Members and friends of North Judson UMC,
For the past year I have had the privilege of being appointed to be your pastor. During that time one of the things that many of you have learned about me is that I love to play board games. There are a lot of reasons why I enjoy games, but one of the simplest reasons is that I like to win. In a good game, winning requires a decent amount of strategy, and strategy requires reflection. To form a winning strategy, it is important to assess where one has been and where they are going. As a church I think it is also important to take stock of where we have been and what we plan to do.
I want to share with you some of the things I have observed about this church that are worth celebrating. The Indiana conference of the UMC has a wildly important goal of having all Methodist churches in Indiana being missional churches. Part of this goal is to have the churches be engaged in life-giving changes for Jesus Christ in their mission fields by 2020. Our mission field is Starke County and I celebrate that through our outreach ministries we are engaged in life giving changes in our community. Kid’s Closet has made a real difference in countless families. The food pantry has also been important, and with the extra stress and turmoil of this year it has been a literal lifeline for some families. I celebrate that North Judson UMC is a church that is heavily engaged in transforming this community.
I also celebrate how involved you as a congregation are with this outreach work. On more than one occasion I have shown up to help at an event only to find there was very little for me to do because the work was already being done. As a lifelong Methodist and someone who has severed in several different churches, I can tell you to be able to regularly have that many active volunteers is a true rarity. It is something that this church should be commended for. Your commitment to the outreach ministries is also seen in the way that you financially support it. We currently have a goal to purchase the outreach building. Currently we are over 2/3rds of the way there and I am confident with your continued and ongoing support we will reach that fundraising goal and we will be able to fully make the outreach building ours.
I think it is fair to say that none of us anticipated what these last twelve months were going to look like. I know in my first year with this congregation I did not plan on spending a fourth of it socially distant. As a result of these unprecedented times we have had to increase our online presence. Even when the threat of the virus diminishes, our online presence will continue. We plan to continue offering virtual worship experiences through social media and our website indefinitely.
As I begin my second year at North Judson it is clear to me, that waiting for things to return to normal is not the best strategy for ministry. Instead of waiting we should explore new ways to do ministry during these times. There are two specific areas where the pandemic stifled some of what we were working on. The first area was in ministry with young people. Many of you have communicated with me the importance of providing space and opportunities for children and teens. Last year we began this with monthly parties for children. These gatherings were fun, but they were also faith based. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 our last one was in February. The long term plan was to develop a youth ministry out of these gatherings. While it will not look like it might have originally, we are moving forward with developing and implementing an online youth ministry this school year.
The second area of growth that was stifled by the pandemic was in new ministry development. As mentioned, our outreach ministries should be celebrated but there are needs in the community that are currently not being met. I also believe there are people in the pews who are not serving God yet in quite the way they are called. There are areas where the passion of people and the needs of the world align and God can use that to change the world. The goal was to identify those areas of need in our community and those passions within our congregation. The original plan of doing that is not going to work, but sometime in the next couple of months we do plan to have a “Whiteboard session”. The idea here is everyone in the church excited about the possibility of making a difference will come together to brainstorm and dream together. We can find what we are passionate about, identify the needs of our community, and put those together in a way that we truly transform the world for the kingdom of God.
As I consider the state of North Judson UMC, I believe the state of the church is good. At the same time though, I acknowledge that our mission is too important to ever settle for good enough. Until every soul is saved and every knee bends to Jesus, the church has work to do. Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. As already mentioned, I believe that the disciples who make up this church are already doing a stellar job at seeking to transform the world. However, as we look forward I would challenge all of us to focus on making disciples. As a church we will continue to offer areas for growth in discipleship. Our mid-week bible study will return after the summer and our Sunday school program will continue. Furthermore, it is my most sincere desire that our weekly worship services and messages have also been helpful in facilitating you to a level of stronger discipleship.
Within the past year I participated in a conference program called the Multiplication network that had a strong discipleship focus, and I am currently considering possible next steps. However, as a church we cannot make new disciples if we do not share God’s love with new people. Study after study has shown that the most effective strategy for making disciples is a personal invitation to church from a family, friend, or neighbor. If we want to grow as a church, if we want to fulfill our mission to make new disciples, then we must be regularly inviting people. I challenge each of you to set a personal goal of how many people to invite to church. Do not settle for just one or two, I challenge you to make it a big goal. Make it your goal to invite that many people to church in person or even virtually, between now and the end of the year.
I am excited about what the future holds for the state of the church. I am confident that as a community of faith we will continue to be faithful and that we will even better live into our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.