The “Great Commission” Transformation

All Saints,

Last month, I traveled to Seattle with Tim, Julie, and Tom for “Missional Leaders Training”—the name for redevelopment training.

This was my third Missional Leaders Training. I attended with Katey in Houston and before that in Newark with pastor-redeveloper Stephanie Wherry from Seeds of Faith Lutheran Church in Mt. Vernon/Lisbon. (Illness prevented Mary Jo from traveling to both Seattle and the previous training in Houston.) This one in Seattle was the best yet—time and money well invested.

On day one, pastors and lay people doing development (new church starts) and redevelopment (transforming existing congregations) told their stories. They talked about trusting God through the ups and downs, about the courage to experiment, about how much they and the congregations they serve learned and gained from failure.

On day two, redevelopment teachers from the ELCA churchwide offices in Chicago and elsewhere presented about what redevelopment is, the lifecycle of congregations looks like, and leading so conflict strengthens and does not destroy. We also visited Luther’s Table, a new café/bar/concert venue/veterans services/worship ministry in Renton, Washington, a suburb of Seattle. We ate lunch there, heard that pastor’s story, and talked with members of a new congregation in Texas starting from scratch.

When our program for the day ended on day two, I snuck away to spend time with my coach. Throughout these three trainings, the presenters have asked—as an expression of the relational and the learning-on-the-job nature of this work—“Who is your coach? Who are you mentoring?” In Houston, I was convinced of my need to have a coach. You may remember me speaking of him at All Saints congregational meeting in May. Anyhow, Red lives in Seattle, so I met with him and his mentor/friend, John. They both have been doing redevelopment work for decades. John lives in Chicago and offered to lead his “Shalom” workshop at All Saints.

Thanks to this third training and my time with Red and John, I have my deepest and clearest sense yet of what work God, you, the Southeastern Iowa Synod, and the ELCA have called me to.

Like so many Lutheran congregations, All Saints already does Great Commandment ministry well. “Redevelopment” means following the Holy Spirit in transforming All Saints into a congregation that does passionate and effective Great Commission ministry too. (See the “Great Commandment,” Matthew 22:34-40 and “Great Commission,” Matthew 28:16-20.)

Statements of purpose and core values—which we all will write together at retreats Sat, Sept 15 and Nov 10—will be tools for transformation. But most important is transformation in the spiritual and relational vitality of All Saints. That means, each of us (especially us leaders!) deepening our habits of prayer, scripture study, and relationship with others in and beyond the congregation, so that the culture of All Saints as a whole shifts, turns inside-out, and we start loving to tell the story as much as we love hearing it.

Already we do not have fingers enough to count how many hungry people are fed through All Saints food pantry and meal-site ministries. Imagine running out of fingers to count how many unbelievers came to believe through All Saints ministries of evangelism and making disciples!

That’s where we are headed together. What’s exciting is, no one knows how to get there. There are no orders we must follow or blueprints we are bound to. And of course, what’s terrifying is, no one knows how to get there. There are no guarantees or insurance policies or shortcuts. There is only the Spirit blowing where it will; God’s spiritual gifts of intuition, creativity, and forgiveness; Christ’s presence as we gather and are sent; fellow travelers on similar but never exactly the same journeys; and many, many partners who have shared themselves, their money, and their prayers for All Saints’ sake. “Only.”

This transformation work is already happening, thanks above all to God and also to the effort and investment of many more than the New Vision Team alone. It will not be done in a year or two. It’s a decade-long project—depth before size, direction before speed. So do not be afraid. Be patient. Keep at it. Feel free to experiment. Trust God.

Thanks be to God.

Pastor Clark Olson-Smith

5 Responses

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