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Priorities for our future

Pastor John Allen

Interim Pastor

Most or all of you know that we are in the final stage of a transition period we started two Christmases ago. Your Call Committee is conducting interviews to identify a solid candidate to call as your next Lead Pastor.

This is a good time to review some very powerful work your Transition Team produced and published. This work is not meant to be relegated to the scraps of history, but, much like a catechism, it is meant to be used over and over again to guide and coordinate all of the work of the St. John’s congregation.

Here are the most enduring four answers to six critical questions pondered long and hard by the Transition Team. The answers are very specific to St. John’s. As you do the work of commissions, council, or the general work of individual members, please read and re-read these carefully to guide your thought and work. With God’s blessing, they will work to unite this ministry and define it for years to come.

Why do we exist? Living in God’s grace, St. John’s Lutheran Church is an inclusive community worshiping together, growing in faith, serving others, and living as witnesses of Jesus Christ.

How do we behave? We reflect God’s love in our actions and decision-making by: Providing hospitality; Embracing each individual’s faith journey; Modeling forgiveness and; Committing to a life of devotion and service.

What do we do? We provide worship, service, fellowship, and faith formation opportunities for the members of our congregation, community and the world.

How will we succeed? We will succeed by Investing in and empowering people to lead and serve; by offering unique and innovative forms of worship, fellowship, service and education; by fostering intergenerational faith relationships; by connecting with the greater community in visible ways; by communicating clearly and consistently using all media types; by teaching and modeling generous giving to remain financially viable and; by being intentional in our evangelism.

True disciples

Pastor Nirmala Reinschmidt
Interim Pastor

Our western idea of faith as cushioned pews and convenient sacrifice flies right in the face of what Jesus called us to. It’s in Luke 9:23-24: “Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.’” To which you can almost hear someone saying, “In that case, I think I’d rather run my own life. It sounds like there’s too much to lose in following Jesus.” Well, you need to listen to Jesus’ startling equation, “For whoever wants to save His life (or hang onto his life) will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” Hang onto your life, you lose it. Give it away and you find it.

Maybe you’ve tried to discount Christianity. It’s very popular. Of course its only a pale shadow of the disciple Christianity Jesus calls us to. You go to the meetings, you believe the beliefs, you give in the offerings, you sometimes read your Bible, and you pray. But it’s a surface commitment, a commitment that still leaves you in control. My guess is that discount Christianity has left you unfulfilled and unsatisfied. It can’t satisfy you. You were made to be abandoned to Jesus, taking up a cross, making choices that might cost you, building His Kingdom instead of yours, and accepting assignments from Him that go way beyond your comfort zone.

And as for “the honor and the rewards?” Jesus said that no one who sacrificed for His great adventure” will fail to receive a hundred times as much in the present age…and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). You can’t out-give Jesus. True Christianity is expensive but it’s ultimately fulfilling and rewarding.

Jesus asks you to take your commitment to Him at a whole new level. And you can be sure the cost of not following Him is far greater than the cost of following Him. He’s waiting for your answer to His invitation. By God’s grace, your answer will be, “Jesus, I will cheerfully join you and I will partake of the dangers, difficulties, and fatigues. I anticipate the honor and the rewards.

As we are beginning a new fall season, let us encourage each other to worship regularly, pray daily, give generously, and to serve others to show our love for God and for others. There are many opportunities here at St. John’s to help you to make that commitment.

Please keep our call committee in your prayer as they are discerning to call our new senior pastor.

The Cross Symbolizes a Cosmic as Well as Historic Truth

Pastor John Allen
Interim Pastor

The cross symbolizes a cosmic as well as historic truth. Love conquers the world, but its victory is not an easy one.
— Reinhold Niebuhr, 100 Days of Prayer

This year, in worship, we are reading mostly from the Gospel of Mark. If there is one central theme and truth expressed it that book, it is the one stated so well above. Early in the Gospel, Jesus seems to command everything. He heals the sick, casts out demons, commands the seas to be still and the storm to end, and confounds his enemies. He even raises the dead, as in the story of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:41-42).
The story only gets complicated, it seems, when Jesus comes face to face with human pride, greed, hatred, and unbelief. The old saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt,” seems to be born out when Jesus came to his home town of Nazareth, and the people “took offense at him” (6:5). “And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief” (6:5-6).

