As we head into the fall season, I want to share a few thoughts about the work we do together as the District. The Florida-Georgia Board of Directors, a number of years ago, adopted three critical targets. They include Leadership, Congregations and Outreach. The thought is that if we are to stand back and reflect on what is necessary to best equip, empower and engage to connect people to Jesus, these three things are essential. We want to raise up leaders, strengthen congregations and always keep our mission-focus through outreach.
In archery a target is what you aim at and the goal is to hit the target. When it comes to critical targets for an organization, the goal isn’t simply to hit the target, as if once you’ve hit the target you’ve completed it and are done. Rather, with critical targets the goal, as in archery, is to learn to continually hit the target. Over the many years that I have served in the Florida-Georgia District I have experienced many times when we’ve “hit” these three targets, yet they are still before us.
The Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 3:12-16, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” Our gracious God has done marvelous things in, and through, the Florida-Georgia District. Many have been touched with the love of Jesus, many have been baptized, confirmed, married and buried in the faith because of the work that has been done in this District. However, God’s call to us is to press on!
These targets are not linear, but rather cylindrical, always moving in a circle. Strong and healthy leaders will lead to strong and healthy congregations, and strong and healthy congregations will naturally be engaged in outreach with the good news about Jesus, which leads back to the opportunity to raise up more leaders, and so on. Here are some of the ways that we are pressing on and “practicing” to continually work at hitting those three targets.
In the area of leadership we are working to provide the best resources and opportunities for our professional church workers that we can. We have committees that have put together awesome conference opportunities for workers to challenge and strengthen their skills sets for ministry. Certainly anyone will only get out of a conference what they put into it, but I can assure you that for both the pastors and educators conferences, great attention and care is taken to ensure that it is worth the very valuable time of those who participate.
In addition, we have brought in ministry partners to make it easier for our workers to participate in national programs. We have a working relationship with Pastoral Leadership Institute, Grace Place Wellness, and Doxology, who will all operate within the boundaries of the Florida-Georgia District this coming year, beginning this fall. In addition we have created with Kurt Bickel and Cornerstone a program called “Emergent Leaders.” What is unique about this training is that it is not only for professional church workers, but is inclusive of lay leaders as well, an area that we hope to spend more energy and focus on in the days ahead.
In the area of congregations the focus is on revitalizing ministries, encouraging them to embrace their community and engage in the Master’s business. We have several outside consultants available to congregations who desire to invest and renew their commitment to mission and ministry. Among them, I have deployed on a number of occasions Pastor Scott Gress, who serves on the staff of Lutheran Counseling Services in Orlando. Scott will work with congregations to help assess areas of challenge. In addition, he is a certified coach, and has coached a number of pastors, and in some cases lay leaders, to move them forward in ministry.
In this target of congregations we include the excellent work of Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF), your ministry partner. LCEF has come alongside many of our ministries providing capital funding services, stewardship programs, not to mention loans. Our LCEF District Vice-President, Daniel J. Reichard, is constantly out on the road sharing the many free resources available to congregations through LCEF, including bringing Architectural Advisor, Greg Beste, along to help assess the physical needs of a campus.
All these things are done to help you hit the target of serving Jesus in your local community. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16. The District Office and Staff don’t exist to draw attention away from your ministry, but instead, to undergird your ministry so that it shines in your community. Like the foundation of a house, our job isn’t to be seen, but to support you so that you are better equipped to reach people in your community with the good news of the gospel.
The target of outreach is one of the most crucial, but I believe that it often fails to happen because we often lack leadership or healthy congregations. The final command that Jesus gave His disciples before ascending into heaven was an outreach command. He said, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” Jesus also gives that privilege and responsibility to each of His followers. As a healthy rose will bloom naturally, outreach is the natural outcome for believers. It’s what we were created to do.
Certainly a part of this is planting new missions. Many of us can remember when it was common to plant new missions, and we marveled at how quickly they often grew. That doesn’t seem to be as common in our day. Could it be that we’ve not taken the command of Jesus seriously? Could it be that we’ve neglected the One who chose us and called us to bear fruit by failing to bear fruit for Him?
We have partnered with Lutheran Hour Ministries and even participated in a pilot program, The Outreach Initiative. We have seen some great things from this, but it’s only one avenue to explore. Shouldn’t it be our goal to find as many ways as possible to build relationships and share the good news of Jesus?
I was blessed last month to visit the North Georgia Mountains with my family. We visited the Vineyard of one of our LCMS members, and in the middle of the Vineyard was a giant Cross, very visible from the tasting room. Over and over, as guests entered that tasting room the question was asked why there was a big cross in the vineyard. It was an open opportunity for witness from my friend, who didn’t miss the opportunity. The truth is, these opportunities to testify to our faith in Jesus are all around us. Reaching out in the name of Jesus isn’t the same as growing a church. It’s all about caring for the eternal welfare of a soul. If we love people with the love of Jesus it may just be the seed that God plants to bring someone into faith or back into a faith relationship with Him.
For this reason we were chosen in Christ and called as His servants. Outreach isn’t only about pastors reaching their communities with the good news of Jesus. It’s about all of us being disciples of Jesus and telling the good news to those who need to hear. Maybe that means where you work or go to school. In some cases, maybe it’s just in your own family.
It has been said that actions speak louder than words. I didn’t grow up in a typical ministry family. I’m the first pastor in my family. But my father’s faith was a huge influence on my life. He was the manager of loans and finances, and I remember as a kid visiting his work from time to time. In fact, my first job was near his office. I would stop in occasionally at lunch, and almost every time he was studying the Bible during his lunch hour. His employees would see him studying, and knew his character, and would often ask him questions about faith and spirituality. He never had to push his faith. It was evident in how he lived. I pray that it would be so for each of us as well. This is the heart of outreach.
Critical Targets of leadership, congregations, and outreach, form the focus of our ministry together. May God grant us wisdom and grace to always be about the Master’s business as we work together to connect people to Jesus.
Your fellow servant,
Rev. Gregory S. Walton, President
FLGA District, LCMS