REACHING PEOPLE WITH GOD’S LOVE
March 11, 1991
Friday morning I did something I had not done since becoming pastor of this church. I took a few minutes and sat on the steps in front of the sanctuary. It was a typical March day in Chicago–clear and cool with just a touch of wind coming from the north. The sun was high overhead and partially obscured by the bell tower just over my shoulder. As I settled in to watch the passing parade, a woman got in a cherry-red minivan and drove down Lake Street. Another car pulled in across the street. A beat-up brown car passed by with an American flag waving from the trunk. Moments later a woman came by with a stroller, then an older woman with a plastic bag that might have been filled with groceries. She was followed quickly by a man in a tan overcoat who looked like he might be meeting someone for lunch. Then another woman passed by–all bundled up–while an older man slowly walked by on the other side of the street.
I decided to try and count how many people were passing by the church each minute. At first it was easy and then a CTA bus came by and I got behind and never caught up. It’s harder than it looks because people walk on both sides of Lake Street and cars go both ways and people are pulling in and out all the time. So I don’t have an exact number, but a lot of people go past Calvary, hundreds every hour and thousands every day.
It is a virtual parade of humanity. In the few minutes I sat on the steps I saw blacks and whites and Hispanics and Asians. There were businessmen and women, lots of older people, folks walking by themselves and children out with their mothers. There were people hurrying off to some appointment and others who didn’t seem to be going anywhere in particular. Some walked with a stoop and others with a resolute, hurried gait.
As I sat there, I watched to see how many of them seemed to notice our church as they passed by. The answer is, not very many. It was Friday and they were busy (most of them), so they weren’t paying much attention to the scenery. But still, they passed by without so much as a glance, almost as if we were just part of the landscape and nothing more. They didn’t look, they didn’t stop, they didn’t seem to know we were here.
Then I happened to glance at the lightpole and I saw the banners still hanging from our 75th Anniversary celebration. Do you know what they say? “Calvary Memorial Church. 75 Years in Oak Park.” And the little tag line–”Since 1915.” I’m sure that’s news to most people who pass by.
But it’s true. We’ve been right here in Oak Park for a long, long time. And so many people still don’t know who we are. They drive on by without a thought. If they see us at all, we’re just another church in a village filled with churches.
How will we reach them, these multitudes who pass us by? What will we say that will cause them to listen? How will we catch the ears, the eyes, the hearts of a generation so busy?
Is this not our greatest challenge?
As I pondered the matter, I thought about the hymn written by Frank North:
Where cross the crowded ways of life, Where sound the cries of race and clan,
Above the noise of selfish strife, We hear Thy voice, O Son of Man!
In haunts of wretchedness and need, On shadowed thresholds dark with fear,
From paths where hide the lures of greed, We catch the vision of Thy tears.
O Master, from the mountainside, Make haste to heal these hearts of pain,
Among these restless throngs abide, O tread the city’s streets again.
That hymn could have been written about Oak Park for this is indeed “where cross the crowded ways of life.” How do you explain what it is like to live here? Was Brian Bill not correct when he said that Oak Park is like Athens in the New Testament? This is a city filled with “unknown gods” just like ancient Athens. In this village you can find every conceivable worldview and philosophy of life. Like Athens, Oak Park is civilized, urbane, cosmopolitan, well-educated, intellectual and refined. Living in Oak Park is like going to a spiritual supermarket. If you search the shelves long enough, you can find whatever you want.
What a challenge and what an opportunity is ours. I cannot imagine a more exciting place to be. Oak Park has a little of everything … and we are right in the middle of Oak Park!
Several months ago I read a fascinating book by Ken Callahan entitled Effective Church Leadership. In it, he argues that America is no longer a churched culture. He points out that Americans no longer flock to church as they did in the 1950s. More than that, our culture no longer looks to the church for community leadership. More than that, we no longer get our values from the church.
Things have changed. In the 1950s, when a new family moved to your block, the natural question was “Where do you go to church?” It was assumed that everyone automatically went somewhere. Callahan says that today the question has become “Where do you work?” A generation ago the values of the church were among the major values of the culture. Not everyone went to church, but everyone agreed that church was important.
But the churched culture of the 50s and 60s is dead. Callahan summarizes the current situation in three statements: 1. The value of the church is not a high value in our culture. 2. People are not seeking out the church on their own. 3. People live as though the church did not matter.
Does that sound harsh? Consider the March 6, 1991 issue of the Wednesday Journal. The Montage section contains a lengthy profile of the “25 Most Influential Oak Parkers.” Not a single pastor or Christian leader is mentioned on the list except for a Catholic priest who is the principal of a high school. But the co-founder of the Oak Park Lesbian and Gay Association did make the list.
That’s the world we’re living in. I’m not complaining because no pastors made the list; I’m just pointing out the fact that here in Oak Park people do not look to the churches for leadership. That would not have been true 30 or 40 years ago. It is abundantly true today.
