How have you been changed?
“The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me. ... Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1:43, 45-46)
This may seem a strange passage to use as a superscript for the pastor’s annual report, but in these few verses we find something that can help us understand our life together in Christ. It begins with Jesus’ invitation. Jesus takes the initiative to call us and form us into a fellowship. Jesus invites people into the fellowship and promise of God’s kingdom with a command to follow him. Next, we see the response of the disciple. A disciple affirms Jesus’ choice by hearing and believing, saying yes by getting up and following. Finally, we see how Jesus’ disciples share the good news with their friends. Through that witness, the Holy Spirit draws people to Jesus, changes their hearts and minds and opens their ears and eyes to hear and see God at work in the world.
The changing nature of pastoral ministry
Consider for a minute how you would measure the effectiveness and quality of a pastor’s ministry. For a many years, we measured the effectiveness of pastoral ministry according to how a pastor performed some specific tasks of ministry in a local congregation:
But over the course of my ministry there has been a move toward understanding and judging pastoral ministry as spiritual leadership. (I have spent the last three-years of my ordained ministry training and retraining to better serve you and this congregation as a pastoral spiritual leader.) So, consider again how you would measure the effectiveness and quality of a pastoral spiritual leader. The tasks may be the same, but the purpose and intention of engaging in those tasks is different, and as a result the focus of those tasks is different, too. If we are going to measure effective pastoral ministry in terms of spiritual leadership we would need to know a few things from the start.
I, as your pastor, have been ordained called to serve as that visible, public, embodied means of leadership and guidance. I am not the only spiritual leader in this fellowship to be sure. In truth, from time to time God raises up each member of this community to lead and guide according their own particular endowment of gifts.
It’s all about change
God has set the destination. In baptism, we have been joined to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So the only thing left for us to gauge and measure is what is changing in and about us as we move in and out and through the various ups and downs of life.
Over the past three years, we have, together, invested in hours of continuing education and pastoral practice so that I might better serve, guide, accompany, counsel and care for you. Throughout my work toward the Doctor of Ministry degree (which I earned and we celebrated last May) I had focused on the transformative power of pastoral conversation, counsel and coaching. I cannot change you. I cannot change your mind, your behavior or your life situation. Only you can change you. The Holy Spirit changes hearts and minds, that is true. Through God’s Word and the sacraments we are transformed by the Holy Spirit, but no one can be transformed for you. And yet, as is usually the case, the Holy Spirit works through human instruments, such as a pastor, a friend, a fellow Christian to speak God’s Word and to listen and hear your response and to encourage you in a life of repentance.
Think of the change process that is built into our five baptismal promises. We hear God’s word and respond with our promise to “live among God’s faithful people.” We affirm our promise by asking God to help and guide us in living out our baptism, “I do, and I ask God to help and guide me.” Then, what next …? That is where your pastor may be of some use. I won’t tell you what to do, but I will help you explore how God is leading you to …
The Change I Observe
While I cannot know the stirrings of your heart, at the community level, I can share the change I have observed, and I can comment and share my best thoughts on what that might mean for us going forward.
More fellowship events. In 2017, we had set a goal of organizing more opportunities to get together, celebrate, strengthen relationships and form friendships. Fellowship means more than socializing, it is a participation in a common faith and common life through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. It seems like ordinary food, fun and games, but it can be holy work, too.
Some of our regular gatherings build on fellowship, our Lenten Eat • Think • Pray series, for example. Bible studies — Bible and Bagels and Monday evening — also give a space for Christian fellowship around a discussion of God’s Word. We also celebrate the arrival of summer with a Sunday school picnic and the start of Sunday school with a breakfast. Throughout the school year, the Sunday school shares a breakfast and lesson or project.
But this year, we also organized two larger events that celebrated the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation — The Reformation Hymn Festival at Carnegie Hall (28 people, a party bus and afternoon of inspiring music) and our own Reformation 500 picnic (100 people from four congregations, delicious food, singing and rain). Throughout the year, the church council showed their gratitude for outgoing council members for their dedicated service with an evening of drinks and apps at Applebee’s. In the fall we began to offer occasional and informative senior lucheons. In December we went Christmas caroling.
In 2018 … FELLOWSHIP/KOINONIA means life together in Christ. Look for us to continue to organize gatherings where we can enjoy each other’s company, celebrate our faith and strengthen our relationship to each other. Fellowship, however, is all about participation. Look for ways to participate by attending, by organizing, by sharing your gifts and talents … by simply saying yes to the invitation, showing up and seeing what God does next.
