationships can be developed between congregations to enable ministry to be more powerful and effective. Youth ministries, educational ministries, fellowship ministries, and outreach ministries can often be much more effective when we combine our efforts with some other congregations of our synod. There are numerous examples of this that we can share and help to make happen for your congregation.

 

Finally, we have a limited amount of funding available to help new outreach ministry ventures in congregations that we call Opening Doors Grants. We receive applications for these twice a year.

 

If any of these resources have sparked your interest, please call me at the Synod Office (412-367-8222) and we can talk further how to pursue stronger mission and ministry in your congregation.

                                                                                                                                              4/13

 

May 2013

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

It may be news to you that there is a way that you can save your money, receive interest and yet also help Lutheran congregations all over the country. This is true both for congregations and individuals in congregations. It can happen through our Mission Investment Fund. The following paragraph shares basic information about this mission tool for savings:

 

When you invest with the Mission Investment Fund (MIF) you help strengthen the ministry of our church, even as you save for your future. That’s because we use the money you invest to fund building and renovation loans for ELCA congregations and ministries. Not only do your investments earn you a great rate of return, they replace sagging church roofs, expand Sunday school classrooms, and build brand new church buildings from the ground up. Plus, as an MIF investor, you can rest assured knowing that in the nearly 100-year history of MIF and its predecessors, no one has ever lost a penny on one of our investments.

 

It may now not be news to you, but you may want to know more about how the Mission Investment Fund can make loans available to congregations as they face major building challenges. Here is some further basic information:

 

Why borrow with us? MIF specializes in church building projects, so we understand the unique needs of congregations and ministries. Our church building consultants help guide you through the planning, building and financing process, free of charge. And our green services help you build in ways that care for creation. But the most beautiful part of borrowing with MIF is knowing that the interest you pay on your loan helps fund the loans of other ELCA congregations, so that they can share God’s love, too.

 

If you would like to learn more about this special mission support opportunity, you can go to their website: www.mif.elca.org.                                                                                                                                                                                  

5/13

 

 

June 2013

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

On a separate page of this edition of the ECHO (SEE BELOW) you will find our announcement of the founding of the newest ministry in the life of our synod that is being called Abiding Ministries. Christine Rotella, a Diaconal Minister on the roster of our synod, is the Mission Developer of this Synod Authorized Worshiping Community (SAWC). Chris does a wonderful job in that Descriptive Narrative sharing the background to the focus of the mission of Abiding Ministries.

 

One of the exciting aspects of what Chris often calls this “church without walls” is that there are other ELCA examples of this kind of ministry across the country. In a conversation with the Rev. Ruben Duran, Director for Development of New Congregations for the ELCA, I heard his excitement as he shared how the Holy Spirit is inspiring these special ministries in many places.

 

Each city has its own approach, but the commitment is to seeing people who have been marginalized by our economy, our culture, and our prejudices having opportunities to be integrally involved in these new congregations. These are not congregations looking to serve people with great challenges. These are congregations made up of people who are living through the great challenges that their lives have brought them.

We look forward to sharing more of the journey of Abiding Ministries in the future and providing ways that you can be a part of this new mission venture within our synod.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

6/13

 

Abiding Ministries (Pittsburgh)

 

Below you will find an introduction to the newest ministry in our synod. The Synod Council voted in January to establish this Synod Authorized Worshiping Community (SAWC). The SAWC designation enables a new ministry to begin within the support of the ELCA structure for congregations at all stages. We are excited about this special ministry and you will learn more about its development in the months to come.

 

If you would like to hear more or provide support for this new ministry, you may contact Pastor Blair Morgan, our Director for Evangelical Mission at the Synod Office by phone (412-367-8222) or e-mail (blair.morgan@elca.org) or e-mail the Mission Developer, Christine Rotella (mcrotella@comcast.net).

 

 

A Descriptive Narrative about Abiding Ministries

A New Synod Authorized Worshiping Community (SAWC)

of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod

Christine Rotella, Diaconal Minister, Mission Developer

 

The name Abiding Ministries is inspired primarily by scripture, the Gospel of John, and Jesus’ explanation of what it means to abide in one another (John 14).  Abiding is what God does, and is what God calls us to do. Abiding is about relationship. It is not a program. It is not a number or census. It is about steady, contextual, healing, reconciling, and remembering relationships. It is often living the Gospel, listening for and pointing to the Good News happening, more of an Emmaus event waiting for the question that invites proclamation.

 

I have accompanied a woman named Faith from the street community for the past 9 months. Faith has been doing a lot of remembering in recent months and the impact of that journey with her led her into the needs of another woman that she knows as Erin. Faith’s initiative led her to present Erin and her family’s problems to us. She shared, with expectation, the love and care that would be necessary in the moment to abide with Erin and her young family. They were about to be evicted.  This included some financial challenges with rent that then led us into a relationship with Erin’s landlord. That landlord is now a partner and consultant to our ministry.

 

That was a defining moment for the mission of Abiding Ministries – a voice from within this faith community and street family abiding with us and with a friend.  Faith continues to heal, to make good and at times difficult choices, seeking out ways to carry the ministry forward. 

 

Erin, in turn, reached out to another single mother who we are now working with to catch her before she and her two children (one with autism) are evicted.  Similar to our experience in the first case, this second landlord is beginning to remember and tell his own story and acting with empathy. This empathy has thus far led him to have a change of heart. He too has agreed to serve as a rental/shelter consultant for our community. He and I spoke recently. We thanked one another and he took a moment to talk a little about his faith.

 

Abiding will most likely never be a typical congregation according to the institutional and constitutional experiences of the church. That is okay and even a good thing.  Abiding is both transient and relational. We are companions on the way.  We are becoming. We are together. We live in and are part of the remembering of the Body of Christ.

 

We pray together, share communion, bless camps (places where our people spend their nights), and make hospital visits. There is a possible baptism on the horizon. We share meals, keep track of one another, share our resources in many different ways.  We washed feet in the Severe Weather Shelter on Holy Thursday.

 

A recent day of ministry included assisting someone as she applied for her Social Security, helping her to connect with a case manager, getting her care for infected dermatitis. A little later I provided some communication boards to the downtown ministerium to help their walk-in ministry. Every day is different.  Even as I write this, I just now finished praying with and guiding a newly sheltered woman who is supporting a friend. The friend has just learned that his young nephew is hospitalized and will most likely die tonight.  “Chaplain, how do I pray with him through this?” “What do I say?” I was called “chaplain” because that is how they have known me, as one attending to their pastoral needs both on the streets and in the hospital. I also serve a part-time call as the chaplain at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic. These two calls fit hand in glove.

 

We have shared and will continue to share communion at regular public worship on the streets as a faith community and a street family. This time I will intentionally invite those present to be the worship team, welcoming whoever joins us.  They will lead prayer, music, serve as communion assistants, read scripture…as much as they feel called to do. I am hoping to recruit some of our local pastors to be present with us for the celebration so that we might enjoy and participate in the full means of grace, so essential to our abiding.

 

We are building a website (http://www.abidingministriespittsburgh.com). We can envision a City Rim Conference of support.  We have begun investigating and building partnerships with business and community leaders. We have a long-term vision to create community-based industries for and with people in transition, with mental illness and limited capacities, with police records, and who are caught in poverty and on the edge. Together we can contribute and be a blessing as we are blessed.

 

That’s what Abiding is up to.  We are living boldly from God’s abundant and abiding grace!

 

I pray that this is helpful in understanding this journey. We are most grateful for your support in whatever form you are led to provide it. We are thankful for the support of the Holy Spirit in mission – even as we find at times we feel ready and at times we are not!