Things have changed. The world we live in has changed. The Oak Park of yesterday is gone forever. A new Oak Park is emerging, one that will be even more secular and diverse than the Oak Park of today. It will be (among other things) browner and blacker. It will have more single moms and dads, more senior citizens and more two-income families. The Oak Park of the year 2000 will be an even more transient place than it is today as young families move in to take advantage of jobs in the city and then move to the western suburbs after two or three years.
Some things won’t change. Our property taxes will still be high. Our population will still be mostly upper-middle class. Our streets will still be crowded. Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway will still be the local heroes. And Parky’s Hot Dogs will still be the best place to eat because they peel their own potatoes.
But the times are changing. Any church that wishes to survive in Oak Park must change to meet the changing times. At Calvary, we have many options stretching out before us. But one option we do not have is to continue doing business as usual. Nothing would be a quicker recipe for disaster. The methods and programs that worked in the past will not necessarily work in the future.
PURPOSE-BASED AND STRATEGY-DRIVEN
Am I suggesting that we embark on a wholesale program of change, upsetting the potato sack just to see where all the spuds end up? Hardly. A quick look around reveals that we are doing a great many things right. This isn’t a perfect church, but it is a good church and before God we aim to make it even better.
That leads me back to a statement I have made and remade since I got here. To be effective in the 90s, churches must become “purpose-based and strategy-driven.” I owe that phrase to my friend Dennis Baker in California. It means that in everything we do there must be a clearly defined purpose. That is, it is not enough to simply have a pastor, a choir, a staff, a youth ministry and a missions program. We must articulate clearly and precisely what we are doing and why we are doing it. We cannot simply say, “We’ve always had a Wednesday night prayer meeting or we always have our Women’s Retreat in October or we don’t have drama on Sunday morning or we have to have a New Year’s Eve Service because that’s what we’ve always done.” As historical data, those facts are interesting and they must be taken into account in the overall picture. They aren’t unimportant. The way we’ve done things in the past does matter. But in a rapidly-changing world, those kinds of considerations cannot be determinative. In everything, we must ask, “What is our purpose and what is our strategy?” If what we are doing fits our purpose and strategy, well and good. If not, we must have the courage to change.
Such changing may be painful–indeed it almost certainly will be painful–but the alternative is a slow withering away as the church slips into irrelevance. In the end, that is far more painful.
Therefore, I call upon the leaders of all our ministries large and small to make your ministry purpose-based and strategy-driven. I call upon our leaders to ask the hard questions–Why are we doing this? What are we trying to accomplish? Does our current strategy help us or hinder us in reaching our goals?
THE FROG IN THE KETTLE
Along that line let me mention another book that has been very influential in my thinking recently. I am referring to The Frog in the Kettle by George Barna. Mr. Barna is a Christian analyst who specializes in studying trends in America as they affect the evangelical church. Last year he wrote The Frog in the Kettle as a summary of what the next 10 years in America will look like. I found the book so stimulating that I gave copies to all the Board members at the January meeting.
This is the essence of his message:
For the Christian community, the 90s will be a time of unprecedented challenge–and opportunity. While many of the changes that will occur could threaten the stability and capacity of the church to make an impact on our society, other changes are opening the doors for new forms of ministry.
Clearly, the Christian Body cannot hope to have much of an impact if we respond in the same ways we have in the past. These are new challenges, demanding creative, unique responses. These solutions that worked ten or even five years ago will fail in the coming decade. We are being confronted with a new wave of obstacles and opportunities. After careful study of our options, and discerning the mind of God, we must tailor new strategies to address this new environment. (p. 223)
During this decade, ministry will undergo dramatic changes, regardless of our response to our shifting surroundings. The Christian community must develop a new strategic approach for reaching America. We have to start from scratch and create a plan for ministry that acknowledges our new surroundings. (p. 224)
The book is excellent and I recommend it highly. In fact, I doubly recommend that you read it if you are involved in any ministry leadership here at Calvary. A lot of what he says is directly relevant to our situation.
Throughout the book, he mentions many societal trends we will face in the upcoming decade. Let me highlight seven trends that struck me personally.
1. Time will replace money as the currency of choice. People will jealousy guard their time because they will be under so much pressure. That means they won’t come to church events just because we have them on the schedule.
2. Short-Term Commitments will become the norm. Very few Baby Boomers will make a long-term commitment to anything, including the church. Institutional loyalty is going, going, gone.
3. People will hunger as never before for meaningful relationships. They will go to places that give them R & R–Roots and Relationships.
4. America will get older. Already, for the first time in our history, there are more senior citizens than teenagers. More people are growing older and living longer. This offers a tremendous opportunity for ministry to our senior citizens.
