Dear Church Family,
I am writing to share a vision, or a burden, or an encouragement – I guess which it is depends on how it is taken! I hope you’ll read through this letter. I plan to send it out in hard copy to those who don’t normally read e-mail. There was a sweet spirit to this past Sunday, despite a lot of people being gone. Toward the end of the meal I was sitting with Mack and Edward and Cindy, and we were talking about Scripture songs, about Christian music from the seventies, and about a few different artists from that era. We were relaxed and comfy. Edward played a couple of Christian songs from the 70’s era. It was cool. It reminded me a bit of the old days of Covenant Fellowship.
I wrote last week to all of you an update to my prayer letter. I shared that I knew I needed to focus on the basic matters, and do good, and trust God for the outcome. Yes, sometimes I have anxiety about things. Trust and serve and focus on people and the essential matters – that seems right.
It was odd how that resonated with the people in the community with whom I shared the letter. All around the institutionalized church is getting busier and busier, more and more complex, and more and more in debt. All this to reach and make happy a fickle and jumpy clientele – modern Christians who have a wide array of “needs” which, if they aren’t filled, will move to a new church like changing dry cleaners. It makes everyone nervous, anxious, muddles motives, and messes with our heads.
There is a frenetic craziness around. Peoples lives are out of balance. They are over committed. Parents are being ruled by children. People’s emotions and sense of what they can handle or cope with are jumpy and frayed. Private time in word and prayer seems rarer and rarer. People are emotionally on a fine trigger. People who ought to be teachers are still babes. Jesus’ words are being made to mean the opposite of what he intended. I get tired thinking about it. “I want this. I need that. Give me this. I want that.” Church staffs are utterly exhausted trying to make everyone happy. I know. I talk to them.
I wrote late last December about the coming year being a season of change for us. It has certainly been that, and is that! Even apart from the matter of dear friends moving away, our session has changed a lot. In addition, things generally for while had gotten complicated. It was like we had been growing barnacles and it was slowing down our sail through the waters, creating drag.
In contrast to all that there is before us this vision of the young church – attending to the Apostles’ teaching, breaking bread, prayer, mutual giving.
I’ve talked before about our “just being the church.” The more I ponder things, the more that appeals to me. This past Sunday was a great example. Good heartfelt singing, visiting with one another that was hard to break up(!), joyful sharing in the communion meal, a solid biblically based sermon (content wise), an impassioned invitation for prayer, sweet table fellowship. And the day before Sunday there was mutual service helping one of our folks move, and a wonderful opportunity for fun and mutual fellowship while at the same time giving to people far away in need.
It was good.
I am going to tell you what I think, just me, about where I think we need to head as a church. I am not a prophet, nor is mine the last word. This is not an edict from our session. I am one elder. But this is where I am right now as I look at things. We need to head back toward the basics and back toward a mind set of church planting. We’ve kind of coasted for a few years on the one hand, even while some of us at the same time may have been distracted by inward focus, confusing leadership issues, greater operational complexity on the other.
Being in a church planting mindset and also returning to the basics may does not sound like or seem to be compatible with each other, especially when you think of all the frenetic activity that goes into a church plant. But we’re really not a church plant. We’re planted. I merely talk about a mind-set, a prayer-set!
There are a hundred good churches around – well, more than that. Every one of them offers something we do not, and does something better than we do. That is perfectly OK. We need to make sure we are attending to the most important and basic things, do them as well as we can, and know and believe that God has raised us up and will continue to use us in this community. There is every reason for believing that “He who began a good work in us new work in us will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” There is too much reality, too much faith, hope, and love to think otherwise.
I am going to say something bold. Our city and our culture, both our Christian and our general culture, needs churches like ours. It runs counter to so many pressures to stay simple, to focus on the basic things, to be bold in prayer and faith and hope and love and good works, to be devoted to the Word, to know and to encourage one another – even those people who may different in many ways. We’re too small to have cliques really, so we’re each and all kind of forced to love and know each other, like in a family. I like that.
It’s going to take a little time and some good hard work and hard thinking to streamline again things that have become complex. In other words, it is going in the short term to take a little work in order over the long haul to do less work, to be more simple again. Good minds are working on that. I think we’re moving in the right direction. We have motivated people. We have great elders with hearts for God and for His church, and for you.
So, here is my logic, my thinking. The world needs Word, Prayer, Sacrament, and the Witness of mutual love in action. All human beings do. The people around us do. Some of these people are non Christians who need this for the first time. Some of these people are lapsed Christians who need to be renewed. Some are Christians between churches, new to the area, or discouraged and alone and drifting…
But the world needs these things. All people of every tribe and nation needs these things. And we offer these things. And we offer these things less disguised by extraneous stuff than most. There is an important place in our world and culture for a church like ours – for what we have always wanted to be and are striving to be.
So there is no shame in a mindset of church planting. Aren’t we supposed to do that. Aren’t we to making disciples? Aren’t we to be attending to the apostles’ teaching, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. I think so. So there is no shame in wanting and desiring to spread the blessing and not have our light hidden under a bushel.
And so, I ask of you a few things…
Pray for Covenant Fellowship, that we would be His church as He wants us to be. Pray that God would mold us, shape us, change us, strengthen us, according to His holy will and desire.
Pray for your neighbors, that they would know Christ, and that they would find fellowship with Christians somewhere.
Be open to inviting people you meet to church. What’s it going to do, kill them? Well, in a way I guess yes. We hope. May God slay the old man, the flesh, in all of us as He brings new life!
Help us think of ways to get the word out that we’re here and what we’re about.
Help us be the simple church we have desired to be. Chip in. This is the irony perhaps. We can only work well and simply when the adage “many hands make light work” applies. There are too few people right now carrying too much and the basic stuff needs to be spread out more. That’s the only way we can function well and simply. Find your place, your niche of love and service, and apply your gifts there. And regardless of gift, come to worship, to pray, to share, to help out, to hear the word, to eat of the sacramental bread and drink, to love one another.
Read Acts 2:42-48 and pray we can be more and more like that, by God’s doing, and by his grace. Read Colossians 3:12-17 and pray the same thing.
And pray that God would blow a spirit of freshness and grace and strength and vision through our midst, and excite us again about being His people in His world.
We are Covenant Fellowship. A real church, for real people, for God’s glory.
Thank you for reading this.