Life Has Been Good

Psalm 127:1

March 27, 1994 | Ray Pritchard

This is the fifth year I have been privileged to give a State of the Church address to Calvary Memorial Church. In my first message I quoted the great Chicago architect Daniel Burnham who said, “Make no small plans. They have no power to stir men’s blood.”

As far as I have been able, I have attempted to follow that advice. From the very first day I set foot in Oak Park, I felt that this was a church with a great possibilities. I still believe that with all my heart.

But I am older now, and wiser, and my enthusiasm is tempered with the years of experience. I have come to appreciate the unique history of this congregation, the record of God’s gracious dealings in the past, the remembrance of 79 years of God’s faithfulness, the awesome privilege that is mine of serving such a great church.

The Bible reminds us that everything we have has been given us by God as a gift of his grace. From the very beginning our founders understood that “unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” (Psalm 127:1) They knew that the Lord Jesus is the Head of the church, and that any growth, any blessing, any advance in holiness, any expansion of our ministry must ultimately come from him.

I am the 12th pastor of this church. Every man who came before me has made his contribution. I will make mine and then pass off the scene, to be replaced by someone who will serve the Lord in his own way. Pastors come and go but the church goes on because the Lord of the church is alive and well.

Often I have stood in front of the time-line in the Dining Room and pondered how the history of this congregation parallels this amazing century. When our founders first met in February 1915, Woodrow Wilson was in the White House, World War I was in full swing, and Ernest Hemingway was a sophomore at Oak Park High School. That same month publisher Simon Brentano died. The next month Nat King Cole was born.

Swimming Upstream

This is March 27, 1994. Exactly 79 years ago today a small group of people held their sixth meeting in Oak Park to consider founding a new church. On this date, they officially adopted our first Statement of Faith based on the Niagara Bible Conference doctrinal statement.

That fact is significant because it reminds us that Calvary has always been a Bible-based church. From the beginning we were a church that was “swimming upstream,” so to speak. As I read those yellowing pages from the early days, it seems to me that they testify to a jaunty self-confidence. Back then, we knew our congregation would be different from the mainline churches in Oak Park. Because we owed no allegiance to any denomination, we were free to believe and teach exactly what the Bible says. If some people in our village didn’t care for that, well, that wasn’t our problem. In short, we were founded as a politically incorrect church.

We weren’t Lutheran … or Methodist … or Baptist … or Congregationalist … or Presbyterian. In the beginning this church was an independent, interdenominational, Bible-believing church.

Not much has changed. We’re still independent; we’re still interdenominational; we’re still Bible-believing. And as the letters to the local papers so clearly attest, we’re still politically incorrect. I have a feeling, though I can’t prove it, that Walter Bretall, May Mintrup, Ed Grosser, Herbert Peaslee and the other founders of our church would be glad for the stand we have taken in recent months regarding the “domestic partnership” controversy. Admittedly, they would be shocked and appalled to find homosexuality openly practiced and defended in Oak Park. They would not even fathom how condoms could be distributed at the high school. The notion of a gay and lesbian community would seem like something out of a nightmare.

But they would be pleased with the fact that we are willing to stand up and be counted in the moral crisis engulfing our community.

God and Change

When I was a teenager in Alabama, I spent a week at a Methodist church camp. This was during the revolutionary days of the 60s when the talk was of LSD, the Beatles, hippies, the Vietnam War and protest in the streets. No one had heard of fax machines, virtual reality or compact discs. Even though I was too young to understand it all, I remember feeling that this was the most exciting time in all the world to be alive.

Of that long-forgotten week, I remember only the theme: “God and Change.” It was a fitting slogan for the psychedelic age, the message being that only two things are constant: God (who never changes) and change (which is always with us).

We live in an ever-changing world. Not only is the volume of knowledge increasing, the very rate of increase itself is increasing. Somewhere I read that the sheer volume of knowledge is now doubling every two years.

Our children routinely play with electronic devices their great-grandparents never dreamed of. We take for granted technological advances that were simply unthinkable 25 years ago. And our grandchildren will enter a world advanced far beyond our current imagining.

But the essential things have not changed. Putting the entire Bible on a computer chip doesn’t change the fact that it is still the Word of God. We can translate the JESUS film into hundreds of languages—and do it by computer!—but the message is still the same.

