Friday, January 24, 2020

My 2020 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: 2019

Dear Church Family,

It is a high privilege and a great joy to be your pastor. As I look back over the ministry we have shared these last twelve months, I am filled with gratitude to be called to shepherd this flock, walking alongside and working with you to glorify God by bringing people into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ. We are engaged in a good work, and we can be confident that the Lord “will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

If I had to pick one word to summarize our ministry together in 2019, I would choose the word “faithful.” Last year at this time, when I outlined my vision in my report, I encouraged us all to simply keep up the good work. I wrote, “Our church is healthy, and it's my goal to keep it that way. We are headed in the right direction, and I want to continue to shepherd us to stay on that faithful path.” I believe that’s exactly what happened in 2019, and I am grateful to the Lord for keeping us focused and on track.

Staying faithful does not mean becoming stagnant or stuck in our ways. Faithfulness actually requires change to meet new challenges as we accomplish our unchanging mission. Read what our leaders have written in the rest of this annual report to get a sense of how we’ve stayed faithful while making necessary modifications.

New in 2019

We saw many new people start attending in 2019. Several fresh families began participating in the life and worship of our church family. Attendance on Sundays increased by 4.5% with an average of 138 people per Sunday which is the highest average in the last 3 years and the first time the average has grown in the last 6 years. The highest attended Sunday (218 people) was December 22, when our Celebration Choir sang their cantata and the children offered a Christmas presentation. The lowest attended Sunday was December 1st (90 people) when there was a bad ice-storm (unless you count January 20th, when we decided to not meet at all because the roads were so bad!).

In 2019, our congregation adopted a new wedding policy that we hope will help us to bless couples who desire to honor the Lord with their marriages. We also designed and ordered some new banners to adorn the auditorium featuring Scripture passages which call our hearts to worship by reminding us who God is and what our purpose should be for gathering in His name.

I believe the most significant change in our worship in 2019 was actually a small, easy-to-make tweak that wasn’t even on my radar at this time last year. In February, we began regularly interviewing people during our worship celebrations about their work. We know that God cares about what we do the rest of the week, and now we have a practical way of highlighting that when we gather to worship Him. We have already heard from, among others, a farmer, an insurance agent, a retired teacher, a stay-at-home mom, a corrections officer, an administrative assistant, building contractors, business data professionals, hospital and home-health nurses, a cosmetologist, a highschool student, and a dental hygienist. We ask each of them the same 3 questions:

(1) What do you do and what will you be doing at work this week?
(2) What are joys and challenges in your work right now?
(3) How can we pray for you as you do your work as unto the Lord this coming week?

And then we pray for them and for all of us to envision our daily work as daily worship. I believe this new practice has pulled us together in fellowship as a worshiping community and also helped us to stay faithful as a church family, not just when we are gathered on a Sunday morning, but when we are scattered throughout the community the other six days of the week.

2019 Leaders & Prayer

I’m thankful for our 2019 Elder Team–Bob Gisewhite, Cody Crumrine, Keith Folmar, John Forcey, Joel Michaels, and Jeff Schiefer. Their faithfulness is a big reason why we have been able to stay faithful as a church this year. I appreciate all of the time, energy, and wisdom they invest in decision-making, direction-setting, people-shepherding, and especially for me, accountability-providing.

The same is true for our other church leaders and our faithful church staff, Marilynn Kristofits and Cindy Green. I am so grateful for their ministries that bring order out of chaos!

I believe that another big reason we have been able to stay faithful as a church are the faithful prayers of our people. Ministries of prayer such as Prayer Meeting, Harvest Prayer Time, Email Prayer Chain, Pastoral Prayer Team, and (the brand new!) Prayer Box help to keep us all coming before the throne of grace. In 2019, we started a Prayer Corners ministry that moved after-worship prayer support to the front of the auditorium instead of back in the Prayer Room, and more people have taken advantage of it. I am so thankful we have people who live out Romans 12:12, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

Pastoral Ministry

I believe that faithful pastoral ministry involves being steadfast in preaching, equipping, and shepherding.

Preach the Word

We continued to follow Jesus through the Gospel of Matthew for another year, progressing from chapter 13 to chapter 25. Studying for and preaching through Jesus’ eschatological teaching in the Olivet Discourse was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences I’ve had in pastoral ministry. I hope it was as helpful to the church family as it was to me. At the end of the year, there was a wonderful correspondence between what we were learning about how believers have always patiently waited for the coming of the Messiah in His first advent and how we are to expectantly watch for His return at His second advent. Come, Lord Jesus, come!

I also took us on a number of detours from the Gospel of Matthew into the Psalms as they were a special focus of study in my own devotions in 2019. The songbook at the center of our Bibles gives us words to express the deepest feelings of our hearts including unfathomable lament, unshakable faith, and unspeakable joy.

This year I made a commitment to be in the pulpit at LEFC as often as I could be. I felt that it was important this particular year to provide more consistency than ever in the preaching ministry. So, aside from speaking at the Father & Son Canoe Trip at Miracle Mountain Ranch which I attended with a group of dads and lads from our church, I didn’t speak anywhere else on a Sunday morning in 2019. The few times I was out of the pulpit, current or former missionaries that we have supported fed the congregation well from the Word of God: Jeff Powell, Donnie Rosie, Jim Panaggio, Abe Skacel, Henoc Lucien, Alex Ielase, and Kim Cone.

