Looking Back, Looking Ahead

The notion of “plateaus” in life came up in some of the story-telling that took place in our 2015 Summer Small Groups – those moments in life when we can look back and see how far we’ve come and at the same time can look ahead and see how much farther we have to go. Plateaus might not seem very exciting, but for the moment, we have a chance to stop and reflect on both what’s behind and what’s ahead.

In church work, January always seems to be one of those times—we’ve just come off the “peak” of Advent season and are beginning to look ahead to Lent, Easter, and the rest of the church year. It’s a time that gives us a little breathing room to thank God for the previous year and begin anticipating what’s next. I wanted to share some of my own January reflections with you and encourage you to add your own in the comments below!

Looking Back (2015)

This was our first year as a fellowship without either of our founding pastors on staff, following Ron’s retirement at the end of 2014. We labeled the year a “transition year” (a phrase that many people were glad to let go of!) and talked about various aspects of our past, present, and future, seeking ideas for how those experiences will continue to inform our life together.

We also had a lot of fun as a fellowship 2015! From our Donate and Dine and Auction of Services events, to our worship service out at Lake of the Woods and our trip to Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch, we did a lot of eating, laughing, and playing as a family.

Our Summer Small Groups (which we loosely based on an exercise from Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak) were a huge success. We shared stories from our life that reflect who God created us to be, reflected on those stories, and crafted “life sentences” to help guide us in future decisions. The experience of sharing our stories gave us an opportunity to know each other in greater depth—even people we sit next to every week and thought we knew.

I also had the privilege of joining our Youth Group (and Renee) on their annual summer trip, which took us to Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas. We spent the week learning about food sustainability and availability, becoming strangely obsessed with Barbara Bush (that’s a long story), and somehow surviving the Global Village experience (not to mention the long car rides!).

Planning and giving teachings are both always highlights for me, and I sincerely enjoyed studying and working through 1 Corinthians as a congregation—it led to a number of great conversations, challenges and insights I wasn’t even expecting.

The Leadership Team commissioned a Listening Team (as they had done in 2010), who did everything they could to meet with each member of the congregation. The goal was to hear about what aspects of NCF are exciting to each us, how we see God at work, how we want to join that work, and so on. One of the significant results of their report was the formation of a Staffing Committee that is helping us assess our needs as a congregation and how best to meet those.

I had another great privilege in 2015 of joining our Missions, Mercy, and Justice Committee at the annual Christian Community Development Association conference in Memphis Tennessee. I now understand why it is such a highly anticipated event each year! Like most conferences, it was the mental equivalent of drinking from a firehose. We’re all still working through what we learned, but I have no doubt there will be many benefits for our whole fellowship and our mercy and justice work in the community.

We capped off the year with another beautiful Advent season, thanks especially to the work of Barb Linder and Renee Antrosio. This year’s theme focused on the Advent narrative’s various exhortations not to fear, which we explored together through various images, songs, and teachings. We also raised funds to help address the Syrian Refugee Crisis through the work of Bridges of Peace International, as a tangible way of bringing God’s Kingdom to earth.

Looking Ahead (2016)

I know we’re almost a month into the year already, but we’re just getting started in so many ways. This is our 40th (official) year as a fellowship, so our year began with some reflections on the number 40, a number in Scripture often associated with the kinds of changes we’re experiencing. Now we’ve just started a new teaching series on the Gospel of John that I’m very excited about—we’ll have a great rotation of teachers to guide us through this book.

Scot McKnight will be coming to NCF to speak again in March (Saturday the 12th and Sunday the 13th) on one of his newer books, A Fellowship of Differents. This should be a wonderful, thought-provoking weekend together as we ponder what the church is supposed to be. (I’m especially excited because it was Scot McKnight’s first visit to speak at NCF, about three-and-a-half years ago, that first brought me to NCF!)

This year we’ll continue our longstanding tradition of our Donate and Dine and Auction of Services events, both of which provide opportunities to build connections within our community in unique ways. I hope everyone can both give and receive in some form this year, because both experiences are consistently rewarding!

This spring, we will go through the process of replacing three of our current longer-serving Leadership Team members—Walt Kelly, Elizabeth Rieke, and Jason Berg—all of whom have given considerable time and energy in leading our community. Please begin praying now for this process and for the new leaders who will begin serving our fellowship!

Our Staffing Committee (which I mentioned above) will make recommendations that will (hopefully) lead to the hiring of a new pastoral staff person to come work alongside me in serving our fellowship. Please continue to pray for the committee and for those they will be interviewing.

In 2016 we will also have a unique opportunity to rethink how to best steward the gift of the building that we’ve now occupied for 25 years. Daily Bread Soup Kitchen will likely be moving into their own space at some point this year, and we want to maintain our commitment to offering our space as a resource not only for our fellowship, but for our surrounding community.

And who knows what else? One of the things I am learning to love is how often God works in surprising, unexpected, and wonderful ways…

That’s why we live with such good cheer. You won’t see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet! Cramped conditions here don’t get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead. It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going. Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we’ll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming. But neither exile nor homecoming is the main thing. Cheerfully pleasing God is the main thing, and that’s what we aim to do, regardless of our conditions. (2 Corinthians 5:6-9, The Message)

How about you? What’s behind you? What’s ahead?

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