You Matter!

I have a confession – I am a grown man that loves hugs. I love them from my wife, my kids, my parents, my friends, or anyone else that wants to hug me. I love the comfort and the warmth a hug delivers. I love everything that is packed into that embrace. I believe that when someone hugs me, we are claiming a special closeness. God made me this way and I don’t plan on changing.

Huggers like me have struggled during our COVID social distancing world. For instance, I remember finally getting to see my daughter Solveig Brunkow after months of separation and we still couldn’t do our usual hugging routine. This routine has been going on for most of her life and it goes like this. We wrap our arms around each other, she kisses my nose and I kiss her forehead. It’s our thing and it is a special part of our relationship. She will always be my little girl no matter how many candles are on her birthday cake.

You might not be a hugger like me and that is fine, but I hope you all can relate to how good it is to be loved. God made you to love and to be loved. When we appreciate this, we can relate to the heart of God. He is a God of relationship. He built us this way!

All through life we find ourselves in various communities. There are the ones in which we grew up. Our jobs hold often become a community of sorts or in my case, the staff at Old Chicago restaurant in Eden Prairie, MN that I would share my sermon with every Saturday afternoon. The thing about each of these communities is that we feel connected and that the others in the community are interested in us.

This is something that the Church can do better than anyone else. After all, we are a people that are about love, truth, and a clear understanding that we are all desperately in need of grace. This is the backdrop of how the Church goes through life together. We care for each other, hear each other’s stories, and provide smiles [maybe even hugs] as you celebrate God’s wonderful gift of one another!

In Genesis 2:18 God declares, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We rightly apply this to marriage, but we can miss the greater truth if we only use this verse in that context. Right from the beginning God has “hard-wired” us to be in relationships. We need God and we need each other. He wants us to know it and He wants us to show it. How about today you let a few people know that they matter to you. If you enter someone’s world to bless them, then you are walking a path that reflects the magnificent path Jesus walked to deliver God’s grace and love to us!

In the context of a healthy and vibrant congregation, this community “feel” is natural. People care for one another and feel cared for because God tells us that all people have immense value. There is also a deep and active desire to bring others into the community. There is a confidence that a new community member is a good thing and not something to fear. So, they reach out and reach into the lives of their neighbors – kinda like Jesus!

The community of Jesus Christ’s followers can be a transformational force as we live together where God has placed us following the example of the church in Acts 2:42-47. With this as our model, may our CLB churches be places filled with truth, prayer, fellowship, generosity, gladness, and praise. Verse 47 tells us that as they lived this way together, they all also “gained favor with all people.” Let’s come together and pray that God would make this happen in our churches today.

I may not ever meet you, but I would like to, and if we do meet feel free to give me a hug. I may not know your name, your personal story, or your favorite foods, but I truly would like to. But there is one thing I do know about you – YOU MATTER! You are of immense value simply because God made you. It isn’t based on your income, your position, or your success. It just is the truth. You are incredibly significant in God’s eyes and so is the next person you see. How about you let them know? Give them the magnificent gift of communicating “I’m glad you are here with me.”

Together,

Nick Mundis – Director of North American Mission

Hope is a Beautiful Word

There is a cloud of apathy, anger, and angst that seems never to go away these days for so many people. Smiles, joy, and peace just don’t seem as common as they once did. An underlying tone in many conversations I have is a sense of hopelessness. For a couple of minutes, let’s reconsider what it means that instead of hopelessness - we are people of hope.

Hope is a beautiful word. It represents the possibility of a positive outcome, a light at the end of a dark tunnel. It is very significant in the Bible. However, hope in the Bible is different from its everyday use – it is far better!

Today, most often, hope is expecting something to happen, but not being entirely sure it will. It is more like a wish. Webster’s Dictionary defines hope as “to cherish a desire with anticipation: to want something to happen or to be true.” This definition is based on doubt and uncertainty, but biblical hope is knowing that the desired outcome will happen. It’s not wishful thinking, but a solid reality. When God speaks of a future hope, it is as good as done already.

Hope in Hebrew

Two main Hebrew words are translated as "hope" in the Old Testament. The first word is yachal, and it appears about 48 times in the Old Testament.

According to Strong’s concordance, yachal means to wait or to be patient. Yachal is most often associated with waiting on God; it may be waiting on his word, promises, or actions, such as in Job 13:15, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” But sometimes yachal is used when waiting continually or enduring, such as in Psalm 71:14, “But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more.

