Thursday, September 24, 2015


“For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith…”                                       – Romans 1:16
            As I write this, the pope is making his historic visit to the US.  It’s the first time he’s been here, and only the fourth time any pope has every visited our country.  As people cheer from the streets, his every word is being scrutinized, his every action examined by the media.  He looks a little bored and unimpressed standing among officials and walking through halls lined with marble statues, but as he steps out into the daylight and sees the crowds of adults and children waiting to catch a glimpse of him, he smiles.  He lifts his head and his hand goes up in a gesture of blessing.

            This month we will be celebrating Reformation Sunday.  Two years from now it will be the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the 500th birthday of the Lutheran church.  If you don’t mind me saying, we’re looking pretty good for our age.  500 years ago, who could have imagined a “people’s pope?”  Instead, we had a people’s reformer – a man who tried to get the church to turn back to Scripture, back to the spirit of Christ, and back to the mission he gave us.  Luther saw a contradiction between the way Jesus lived and the words and works coming from the church of his day.

            One wonders what would have happened five centuries ago if a pope like Francis had been around.  Perhaps he and Luther would have made an alliance to work together to bring change.  As feisty a guy as Martin Luther was, I’m not sure even a sympathetic pope could have put him at ease and held the church together.  Despite divisions that remain, Protestants can appreciate someone like Pope Francis who holds the Gospel of Jesus as a model for the Church’s practice.  And Roman Catholics make ample use today of gifts that were brought by the Reformation, like access to the Bible in the language of the people.  It should be interesting to see what the Vatican will have to say in two years when the anniversary of the Reformation rolls around.

            The gift of Scripture will be our focus this month as we continue the “How to Use Your Bible” series.  Bring your Bibles on Sundays and prepare for a fast paced sprint through the story of salvation.  We’ll have Post-It notes available to help you mark out 100 important passages as signposts in our Biblical journey.  On the way, the great scope of the Gospel, of God’s design and destiny for humanity will become clearer as we watch the powerful message of God’s love emerge from the words of Scripture.  Come get more familiar with your Bible, and as you do draw closer to God.

Pastor Scott

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Talent scouts for Jesus

“The gifts [Christ] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ."          -- Ephesians 4:11-12