A grief ministry. In 2017, we hosted GriefShare … a 15-week grief support group that helps people journey from mourning to joy. We offer this ministry in cooperation with Community Presbyterian Church. Fellowship in Christ also means bearing each other’s burdens and accompanying our sisters and brothers through times of grief, loss, mourning and distress in the hope of a new joy and a new life in Christ. We offered a Blue Christmas/Longest Night service just before Christmas to provide a safe and honest place to hear the good news of God’s entering into the world. Christmas joy is only comprehended when we receive Jesus as man of sorrow and acquainted with grief, through whom we have hope of the dawn of resurrection and new life.
In 2018 … Care for each other in compassion and love. I will once again facilitate a 15-week session of GriefShare. If God is leading you to intentionally deal with your grief at the death of a loved one, consider participating in the spring session, starting in March. If you would like to help serve as hostess or to provide snacks and treats for the group, please let me know.
Variety in worship. By the end of 2017, the St. Paul’s worshiping community was fluent in three musical settings for divine worship, as well as a number of spoken services used on Saturday night. This variety in worship is not only a way of keeping the tradition and patterns of worship fresh, but also a way of deepening our faith and understanding of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. The old adage of the church is that what we pray is what we believe continues to hold true. The texts we encounter in our liturgy feed our hearts and minds with God’s word in a way that draws us deeper into the truth of the Gospel. At the same time, being a people open to some variety and diversity in worship style and setting starts to open us to receive new friends into our fellowship, neighbors unfamiliar with our worship, language or story and fellow sisters and brothers in Christ drawn from all the cultures of the world.
In 2018 … Join the choir. Play an instrument. Demand a new setting. I dream of the day that we realize that we can only say, “I don’t know this” one time. After that, we know and if we open ourselves to new possibilities, we can be enriched. That openness to change accompanied by a commitment to the depth and breadth our liturgical tradition keeps us anchored in Christ and growing in faith and understanding.
Collaboration with ministry partners. In 2017, St. Stephen in Edison called a part-time pastor, and I ended my term as vice pastor to that congregation. Over the previous 18 months, we had taken some collaborative steps together — we share Sunday school and Vacation Bible School, Ash Wednesday and Christmas Day services, social gatherings and more. Those collaborations continued in 2017, even as the addition of Pastor Dunlap-Ennis and her gifts for ministry strengthened our mutual efforts.
We collaborate in many other ways. In servant ministry, we work with MCFOODS, partner with LSMNJ and, new this year, with Ben Franklin school in Edison to provide food for 10 food insecure families. Our three-expression church — congregation, synod and churchwide — helps us see that in Christ we live interconnected and interdependent lives within the universal body of Christ. That is why mission support is a first fruits gift, and why we can never allow ourselves to think of ourselves first. In fact, that kind of thinking is exactly what our baptism into Christ frees us from. Our baptism draws us out of the water as a people who are free to live for others as we live in Christ.
In 2018 ... Work Your Network for the sake of Christ. This year we will be exploring new collaborations and partnerships, even with old friends like the childcare center, will be key to us effectively living out our potential as people of the gospel. When you consider the assets God has entrusted to you, remember that your connections, your social and professional and family networks can be assets, too. I can think of no better example of this kind of thinking than Jane Brady, who understands that relationships formed over years are one of the greatest assets God has given to get things to done for the sake of the Gospel, and Bob Crupi who simply asked the people at work to contribute to the St. Paul’s Food Pantry.
Finding an Identity in Servant Ministry. As a fellowship of Christian disciples, we have been commissioned to two great ministries with two great commandments — the commandment to love and the commandment to go and make disciples. Our servant ministry team and the ministries funded by our Local Mission Fund take our Lord’s commandment to love seriously.
When you take a look at our budget, you will notice that we have divided our money into four funds — Mission Support, Current Expenses, Local Mission and Capital Improvements. One of the benefits of this way of organizing our assets is that it helps clarify the purpose of each fund. We have to ask ourselves — what is this money being used for. Over the years, the Local Mission Fund has become the place where we look to deploy resources for the sake of saving, changing and improving the lives of people in our neighborhood. The food pantry, the food buddies, the pastor’s discretionary emergency fund — which provides assistance for people who struggle to afford the basics — clothing, shelter, heat and electricity, medical supplies — and more are ways we as a congregation make a difference in our neighbors’ lives. In my research and in conversations with church leaders from a variety of different traditions, we have discovered that key to congregational vitality is our ability to resource ministries and partnerships that can lovingly, compassionately and effectively respond to people’s most basic needs, recognizing that people also hunger for fellowship and friendship. At the same time, having a pool of resources that can be employed to help people keep their lives from falling apart or can that can help people put their lives together again after disaster, is how we live and love generously in Jesus’ name in the world.
