Monday, January 27, 2014

Always Being Made New (Pastor's Annual Report to Martin Luther Church)

(Note: This is the annual report I wrote for my congregation's annual meeting on January 26, 2014. I share it here for members of my community to find online and with the hope that others may find it useful in other congregations.)

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ: new creation! The old has passed away; the new has come to be.” (2 Corinthians 5:17, translation mine)

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

This year marked the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) our national church body. To mark the occasion, this year’s triennial national assembly was convened under the theme “Always Being Made New.”  The theme was meant not just to celebrate our past, but to highlight that we are a church born from the Reformation and are always looking to the future and asking, “How is Jesus making us new now? What is the Spirit shaping us to be tomorrow?”

While these questions are always before us as Christians, they are especially apt for us at Martin Luther Church as we begin this new year. Our council and other leaders have been hard at work this past year in exploring new ways of being the church. We’ve moved to make Cross+Generational themes the center of our Christian Formation and VBS programs, successfully held a worship service at La Fuente Restaurant for Christmas, and are preparing to start a new worship service at 6pm on Sunday evenings. At the same time, our financial projection for the coming year continues a downward trend and the available resources to continue ministries (let alone plant new ones) are stretched to the limits.  

Our council is putting together a bold and broad agenda for the coming year of looking at everything we do as a church through the lens of our identified values and the 5 Cornerstones. Given the limitations before us, we are already asking some difficult questions about how to prioritize and possibly reduce certain areas in order for new fruit to come forward. These conversations are not easy, but they are a part of our constant renewal.  

The quotation I shared above is from the same passage that gave us the language adopted when we chose to become a RIC congregation, welcoming all people, and council has been using this passage as a focal point this year. Note how it speaks not just of new creation, but the passing away of old ways of being. This is core to the Christian life. Being alive in Christ means dying to our own ways. Being baptized into eternal life means drowning the “old creature” within us. There is never Easter without first confronting Good Friday. I read of a church that holds this before their members annually by asking, “What are we willing to give up in order to gain something new?”*

There are many exciting opportunities before us and I and council remain very positive about our long-term prospects. God has promised us new life eternally—which includes this year!—and I see that new life both in where this church has been and in where we are headed. As we seek that new life, we are challenged with these two questions: “How is Jesus making us new now?” and “What are we willing to give up in order to gain that new life?”  May God’s grace guide us always as we live as God’s new creation.

In God’s Amazing Grace,
Pastor Ari

*To be clear, not everything “old” is bad, nor is something good just because it’s “new.” But as Jesus says in John 15, healthy branches bear fruit. Renewal is asking, “Where is there fruit? Are there once-healthy branches that are no longer growing?”

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.” -Semisonic, "Closing Time"

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