Jeremiah (5:21) prophesied, “Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not.” That thought was repeated in 1738 by Jonathan Swift in his Polite Conversation: “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”

The one who came as the Word of God, and with a word commanded all the forces of nature, seemed to have met his match in human sin. That victory could not be easily won. It would take a cross. It should be no surprise that our work of sharing the Gospel in a busy and conflicted world will not be an easy one. It will take nothing less than a cross.

Praying Together

Pastor Nirmala Reinschmidt
Interim Pastor

What is the distinguishing mark of the Christian church?

PRAYER

Throughout redemptive history, corporate prayer has been a primary focus of God’s people. Former ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson once commented that “A praying church is a growing church.” I am convinced of that truth throughout my ministry.

We must be praying people, first, because we know that our only help in the name of the Lord. It is the Lord who builds the house and watches over the city, who gives success to the church’s mission. In praying together, we admit that we are helpless. In prayer, we ask God to do the awakening, regenerating, maturing, and gifting that only He can do.

Secondly, when we pray together, we testify and remind one another that our hope comes from somewhere else entirely. We are not wringing our hands, desperate for human solutions.

Thirdly, when we pray together we grow in love for one another. Each person who is united to Christ, everyone who loves Him and is loved by Him, is also bound together with us in love.

I write this article to remind ourselves of the power of Corporate Prayer. It is a critical time in the life and the mission of St. John’s Lutheran Church. We have formed a call committee to choose our Senior Pastor.

We need to come together in Prayer seeking wisdom and discernment in selecting our new shepherd.

I am available on Mondays at 10:00 am to lead a prayer group. We gather just to pray. All are welcome!

Can luxury distract us?

Pastor John Allen
Interim Pastor

Apsley Cherry-Garrard was an English gentleman who was, as they say, born with a silver spoon in his mouth. In 1907, he inherited his father’s large estate. Though he knew luxury, he had always been thrilled, hearing of his father’s achievements in India and China, fighting with the British Defense Forces.

At the age of twenty-four ‘Cherry’ applied to join Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova expedition to Antarctica, hopefully, to the South Pole (1910-1913). His first application was rejected. Scott felt he had nothing to add to the expedition. He would be a detriment and a danger to himself and the entire expedition. He applied a second time and offered to pay one thousand pounds. He was turned down again but gave the money anyway. Scott was impressed with this unselfish act, and a close comrade persuaded him to allow Cherry to sign on as assistant zoologist. This man who had only known luxury was in for the experience of a life-time, and the most torturous battle between life and death imaginable.

For two years the men endured temperatures as low as -77°F in winter. In one event Cherry’s teeth chattered so hard that he shattered most of them. The men were frost-bitten and on the verge of death several times. Scott and four of his men, with the support of the others, did reach the South Pole, but tragically died on the return trip. Yet Cherry remembered those days as some of the best in his life. He wrote in his memoirs:

Those Hut Point days, would prove some of the happiest of my life. Just enough to eat and keep warm, no more – no frills or trimmings: there is many a worse and more elaborate life…the luxuries of civilization satisfy only those wants which they themselves create.” 
–The Worst Journey in the World

That final phrase has stayed with me – what a profound saying! Is it true that luxuries we live with can be a liability, blinding us to the joys of a simpler life? My own trip to Antarctica and the South Pole, taught me that I could live comfortably for months with less than seventy pounds of luggage, including winter survival gear. I’ve traveled lighter ever since.

St. Paul teaches:

…I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.
— Philippians 3.8

Blessing

Pastor Nirmala Reinschmidt
Interim Pastor

Each Sunday, at the conclusion of our worship, I stand before the people, extend my hands, and speak a blessing over them. If I were ever to stop being a pastor, this may be what I would miss most.

