Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Gates of Hell, Equipping the Saints & The Red Door Church in 2016


“The gates of Hell will never prevail against the Church, 
if it is the Church as Jesus defines the Church.

2015 was my first full calendar year as the Rector of Christ Church, Delavan. And I believe it was a year filled with some incredible accomplishments. Thanks be to God.

In my second Annual Rector’s Report I’d like to share both where we’ve been in 2015 and where I believe the Lord is leading us in 2016.

First, let’s celebrate 2015. Here a some highlights. In keeping with the 5 Purposes of the Church which we’ve focused on so much, we’ll do so purpose-by—purpose.

  • One of the greatest joys for me personally, and I think we’d all agree, is having the Red Door Kids serve on Third Sundays in the Sanctuary. They do such a great job and take such pride in serving the Lord. And I believe what we as the adults are communicating to them when they serve is “It’s your Church.” They are the future of the Christ Church Delavan. And theY’re an exciting and bright future indeed!
  • Another worship highlight this year was our shared Palm Sunday Procession with our brothers and sister at The River Church. What an amazing witness our worship together has had in Delavan. 

  • I think our greatest growth area in 2015 was Discipleship. 
  • One of the most significant pieces was the 1 Year Bible Reading Plan. This year the whole congregation read the entire Bible together cover-to-cover. Well done friends. 
  • We launched Adult Ed. Hour this year which offered Going Deeper Classes twice for Membership, Baptism & Confirmation preparation, spent 18 Weeks Studying the Biblical Feasts this summer and now we’re in the Sermon of the Mount. 
  • Women of Joy continues to offer a discipleship venue for our women. Thank you Susanne Nelson for your leadership.
  • In December we launched our Men’s Bible Study. Amazing things happening in this group. More on that in moment.

  • This Fall we launched The Red Door Coffee Meet & Greet. I believe this has made our Sunday morning experience, and our community, more “sticky”. It’s given visitors and regulars a reason, and a comfortable way to stick around after worship and hang out, talk and get to know one another. It also highlights our overseas Missions connection with Haiti. The Red Door Coffee Meet & Greet’s importance to the Mission of Christ Church is been tremendous and I’d like to thank the Eils and the Hoffmann’s for their leadership.

  • Our three Financial Peace University Class have helped 17 Households payoff $18,512 in debt and put $29,101 into savings…and that’s just during the 9 weeks they were in the class. That’s an average of $1,088.94 of debt paid of in 9 weeks and $1,711.82 put into savings in nine weeks…per household. Over half the households who attended this class are NOT members of Christ Church…yet.

  • On All Hallows Eve over 550 of our neighbors came through our Sanctuary. This year we moved the halloween decorations out of the Sanctuary and filled it with music, incense and vested prayer ministers so they could experience what it’s like when we worship on Sundays. And our prayer ministers prayed one-on-one with over 100 people. This is a great example of Christ Church taking something we’ve done for years and, with a little bit of tweaking, unleash even greater impact. 
  • One of our greatest victories last year is this: we had 20 individuals join, or go deeper, at Christ Church. We welcomed 12 new members into our congregation that included 5 Baptisms, 5 Recommitments to Jesus Christ, 3 Confirmed and 3 Received by our Bishop. And 4 regular attenders became Members. 

Everything I’ve just named is evidence that our reach is expanding. In addition to new Members, Baptisms and Confirmations we have people who spend time with us and are seeking us out as their Jesus Community. What do I mean?

  • We have one young man who faithfully attends the Men’s Bible Study every week. God is meeting him through it. So much so that he invited his friend.
  • Men from the neighborhood, non-attenders, have been volunteering at the Men’s Shelter with us.
  • A local Men’s Bible Study asked if they could use the Red Doors as a place to meet and started recently.
  • A group of young Moms reached out us to us seeking a place for their fitness class and have been with us for a few weeks.

What does this all communicate? At our Annual Meeting one year ago I shared my sense that in 2015 we needed to discern “what bridges we’re called to build between our congregation and our community.” I said that, “I believe that to reach people in the 21st century we have to be willing to push our faith outside of Sunday morning. Because Jesus never set out to make Church-attenders…he set out to make disciples. And where did Jesus primarily make disciples?” Outside of corporate worship services. I said “I believe this is the most important shift we’ll make in the years ahead…Because what you win people with is what you win them to.”  And if we win them to a relationship with Jesus, and ourselves, that has long-term sticking power.

