Rev. Kevin Powell
Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd
Pastor’s Annual Report 2005
According to the 2001 Canadian Census, 607 000 people call themselves “Lutheran.” Our denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) reports national membership at 160 000 (a number that I think is grossly inflated due to churches who haven’t updated their membership roles in recent memory). The Lutheran Church – Canada, the next largest Lutheran body says that fewer than 100 000 Canadians are on their membership roles. So the question needs to be asked, where are the other 347 000 people who identify themselves as Lutheran in Canada?
The good news is that people are more open than ever before to the message of Jesus. While it is true that many folks are into “spirituality but not religion,” there is, in the words of sociologist of religion, Dr. Reginald Bibby, a “religious renaissance” in Canada. In his book Restless Gods: The Renaissance of Religion in Canada, Bibby documents the upward trend of religious involvement among Canadians. It turns out, churches are not only holding steady - churches are growing! In his subsequent book Restless Churches: How Canada’s Churches Can Contribute to the Emerging Religious Renaissance, Bibby offers some helpful guidelines for congregations looking to effectively meet the growing hunger for God.
What Bibby documents scientifically, I think we have experienced personally. Popular culture has been saturated by “religious” or “spiritual” themes. It wasn’t just Christians who went to see The Passion of the Christ. It’s not only church-goers who haunt the “Religion” section at Chapters. People by the million bury their noses in the The Da Vinci Code. The Purpose Driven Life has been on Christian and secular bestseller lists. God, it seems, is good business. People’s hunger gives us a divine opportunity to share Christ’s message of freedom and salvation.
We at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd are in an excellent position to reach out to those who have fallen away from church or who have never encountered the living God revealed in Jesus Christ, but hunger for a word from God. Our mission statement says so well:
Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd:
“celebrates God’s grace
emphasizes worship and prayer
nurtures faith through the Word and the Sacraments
equips for service, and
witnesses to the world in Jesus’ name.”
We rightly see ourselves as a caring, welcoming community. Perhaps this is most evident in our Sunday morning worship celebrations. Smiling greeters meet people as they arrive. Helpful ushers provide for the needs of worshippers. And the people in the pews are ready with a warm handshake and a friendly smile. Each week I anxiously anticipate Sunday morning because I love worshipping with this joyful family of faith.
While worship is the centerpiece of our life together, worship certainly doesn’t encompass the whole of what we do. Church Council, under the energetic leadership of President Wayne Street, provides exceptional and creative oversight of the church’s various ministries and administrative functions. Council meetings are short, but effective. As he departs his position, I’d like to thank him for all his hard work and dedication to the on-going life of this congregation, and for his leadership in preparing us to take bold new steps into the future.
But of course, the council is only as good as the community it represents and from which it draws its members. The day-to-day running of the church, paying bills, cleaning the building, buying supplies, making decisions, preparing lesson plans, quilting quilts, teaching Sunday School, making coffee, clearing tables, greeting guests, running food to the Food Bank, writing cheques, duplicating tapes, fixing computers, recruiting volunteers, organizing worship leaders, studying the bible, and planning for the future, are all met with an enthusiasm and a joy that bears witness to a deep faith. Good Shepherd is a place where people discern, explore, and use their gifts. But most of all, Good Shepherd is a place where people encounter the living God revealed in Jesus Christ.
Youth Trip to Hamilton
I’d like to thank Mark Heinen, Lori Fromm, Adina Street, and, perhaps most importantly, the youth of our church, for inviting me to participate in their trip to the Youth Gathering last summer in Hamilton. It was an honour and privilege to spend that time with our young people, traveling across Canada and back, seeing first hand the deep faith that is shaping their lives. We are blessed to have such gifted young people, unafraid to live their faith in a world hungry for good news.
I came back from that trip with a renewed sense of mission and purpose for our young people, recognizing that the youth are not our future: the youth are our present, and it is our job and our challenge to help them find ways to express their many skills and gift and to nurture their talents so they can grow into the leaders of tomorrow.
We look forward to new opportunities for our young people to grow in discipleship. As we plan youth trip to Mexico in 2006 as well as a trip to the National Youth Gathering in Winnipeg that same summer, we recognize that many young people will choose one event over the other.
Going to California last summer was a tremendous opportunity to experience the Stephen Series system. I was able to meet caring, compassionate Christians from all over the United States, Canada, and some from Europe and even from Asia.
I am delighted that we have 6 new exceptionally gifted Stephen Ministry candidates who are in training now and will be commissioned in the spring. As we are approaching the half-way point in the training, I am confident that these new Stephen Ministers will bring fresh energy into an already effective caring ministry.
Many of our existing Stephen Ministers have been working hard over the past year. In one-to-one relationships, as well as music ministries and other expressions of care, not to mention the on-going learning and mutual support, Stephen Ministry is one of the most effective ways we can care for others in Jesus’ name.
