Saturday, January 28, 2023

My 2023 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.

Celebration Sunday 2022

The Annual Pastoral Report
Pastor Matt Mitchell
Year in Review: 2022

Dear Church Family,

I feel incredibly blessed to have served as your pastor now for nearly a quarter of a century. In January of 1998, I first heard about Lanse Evangelical Free Church and your search for your next shepherd and you first learned about me. None of us could have ever guessed what the next twenty five years would have involved! It’s been a joy and a privilege to travel through these many years with you.

We started last year wondering who our next administrative assistant would be, how much covid would continue to disrupt the regular flow of church life, and what children, youth, and adult ministry might look like in a new era. We didn’t know what the future held, but we knew Who held the future and that He is faithful.

A Good Year Indeed

In my last annual report I wrote, “My hope and prayer for the year ahead of us is simply that it will be GOOD.” I laid out three areas where I was hoping that God’s goodness would shine through: good deeds, good news, and good plans. 

I’m pleased to report that 2022 was indeed a good year. It was certainly not as a affected by the presence of covid (though the virus is still with us!). More and more, ministry is more like it used to be–including witnessing indoor baptisms (four!), passing the communion plates (resumed in April), sending a group to an in-person Stay Sharp conference, and finally holding the Wild Game Dinner with Kim Cone which we had to postpone for two whole years!

In His goodness, the Lord provided Misty Michaels as our new Administrative Assistant. After Marilynn Kristofits trained her, Misty took over the church office in March. I am grateful for Misty’s servant attitude and steady ability to keep us all on the same page. Along with Cindy Green as our hard-working custodian, we have a great staff.

The Lord continues to give us good church leaders. I’m grateful to have served with the 2022 Elder Team–Keith Folmar (chairman), Cody Crumrine (vice-chairman), Joel Michaels, and Abraham Skacel–and all of the other elected officers. Read the annual reports in these pages to get a glimpse of how the Lord has blessed all of our ministries in this year and led us in new directions–including some good things we never would had guessed such as the need for and provision of a new boiler system! 

2022 was an especially good year for missions ministry as we had visits from two of our missionary families whom we had not yet met in person–Fred & Cindy Cressman ministering in Malawi and Caleb Lucien who serves in Haiti.

In His goodness, the Lord has grown our fellowship in 2022! Our average attendance on Sundays grew 11.4% to 127 people per Sunday (4% more than the average in the second half of 2021 when we were able to return to having only one worship time). It seems that more people are becoming more regular in their attendance, though we still seem to have a different group from week to week. Our church family is much bigger than it may seem on any given Sunday! The lowest attended worship gathering was June 26th with 82 people. The highest attended was Resurrection Sunday with 204 people counted.

Perhaps a better way of recognizing the growth is to learn that we had to find mailboxes for 7 more families in October! And while we had 7 members depart or die, we also added 9 new members–Emigh Modzel, Peter Mitchell, Randy & Vicky Albert, Brady & Bethann English, Trey & Jenni English, and Judy Owens. We have much to celebrate.

This year we celebrated our 130th anniversary as a church. We had birthday cake on the actual anniversary Sunday in February and also set aside a special weekend in October to mark the big milestone. Greg Strand came from the EFCA National Office to preach God’s Word and to teach a short seminar on theology and church history, and we had greetings from both EFCA President Kevin Kompelien (via video) and our Allegheny District Superintendent Kerry Doyal (see his letter elsewhere in this report). The Lord has been good to us.

Pastoral Ministry 

Twenty-five years ago, when I came to be the candidate for your next pastor, I taught a Sunday School class on what a pastor does according to the Bible, and I focused the class on the three main areas of ministry which I still utilize today.

Preach the Word - 2 Timothy 4:2

As your pastor for the last twenty-five years, I have had the great privilege of studying God’s Word in-depth each week to share it with you in-depth on Sunday mornings.

In 2022, we completed our second major trek through Peter’s first letter (the last time was 20 year earlier in 2001-02!), punctuating the truth that we are not home yet. We are foreigners and exiles in this world living here as citizens of the world to come. When we finished 1 Peter, we concentrated on the Cross and the Empty Tomb in John 19 and 20, and then we began, “Uprooted,” an extended sermon series in the Prophecy of Jeremiah. Studying Jeremiah has been engrossing and challenging for me, but it has been good for me, and I believe it is bearing fruit in our hearts and lives.

When I was out of the pulpit, we were ably served by good guest preachers: Donnie Rosie, Kim Cone, Joel Michaels, Fred Cressman, Abraham Skacel, Kerry Doyal, Greg Strand, and Caleb Lucien.

Equip the Saints - Ephesians 4:12

As your pastor for the last twenty-five years, I have had the great responsibility of preparing you to do the work of the ministry. A significant portion of my work week is spent in meetings, on the phone, sending messages, and planning out ministry with our church leaders and helpers.

This year, I had the privilege of directly overseeing the area of children’s ministry and leading the Family Discipleship Vision Team as they developed recommendations and plans for ministry to children, youth, and parents. You can read more about it more fully in the Family Ministries Report elsewhere in this document. This was undoubtably the most consuming aspect of my pastoral work in 2022, but I believe it was a pivotal investment which I hope will yield dividends in the years to come. 

I also enjoyed getting to return to offering training for Elders, and had the privilege  of leading Keith Hurley and Abe Skacel all the way through that training in 2022.