That was my sense of what we we called to do in 2015. So did we do it? I believe we’re off to an excellent start. Because throughout Delavan people see the Red Doors as “their Church.” These folks land in a different place in what they mean by that:  everything from being a Baptized or Confirmed Member to a Seeker in the Men’s Bible Study to the young couple who got married, completed Financial Peace University and are volunteering to serve our congregation with their time, to people who simply needed a place to meet and picked us for their Bible Studies and Fitness Classes. We’re “their Church.”

We’re connecting. And we connect outside of Sunday morning worship 5 or 6 times more than we do inside it. And I believe that’s exactly what God wants us to do. Not that I would ever minimize the power and joy of Holy Eucharist, God forbid. But God wants us to have multiple on-ramps to Christ Church. Let me repeat that…multiple on-ramps to Christ Church.  

These are all things to thank God for and to celebrate. And I want to thank you beloved Christ Church. You have created a place where these good things happen. And you’ve trusted my new leadership as we’ve done it together. Well done. And Thank You.

So where do I see us needing to head in 2016?

First, finalizing our Mission Statement. We’re sooooooooo…close. But it’s not something to rush. It’s like a fine wine. “If it ain’t ready. It ain’t ready.” So my hope is that we can do some finishing work together and launch it on Easter. Stay tuned.

Second, and importantly, we need to be willing to talk about the tough stuff together. This past year I’ve sat on our diocesan Committee on Mission & Development. One of our tasks includes working with the struggling congregations of our Diocese who need financial assistance and help them assess how to move from life-support to health. It’s been heart-breaking for me during only one year on COMD to discuss the possibility of multiple Churches closing. And what causes me concern is that these are Churches just like Christ Church: over a hundred years old, in the same culture and similar geographic locations. And so I believe responsible leadership requires naming the elephant in the room. Taking about the tough stuff together. I’d rather have a conversation about some difficult things in 2016 while we’re OK than not talking about it and then wondering in 2026 if we’re going to be able to stay open. God forbid. I love our Lord Jesus, His Church and this congregation too much to let that happen in Delavan. 

There are two things I want to share that are difficult. 

First, our demographics. As of today Christ Church has 85 Members (plus about 15 regular attenders). 59 of our Members are over 50. 26 of our Members are under 50. What does this mean? It means that if nothing changes in our membership (no one under 50 leaves the Church and we don’t get any new Members) then in 20 years we’ll have about 26 Members left. So we’ll have 26 people here on a typical Sunday in 20 years if nothing changes. Those are the difficult “people numbers” we have to confront.

Then there are the financial numbers. Now let me be clear, in no way is this an appeal for anyone to give more. I think that, for the most part, you all are incredibly faithful and sacrificial in your giving. [As an aside: My personal practice as a priest is to not know what people give. I know what is given. But I don’t know “who gives what”]. My point is simply to share facts you may be unaware of but need to know.

Each year we rely on our Endowment to fund roughly half of our Budget: about $85,000 dollars a year. Sometimes a little more. We have just over a million dollars in the Endowment. So the simple math is this: our Endowment is gone in about fifteen years if nothing changes.

So in 15 to 20 years Christ Church could possibly be 26 people on Sunday with no Endowment. And at that point we would have to close. Now, we might say, “Oh we’ve been OK for 170 years. We’ll be fine. God will pull us through. He always has.” I believe that’s true as well. But there are two things we must consider before we can say that.

We’re in a different era in American Church History. Church attendance conservatively speaking has declined 10% every decade since the sixties and the decline is accelerating. Every year 4,000 Churches close. Only 1,000 are new Churches are planted. I’m proud to say that Tammy and I planted one of those 1,000 Churches in 2010. In a recent survey of 18 to 22 year olds who self-identify as Bible-believing Christians the majority saw no reason to affiliate with a Christian congregation. We need to give them a reason. Because they will, or won’t, be Christ Church in 20 years.

These statistics are the first thing we have to consider. The second is that Churches just like ours are closing in our own diocese. And I’m sure somewhere along the line these good people said, “We’ve been OK for over 100 years. We’ll be fine. God will pull us through. He always has.” And yet they still closed. So what happened?

Our Lord Jesus said He would build His Church and the gates of Hell will never prevail against it [Matthew 16:18]. And I believe that is 100% true. [Obviously, Jesus said it!] So why do Churches not prevail? Why do they close? 

Because the gates of Hell will never prevail against the Church as Jesus defines the Church

The gates of Hell can prevail against our own definition of the Church. The gates of Hell can prevail against Church the way we like it. The gates of Hell can prevail against Church the way we want it. And sometimes our definition of the Church and Jesus’ definition of the Church don’t line up. And when that happens, the gates of Hell can, and will, prevail against us. 