 

Christine Rotella, Diaconal Minister

Mission Developer for Abiding Ministries

 

July 2013

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

I recently had a conversation around evangelism with Pastor Jennifer McCurry, of Emmanuel, in Etna. She had asked me for some resources around helping people share their faith. In the process, she also shared with me a number of things that they were doing, around evangelism, at Emmanuel. I asked her if she would write some of them up briefly, so that I could share them with you. Here are some evangelism ideas being lived out in one of our synod congregations. Feel free to give her a call if you desire to learn more about any of these:

·         In the winter, our evangelism committee requested that small ministry groups (midweek Bible study, council, choir, adult & teen Sunday classes) include a time of inviting prayer requests from people and to pray together. Our goal was to intentionally include more clear conversation about faith in our spiritual friendships here, and for the congregation to grow in care and concern for one another and for the people around us. It has been amazing to see how the prayer lists have grown and how much more "normal" this practice seems, even after only four months. Council members have been in tears as we have prayed for one another and for issues important to us as a community.

·         In April, a couple weeks after Easter, our teens were sharing special worship leadership on a Sunday which had scripture lessons with a theme of "Seeing Jesus." The week beforehand, we included a bulletin insert asking everyone to consider where or when they had seen Jesus in their daily lives. The middle and senior high school classes met a couple times together and they considered how they would answer the same question. On the day of their leadership, I shared brief reflections on two of our scripture readings, preparing for the conversations that would come. Then the teens spread out in the congregation, each gathering people into small groups by where they were sitting. The groups shared together where they had seen Jesus. The teens who didn't know how to answer the question themselves still gathered the group initiated the conversation, but were honest about their uncertainty and genuinely asked to hear the thoughts of others. It was such a blessing for the congregation! The teenagers grew more confident in leading congregation members and trying to articulate their own faith. The rest of the congregation was stunned by what they heard in their small groups, sometimes from people whom they didn't expect, whether they were teens or another age group.

·         The evangelism committee has invited our Christian Education Committee to a joint meeting, when they hope to brainstorm together about how they can collaborate and support the work of one another. Possibilities include:
   1. finding attention-grabbing and faithful ways to share about our Christian education opportunities at community events and with appropriate signage outside our church building;
   2. integrating conversations about faith into our Christian education offerings (like the prayer requests and praying mentioned above) for all ages, not just adults and teens;  
   3. regularly involving children in projects that are pointed outward to our relationships with the community around us;

   4. having a special epiphany-season series of classes for teens and adults that studies our biblical call to share our faith and practicing how we can do that in small ways in everyday lives (that's what I talked with Blair about).

·         We are planning a prayer walk (~Unbinding the gospel) through the community of Etna, in September, which fits into Emmanuel's "Walking with Jesus" theme from July - October. The evangelism committee requested that I reach out to our ecumenical friends to invite their participation with enough warning that it can be scheduled at the most accessible time for everyone.  I'm waiting to hear back from them.
 

There have been additional and recent conversations with a few other pastors expressing interest in resources around evangelism to me and to Beth Caywood, of our Resource Center. She and I are beginning to explore the possibility of providing an evangelism training event, similar to what we are already doing with stewardship through our Stewards for Stewardship workshops.

It is our hope that the synod can be providing solid and regular resourcing around these two particularly challenging ministry areas for our congregations. Please let Beth or me know if this is something to which you and your evangelism leaders would come.

7/13

 

 

September 2013

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

There is a map in the back of most of our Bibles that turns out to be a powerful analogy for mission (and even stewardship as one might think about it).  A modern version of the map that includes two seas is printed below:

The Sea of Galilee is fed by water that runs down from the mountains to the north.  It is famous in our biblical writings for the fish that live in it and the fishermen who caught them. It is a vital lake in a very arid land.  Key to that vitality is the outflow through the Jordan River.  Waters rush into the lake from the north and bless the lake with freshness and opportunity. Water than pours out of the lake at the southern end and becomes the Jordan River.

This “outpouring” of its water is a key aspect of the Sea’s vitality.  This is dramatically evidenced because of the other sea that is connected to the Jordan River.

Water pours down the Jordan and into the “Dead” Sea!  BUT, there is no outlet for water to flow OUT of the Dead Sea.  Here is a portion of an article from the website “HowStuffWorks” regarding the Dead Sea:

"The Dead Sea owes its high mineral salt content to several factors.  First, it's completely landlocked, so any fresh or saltwater that flows into it from the Jordan River and other tributaries (estimated at six and a half million tons per day) is trapped -- until it evaporates [source: Catholic Encyclopedia].  Evaporation happens quickly because that portion of the world is, to put it mildly, extremely hot.  When the water evaporates, the salty minerals are left behind, causing the remaining water to become more and more concentrated with salt."

Jesus is quoted in Acts 20:35 with this famous saying: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” For disciples and for congregations it is essential that mission be a part of the faith journey.  Reaching out brings life!  There is no future in just looking inward.  We end up just being a “Dead Sea!”

9/13

 

 

October 2013

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

One of the books that I am currently reading is Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming Faith, by Diana Butler Bass. I found a mission story of a congregation tucked into the chapter entitled “Justice” to be valuable.

Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church in Seattle, Washington was featured in this story. It talks about the fact that Phinney Ridge has newcomers to their congregation go through a year-long process that emphasizes four disciplines: worship, prayer, scripture reflection and ministry in the world. They have found this training to be invaluable in forming disciples and not just adding members to the congregation.

A few years ago the church was asked to host a Tent City for the homeless on their church’s front lawn. There were people, including some key leaders, who were nervous that this would become an issue that would “split the church” because people might threaten to leave if these homeless people were invited on to the church’s property in this way. So, they held deliberative meetings with the congregation.

Their pastor shares, “As a staff, we were prepared for people to say, ‘If you bring the Tent City to this congregation, we will leave; we will have to find someplace else to worship’” He laughs. “We were ready to hear that and we were ready to respond in ways that I think were pastoral, faithful, and appropriate.” But, he says, the church staff was not prepared for what happened: “We weren’t prepared for the newly baptized to say, If you don’t bring Tent City to live on our front lawn, we’re afraid we won’t be able to stay with this congregation. Because on our way into the baptismal waters, you told us that we would be washed to serve the world and if we can’t do that in this place, then we believe God will call us to another place where that is possible.” The newcomers insisted the church be, as Susan recalls, “a spiritual community that actually walks the walk.” Needless to say, they hosted the tent city. The experience changed the way the congregation practices justice.

Our Lord’s Great Commission calls us to: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Our mission takes us out beyond the walls of our churches into our communities, into the lives of our neighbors and their needs. It involves risks. It involves change. It involves love.

What mission is your congregation on that involves these things?                          

10/13

 

 

November 2013

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

One of the planning resources that we offer to congregations in our synod is Natural Church Development. I think it is a useful tool for congregations who have done some mission planning over the years, have a helpful mix of ministries going on, and are looking for a way to evaluate their ministries and take a new and stronger step into the future.

 

Part of the process is for 30 active people in the congregation and the pastor(s) to take a survey regarding the congregation’s ministries. These surveys are processed through the Lutheran Center in Chicago and results are returned to the congregation through their coach (me or a member of our team).

 

The evaluation is built around 8 key characteristics that the creator of this process, Christian Schwarz, has determined through a thorough study of Christian congregations across the world. The characteristics are:

 

Empowering Leadership > This is leadership where the leader seeks to help those he or she leads to be empowered into the ministries to which they feel called.

Gift-based Ministry > This is where congregations help people identify their gifts and integrate them into ministries that match their gifts.

Passionate Spirituality > This focuses not so much on a particular “style” of spirituality, but looking for whether one’s spirituality is lived out with commitment, fire and enthusiasm.

Effective Structures > Recognizing that church organizational structures are not an end in themselves, but a means to the end of effective ministry in the congregation.

Inspiring Worship Service > This is a focus not on a particular worship style, but whether those that worship find the experience inspiring, renewing, strengthening to their journeys with God.

