Dear Walnut Street Member,
This is Resurrection Sunday! Up from the grave He arose! And I pray that this Easter will be a glorious day for you and your family and friends. As each of you are aware by now, next Sunday, May 1, we will have a congregational vote regarding the recommendation set from our Great Commission Task Force . The specific recommendations are available elsewhere and on the web, so I will not rehash those initiatives in this letter.
Instead, I will attempt to briefly present my thoughts and try to tell you how this now lengthy process began. I go back to November of 2009…it was obvious to me that what we were doing as a church, and how we were doing what we were doing, was not working as it should. That reality was (and remains today) that we were in a steady decline.
In January of 2010, I prayerfully, before God, came to the conclusion that He wanted me to invest the next two years of my leadership life to lead us through a critical examination of reality and come up with a plan that would prepare us for more effective kingdom impact in the years to come. In so doing, I would lay my leadership life on the line here at this church. Soon thereafter I appointed our Great Commission Task Force. Three months later we engaged Lifeway Consulting to assist us in this process.
The Task Force is made up of a representative cross section of Walnut Street members, many who have been in the church for years, some more than 70 years! The cumulative Walnut Street tenure of the Task Force is 801 years. The collective wisdom of this group is great and the Task Force is not a group of newbies, but is made up of those who have been deeply committed to God’s work through the ministries of Walnut Street for a long time. There was another qualification for those asked to serve: Each individual had to currently be supporting the church financially. No one who was not supporting the church with a tithe was asked to serve. The reason is biblical: one cannot withhold from the storehouse and be right with God. That’s not my word, that’s the Word. To withhold gifts from the storehouse is to rob God, not the pastor.
The Task Force met more times than we could count. The Task Force was prayed for more hours than could be counted. The Task Force retreated overnight in an effort to begin to distill the findings and thoughts down to a manageable plan. The recommendation set is the result. Two weeks ago, after multiple meetings and discussions, our deacons unanimously approved the report and recommendation set.
Next Sunday is the day when you will vote either yes or no in support of this initiative. I believe that the vote marks the most significant statement the church will have made in about 45 years or so. As you vote, please be aware that you are, to a great degree, voting on the future of this church for the next ten to twenty years. This is that important.
Several thoughts I want to convey in this letter. First, I believe that the Bible teaches that God gave vision and direction to those He called to lead. I believe that the pattern continues today. I believe God still gives vision to those he calls to lead. I know some of you reading this either don’t agree or that this makes you very nervous. However, I have preached this from the Word often enough that you know my thoughts on this and you know the biblical pattern, even if you don’t like it. And some of you don’t like it. And for you, you have said that much of this recommendation is about a “power play on the part of the pastor.” There is nothing under heaven that could be further from the truth.
The truth is, and God himself knows my heart on this…that if we approve and implement the plan that over the next few years there will be less of me and not more of me. There will be less of me and more of you involved in doing the work that God calls us to be about, the ministries that He entrusts to us. Less of me and more of you who desire to be about the mission and ministry of our Lord. As David Platt’s new book is titled…Radical Together: Unleashing the People of God for the Purpose of God. Unleashing you the people of God for the purpose of God. That is what the Task Force plan is about.
You can choose to believe otherwise. But the Lord knows my heart and He knows that this is not about me. This entire effort is a strategy for less of me and more of others. We need to, strategically, move in the direction of my stepping down over the coming years.
I don’t want to do less; I want to do less of what I now do, in the best interest of the church. I want to administrate less and pastor more. I want to be there more often when I am needed and be present less often in the endless meetings that are the way we “do church” at Walnut Street. I want to intentionally, strategically, preach less and share the platform more with a younger leadership team. Less of me, more of others. NOT working less, but working toward a finish line in the next few years. I plead with you to trust my heart here, that I do not want more control.
We must also deal with the reality that the way we make decisions is very, very cumbersome. The plan addresses the findings of Lifeway and their recommendation that we need to take a hard look at the process we follow in making decisions.