This is why it is so important that we always emphasize the 5 Purposes of the Church which Jesus gave us. Worship. Discipleship. Fellowship. Ministry. Mission. [see Matthew 22:36-40 & 28: 18-20].  Because when a congregation is focused upon these 5 Purposes and gives each of them equal attention; then, and only then, are they a Church as Jesus defines the Church. And I believe the reason that Churches in America today, and in our own diocese, are on life-support is because they begin to not focus on these 5 Purposes, or they don’t keep them equally balanced. 

And I want to be clear and say that when our sisters’ and brothers’ Churches are struggling or even have to close, I am not making a moral judgement on that. I am not saying “they did something wrong.” I have noticed a common thread, which is that they lost a focus on these 5 purposes or began to only focus on one or tow. And losing that focus or becoming imbalanced leads to losing our alignment with Jesus’ definition of the Church, and this leads to struggle. 

In todays’s Gospel [Luke 4] Jesus goes from being praised after announcing His Mission to the crowd literally trying to toss him off a cliff. Whaaaat? Why? Because He said this, “The truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” Why did this make the crowd mad enough to kill Jesus? Because Jesus announces His Mission and then says that a Gentile widow and a Gentile leper military commander were the only two people God sent a prophet. Non-Jews. Outsiders. “Those people.” 

And if we want to fulfill the Mission of Jesus and have a future in Delavan we need to do the same. Welcome outsiders. Christ Church, and every Church, will live or die by how well we do this. 

There are two definitions  in Church of what it means to welcome outsiders. 

The first one is “You’re welcome to come to our place, and do what we do, with our stuff, the way we like it, as long as we approve.” Now none of us actually says that. But we sure do behave that way sometimes. When we say things like “That’s my pew.” Or “We’ve never done it that way.” Or roll our eyes at a crying baby. Or not show up to _______ if we think “they” will. Welcoming people we like to do stuff our way is not welcome. 

Welcome means, “We want to make room for you to make this your place, and do what you do, with your stuff, they way you like it along with us.” Now, that doesn’t mean we compromise our core values or the Jesus’ definition of the Church. And it doesn’t mean we completely give up things we love too. But it means we’re going to have to let go. We’re going to have to let go of some of our preferences, and opinions, and  our “we’ve always done it that way”.  

The ironic thing is that it’s not high-level stuff where this gets up in our business. It’s often “stupid little things” like color choices, name tags, this song-or-that-song, do we use powdered creamer or half-and-half, real or fake flowers…you get the idea. We don’t typically have anxiety over things like “Jesus is God” or “God is Trinity” or “The Bible is God Word.“ [Thank God!] But sometimes we’ll throw the Rector off a cliff over whether or not we sang all the verses in my favorite hymn. Really?! C’mon! 

Welcoming outsiders means sacrifice. And Christ Church will live or die by how well we welcome outsiders. We need to be ready and willing to sacrifice things like our preferences, our schedule, our stuff and our opinions for the sake of our non-members. 

And the beautiful thing is that Christ Church is doing it. We’re welcome entire outsider groups to use our space, to serve alongside us, to study the Scriptures with us and to worship with us. I want to applaud this and encourage you to stay the course. This is one of the most hopeful signs for our future.

The last thing I want to share is about where where I believe the Lord is leading us in 2016. A Scripture He continues to bring to me is Ephesians 4:11-14:

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,
 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children…

The job of Christian leadership is not to do everything. The job of Christian leadership is to “equip the saints”. That means each of us, “for the work of ministry.” And it also means that Christian leadership is diverse. It’s not that there are priests and then “everyone else.” With the priest doing everything and the laity holding out their hand.  “We must no longer be children.” Christian leadership includes Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers. Those five ministries sound a lot like people who lead Worship. Discipleship. Fellowship. Ministry. and Mission. Don’t they? And there are people with leadership gifts like this here at Christ Church. I can’t do everything. You can’t do everything. But my job is to partner with the leadership of this Church to “equip you for the work of ministry” with the goal being that each of us reach “maturity…the full stature of Christ.” 

My emphasis this year is going to be developing our leadership over each of the 5 purposes here at Christ Church and providing opportunities for every member of Christ Church to “be equipped for the work of ministry.” 

The first of these opportunities which I hope you will all participate in is the School For The Lord’s Service during Sundays night in Lent.

The second is our Diocesan Leadership Day on February 27th. Dwight Zscheile will be talking about exactly the “tough stuff” I mentioned in this address:  how can we meet the culture as the Church in the 21st century? 

We have some challenges Christ Church. But they’re not unique to us. They’re challenges every Church is having to confront. But if we align our Mission, our Purposes and our definition of the Church with our Lord Jesus’ Mission, Purposes and definition of the Church, the gates of Hell will never prevail against us.

Glory to God. 
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