Holistic Small Groups > Most churches have small groups of one sort or another. This characteristic lifts up the importance of those groups providing community, practical help for their daily lives and intensive spiritual interaction.

Need-Oriented Evangelism > This emphasizes the importance of the needs and challenges of the other person and not the agenda of the person sharing their faith. Does the evangelism of the congregation share the Gospel in words and actions that respond to the needs encountered in the lives of their neighbors.

Loving Relationships > This looks at the relationships between people in the congregation and whether they enjoy each other’s company and find caring in the relationships they have within the congregation. Do they ever spend time together outside the life and ministry of the congregation?

 

This tool helps a congregation discern the characteristic in which they are weakest. It then seeks to help the congregation address and strengthen that weakness by using its other strengths.

 

If this process sounds interesting, please feel free to give me a call and we can discuss if Natural Church Development might be a resource to strengthen your congregation’s ministry. (Office Phone Number: 412-367-8222; e-mail address: blair.morgan@elca.org)     

11/13

 

 

January 2014

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

Since there are some wonderful mission resources on the ELCA website (www.elca.org), I would like to provide you with specific directions to get to this information and resources that you may find helpful:

1.    Go to www.elca.org

2.    Near the top, just below the words “God’s work. Our hands.,” there are six choices and then the CAMPAIGN FOR THE ELCA box and a GIVE box.  The six choices are:  ABOUT; FAITH; INTERACTIVE MAP; RESOURCES; NEWS AND EVENTS; and OUR WORK.

3.    Place your mouse’s cursor over RESOURCES.  A Drop Down Box appears and in the far left column you will see two more choices come up in blue:  Downloadable Resources; and Items to Order.

4.    Click on Downloadable Resources.

5.    You will arrive at a page with over 50 categories of possible resources that could be useful to a congregation. BUT, you are looking for Mission related items. Below I provide you with some suggested categories to explore in alphabetical order:

6.    Click on Advocacy and find ways to speak out to your elected officials and to your congregation around public issues. Click on Congregational Based Organizing and you find resources for you to help your congregation be a resource in your community to organize and effect change on problems being faced. Click on Corporate Social Responsibility and learn ways that your congregation can address  and affect corporations around public issues. Click on Disability Ministry and learn how your congregation might be more effective in relating with and ministering with people with a disability. Click on Global Church Sponsorship and discover how your congregation can connect with and support mission work across the world. Click on such items as ELCA Good Gifts, ELCA Malaria Campaign, ELCA World Hunger, Justice for Women, Lutheran Disaster Response, Peace not Walls and Racial Justice and discover ways that your congregation can be a part of outreach and support of efforts to make a difference in each of these areas both domestically and abroad. Click on Mission Planning and discover resources for your congregation to develop a Mission Plan. Included there is our own synod’s resource called Manual for Congregational Mission Planning.

7.    Any problems or questions regarding these resources?  E-mail your Director for Evangelical Mission, Pastor Blair Morgan, at blair.morgan@elca.org.  Or, call me at the synod office at:  412-367-8222.

1/14

 

February 2014

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

Often February is the month in congregations when Congregation Councils get reformed. Most Annual Meetings are in January and most congregational elections are held at these meetings. New people are voted into office on the Congregation Councils. The February meeting can sometimes be a retreat, but it will at least be a time to distribute responsibilities as new people come on board the leadership team.

 

It is always helpful for congregations to do some serious thought about mission. Our Outreach Committee of the synod has been lifting up the Mission Planning process that we created a few years ago to help congregations work through the development of a mission plan. We hope that your leadership team would consider taking this important step.

 

However, some situations may just not be ready for such an in depth process. Yet, there are still questions about how a Council and whatever sub-committees may be represented might take new steps in mission in the coming year.

 

A simple technique that I have found helpful is a little process that I might call – Evaluation and One New Step Forward.

 

As your council, your team or teams examine the key areas of your congregation’s ministries – Christian Education, Worship, Outreach (some may split this between social ministry and evangelism), Fellowship, Stewardship – it is important to take time to evaluate what happened last year and make sure the key aspects are in place to continue the ministries. It is not unusual in congregations for there to be little if any evaluation of what took place, whether the activity is still important to continue, and how it might be carried out in the new year.

 

BUT, what also can be done is to ask a very simple question: What is one new ministry step that we could take in 2014? Maybe it could be an expansion in some way of something that is already being done well and could take a new step. Maybe it is something new that could touch some lives with the Gospel in a way that your congregation has never tried before. We do not have to do 5 new things in every area. But, taking one new step brings a refreshing challenge and a stretching of ministry that can often allow the Holy Spirit to blow through the congregation in a whole new way. New steps also can provide opportunities for new people to get involved. New things are often more attractive for new people to work with than what already is entrenched in the annual schedule of your congregation.

 

Maybe this year your council or your committees could try:

 

EVALUATION AND ONE NEW STEP FORWARD!

 

You never know what God might do as we try to listen and take a new step in mission!

2/14

 

 

March 2014

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

I continue to learn about the ministry and mission of the Gospel through being a part of our new start – Abiding Ministries.  Chris Rotella, our Mission Developer, encouraged the reading of a number of books, one of which was: Souls in the Hands of a Tender God by Craig Rennebohm.  The book helped me to begin to understand the central goal of accompaniment that Abiding is seeking to live out and to encourage in new ways across our synod and beyond.

 

An excerpt from the book could help to understand “abiding with – accompanying” as a ministry model (page 99):

 

“Lo, I am always with you,” says Jesus in the last verse of the Gospel of Matthew: a personal, human-being-to-human-being expression of the infinite and unceasing, tender Spirit of care that holds us each no matter how complex and difficult our circumstances.

 

In companionship, we accompany another as a living embodiment of the creative, nurturing, and grace-full love that is present in every life.  When I met Karl at the jail, the Spirit of God was already at work amid his struggle. The Spirit was seeking to foster Karl’s inmost well-being by creating around him a circle of support; seeking, that is, to knit Karl, in company with others, into a fabric of care.  I happened to be available and present at the moment when the circle of support began to form.

 

This is how I saw my role in Karl’s journey with the Spirit: I wanted to honor Karl’s own capacity to experience, explore, initiate, and decide – reinforce his fullest sense of becoming whole.  Wherever possible, I wanted to join the activity of the Spirit and amplify it.  If I could help prompt a thought, clarify a choice, open up a direction, assist with Karl’s memory, or encourage him to persist, this was how I could be of use.  In the act of accompaniment, I sought to understand how the Spirit moved as, together, we – Karl and I – were embraced by healing and recovery.

 

All of us are part of the larger spiritual network in each other’s lives.  All that we embody or reflect of the Spirit in our actions, words and decisions has an impact on those with whom we are sharing the human journey...

 

“With” is such an essential word in this ministry and mission model. Often, ministry comes in the form that doesn’t risk change, as one person offers something to another from some detached position of superiority.  “With” brings a certain vulnerability and a valuing of what the other has to offer that makes all the difference in accompaniment.

 

The very presence of a human Son of God in our midst is this – his vulnerability, his walking with, his willingness to lose. The fact that the Bible speaks of the Holy Spirit’s role as the “paraclete” – one who comes along side – is this.

 

I am continuing to learn, but I hope that as you find different ways of connecting to Abiding Ministries that it is into accompaniment that you find the Holy Spirit’s challenge and calling.

                                                                                                                                                3/14

 

May 2014

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

I have begun my morning half-hour walks with my good old dog, Blazer.  I do not walk in winter, but it is finally spring.  I don’t particularly, or at least initially, enjoy these walks – although Blazer does (she thinks we are hunting squirrels).  I know that it is good for me.  Now, as it becomes a habit, the walks become more enjoyable.  I often see certain people that I enjoy greeting briefly.  It becomes a physical encouragement to beginning my day.  I pray.  I enjoy the beauty of God’s creation as my neighbors begin their flower plantings and as their annuals spring up at the appointed times.  So, it takes some commitment, but it turns into a special blessing.