In 2018 ... Participate in Servant Ministry. We are challenged to generously support our servant ministries and to encourage the ongoing creativity of our servant ministry team as it moves towards its mission goals for the year, particularly its goal of expanding our food pantry ministry. In addition, new avenues of partnership are opening up between us and the childcare center. Did you know that one-third of the families who use our childcare center access its services through some form of public assistance, and that some of these children in our building everyday lack adequate clothing, shelter and food? I am looking for one or two members who will serve on a childcare partnership team this year.
Growing importance of youth ministry. In February 2017, a number of our upper elementary students attended a retreat at CrossRoads. They had a great time. Our Sunday school continued to be one of this congregation’s strengths this year, but in fall of 2018, there will be some changes. We start the largest confirmation class we have had in years this coming fall. With that change, comes a growing need for us to invest time and energy in starting to develop a youth ministry.
In 2018 ... Start a New Ministry. I would like to see us form a youth ministry team to plan and hold regular gatherings and events, outings, service projects and even mission trips. At the same time, there is a challenge to continue to reach out to families with young children and to always improve our Sunday school.
A growing diversity among members. If you come to worship at St. Paul’s on the second Sunday of the month, on our youth Sunday, you will be delighted to hear our children sing praises to God. You will also see a glorious picture of the kingdom of God, in all its diversity. One sign of a vibrant congregation is this: the people in the congregation look like the people in our neighborhood. Cultural diversity is not the only form of diversity, and as we live together among God’s faithful people, we see Christ in each other and we appreciate the worth, value and beauty of each of God’s children. One way we honor Christ in each other is by listening to each other and being aware of how God might be using us to change and shape each other’s lives, giving us permission and courage to hear and understand each other. Though we honor and respect all people, there is no place in a community of Jesus’ disciples for any form of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, abuse or any other behavior that would demean, debase or harm our neighbors. These are sins to be named, acknowledged, confessed, forgiven and buried in each and every one of our lives.
In 2018 … Listen and Be Open to Each Other. I pray that God not only adds to the number of our fellowship, but also that we have the eyes of our faith opened to see and receive Christ in all people. In a world of echo chambers, demonizing and polarization, I pray that St. Paul’s lives out its promise to be a sign of God’s reign of peace, love and justice.
A generational shift. The old great hymn reminds us that “Time, like an ever rolling stream soon bears us all away.” We are human, and while the gift of God in Christ is eternal life that connects us to God’s children of all times and all places, one generation must follow another. As you know from experience, you do not see the world the way your parents see the world. St. Paul’s today looks and functions differently than it did a generation ago. It will look even more different tomorrow.
In 2018 … Understand What You Mean to This Ministry. God loves and values each of us, and each and every one of us is vital to this ministry, young and old. We will want to work to develop this community’s young leaders, drawing energy and enthusiasm and learning to engage the world with the Gospel in new and exciting ways. At the same time, we look to our Baby Boomers to share the wisdom of their experience, their time, talent and resources to keep us moving forward, following Christ’s vision for our future.
A growing emphasis on discipleship. A congregation in the area once had a mission statement that read: “Making disciples who make disciples.” They were, of course, talking about making disciples of Jesus, and with this mission statement they were able to hold one of the central purposes of the local congregation at the center of their ministry. I cannot think of anything we do at St. Paul’s that does not have as its core purpose — strengthening your relationship to God through Jesus Christ. From mowing the lawn to giving food in the food pantry to changing a light bulb to teaching Sunday school to attending a Bible study … each and every chance and opportunity to participate in this fellowship are the places where the Holy Spirit is calling you to grow in faith, hope and love as a disciple of Jesus Christ. A few years ago at Lent, we studied Pastor Michael Foss’s book about the marks of discipleship. He called his book power surge because a local congregation whose members had dedicated themselves to living out the promise of their baptism in a life of discipleship is living and working in the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish incredible things for the sake of God’s kingdom. In his book, Pastor Foss talks about challenging his congregation to live out the promise their baptism, and he made a little card that read …
To the glory of God, I believe I am called “to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12)
I will strive to …
In 2018 ... Make a Plan. Set a Goal. In most areas of our lives, we are encouraged to set a goal for the year ... or perhaps our employers set them for us. If we take some time to examine our lives at the beginning of the year, to note which of these areas of discipleship we most readily participate in and which area we struggle to make part of our routine, we could come up with a plan to live a deeper, richer life in Christ this year, knowing, of course that old habits die hard. We will often fall short of our expectations.
Our Struggle with High Expectations: Feelings of Shame. When Jesus calls his disciples at the beginning of the Gospel stories, the first command he gives is, “Follow me.” The gift of a new life in Christ is this close following of Jesus. In following Jesus we are changed, changed to become more like Jesus. Jesus saw Nathanael “under the fig tree” before Phillip called him. We think that means that Nathanael was deeply engaged in the study of Moses’ Law and the writing of the prophets, devout and waiting for God to be revealed to his people. When Philip tells him that he believes the Christ has come, he is skeptical. It seems as if a man from Nazareth could hardly live up to the expectations of thousands of years of hopes and prayers. Graciously and miraculously, Jesus reveals himself to Nathanael as the one who first knows and understands him and then as the one for whom he has hoped.
