I waited patiently for the LORD; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit and set my feet on a rock and gave me a form place to stand.
- Psalm 40: 1-2
As we adjust to a “new normal”, we also begin the process of a new normal for Redeemer. In the next few weeks we’ll be beginning a new adventure of shared ministry with Our Savior, Stanhope. What form this will take and what the particulars will be are yet to be determined. But one thing we can know is that it’s time for another Self-study.
To know where we want to go, and how to get there, we need to begin with where we are and how we got here. Many times the Psalms speak of paths or guiding our footsteps. We might recall Psalm 23’s words about “You lead me in the paths of righteousness for Your name’s sake,” or if you’re a child of the 80’s you might recall Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith’s musical rendition of Psalm 119:105 where we sing, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” In more modern poetry, you may be familiar with the Footprints in the Sand parable. In all these examples, it is God who is setting our feet upon a certain path. Where this path leads we may have only a vague idea, but we trust Him who is leading us.
So how does a congregational self-study fit into all this? Before beginning a journey - or even part way through - it’s good to look at a map, or Waze, Streetwize, or other GPS guidance system. It’s really hard to know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’re starting from. This is the purpose of a congregational self-study, to take a snapshot of where we are at and to look at how we got here. Then we can chart a course for where we want to go, what we need to “pack for the trip”, and what milestones we pass along the way.
The last time we did a self-study was after the retirement of Pastor Diamond in early 2010. Have things changed at Redeemer over the last 10 years? You bet! We are not the same congregation we were 10 years ago. You are not the same as you were 10 years ago. Maybe back in 2010, you weren’t retired yet, or your kids were still at home, or your health was much better than it is now. Perhaps you weren’t even part of Redeemer back then. We’ve all aged and changed in the last decade. For myself, ten years ago I was single (and a single parent), fighting a losing battle against clinical depression, moving to a new city, and starting a new call.
The same changes affect us as a congregation. We have grown older and our energy level is reduced. It takes longer to get going in the morning, and we don’t want to drive at night. Most of us are now on fixed incomes and struggling with rising expenses. Our health and vitality may be diminished both as individuals and collectively as a congregation. We simply cannot do what we did a decade ago.
In the last 10 years, I have done 6 weddings (not including my own), 4 or 8 baptisms (4 for preschool families who are not active members), confirmed 23 catechumens (of whom 2 are still active), received 8 transfers in or professions of faith, signed 23 transfers out, and officiated 42 funerals (7 of which were for family members of Redeemer members or other non-members). As many as have passed away have also moved away, some to be with family within NJ, but most out of state. Some others have simply stopped attending or transferred to other local churches. We are not the Redeemer of 2010 anymore - and haven’t been for some time.
So now it’s time to ask, “Who are we?” as a congregation. “What have we got that’s worth holding on to?” and “What are things that are keeping us from reaching our goals?” “What do we have to offer others?” A crucial question might be, “What would motivate someone to become a member here?” In the business world this is known as a SWOT analysis - Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. What do we do well? What could we be doing better? What needs exist in our “target group” (the unchurched around us)? What would we need to overcome to reach them? Once we have the answers to these questions, then we can start to walk down this new path. If we skip this step we’ll be walking in the dark and it will be as “blind guides leading the blind” (Mt. 15:14).
This is also a critical step before joining together (even temporarily) with another congregation. What strengths might we have that can benefit another congregation? What strengths does the other congregation have that can support our weaknesses? Are we starting from a similar place and walking to the same goal? Without a self study there’s no way of knowing if the two congregations are even able to work together - but more on that next week. Doing a self study is usually the first step in the call process and is done within weeks of a vacancy. While Redeemer is not vacant - at least not yet - it is still a good exercise to go through as we prepare for the next chapter of Redeemer’s story.
It is my hope that the Redeemer leadership will be starting this soon. When the time comes, please give us your input. We don’t know if this will be by congregational mailings, phone interviews, or surveymonkey.com or some other method. We will need everyone’s response and thoughts on these matters so we can plan appropriately for our future together. If you’d like to help out with this, just drop pastor a line or speak to any member of our ministry board. I’m hopeful this can be completed on or before Reformation Day, but we’ll see how it goes.
Until next week, stay safe. Join us on Facebook Live Wednesday nights, worship with us either in person or via Zoom Sundays at 10:00, and keep an eye and an ear open for further updates. God’s peace be with you all.
- Pastor Brian
Pastor Brian Handrich graduated from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis in 1997. He first served a dual parish in northeast Nebraska before coming to Flemington, New Jersey in 2002.