As mentioned earlier, Good Shepherd’s mission statement begins by saying: “Rooted in the Gospel, our caring community…” before it gets into specific areas of ministry, Good Shepherd understands itself, first as a gospel-centred caring community, so all ministry flows from the care that the people of Good Shepherd have for each other and the wider community.
The ChristCare Series is described as “…a complete system that provides training, resources, and support to direct and grow in a Christ-centred, life-changing small group ministry in your congregation.”
On my visits, I hear people say that Good Shepherd is a very friendly and welcoming place, and that it is easy to sit down at coffee hour and chat with folks. But people also comment that, while coffee hour and other events help bring people together, people still feel the need to go deeper in relationships, deeper in faith, deeper in commitment, and deeper in outreach. People want a church that’s relational, reflective, and makes a positive impact in the world, in Jesus’ name. In short, people want a church where they are cared for and where they can care for others. The ChristCare Series is a practical way to help us meet those needs. The program has been field tested and implemented in 400 congregations in the United States and a handful of churches here in Canada. By all accounts, the ChristCare Series, like its sister program, the Stephen Series, helps congregations live out their calling as disciples of Jesus, to “love one another as I have loved you.”
While Good Shepherd already has a few small groups meeting regularly, the ChristCare Series would help build on that solid foundation, making existing groups stronger while providing a framework for creating new ones. Good Shepherd understands the importance of small group ministry and is in an excellent position to take this ministry to newer and more exciting levels and will compliment the caring ministry of the Stephen Ministers.
In this year’s budget, we propose that Good Shepherd enroll in the ChristCare Series program and in 2006 send two “ChristCare Equippers” to St. Louis for leadership training. By easing into the program, we can more effectively implement the series, minimizing the risk to our investment, and ensuring the likelihood of its success.
Building the Future
Good Shepherd has been talking about a new facility for many years. I am told that folks have talked about the problems with our building for a while. Now it looks as if Good Shepherd will be coming to a decision about the future of our building.
It is important that we think of the new building, not as a solution to all our physical plant problems, but as a way of building our mission. Our existing building has ministered to this congregation well. It has borne the ups and downs, the triumphs and tragedies, and sweat and toil of our people. If our building could talk, I’m sure it would talk of the quiet faithfulness of its people. It would tell stories of the laughter and joy of weddings and baptisms. It would talk of the tears of loss at funerals. It would see people come and go. But most importantly, it would bear witness to the faithfulness of its people, the love and compassion they have for each other and the world.
But now we have the opportunity to build on the solid foundation that has so painstakingly been laid. Like the covenants of Israel, which built on the strength of the past, our new building can help us grow into greater and bolder faithfulness. Lethbridge is supposed to grow to over 100 000 people over the next 10-20 years. We need a facility to meet this growth. But not just a building, but a whole mission plan. Some have talked about building a senior’s facility onto the church as a means of mission. Others have discussed a day-care. Still others have suggested both. I’m delighted that people are thinking creatively about our mission. The future is open enough that we can be creative about how we “do church” or “be in mission.” This is an exciting time to be the church!
When people ask me how long I’ve been in the ministry, they often want me to pin-point a date; the day when Bishop Michael Pryse of the Eastern Synod laid hands my head and rubbed oil and my hands, and on behalf of the people of God he represented, declared me a minister of the Gospel. But that was just a beginning. Each day I’m reminded just how much I need to learn, how much I need to grow. I feel that I’ve been as much a student among you as I have been a pastor and teacher. It is with no small amount of humility and awe that I have seen many members of this congregation bear witness to the faith that makes a claim on our lives.
Dr. Bibby talks about a religious renaissance in Canada. While that may provide us with an incredible opportunity to grow in numbers and in faith, meeting that renaissance will be a formidable challenge. That’s why it's more important than ever that we strengthen the bonds that root us in our family of faith: prayer, worship, fellowship, service, evangelism, caring; not to retreat from or resist future, but to greet it with arms wide open.
Behind us we can look back and see the great expanse of faith, the message of freedom and salvation passed down from generation to generation; and before us we can see even greater, grander frontiers of possibility. We can, all of us, be filled with gratitude and humility for our blessings. And we can be filled with awe and joy at what lies just over the horizon.
It is always an honour and a privilege to serve with and among you, as a minister of the gospel. We have tremendous opportunities and profound challenges ahead. But we have people strong in faith, strong in commitment, and strong in love to meet the future with joy and hope. I look forward to seeing how God will work among us. As a pastor I have a front row seat when God starts working. So far, it’s been quite a show.
Submitted in the service of Christ and Church,
Rev. Kevin Powell, Pastor
Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd