Message from Pastor Stanton for January 2015

I recently heard that 2015— according to Chinese astrology—is the “Year of the Sheep”. This, apparently, is not such a great thing if you are a couple considering bringing a child into this world. 2014 was an auspicious “Year of the Horse.” Sheep, though, are meek creatures, and raised for nothing more than slaughter. The thought is that children born this year will be followers, not leaders. Many Chinese believe they will be destined for heartbreak or failed marriages and that they will be unlucky in business, too. Have you ever noticed Christians call every year since the birth of Christ, “The Year of Our Lord”? Of course, Our Lord is likened in Scripture to a lamb… led to slaughter. The meekness of Christ is at the core of his ultimate power: the power to take the world’s abuse and transform it into peace, love and strength. For us, every year is a Year of the Sheep!

We have known for some time that small groups are the lifeblood of many thriving congregations.
Small groups are the arena for biblical literacy to improve, fellowship to be shared and a greater sense of belonging.

What will 2015 look like for First Lutheran? Our strategic plan has laid out many ideas, of course, from how we offer hospitality to new staff hirings. In fact, we were so excited about hiring more staff, we started in December. Aliyah Richling was already serving as our Childrens’ Choir Director, but was formally hired last month. Our other addition is Bridget Crave, a member of First for years who became ready in the past year to make a significant career shift. She now assumes the title of Small Groups Director. Ever since I came here in January 2008, I have heard members and leaders talking about ideas for how to improve our small group ministry. Who has the time to organize them? Who has the know-how to train them? How do we even define them? Who is and who is not a small group? When do they meet? Where? How are they resourced? We have known for some time that small groups are the lifeblood of many thriving congregations. It is through a more intimate setting with fewer people that a big church like ours becomes relevant and helpful. Small groups are the arena for biblical literacy to improve, fellowship to be shared and a greater sense of belonging. They also develop leaders, gather stronger engagement from members and increase financial giving. Knowing the many benefits, though, has not translated into knowing how to create and sustain them in a macro sense. I believe God has done VERY well to call Bridget into this work to answer some of these questions for us, define terms and help grow small groups at First from a strong niche ministry for some to a core value for all our members. Welcome to the staff, Bridget!

Of course, 2015 will see one more new hire as well. Our Director of Discipleship for Youth is being prepared right now to serve at First Lutheran. That does not mean we’ve chosen someone, or that we’ve even begun looking. But we will soon. We hope to cast out a job description this month, interview next month and hire someone by April 1. It promises to be a thorough search with many qualified candidates. Please pray for the process, for wisdom among those who ask the questions, and peace to those who answer them. Our full time youth director will have their hands full immediately. I can’t wait to meet him/her!

2014 ended with a bang at First Lutheran as more than 1,400 people worshipped on Christmas Eve/Day and our giving once again increased significantly as compared to 2013. (Final numbers aren’t in, but it was a good year! Come to First’s potluck on February 15 for the final numbers.) Pastor Karyn and I continue to count ourselves blessed to serve this congregation. Carla and I continue to feel fortunate to raise our kids amidst the many opportunities our area offers. 2015, the Year of Our Lord, promises to continue our growth as a church, as families and as individuals. I pray you may enjoy a blessed New Year!

Photography by Susan Gibbs on Flickr