MAKE THE MOST OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY
That is a theme that I heard twice during the same week – at both the LCMC annual gathering October 7-10 and the Lutheran CORE-sponsored, Spanish and bi-lingual ministries Encuentro on October 12.
Kent Hunter, founder of Church Doctor Ministries and keynote speaker at the LCMC gathering, was sharing how our nation as a civilization is showing deep signs of stress. Our culture is deteriorating from the inside. For the church of Jesus this undeniable reality is a great opportunity. If you were to ask unchurched people, “What do you think it is going to be like for your children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren?” their response is likely to be one of hopelessness. This hopelessness is a sign of receptivity to spiritual things. It is a lie from Satan to say that people today are not receptive. We are living in a season of receptivity. As a simple way in which everyone can respond to this season of receptivity, Dr. Hunter suggests that you ask the person who is waiting on you at a restaurant for their name, and then ask them if they have any concerns that you can pray for when you pray for your food. People are hurting. People are in need. People are receptive and will value and respond to your offer to pray for them.
I saw this principle illustrated a few days later at the Lutheran CORE-sponsored Encuentro in the Hermosa neighborhood of northwest Chicago. The previous Saturday a two-year-old boy had been tragically shot and killed in an eruption of violence in the area surrounding the host church. The following Monday there was a neighborhood gathering with city officials and law enforcement personnel. Keith Forni, pastor of the host church, St. Timothy’s, as well as pastor of First/Santa Cruz Lutheran Church in Joliet, coordinator of the Encuentro, and member of the board of Lutheran CORE, was present at the gathering and was asked by a city official to lead in prayer. Keith told about the prayer gathering that had already been planned for the closing of the Encuentro the following Friday evening. This time of prayer out in front of the church was being held for the city of Chicago, which has seen so many homicides and so much violence, and for the victims of shootings and their families. This prayer gathering was announced in the Chicago Tribune, and cameramen from two local television news stations came to film the vigil and to interview participants. What an opportunity. What a moment of receptivity.
Pastor Forni also described the practice of Las Posadas as an opportunity for a congregation to do neighborhood ministry. Reenacting the search of Mary and Joseph for a place to stay for the night, Lutherans in changing neighborhoods can reach out to and take the first step in connecting with a neighborhood that they may have lost touch with.
IT IS ALWAYS A JOY
It is always a joy to represent Lutheran CORE at the annual LCMC gathering. These people are warmly welcoming, fervent in their love for Jesus, and passionate in their commitment to mission. They are innovative and creative in their seeking to share their faith in a twenty-first century world. They are not going to become discouraged. For example, I was talking with a man who has been president of his congregation in Texas. After their pastor retired, they found that they no longer had the numbers and resources to call a new pastor. Rather than close the congregation, the church council told the president that they wanted him to be their next pastor. That person is now pursuing theological training online so that he will be able to fill the role that has been given to him by the congregation. I was reminded of the number of times in the New Testament when the apostle Paul appointed leaders in churches after he had been there for only a short time, and then he wrote letters to those churches in order to teach them what they should believe and how they should live.
As I experienced at the NALC convocation in August, there were so many people at the LCMC gathering who came up to me or who came up to my Lutheran CORE table and told me how they read our materials and how much they value and appreciate the work we are doing. They particularly mentioned reading our recent correspondence with ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton about the ELCA youth gathering and our evaluation of Bishop Eaton’s response. We were mightily encouraged by all the expressions of appreciation and support from our friends in LCMC.
Attending the gathering also gave me abundant opportunity to tell people about the upcoming Congregations in Transition ministry initiative and the Rekindling Your First Love event.
CONGREGATIONS IN TRANSITION MINISTRY INITIATIVE
The Congregations in Transition ministry initiative is an effort to train (mostly retired) Lutheran pastors to serve as coaches to congregations whose pastor has retired or resigned to take another call. A very generous gift has been received to cover the travel and lodging expenses of pastors for a three-night, two-full-day training and relationship building event probably in early April 2019 in the Phoenix area. The need for this initiative is greatly increased by the number of soon-retiring Baby Boomer pastors, declining seminary enrollment, increased student debt for those graduating from seminary, the loss of congregational momentum that can occur during an interim period, and the fact that interim pastors will not always be available.
In this initiative a congregation organizes a Leadership Team of a few key leaders (separate from the church council and the call committee), which then works with their coach, primarily online. The ministry arrangement begins with an initial onsite visit to introduce the coach to the entire congregation and that includes the coach’s spending a full day with the Leadership Team. The primary purpose of this ministry is for far more than simply offering encouragement to the congregation in a time of crisis. It also includes helping the Leadership Team maintain not just stability but momentum in regards to the congregation’s vital ministries during this transition time.
There is no financial cost for those who volunteer to serve as coaches. Their travel and lodging expenses for the training event are being covered by a generous gift. There are very few financial costs to the congregations. The trained coaches are active retired pastors who are willing to volunteer their time. The only significant expense for the congregation would be if they decided that they would like their coach to visit their church.
Please watch for more information about this ministry initiative in future issues of our newsletter, CORE Voice, and in future letters from the director. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested and/or if you would like to know more.
REKINDLING YOUR FIRST LOVE
Another one of our upcoming projects which I was very happy to be able to tell people about at the LCMC gathering is our “Rekindling Your First Love” event. This gathering will take place on Wednesday, May 1, 2019 in the Baltimore area and will be a full day of spiritual and emotional renewal for pastors. It will include presentations, discussion, processing, prayer, fellowship, worship, determining next steps, and personal ministry time. NALC pastor Tim Hubert will talk about “Rekindling Your First Love for Christ.” NALC pastor Wendy Berthelsen will speak on “Rekindling Your First Love for the Church as the Body of Christ.” ELCA pastor Brian Hughes will address “Rekindling Your First Love for Mission and Ministry as the Work of Christ in the World.”
The idea of the gathering is as follows. At the end of his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul commended that church for their undying love. A generation later in Revelation 2 when John writes to the church in Ephesus he tells them that they have lost their first love. Many pastors – because of the demands of ministry, the painful experience of being hurt and even betrayed by congregational members, and having to deal with so much conflict – have lost their first love. If that is you, we want to invite you to rekindle and regain your first love. Please be watching for more information, which will be available soon.
We are also working with Perry Fruhling, LCMC coordinator for pastoral ministry, to identify congregations that have seen two or more people go to seminary recently and pastors who have seen two or more people go to seminary during their ministry. We will then work with these pastors and the leaders of these churches to identify the common factors that make a congregation and a pastoral ministry a good nurturing place for future pastors.
WE ARE VERY GRATEFUL
We are very grateful to Kim Smith for taking on the role of president of the board for Lutheran CORE. Kim has been serving on our board for a little under two years. She is the one who developed our new website and now is keeping it current. She is also editor of our newsletter. I was elected president of the board in early 2015. A year later I was also hired as part-time director. Because the ministry is ever-increasing, we are very grateful that Kim is willing and able to serve as president of the board while I remain as executive director.
We are also very grateful for all of our friends – individuals as well as congregations – who support our work. This is the time of year when many congregations are determining their benevolence budget and mission dollars recipients for next year. We urge you to speak with your pastor, and, pastors, we ask you to speak to your church councils about including Lutheran CORE in the list of missions which will receive financial support from your congregation next year.
As a partner with you in seeking to make use of every opportunity to share the love of Jesus,
Pastor Dennis D. Nelson
Executive Director of Lutheran CORE