 

In one of my early walks I realized this reality - just doing it and finding that it will grow to be the blessing it needs to be – echoed a passage from Mark Alan Powell’s wonderful book, Loving Jesus (Fortress Press).  There, Powell talked about his experience in one of the early churches he served of making calls on the “inactives.”  He shared that in those days he was not aware of the opinions of pastoral ministry experts that these visits rarely result in people returning.  He just spent a year listening and visiting because he thought he was supposed to.  One of the things he learned is shared on pp.130-131:

 

For an entire year, I sat in homes and listened to people tell me why they had quit coming to church.  Of course, I looked for patterns, but the reasons were diverse: some people thought the church was too liberal (or too conservative); some didn’t like the liturgy (for example, the “new hymnal”); some didn’t like the youth program, or the way we did Communion.  People said, “I wasn’t getting fed” or “I just didn’t fell inspired” or “The people weren’t very friendly” or “I thought it was boring.”  It took me a while to find the common denominator: everyone was saying in some way, shape or form, “I quit coming to church because I wasn’t getting out of it what I thought I should get out of it.”

 

Now this struck me as odd.  When I was little, my mother used to pile us in the car every Sunday morning and drive us to church, and she would say, “We are going to worship God.”  I always thought that that was why people went to church: to worship God.  But these inactive members, apparently, did not have mothers like mine, and they had all somehow gotten the idea that the reason one goes to church is to get something out of it.  Frankly, as a child, I’m not sure if I ever expected to get anything out of it or not.  At any rate, that wasn’t the point.  “Six days a week, God is good to us, “my mother would say, “and on Sundays we give thanks.”

 

Where do we get the idea that what happens in church is about us?  It is the Lord’s day.  We go to worship the Lord.

 

Hmmm, I have found that regular worship is the central weekly event that lays the groundwork for mission in my life.  Certainly, some mornings are more inspirational than others.  But, I do find that as worship is a faithful part of my weekly routine, it is that which draws me into the realization that this life of ours is at its best when it is about God.  This is the underlying meaning of being disciples – God leads, we follow where God leads us!

 

Mission is nurtured in faithful, weekly worship.  It’s about God.

5/14

 

 

June 2014

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

It seems like I am reading about six books at once – and this is not a recent experience, but a way I have approached being a pastor over many years. One of the books, therefore, that I have been “in” for a while is Diana Butler Bass’ Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith (Harper One, 2006). It is likely a book that some of you read a long time ago. I am just getting around to it.

 

I find her journey through about 10 congregations and her learning’s from that journey helpful. The signs of life she found in these congregations were shared in 10 chapters headed in the following way: Hospitality, Discernment, Healing, Contemplation, Testimony, Diversity, Justice, Worship, Reflection, and Beauty.

 

Those headings are not something she had in mind before she ever walked through these congregations and their ministries. These were the headings of chapters because it was in these areas that she witnessed life, energy, inspiration and encouragement for mainline congregations – finding them not as doomed as many like to predict.

 

Thus, as I have finished that central portion of the book, it has led me to wonder how these particular aspects of ministry are being lived out in our congregations:

·         Hospitality takes intentionality. It means actually wanting new people to feel welcome and to have a place in the ministry – even being willing to see some changes as they join in.

·         Discernment implies that rostered and lay leadership believe that God is the leader of the congregation and its ministries. It means leadership consistently takes seriously working toward living out God’s will for the congregation.

·         Healing is an interesting one, don’t you think? Does our congregation care about healing – the physical, mental and spiritual healing of each person as needed? Do we believe that, in the Gospel, healing can take place?

·         Opportunities for Contemplation lead us into a deeper sense of our experience of God. It can mean prayer. It can mean Bible study. It can mean training to deepen people’s discipleship. But, it matters to us that we go deeper in our faith.

·         Testimony is something that we hardly talk about in our tradition. Yet, she found that congregations that gave people an opportunity to learn how to talk about their faith and encouraged that testimony had a contagious vitality to their ministry that she felt was important. Hmmmm.

·         Diversity matters – political, theological, cultural, racial, economic, etc.. If we only want and welcome people just like us our future is not as promising. Of course, also, that approach of only wanting people like us has little to do with the call of the Gospel!

·         Justice is one of those words that everyone is for, but often there is only energy for it if we have experienced injustice. Yet, in the Affirmation of Baptism liturgy we hear the words, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth. Some congregations have embraced this and found vital ministry through taking justice in the world seriously.

·         Worship is something that every pastor believes that they do well. I have rarely met a pastor that believes that preaching is NOT one of their gifts and that worship planning is NOT central to their work. Yet, a lot of worship is dreadful. We easily blame our people and their expectations and approach to worship, but we all have room for improvement in this.

·         Reflection is the opportunity for us to look at our lives in a faithful way of seeking to be more of what God would have us be. Do we do this ourselves? Do we provide ways for our people to experience this in an affirming, growing way?

·         Beauty is the reality that we can find great beauty in our experience of God and we can find God in the midst of great experiences of beauty. The arts can lead us into the profound depths of God. Creation has great ability to take us deeper in our journeys with
God. Are we providing our people with experiences of this beauty and/or allowing them to share such experiences?

Just some thoughts on a book and our desires to be more of what God would have us be as disciples and as congregations.

 6/14

 

 

July 2014

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

It has been five years now that I have had the privilege of serving as the Director for Evangelical Mission (DEM) in our synod.  I have learned a lot over that period of time and I also hope that it has been a period of opportunity for the Lord to use the gifts that I have in serving the congregations and rostered staff of the synod.

 

One of the things that I am sure is still not understood is exactly what my responsibilities are as the DEM.  The job description under which I was called involved about 3 - 4 pages of responsibilities.  I have often reduced that in conversation to the phrase: “I am a resource person provided by the church-wide organization of the ELCA to this synod for support of mission and stewardship to congregations and rostered leaders.”

 

Recently, I found a nice summary of the key responsibilities for DEM’s. This list is now posted on the door of my office at the Synod Offices and also near my desk.  It seemed that it might be a helpful reminder to be shared in the ECHO as well.

 

The Eight Key Responsibilities of a DEM:

 

  • Starting new ministries

 

  • Engaging congregations in a process of renewal or transformation

 

  • Increasing mission support

 

  • Providing stewardship education

 

  • Developing synodical mission plans

 

  • Assisting congregations in developing congregational mission plans

 

  • Encouraging and helping congregations connect to their communities

 

  • Strengthening faith practices with congregations

 

As I have worked with our Outreach Committee, our Stewardship and Financial Support Committee and our Inclusiveness and Diversity Committee we have found opportunities to develop resources and be at work in all of these areas.

 

As you see this list, if there is anything there that inspires a conversation around mission and stewardship, please call me.  I am ready and available to address ministry needs in any of these areas in the life of our synod.

 

Synod Office phone: 412-367-8222 and my e-mail: blair.morgan@elca.org.

7/14

 

 

September 2014

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

A couple of months ago, I shared that I was reading Diana Butler Bass’ Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith (Harper One, 2006).  Well, I finished the book!

 

I found her journey through about 10 congregations and what she learned from that journey helpful.  I shared the 10 chapter headings that represented aspects of ministry that were signs of life in the mainline congregations that she studied.  They were: Hospitality, Discernment, Healing, Contemplation, Testimony, Diversity, Justice, Worship, Reflection, and Beauty.