5. The Traditional Family Unit is dying in our culture. By that, Barna means the family where the father works, the mothers stays home and raises two or more children and where the husband and wife stay married to each other for a lifetime. That family unit is dying in our culture. To say that is not to approve of the fact. It is simply to make a sociological observation. Certainly we ought to uphold the traditional family concept and to support it and encourage it in every way possible. But we must also realize that the times are rapidly changing outside the four walls of the church. What is the trend of the future? Single parents, foster parents, grandparents raising grandchildren, blended families, two income families, latchkey kids and couples living together. In the future, almost everyone coming into the church will have at least one divorce in their background. As Dr. Dobson has repeatedly said, the family in America in under fierce assault from many directions. Part of our calling in the years ahead will be to help care for the casualities from the warfare raging all around us.
6. America is getting browner. In just a few years the white population of America will be in the minority as the black, Hispanic and Asian population continues to grow. Consider these statistics: In 1970, Oak Park was 2% black; in 1980 we were 10% black; in 1990 we were 20% black; in 1994 we will be 24% and that number may rise to 30% by the year 2000. How will we respond to the changes in our own community? (For a very useful look at this issue, see the article “Integration Not as Easy as Moving In,” USA Today, 3/12/91, pp. A1-2. This front-page article actually mentions Oak Park by name and calls it a “national model of integration.”)
7. People are looking for a place to belong. As society deteriorates, the church must provide more and more morally-acceptable entertainment. The churches that thrive in the 90s will be those that provide a “social center” around which people may build their lives. When we say “Build your life around the church,” people will respond because they have nowhere else to go.
1991-SHORT AND SIMPLE
So what will 1991 look like at Calvary? Let me list the major churchwide tasks that are before us during this year.
1. 1991 is the Year of Our Lord at Calvary. Our primary spiritual goal is to grow into a deeper and more meaningful knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. In order to help us do that, all of the Sunday morning messages for the year will come from the gospels. We are also reading through the gospels together as a church and memorizing a verse from the gospels each week. We believe that getting to know Jesus Christ better is the most important thing we can do in 1991.
2. We want to become more of a Caring Family in 1991. We are focusing on things that will help us grow closer together as a church family. More about that later in this report.
3. We hope to begin our Building Renovation Project. More about that later.
4. We hope to add a Director of Children’s Ministries to our staff. As I write these words, we have well over 30 rÃ©sumÃ©s in hand with more coming in daily. We are asking God to send us someone to do for our children’s ministry what Bob Boerman has done for our youth ministry.
5. We are currently revising our Church Constitution. It’s been almost 15 years since the last major revision of our constitution. In light of the many, many changes in our church since then, we thought it wise to examine our constitution and make changes as needed. The primary change will be to shift from our current Church Board back to a more biblical system of elders, deacons and deaconesses. A very excellent committee worked through most of 1990 to produce a first-draft document. In December, 1990, the Board appointed a sub-committee to study the first draft and, after making any needed revisions, to submit a proposed final draft sometime in 1991. Our current time-line suggests that the Board will have the final draft in hand this summer. If all goes well, the proposed draft will go to the congregation for a series of focus group discussions this fall. A vote to approve the new constitution should come before the end of the year with implementation to begin sometime in 1992.
ANOTHER LOOK AT THE FUTURE
Last year in my State of the Church message I made a great many specific recommendations. Before I go any further, I think it would be helpful to review the past year and see what progress we have made in the areas I mentioned.
1. A Regional Church. I suggested that we begin to think of ourselves more as a regional church and less as a church just for Oak Park and River Forest. Already we are doing that. The recent Midwest Conference on AIDS Ministry (hosted by Calvary) and the upcoming Dave Dravecky outreach are big events that only a regional church would attempt to pull off. I would also put our series of Financial Counseling seminars, the Madrigal Dinners and the “In the Gardens” presentation in that same category. I predict we will do more and more of these first-class, high-visibility big events in the days ahead.
2. Building Renovation. Last year I pointed out that when God moved us to Lake Street he was preparing us for a bigger, bolder, more aggressive ministry. This magnificent building was meant to house a great church. It is a building meant for big dreams, big hopes, big visions and big ideas. It is our primary vehicle to reach this entire region. Therefore, we must pay whatever it costs to maintain this facility.
Since last year a Building Renovation Committee has formed, a survey of the congregation has been completed, and as you heard earlier tonight, we have isolated a first set of projects for renovating the sanctuary. Also, George Ahlenius has completed a basic study of the major infrastructure repairs that need to be made and the Handicapped Accessibility Committee has completed a study for the Board of the structural changes that will make our building accessible to persons with various physical disabilities.
All those studies have been completed and are in hand. The committee is vigorously working to put the whole plan together, and God willing, we will begin work on several major projects in the next few months.
3. Sunday Services. Last year I called for a greater note of celebration on Sunday morning. More joy. More celebration. Make the services easier for new people to understand. Lighten up the music by using praise choruses along with the great hymns.
