I celebrated 10 years of ordained ministry and concurrently 10 years of ministry at University Lutheran this summer (thank you to all of you who had a part in celebrating this with me). That meant that for my usual time of reflection, I took a look not only at the past year, but also at the past 10 years.
The old saying goes that “time flies when you’re having fun,” and the time has certainly flown. As I looked back over calendars and notebooks stretching back to my early days at University Lutheran, I was struck by another cliché, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” 10 years has brought many changes to University Lutheran, but many things have remained the same.
Our most important change has been the a variety of people who have come and have been sent into the world from our membership roster. One of the things that I do every week after worship is go through our membership roster, marking an “x” for people that were present during worship that day. I started keeping these records in 2009, 2 years after I arrived. This year I took a long stroll through the many membership lists and found that in addition to our current 89 members, we have sent at least 103 members from University Lutheran into the world beyond our walls at 925 W. Jefferson. This is not to count the 100’s of people who have been with us but have not become members for whatever reason. Some of these have transferred, some have gone to be with Jesus, some have gone on to church work, and some have sadly for the time being renounced their faith. Still, I am sure all of them would say that their time with us has been formative as God’s Holy Spirit has worked in them.
As our membership has changed and grown through the years, we find ourselves in 2017 at a place where we have more children than we ever had, and our percentage of students when compared with non-students is lower than it has been in a long while. We have tried a number of different ways to reach students and non-students alike. We have found some things that have worked, and some that haven’t worked at the time that we tried them. One of the best pieces of advice that I received as a young pastor was, “don’t change everything, but change enough to show that change is a natural part of life.” Indeed change has been a natural part of life at University Lutheran, which is healthy, only inanimate things don’t change.
And yet, as much as things have changed, many things have stayed the same or similar. We continue with basically the same worship service and style. Our student group still generally meets on Wednesday nights, even though the name the name has changed. We have worked with an “Annual Focus” since 2011. As I looked back personally to my pastoral ministry notes, some of the same challenges remain. Student leadership is difficult to recruit. Participation in the ministry of University Lutheran can be mercurial. The “consumer” approach to church continues to be a challenge. I continue to try to look for extra time to squeeze in ministry work, while at the same time getting myself involved in good things that go beyond our parish. We continue to be a positive and inviting church that is concerned with hospitality towards those who would come to worship with us.
The question then that loomed large on the anniversary of 10 years was “what about the next 10”? What might change? What might stay the same? To some degree, we cannot know. We can prophesy and predict, but what will happen is eventually up to God. Our role is simply to walk faithfully where He leads and faithfully serve as His Body enacting His will for this local church, University Lutheran. As in a dance, He leads, but it is our job and our joy to anticipate His next flourish. We do this through reading Scripture, prayer, and discernment. In those things, He is revealing the next steps of the dance so that we may glide along with Him. This is the miraculous thing about organizational strategy in the Christian Church, our strategy is the product of His revelation. And He is a generous lead, taking even our missteps and turning them into unexpected dips and spins. As we look to the future, we may not know every step ahead of time, but we know we will continue to dance with God leading us.