Oak Park has changed, is changing, and will change yet again. But we have nothing to fear because the human heart hasn’t changed at all.

The packaging is different, the methods may vary, but the gospel of Christ is still the only hope for men and women trapped in sin.

We may use different words than the founders of this church, but what they said in 1915 we still say in 1994. That has not changed and, with God’s help, will never change.

Beyond the Stained Glass

For nearly four years I have been privately predicting that the certain outside trends were going to make the second half of this decade very challenging for Calvary. When I say “outside trends,” I refer to things happening in our community over which we have no control. These things are happening whether we like it or not.

Four in particular merit our close attention:

1. Racial Tension in Oak Park

No trend is as obvious as the fact that Oak Parkers are uptight over racial issues. Every week the Wednesday Journal tells a new story of conflicts between blacks and whites. Hardly a month goes by without some new symposium on ways to accomplish reconciliation in our fractured village.

My own thinking in this area has been greatly helped by the groundbreaking book Breaking Down Walls by Raleigh Washington and Glen Kehrein. I wish every family in our church would buy a copy and read it. All of us—no matter what race we are—harbor some degree of prejudice toward others. It’s good to face that fact and begin to deal with it honestly.

Listen to Raleigh and Glen as they call the church to active involvement:

“We have become convicted and convinced that racial reconciliation is not only possible, it is critical. Reconciliation must first take place among Christians, black and white, Hispanic and Asian. The evangelical church, so long dedicated to foreign missions, has neglected the desperate needs of the inner cities of our country for too long. Not only have we neglected the cities, but we have even abandoned our brothers and sisters in Christ to gang violence, poverty, prejudice, racism, hopelessness, and fear. Even when the church wants to respond, it is at a loss to know how to help or what to do.” (p. 29)

Tough words. Stinging words. Prophetic words. True words. Hard to hear, painful to admit, yet we must listen because Raleigh and Glen are telling the truth. They are Christian brothers who are leading the way.

We need to make a commitment to being “wall-breakers” not “wall-makers.” Years ago I saw a bumper sticker that read, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” How true. Those are the only two choices we have. To be part of the solution or part of the problem. Far too many of us have passively chosen to be part of the problem. We’ve done it by doing nothing at all, simply living in our cozy, safe, comfortable, non-threatening little world. We are like the proverbial Nero who fiddled while Rome burned.

Oak Park is burning. Burning spiritually and sometimes literally. Our streets are not safe because the hearts of men burn with passion at injustice, neglect, hatred and prejudice. It is time for the church of Jesus Christ to do something about it. It’s time for Calvary Memorial Church to do something about it. It’s time for you and me to become part of the solution.

As we move into the future, I’m hoping that we can add racial diversity to our pastoral staff. That would send a positive message to our congregation and to our community. We’re also seeking to partner with an inner-city church in order to mutually enrich each other as we serve the Lord together.

2. The Gay Rights Movement

Everyone agrees on one thing. Oak Park has a large and active gay community. That became evident when the Oak Park Lesbian and Gay Association asked the Village Board to pass two controversial ordinances. The first granted full medical benefits to “domestic partners” of village employees. The second would have established a “registry” whereby a homosexual couple could receive a “license” from the village, which would be virtually equivalent to a marriage licence.

After a tough fight—led by evangelical Christians from many local churches—we ended up splitting the difference. The first ordinance passed on a 7-0 vote; the second failed on a dramatic 4-3 vote at 12:30 A.M. Within 24 hours various media outlets spread the news across the nation.

Our position as a church is quite clear. We believe that homosexuality is a sin. We also believe that widespread homosexuality is a sign of God’s judgment (See Romans 1:24-32). We believe that there is nothing “gay” or good about homosexual behavior. It separates men and women from God because it distorts God’s original design for the human race. We believe that those who trumpet their sexual “freedom” are actually trapped by Satan in a destructive lifestyle that produces brokenness in this life and eternal punishment in the next.

However, that’s not the whole story. We also believe that homosexuality is a sin that can be forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ. That’s why we welcome everyone to worship with us on Sunday morning no matter where they’ve been sleeping during the week. We all need the grace of God, and none of us deserves it more than anyone else.