The second word is tiqvah or qavahTiqvah means cord or attachment. It is the word translated "hope" in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Tiqvah means to expect, and it is related to the Hebrew word qavah, which means to wait for or look eagerly. 

In conclusion, "hope" in the Old Testament means to wait for something with expectation and anticipation that it will happen. It is often accompanied by joy and pleasure, and it’s related to God. It is as if there is a cord attaching the hope to its completion.

Hope in Greek

The word "hope" in the New Testament is from the Greek word elpis. According to Strong’s Concordance, elpis means expectation, trust, and confidence. It comes from the root word elpo, which means to anticipate (with pleasure) and to welcome. Elpis is an expectation of what is guaranteed.

Elpis first appears in the New Testament in Matthew 12:21, “and in His name, the Gentiles will hope.” The word "hope" in this verse comes from the verb form, which is elpizo ["trust" in some versions].

Elpis appears over 50 times in the New Testament and is used in anticipation of future events that are certain to come.  "Hope" in the New Testament means looking towards the future with assurance. It is also accompanied by joy and pleasure, and it’s related to Jesus.

Putting it all together

Biblical hope is confidently expecting that something will happen and waiting patiently for it with joy and pleasure. John Piper puts it this way: “Christian hope is a confidence that something will come to pass because God has promised it will come to pass.”

Our hope’s foundation is from faith. Hebrews 11:1, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for.” We cannot have one without the other. Hope is looking expectantly towards the future based on our faith in God in the present and His faithfulness in the past. When we have hope, we can navigate those turbulent waters without despair. We can have joy and peace despite our circumstances because we know we have a God that works all things for our good. As Desmond Tutu said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.

Friends, what an opportunity we have right now to share Jesus. The world seems to be dominated by darkness, but light will always conquer darkness. Jesus is the Light of the World! May our lives and our congregations shine as beacons of hope!

Hopeful,

Nick Mundis - Director of North American Mission

Parenting Generation Screen

Parents, as you read Jonathan McKee’s newest book, “Parenting Generation Screen,” you might be inclined to cancel your kids’ cell phone service, but be encouraged to keep reading it for many great practical insights into helping your teens manage the responsibility of technology.

In it, you will hear tons of gospel-based relationship building tips for parents. And while there are many ideas for parents, there are just as many for students and for youth workers. In addition, not only do I believe that this book will help you with this important topic, but I also believe that it will help you to have a stronger relationship with your student(s).

As well, in this book you will hear some significant research which will challenge your understanding on the impact of devices. And while the book aims to strengthen relationships, it does not abandon setting boundaries with our kids. As well, while the book poses some scary scenarios, the end message is not of “fear” but as I said before, one of gospel-based relationship building help for parents.

Briefly, I want to name a few highlights and insights:

Jonathan will be our featured guest at next summer’s youth workers continuing education. To RSVP for this, send Mark an email at mjohannesen@clba.org and include your name and an address to mail it to. To view our schedule and to learn about our speaker, go to www.clba.org/youth-worker-training-at-the-2022-biennial-convention/

In the coming months we look forward to a great give away related to this new tool.

Mark Johannesen - Youth Ministry Coordinator

Congregational Vitality and Revitalization

What is Vitality?

Congregational vitality is about dying to self and about new life, it is about living life together intentionally, it is about God’s “stuff” being the stuff we want for our lives. It is a journey that is both adventurous and treacherous.

Vitality is not a program; it is a pathway… a transformative process that occurs over time. We don’t drift into congregational vitality. It doesn’t just happen. There comes a point when a congregation makes the Spirit-filled decision to move forward and become a healthy missional church. By “healthy” we mean pursuing Christ. By “missional” we mean acting on Christ’s passion for the world.

Vitality is the centrality of God’s Word and a sense of desperation for the things of God. Vitality creates a congregational ethos of expectation and invitation. Vitality is a community that is filled with grace and truth. The necessity of congregational vitality is inseparable from our mission.


What Is the “Macro-mission” of the Church?

Looking at Church vitality from the macro direction produces a list of classic, universal mission functions for churches of every size, in every generation, in every kind of community. From this perspective, all vital churches have the same mission. Theologians and church historians have summarized that macro-mission with terms such as fellowship, service, scripture, worship, prayer, and proclamation. We see this macro-mission in our Church of the Lutheran Brethren (CLB) statement of faith and our CLB values.
 
