Between one-fifth and one-fourth of our church has been participating in a series of Monday evening work-shops to discuss vision and strategy for our ministry into the future. One priority and two goals have been identified for the short-term as part of laying the foundation on which to build.
The priority is to prepare the way for the work of the Holy Spirit in hearts and in the church as a whole by teaching and preaching on the Holy Spirit and revival. If this priority is confirmed in the discernment of the church it will likely become the focus of our next program year (September 2014 – May 2015) in the sermons and small groups. We understand that “unless the Lord build the house, the laborers work in vain” (Psalm 127:1). We also understand that the calling of the Holy Spirit on the heart is the call to faithful action (Matthew 7:24-27).
For faithful action in the short-term we have two goals:
1) To deepen and enrich our ministry to families with teens through cooperation with Elgin-based youth-oriented Christian organizations.
2) To expand our ministry schedule and space for families with infants and children.
Why these goals?
Elgin Covenant is located in an area of Elgin and County that is “thick” with ministry opportunities. Any number of goals would be deserving of our ministry efforts to be salt and light to our community. This is where we are on the map:1.5 miles west of the church is Elgin Community College, 2 miles north-east is Judson university. We are the closest church to two nursing homes and to the national headquarters of a justice advocacy group, Administer Justice. We are glad to be sponsors and allies with Wayside Elgin for aiding the homeless, and TLC Life Choices, which promotes women’s health and family function in life-affirming pregnancy care. So as you can see our church is set in the midst of the young, the elderly, the infirm, the troubled, the poor, the at-risk, and those who serve them. So why goals about ministry partnership for youth and ministry expansion for children? What sets these needs above the others?
Elgin Covenant is located directly next to Larkin High School, a public high school. All that separates the two is an invisible line through a grass ditch. Is this by chance? That’s not how believers think. Our faith is that we are put here by God’s plan. After all, the school was here first, before the church built on the corner of Larkin and Jane.
A thriving ministry to youth is an encouragement to families with young children, as for examples the families of the pastors at this church, that there are things in place for families all the way through high school graduation. However, families with young children who do come need to see that there are adequate spaces and staffing to provide the kind of enrichment in faith that they want for their children and for themselves. The good news is that right now our designated spaces for children’s ministry are getting tight, and we need to start reclaiming spaces for the priority of serving families right away, so that they are ready for the fall.
A renewed vision is going to mean that we see ourselves as a work in progress where change is normal, but change only as the faithful actions that spring from Biblical conviction and Spiritual revival.
The Jesus Strategy: The Cross
Our church is developing a strategic plan for a relevant and inspiring ministry into the middle of the 21st Century. Our boldest dreams see the congregation being salt and light for the entire Elgin community (Matthew 5:13-16). Yet the traditional season of Lent is a reminder to us that believers in Jesus Christ are not to pin our hopes on worldly approval, or worldly methods. The season of Lent points us to the Jesus Strategy, when he shared with his followers what he was about, as described in Matthew 16:21:
“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
This does not sound like a strategy for success. Yet the greatest defeat in the world’s eyes is the greatest victory in God’s eyes, who raised Jesus from the dead. Still, believers in Jesus are more likely to be afraid to suffer for our faith than to embrace the promise of rising from the dead. We carry on in the attitude of the disciple, Peter, who did not understand that second part, the “rising from the dead” promise. Instead Peter was focused on the “must be killed” part and it sounded to him like defeat, as seen in verse 22:
“Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’” Jesus replied to him, in verse 23: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but human things.”
A church’s strategy cannot have human things in mind and expect to be blessed. Rather, when the Church, the Rock of the Confession of Christ, devotes ourselves to human agendas, we end up on the wrong side of God. This has happened throughout the history of the Christian faith, as our critics so often point out. Any strategy must be focused on faithfulness to our Christ who calls us to bear the cross with him in order that we might share in the resurrection with him.
1. When Jesus “surrendered” himself to the worldly powers, he did not compromise with them or endorse their values. Instead his peaceful non-resistance showed just how wrong the world could be.
2. Jesus spoke the truth to power even though they did not have the capacity to understand that truth could be absolute. Pontius Pilate, a consummate politician and power-seeker, replied with the relativizing question that defines the world of today, “What is truth?” (John 18:38).
3. Love for the world defines the witness, words, and actions of the church. This is the message of the cross, “For God so loved the world he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The Church since that time, and Elgin Covenant in our time and place, is not called to judgment or condemnation (John 3:17) but to declare the message that those who are in the world can be saved from their sins through repentant faith in Jesus. Those with whom the gospel is shared will be self-selecting in how they receive it, they are not to be “pushed” away (3:19-21).
4. Churches in western society, the richest nations in the world, are in decline, with few exceptions. This is not a great mystery. Jesus said, in Matthew 19:23-30, that it is hard for wealthy people to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet he also stated, in the same passage, that what is impossible for humankind is still possible with God. There is hope for revival even in the West, the world’s wealthiest societies, such as our own. We, who are the world’s richest people, are called to discipleship in the way we use the things God has given us, with humility and generosity (I Timothy 6:17-20).
So then we at the Evangelical Covenant Church of Elgin are sensing God’s call to a strategy for a vital, relevant ministry that will communicate to our world that we are: 1) Authentic in our love and in obeying God’s priorities. 2) Faithful in our calling to seekers to repent of sins and faithful in our own repentance. 3) Hopeful in God’s plan and promise that what is impossible for humankind is possible in the power of the Spirit of Christ. 4) Joyful in our expectation of living in glory forever with God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.