What is the GOAL or MISSION of your church?
(Interestingly this was the focus of our first Pittsburgh Lutheran United Ministries Retreat.)
Dear Partners in Ministry,
With Thanksgiving and the new church year season of Advent, November 28th, on the horizon, it was exciting to gather as a team of seven churches at our first PLUM Retreat last weekend. With over 43 representatives from each of our cooperative ministry congregations investing the major part of the day, sharing and reviewing our histories, evaluating our current situations, and beginning the process of taking charge of our futures by initiating a discussion focusing on our individual mission and goals, it was a good day. To make it more interesting it had many of the elements of a James Bond, “007” spy thriller. Following Vicar Melba’s introductions and devotions encouraging God’s blessings on our days activities she passed the baton on to Pastor Beth. Pastor Beth started us off sharing our individual congregations’ background stories of history and “Scarcity to Abundance,” rags to riches, where common everyday people in groups smaller than our current congregations, many our relatives, saw a vision and experienced the call to arms. They established camp sites called worship sites, sometimes in homes, libraries, theaters, and store fronts from which they invited others to join with them and continue sharing their Gospel stories. (Check out your congregation’s history.) By the mid 1950’s the need for larger worship sites from which to continue their outreach became evident and was addressed as larger church buildings, and additions, many looking like fortresses, were constructed. But alas, for many not ten years passed before the culture shift began in the 1960’s as suburbia became in vogue and the communities around our churches began a change that continues all the way through to today. In other words, in many ways our churches have gone full circle which brings us back to our roots and the early days in our ministries.
Following the “rags to riches back to rags” stories of our histories, Pastor Blair Morgan, ELCA Director for Evangelical Mission for our synod, led us through a process of looking at our individual congregational assets (facilities, people, talents, location, etc.) It was here that the different congregational spies came out in force. Eaves dropping on other church’s conversations, checking out others asset lists, challenging themselves to copy and improve their own list. After the asset lists were developed, some with several poster board sheets full of thoughts, Pastor Paul Koch (our new interim pastor) turned our focus towards developing a mission statement and setting some goals (in support of that mission) that we would like to accomplish within our local congregations. My role was to wrap up the retreat and encourage the implementation of the next step, so here it is: What is your congregation’s mission statement? What is the one thing you/we are about? Think about it. How would you phrase it? What would it include?
For me, and something I will propose to the next PLUM Board meeting the end of January 2011 as a starting point for a PLUM mission statement, would sound something like:
“To enable congregations, regardless of size, a renewed opportunity to provide an exuberant, vital, Christian witness and ministry to the communities in which they are called to serve.”
So that we just do not lose the significance of our work together in words, what I gained most from the discussions of the PLUM retreat is that in our strivings to be “politically correct” we within our churches have lost some of our focus. In the challenge to develop a mission statement we must revisit our reason for existence. For now we may need to place on the back burner the concept of doing ministry with those in our community, to doing ministry to and for those in our community. The areas around our churches where there are literally hundreds and thousands of unchurched people living, once again become mission fields instead of remaining in our minds the neighborhoods of our heyday. As our individual congregational histories revealed, our forefathers invested vast amounts of their time, their talents and their money because they saw the importance of their role in Christ’s mission to the world around them. For in fact do we not gather here as a continuation of their vision as we prepare to celebrate Christmas once again? For as in their day, Christmas is a time of hope for the entire world. For those who believe, it is a time of anticipation and encouragement. For those yet to believe, it is a time of promise. Its central theme is: “A Savior is Born, who is Christ the Lord.” For us, people who trust in the saving grace of God, the season can and should take on an exceptional meaning. It is not just another holiday. Rather, it is the one where we see our Lord step from His deity to our humanity. He makes the promise of our salvation real by coming to show us His way. The question is: “How do we receive the message and then translate it through our lives to the lives of those around us?” If seeing is believing, then we must celebrate Christ who is the visible image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), who came to us in a manger. For most who do not yet believe, incredible as it may seem, we become that image of Christ for them. So the question becomes, “How are we doing?”
In reality it is not a “cloak and dagger” spy game. We can make a real difference this year. As people watch us, do our lives bring them to faith or leave them wondering? Are we examples of this invisible God who loves them or of the very visible world that adds to their consumption? It is time to be intentional. Advent as a time of preparation is upon us. As we live out the mission of our church, “Let’s make a difference this year for those who want and need a Savior –who is Christ the Lord.”
In Christ’s Service,
Pastor John J. Gropp
Pittsburgh Lutheran United Ministries (PLUM), 405 Kennedy Avenue, Duquesne, PA 15110 412-466-7773