The Church of Jesus Christ accomplishes that macro-mission by doing three things that show up in what we mean when we say that the CLB is a Disciple-making Movement. This means that we are continually connecting people to Jesus, his community, and his mission.
 
What is the “Micro-mission” of a Single Congregation?

Why is a micro-mission important? A micro mission tells us “how we do it” in our particular church, whether small or large, urban or rural, with the unique mix of people and passions that make up our congregation. Ultimately, congregations are called to use dissimilar ways to accomplish Jesus’ mission and ministry in each community and generation.


A healthy congregational mission identity fits its size, fits its members, fits its resources, and meets the current needs of people in its surrounding community. Many unhealthy congregations fall short—not by affirming something other than a biblically mandated macro-mission—but by emphasizing a congregational micro-mission identity that does not fit that congregation, community, or generation.
 
What Is a Congregation’s Method for Revitalization? 

The church’s mission method tells people how we worship, do evangelism, do member care, etc. Research indicates that healthy congregations deliver on the macro and micro-mission with the following methods.

The Bottom Line

Healthy churches that are continually seeking vitality accurately answer the classic theological question, “What is the mission of the Church and how do we accomplish it?” They build on the biblical macro-mission, apply it contextually with micro-mission activities that amplify their congregational make-up and intentionally connect with their community.

It is a good time for us to consider the new things that God wants to do in our churches and in our communities through us. Our God is a God of new life and resurrection. He does this in individuals, and he does it in congregations. Let’s pray for that in our CLB North American congregations.

Lord, remove our idols and our traditions that are more important to us than you. Create in us a clean heart that is passionate for the things that you are passionate about. Do something new in our day, Lord, and use us to be a part of it! AMEN and AMEN!

In Christ,

Nick Mundis - Director of North American Mission

I Didn't Get It

I didn’t get it.

Years ago, when I was a parish pastor, I first heard about a group of CLB pastors in my area that were passionate about planting CLB churches in cities.

I remember not understanding why they were driven to start city churches. Why so focused on cities? I didn’t get it.

The first reason I didn’t get it was because I grew up in the woods. I grew up in a rural community—and I loved it. It was a small, quiet community where everyone knew everyone, it wasn’t on the way to anywhere, and it was surrounded by trees. As a Boy Scout in a small town, I gained a love for camping and the outdoors. Big cities were a foreign place to me. I visited occasionally but I didn’t understand them, and I was always happy to get back home.

I also didn’t get it because I didn’t fully understand why church planting mattered. This one is pretty funny to think about, especially considering that I now oversee the CLB’s church planting mission. But it’s true—I didn’t fully understand why it was important to start new churches. I thought there were plenty of churches everywhere and that they had room for more people. I didn’t get it. Even though I literally grew up in a church plant and experienced all its growth stages, from gathering in homes, to setting up chairs in our rented auditorium, to sheet rocking the facility we eventually built, and eventually serving there as a pastor. Even though in my college years I watched my uncle plant a church and came to help canvas neighborhoods. Friends from seminary remind me that this was a subject I thought was important, but over time as a pastor that faded from memory. I didn’t get it. Maybe it’s fairer to say that I didn’t understand how important it was, and I didn’t understand why it was important to plant a church in a place that I didn’t understand—like a city.

I didn’t get it.

So, when these pastor friends of mine started getting serious about city church planting, I had to find out more. I asked if I could meet with them to pick their brains about what they were doing and they happily agreed. Leading up to the visit I remember thinking that perhaps during our time together I could talk some sense into them.

We met in a pizza shop in New York City. Little did I know that God would be working on my heart and mind even before I met them. I rode a metro rail from Connecticut into the city. After driving to the train station, I arrived in a small Connecticut city that was far bigger than where I grew up or currently lived. The train was full of people heading to the city, and with each stop more people got on. I was in growing awe of just how many people were in the train car with me, but the heart-stopping moment was when the train arrived at Grand Central Station. The moment I exited my car onto the platform, I was surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of people. Perhaps thousands. My eyes couldn’t believe it. The Holy Spirit was changing something in my heart—teaching me why he wanted new churches in places I didn’t understand: because people were here.

As I took each step through the station and the city, my heart for this place I didn’t understand was changing from “I don’t get this place” to “there are so many people here, and God loves each one of them.” Since then, I’ve learned that where the most people are—in major cities like New York—the church is the most absent. These population centers have the fewest churches per capita—nowhere near sufficient numbers to reach everyone.

