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Saturday, January 27, 2018

My 2018 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: 2017

Dear Church Family,

Believe it or not, this is my twentieth annual pastoral report! What an awesome privilege it has been to be your shepherd for these last two decades. In 1998, I could hardly have imagined what the Lord would do in us and through us together. It is a great joy to be your pastor!

If I had to sum up 2017 in one word, it would be “historical.” All year long, we celebrated our 125th anniversary as a church family. Not only did we share birthday cake in February (festooned with the anniversary logo created by Ben and Jeff Schiefer!), we had a special weekend event in October where we gathered to rejoice and give thanks for God’s faithfulness to us for one hundred and twenty-five years.

At that event, our Celebration Choir sang a song about God’s love for us in Swedish, the original language of our church. We ate Swedish foods and reminisced with old friends. Then we had a wonderful program of “Memories and Milestones” where numerous people gave testimony to God’s work through the successive decades of our church’s story. Lita Houston, our church historian, presented an updated written history of the church, adding in a chronicle of the twenty five years since our centennial celebration. I’m very thankful for Lita and her team, for their good work of preserving and celebrating our rich history. That Sunday, we also were challenged and encouraged by a biblical message from EFCA President Kevin Kompelien. I am so glad that he and Becky were able to visit with us.

In my last report I said, “The best way to honor those on whose shoulders we stand is to recommit to the fundamental values that have formed and shaped us as a church for a century and a quarter. I call those values our ‘Gospel Roots.’” Each month, I preached a sermon in a recurring series that revisited our spiritual DNA.

Here’s a list of those special messages:

01. Jesus Christ and Him Crucified (The Gospel in the Person and Work of Christ)
02. Sing!  (Worship in Song)
03. Lost and Found (Evangelism)
04. The Church That Prays Together (Corporate Prayer)
05. Where Stands It Written? (The Authority of God’s Word)
06. The People On Your Fridge (Global Missions)
07. I'm So Glad I'm A Part (Loving Each Other in Biblical Community)
08. Not In Vain (Faithful Service)
09. It’s Our (Other) Middle Name! (Congregational Government)
10. Here We Stand (Reformation Sunday)
11. Steadfast (Trusting God Through Hard Times)
12. Ready and Waiting (Hoping in the Return of Christ)

I’m sure that we have not always lived out these values perfectly, but I believe that they accurately describe the church we have aspired to be since 1892.

The other major historical milestone of 2017 was the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. To mark that momentous occasion, I preached another major sermon series, this time, on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, a work about the truth of the gospel that had inspired Martin Luther and the other Reformers in the 16th century. We know that on the basis of the Scriptures alone we take our stand on a wonderful gospel of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone. We have a wonderful gospel inheritance.

Of course, not everything in 2017 was “historical.” We were busy living out our aspirational values, not just celebrating them! You can read the other reports in these pages to get a bit of the story of the major happenings this year in worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service. I’m especially pleased that we began supporting two new missionary units–Tobi and Abe & Jordyn. It’s wonderful to witness young people embrace the Great Commission, and I look forward to seeing what God will do through our partnerships with them.

Speaking of young adults, it was great to have Nathan Kristofits serve as our summer Ministry Intern working with the youth ministry, helping at Family Bible Week, and cataloging our entire church library online. Matt Modzel and Nathan also started a young adults Link Group that continues into 2018. Abe & Jordyn Skacel and Matt Modzel were received into membership this year. I’m encouraged to see what the Lord is doing among the younger people in our church family!

God is not just at work among the young people, however! I am so thankful for all of the hardworking volunteers, leaders, church officers, and ministry staff we have at LEFC. I’m particularly thankful for Marilynn Kristofits’ ministry of keeping us all connected and pointed in the same direction and for the 2017 Elder Team–Bob Gisewhite, Cody Crumrine, Keith Folmar, Curtis Quick, and Jeff Schiefer. A lot goes into being a church elder, and it’s often very difficult. I’m thankful for their wisdom, unity, and love for the Lord and for our church family.

I’m also thankful for all of the prayer warriors at Lanse Free Church. Some gather on Wednesday nights, some meet monthly at the Harvest Prayer Time, and many more keep up and stay involved through prayer emails. I’m especially grateful for the Pastoral Prayer Team who regularly intercede for me, my family, and my ministry. The Lord loves to answer the prayers of His people!

Despite having several new families begin worshiping with us in 2017, our average attendance at Sunday worship dropped to 135 people (down from 139 the previous year). The highest attended service was Resurrection Sunday with 237 people gathered to worship our Risen Lord. The lowest attended Sunday was a bitterly cold January 1st with only 88 folks present.

