By Jon Bahr, Elder at St. Luke

This past Saturday, I had both the honor and pleasure of being involved in my first meeting as an Elder at St. Luke. Not only did we get a chance to discuss “Elder business,” but there was much fellowship and a chance to get to know those with whom I am serving. It was an eye-opening day filled with great conversation about the direction we are taking at St. Luke, but also with the challenge to grow in our faith and allow Jesus to lead and direct our walk with Him.

23916308915_14753ec093_mWe started our day with an introductory meeting that began to peel back the layers surrounding what God might be doing in our church. This discussion was centered around a concept presented by Pastor Justin: The On-Ramps to Belonging. We talked through the two typical paths that people follow that lead to a sense of belonging within a church and how and why they are relevant to the ministry we do at St. Luke.

The “traditional” on-ramp is one that I am used to, having grown up the son of a church worker. You move to an area or community, seek out a church, get involved in the church, and through your involvement build relationships and connections that help you gain a sense of belonging at that congregation. This even works if you show up at church for an 11AM service that actually started at 10AM…. but that is a story for another day.

The non-traditional on-ramp starts with connection, and builds the sense of belonging, sometimes long before you ever step foot in a church building. This can be through community groups, service projects, home groups, or other ways of being engaged with people that all result in building a sense of belonging to something.

What struck me the most as we centered our discussion around belonging is what it takes to actually feel like you belong. Our family moved to the Ann Arbor area almost three years ago when I began my role at Concordia. We started down the path of the traditional on-ramp. We visited churches, trusting that our sense of belonging would come through our involvement at our church.

Over the past few years, we have been working towards becoming more engaged at St. Luke. Our kids are in Sunday School, we attend family VBS, I played softball and served communion, my wife was involved in Bible Study… but somehow, we still didn’t feel like we quite “fit in” at St. Luke. We hadn’t yet begun to feel the sense of belonging that we thought we should.

As a result, we were considering church shopping. Now, this isn’t an indictment on St. Luke. I share this because it enables me to share how Jesus is working in our lives, and working through our collective mission at St Luke.

We started to pray: prayers that God would give us direction; prayers that God would build and strengthen relationships; prayers that God would help us feel like we belong somewhere.

The funny thing about prayers is that God rarely answers them the way you think He should or will. He isn’t a genie in a bottle that pops out with a poof and magically takes away all challenges that we face. He allows our experience and our situations to grow us in our faith and our dependence on Him.

This was certainly the case with us. After weeks of prayer, we had begun feeling like God was asking us to stay at St. Luke, and to help be a part of moving forward through a tough time in our church’s history. And just in case we weren’t sure, He worked through the situations in our life to help hammer it home.

The first came through our involvement in our home group. As we shared time in fellowship and the Word with our group, we began to see how God was working through them and in our lives to build our sense of belonging. We have been blessed with a wonderful group of people that are seeking where God is leading and growing closer to Jesus.

The funny thing about prayers is that God rarely answers them the way you think He should or will.

As if this wasn’t enough to convince us, we came home from being gone over Christmas break to standing water in our basement, and an insurance company that wasn’t going to cover the claim. This might seem like a tragedy, but in reality it was a window for God to show us the grace and mercy of His people serving Him. We were floored by the outpouring of support, help, and meals (especially the meals!) by our St. Luke family. If we weren’t sure of our connection at St. Luke, He was certainly working through our situation to show us that we were right where He needs us, alongside the people He needs us to work with.

In retrospect, what seems most striking is almost simple. If we had people that were willing to drop everything and come help us and support us, how were we missing the sense of belonging? I think that is one of the greatest challenges facing us as a congregation. How can we create and sustain an environment where people know they are loved, valued, and cared for? Especially if those people don’t connect in the ways that we would typically assume you connect to a church?

How willing are we to go out and seek people, to build relationships with them and come alongside them in their relationship with Jesus, no matter what stage that relationship may presently be?

The answers to these questions and our willingness to strive for a deeper relationship with Jesus, where He directs our actions, will ultimately determine the future of our church. As someone who has the privilege to serve in a leadership capacity, I’m excited to see where God will take us, and how He will use us to build relationships, connections, and belonging to the family of God. It is an honor and privilege to do kingdom work with people that are committed to following Jesus, and I’m thankful that I get the chance to do that here.

Jon is one of our Elders here at St. Luke. Get to meet the rest of the board here: St. Luke Elders.