In biblical terms, to bless is to declare God’s truth into someone’s life and to announce God as the gracious, sovereign Lord who intends to flood His children with goodness and joy. When we pronounce a blessing, we serve as witness to the truth that God’s generosity and power has not been extinguished. Regardless of the difficulties we face or the despair we know, God’s tenacious love will have the final word.

In the sermon on the mount, the Lord speaks blessings that reflect the subversive reality of God’s kingdom. Blessed are the poor in spirit, says Jesus. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek and the hungry (see Matthew 5). With these strange words, Jesus makes a prophetic announcement declaring who is included in the blessing of God’s kingdom. Again and again, He affirms that blessings come to us not because of our ingenuity or effort but because God is kind and always working for our good.

Because we belong to the Lord who blesses, we live as a people who bless. In our corners of the world, we announce—and live as instruments of—His blessing. Whenever we bless others in Jesus’ name, we join God’s healing and restoration. We participate in His intentions to bless the world.

May the Lord help us to become people of blessing!

What will St. John’s look like going forward?

Pastor John Allen
Interim Pastor

I’ve heard it recognized a number of times, “this interim is different than the others before it.” I hope it is, because that difference is intentional. When it is complete, we will have spent about eighteen months reflecting, analyzing, dreaming, and visioning. Of course, the main expectation is that you will call a new “settled” senior pastor, and possibly an additional pastor after that. But, what else should we expect for the future. What difference will you see for the effort made?

There is a book called The Unstuck Church. In it, author Tony Morgan describes stages of growth and decline that congregations experience in their natural lives. The title implies that congregations or ministries can get stuck in any of those stages, and it takes vision, insight, and perseverance to move from one stage to a healthier one. Morgan labels the seven stages: Launch, Momentum Growth, Strategic Growth, Sustained Health, Maintenance, Preservation, and Life-Support. Honestly speaking, St. John’s most likely fits the description of “Maintenance,” meaning we’re working pretty hard just to keep the status quo.

Our vision for the future, however, borrows some of the best attributes of a momentum growth congregation, to jump start a path to sustained health. Imagine this being the description of St. John’s ministry:

  1. We will have an “outward focus.” That is, we will not be “unashamed about [our] desire to reach people for Jesus.”
  2. “There’s a lot of buzz.” We will be known in the community by word-of-mouth.
  3. “Creativity and innovation (therefore change) will be expected.” We will be “risk driven.”
  4. We will be “driven by personality.” For better or worse, the ministry will often be identified with the senior pastor, but we will “multiply the voices and personalities that carry out the ministry strategy.”
  5. We will “begin to focus [our] vision.” We will “mark out the specifics of where [our] ministries are heading in the future. There will always be “a new mountain the ministry team intends to take on.”
  6. We will “begin to give leadership away.” We will “recognize the one person can’t call all the shots.” We will seek out and raise up leaders within the congregation.

This sounds a lot like what your congregation council and transition team have been working on. It describes an exciting future, “unstuck” and moving forward. This is my hope and prayer for you. May God so inspire and ordain it.

God Bless.

New Year’s Resolutions

Pastor Nirmala Reinschmidt
Interim Pastor

“I never make New Year’s resolutions, anymore,” the man told me, “I never keep them, anyway.” But I believe New year’s resolutions are worth making.

Let me tell you why.

First, we all need changes. Some we find very hard to admit to ourselves. There is great power in confession—to ourselves, to God, to others. Owning our failures is the first, painful step on the road to something better.

Second, when we change our calendar is a good time for reassessment. How did last year go? What do we want to do differently this year? Let us ask us a serious question. What percentage of our life is producing something value to God? How much “unplowed ground” do we have that ought to be broken up in this coming year and made useful? Reassessment.

Third, New Year’s is an excellent time for mid-course corrections. Sure, we might fail in what we set out to do, but if we fail to plan, the old saying goes, then we plan to fail. Failure is not the end. For the person who determines to learn from it, failure is a friend.

