To the Church Family at St. Paul Lutheran Church,
About seven years ago Karen and I began attending St. Paul as we were still settling into the area as a young couple pretty fresh out of college. As we bounced from church to church seeking something that resembled what we would call familiar, we were welcomed by a warmth at St. Paul that we found nowhere else. It was a sense of family, true Christian fellowship and love, that caught our attention and drew us in.
If you’ve been around awhile, you are probably doing some quick chronology in your head to determine that the pastor at that time was Pastor David Gruenhagen. I remember appreciating his way of communicating the Law of the Almighty and the Gospel of Salvation in almost every sermon. He met with Karen and I a few times as we prepared for acceptance into the membership of the Family at St. Paul, and we comfortably renewed our spiritual growth where it had left off while we were searching for a “home”.
It wasn’t a few weeks after our membership that Pastor Gruenhagen announced that he and his wife had accepted a call to a congregation out west. I remember thinking “I don’t know what to think…” – or how to feel, for that matter. It shouldn’t matter, right? Karen and I had joined a church family that pulled us in, and we were encouraged by the Fellowship amongst its members. After all, this is what we perceived as a foundation of this congregation.
However, most of us know how the following two years progressed. For those of you who don’t, I can only speak personally of the challenge I (we) had committing to regular attendance, struggling to keep my spiritual growth alive, and maintaining our relationships with other members. Our activity dwindled, and of the few regular meetings we attended of the Voters’ Assembly, I recall disagreement over moving forward in the call process as the leadership struggled to find a candidate willing to accept a call. The process was prolonged, and, at the time, it seemed unnecessarily so.
With the human perspective, that is the case. But God never does things by accident. His patience is unfailing and His good and gracious will is always realized. He is the “Great Engineer”. Through that transition, we were being prepared for an outcome that took time to develop, an outcome that was different than what we had considered for ourselves. Our experience, individual and collective, shaped us to become the Christian(s) and Christian family we are today.
I’d like to say here that since Pastor Curt joined us, our congregation has grown 85% and weekly contributions have doubled. That would be neat – in some ways, yes. But that is not the case. Actually, looking at numbers, we have not grown. Looking at numbers, one could say that we are struggling. Looking at numbers, some may be concerned with our future thought this next transition and beyond.
I contend, though, that we have grown in ways that are immeasurable. We have to remember that God has called us together as a church to establish and extend His Kingdom here on earth. His mission for us is the exact same one stated by Jesus Christ in Matthew 28:19-20. The people did not come together and create a building for us to carry on traditions and it is not in their memory or ours that we hold Worship every Sunday. God has a mission. And that is why he has worked through the people of Coldwater since the mid 1800s to establish His church here so that we can worship Him, share in Christian fellowship, become more Christ-like, minister to the needs of the church family, and to share His Good News as we go.
Of the many blessings in my life, and of the countless ways God has provided for me, one stands apart from the others. The establishment of small groups for the Purpose Driven Life has had a profound impact on my faith and spiritual growth. While the content of that study was inherently enriching, it was and still is the small group that it established that has evolved into something beautiful and unanticipated. Through the next few studies, the level of commitment to our discipleship and each other created growth that cannot exist in the anonymity of greater worship and fellowship by the congregation as a whole. And I think that is what makes small groups so great. The closeness and intimacy of a few Christians is unmatched in its ability to generate true discipleship.
In a recent daily devotional, Daily Hope, from The Purpose Driven Connection, the following reminded me of why we need small group fellowship and study:
“The Bible teaches us to ‘share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ’ (Galatians 6:2 NLT). It is in the times of deep crisis, grief, and doubt that we need each other most. When circumstances crush us to the point that our faith falters, that’s when we need believing friends the most. We need a small group of friends to have faith in God for us and to pull us through. In a small group, the Body of Christ is real and tangible even when God seems distant.”
In that way, I believe that St. Paul is stronger than ever before. So many of us are strengthened, encouraged, and emboldened by those with which we share our faith in small groups.
Now all that’s left to do is to be the light in a world of darkness. We carry a Hope that has been revealed to us. This hope affects our disposition, our character, our very lives. It is our right and our obligation to Him whose Hope it is to let that light shine before others (Matthew 5:16). It is the message of Hope that has created our congregation and it is the same message of Hope and the mission to share it that will drive us forward. Whatever we face and however long we are without a Pastor, if we are fixed upon the Mission of Hope we will continue to grow as God desires for us.
His purposes for us – collectively and individually – have not changed. He desires for us to know Him more and to make Him known to everyone we encounter.
May God bless you and your family through this Christmas season. I look forward to worshipping, growing, serving, sharing, and spending time in fellowship with you as we celebrate the birth of our Savior.
Council Chairman, St. Paul Lutheran Church