With the willing cooperation of Terry Strandt, we have made great strides in this area. In the last year we have begun using more choruses and more tastefully-done contemporary music. From time to time we have drama in the morning service. We’re doing more pastoral prayers and we are involving more people from the congregation in various aspects of the service. Last November, we shifted the basic order of worship so that we would begin each service with praise and worship and not with announcements. In general, the announcements have been cut way down and almost everyone agrees that this is a vast improvement.
In addition, we have moved away from a bulletin stuffed with five of six inserts to two separate and distinct pieces: A Worship Folder that contains only the information you need for the worship service and the Calvary Family News which contains all our announcements and news of what’s happening in the church family. In case you don’t know, Joy Trieglaff is in charge of the worship folder, Mia Gale is in charge of the Family News and Dreama Love oversees the whole process each week. All three have done an excellent job.
So, what will you find when you visit one of our worship services? In any one service you may hear a classical prelude, a great hymn by Isaac Watts, a chorus by Twila Paris, a responsive reading of Scripture, a pastoral prayer, a hymn by Fanny Crosby, special music to an accompaniment tape, and you might even hear a Latin piece by our choir or watch a drama by our youth group. Sometimes you may hear or see all of those things in one service. At this point, we are intentionally reaching across the spectrum to minister to the great diversity of people within our church family. If something we do doesn’t “reach” you, please don’t be offended. It probably wasn’t meant for you. If it didn’t minister to you, it did minister to someone sitting in the pew next to you. What helps one person worship may do nothing for another person. That’s a fact of life in a larger church. We recognize that fact and I call on all of us to exercise patience, tolerance and flexibility while we obey the biblical commands to “look not only to your own interests, but also the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4) and to “live in harmony with one another.” (Romans 12:16)
4. Sunday School. Last year I said these words: “As the Sunday School prospers, the church prospers. A strong Sunday School produces a strong church.” I still believe that. In fact I believe it more than ever. Last year I asked the leaders to set a goal of having 12 adult Sunday School classes by the fall of 1990. They took a collective deep breath and then they agreed. Today we have 12 adult classes and the largest Sunday School attendance in the history of the church. I have asked them to grow to 15 classes by this fall and to 35 classes in five years. They have now taken another deep breath and are rising to meet the challenge. Right now our Sunday School averages about 500. If we have 35 classes in 5 years, our attendance will grow to 750 and our worship attendance will go over 1000 every week. I believe those goals are very reachable simply by patiently building the Sunday School program.
5. Missions. Last year I asked the church to make a major commitment to short-term missions service. The response: In 1990 over 50 of our people spent time on the mission field–an all-time high. We sent people to Venezuela, Haiti, Russia, Honduras, Ecuador and Zaire. The results have been electrifying. We have now established long-term relationships with national churches in Haiti and Russia. Pastor Nikolaev from Leningrad has preached here twice. And best of all, many of our younger leaders are catching the vision for world missions. Already in 1991 we have commissioned Beth Tanis as a missionary to Peru and later this year, God willing, we will send Sharon Dix to Nepal. Our Missions Budget this year will reach nearly $200,000. What a blessing it is to pastor a church with a real commitment to world evangelization. I trust the day will come when all our leaders will have spent some time in short-term missions work. Nothing we can do will keep the flame burning brighter than having our own people get hands-on experience around the world. Money spent this way is not an extravagance; it is an investment in our own future.
6. Small Group Ministry. Last year I suggested that we investigate making a major new initiative in the area of small group ministry. I am happy to say that in April six of us will be traveling to Elmbrook Church in Milwaukee for a Small Group Strategy Seminar led by Serendipity Ministry. At that seminar we will be laying the groundwork for a major small group ministry that will begin at Calvary in early 1992. We hope within four years to have at least 50% of our adult congregation involved in a small group experience on a regular basis.
7. Every-Member Ministry. Our goal here is to get every member of the church involved in some kind of active ministry. To that end, in the last year I preached a sermon series on Spiritual Gifts and we made a Spiritual Gifts Inventory available to the congregation. Recently Jack Amidei began compiling the “Lifeline” directory. When it is complete we will have a directory listing hundreds of people in the congregation along with their spiritual gifts, talents, hobbies, and skills.
8. Family Spirit. I’ll say more about this later, but for the moment I should note that strengthening the family spirit at Calvary seems much more important to me this year than it did last year. When people come to church nowadays, they need to be healed and made whole again. That means they need the church to be a substitute family for them. They need a place where they can find brothers and sisters, moms and dads, uncles and aunts, and a whole raft of cousins who will love them just the way they are. People these days don’t care about “religion” or about “joining a church.” They want a family where someone really loves them.
Along that line, I recommended that we institute a Wednesday night family meal in the fall. We haven’t done that yet for several reasons, one of which is that our kitchen was not ready to handle the load. Since then, however, we have completed the installation of a major new dishwasher system and we have purchased new plates and silverware. Someone has offered us a new commercial refrigerator and we hope to have that installed shortly. We still haven’t decided whether or not to offer the Wednesday night meals, but we are closer to being able to do so than we were last year.
9. Shepherding Ministry. When we started the Shepherding Ministry in the spring of 1989, we began with 15 area shepherds and about 1150 people in the system. As of March 5, 1991, those numbers have expanded to 33 shepherding areas (served currently by 28 area shepherds) serving a total of 1491 people. As our church continues to expand in all directions, this ministry (ably led by Cliff Raad) will become even more important.
10. Counseling Ministry. Last year I suggested that we should eventually install a three-tiered counseling ministry at Calvary. Level One is the Shepherding Ministry. Level Two is the Calvary Counseling Corps. Level Three would be a professional counseling center staffed by trained, professional counselors. Bill Miller is in charge of this entire project. Level One is in place and functioning. Level Two is in place and we are now in the second year of our lay counselor training program. In the last year we have formed a steering committee and a strategy for the professional counseling center. God willing, it should be up and operating by the end of the year.
11. Evangelism. Pastor Brian Bill, our Minister of Evangelism and Discipleship, reports that during the last year 279 people were trained to share the gospel. We also began implementing many of the suggestions in his 40-page report on attracting and holding visitors to Calvary. He tells me that we have currently implemented about 2/3rds of those recommendations and we are actively working on the remainder.
These are great days for evangelism. Bob Boerman reports that since January over 30 junior and senior highers have come to Jesus Christ. Last June over 720 saw the “Winners” presentation at the “Day in Our Village” and 30 people submitted cards indicating they were trusting Christ. Almost every week we hear stories of boys and girls coming to Christ through Awana, Sunday School, Boys Brigade, and Pioneer Clubs. We also hear regular reports of people coming to Christ through Crossroads, the Women’s Ministry outreach events and our special musical presentations. Every time we give an invitation on Sunday morning someone responds to the gospel. We are trusting God for an even greater harvest of souls in this year.
12. Prayer Ministry. This is a special burden on my heart. I truly believe that the hymnwriter was correct when he said, “All is vain unless the Spirit of the Holy One comes down.” Without the help of God nothing of eternal importance can be accomplished.
We have taken some small steps in this area. On Christmas Eve we had a very moving communion and family prayer time. Several times the pastoral staff and members of the Board have met to anoint someone with oil and pray for their healing in accordance with James 5:14-16. When the war in the Persian Gulf was about to break out, we had a special Saturday morning prayer meeting and then devoted time during a Sunday night service to prayer. Len Hoppe has enlisted 150 people to pray regularly for the financial needs of the church. We also have a very faithful group of men and women who come out to the Wednesday night prayer meeting.
But as I survey the scene, my heart tells me that we have not done enough in this area. We pray–all of us pray–but are we really a praying church? Are we a congregation noted for our devotion to prayer? Last year I called for the establishment of a Prayer Ministry Task Force. For some reason, that never happened. We have talked about a prayer chain, but we have not done it. We have talked about quarterly days of prayer and nights of prayer. We have talked about encouraging our people to pray by providing prayer journals. But we have not done it.
There is much ground to be gained in this area. We are an active church, we are a growing church, we are an evangelistic church, but are we the praying church God wants us to be? I think the answer is No. Is that perhaps one reason why we have faced financial difficulty for so much of the last year? Would that explain the Satanic opposition we have to some of our ministries?
Two months ago I told the Board that we who serve on the staff feel a desperate need for their prayers. In the last year we have faced such a string of difficulties that it does not seem coincidental at all. We have faced repeated sickness and injury, the threat of lawsuits, unusual difficulty in establishing the work of God, and a whole host of personal challenges that I will not mention here. In saying that, we are not complaining. We rejoice to serve the Lord and the people of this great congregation. This is a wonderful place to be. But we feel the pressure constantly. And we know when people are praying for us and we feel it when they aren’t. As your staff, paid by you to serve you, we beg you for your prayers, we beg you to hold us up before the Lord as never before. As you pray, we are empowered by God and the church goes forward.
Let us resolve that this year we will take the first steps toward establishing a prayer ministry. When we do that, the rest of our work for Jesus will be made infinitely easier.
13. Christian Action. This was a call to become more involved in the great moral and spiritual issues of the day. We have done that in a variety of ways. It was also a call to get more involved in ministries of Compassion. In the last year we have had two wonderful services with the Rock Church. God willing, Pastor Raleigh Washington and I will be having a Sunday Morning Pulpit Exchange in April. Many of our people are involved in prison ministry, Project Angel Tree, Love & Action, Concerned Citizens of Oak Park, Christmas baskets, Inner-City Impact, tutoring at Circle Urban Ministries, working with International Friends and counseling at the Loop Crisis Pregnancy Center. God bless all of you and may your tribe increase.