By the time I arrived for the meeting God had already been knocking down my arrogant presumptions and misconceptions, and I showed up a bit quieted by the lessons from the train station.  As my friends talked about their vision for church planting, I went from skeptic to supporter. They shared why church planting mattered, why the CLB needed to church plant, and why they felt it was important to plant churches in cities. I was moved, and I learned how important new churches are for a network of churches. I learned why cities are a difficult but important place in which to plant.

A couple of years later I formally joined their team—then known as Fifth Act Church Planting—now re-branded as 1902 Church Planting. I joined up just as they were planting Epiphany Lutheran Church—the first new CLB church in an urban center in 80 years. Epiphany closed its doors during COVID, but people came to faith through it, lives of Christians were changed through it, and their passion for church planting was shared by others throughout the CLB. The churches of New England, now getting ready to plant in Boston with Kristian and Mary Anderson, learned many lessons from the experience of these pioneering New York pastors, as did I.

As these fellow pastors taught me the importance of starting new churches I was also completing a doctorate in church and parachurch executive leadership—learning how to lead Christian ministries. The more I learned and studied through those years, the more my heart moved towards understanding why so many established churches struggled. I made this my area of study for the thesis project, and I came to understand that we Christians in North America are truly missionaries called to join God in his mission to redeem and restore people to him right here in our home countries. Making God’s mission the heart of our churches’ ministry—not a time-permitting side project—was what revitalized struggling churches. The more I came to understand this call to the local mission field, the more I realized how truly important it is to start new churches.

I started to pay more attention to church planting, I got personally involved, as did my church. I saw God’s love for people who didn’t have churches that could communicate the gospel in their own cultural context—not just in New York City, but in the cities and towns of Connecticut, and even in my own neighborhood. And now, serving in my role with North American Mission, I’m energized as I meet CLB people across the continent who have a growing passion and calling for launching new churches in towns and cities of all sizes. God is calling us to engage in this mission field where he has placed us, and he is mobilizing his people.

I didn’t get it…but I’m starting to.

Ryan Nilsen - Associate Director of North American Mission

JOY: The Tone of God’s People

Thanks so much for engaging the Forge and this blog. I wanted to give you a quick overview of what to expect from this blog in the near future. Our hope is to encourage you with useful information as you serve the Lord and your congregation in our unified call to make disciples. Our goal will be to have approximately four posts each month. The posts will fall into four categories:

  1. Congregational Vitality – “Words that Matter”
  2. Church Planting and Multiplication
  3. What’s up in our North American context?
  4. Guest Bloggers

————

JOY: The Tone of God’s People

Biblical joy is an essential component of walking with God and being his people. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.” Though the Bible can also use joy to describe a feeling of happiness, it differs in significant ways. Let’s look at the original Hebrew and Greek words.

Joy in Hebrew

The word joy appears often in the Old Testament translated from 15 Hebrew words. For instance, there is simchah, which means joy, gladness, or mirth. Then there is sason [saw-sone’], which means exultation or rejoicing. All these Hebrew words generally mean to be happy or joyful and they have a variety of sources. For example, people rejoiced in each other, in their children, in abundant harvest, in victory, or an apt answer. However, believers found their ultimate source of joy and satisfaction in Yahweh (Ps. 32:11). They rejoiced in him because of his salvation, his justice, his protection, his word, etc.

Joy in Greek

There are eight Greek words for joy in the New Testament, but the most prevalent one is chara. Its first occurrence is about the nativity of Jesus in Matthew 2:10, which says, “when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” According to Strong’s Concordance, chara means joy, calm delight, or inner gladness. It is related to chairo, which means to rejoice, and charis, which means grace. Therefore, chara means to rejoice because of grace. It is the awareness of God’s grace through Jesus, as well as our reaction to it.

Biblical joy comes from the Lord.

It is a perpetual gladness of the heart that comes from knowing, experiencing, and trusting Jesus. Joy is our God-given response to knowing and walking with Jesus Christ. This doesn’t mean life is always easy. God invites and in fact calls us to be “real” - we should express our grief and pour out our hearts to God like we so often see in the Psalms. We see Paul possessed this joy when he said, “being full of sorrow and yet rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10) and “in all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy (2 Cor. 7:4).

Charles Spurgeon said, “believers are not dependent upon circumstances. Their joy comes not from what they have, but from what they are, not from where they are, but from whose they are, not from what they enjoy, but from that which was suffered for them by their Lord.”

Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah who will bring everlasting joy.

When the angel announced his birth to the shepherds, he said it was good news of great joy for all the people, and when the shepherds saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. Even unborn John the Baptist leaped with joy at the coming of Jesus. They all rejoiced because God had come to dwell with them as Immanuel. His rescue sets us free from sin, death, and judgment and makes us right with God. It is truly good news of exceeding joy! As the Church, we celebrate the first coming of Jesus and joyfully anticipate his second coming, when he will reign forever and we will experience the fullness of His joy.

Therefore, the Church is a place of Joy!

The Church is God’s creation. He designs it, builds it, and sustains it. Part of this reality is that he fills it with His gift of joy.

If you find yourself or your congregation lacking joy – Pray for God to bring his joy! In this time of angst, fear, and divisiveness may our CLB churches serve as beacons of joy. Remember that this is God’s work, and it comes through repentance and faith. Lord, transform us to bear your fruit of JOY!

In the joy of our salvation,

Nick Mundis – Director of North American Mission

Why We Start New Churches

I’m excited to start contributing articles to the CLB Forge Blog. As the Associate Director of North American Mission my primary responsibility is to oversee our church planting efforts. God has a place for the Church of the Lutheran Brethren (CLB) on the mission field of North America and engaging in this calls for us to rapidly increase our church planting activities right now and for the years to come.

The people of the CLB are a missionary people—we became a church body over a century ago in an effort to send missionaries across the globe. Today we have that same missionary heart, and we are called to turn to the mission field where God has already placed us: North America.

If you’ve been in one of the many churches with empty pews and plenty of room for more people, you may ask: Why do we need to start new churches? Why not focus on filling the ones we have? I have heard that question many times. In fact, I’m passionate about strengthening established churches: My doctorate focused on church and parachurch executive leadership and my thesis was all about church vitality. I ran a consulting ministry prior to accepting the call to serve the CLB and I’ve worked alongside a number of established churches to help them enhance their ministry effectiveness. The established church is very important, and yet, we must start new churches for a number of reasons:

  1. New churches are more likely to reach the unsaved. 60-80% of new members in a church plant were not a part of a church beforehand, while in established churches, 80-90% of new members are transfers from other churches. Church plants are often very engaged in the making of new disciples and focus on communicating the gospel in a way that connects to the community.
  2. More churches are needed. Across the U.S., about 4,500 new churches are started every year. However, because about 4,000 churches close every year, that means that the Christian church would need to plant an additional 2,000 churches every year just to keep up with population growth, not to mention reaching an increasing percentage of the population. We need more churches!
  3. New churches reach new groups of people. Church plants have a unique way of connecting into different sub-cultures, ethnic groups, and parts of the community that established churches aren’t geared to reach. New churches are built to be mission outposts that learn the needs, values, and languages of the community, and then serve and speak the gospel in a way that those groups can understand. Last century, the CLB saw tremendous growth by reaching groups of immigrants in coastal cities like Seattle and New York. Those immigrants needed a church that spoke their language and understood their culture, and new CLB churches provided that.
  4. No single congregation lasts forever. I have yet to identify a single congregation that has existed since the time of the early church. That means that all churches have a lifespan and at some point their mission is fulfilled and they close. It’s hard to think about that happening to your home church, and yet it has always been this way. If you look at the founding of the CLB, which was started in 1900, of the five congregations that started the denomination, only one remains open. It’s painful to watch a church that you love experience these latter life stages, but I believe that God created congregations to be this way in part so that it would always be necessary to make new disciples. Over time, the legacy of the CLB and the legacy of individual congregations will rest with the new churches that are started.

God has a place for us on the North American mission field. We will continue to strengthen established churches, but we will plant new churches as well, with the goal of planting more and more churches. As I write for this blog in the months to come, I plan to share with you my vision for CLB church planting, the strategy that we’re implementing to fulfill that vision, and best of all—stories from our church plants where teams of CLB people have boots on the ground in the front lines of our mission efforts.

Ryan Nilsen - Associate Director of North American Mission

Sources:

“Why Plant Churches?,” Tim Keller, Redeemer City to City, January 1, 2002. https://redeemercitytocity.com/articles-stories/why-plant-churches

The Church of the Lutheran Brethren 1900-1975: A Believer’s Fellowship—A Lutheran Alternative, J. H. Levang, (1980: Faith and Fellowship Press).

The American Church in Crisis, David T. Olson, (2008: Zondervan).