One of my heroes in the Bible is the Apostle Paul. Talk about failure! Throughout his life he was opposed, persecuted, shipwrecked, stoned and left for dead, slandered, and scorned. But during his life in prison he wrote, “Forgetting what is behind, and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Phil.3:13-14). Paul did not let the fear of failure keep him from trying again.

Fourth, the new year is a time to learn to rely more heavily on the grace God. One more secret from the Apostle Paul: “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength,” he said (Phil. 4:13). And God’s strength saw him through pain, through joy, and through accomplishment. Let us rely on God who is our refuge and strength.

May the grace of God abide with you and carry you through this new year.

Peace and Joy!

Well Trained & Alert

Pastor John Allen
Interim Pastor

For twenty-three years, beginning in 1990, I served as a chaplain in the Montana Air National Guard. The first two years of service were during the “Cold War.” The perceived threat, in those days, was that the Warsaw Pact countries, led by the Soviet Union, would attack one or more NATO countries, allied with the US. World War III would presumably start with a swift Warsaw Pact invasion of West Germany, Denmark, The Netherlands, and Belgium, to deny a landing point for NATO allies. This conventional warfare was expected to be short lived, for neither side wanted to be the last to deploy the inevitable nuclear weapons.

As a squadron of fighter jets, our basic mission was to “Survive, Fight, Win.” Surviving a direct nuclear strike, for obvious reasons never came up in our training. We, who were, “non-essential,” to the fight spent the better part of most exercises sheltering against radioactive fallout. We sat, and sat — reading books, watching movies, and struggling to imagine that anything like this could ever happen. Such a war could scarcely be imagined. With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Cold War was declared to be over, and talk was of a “peace dividend.” How would we spend all of the money we would save, by not preparing for war? Now we had only to worry about “rogue nations,” and terrorist groups. In 1993 there was an unsuccessful attempt to bring down the World Trade Center with a truck bomb. We felt relieved at the relatively few casualties, and the minor damage done to the building, but we were warned to be alert.

Then came September 11, 2001, as another “day that will live in infamy.” Now, we lined up the troops for a no-kidding war. It was my job to brief the troops and their families on the cultural and religious differences between the US and the Middle East, and praying for their safe return. I remember thinking, with a lump in my throat, as families were divided in tearful goodbyes, “So this is what we have been training for all of these years. I pray we have trained them well.”

The key words for Advent season, will be, “Stay Awake, Watch, and Pray”…”So that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:7). “Therefore, keep awake — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly, and what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake” (Mark 13:35-37).

Have a blessed Advent season and a merry Christmas.

Giving Thanks

Pastor Nirmala Reinschmidt
Interim Pastor

Thanksgiving holiday is upon us. Judging by the holiday’s name, the way to celebrate Thanksgiving seems pretty straightforward: What could be simpler than counting your blessings and saying a prayer of thanks for them.

  • But the beauty and simplicity of the day have, for many, become complicated by a host of things that divert attention from the object of our gratitude: ìThe Lord.î Expressing thanks can be difficult when our mind is preoccupied with expectations (our own as well as others’), a loved one isn’t there to celebrate with us, or for some it is a high stress occasion.
  • The truth is, on a day set aside for being grateful, many people feel miserable. In fact, Christians are no exception. However, regardless of our feelings, the Bible tells us to constantly give thanks to the Lord.
  • “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
  • Two reasons many of us don’t get the principle of thanksgiving right are somewhat opposite to each other.
    • We give thanks only for the things we feel thankful for.
    • We speak words of thanksgiving out of habit without truly grateful.

In the first case, we fall short of the goal laid out for us in God’s word — namely, to give thanks in everything. In the second case, we’re behaving religiously on the outside without being transformed on the inside. Instead of giving the Lord our gratitude, we are offering Him platitudes.