            I vividly remember one of those “a-ha” moments I had during my training for the ministry. It was in a class on leadership.  We were talking about what makes for a strong congregation, and the professor was telling us that the healthiest congregations are the ones that know how to give ministry away.  In the middle of that discussion, the professor said, “You will find that one of the most important roles we play in the church is that of talent scout.”  That’s when the light bulb went on in my head. 
            Giving ministry away is about finding something meaningful for people to do so everyone can use their God-given gifts for God’s work.  This is partly what the church was made for.  Jesus had 12 disciples whom he sent out to teach, preach, to help and pray for those in need.  He didn’t keep all the ministry to himself, but shared it with others.  When he washed the feet of the disciples, it was with the understanding that they would wash one another’s feet (John 13:14-15).  When Paul says in Ephesians that Christ’s gifts are meant “to equip the saints for the work of ministry,” the expectation is that every Christian is actively taking part in some kind of ministry.
            That doesn’t mean everyone has to sing in the choir…or lead a Bible study…or bake cookies for the bake sale…  The point is, everyone has been given different gifts and talents, strengths and weaknesses, and different personalities.  The many and various ministries of Christ’s Church fit the many and various passions and abilities of Christ’s people.  By helping people discover their gifts and finding ways they can work on a ministry, we become talent scouts for the Lord! 
            This is why at the end of each year of our confirmation program, I have each student present their own unique project.  I ask them to look at their talents and skills and find a way to express their faith in God using those gifts.  Over the years they’ve done powerpoint presentations, songs, dances, drawings, sculptures… each a one-of-a-kind showcase of God’s gifts.
            A congregation I visited years ago had a monthly Saturday men’s group.  The guys who attended this group discovered they all loved working on cars, and started asking how they could put their passion and mechanical know-how to work for God.  They wound up developing a new ministry by offering free labor to help fix the cars of elderly church members and other low-income people.  Imagine what unique kinds of ministries would sprout up if we all had that kind of “talent scout” mentality!
            Here at Atonement, we have many ministry teams, from Worship and music to Fellowship to Social concerns, Christian education, and so on…  Each team has a leader and each leader is entrusted with helping the pastor and council manage the ministries in that particular area.  Some of these teams meet together regularly, and some are pretty much just one or two people.  As our congregation grows and changes year by year, so does the shape of our ministries.  For example, our council just approved a brand new ministry – a Hispanic outreach team.  Our caring team began a year when we discovered there were many people interested in ministry to the sick and homebound.  Over the summer, five new people were trained to be “Eucharistic ministers” who bring communion to the homebound.  People with gifts and talents are taking on new roles as they are “equipped for the work of ministry.”
            New ministries come and sometimes old ones go.  Sometimes ministries get dropped altogether when people get overwhelmed or lose interest.  Sometimes ministry leaders struggle to keep up with the expectations for that ministry, wishing they had more direction or more people on their team.  Keeping up with all this is a challenge, and the need for communication between the ministry teams and the council and pastor is greater than ever.  Below* I’ve listed some resources and tips that might be helpful for ministry leaders.
            But here’s the light bulb that went on in my head: if Jesus made a habit of giving ministry away, so should we.  God’s work involves involving others.  We’re not just focused on getting certain tasks done – we’re also talent scouts looking to connect people.  There’s something spiritually fulfilling about doing God’s work, and someone out there is just waiting for an invitation to help with a ministry.  Having more people working side by side builds relationships and makes the work easier in the end.            
            We expect to have lots of visitors this Fall, many of whom will be considering Atonement as a new church home.  One of the questions people will be asking as they come check us out is: “Is there a place for me here?  Is this a church that can make use of my talents and abilities?  Is this somewhere I can serve God in a meaningful way?”  As we greet them warmly and offer them a new church home, let’s also make room for them to serve in ways that fit their gifts.  The Holy Spirit loves turning spectators into players and it’s a beautiful thing to watch -- so let’s open the doors as wide as we can and be talent scouts for Jesus!

Pastor Scott
*Here are some tips and resources to help our teams “equip the saints for the work of ministry” at Atonement:

 ·         Council liaisons: each team leader is paired up with one of the council members who will bring news about what that ministry is doing to the council.  The liaison can bring requests for minor funding or other needs before the council on behalf of that ministry.  If you are a team leader and do not know who your liaison is, contact the church office.
·         Time and talent: Yearly surveys are given out to worship attendees, asking which ministries people might be willing to volunteer for.   The results are collated and shared with the ministry leaders.  The team leaders are the talent scouts for their ministry area, and this gives them a place to start.  They are expected to contact those people and help them get plugged into their areas of interest.
·         Temple talks: Ministry teams are welcome to give a special presentation during worship informing members of the congregation as to what is happening and how they can join in.  We want to be great at giving ministry away, and should always be inviting new people to use their gifts.
·         A written plan: It’s amazing how much it helps to have a simple to do list.  Does your ministry have a timeline?  What is your ministry’s goal for the year?  What needs to be put on the church calendar?  What kind of support is needed from the council and pastor?  How much of the church budget should be set aside for this ministry? Each ministry could benefit from a detailed plan that looks at the year ahead and answers these questions.
·         “Glows and grows” meetings: The church council schedules quarterly fellowship times after the 10am service, and invites questions and input on congregational issues.  Any ministry team may request to do a presentation at the next Grows and glows meeting in October.  All are welcome and encouraged to attend.
·         Publications and media: Do you have information about a ministry you’d like to get out?  We have a newsletter, weekly email announcements, and a web site we’re working on.  Cherie Hatlem has been working on the design for the upcoming picture directory – and this year it will come with a separate ministry directory.  Special projects and events might also warrant a verbal announcement from the pulpit on a Sunday morning. 
·         Training: Workshops, classes, books and other resources are available to help with just about any ministry.  Sometimes our synod or conference offers training opportunities, and sometimes we can offer it right here at Atonement.  This month, every ministry team is being asked to send at least one person to be trained to use our new AED.  This is a device to help someone undergoing a cardiac emergency.  This training will take place at Atonement on Saturday September 26 from 10am-11am.