Happy New Year! As we move into 2020 and look forward to what the coming year holds for us in the NALC, it is exciting to think about the plans God has in store for our future, especially in light of the ways He has led us in the past.
We are now in our 10th year as a denomination, coming to the close of our first full decade as a church body. Considering how the NALC began — with a vision for one day growing to more than 100 churches and now finding ourselves with more than 430 congregations, strong and still growing — it is a living testimony to the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit that our witness to the Gospel has been used as it has to build and grow Christ’s Church.
In my first three months as bishop, I have had the opportunity to gain a good perspective on where we have been in our past, where we find ourselves today, and what we face as some of the challenges and opportunities for our future.
There is no question that we are well positioned to continue bearing fruit from the many good seeds that were planted in our early years. There is also no doubt that we have a lot of hard work yet to do as we find ourselves in a world in which the name of Jesus is not as welcomed as it once was.
To think that the path in front of us will be easy is neither honest nor wise. The deceiver is alive and well and has no other purpose than to distract and dissuade the Church. We need to keep our eyes open and on Jesus and make full use of the armor we have been given (Ephesians 6:10-18).
Nonetheless, as we enter this new year and as we look to our future, we not only follow the One who is “the same, yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), but we place our trust in the God “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20 NIV). It is with that hope and in that promise that I am truly excited about and encouraged by where and how, I believe, God will continue to lead.
In conversation with our staff, leadership teams and our deans, we are well into the process of developing a 2020 Vision for our future. The vision will be consistent with the four Core Values we have in the NALC, and with the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) we have been given and entrusted with by Christ.
It will also be a vision that will continue to stretch our pastors and mission districts to work together for common goals and that will challenge all of us, in even greater ways, to take faith steps in our individual and collective callings to follow Jesus. The plan, as mentioned in last month’s newsletter, is to share the vision with our pastors at the Ministerium portion of the DiscipleLife 2020 Conference in Orlando, Florida, in February, and then to rework and revise it for presentation at the 2020 NALC Convocation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in August.
The 2020 Vision is designed to set a path for the next four years, giving direction to what we will be doing in the years ahead. The vision has 10 components, recognizing that the challenges we face and the future God has given us will take work and energy on a variety of levels.
The vision priorities include, among other things, a continued emphasis on discipleship and disciple making, an intentional and expanded focus on outreach efforts and mission starts, a commitment to pastoral support for all of our congregations, and a renewed and refocused energy on the development of our North American Lutheran Seminary system and the recruitment and training of the next wave of pastoral leaders coming up through our partnering seminaries.
In developing our vision, I am fully aware of the fact that with every vision comes the inherent danger that the words will never translate into action. It is easy to put a vision on paper and to think and dream about what might happen in the years ahead. It is not so easy to put a vision into action and to plan and work in implementing and carrying it out. Our challenge will be, once our vision is set, to continually be working together to revise, revisit and recommit ourselves to it, until the vision we have on paper becomes a reality in the life we live together.
The same is true when it comes to our faith walk with Jesus, and the relationship between the theology we profess as believers and the life we choose to live as followers of Christ. It is one thing to say and believe that “God has first place” and “Jesus is Lord.” It is a different thing to give Him first place and allow Him to be Lord of our lives. Unless, and until, our faith leads to action, then our discipleship walk with Jesus is less than what our Lord intended when He called us. The call we have been given is one that requires a response. And the response we make is one that leads, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to a changed, transformed and more Christ-like life.
Now, as Lutheran Christians, we need to be careful that we never confuse God’s justifying declaration — because of the cross and resurrection of Jesus — with the ongoing sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. We are justified because of Jesus. We are made righteous because of Christ. He is our help. He is our assurance. He is the only hope we have of becoming right with God. At the same time, the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit is taking place within us until the day we are ultimately called home to Him. We are continually being reshaped, remolded and reworked, throughout all of life, into the image and likeness of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).
In our theology, we cannot exchange or confuse the one with the other. We need to be clear about how we are saved and from what, and about why we are saved and for what. We are saved from “sin, death, and the power of the devil” by the justifying blood of Jesus. We are saved for following Jesus, sharing our faith and helping others follow Him, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit (Ephesians 2:8-10).
In our lives, our theology has little impact if it never translates into a changed life. As a denomination, our vision has little effect if it never moves us to true and real action steps.
As we move into this new year, look back on where we have been, and as we consider our future and vision together about where we believe God will lead, let us not lose heart and grow weary, but always and forever fix our eyes on Christ (Hebrews 12:2-3).
I look forward to this coming year and to sharing and working together on our 2020 Vision.
In His name,
Written by the Rev. Dr. Dan Selbo, bishop of the North American Lutheran Church.