It is easy to be grateful when things are going well. What about the times when we feel that our life is falling apart? God want us to give thanks at all times, because He has a purpose for thankfulness. When we are thankful, we become more aware of His presence and more motivated to find His purpose. Thankfulness teaches us to trust God, build our faith, and recognize our dependence upon Him.

Count your Blessings! Be Thankful! Be generous!

Expect Positive Change

Pastor John Allen
Interim Pastor

I wish all of you could know the amount and quality of time and work your Transition Team has put in, and how rewarding it has been. The Transition Team is a group of eight specially chosen members, plus myself. They were assigned by the congregation council with five developmental tasks to help our congregation renew, refresh and plan for the future. We are intentionally taking some significant time to assure that your congregation has a clear sense of mission and direction, in order to attract and call a pastor with the commensurate skills to lead you into to the future to which God is calling you.

Here are the five developmental tasks:

  1. Come to terms with the past of the congregation
  2. Discover a new identity
  3. Enable positive change in leadership
  4. Renew relationships with the Southeastern Minnesota Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and other expressions of the wider Church of Christ.
  5. Commit to new directions in ministry.

The team members have, so far, put in more than two hours each week, reading, thinking, discussing, and wrestling with the tasks listed above. We only wish you could know how enlightening and rewarding it has been for us as a group. And there is so much more to do.

Right now the team is looking for effective and creative ways to engage you in that same conversation. The team is now planning small forums for as many groups as they can gather to share what they have learned and also listen to your reflections. Small blue flyer is available at worship services and at the welcome desk with very general bullet statements, to invite you into the conversation.Please take advantage of these group meetings, and invite team members to your groups.

Here are the names of Transition Team members:

  • Dick Buckwalter
  • Marlo Bungum
  • Madi Flickinger
  • Nancy Johnson
  • Jen Smith
  • Tim Tjosaas
  • Jodie Tvedt
  • Ariana Wright
  • Pastor John Allen

Thank you

Pastor Nirmala Reinschmidt
Interim Pastor

Thank you so much for your care and prayers sent to us through sympathy cards and memorials. It truly brought us comfort and consolation. Please continue to keep us in your prayers as we mourn.

Pastor Nirmala’s father passed away August 13. She spent three weeks in India with her family, but she is back in the office now.

What can congregational leadership look like today?

John Allen 4 webPastor John Allen
Interim Pastor

The congregation in which I grew up had one pastor who did virtually everything. Thank goodness he almost always had a stay-at-home wife, who did virtually everything else. He did almost all the teaching of adults. He taught confirmation for seventh and eighth grade students. He also taught confirmation to any new initiates to the Lutheran faith. Lay adults could teach Sunday school and vacation Bible school, with supervision by the pastor. The pastor was either the president of the council, or approved most or all the action.

High school youth group or “Luther League” was organized like most groups of the congregation: by electing a president, vice president and secretary. Regular meetings were held and notes were taken. Dues were accepted from members to cover any expenses of the group. Besides Bible studies, regular outings, or service activities were planned at the meetings. Car washes were a regular form of fund raising. Outings were chaperoned by adult volunteers. The pastor was nearly always present at Luther League meeting and outings. When the congregation grew too large for one pastor (usually due to worship size and building capacity), the solution was simply to add another pastor—usually a younger one, to help manage youth ministry. Worship was very traditional and uniform with little variation between one service and another.

I suspect these “pastor centric” congregations were a product of a time when pastors, lawyers, and doctors were virtually the only members of the community educated beyond high school, let alone college. It’s not surprising that, with the prevalence of college educated adults, church leadership and activity has evolved to include male and female pastors, lay professionals, and volunteers in the leadership roles. People have also come to expect a wide selection of things and activities. Adults and young people are no longer content with a single option—whether it be with worship or any other activity.

That being said, it’s surprising how many congregations want to call a pastor who can do all and be all in the congregation. Expecting leadership to come almost exclusively from one person “at the top,” is a recipe for confusion and dysfunction. The larger the congregation grows, the more it should, and can, rely on a variety of leaders with a broad range of skills. Though it may still be wise to have a trained theologian and skilled administrator to be the key leader of a large congregation, there are many levels of leadership and responsibility that allow for the variety of programing beyond what any one person can lead and be involved in.

