Dear Partners in Ministry,
Recently I received a phone call asking me to do the funeral of a young man, whom I will call Bill, who was a member, albeit inactive, of one of our congregations. As I walked into the funeral home I was briefly introduced to the family and we chatted a bit. I then moved to the casket and was approached by one of the loved ones and informed in a rather formal, yet a casual and matter of fact way, that Bill was really just a “lazy” Lutheran. And I could not help smiling at the concept.
Go figure, a “lazy Lutheran”. What a great topic for an upcoming newsletter article!
The whole concept rattled around in my brain for weeks and believe me that is a lot of rattling. After all, in those rare moments when we are honest with ourselves, we might all classify ourselves as "lazy Lutherans" who, at times, could and should do more for the Christ who saves us. And so I had a real pulpit pounder in mind for this article. I was going to point to our failings and our lack of commitment, including our willingness to sit back and let others do for us rather than go the extra mile of being servants of others for Christ’s sake. Then I was going to talk about our sinful natures and hard hearts thereby establishing our need for forgiveness. I would tie it all together by stressing our need for a Savior! That’s what I was going to write on the theme of “Lazy Lutherans”!
And then along came Ben Roethlisberger who, following the AFC championship win on Sunday, said something important in response to the news reporters’ attempts to fault individual players for the second half’s near meltdown. Ben simply said, “We are a team. We win as a team and we lose as a team.”
What a reality check to challenge my perspective. His words forced me to rethink the focus of my whole article. After all Jesus did not usher in the kingdom of God all by himself. He picked a team to help him.
As I was mulling all this over I came across an annual report of what one might consider an ideal congregation in our synod. You know the kind of congregation I am talking about: one of those “healthy” suburban congregations from which many a pastor would like to receive a call. So I started looking through the proceedings book of our last Synod assembly. What I discovered astonished me. We, like so many other small congregations like ours, have so much to celebrate. In reviewing the most recent 2010 Proceedings Book, I was unable to find one congregation out there that is healthier as a whole than our PLUM congregations. As individual members we financially give more for ministry, in most cases over 25% to 30% per capita more than the larger congregations; our seven small congregations give over $650,000 in total receipts (divide that by our average joint weekly attendance of 286). We have over 75 people in leadership and servant roles on our congregation councils not to mention the many others that work so diligently to make our ministry happen. We have 7 individual mission fields, helping people in times of crisis and need in those communities in which our churches are located. In 2010 alone we had 26 people join our congregations through Baptism and the Affirmation of Baptism. We have an intern who is going to help build the Church of the future. We have 11 youth preparing for Confirmation in 2011. And this is just the tip of the iceberg because we are sowing seeds for future harvests. We are healthier, as good stewards and evangelists, as we continue to stand and provide fortresses of strength and hope in the midst of the communities we serve. And, most importantly, we are part of a team of pastors and lay people who are committed to helping each other be the best we can be.
Are there times we get overwhelmed and become “lazy Lutherans”? Did the Steelers get “lazy” and lose their focus in the second half of Sunday’s game? Of course. The difference for us is that we are people of the promise - Christ’s promise, “‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 28:18b – 20)
It is because of this promise that we can be the church and thrive where He has planted us. I cannot explain how God has called us together but I do know why; the harvest is plentiful and the laborers may be few but God has great things planned for us as, together, we work to build His Church for the future in our neighborhoods.
We, as your pastors and staff, find it an honor and blessing to serve with you as together we walk in faith serving our Lord.
May each of you know the Peace of Christ as together we begin a New Year.
Pastors John, Beth, Paul, and Vicar Melba
Pittsburgh Lutheran United Ministries (PLUM), 405 Kennedy Avenue, Duquesne, PA 15110 412-466-7773