A Living Hope

This morning, I spoke with a leader at St. Matthew’s about our future. He talked about his frustration with a perceived lack of progress regarding the future of the congregation now that we’ve made the decision to sell our property and become a new mission church. Since we took the step in early June, not much has happened publicly regarding any plans for the future. The frustration is that it looks like nothing is happening.

Many people will look at the calendar and say, “Hey, it’s the summer. No one is around.” While people have gone on vacation and to their summer homes, the church is still open. We still hold worship on weekends, Saturday at 5 PM, Sunday at 9:30 AM; Wednesdays at 7 PM; and Morning Prayer at 7 AM. We’ve held Vision Team meetings and Elder Meetings from the date we decided to become a new church. I’ve been around both at church and the parsonage. It is not that there has been no time to meet as a congregation to discuss future plans, but we just haven’t.

People can get frustrated, I know. And we should meet sometime soon.

Since early June, I’ve been working on plans for the mission church. It is not something we can just start without doing research. There needs to be planning and talking and reviewing the landscape of starting over. I’ve been talking with pastors and leaders in the LCMS on ways in which our new mission can be supportive of the overall Lutheran presence in Bergen County. I’ve been reviewing demographic changes to our area in Bergen County and how this has moved the Church to change how it worships and serves people and then taking what was learned and asking people who know something about demographics on how to tackle this new environment. I’ve met with marketing people to discuss how to market a new church. I’ve talked with fallen away Christians and non-religious people to see how they view the Church and why. I’ve asked people what they would like to see a new church tackle in terms of serving the community and being a beacon of hope for the disaffected in society.

All of this is helping form a ministry plan for the new church.

I believe that it was more prudent to set up a ministry plan that would scope out what our new church can do and be before coming together to put “flesh on the bones” of the plan. If we met during the last eight weeks to discuss a new church, we’d just flail in the wind, throwing ideas on a board and accomplishing nothing. Instead, if we have a general plan offering options for ministry directions, we can build from there and start something wonderful. Without having a ministry plan in place, we’d accomplish little and that would set us back.

I am finishing up my mission plan for the new church and I will talk about it starting this weekend at our joint worship service at Holy Trinity in Garfield (worship begins at 10 AM). This weekend, both congregations are starting a new sermon series called “Living Hope,” where we look at God’s Word and how it drives us to be Christians with a heart of mission. I encourage all members of St. Matthew’s and Holy Trinity to join us this Sunday as we embark on a real and vibrant discussion of what it means to be a Christian in 2018 and into the future.

I believe that God has placed us in a unique position at the perfect time and place to launch a new church. We have options before us and vast opportunities to serve people who don’t know Jesus. And we have people at St. Matthew’s who are looking forward to a new church. Let us pray to our Lord above that His cross leads us into a new and vibrant future where we bring the living hope of Jesus Christ to people, where we with God can turn sadness into smiles, an emptiness of spirit into a powerful force of optimism, and fear into empowerment.

Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have also obtained access through him by faithinto this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Romans 5:1-5

New Hope, Day One

No one at St. Matthew’s in New Milford, NJ has ever gone through the process of starting a new church. The challenges, the fears, the “where are we going to worship” questions have never been a part of the everyday Christian life of any of the congregants of our 123 year old church in northern New Milford.

A series of challenges over the past few years has opened the doors to the exciting opportunity of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to lots of people simply by cutting away that which is holding us back, namely our fears and our building.

The fifty year old structure we call our spiritual home is in trouble. Well, it has been for a long time. We’ve put in thousands upon thousands of dollars to upgrade pieces of the building – a new roof, parking lot, handicap ramp, and the heating system, to name a few. But overwhelming problems are on the horizon – the electrical system needs to get up to code; our furnace is very old and even with the upgrades to the heating system, the furnace doesn’t have a lot of life left in her; the building really needs a cooling system because without it, our lights sometimes do not go on during the humid days of the summer; and the stucco on the outside of the building needs repair in numerous places. Oh, and that steeple leaking issue continues to vex us.

Financially, we are facing tough times. We’re a small congregation with limited financial resources. Not that small congregations are bad, but when financial issues come up, struggling with how to deal with them is a major challenge. With a building that is not attractive even with the bandages we’ve placed covering over our issues, the congregation has made the bold choice to bring the Gospel to people.

New Hope 3In early June, St. Matthew’s voted to sell our property in New Milford and move, to take up the mantle of bringing Jesus to His people, to partner with our LCMS friends to build a new St. Matthew’s and a new suburban ministry effort in Bergen County. A joyfully Lutheran ministry effort that shows and builds on the strengths of Jesus Christ. We want to bring to God’s people the hope of life centered on faith in Jesus, to be a people not worried about making mistakes, but seeking forgiveness from God and of one another. We want ministries that change lives for the better. And we want to build a community in different places that focuses on the hope that lives can get better and, by working with God, we can change them forever!

Essentially, we want to center our new church on the mission of bringing New Hope to people in our faith community now and those outside of it who need to hear the love of God in Jesus Christ.

As I was praying this afternoon after eating lunch, I don’t know if it was the Spirit or not but I had an urge to start this new church project. Why wait until the fall when people come back from summer vacation?

Why not kick off the New Hope project today?

There is plenty that needs to get done at St. Matthew’s in both the near and long term to make this project come to life. It starts now. We’ll need to hold lots of meetings with pastors and churches and church leaders and towns people. Inside St. Matthew’s, we need to discuss a lot of things about all of our “stuff” and what we’re going to do with all of it. We need to plan and most importantly, we need to pray.

We’re starting over.

It’s all about the New Hope found only in Jesus.