Equip the Saints

A big part of my ministry is working alongside our church leaders to prepare them  “for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:12). If I’m doing my job well, I do not do everyone else’s job. Sometimes that’s hard for me to do because I like getting involved in everything! But our church is at its best when everyone is utilizing their own gifts and serving the whole Body. I have tried to be faithful in 2019 in meeting with leaders, attending ministry meetings, helping to solve problems, and empowering our volunteers to make the decisions they need to keep their ministry faithful and on track.

A huge encouragement to me in the last several years has been to see a new generation of leaders rise up and take more responsibility for the church and its work of making disciples. I’m looking forward to watching them take the lead. I’m looking forward to working with younger leaders and even submitting to and following them as the Lord establishes them in this work.

Thank you for allowing me to remain engaged in an equipping ministry beyond the bounds of our local church. In 2019, I continued to stay very active in our association of churches, the EFCA. I coordinated the book reviews for the EFCA Blog, chaired the Allegheny District Constitutions and Credentials Board, coordinated the district Stay Sharp theology conference, and served on EFCA Spiritual Heritage Committee.

This was a big year for the EFCA both nationally and in our district. In June, at EFCA One, the conference completed a long process and decided together to amend our statement of faith, changing one word in Article 9 describing the return of Christ from “premillennial” to “glorious.” Fifteen years ago, when I first heard about the idea of broadening our eschatological options in the EFCA in this way, I was initially opposed to the idea, but over time I had changed my mind. In May, I published a paper that chronicled the shift in my thinking. I’m thankful to belong to a family of churches that takes orthodox theology so seriously and is able at the same time to differentiate between levels of doctrinal importance and “major on the majors.” I’m grateful for the gospel-centered faithfulness of the EFCA.

In February at the Stay Sharp conference for the Allegheny District, Superintendent Jeff Powell announced his impending retirement and EFCA President Kevin Kompelien outlined a plan for finding his successor. President Kompelien asked me to lead a search team to help him discover the Lord’s will for our next superintendent, and we’ve engaged in a comprehensive process all year long: organizing prayer, surveying the needs of the district, and interviewing qualified candidates. We hope to be able to announce the name of our new superintendent at Stay Sharp in February of this year. Please continue to pray for wisdom as the final decisions are made and thank you for allowing me to take the time out of my regular responsibilities to serve the district in this way.

Because I was so heavily involved in ministry in the EFCA, I didn’t have much time for other outside equipping opportunities, but I did get to teach once at the Miracle Mountain Ranch School of Discipleship and continued to maintain my blog with sermon manuscripts, book reviews, and updates on the progress of Resisting Gossip which also became published as an audiobook in 2019.

Shepherd the Flock

The most precious privilege of my role as pastor is to walk alongside you during some of the most important events of your lives. Thank you for inviting me into your living rooms, dining rooms, and hospital rooms. It is a high honor to sit with you in the stands at a sporting event or stand with you next to a casket. I love being your pastor.

In 2019, I got to pray for blessing on three babies and commission their parents. I had the joyful privileges of baptizing John Walter on Resurrection Sunday, officiating at the weddings of Isaac and Meili Finney as well as Josh and Katie Kerlin, and praying for Hunter and Allana Galley at theirs.

I also had the solemn privilege in 2019 of leading the funerals for Chuck O'Connor, Dorcey Nearhood, Eleanor Evans, Mary Shimmel, Emilee Burtop, Nancy Moskol, Roger English, Gary Johnson, and Norean Nearhood. “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).

I also want to thank you for walking alongside me and my family. We feel blessed to be a part of this church family and so appreciate your love and support. This year was a big year for us as our daughter, Robin, “left the nest” and moved to the Pacific Northwest. We excited for her as she explores new opportunities but miss her dearly. We still have the boys at home, but it’s just a short matter of time before our life changes even more dramatically. Thank you for your prayers for us!

2020 Vision 

As we step together into a new decade of shared ministry, I’m tempted to just say again that my vision for 2020 is to “keep it up.” Simply staying faithful is a good goal for us because I do believe we are on the right track. But I also think there is an area of ministry that needs more attention for us to stay faithful and balanced, and that is bold evangelism–daring to share the gospel of Jesus with others.

Evangelism is one of those things that doesn’t do itself. Christians and churches can often find themselves worshiping, instructing, fellowshipping, and serving almost on autopilot. But rare are the Christians and churches where boldly telling unbelievers about their need for Jesus happens automatically. We need reminded. We need trained. We need motivated. Frankly, most of us need prodded.

So I hope we can heat up our evangelism quotient in 2020. We need to find ways of keeping our gospel mission in front of us. We will continue to do large scale evangelistic events like the Wild Game Dinner, Family Bible Week, and the Good News Cruise. And we will continue to share the gospel with unbelievers who come on a Sunday morning. But we all (me included!) need to also step up our game in boldly witnessing one-on-one with friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family.

When was the last time you personally talked with someone about their need for Jesus? Are you ready to have that conversation when the opportunity presents itself? What can we do to get ready and even to step out there and say something?

What can we do to stay focused on bold evangelism? This is an election year in our nation, and the competition for our attention and focus will be fierce. Years ago, I heard George Sweeting, the Chancellor of Moody Bible Institute, say, “The main thing is the keep the main thing the main thing.” The main thing is the gospel of Jesus Christ. To faithfully fulfill the great commission and make disciples of all nations, we must boldly tell people the good news about Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20)! May we keep that emphasis central to our 2020 vision! And may the Lord bless that boldness with resulting fruit.

In His Grip,
Pastor Matt