I admit struggle to live up to my own expectations. I assume that there are times throughout this year when I failed to live up to your expectations. I confess that there are times this year when your response or lack of participation left me disappointed and even discouraged. I understand how difficult it is to live out a life of ardent discipleship in our world today, and I know how much grief and pain we bear as we struggle sometimes to just get through life, Each week, I look out over this assembly, and I take note of who is here each week. I notice who is not here, as well, and I quickly think of what it is that is most likely keeping them from the fellowship this week. It is not with judgment or condemnation, but with compassion and prayer because I know how hard it is to follow Jesus, to love and serve like Jesus, and to proclaim the good news of God in Christ in what I say and do.
And so, I can never truly be for you what they call a “high expectations” pastor, and I do not think that we can truly be what some would call a “high expectations” congregation. Even as I lay out the high expectations of a life of discipleship — daily prayer, weekly worship, reading the Bible, serving in this congregation and beyond, participating in spiritually encouraging and edifying relationships, and giving generously — I feel within myself a sense of shame. I myself struggle to live up to these expectations, and I fail again and again. I start to think there must be something wrong with me. I start to doubt God’s love for me. I hear that accusing voice, “Who do you think you are?” Or, “You, call yourself a pastor.” That is how shame manifests itself in our life, and it has a power over us that we barely understand ourselves, and yet has the power to guide our behavior and our spiritual life.
Yet, the paradox here is that those marks of discipleship that trigger these shame responses, are precisely how God is leading us into a new life of openness and vulnerability, of love and empathy, that give us the strength and power and resiliency that overcome the shame we feel. We are God’s beloved and accepted children for the sake of Jesus Christ. We have been made members of God’s family through our baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection and given an inheritance among God’s people. That is a gift, grace, freely given out of God’s generous love for us, and because God is serious about saving us and dwelling and abiding in us, God’s expectations for us are extremely high! So, perhaps the best way to look at what God and this fellowship expects of you is to think that our expectations are high, but we know that grace abounds. Nevertheless, I cannot stress more emphatically the importance of participating in an active, vibrant living relationship with God by taking part in the mission and ministry of this congregation.
In 2018 ... Participate in the fellowship; see what God does. Let me ask you a few questions, not to make you feel badly about yourself or your spiritual life, but to give you a chance to deepen your relationship with God. So, again, let me encourage you to examine your life of faith and make a plan for the coming year ...
Make 2018 the Year of Saying Yes!
As I reflect on all that God has done through us this year, and our annual report testifies to just some of the great things that have happened in people’s lives through our ministries together, I see that when we say, “Yes!” to God’s invitation, to participating in the life of this congregation, amazing things happen. When we say, “No.” When we say, “I’m too busy.” When we say, “I have so many other things to do.” When we say, “I’ve never done this before.” Our ministry stops. Nothing happens. We don’t change or grow ... and we certainly don’t thrive.
If you think of it, that is the response that makes us disciples. Jesus chooses us, and we say, “Yes!” Our lives are never the same again.
So, I challenge you, make this the year when you say, “Yes!” to the call to deeper, more vibrant discipleship by ...
And imagine what this congregation might look like next year at this time ... just because you said, “Yes!”
It is a joy and honor to serve as your pastor. I especially want to thank you for the investment you made in me over these past three years and for the generous gift and wonderful celebration you organized to rejoice with me and my family when I at last earned my Doctor of Ministry. In the coming year, I encourage you to make use of that investment as you may have need — for counsel and pastoral conversation, but also for spiritual direction and to explore ways you can use the gifts and talents God has given you.
I continue to be involved in NJ Synod stewardship efforts, now as a member of the NJ Synod’s Excellence in Ministry Unleashed initiative. In 2018, I am developing and implementing a coaching strategy for the synod’s pastors that will build on the good work already accomplished through EMU.NJ. In 2018, I am pursuing credentials through the International Coaching Federation, as part of that process, I will need to record a number of practice coaching hours. Once again, I encourage you to take advantage of this resource to help you live a more abundant life in Christ.
Finally, I thank God for your care and concern for me and my family, and I am grateful and amazed by the talent and heart of the members of this congregation. In the coming years, our imagination, our vision and our ability to adapt to the changing context of life as followers of Jesus will be called into action. I pray that God grant us the grace to follow where the Spirit is leading and guiding us so that we might live to our full potential in Christ.
Rev. James R Krombholz, D.Min.
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