 

Near the end of the book she moves to sharing how she saw these congregations involved in the experiences of transforming lives, transforming congregations and transforming the world.  Tucked into the chapter on transforming congregations was this insightful paragraph regarding change (page 243):

 

In the churches along my way, change was not gimmicky innovation in search of cultural relevance.  Too often, churches think that if they add guitars to worship, put DVDs in Sunday school rooms, or open a food court in the foyer, new people will join.  This kind of change smacks of market tinkering – adjusting the product to improve sales.  In my journey, churches changed at a much deeper level and for different reasons.  In many cases change was made inevitable by numerical decline, financial crisis, or neighborhood transition.  Spiritual anxiety gripped the community, pushing the congregation to realize that it needed to be different.  Whether threatened by spiritual boredom or facing church closure, each congregation had asked two questions that sparked deep change: Who are we?  What is God calling us to do?  They discovered a renewed sense of identity and a clear purpose in serving the world.  They experienced a change of heart that transformed their communal understanding of who God had made them to be.

 

Who are we?  What is God calling us to do?

 

This congregational journey of seeking to discern what God is calling the congregation to do – what is its mission – has been a key piece of the work that I have been doing with congregations as the Director for Evangelical Mission.

 

Our “Manual for Congregational Mission Planning” that you can find on our synod’s website (www.swpasynod.org) has the subheading “Discerning God’s Mission for Our Congregation.”  It is based on three Listenings: Listening to God – discerning our identity, Listening to our neighbors – discerning our context, and Listening to our own congregation – discerning our purpose.  Through these three Listenings, a planning team discovers key missional objectives upon which to focus over the next 2-3 years.

 

We are currently working with 7 congregations as they journey through this mission discovery process.  We would love to work with 7 more in the coming months.  If you would be interested in exploring this journey for your congregation please call me at the synod office (412-367-8222) or e-mail (blair.morgan@elca.org).

9/14

 

 

October 2014

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

President Rick Barger of Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio writes a weekly update from the seminary that I receive.  Recently he shared a story from his earlier days as a pastor:

 

"Up until a little over a year ago, when I became Trinity's president, I served as a congregational pastor.  For years as a pastor, I began every gathering with our middle and high school youth with a familiar litany.  Whether gathering as CIA (Confirmands in Action) on a Sunday afternoon or with a mix of middle and high school youth at a weekend retreat at Camp Lutheridge, we would begin this way:


Leader: Who are we?

All: The church!

Leader: Why are we here?     

All: To be disciples!

Leader: What does the church say?

All: He is risen!

Leader: What do we have to offer?

All: Hope for the world! "

 

It is a brave thing to share something like this because my experience in the life of the church is that many of us more easily find ways to dissect and critique such sharing than appreciate it and adapt it for our own ministry.  I just thought, though, that this was an interesting regular interaction for basic teaching those youth that had some Missional roots.

 

It is worth a try!  Capture some key aspects of mission and ministry and repeat them with your people in appropriate contexts on a regular basis.

 

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton has developed some key statements of focus for our life together that she emphasizes in the many places that she speaks in these early days of her service as our presiding bishop.  Have you seen them? Do you remember them?

 

·         We are church

·         We are Lutheran.

·         We are church together.

·         We are church for the sake of the world.

 

Please understand that this IS NOT an encouragement to dumbing down our theology or mission to some catch phrases or to a bumper sticker mentality.  It is recognizing that key phrases can teach and inspire.  I think even Martin Luther recognized the possibilities!  What about something like:

 

·         Word Alone

·         Grace Alone

·         Faith Alone

·         Christ Alone

 

What might your key phrases be?  Just wondering?!

10/14

 

November 2014

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

We are moving into a season where rostered leaders and congregations are thinking about having a Council Retreat.  I am often asked to be a resource for these events or asked if I know of some helpful resources for a Council Retreat.  Always remember that Beth Caywood and our Resource Center is another source for ideas and leadership around this aspect of leadership development.

 

There is a new resource that has been developed in the context of the Book of Faith materials.  It is called Story Matters: Naming, Claiming and Living Our Biblical Identity.  You can find this resource at www.bookoffaith.org.  It is featured on that title page with the opportunity to click on “Read more.”  When you go to the “read more” option, the booklet is available as a .pdf file as well as some additional resources to help you lead this process.

 

Story Matters invites your group to prayerfully work through a process of choosing a particular story of passage from Scripture that would inspire and guide your ministry as a congregation.  This could be used as a theme for the year.  It could be used as an identity passage for your congregation.

 

What if your congregational leadership at all levels began to live in and through a particular scriptural passage for a period of time?  The key here is a Dwelling in the Word process that enables your people to work again and again with a passage in depth.  It invites them to live in the passage rather than just have a passage read briefly for just one meeting with some quickly shared thoughts and a prayer and then moving on into the “business” of the meeting.

What if your congregation took on a deeper identity around the Great Commission?  Could the key verbs of that passage inform the active expression of your ministries (go, make disciples, baptize, teach)?  Would it always be helpful to be reminded again and again of the presence of Jesus within your meetings and your ministries?

What if the story of the Parable of the Good Samaritan became your resource scripture?  Could the introduction of that story around the two great love commandments of Jesus provide fruitful discussion again and again?  Could the story inspire new perspectives around who YOUR neighbors are and how YOUR people might prove to BE neighbors to them?

What stories or passages might you seek to have your leaders consider?  What stories or passages might they bring into the conversation?  Just the discussion of how these biblical options connect to your mission and ministries could be amazingly fruitful for grounding your ongoing ministry in scripture and centering it as a journey in Christ.

The booklet and the resources are such that you would be able to lead through the process on your own and adjust it to make it your own. I know it can be helpful to have an outside person come into the leadership discussion.  This is a role that I can serve if desired.

Mission planning centered on the scriptures is absolutely worth exploring.  Please think and pray about this as an option for the coming year in your congregation.                                       

11/14

 

December 2014

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

I was recently given the opportunity to see this blog article of a non-scientific poll of reasons why people do not return for a second visit to churches. I thought it was an interesting discussion piece. It was written by The Rev. Thom Rainier, a Southern Baptist, and can be found at this website address:  http://thomrainer.com/2014/11/01/top-ten-ways-churches-drive-away-first-time-guests/.:

 

"If you attend a church regularly, you’ve probably noticed the phenomenon. A guest shows up for a worship service, but he or she never returns. It is, unfortunately, a common issue in many churches.

I did a Twitter poll to ask these first-time guests why they chose not to return to a particular church. While some of the responses were anticipated, I admit being a bit surprised with some of them.

Though my poll is not scientific, it is nevertheless fascinating. Here are the top ten responses in order of frequency."

1.    Having a stand up and greet one another time in the worship service. This response was my greatest surprise for two reasons. First, I was surprised how much guests are really uncomfortable during this time. Second, I was really surprised that it was the most frequent response.

2.    Unfriendly church members. This response was anticipated. But the surprise was the number of respondents who included non-genuine friendliness in their answers. In other words, the guests perceived some of the church members were faking it.

3.    Unsafe and unclean children’s area. This response generated the greatest emotional reactions. If your church does not give a high priority to children, don’t expect young families to attend.

4.    No place to get information. If your church does not have a clear and obvious place to get information, you probably have lowered the chances of a return visit by half. There should also be someone to greet and assist guests at that information center as well.

5.    Bad church website. Most of the church guests went to the church website before they attended a worship service. Even if they attended the service after visiting a bad website, they attended with a prejudicial perspective. The two indispensable items guests want on a website are address and times of service. It’s just that basic.

6.    Poor signage. If you have been attending a church for a few weeks, you forget all about the signage. You don’t need it any more. But guests do. And they are frustrated when it’s not there.

7.    Insider church language. Most of the respondents were not referring to theological language as much as language that only the members know. My favorite example was: “The WMU will meet in the CLC in the room where the GAs usually meet.”

8.    Boring or bad service. My surprise was not the presence of this item. The surprise was that it was not ranked higher.

9.    Members telling guests that they were in their seat or pew. Yes, this obviously still takes place in some churches.

