Do you find your identity, community, and purpose at your church?

Identity, community, and purpose are common to why people stay passionate and participate in organizations. I believe that a Christian congregation should be equipped to answer these three motivations. I want you to think with me about how successful your congregation does supporting in people and in families identity, community, and purpose.

Hebrews chapter 10 does a good job helping me understand how the church can answer our personal desires for identity, community, and purpose.

Identity

Our identity is shaped by our Baptism. The writer of Hebrews wrote, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22).

We are baptized children of God who are loved and redeemed by Jesus Christ. The accusations of our wrongs and the judgments of our sins are no longer held against us, because our shame has been washed away in the water of Baptism. We do not get our consciences clean through our own redeeming acts. Jesus is our identity. As much as I rely on Jesus for my identity as a child of God, I desire daily for God to give me the vision to see others as ones for whom Christ died and rose again. Who are you? You are not defined by your sins or shame. You are a child of God loved by Jesus Christ.

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Community

Our community is shaped by holding in common that we are all sinners deserving of judgment who have been brought together by the awesome good news that Jesus Christ saves us through His life, death, and resurrection. Jesus has brought us into the family of God. The writer of Hebrews continues by writing, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:23-25a)

The good news of Jesus Christ brings together people. The love of Jesus Christ unites us into community and keeps us caring for each other. We hold each other accountable by encouraging one another to love and do good works. When we live together connected to Jesus, we do not neglect the needs of one another. We are the family of God.

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Purpose

Our purpose is shaped by the Day of the Lord that is drawing near when judgment will come and the dead will be raised. Those who believe in Jesus Christ will be raised to eternal life and those who do not believe in Jesus Christ as the Lord will be damned to hell for eternity. I trust that God desires all people to be saved. Amazingly, God wants to use us to share this good news. We witness in our words and deeds to the world that we have confidence in the promise of God to deliver us to salvation through Jesus Christ. The section from Hebrews I have been quoting from finishes with the line, “and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25b). The decision of what you are going to do with your life is a big question. Living on purpose is a lot less stressful when we trust that God loves and cares for us. We are free from the burden of having to prove ourselves, and we are completely free to serve others. I love that God promises to use us as His instruments to share His love in this world.

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New Growth in the New Year

I am interested with how God will grow our membership as a congregation in 2017. Connection to a local community of believers is important. St. Paul wrote to the people in Ephesus, “There is one body and one Spirit . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). It is in the local church that we have the opportunity to experience unity with those the Spirit has called to faith. Jesus love His church, and so should we.

There is nationally a decline in church membership, and I am interested in slowing this decline at St. Paul Lutheran Church. To turn the tide against decline, I believe that God is providing our congregation with the gifts and resources necessary to reach the unreached and raise faithful children. God provides to us His Word which leads us to trust in Christ. Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ is His witness. We all can share the good news of Jesus with our friends and neighbors and invite them to church.

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The growth of the membership in our congregation will happen in more than one way. Congregations gain the overwhelming majority of their membership from natural growth, which is what happens when families in our congregation have more children. Our easiest growth is from children of adult members raised in the faith. As couples have children and the children are then baptized at St. Paul Lutheran Church, our congregation will experience growth. We had some joyous baptisms in 2016, and I look forward to more in the new year. Infant baptism is a wonderful opportunity to witness that faith is a gift from the Holy Spirit and not a work of our own reason or strength.

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As our congregation grows through infant baptisms, we remain concerned that these children remain connected to a local church. I want all children baptized at St. Paul Lutheran Church to be nourished and strengthened by God at work in His Word. The LCMS has lost 1 in 5 baptized members since the peak membership in the 1970s. The backdoor loss of people concerns me. We need to plan effectively for the spiritual care of people who are baptized at St. Paul Lutheran Church so that they remain connected to Jesus. Handing down our faith to our children and our children’s children is important. Our congregation has joined the Family Friendly Partner Network to be better equipped as a church to partner with homes to pass on faith in Christ. Throughout 2017 we will look for opportunities to provide families the resources they need to be His witnesses.

We will also experience growth in 2017 through Lutherans from other congregations moving into this area and transferring their membership. As people move around they have to search out new banks, doctors, grocery stores, and also a new church. Church shopping can be an exhausting experience. I hope people visiting St. Paul will find a community of welcome and grace that helps them feel at home. When looking for a new church, people should place a high priority on joining a congregation where the Word of God is clearly preached and the Sacraments properly administered.

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We will not only experience growth through our own tribe (German-American Lutherans), but we will also discover that God is sending people to St. Paul who have not grown up Lutheran. I find it exciting when new people are present on a Sunday morning at St. Paul. I am encouraged when I see people going across the aisles and introducing themselves to guests. Outreach to people in our community is important. We desire to be a community that welcomes people who come from all sorts of experiences because we trust that Jesus Christ is the Savior of all the nations.

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There is a decline in religious identification in the United States. The recent dramatic increase in the number of people who claim no religious identity or affiliation is alarming. Our task is clear in this age of declining identity with religion. We will witness to people the truth. We are sinners in need of a Savior and Jesus is this Savior. Our message must remain focused on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the United States the attitudes of young people on average is negative towards religious institutions. There is a growing skepticism concerning any institution that claims authority. This negative attitude of young people may not be new, but it does remind me of the need for us to share Jesus Christ more than share the building or institution of the church. We do not invite people to join a corporation. We invite people to join the Body of Christ gathered at St. Paul Lutheran Church.

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I trust the Holy Spirit has placed in our community people who will believe the Word of God and find welcome at St. Paul Lutheran Church. I am confident the Holy Spirit has gifted each person in our congregation to be His witnesses. Please pray to God to send the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to see the people He places into our lives.