Let it be shouted from the housetops: We don’t hate anyone. Our disagreement is with a lifestyle the Bible calls sinful, not with particular individuals. We are called by God to love the sinner even while hating the sin. That’s not easy, but we’re determined to follow our Lord who was a “friend of sinners” even when he was crucified on a brutal Roman cross, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.

Finally, we entered the fray over “domestic partnership” because we believe that the future of our village is at stake. Sometimes you pick your battles; sometimes your battles pick you. In the end, we decided it was better to risk being misunderstood than to stand idly by while the Oak Park Lesbian and Gay Association rode roughshod over the Village Board.

A number of good things have come out this struggle. First, Calvary is now the most talked about church in Oak Park. A few days ago, as one of our ladies saw two men walking past our church, she overheard one say to the other, “That’s the church.” Right! That’s the church. Probably more people are aware of us right now than at any time in our history. Second, more of our people are praying more seriously now because they realize the spiritual darkness of this area. Third, the body of Christ is coming together across denominational lines for prayer, praise and public witness. Fourth, God has opened doors for us to minister to hurting individuals within the gay community. In just a few weeks Judy-Rae Karlsen of Overcomers Ministry will be coming to Calvary to help us establish an outreach to persons struggling with various issues of sexual brokenness, including homosexuality. Fifth, our people are learning about spiritual warfare as we attempt to take our city for God. That’s why we’re bringing in Mark Bubeck for the Oak Park Conference on Prayer and Spiritual Warfare in May.

3. The Public School Crisis

For many years Oak Park has had a national reputation for an excellent public school system. Two years ago Redbook magazine named Oak Park-River Forest High one of the 50 best schools in America, citing its excellent facilities and diverse curriculum. To this day families move to Oak Park because they want their children to attend our public schools. However, things aren’t always what they seem. A closer look reveals that there is trouble in paradise.

A few months ago the high school was put on the official state “watch list” of schools in serious financial difficulty. That’s one problem. Another is increasing gang-related activity. Another is senior teachers taking early retirement who are then replaced by lower-cost younger teachers. Another is the systematic exclusion of Christian values from the classroom. Another is the entrance of New Age paganism under the guise of multi-culturalism. Another is the tacit acceptance of homosexuality as the school system capitulates to pressure from the radical gay agenda. Another is the growing trend away from local control toward federally-mandated “outcomes” in every area of school life.

I realize these are serious issues. However, they are in no way unique to Oak Park. Schools across America are dealing with all these things. At this point I speak as one who is a product of the public school system. My three boys attend the Oak Park public schools. Most of the children at Calvary attend the public schools. Therefore, we must not ignore these problems or pretend they don’t matter.

One part of our response will be to encourage our church members who work in the public schools. Thank God for Christian teachers, staff members, coaches and counselors. We probably have 50-75 people who serve in the public schools of our area. God bless each one. We’re also going to seek out qualified candidates to run for the school board. We’re also committed to providing strong support for all our children who attend the public schools. We believe in organizations like Moms in Touch, Young Life, and Youth For Christ. We want our parents to get involved in the PTO as a means of being salt and light. Under the leadership of Craig Steiner, we now have a very aggressive high school ministry. Each Thursday 15-20 students meet at 7:30 A.M. for a “Prayer Walk” around the high school. Last September 150 students joined together for “See You at the Pole.” We can’t afford to give up on the public schools. We owe it to our children and to the children of the next generation.

4. The Migration of Stable Families Out of Oak Park

There are many ways to say this, but the plainest way is probably the best. As various community pressures continue to increase, more and more families are choosing to live elsewhere. In the past year I have heard of many families that are thinking about moving out of this area. And who can blame them? This is hardly the elite oasis it used to be at the turn of the century. Today we face changing neighborhoods, rising fears of gang influence, increased racial tension, rising taxes, and an ever-more-vocal gay community.

Consider the classified ad placed in the March 23, 1994 issue of the Wednesday Journal (p. 94):

“Progressive, socialist, feminist, anarchist, environmentalist, non-doctrinaire, but pretty committed types forming intentional community in Oak Park. Parents and children, older people, gay, lesbian folks, any racial or ethnic group welcome.”