10. Dirty facilities. Some of the comments: “Didn’t look like it had been cleaned in a week.” “No trash cans anywhere.” Restrooms were worse than a bad truck stop.” “Pews had more stains than a Tide commercial.”

 

It seemed like an interesting list and worth thinking about and even talking about.

12/14

 

 

February 2015

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

Recently I was invited to lead a Council Retreat around teamwork and developing a team.  The following was a part of what I presented that I thought could be helpful in this time of year as councils, committees and teams recruit new members for their work:

SOME THINGS TO DO TO CREATE A TEAM:

 

·         PRAY – No, really, pray!  This is God’s work and God wants this to be something meaningful and fulfilling in your life and the lives of those with whom you will work.  God is on your side in this.

o   Pray for guidance to think of people with the gifts to do the work that you have ahead and with whom you can work, but the GIFTS part is more important.  This is not just go find a friend and guilt them into helping you because you need someone with whom to work.

o   Create a list of a few people – more than you would need.

§  Are there people that are not usually asked that you could recruit?

§  Would there be a youth that could be included for this task?

§  Talk with the pastor if you are having trouble coming up with alternatives.

·         ASK – Explain to this person that you are responsible for this aspect of ministry in the congregation – you have prayed and feel that they have some gifts to help with this in the coming year or for this particular project – give them time to pray and think about what they should do.

o   Accept their answer and thank them.

o   A NO is as good as a YES because you want to find those that are able and willing to be about the ministry.

·         INCLUDE – If you bring people on to the team, give them things to do as you work at your ministry responsibilities

o   If they miss a meeting or an event, make sure they know when the next meeting soon after the meeting date is set, so that they do not end up “out of the loop.”

·         CELEBRATE – Whatever event, work, ministry you are about, make sure you share with the congregation what took place and how God was at work!

o   Share who all worked on the project, event, ministry.

o   Have some pictures taken and post them out here in the gathering area.

o   Have someone write up a newsletter article about what took place.

·         Remember that you are all in this together and that you are working with real people who are sinners just like you.  They can forget things.  They can say awkward things.  They can do some things not as well as you might have done them.

o   The better you are at being patient with these things, the better they will be at being patient with you when you forget, or say something awkward or are not able to do something as well as they might.

o   THIS IS GOD’S WORK AND PEOPLE MATTER.

2/15

 

 

March 2015

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

WITH

 

There is a very important word that is a key focus of Abiding Ministries, our Synod Authorized Worshiping Community that works WITH people experiencing homelessness and poverty, especially in the greater downtown area of Pittsburgh.

 

Yes, WITH is the word.

 

A word that is often used to describe this approach to ministry is “accompaniment,” but the most important word that must become part of our understanding as we work together to be a part of this ministry is “WITH.”

 

Over many years in congregational ministry, I have been a part of teams that take food to shelters and had even served as a volunteer chaplain at a shelter for about 15 years.  I have experienced 99% of the time teams that bring food ready-made, distribute the food with a small amount of conversation as it is distributed, and then do a quick clean-up and leave.  As part of some of the those teams, I have felt like I had accomplished something special in ministry and was impressed with the appreciation I heard from those men (it was a men’s shelter) for what we were doing.  All of this was ministry “TO” people experiencing homelessness and poverty.

 

What happens with Abiding is different. The food is fixed in Trinity Lutheran’s kitchen with a combination of those providing the food and those coming for the meal and fellowship.  Everyone works together to set up the tables.  Everyone works together to pass out the food.  Everyone SITS together to eat the food and talk about their life journeys.  Everyone works together to clean up after the meal.  It is a journey “WITH” each other rather than a doing “for” or “to” those people.

 

“WITH” has become a very special word for me.  I have learned a lot as I have participated from time to time in the Day Shelter events we are sponsoring during very cold days over the winter (If the daily high does not pass 19 degrees, we hold a Day Shelter.)

 

I write this because our synod congregations have been blessings in providing clothing, sleeping bags, tents, and toiletry items.  Some have taken the extra step and come and provided a breakfast or a lunch or both for the weekly Thursday Fellowship or the Day Shelters (more are needed, by the way).  Some have provided financial donations so that we can provide food on the days no food teams come and so that we can provide other support items as they arise and are immediately needed.  This can include bus tickets, some clothing items not available through donations, rent support in certain situations, and various other unpredictable things that arise in the lives of people economically on the edge of our society.

 

This ministry has grown and could not have grown without all that you have done and continue to do.

 

But, please realize that an encounter WITH Abiding Ministries is an opportunity to be on a journey WITH people in this challenging time in their lives.  WITH is a word that also transcends ministry to people in poverty.  It is actually a key aspect of the INCARNATION and of a key name of Jesus – EMMANUEL, GOD WITH US.

 

We would love to have more of you come and be WITH us on this journey.  Thank you so much!             

3/15

 

 

May 2015

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

I was recently in a conversation with a cross-section of interested people from a congregation about their congregation’s challenges.  Some of them were on their congregation council and some were people involved in other ways.  At one point a gentleman shared some thoughts that I heard in this way: “My family has just been coming here for less than a year.  We have enjoyed the congregation and our relationships within it.  Our kids have gotten involved and been welcomed.  I have enjoyed the pastor’s ministry here.  I have been active in other Lutheran congregations over the years and have been just observing over this time.  It seems to me that this congregation just doesn’t yet know what it wants to aim at.  I think if it took aim it could really make a difference in something.”  This comment was well received and helped further the conversation that I wanted to lead.

 

As the Director for Evangelical Mission, I was greatly elated at this comment.  It came from someone who had newly chosen to be a part of the congregation.  It came from someone who had children.  It came from someone else’s mouth besides my own.  And, it was spot on!

 

It is not unusual for both pastors and lay leaders to think that everybody knows what our mission is – what we are aiming to be about as a church.  We worship.  We fellowship.  We teach.  We minister within and beyond our congregation.  Isn’t obvious?  We do church stuff!

 

Aiming is an essential aspect in hitting a target or goal.  An old saying goes, “Aim at nothing and you generally hit it!”

 

This is why we have been encouraging Congregational Mission Planning in our synod.  We can be very busy and end up not accomplishing effectively what our congregation is being called by God to accomplish in mission.  It is possible for congregations to just spin their wheels and not really get anywhere.

 

Mission is about impact upon the needs and challenges of your community.  It is about people finding themselves caught up in the discipleship journey of faithfully following Jesus and being fulfilled in that journey.

 

Living out this mission requires prayer and discernment.  It takes seriously that God is interested in matching the gifts of a congregation with the challenges of the community in which they exist.

 

We have resources available to help congregations on this journey of mission discernment.  It is a helpful process that enables a congregation to aim its mission faithfully.

 

If this seems like a journey upon which your congregation needs to travel, please give me a call at the synod office (412-367-8222) or e-mail me at blair.morgan@elca.org.  Our Outreach Committee is ready to help you into this exciting time of discernment.

5/15

 

 

June 2015

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

 

I was hungry and you formed a group

To discuss my hunger.

THANK YOU.

I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly

To your chapel to pray for my release.

NICE.

I was naked and in your mind you debated

The morality of my appearance.

WHAT GOOD DID THAT DO?

I was sick and you knelt and thanked God

For your health.

BUT I NEEDED YOU.

I was homeless and you preached to me

Of the shelter of the love of God.

I WISH YOU’D TAKEN ME HOME.

I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me.

WHY DIDN’T YOU STAY?

You seem so holy, so close to God; but I’m still

Very hungry, lonely, cold and still in pain.

DOES IT MATTER?

ANONYMOUS

6/15

 

 

July 2015

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

“If you are not reaching out to your immediate neighborhood, you will die.”

 

This was a sentence that was part of a recent conversation with someone in my office.  It was not expressed about a person, but expressed regarding a congregation.  I am not sure whether I said it or they said it, but it was so useful I wrote it down.