As I have pondered this matter of community involvement by the people of Calvary, it came to me that I see us beginning to move out in five major directions:
A. INNER-CITY–Through our growing partnership with Circle Urban Ministries and Inner-City Impact.
B. AIDS MINISTRY–Through our partnership with Jeff Collins and Love & Action.
C. CRISIS PREGNANCY CENTER–Through our partnership with the Loop Crisis Pregnancy Center. Incidentally, they have recently approached us about helping to establish a crisis pregnancy center in the Oak Park area. Dreama Love is organizing a task force to help make this a reality.
D. DAYCARE CENTER–See # 14 below.
E. CHRISTIAN SCHOOL SYSTEM–See # 15 below.
All five of these are properly seen as outreach to major sections of our community. They all impact different groups of people. They all provide a needed service that we at Calvary can provide.
Naturally, these five areas do not exhaust the ways we are involved in our community. We work in many other areas and will continue to do so. But God seems to be leading us into these five areas and I think we will be even more involved in them in the years to come.
14. Christian Daycare Center. This is an idea whose time has come. Last summer a task force began exploring the possibility of starting a Daycare Center at Calvary (incidentally, the task force suggests that Childcare Center is a better term) as a means of ministering to the many families in our area who need and would support high-quality Childcare provided from a Christian perspective at a reasonable cost. The task force has done an enormous amount of work. They have talked with the appropriate state licensing agencies, they know what building changes we need to make, they have thoroughly surveyed other day-care options in our area, they have completed a demographic study to show the need, and they have compiled a step-by-step plan for starting a child-care center here at Calvary in 1993. In April they make their formal presentation to the Board and, if it is approved, we will begin to take the first steps later this year.
15. A Christian Day School System. Without a doubt no suggestion of mine has caused as much discussion as this one. I still believe it is a good idea and in fact, I believe in it now more than ever. It’s clear after much thought and discussion that this is such a mammoth project that only God could actually cause it to happen. What I envision is truly beyond our resources, even the resources of a church as strong as Calvary.
My proposal is this: That we consider starting a major new Christian school system for the near-western suburbs of Chicago. Specifically, I propose that we set out a bold plan for a system of four first-class evangelical elementary schools that would feed into an evangelical Christian high school here in Oak Park. Such a system would eventually serve approximately 1000 students.
It would be … Academically excellent; Multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural; Staffed by deeply devoted, highly trained thoroughly Christian teachers; Large enough to provide a wide diversity of courses; Committed to the integration of Christian truth into every area of life; Evangelical through and through.
Let me repeat my suggestion from last year. You begin by establishing the first elementary school in Oak Park. Then you expand south to Berwyn and Cicero, west to Elmhurst and east to Austin (perhaps in the facilities now occupied by Circle Urban Ministries, a building which once housed St. Sienna High School). The key is to establish your elementary school first, and then let them feed into the high school in Oak Park, thus providing a student base large enough for an excellent high school program.
Some of you may not know that last spring we were approached by a Christian school in Chicago that wanted to move their entire operation (K-8) here to Calvary. We had several meetings and we were very interested. But in the end we felt it was premature because we would not have had the time to prepare the building properly, and frankly, I don’t think the congregation was ready for such a big step. But it was exciting to think about.
In the months since then I have come to the conclusion that we can establish a Christian Day School system for the near-western suburbs, but it will require some very creative thinking. The chief hurdle from a human point of view is to find a way to provide an adequate financial base. Obviously starting a school is an expensive proposition and you cannot support the kind of school system I envision on student tuition alone. What we will need to make this happen is a large group of Christian business and professional men and women who believe in this idea and who will give generously to see it come about. We will need some men and women who will believe it in it enough to pledge $5,000 or $10,000 or $25,000 or $50,000 a year. Perhaps as Brian Bill suggested to me, we need to receive a large bequest of $200,000 given specifically for this project.
Meanwhile I have been talking to many people and praying about this dream of mine. I think the next step is to do what we did on the Daycare idea–establish a working task force to thoroughly investigate all the possibilities and suggest ways of making this dream come true.
Some of you may wonder if this is simply too big to even think about. The answer is, Yes of course it is. That’s what makes it exciting. As the saying goes, it doesn’t cost any more to dream big than to dream small. So you might as well dream big and then wait to see what God will do.
OUR MISSION STATEMENT
For some months now the pastoral staff has been hard at work developing a long-range plan for the church. In January we submitted the first draft of a Five-Year Plan to the Board. At the same time we solicited comments from a number of people in the congregation. Tonight I am going to give you the general outline of our thinking about the future. I stress that it is a general outline; many of the details will be filled in later.
We begin with a mission statement that answers the question, What is Calvary Memorial Church all about? Here is our answer. Calvary Memorial Church is an independent, evangelical congregation located in Oak Park, Illinois. We are a community of believers dedicated to fulfilling the Great Commission through worship, discipleship and evangelism.