Pastoral Ministry

I like to sum up my ministry in three main areas–preaching, equipping, and shepherding. Here are some of the highlights from 2017:

Preach the Word

In addition to the “Gospel Roots” and Galatians sermons I mentioned above, I also completed our 30 message series on “The King of Kings in the Books of Kings,” preached a short series on Psalm 22 during the Easter season, spoke on the Kingdom of God to put a cap on Family Bible Week, and finished the year by jumping into the Gospel of Matthew.

Aside from Sundays at LEFC, I also got to speak to the West Branch Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a West Branch Ministerium Lenten Service, the West Branch Lenten Luncheon group, the residents at Windy Hill Village, the students at the Miracle Mountain Ranch School of Discipleship, our MOPS group, and to the Deep & Wide Conference at Faith Evangelical Free Church in Deep Creek, Maryland.

I love that when I’m out of the pulpit we have good men to fill it, especially our own guys. In 2017, our own Dave Catanzaro, Cody Crumrine, and Joel Michaels brought the Word to us. We also heard strong messages from visiting pastors and missionaries including Zeke Pipher, Darko Vika, Daniel Stanley, Kevin Kompelien, and Rich Hoyt.

Equip the Saints

A less visible but just as important job I have is meeting with church leaders to help them accomplish their ministries. I go to meetings, send lots of emails, and try to make sure that all of our people and programs are fully resourced and equipped.

In 2017, I completed a spiritual leadership training with my third cohort of church leaders, learning together about sound doctrine and biblical counseling principles. Over the summer, I met with our ministry intern and another young man for weekly discipleship. I also helped Dave, Cody, and Joel prepare for their sermons.

I continue to have an equipping ministry beyond our local church, as well. In 2017, I remained the chairman of the Allegheny District Constitutions and Credentials Board, directed the district Stay Sharp theology conference, and served nationally on the EFCA Spiritual Heritage Committee. I continued as the book review coordinator for EFCA Now and also got to publish an interview with Jared Alcántara, a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School who spoke at EFCA One.

I even get to equip people in languages I don’t speak! In 2017, my book, Resisting Gossip, was released in its sixth international version. It is now available in English, Spanish, French, Russian, Korean, and Romanian.

Shepherd the Flock

I love that a big part of my job is simply spending quality time with people whether it’s in homes, in my office, at your workplaces, or at the hospital or nursing home.

In 2017, I was able to spend quality time with nearly every family in the church. I especially enjoyed getting to visit newborns!

In May, I also had the privilege of baptizing Jamie Johnston as she went public with her faith in Jesus Christ. In June, I got to officiate the wedding of Shawn & Skyler Quick. This year, it was also my solemn privilege to lead the funerals of Alexandria Kent, Jerry Smith, Andrew Belko, and David Dobash. It is a special honor be present with you during times both of rejoicing and of mourning (Romans 12:15).

Vision for 2018

Last year, we spent a lot of time looking backward, remembering what God has done and recommitting to our Gospel Roots. In 2018, we need to focus on looking forward, trusting God and fulfilling the mission that He has given us.

I’m glad that we’re in the Gospel of Matthew this year because Matthew is all about  what our church is about–bringing people into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ. In chapter 4, Jesus told his earliest disciples, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (v.19). I think that gives us two big areas to focus our attention on for ministry in 2018:


Our mission is to make disciples (followers) of Jesus Christ. We exist to help each other grow as disciples, to help each other follow Jesus through faith and obedience. All of our ministries have this as our primary goal. We do it through special events such as taking a group to Stay Sharp (February 15-16) or the Challenge Conference (July 1-7). And we do it through our regular day-to-day and week-to-week ministries.

Are you growing as a follower of Christ? Are you helping others to follow Him? In what ways will you be involved in discipleship in 2018?


Our mission is also to make new disciples, to reach people with the good news of Jesus Christ. Our Moody Bible Institute Chorale Concert (March 4), Wild Game Dinner (March 17), and Good News Cruise (August 18) are all aimed at evangelism. Who are you going to invite to those events? Who are you trying to reach for Christ in your own sphere of influence? What part will you play in angling for new believers in 2018?

I look forward to completing my twentieth year as your pastor in June. But I don’t plan to stop or slow down. I intend to face forward and stay faithful in following Jesus and fishing for new disciples for Jesus together with you.

In His Grip,
Pastor Matt