By God’s Grace, St. John Lutheran of Frisco Will Continue To Be Successful
Let me begin by saying thank you for such a warm welcome for me and my family during our transition back to Texas! We are so grateful and blessed to be a part of this congregation. I think we all can agree that we are excited about the next chapter at St. John and want our congregation to continue to be extremely successful. But, to ask a Lutheran question, what does real congregational success mean?
The world defines congregational success by numbers and dollars—filling the pews and coffers. They also might appreciate acts of mercy, like feeding the homeless, but have no appreciation for God’s Word and the forgiveness of sins. But is this the true definition of success according to God in His Word? Of course, we all like it when the chairs are full, but we know this is a wrong understanding of Biblical success. Yes, I’m more than aware of numbers in connection to fiscal sustainability, especially at a mission start. However, if numbers are the definition of success, then Jesus’ earthly ministry was a complete failure when He went to the cross alone. It would also mean that the Mormons and Muslims are more successful than Christians, since they are currently growing faster numerically. But, we know they aren’t doing ‘things’ right and aren’t Biblically successful. Christian success is defined by faithfulness to the Word of God and not numerical success. In fact, numbers should never be our focus, because we have nothing to do with numbers. Let us turn no further than to Acts 2 when the Christian Church was just forming:
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls….47And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (ESV)
Maybe you have heard it rightly said about ‘evangelism’ that what you win people with is what you win them to. Churches that win people with the Gospel of Christ win them to the Gospel of Christ. Churches that win people with entertainment win them to entertainment. If people attend a church because they like the style, people, the good potlucks, or the young pastor, they will be there only as long as they are happy with their friends, the food is tasty, and the pastor’s hair isn’t gray. Once their self chosen needs aren’t met anymore, be it anything from youth programs to social service opportunities, they will leave. I think we have all observed this with those who church hop and shop. People create Christ’s Church into their own image. “Let’s transfer from Apostle Paul’s congregation to St. Timothy’s or St. Titus’ because they have a beautiful building.”They define what a congregation should be doing instead of how Christ defines the mission of His Church. May this description never include us! ***Note of clarification: I’m not saying that our human innovations like VBS and youth programs are wrong; they are fine and I have no problem working toward such things. What I am trying to do is encourage our young and lean congregation with what the Church actually is, believers gathered around Word and Sacraments, so we can rejoice and be encouraged with the true success St. John has experienced since the first sermon was preached and communion served on April 19, 2015–and, by God’s grace, will continue to enjoy as long as the Lord so wills.***
When Jesus spoke to His apostles before His ascension (Matt 28), His instructions were/are to make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching everything that He commands (Word and Sacrament ministry). We are not to subtract, add, or change the means of grace Jesus gives us to gather His harvest. We must resist the temptation towards watering down God’s Word to give itching ears what they want to hear, like churches that stop preaching against certain sins and open their communion rails to be more ‘inclusive.’ We also must resist the temptation for pop-fads in exchange for good traditions that have been handed down to us through the centuries. As noted earlier, we observe a good example to follow in Acts when the apostles are baptizing and teaching ten days later at Pentecost (read Peter’s sermon; he pulls no punches): So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. This is how Christ grows His Church, through Word and Sacrament only. Scripture doesn’t leave this up for debate or invite us to come up with new ways to meet the dying world. The real needs of a fallen world never change. The world needs the Law and Gospel through Word and Sacraments so that they believe and receive the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. This is how the Church is created and sustained until Christ returns for His bride. As we read, And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Notice the emphases on the Lord added. The Lord added. The Holy Spirit creates faith when and where He pleases through Word and Sacrament ministry (AC 5). If numbers are added to a congregation for any other reason, then they have been won with and to something other than the Gospel. Numbers in a pew tells us nothing about true believers in Christ, though they may or may not tell us something about the unfaithfulness of the pastor and congregation As I have mentioned to some of you, we could fill the seats if we offered free lottery tickets and beer every Sunday (some ‘churches’ actually do this).
We, at St. John, have the pure Gospel! That is exciting. We pray that the whole world hears this Good News, especially the unbelievers in our lives! It should be freeing that the Lord has given us everything we need to establish and sustain His harvest—His pure Gospel. He didn’t leave us, but it with us to the Last Day. He didn’t leave us to try to come-up with some new plan to grow His Church like a start-up company, but gave us the tools we need. I get it; it is, apart from the miracle of faith, impossible to trust in the means of grace to get the job done, especially if your eyes seem to tell a different story. It is hard to trust that we will be okay when we preach against sins the world celebrates and we faithfully practice the loving and Biblical doctrine of Closed Communion. For St. John to be successful, we all must first begin by repenting of our lack of trust in the Lord’s Word and receive His forgiveness.
As forgiven saints, I encourage you to keep running the race set before and trust in God’s Word. In light of the Gospel given to us, let us be zealous for God’s Word and pray that others hear It too. Speak the Gospel, as you have opportunities, with those the Lord has placed in your lives. Invite your family and friends to come hear this Gospel preached at St. John through all the channels we have—in person, on the phone, texting, website, Facebook, etc. The Gospel alone is what we, The Church, truly have to offer. No gimmicks. No bait and switch. No vacuum salesman. Simply a wedding banquet invitation to come and taste that Lord is good. The tools the Lord has given us are sufficient and will accomplish His purposes. I encourage you to continue to trust the Lord and His Word when it comes to our congregation and the Church at large, which numerically speaking is shrinking in America (See recent articles from our Synod). I don’t know what tomorrow holds or when the Lord will return, but we know the work He has set before us this day. Hear His Word on Sunday, study It during the week, teach It to your children and grandchildren, pray, and invite and encourage others to do the same.
May we continue to be faithful to the means of grace that Christ gives, and leave the accounting to Him. That is true success. We pray that God’s good and gracious will be done always at St. John. Amen.
 (As an aside: Christianity was illegal until 313 A.D. They often met in rooms in houses, like ours currently at Holiday Inn Expresses. Religious freedom is great, and we give thanks for it. Beautiful church building are great and we give thanks and strive for them. My point is, like in a Mighty Fortress, all these things come and go, but we still have the victory and everything we need—“One little Word can fell him.”)