Facilitating Ministry Through Ministry Facilities
No one seems to have noticed, but Redeemer Lutheran Church & School in Huntington Beach, California recently celebrated its 45th anniversary. Open your church directory to the “church history” page and you’ll quickly notice that Redeemer’s founding “missionary,” Pastor Lothar Tornow began holding public services on July 14, 1963. Just think, forty five years of God’s serving his people through his Word and the Sacraments of Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution and Holy Communion.
And how does a Christian congregation celebrate forty five years of God’s grace in Christ? A chili cook-off? A limited edition book of the congregation’s best (and worst) memories? The planting of a tree? Commemorative coffee cups or tote bags or Martin Luther letter openers? One special Sunday featuring Starbuck’s coffee and Krispy Kreme donuts? How do we celebrate forty five years of God coming and graciously ministering to our individual and corporate hurts and weaknesses and struggles and needs – all in a way that helps each other and pleases God?
It may very well be a mere coincidence that this year is marked by an effort by the congregation to intentionally and thoughtfully plan for the next forty five years of ministry. While so much “celebrating” in congregations these days centers around, “How can we have a good time and pat ourselves on the back for doing a good job?” It seems that a proper celebration of God’s past mercies would naturally include a concerted effort to allow God’s service to his people to continue and expand. Forty five years after the first gathering of men and women and children around the Scriptures and the Sacraments in a sanctuary originally built as a make-shift real estate office, we can give thanks to God that he continues to come to this place to announce forgiveness, and generously offer eternal life and the gifts of heaven.
A quick scan of the past forty five years of this congregation’s history reveals (just as a quick scan of the past two thousand years of the history of the entire Christian Church reveals) that ministry rarely just happens. The early church very quickly adopted a regular routine of gathering around the Word of God and the Sacraments (“the breaking of bread and prayer” of Acts 2:42), a rhythm that God blessed (Acts 2:47), a rhythm that Martin Luther and the Reformers rediscovered and has now been handed down to 16351 Springdale Street for generations to come.
On this anniversary of the congregation, it may be quite proper for each of us to review the rich history of the church and school and again give heart-felt thanks for not only the church, but especially for the faithfulness of the Lord of the Church, who rules his little flock in loving-kindness through his Word. This is a great year to say again to ourselves, one another, that it is our Lord Jesus who gathered this congregation, sustained it, and will keep it in his grace.
This year many decisions about the congregation need to be made, after gathering information, seeking God’s will in the Scriptures, prayer, considering options, and respectful discussion. “Church experts” continue to focus this kind of Christian decision-making by reminding us that whatever we say or do, “it’s all about ministry.”
That also seemed to be Jesus’ approach as he willingly received his Father’s call to become incarnate and serve us in our helplessness through his Cross and the empty tomb. For our Redeemer, it wasn’t about added comfort, greater and greater social standing, or putting in a year or two of hard work so he could then sit back and have others take over. The Church season of Trinity (Pentecost) that we find ourselves in during these summer months is all about, first and foremost, Christ’s continued work of ruling his Church on earth through the Holy Spirit and water and bread and wine. For our Savior, it’s still all about ministering to us, and equipping us to minister to each other.
Everyone’s got a great idea for celebrating a congregation’s anniversary: custom imprinted beef jerky, aroma candles in the shape of the pastors, scratch and sniff versions of the Ninety-Five Theses, glow-in-the-dark “What Would Jesus Drive?” t-shirts. But if we truly believe Christ has been with and blessed Redeemer Lutheran Church & School, then shouldn’t we naturally make provisions so that Christ may continue to draw future generations around his altar, font, and Scripture? We, according to our old, sinful nature, contribute nothing to Christ’s saving work in this congregation, or anywhere else. However, we all do have an opportunity – even a Christian obligation – not to put stumbling blocks in front of those whom our Savior is drawing to himself. To that end, I ask that during the coming months you regularly pray for God’s gracious will in our efforts to, together, intentionally plan and implement needed renovations in and around the church grounds. May God give us all the grace to truly believe that when it comes to Redeemer Lutheran Church & School, “It’s all about doing ministry!”
– Pastor Daniel Harmelink