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Sunday, January 31, 2016

My 2016 Annual Report for Lanse Free Church

Lanse Evangelical Free Church exists to glorify God
by bringing people into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ
through worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service.

The Annual Pastoral Report
Pastor Matt Mitchell
Year in Review: 2015

Dear Church Family,

This past year was one of the most difficult I’ve ever experienced in my life, and I’m grateful to our Lord for not only getting me through 2015, but also giving me such a wonderful church family to travel together with through it all.

“I Hate My Guts.”

This last summer, I had two hospitalizations and my first major surgery. I would have never chosen these health troubles, but the Lord has used them in my life in ways for which I’m very thankful. During my time in and out of doctors’ offices, I learned many spiritual lessons in the “School of Affliction”(Psalm 119:71). I’m also grateful to have come through my illness so healthy and strong.

After my recovery was fully underway, I wrote this on my blog:
I have so many things I'm thankful for:
- My remarkable wife who walked with me every step of this difficult summer.
- Prayerful and caring friends and family. Visits, cards, calls, a load of gravel, help for Heather, and so much more.
- A supportive team of church elders and a congregation that have given me time and space to heal.
- The skillful hands of my surgeon and the expertise of his medical team.
- An amazing set of nurses and aides on the third floor at Dubois Hospital. They have a difficult job, and they do it with panache.
- Lessons I've learned in the school of affliction. As I begin to feel better, I don't want to forget them.
These and so much more are my Lord's mercies which are served up fresh and hot each day.
I'm really excited about getting back into full time active ministry: preaching the word, equipping the saints, shepherding the flock, and making disciples of Jesus Christ.
I know that each day I get is a gift, and I resolve to use them for what really counts–His Kingdom and His righteousness.
I want to repeat all of that again. Thank you, dear church family, for your support and care for me through my illness and recovery. I’m thankful for the Elders who told me to stay out of the pulpit even after I had been released to go back to work. They arranged excellent guest preachers and make sure all of the bases of ministry were covered. I’m thankful to Marilynn Kristofits in the church office for her “administry” of so many details while I was out of commission. Our church didn’t miss a beat, and I am incredibly proud of all of you and feel blessed to be your pastor.

“He Showed Us How It’s Done”

But just when I was starting to feel better, a true tragedy struck our church. Blair Murray died in an airplane crash on October 12th.

Blair was a special man who meant a lot to our church. We all loved Blair. He had served faithfully in church leadership for several decades and left his mark spiritually on everyone he knew. I knew that I loved Blair, but until he was gone, I didn’t realize how precious he was to me. He was a mentor to me and a true friend. I’ve come to recognize that in many ways, he was my assistant pastor. On Sundays, he not only led us in wholehearted singing, but he made it around the room to talk to and care for as many people as he possibly could. Our church was impoverished when we had to say, “Goodbye.”

At Blair’s memorial service, I preached from Mark 10 and said that Blair showed us how to be truly great. Blair was a great man because he loved and served others and because he loved our Lord Jesus more than everything else. Now that he’s passed, I’ve been very encouraged to see how many people have “stepped up their game,” of praying, serving, loving, and caring because of Blair’s example.

So Much More

So, when I wrote in last year’s pastoral report that I saw 2015 being a “life-changing” year, I truly had no idea what that would actually mean! It seems like an understatement now.

But much more happened in 2015 than those two big difficult things. We had many sweet blessings to celebrate, not just bittersweet ones. Read the reports from our ministries in the rest of this document to get a taste of what else God has been doing in our midst.

We celebrated five baptisms of young people on Resurrection Sunday. Tyler Matthews, Thomas Kovalick, Megan Kerlin, Joshua Kerlin, and Nathan Kerlin all proclaimed that the Lord Jesus has changed their lives forever.

We reached out to our community through large group events like the Last Supper Drama, “God’s Not Dead” Movie Night, Family Bible Week, and the Good News Cruise.

We hired two young men as Summer Ministry Interns and gave them valuable learning experiences. Hunter Galley and Drew Moore spent the summer growing spiritually as disciples of Jesus Christ, learning how church ministry functions, and serving our youth and children’s ministries.

Our interns also joined our team of 9 intrepid members who traveled to the Pittsburgh Area to partner with two other district churches for a week of shared ministry. Our Pittsburgh Ministry Team, led by Curt and Steph Quick, worked with Pastors Alex Ielase and Kerry Doyal to share the good news of Jesus in public parks and a “mini-Family Bible Week.” I was proud of them stepping out of their comfort zones to reach people for Christ.

On average, our attendance at worship was lower than previous years, probably due in part to a severely cold winter, but we averaged a solid 143 worshipers each Sunday (last year was 145). The highest attended service was Resurrection Sunday with 252 people present. I believe we are actually growing numerically when you count how many people take part on a regular basis.

We also took on new members: Renée Mostyn, Bonnie Dobash, and Darla Kyler. We had a faithful group of folks pray each month at our Harvest Prayer Time.

Every time I turn around, I see something new that the Lord is doing.