 

So what do you think?  Where is the truth in this statement?  Are there exceptions?  Should there be?  Should we go immediately to the exceptions or think a bit about how it might powerfully apply?

 

We have congregations in our synod who know very few people in the immediate neighborhood in which their church building sits.  It is often because most of the congregation is no longer from that local community and they do not know anyone that lives there.  Sometimes the community is of a different economic stratum.  Sometimes the neighborhood is of a different racial or ethnic mix than the most of the congregation.  And, sometimes it is just because the congregation is so busy with its own “stuff” that connecting to the neighborhood has not really ever been attempted in an intentional way.

 

Sometimes our buildings are somewhat separated from any particular neighborhood by businesses or just the geography of the location.  Should we then work a little harder to discern what neighborhood would see themselves as connected to a congregation meeting in a church building at that location?  Maybe it is on a key route to the shopping area from a neighborhood.  Maybe we host a community group in which the majority of those participants are from a particular neighborhood close by.

 

It is the rare mainline congregation that is able to live as a “destination church.”  Many of our people do drive distances and pass other congregations of their own denomination to worship at a distant one.  But, the vast majority of those people do so out of loyalty to that building and group of people with whom they have worshipped for many years – maybe their whole life.  When that generation begins to die off or finds the distance too difficult to navigate, our congregations dwindle quickly.

 

If no effort has been made to reach people nearby, the congregation is dying and will finally close.

 

Yes, there are exceptions for exceptional congregations of powerful, Gospel ministry.  But, powerful Gospel ministry is worth the trip. Interestingly enough, most powerful, Gospel ministries are invested in their local neighborhoods in one way or another. Just saying!

 

It may be worth taking a look at who is active in the life of your congregation and how far they travel to get to your building.

 

Or, you may totally disagree with this premise.  Please, let’s talk.  I would love to learn from you around that conversation and your perspective.

7/15

 

 

September 2015

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

Below is a recent article from Luther Seminary’s Center for Stewardship Leaders. You may think that I put this under the wrong heading, but it is a powerful reminder that mission can be accomplished in new and creative ways.  We are seeing this through Abiding Ministries and Community Three for One in our synod and this stands as a reminder to all of us to be thinking outside the box when it comes to mission.

 

The 2007-2008 financial crisis was a particular shock to our collective consumptive systems.  From what I saw, average giving and membership often dropped as people coped with financial losses.  Congregations struggled to pay for facilities, staff, and programs expanded prior to the crisis.

 

However, a number of promising cultural patterns have emerged out of the crisis, including: a rise in social enterprise - using commercial strategies and social collaboration for the sake of neighbor and community - and the emergence of access economy - the practice of collaboratively trading goods and services on the basis of availability and need.

 

LydiaPlace Collaborative Communities is a new ELCA mission start in Saint Paul, Minnesota, dedicated to exploring how collaboration through social enterprise and access economics can provide a basis for resourcing new Christian community.

 

In its context (a primarily warehouse/industrial district being transformed into a multi-cultural creative enterprise zone), Lydia has intentionally focused on building collaborative relationships with like-minded organizations and community leaders.  Some are distinctly secular; others even skeptical of the church.  Yet, we have united around shared social concerns (social enterprise) by sharing excess capacities (access economy).  What’s more, some of these collaborations have reduced the strain on Lydia’s limited financial capacity by providing low-cost or free resources to the ministry.

 

A few examples include:

  • A local brewpub provides space for a Lydia sponsored co-working community, at no charge, during non-serving hours.  The community offers professional (and spiritual) support to self-employed, entrepreneurial, and/or “differently officed” people at a minimal cost.  Lydia manages and promotes co-working sessions and provides high speed internet and other resources.  In return, the brewpub gets exposure to a new customer base.
  • Lydia sponsors Hymntap, a monthly beer and hymn event at another pub.  Hymntap brings new patrons to the pub, and Lydia provides fellowship for hymn fans while proclaiming the Good News through song to people who may never otherwise interact with the church.
  • Wednesdays, at noon, Lydia leads a public ecumenical prayer service in a local park.  The relationships built there are opening avenues for collaboration with other local churches, businesses, organizations and ventures.
  • Lydia is preparing to begin public worship at a new art gallery space.  There’s no charge to use the space.  Lydia brings new people into the gallery as well as providing chairs and tables for the gallery’s use.

 

These are but a few examples; more opportunities emerge weekly.  In order to respond faithfully, Lydians actively engage in missional discernment and strategic practices (see Dwight Zscheile’s book, The Agile Church) in order to be able to emphatically and confidently say “yes” to new opportunities as they arise.

 

Although co-working income and monthly gifts from supporters more than offset operational costs, the margin is slim.  Lydia remains open to new collaborations and opportunities, and always to the work of the Spirit in its midst.

9/15

 

October 2015

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

It is a very special time for mission in the life of The Church, and of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and for the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod. New opportunities are arising for congregations and faithful Christians to be Christ into the needs and challenges of their neighbors.

 

How might you and/or your congregation reach out into your neighborhood with the love and grace of Jesus our Lord?

 

This is not what was once a question of pushing the Christian theological salvation agenda onto an unsuspecting family member, friend, neighbor or acquaintance. This is being a caring listener with an understanding that Christ and the Gospel can provide strength, hope, comfort and direction in people’s lives.

 

But the mission is built around the grace and love of the Gospel. It is built around going out and caring, walking WITH, listening and hearing what is going on in a person’s life journey.

 

This expands for a congregation in terms of going out and listening to the challenges and needs of a community and being willing to take steps into those challenges because of the grace and love that is ours in Jesus Christ.

 

What particularly makes this time special is that congregations and people are doing this in very creative and non-traditional ways across our country.

 

House churches are springing up as small, but powerful, gatherings of faithful Christians seeking to live out the Gospel.

 

Pub ministries are being developed where people gather for Bible study and even worship in the context of a local pub.

 

Feeding ministries are springing up all over the place that are providing free meals and caring fellowship with the hope of seeing opportunities for God’s grace and the Gospel to grow within and among the people gathered.

 

How might you and/or your congregation reach out into your neighborhood with the love and grace of Jesus our Lord?

 

Disciples grow in their faith through reaching out. Congregations grow in their ministries through reaching out. BUT, the growth comes in losing one’s own needs and agendas and walking WITH those one encounters on the mission.

 

How might you and/or your congregation reach out into your neighborhood with the love and grace of Jesus our Lord?

10/15

 

November 2015

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear - I John 4:18a

 

I recently read some responses from Directors for Evangelical Mission from across the ELCA to questions around Area Mission Strategies.  This term is the way staff with the ELCA talk about combinations of congregations working to be involved in mission together in a particular context.

 

A question was raised regarding what often keeps congregations from doing more of this working together across congregational lines and relationships.  There were multiple responses, but I found it interesting that a key word in so many of them was “fears.”  These fears were expressed in many different ways and with words other than fear, but it interested me that this word did pop up pretty frequently from different parts of the country.

 

It made me think.  It is hard to overcome our fears of what might be: fears of change; fears of losing what we have always known; fears of having to work with new people that we do not know.

 

It seems easier to just keep things the way they are.  BUT, it is false to think that things STAY the way they are.  Thus, we often live in changing circumstances because we were afraid to move into something new that might have required change!  Nothing really stays the same.  But, we are often desperate to try to keep it the way it has always been. 

The verse above came to mind as I was thinking about this. “Perfect love casts out fear.”

 

Even in contexts where people try to take new steps, it seems that we rarely lift up that it was love was the driving force – God’s deep, faithful, costly love for us inspiring us to risk and try something new.  It often is that love, but it is not something that easily arises in our language about what took place.

 

Love requires risk.  It requires investment – commitment.  “Love is patient. Love is kind.” Love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all thinks, endures all things.” (I Corinthians 13)

 

I think giving into fear turns out to be easier.  It requires less of those costly things.  It can even feel like we are doing the right thing.