In addition to equipping our local church, you have graciously freed me up to serve other churches in our association and beyond. This year, I continued to lead the Allegheny District Constitutions and Credentials Board, coordinate the book reviews for the EFCA Blog, and participate in the EFCA’s Spiritual Heritage Committee. I also sat on the ordination council for Pastor Matt Brown of First Baptist Church in Clearfield, spoke to the Sons of God Motorcycle Club, and taught at the Miracle Mountain Ranch School of Discipleship.

My book, Resisting Gossip, turned nine years old in September and continues to be used around the country and the world. In March, I was invited to the EFCA Central District Conference to teach on resisting gossip. Also, in an unexpected twist, I was approached by two different missions organizations about translating and publishing a small group discussion guide which I had created to go with Confronting Christianity by Rebecca McLaughlin. I originally wrote the discussion guides for our church’s Link Groups, and now they are also being used in Europe in German and French!

Shepherd the Flock - 1 Peter 5:2

As your pastor for the last twenty-five years, I have had the great privilege of walking alongside you through the joys and sorrows of the Christian life.

Last year, I expressed my frustration at how disconnected I often felt from all of you through 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. Thankfully, I felt much more connected and close to you in 2022. It’s still very challenging to stay current, especially with erratic attendance patterns, work schedules, and the ongoing presence of covid and other illnesses that often keep us apart, but it was much better this year!

In 2022, I got to visit with you in your homes, workplaces, hospital rooms, and in restaurants. I purchased a West Branch season pass to sit with parents and watch their kids playing soccer, volleyball, softball, basketball, baseball, football and other sports. I also enjoyed attending band and choir concerts and watching drama presentations. We have some pretty talented kids in our church family!

Shepherding also means being with the flock when they are hurting. I visited many of you in the hospital or nursing home. In my office, I listened and tried to offer wise counsel as some of you went through hard things or had to make hard decisions. I also had the solemn privilege of walking alongside grieving people. In 2022, I led memorial services or funerals for Shannon Allen, Harry Finkbeiner, Edith Lansberry, Gloria “Jeannie” Walter, Bob Lutz, Jim Evans, and Jeff “Needle” Hummel. And I  ministered to the families of Rosella (Araway) DeyArmin and Dave Wertz when the Lord took them home.

Shepherding also means being with the flock when they are rejoicing. Our whole church celebrated the birth of Wilson in October and the baptisms of Ryen, Jordan, Leo, and Johnathan! 

“The LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” (Psalm 100:5).

A Personal Note

Thank you for praying for and supporting my family for the last twenty-five years. Heather and I had no kids yet when we came in 1998, and now all four of them are all grown and headed in various directions. We are all grateful for your faithful intercession and generous care of the Mitchells for a quarter of a century! 
Thank you, also, for strongly supporting the Allegheny District and providing for my pastor. Kerry is a good shepherd and a constant source of encouragement and wise counsel. Pastors need pastors too, and I have one of the best.

I am tremendously grateful for your decision to grant me a three month sabbatical this spring and summer. Heather and I are looking forward to traveling to Great Britain to see some things we’ve always longed to see with our eyes, to make some new friends, and to truly rest. I don’t know if I deserve the time off, but I sure feel like I can use it. I am tired. Thank you for the gift of true rest to mark our twenty-fifth anniversary of ministry together as shepherd and flock. Through you, “God's been good, good to my soul!”

2023 Vision - “Plans to Prosper You”

I am praying for the Lord to “shalom” us in 2023. I marvel at the good the Lord has given our church family in the last year, and I long for Him to prosper us more. 

Recently, we have all been memorizing the wonderful promise of Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” We learned that the word rendered “prosper” is the Hebrew word “shalom” which is often translated “peace” but means so much more. “Shalom” means wholeness, completeness, well-being, prosperity. It is a kind of fullness of blessing and comprehensive peacefulness where everything is as it should be.

The LORD promised to restore shalom to His people who were about to go into exile, and He promises ultimate prosperity to all of His people forever (read Revelation 21-22!). I’m praying 2023 is marked more and more by the experience of shalom in our congregation. I am hoping for a year of prosperity, as defined by our Lord.

I think we’re going to be stretched this year. When I’m away on sabbatical, many people–especially the Elders–will have to step in to cover my essential roles. We are going to keep experimenting with new ideas for family ministries. We are still trying to get to know each other again after the disconnection of the pandemic, and we have a lot of new people to deeply enfold into our fellowship. Some of the newer people are stepping up to leadership, and that will mean change, as well. We are gearing up to send a team to Malawi on a missions trip. We are going to reach out through another Wild Game Dinner, Family Bible Week, and Good News Cruise. We are fixing to remodel the men’s restroom and eventually build a pavilion for outdoor fellowship. I’m praying that the Lord, in His wisdom, would prosper all of these efforts.

Prosperity doesn’t always mean financial or physical blessing. The uprooted exiles of Judah did not always see or feel the shalom the LORD was promising while they were stuck in Babylon. We, too, are not home yet. But we can experience overriding and underlying peace in the midst of any situation, assured that the Lord knows His good plans for our future. No harm will ultimately harm us (Psalm 121). That is our sure and certain hope.

As we pass the full 25-year-mile-marker together as pastor and flock, it is important that we do not take our foot off of the gas. While I am looking forward to a brief time of rest, this is not a time to coast, but a time to keep our eyes fixed on the road ahead of us. We are not home yet, but we soon will be.

“May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21 NIV84).

In His Peace-filled Grip,
- Pastor Matt

P.S. I believe Heather and I will experience “shalom” on our “shabbath.” (The word “sabbatical” comes from the Hebrew word that names the day of rest.) Thank you, again, for giving us that time to rest, renew, reflect, and recharge in 2023!