Monday, October 01, 2018

Do Not Be Afraid

[This was shared with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio, during yesterday's worship services.]

Proverbs 29:18 (KJV)
1 Corinthians 14:8
Luke 12:32
This morning, I’m scrapping the planned sixth installment of our series, I Am a Church Member. Through times of prayer and conversations with many members of our church, I realized late yesterday morning that I would be shirking my duty as the spiritual leader of Living Water if I did not address our church’s most pressing issue directly, lovingly, and resolutely. 

The King James Version translation of Proverbs 29:18, says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish…” Today, I will remind you again today of the vision and mission of Living Water Lutheran Church. 

Some will welcome what I say. 

A few will not be pleased. I can’t help that.

I take as my model the apostle Paul, who wrote the church at Galatia: “If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10) 

However imperfectly, I do seek to be a servant of Christ and I do seek to be a leader who gives a clear vision to the people I am called to lead as pastor. 

I wrote this message without any input from our leadership or staff. So, if you do get angry, get angry with me. 

And if you do want to call anyone crazy, as I know a few people said of our church council this past week...if you feel the need to violate the eighth commandment by failing to put the most charitable construction on the actions and lives of sisters and brothers in Christ, do it to me. 

It’s as true of the pulpit as it is of the Oval Office: the buck stops here, with me. 

As you know, the only time I’ve spoken before the whole congregation regarding the proposed building project was last March. Otherwise, I’ve listened. I ask you to do the same now as I seek to apply God’s Word to our situation.

This past Monday night, thirty-six hours after it was announced that Living Water members, led by the Holy Spirit, had offered to pay the entire $41,000-cost of a capital campaign to raise money for the first phase of our repeatedly-approved building plan, the church council met in emergency session. The council met because on Sunday night, I received an email from Christ the King Lutheran Church. It told me that that congregation was moving toward closing its doors. Would Living Water be willing to receive the property to be used or sold as our congregation chose? I was told that Christ the King needed to know by September 27, this past Thursday. 

The council was unanimous in saying that we would be interested in receiving the property. Since then, I’ve learned that a decision on the disposition of the property still has not been made.

Our church councils have always been transparent. That’s why on Tuesday, the council sent out a special edition of The Wave notifying you that we could possibly receive Christ the King’s property. You deserved to know of this possibility before the vote that was then scheduled for today and next Sunday. 

The feeling of some members of the council was that, if we receive property, we should abandon our present property and move to the Christ the King campus. 

More said that we should sell the Christ the King campus and use the money to help pay for the first phase of our building project or retire a portion of our current mortgage. 

Of course, there’s no decision to make until and unless we actually receive the property. 

Because of that, it was felt that we needed to go ahead with the scheduled vote. As our meeting ended on Monday, I had two prevailing feelings: 

First, awe of God that in a day-and-a-half, the Holy Spirit had affirmed our plans by blessing us with the money to run a capital campaign and blessing us again with the possibility of a property that could help us pursue the mission and vision of Living Water Lutheran Church. God blesses His people in unexpected ways when they step out in faith to do His work! 

Second, I felt grief for the people of Christ the King, forced to acknowledge decline of their congregation

I also thanked God that the people of Living Water know that the call to discipleship is not a call to comfort or easy answers, but a call to faithfulness and acceptance of God’s crazy plans. 

  • Like the crazy plan God had to make a 100-year-old man and his 90-year-old wife, Abraham and Sarah, the ancestors of Israel in a place God would show them if Abraham believed and followed. 
  • Or God’s crazy plan of freeing His enslaved people via the leadership of a tongue-tied murderer, Moses. 
  • Or God’s plan to defeat the enemies of God’s people through a shepherd boy named David and his measly little slingshot. 
  • Or God’s plan to save us from sin and death not through good works but by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. 

Listen: If God calls you to do something that doesn’t seem a little crazy or that you can easily see the end of, you’re probably not hearing from God.

Within hours of our council’s decision, we heard that some people were confused and some didn’t understand why we would go forward with the vote. Others thought that, given the $41,000 donation, there was no need to vote; we should simply forge ahead with the campaign.

Because of the confusion, the council decided to postpone the vote. I supported that decision. But I was and am deeply saddened that that decision was necessary. I know from my conversations with others, that many other Living Water disciples feel the same way. Many feel betrayed. Others feel like yo-yos, up and down, back and forth, yes and no.

As you can imagine, both because I’m pastor of Living Water and dean of the Southwest Ohio Mission District, Bishop John and I have had ongoing discussions for several months about what might happen with Christ the King. In our most recent conversation, two weeks ago, Bishop John said, “I’ve told you before, Mark, and I don’t mind you telling everyone there that whatever happens at Christ the King, Living Water must move ahead with the building plans for your present site.” 

Is Bishop John crazy? Well, he is a fool for Christ. And like me, he loves this congregation. But he also knows that we cannot afford to keep delaying doing what, through prayer and discernment, we have learned God wants us to do! We can’t keep saying, “Ready! Aim!” “Ready! Aim!” "Ready! Aim!"