 

As one goes just a little further in I John we find an even more famous sentence, “We love because he first loved us.”  God can lovingly inspire us into a love that can take us beyond our fears.

 

Love is hard and can be costly.  Yet, love also yields a deeper experience of life and relationships that fear does not allow.

 

I am just wondering if there are times when we just need to see that the harder thing, the more uncertain thing, the more risky thing may actually be the loving thing and that to which God’s love for us is calling us.

 

I am just wondering and would be glad to talk further about this with anyone and hear your thoughts about fear and love.

                                                                                               

11/15

 

 

December 2015 - January 2016

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

Recently, we placed on the Southwestern Pennsylvania website many of these articles that have been written by me over the last six years around mission and stewardship.

 

You may access these Microsoft Word documents by going to our website: www.swpasynod.org, and clicking on “Resources,” “Mission and Stewardship Tools,” and then following the links to the lists of articles. Or, here is a direct link to the main Mission and Stewardship Tools page: http://www.swpasynod.org/resources/mission-and-stewardship-tools. Click the live links on that page for the various resources you are interested in.

There are 46 articles around stewardship under six categories and 54 articles around mission under six categories.

As far as mission, the six categories are:

·         Evangelism

·         Helpful book suggestions on Mission

·         Inspirational articles around Mission

·         Mission Planning

·         Resources for Mission

·         Scripture around Mission

Some articles that you might find helpful include:

·         Why People Don’t Return to a Congregation after a First Visit

·         Mission in a Culture that Sees Scarcity

·         Praying with Expectation

·         More Ideas for Reaching Out into Your Neighborhood

·         William Passavant and Mission

·         Mission and the Importance of WITH

·         Mission – Basic Planning 1

·         Mission Scripture and Prayer

·         Finding Resources for Mission on the ELCA website

As you look for ideas to share with a committee or for articles to include in your newsletter, I hope this library of articles proves helpful to your mission work!

                                                                                                                                    12/15

 

 

February 2016

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

Mission articles take many forms.  This Mission article is actually all about a form.  It is the report form that all ELCA congregations are asked to complete that updates basic statistics and other information.

 

This is not exciting stuff, these forms!

 

Most people experience them as difficult and time consuming.  Often we can find more important things to work on – sometimes this is true and sometimes we find we will just work on anything so that we do not have to face a form.

 

But there is mission in these forms and that is what I want to lift up.

 

When someone wants to know more about your congregation, one of the places they can go is www.elca.org.  In the top right corner of that home page there is a little phrase that states: “Find a Congregation.”  Anyone can go there and search for information regarding any congregation in the ELCA.  One of the options is “Full Trend Report for this congregation.”

 

The Full Trend Report reveals the information that your congregation has reported over the last seven years.  If you have not reported anything, then it just shows all the same numbers year after year.  If someone is seeking to learn more about your congregation because they want to visit, this implies you really do not have anything to share.  It can imply that nothing is happening or that things are so bad that you are afraid to report them.  It can imply that your congregation is administratively irresponsible.

 

Thus, it does not put your best foot forward to those interested in your congregation.

 

Those reports are now due.  Someone in your congregation has the report form on their desk.  There are even some new and exciting questions about congregational life that are asked this year.

 

For the sake of mission, make sure you fill out the form!

2/16

 

March 2016

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

Mission requires a certain nimbleness that institutions have a hard time supplying.

 

Mission arises as the needs of people are discovered through personal encounters.  Someone sees a need and is willing to say, “Why can’t we reach out there and help?”  Who can go and walk with this person and hear what their challenges are and learn how we can respond?

 

The institutional context tends to reply with such thoughts as: Well, what if the challenges are greater than we can meet?  What if the relationship is awkward?  What if we are not equal to the task in some way and someone from our group says or does something inappropriate?  If something goes wrong, will our insurance cover it?  We are having enough just trying to meet our own budget – keep the lights on, pay the heating bill, cover the costs for the pastor.

 

And then, someone may say something like, “I think we can do this.  I will look into it.  It seems like God is calling us to respond.  I can ask _______ and _______ to help me and we can explore and figure this out.”

 

When that kind of statement arises within the institutional cautions, ministry begins to happen.

 

It generally takes someone willing to say, “I think we can do this.  I will look into it.”

 

It could be the pastor, but it rarely is the pastor that ends up inspiring a whole new ministry.  It is often someone of the congregation willing to say, “I think we can do this.  I will look into it.”  The pastor is often a key supporter in the looking into.  The pastor can speak a word of support into the context of the institution that can break down barriers and open up possibilities.  But, it is someone of the congregation with a willing heart, moved by the Holy Spirit, willing to “go the extra mile” as Jesus said that enables mission.

 

It is the caring person that enables the nimbleness required to do ministry.  It is the caring person that can enable the institution to respond.  It is the personal relationships that arise and the stories of what God is doing and is ready to do that make the difference.

 

Institutions have their place.  They need not be evil and in the way.  But, generally, they need to be moved into action by people – people inspired by the Holy Spirit and willing, in Christ, to go the extra mile of investment to make a difference in the name Christ.

 

Mission happens.  It requires a nimbleness of heart and faith by someone to move the institution.  Maybe you might be that someone that God is moving right now in your congregation!

3/16

 

 

June 2016

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

Please think about the following model of the aging process of a congregation and where your congregation might find itself. Your Synod Outreach Committee is able to provide ongoing resources for all congregations, but especially to congregations that find themselves on the right side of this arrow. We want to help you to be moving back into the Creative Formation area on the left.

 

6/16

 

October 2016

 

ON MISSION

Pastor Blair Morgan, Director for Evangelical Mission

 

What would happen in the life of your congregation or even your Congregation Council if the question was asked:  What is the Rationale for why our congregation is here?  Why do we exist?  What if someone said, “That’s dumb!  Everybody knows why we’re here. It’s …”  Then, someone else said, “Well, yeah, but what about …?”  Then, a conversation arose around the purpose for your ministry!  That would seem pretty valuable and worthwhile.

 

What if then it was asked, “What Objectives might we identify to accomplish this rationale or purpose?”  What do we seek to accomplish to be about that mission?  Some might say, “Well, we do what all churches do! We worship.  We have a building.  We teach the faith and stuff.”  What if a further conversation arose around what the key objectives for your ministry work might be?

 

What if then it was asked, “What strategies might we develop to accomplish those objectives?”  What do we do to be about those key things that make us a faithful Lutheran Christian congregation?  How might we improve on what we are doing or expand it?

 

What if then, finally, someone wondered, “Do we ever evaluate the ministries which live out?”  Do we ever ask the questions:  How did it go?  Could we have improved on what we did?  Should this be continued and why or why not?

 

It has been my experience as the Director for Evangelical Mission over these 7 years that most of our congregations do not think about these key questions very often, if ever.  We tend to just try to keep doing the stuff we have always done.  We tend to expect the people who have led those things to continue doing them until they just absolutely quit, or even sad to say, die!

 

A few of our congregations have sought ways to do some specific planning.  Some have used resources that we provide through the synod.  Some have resources that they have found on their own.

 

At our recent Synod Assembly, a memorial was passed to create a pilot project to encourage congregations to use the ROSE process as a resource for planning and focusing their mission.  ROSE stands for Rationale, Objectives, Strategies and Evaluation.  What I have described above is the kind of thinking that we believe could be a simple and helpful step for many of our congregations to take for better focusing their mission.

 

A team is working to create a ROSE process for congregations interested in something that might strengthen their ministries.  More will be coming out about this in the next month or so, but it seemed important to start the thinking now.  Why is our congregation here?

10/16

 

 

         

   
 

Pittsburgh Lutheran United Ministries (PLUM), 405 Kennedy Avenue, Duquesne, PA 15110        412-466-7773