Congregational councils are wise not to try to manage all of committee or commission activities. Appoint skilled leaders at all levels and divisions of church work. Give them the freedom to operate within guidelines established by the leadership and approved by the congregation. Let the council be occupied with the vision and general direction of the congregation and God’s mission. Let the congregation seek to call a lead pastor with good management and people skills and a vision of the future development of the congregation. Let the congregation be committed to prayer and discernment of God’s work. Let them be committed to a common vision and strong support of all leadership throughout the congregation and the wider church. And let the glory belong to God alone.

Vacation with Jesus

NirmalaReinschmidt2017webPastor Nirmala Reinschmidt
Interim Pastor

Summer time is a wonderful time of the year! The days are warmer and most of us take time off to go on vacation. Many like to go camping and fishing and others enjoy going to a different city to visit friends and families.

Who do you vacation with? Do you take best friend along with you? Do you spend time with Jesus in the summer? Many Christians find it very easy not to think much about Jesus all summer long. Many don’t attend worship as much, and some don’t come at all. Where are these people? Often they are out trying to have fun on their own without Jesus.

A woman said to me once, “Pastor, don’t worry, when September comes I will come back to church. This is my vacation from church.” This woman did come back to church in September. However, she also said that she was lonely for Jesus and that it felt good to come to church again and hear Jesus speak to her there through scriptures, hymns and the sermons. Think of how much happier her life and her summer could have been if she had regularly heard the Lord speak to her through the Bible. How refreshed she would have been to worship with her fellow Christians all summer long. We are blessed to have churches throughout the nation and the world. When you go on vacation make effort to find a church and go there to be refreshed by the Word and Sacrament. If you won’t be near a church make sure that you take your Bible, hymnals and the devotional books along to read and sing along with your families and friends to worship and praise the Lord. Make it a point that you remember to begin the day with the Lord and with His word and end the day with the Lord and with His word. True rest and Peace comes from the Lord and through His word alone.

Remember that our Lord Jesus be with us at all times. He never takes time off including summer. So we too should never take time off from Him. Let us remember that by His grace and patience alone that we live. As Hebrews 10:25 says “Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing, instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see the Lord is coming nearer”

May you all have a blessed summer!

vacation with jesus

The Face(s) of the Synod

John Allen 4 webPastor John Allen
Interim Pastor

Sitting in a session of Southeastern Minnesota Synod Assembly earlier this month, I kept thinking of that quote from the old Pogo comic series, “We have met the enemy—and they is us!” The synod is not the enemy, of course, but I’ve sure met congregational members who seem to think it is. Seven members of St. John’s attending that assembly have met the synod, and we know, “they is us.”

Our church, the ELCA, practices a participatory form of governance. We don’t have a top-down kind of authority that we often associate with other churches. We don’t have a pope, for instance. Our bishops and other leaders are elected by us to administer the ministries that we, as congregations have chosen to share. We can use the word “synod” to refer to the bishop’s office, or the synod office, but when we speak of what the synod does, “they is us.”

At the assembly, we saw the face (or faces) of the synod at work. We met at the Civic Center in Rochester, together with some three or four hundred representatives of local congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), to listen, worship, learn, talk, share, compare…and elect. Some members came from small struggling congregations. Others came from large struggling congregations…and every configuration in between. We heard some engaging preaching and Bible studies. And, as always among Lutherans, we heard some great music. Together, we shared our common desire to be the hands and voice of our Lord. We shared our common faith and hope. We shared concern for the challenges and barriers that make proclamation of the Gospel difficult in our time and age. We came to name our fears and challenges, and we came to pledge our commitment to one another and our Lord Jesus. So, next time you hear the word “synod,” or see it in our budget, think of all of the ministry, mission, and outreach that happens on our behalf.