A few years ago, we were dying. We were small, we were losing money every month and we rarely saw new faces in our sanctuary. Even worse, the country was entering into the greatest recession since the great depression, we had an inexperienced interim pastor and the experts we turned to for guidance told us we were the ‘wrong color’ to be church with our neighbors. We didn’t have a shot—this church was dying, it was only a matter of time.
Since we were dying, and nothing we could do would change that, we decided that it mattered how we died. What would our last days testify to? Would we hoard everything we had for as long as we could for the sake of those we knew and loved? Or—in an act of supreme foolishness—would we give all, risk all, sacrifice all to share the love of Jesus Christ with our neighbors—not because we thought it would be successful, but because we knew it was the faithful choice? Church—you chose to die glorifying Christ. And the crazy thing is, because the Kingdom works exactly the way the gospels promise us it works, we were resurrected through the power of Christ.
God sent equally foolish believers to join us—those who were not looking for an easy church or a comfortable church. Those who were willing to set aside the church culture they knew and loved for the sake of becoming the living body of Christ. In these recent months we’ve been slowly grasping the impossible truth—we’re not going to die glorifying Christ, we’re going to live glorifying Christ. As your pastor, that revelation stirs up curious emotions in me. On the one hand, I am so grateful not to spend part of every week wondering how we will survive. On the other hand, I see clearly now that knowing we were going to die was the greatest thing that ever happened to us.
Because we were dying, we took foolish chances. We let go of old grudges. We found clarity and perspective and the exhilarating freedom of doing whatever it took to glorify Christ and share the gospel. What was there to fear? Failing? Ha! We were dying—we couldn’t lose.
Usually when I write these annual letters, I spend a great deal of time crafting a list of what we have done this year hoping to remind you why you give yourself—your time, your presence and your financial gifts—to the Grove. But this time, I don’t want us to think about what we have done. I don’t want us to calculate how much we need in order to be here this time next year. Instead of celebrating what the Grove is, I want us to dream together about what the Grove could be. Now that we’re no longer desperately trying to survive, it’s time to dream together of something worth risking everything for again.
Could we make God’s promises real in the lives of our community by throwing open our doors during the week and offering free GED, ESL and job training classes to our neighbors? Could we partner with our neighbors to offer a daily meal for seniors, nourishing bodies and souls? Could we allow the sacred to leak out of the sanctuary into the neighborhood through regular prayer walks or a 24-7 prayer room? Could we transform more of our space into transitional housing for our homeless neighbors? Could we birth a prison ministry, a recovery ministry, a bible academy? Here’s the thing—we don’t need anybody’s permission. The Grove belongs to Jesus Christ and this community can be anything that glorifies Him.
This fall, the stewardship committee and I are asking you to make a commitment to the Grove in 2015. We’re asking you to dedicate some of your treasure, some of your time and some of yourself to the ministry God is doing in and through us. But we’re asking you for more than your pledges. We’re asking you to join us in an extended season of seeking. Beginning in January, we’ll be gathering in small groups to seek the Lord’s guidance as we identify a new dream. Because now that God has given us new life we never expected, we’re no longer satisfied with surviving. Together, we want to live for Christ with as much courage and boldness as we were prepared to die for him.
I cannot close this later without expressing my profound gratitude. You are a church more beautiful than my wildest dreams. Since the very beginning, I’ve told everyone that this is my dream church—little did I know. I never imagined being a Pastor could be this good. Your faithfulness, loving-kindness and generosity astonish me. Serving Christ with you, sharing my life with you, has given me immeasurable joy and peace. I am humbled and honored to be your pastor. Thank you.
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