That’s the first statement. Here’s the second one. We believe God has uniquely situated us in a crucial location so that we might have a regional impact for Jesus Christ. That means our thinking goes beyond the borders of Oak Park and River Forest. We are based here and so far as we know, we will always have our base here. But we believe God is calling us to impact the near-western suburbs of Chicago for Jesus Christ. Last year I suggested that our region is roughly bounded by Park Ridge on the north, Cicero and Berwyn to the south, Austin to the east and Elmhurst to the west. I see nothing to make me change that judgment. If anything, I see more evidence that God is calling us to become a regional church. More and more, people outside Calvary look to us for leadership. We have not sought this, but it has come to us and I believe it is from God. In the days to come even greater opportunities will present themselves to us. I mean by that, big challenges that only an aggressive, forward-looking church would dare to tackle.
Here is a third statement: We desire to be people characterized by Holiness, Compassion and Zeal. How did we come up with those three qualities? Did we just pluck them out of the air? No, not at all. Listen to how we define them. Holiness means pleasing God in everything we do. Compassion means manifesting God’s love in all our relationships. Zeal means being enthusiastic in our efforts to share the gospel with the whole world.
Now take those three words and go back to our Mission Statement: We are a community of believers dedicated to fulfilling the Great Commission through worship, discipleship and evangelism. Here are three simple definitions: Worship is honoring God through praise, prayer and obedience. Discipleship is growing in my relationship with God and other believers. Evangelism is sharing God’s love in word and deed.
Put those things together. Worship leads on to Holiness; Discipleship leads on to Compassion; Evangelism leads on to Zeal. To put it all together, we believe that as we focus on just three things–Worship, Discipleship and Evangelism– those three things will develop in us holiness, compassion and zeal. And, as we become a community of believers characterized by those qualities, we will help fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.
Finally, here is a fourth statement. We want to reach people for Jesus Christ through High-Quality, People-Oriented ministries. That statement tells us how we want to do our work. Here are some definitions: 1. High-Quality ministries are those done with excellence, innovation and integrity. Excellence wins the respect of our community; Innovation puts us on the cutting edge of our generation; integrity guarantees that our work will stand the test of time. 2. People-Centered ministries are those that have as their central focus meeting the real needs of people. In particular, a people-centered ministry is one in which helping people takes precedence over the details of running the program. Since people are more important than programs, if a program does not meet the real needs of people, it will either be restructured so that it does meet needs or it will be stopped altogether.
A KEY STATEMENT
As we thought about it, we wanted to make one simple statement that would summarize what Calvary is all about. Such a statement had to be simple, short and easy-to-remember. After much discussion, we settled on the statement that is printed on the cover of the new worship folder: Reaching People With God’s Love.
We chose that statement because it sets forth an image compatible with our general thrust for the next five years. Reaching implies openness, friendliness, progress, direction, movement toward a goal and a general outward thrust. People suggests that we want to be a family of believers and not a religious institution. It further suggests a “people-orientation” as opposed to a “program-orientation” or a “building-orientation.” God’s love suggests forgiveness, warmth, caring, acceptance, a chance to make a new start. In particular, “God’s love” is a concept that is very appealing to the unchurched. It doesn’t sound churchy or religious or stuffy. It’s what they’ve been looking for.
In short, Reaching People with God’s Love is a kind of “atmospheric slogan” for the church. It sets a very positive atmosphere for all we intend to do in the next five years. In the days to come, you will see that phrase in many places–on stationery, on banners, on T-Shirts, on buttons, and anywhere else we can think to put it. Our hope is that Reaching People with God’s Love will become much more than a motto or slogan. We hope that it becomes a way of life for the people of Calvary.
UPWARD, INWARD, OUTWARD
Taking the whole matter a step further, we suggest that the work of the church can be well-expressed in three key words: Upward, Inward, Outward. It’s easy to see what that means. Upward speaks of our relationship with God; Inward speaks of our relationship to each other; Outward speaks of our relationship to those who are outside the church. All three are biblical and taken together, they sum up the whole work of the church. It is crucial that the church move forward in all three areas all the time.
Furthermore, we suggest taking the word “Reaching” from our motto and placing it before each one of those three words as a description of what the church is all about:
Finally, we suggest fleshing out these three key words with the following words and phrases that suggest how the key words apply to Calvary:
Reaching Upward through Worship, Praise and Prayer
Reaching Inward through Caring Relationships, Accountability and Spiritual Growth
Reaching Outward through Community Service, Evangelism and World Missions
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
A. Our mission statement: We are a community of believers dedicated to fulfilling the Great Commission through worship, discipleship and evangelism.