Most of you also know by now that our Finance team is working with our personnel committee and Task Force Leadership Group to figure out how to downsize the staff in an effort to reduce our payroll costs and reallocate resources that will lead to more kingdom impact. This is a painful process. Painful because we are dealing with people we love and care about. There is no easy way to accomplish this, but note that ministries and churches of every size and kind are dealing with similar restructuring and reorganization.
If we choose to support this plan, I see a brilliant future with regard to kingdom impact for this church. I see a neighborhood transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, with Christ-centered storefronts. I see a Walnut Street Academy that strategically seeks to disciple kids in Christ, that doesn’t simply entertain. Our mission is to make disciples! I see a hugely expanded CSM, where people don’t stand in the weather for help but stand (or sit) inside. A CSM that has much more neighborhood impact than it does now. A CSM that seeks to change lives through Christ…remember, we’re to be about making disciples!
I see missional efforts and effectiveness from our neighborhood to the ends of the earth, with more and more of our people involved in hands on mission work here and afar. More people, more opportunities. I see a church in which every one of us sees clearly that we are missionaries and that God’s plan for each of our lives is missional. That this is not about us, not about our comfort. Not about what the church has done for us lately, but how have we been involved in the work of the kingdom lately.
There are those of us who believe that most of our efforts should be here at home. I understand the comments and thoughts. The only problem is that such thinking is in conflict with the Word of God. He gives us the mission to which He has called us and it begins here, it doesn’t end here. Our mission extends from here to the nations.
Finally, am I 100% sure? Can I give a guarantee that if we do this our kingdom impact will expand dramatically? No, I am not sure. Nor can I offer guarantees. But I do believe that the collective wisdom of those who have been involved in the process is great. I believe that they have the best interest of the church at heart, and that their conclusions are of God. Furthermore, I believe if we do not do this, we are in for more years of significant decline, clinging to “our way of doing things at Walnut Street.”
Church, we have a choice. It is no longer up to me, nor the Task Force. It is up to you, the people of Walnut Street. What’s at stake here? The very life and future of this church. I believe that this is a life or death decision. We are currently dying. Note that I said, the life of THIS church, not the life of THE Church. THE Church is alive and well and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. But while Christ’s church is alive and well, there are churches that are dying by the thousands because of their refusal to change. If we don’t do this if we don’t change the way we do things, God will bring someone else to the neighborhood who will get His work done…in fact, isn’t He already doing so?
We have also discussed the lostness of the young generation, 85% of whom do not have a relationship with Christ. The decision we make next Sunday will impact the extent to which we play a part in God’s plan to reach this lost generation. If we choose to continue to do church as we currently do church, we will play little part in God’s plan to move among the young people of this nation. It should be obvious to all of us that this younger generation is choosing to stay away from churches like Walnut Street. God has given us a responsibility to pass on to the young what He has given to us and done for us. He will hold us accountable for this responsibility.
God is giving us a chance. It’s up to us, but more than that, it is up to you. As your pastor, I urge you to agonize on your knees and give prayerful consideration to voting in the affirmative.
Whether you agree with me or not on these matters, I love you. I am thankful to be your pastor. That said, God does not allow me to be silent or neutral on this plan. That is not what God-called leaders are called to be or do. We are charged to lead and sometimes that means taking a stand regardless of the popularity of that stand. To be sure, I have a responsibility to each of you, but my higher responsibility is to be faithful to God himself and His call upon my life.
Thus it is my prayer that we will resoundingly, clearly, strongly approve the work of the Task Force and that God would be glorified in ways beyond our comprehension in the years ahead through His work through Walnut Street. And remember, this is about God’s glory, not Walnut Street’s. He hungers for His own glory, not ours. It is my sincere prayer that the Spirit of God will so work in every heart that we will so overwhelmingly approve this plan that we will have a great sense of excitement as we press on in the months ahead.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen! –Eph 3:20-21
See you expectantly next Sunday with a Bible in your hand and the love of Christ in your heart!
Thankful to be your pastor,
Seeking to serve Christ,