Pastoral Ministry

For many years, I have summed up my ministry in three main areas–preaching, equipping, and shepherding. Here are some of the highlights from 2015:

Preach the Word

My plan was to finish the book of Romans by September, but life interrupted. I did preach Romans chapters 6 through 13 before I took sick, but then Romans went on the shelf for the rest of the calendar year. While we were in Romans, we learned many wonderful things about the gospel and memorized several key verses together–Romans 6:23, Romans 8:1, Romans 10:9, and Romans 12:1. We returned to it this month, and I hope to see it through to the end by spring.

From Labor Day to just after Thanksgiving, I preached a series on “Working for the Lord,” in which we learned how much God’s Word has to say about our vocations. Our work is a form of worship! Every Sunday, we celebrated the contributions of every single worker in our congregation. We also memorized Colossians 3:23-24 together, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

Our Advent season this year focused on John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” We learned that we are living in a war zone, but the outcome of the war has been decided from the beginning (Genesis 3:15). And because Jesus’ future victory is sure, we can have peace right now.

I also spoke to the West Branch FCA Bible Club several times, to the moms at our MOPS group and the Penns Valley MOPS group, to seniors at a Lenten Luncheon, to a Ministerium Lenten Service, to the residents at Windy Hill Village, to the men’s ministry of McKeesport’s First Free Church, and the fathers and sons at the retreat at Miracle Mountain Ranch.

Because of my hospitalizations, I was out of the pulpit more this year than I have ever been since becoming your pastor, but our guest preachers served us well. It was great to know that trustworthy guys like Mark Brenner, Donnie Rosie, and Dan Stanley from Miracle Mountain Ranch were pinch-hitting for me. Tim McGill really came through for us this year, preaching several times and on short notice when I was sick. And I was so thankful that my pastor, Jeff Powell, could be present on the Sunday after Blair died to comfort us and keep us focused on Jesus Christ.

Equip the Saints

One of my favorite moments in ministry this year was during the Good News Cruise. While I hobbled up and down the rows of cars talking to our guests, I was struck by how many of our people were serving others for the sake of the gospel, and how little I had to do with it! One way to measure effective pastoral ministry is recognize how many people are truly equipped for ministry. A church that can do major things without needing their pastor to do much is a healthy church!

This year, I completed an “elder training course” with our first cohort. I hope for many more cohorts in the years to come. I also met throughout the year with all of our ministry leaders for equipping, training, and mutual ministry.

In addition to coaching our local church leaders, I remain heavily involved in the broader EFCA on both the Allegheny District and national levels. In 2015, I continued to serve on the district board, chair the Constitutions and Credentials Board, coordinate the Stay Sharp theology conference, and attend a regional pastors’ group.

On the national level, I continued to serve as the book review coordinator for “EFCA Now” for whom I also wrote an article on the occasion of his retirement about what I’ve learned over the years from EFCA President Bill Hamel. I also continued to serve as a member of the Spiritual Heritage Committee (SHC). I was able to attend the EFCA Theology Conference last January and, with Heather, attend EFCA One where we approved the new president of our association, Kevin Kompelien.

In 2015, Nesta Kephart and I were interviewed by EFCA Today on the topic of community-shaped disciplemaking. I love that our church partners with other gospel-centered churches who are similarly focused on growing followers of Jesus Christ!

Resisting Gossip continues to expand my equipping ministry beyond our community, as well. In 2015, the French version was published in both France and Canada. In September, I got to travel to Montreal for the official launch of Résister à la Médisance. I also got to speak at CCEF’s national conference on this topic. Thank you for allowing me to serve the body of Christ beyond our region. It is a privilege.

Shepherd the Flock

One of the most important things I do in ministry is to simply spend time with people. I love being in your lives, whether in pleasant circumstances or difficult ones. Throughout the year, I have visited in most of your homes, and also visited folks in hospitals, prisons, and funeral homes. In addition to Blair’s funeral, I also officiated at funerals for Adam Slabon, Arnold “Sonny” Collar, Russell Martell, and Jimmy Netterblade.

It is not “flashy” ministry, but is a true privilege to shepherd you through the good and the bad times. And as I said earlier, this year, I felt shepherded by you. Thank you for visiting and praying for me during my hospital stay!

Vision for 2016

In the first Sunday of this year, I preached a message entitled, “Sent on a Mission in 2016.” In that sermon, we went back to the Great Commission to remind ourselves what we are all about as a church.

Even though it’s a new year, nothing has really changed. Our message and our mission stay the same. Our message is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ to the glory of God.

Whether we are reaching out to our community through a big event such as our Wild Game Dinner, Family Bible Week, or Good News Cruise, sending folks on a mission trip, such as John Forcey and Roper Houston headed back to Oaxaca, Mexico in February, packing our teens off to the EFCA’s Challenge Conference in Louisville for discipleship training and learning to “Live Sent,” or simply continuing our many week-to-week ministries in a faithful way, everything we do in 2016 needs to make sure that our gospel message and disciplemaking mission is kept central.

This year may be easier than 2015 or it may be the same or even harder than last year, but our Lord Jesus promises to be with us every step of the way (Matthew 28:18-20). So, let’s take heart and stay on mission.

In His Grip,
Pastor Matt