As many of you know, I recently started a call at a new congregation – St. Paul Lutheran in Beloit, WI. Tonight we did a big community outreach event, and I’m riding high on the joy of the event! We had a wonderful evening welcoming our neighbors in the community to eat, play, sing and have fun with us. As we at St. Paul launch into ministry this fall, my excitement & hope for us is much the same as my hopes & prayers are for you at Alpine in Rockford. I want to see us each grow as missional congregations.
Missional is one of those “buzz words” in the church – for me it means being a church that is focused on reaching our neighbors and sharing the Good News that God loves and welcomes them. We do that by both telling them the Good News, but also, even more so, by showing them that radical love and welcome in everything we do. A missional church is always asking the question, “How does this (event, decision, practice in our community…) communicate God’s love to our neighbors?” And a missional church is always looking for opportunities to invite and welcome our neighbors in so that we can show and tell them about the Good News. Lots and lots of churches are friendly – but being welcoming requires going a step further. Being friendly means we’re delighted when new people join us; being welcoming means that we are thinking about our worship practices, our building, our events through their eyes and trying to make it as smooth and comfortable as possible for them to participate. It means adjusting how we do things to make them feel more at home.
One detail of the Pentecost story in Acts chapter 2 always stands out to me. The Holy Spirit fills the disciples on that first birthday of the church and enables them to speak in all the different languages of the people outside on the street. The Holy Spirit could have enabled the people to understand the disciples’ language – but instead, the Spirit empowers the disciples to speak in the heart languages of the people. That is my prayer for us at St. Paul and for you at Alpine! That the Spirit would fill us and empower us to speak the heart language of our neighbors – so that they too might know how much God loves us all.
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