B. Our Motto: Reaching People With God’s Love.
C. Our Three-fold Thrust–Inward, Upward, Outward
D. What we want to manifest: Holiness, Compassion, Zeal
We are a community of Believers dedicated to … .
Fulfilling the Great Commission
(Reaching People with God’s Love)
Action Focus Result
Worship Upward Holiness.
Discipleship Inward Compassion
Evangelism Outward Zeal
Worship = Honoring God through praise, prayer and obedience.
Discipleship = Growing in my relationship with God and other believers.
Evangelism = Sharing God’s love through word and deed.
A PLAN FOR THE NEXT FIVE YEARS
Having said all that, the question remains, How will we put this in practice at Calvary. To answer that we begin with our basic Upward, Inward, Outward outline. While it is true that the church must move forward in all three areas all the time, we also believe it is wise to emphasize each area in turn. We suggest adopting a plan for Calvary that would emphasize these aspects in a three-year cycle.
As we discussed the matter, we were united in our conviction that the place to begin (i.e., Calvary’s greatest current need) is with the inward look. As growth has occurred over the last 10 years, we have become less like a family and more like a big church. While we anticipate (and want) our growth to continue, we believe that we must take some intentional steps to create a “family spirit” in our church.
This thesis stems from the following societal observations: As we move through the 90s, American society will become more fragmented, more pressured and less cohesive. As families continue to disintegrate the church must become a “caring place” where people can find brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and cousins and uncles and aunts to replace what they have lost in the world.
We believe that as we take intentional steps to become more of a caring family, our church will experience rapid growth as people in the community discover that we are not just a building or an institution, but that we are a family built on God’s love.
With that in mind, let me share a picture of the next five years at Calvary. In doing this, I am going to mention some specific programs and initiatives. The specifics come from the pastoral staff. Let me say right up front that these things are possibilities, ideas and dreams. They do not represent definite, set-in-concrete commitments by the Board of the church. Any one of the specific ideas could be changed, postponed or dropped entirely . Many refinements can and will be added later. But taken together, they do suggest a definite direction.
1991–The Church as a Caring Family
Our focus will be Inward as we stress those factors that will build unity, family spirit and caring relationships. Special attention will be given to all-church fellowship times and to ministries that help people get to know one another. Later in the year the Shepherds will host home-based Fellowship Socials so that our people can meet the other church members who live in their area.
1992–The Church in Worship and Discipleship
Our focus will be Upward as we learn more about the power of worship and praise. We are also committed to beginning a major new small group emphasis in 1992 and to strengthening our Men’s and Women’s Ministries. We are investigating the possibility of beginning a contemporary worship service in the fall of 1992.
1993–The Church Spreading the Gospel
Our focus will be Outward as we concentrate on ways to spread the gospel to our community. We anticipate a major emphasis on target ministries and on short-term mission trips. This would also be the year for us to begin our Childcare Center.
1994–The Church Training Leaders for Tomorrow
Our focus will be Inward as we begin to train the new believers God gives us as a result of our year of outreach. We also want to give special attention to our young people (children and teenagers) who represent Calvary’s leadership for the 21st century. This would be the proper year for us to begin our Christian Day School as a part of our investment in the future. We anticipate that by 1994 our small group ministry will have developed into four branches, one of which will provide advanced ministry training opportunities.
1995–The Church in Praise and Worship
Our focus will be Upward as we gather in the harvest from the last five years. During this year we will highlight our music ministry, our children’s ministry and the CMC prayer ministry. During this year we will celebrate the completion of our building renovation program and rededicate ourselves for the next five years of service for Jesus Christ.
FROM ATHENS TO OAK PARK
A few moments ago I stood at my window to see what was happening on Lake Street. Two guys pulled into our parking lot, got out, looked around to see if anyone saw them, and took off toward downtown Oak Park. A jeep passed by, then a car pulled out of the parking garage across the street, then four cars passed by in quick succession. If you sit and listen, you can hear the cars coming by our church in a never-ending parade.
When the hymnwriter spoke of the “crowded ways of life,” he might have been talking about Oak Park. They come by the hundreds and by the thousands. As we meet tonight, they pass us by. Who are they? Where do they come from and where are they going? Do they even know we are here? If they knew, would it make any difference?
If Oak Park is the Athens of the New Testament, then we are like Paul and his friends who were sent by God to evangelize that beautiful center of cosmopolitan paganism. Our message to Oak Park is the same one Paul gave to Athens- -“the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.” (Acts 17:18)
God has given us the one message that Oak Parkers need to hear–a message that will set them free from the chains of sin. For 76 years this church has proclaimed that message without fear or favor. Now in these last days God has given an unprecedented opportunity.
This is our Day of Visitation. God grant that we might rise up to seize the day for Jesus Christ. Let us do it in his name and in his power. Let us not be turned aside by lesser things and small considerations. Let us do it for the glory of God so that those who pass us by may know beyond any shadow of doubt that the people of God are in this place.