St. John Lutheran Church

Making real the Kingdom of God

Pastor Bond Haldeman - 2006 - presentThis article begins with the Natural Church Development survey taken approximately one year ago. The results of that survey provide guidance for the Congregation Council in its planning and objectives, and suggested that at this time the congregation should concentrate on a clear and compelling vision. You have heard me speak about that vision very explicitly in the past few months. I think that any vision for the congregation that is less than a realization of the Kingdom of God is too small a vision, and risks betrayal of the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

A few weeks ago, the Congregation Council met for a retreat to talk further about vision, mission, and leadership. Let me bring you a minimal outline of that retreat. To define terms, vision is the ultimate goal. To use a metaphor, it is a description of the view from the top of the mountain we wish to climb. In the case of the Church, the vision is always beyond our reach, and will be brought about only by God, but that does not prevent us from reaching out for it. As we progress toward that vision, we must set goals along the way. These are the measurable and achievable objectives that move us toward the vision. They are concrete and practical. How we move forward is the mission. We cannot get to the top of a mountain without moving in some way, be it walking, hiking or flying. As we go, as we plan, we have to choose which way we will go. Our values determine that, such that if we value non-powered propulsion, we will choose to climb, and if we value dry feet, we will choose paths that minimize water crossings.

To say it again, the vision that I have is that Saint John Lutheran Church, and all congregations, would be nothing less than a realization of the Kingdom of God, with all the richness of that reality as described by the Prophets, the Apostles, and Jesus in so many of his parables. I think the mission of the Church, and therefore congregations, is given to us at the end of Matthew’s gospel. Jesus says, “Make disciples.” The mission is to connect individuals to Jesus, as students to a teacher, as followers to a master, as subjects to a lord, and as children to a parent. That which Jesus teaches, we should do. That which Jesus does, we should imitate. That which Jesus values, we should seek. In this way the “Body of Christ,” the Church, is built up.

There is really no secret to how to build up or have a strong, healthy congregation. If all the members would focus on their own spiritual health, which has to do with their faith relationship with God in Jesus Christ, the congregation would be strong beyond imagining. Think about what kind of congregation it would be if every member worshiped weekly, read their Bible daily, prayed three times a day, gave a tithe of their income, were learners in weekly Bible study, were involved in mentoring or teaching some other Christian, and invited friends, neighbors, and relatives to participate in their Christian life regularly. This is just a quick suggestion of mature discipleship. Think of what might be achieved in progress toward a goal, toward achieving the vision.

The title of this article shows a tagline connected with the name of the congregation. It says, “Making real the Kingdom of God.” This simple line is meant to remind us of the vision, and to provide the starting point for conversations about the congregation. “What is your congregation about?” St. John is making real the Kingdom of God. “What does your congregation do?” We make real the Kingdom of God. This vision is not unique to us. There are other congregations seeking the same, as is right for a vision that comes from the Lord of all. But how we do it may be unique. “How does your congregation make real the kingdom?” When we house the homeless from GIFTS, we are making real the Kingdom of God. When we gather in worship to offer prayer praise and thanksgiving, we are making real the Kingdom of God. When we give to the work of LWR, or CROP, or ECHO, we are making real the Kingdom of God for those who are being assisted, fed, or healed. That simple line can become for us a jumping off point for conversations about what is central to St. John Lutheran Church and the ministries in which we are engaged.

The tagline is not the Mission Statement of the congregation. We do not intend to change that. The tagline is meant to be fluid, and easily adjusted to reflect the emphasis of the Council for a period of time as we develop and plan from the results of the Natural Church Development health evaluation. There will be a “sermon” about the NCD ideas and process in early May, and some members will again be asked to participate in the evaluation. Until then, I invite you to ponder what vision you have for your congregation. What do you see as you “stand on the mountain top?” And how does your vision correspond to Jesus’ and the Bible?

Jesus said to his disciples, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning” (Lk. 10: 18).

John the Seer writes: After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority; and the earth was made bright with his splendor. He called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! It has become a dwelling place of demons, a haunt of every foul spirit, a haunt of every foul bird, a haunt of every foul and hateful beast (Rev. 18:1-2). . . .Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Rev. 21:1-4).

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