By Justin Rossow
As we talk about the future of our multisite congregation, people have asked me for my take on what’s next for St. Luke, Ann Arbor. While many of the details will have to be figured out together, as we go, here are some of the fundamentals I believe are essential for mission and ministry as we step forward into God’s future.
1. Follow Jesus
I know, that sounds basic and fundamental, and perhaps goes without saying. But when I say, “follow Jesus,” I mean something more concrete and specific than a vague sense of being a believer. What I’m talking about is intentional discipleship.
In many ways, we have already begun to move in a more intentional direction with our discipleship here at St. Luke. We have been talking about asking discipling questions in discipling relationships. We have preached and taught on our core values of Reach Up, Reach In, and Reach Out but have begun to add more measurable outcomes. We have begun to budget and program toward discipleship. And we have tried to find ways to encourage and measure growth.
If we are going to continue to impact lives and communities as a congregation, we will need to stay radically focused on Jesus and what He is doing in and through us. We need a vision for discipleship and we need to staff, budget, and program toward that vision.
We have begun the process of developing core language, tools, and imagery to create a discipling culture here at St. Luke. Our long-term vitality will be shaped significantly by our ability to refine and implement a vision for discipleship that supports individuals growing in their own faith walk and in relationship with other disciples.
No matter what else we do, we must keep our focus on Following Jesus.
2. Manage Missional Change
We are in the process of a significant change for our congregation. In some ways, we have been in the midst of that change for ten or more years now. And change is not something that will go away anytime soon.
In order for us to be vibrant in the years and decades to come, we need a healthy way to make the change we have in front of us today; but we also need a healthy way to make the changes that will continue to shape our future.
Change is going to be one of the constants of mission and ministry in the future. We need to have a way to make, implement, and evaluate congregational decisions. We need the ability to say no to some things so we can say yes to others.
We must be able to both pull the trigger and pull the plug, to start something new to reach new people, and to stop something that has worked in the past but no longer aligns with our vision, or is not working out the way we had planned.
For a congregation our size, I believe a governance structure that provides both authority and accountability to staff leadership is essential. A lay leadership board, elected by and accountable to the congregation, should empower, protect, and hold accountable our primary staff leadership.
We need the ability to make decisions in line with our vision for mission and discipleship. Decisions should be collaborative and mission-centered. And someone should be empowered to make decisions and be accountable for those decisions.
The inability to make and implement decisions, to pull the trigger or pull the plug, currently stands in the way of healthy congregational life and mission. Whatever other changes we make, changing to a system that allows healthy change is essential for our future.
3. Connect to Local Communities
In the not too distant past, the church building was the center of church activity; anyone wanted to get connected to a local congregation showed up at the front door of the church. That trend has continued to decline steadily.
The future of our congregation will rest, in part, on our ability to foster relationships with the local communities in which we live. People who don’t have a church home show up at a church building less and less; we will need to go to them.
This trend in effective local connections is a challenge for a congregation like ours because we are something of a commuter church: located at the intersection of a major highway in a diverse metro area, we have people who drive from surrounding communities and find their home at St. Luke.
We rejoice in the diversity and vibrancy this kind of environment fosters. And if we are going to be successful in our mission of connecting people to Jesus and to Jesus followers, then we will need to find a way to connect locally.
In some ways connecting locally is what we have always done; and in some ways, this will be new territory for us. At St. Luke, we have many members who are connected to service and leadership in many different communities. And we have not yet intentionally tried to connect with other St. Luke members to serve and impact the communities where we live, together.
As we move into our future, I can imagine our central ministry providing the structures and tools needed for ongoing, intentional discipleship growth through worship, and Bible study, and blogs, and other in home resources.
And I can imagine groups of disciples who call St. Luke home working together to build connections with communities like Saline, Milan, West Ann Arbor, South Ypsi, Pittsfield Township, Dexter, Whitmore Lake, and on and on—wherever we already have groups of people living in the same geographic area who want to follow Jesus intentionally and impact lives locally.
In order to connect with the communities in which we live, we will need to foster a kind of missional connection to our local neighborhoods. And provide the kinds of resources that can equip our people, wherever they live, to be in joint mission with their neighbors to their own communities.
But in order to do that, in order to impact the people who live in the neighborhoods we live in, we will need to stay radically focused on following Jesus. And we will need a healthy and effective way of making decisions about what we should try next and what we should stop trying.
I believe these three basic concepts—Follow Jesus, Manage Missional Change, and Connect to Local Communities—are key for St. Luke, Ann Arbor whether we release or reform. And if we decide to reform the multisite, I think we will need some way to articulate our vision for a discipleship process, a governance structure, and a vision for building relationships with local communities.
I think the future for St. Luke is exciting! I can imagine the impact we will have on the lives of the people God has placed around us. I believe God is pouring out His Holy Spirit on us in His opportune time for His purposes. And I trust that God’s Kingdom and mission will advance with or without us. Our privilege and joy is to be part of what Jesus is doing in the greater Ann Arbor area.
I am so grateful for the gift of being pastor here at St. Luke as we discern what God is calling us to next. What an adventure!