Bishop John has repeatedly underscored for me that the priorities we originally identified through our cottage meetings and online voting and which you have affirmed in multiple votes since--activity/community center and kitchen first, classrooms and offices second, sanctuary third--are the priorities adopted by churches that are serious, as Living Water is serious, about being and making disciples, about growing

The community center is a key component of our future growth. A bigger sanctuary won’t bring growth because the unchurched aren’t likely to be introduced to Christ and the church through a worship service. That’s too foreign and foreboding to them. They’re likeliest to be introduced through various community events, like Upward basketball or outreach efforts. 

And, given traffic patterns, this location is superior to Christ the King’s location for that

I believe that we need to quickly reschedule the vote originally scheduled for today and next Sunday and get moving on God’s plan for us!

Am I apprehensive about doing that? Let me remind you of a few facts. 

  • We have ended every year of this congregation’s history with an operating surplus. 
  • While our attendance for 2018 is presently lower than it was in 2017, it’s higher than it was in 2016, a common blip in the path of growing congregations. 
  • While our current annual budget is at about $400,000, it’s no stretch to extrapolate from the answers of well over half of our congregants in the recent REVEAL survey that this congregation could easily handle an annual general fund budget of $800,000. I’m not proposing any such increase. But I am saying that although we’ve never held an annual stewardship program, our members have still generously given to the need they perceived in our budget. 
  • In addition, they have always found extra money to pay for things like sanctuary reconfiguration or building a church in Haiti or money for rice and beans for people in that country.* 

So, am I afraid to have a capital campaign and have it fall short of whatever goal we set for it? No, I’m more afraid of waiting around or settling for being an ordinary, cruise-control church

This is not a cruise-control church. This is a church that prays, that serves, that reads and studies God’s Word. 

This is a church that cares about those who are going to go to hell if they aren’t connected with Christ and His Church. 

The building process laid out in the plans displayed in our hallway will, in the first phase, provide us with an irreplaceable tool that we need to reach this community for Christ and at a great location.

I remember the day that George Kellar asked to meet me at 667 Miamisburg-Centerville Road. “Pastor,” he told me after I’d arrived. “I’m asking you to look at this property not for what it is right now, but for what it can be.” 

The relocation team that George headed had looked at, in one way or another, about forty properties. 

This was where they were led, this is where we were led, not as a stopgap station, but as a place where we could put down roots and do an expansion that will make Living Water and the Gospel we proclaim visible to and welcoming of the spiritually disconnected in our community.

In 1 Corinthians 14:8, the apostle Paul asks, “... if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?” Today, as your pastor, I am sounding a clear call: Let’s quickly reschedule the vote and move ahead on the path God has laid before us. The quicker we do a capital campaign, the quicker we’ll know what God wants and, perhaps, the quicker we can start building. No more uncertain trumpets or signals! We need a vote to decide right now it we want to be a missional church that takes reasonable chances to reach the lost or if we just want this congregation to be a place where we gather in comfort

But let me remind you that this congregation started because people believed--many of you here believed--in more than having a comfortable church. 

You believed in Christ and the authority of His Word and the power of prayer and the joys of discipleship. 

If you’d wanted a comfortable church, you would have stayed at your former congregation. 

But you wanted to be part of a faithful church. 

Don’t let the temptations of comfort lure you away from that. 

Don’t let the temptations of ease lure you away from being faithful stewards of the gospel and all the other gifts God has given to you!

Jesus famously tells His Church: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) 

Friends, the worst that can happen if we forge ahead with a capital campaign for this location is that we might fail to raise the needed money. 

But even if we fail, we will still have the Kingdom of God, eternally. 

Forging ahead with the vision revealed to us in prayer will not result in the loss of our salvation. 

We don’t know how a capital campaign will turn out. 

But we do know that if we forge ahead it may result in many new believers trusting in Christ and becoming part of His eternal kingdom. 

And we know that it will certainly result in our trusting Christ more and growing deeper in discipleship. 

By forging ahead, we may even ensure that this congregation will be a vital disciple-making community, welcoming young families and singles, for decades to come. Whatever happens, that possibility alone makes trying to move ahead with our current plans a win.

I took the call to Living Water because God and the congregation were telling me that this is a church that cares about mission, about making disciples. Continued inaction will harm the positive initiatives we’ve undertaken since we moved here, including the growth of youth, children’s, and family ministries, which had to be rebuilt from scratch when we moved to our present location. We don’t know what decisions Christ the King will take. The real question is what decision are we going to make? 

I urge you all to pray. Then, let’s do the vote and move into the future God has in mind for us. Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

*At the 8:45 service, I mentioned that through the generosity of Living Water, a well was built in a community in Haiti served by our congregation. In this instance, it was the generosity of one member rather than of the whole congregation. No matter. It still speaks to the generosity of this incredible church!

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