That’s pretty much makes the case for moving to Elmhurst, I think. Or St. Charles. Or Wheaton. Or Naperville. Or anywhere else but Oak Park. Who would want to raise their children around people like that?

I mention the problem of migration because at some point the loss of stable families critically undermines the church’s ability to function. Not that we would close our doors, but if most of the strong families move out, who will be left to lead the church? And how long will people drive 45 minutes from St. Charles or 30 minutes from Park Ridge?

I have told you before—and I say again tonight—as for me and my family, we are going to stay right here in Oak Park. As long as I am the pastor of this church, I intend to live in this village and take an active part in village affairs.

As I consider these four trends I don’t presume to know all the answers, but I’m sure that we must face these questions over the next few years. The only wrong answer would be to give no answer at all.

Ernie’s World

It’s not a pretty picture I’ve painted. But here we are, the largest evangelical church in Oak Park and still going strong after 79 years. Soon after he graduated in 1917 Ernest Hemingway left Oak Park far behind in order to write his epic novels of war and judgment. He said this was a village of “broad lawns and narrow minds.” One wonders what he would say now.

In one sense, it doesn’t matter because Oak Park’s most famous son left his Christian faith, became legendary both for his writing and his extra-marital exploits, sank into a pit of depression and eventually blew his brains out in 1961.

But we are still here, the church that started 79 years ago with a very basic agenda:

1. To hold fast to the Bible.

2. To preach the gospel.

3. To expand our missionary outreach to the ends of the earth.

We’re still going strong as we prepare to enter our ninth decade of ministry.

So what is the state of the church? To be frank, I think we’re doing better than ever. Certainly I think we’re doing better than the community around us. We aren’t perfect–far from it–but we have much for which to be thankful. We ought to count our blessings every day and then take stock of our shortcomings in light of all that God has done for us.

The Year of the Servant

1994 is the Year of the Servant at Calvary. We’ve taken Luke 22:27 as our theme verse: “I am among you as one who serves.” We want people to know that we care about the problems of our community and that we we’re willing to become part of the solution.

This week I’ve been reading Zechariah 7, which speaks of God’s rebuke to Israel for improper fasting. Fasting is good, the Lord says, but not when you do it for yourself. Fasting must be accompanied by changed ethical behavior. “This is what the Lord Almighty says, ’Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.” (verse 9)

What does God want from his people? Justice, Compassion, Concern for the weak, Kindness toward each other. If you have those things, then your religious life has meaning. Without them, your prayers are empty and your fasting is useless.

God is calling us to get involved in the hurts of the world around us.

For some that means tutoring at Circle Urban Ministries. For others it means serving in the food pantry or visiting shut-ins. Still others minister in the local jails. The list includes such groups as ACDF (Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families), AA, and Sufficient Grace (our support group for persons with physical disabilities). It also involves Project Angel Tree or taking in foster children or AIDS babies or adopting Haitian children or counseling at a crisis pregnancy center or working with single parents or ministering to those with life-threatening illnesses or caring for the widows in our congregation or raising money to provide a chairlift to make a van handicap-accessible. I know people who regularly invite new visitors over to their home for a meal. I know others who make recordings for the blind and some who volunteer to serve on the boards of various local organizations like the YMCA, APPLE, the PTO, the Rotary Club, and the Chamber of Commerce. Still others write letters to prisoners.

These are the things that matter the most. This is what it means to “let your light shine.”

We can’t just talk about being the light, we’ve got to break the Stained Glass Barrier and let people see the light.

As our community struggles with the problems I mentioned earlier, we can make a huge difference simply by getting involved with needy people all around us. In all of this, our goal is to show forth the love of Jesus and so to win the right to share the good news of Christ, the Ultimate Servant, who came not be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.

The Shape of the Future

As I look into the future, I see an emerging church that has five exciting characteristics. As we move toward the year 2000, Calvary will become …

1. Younger

With every passing year the people who are already here get older. But as they get older, a younger generation begins to rise beneath them. Any church that wishes to survive must find a way to attract and hold the under-40 generation. They truly are the future of this church. As I look out over the congregation on Sunday morning, I can say that we are clearly younger than when I came in 1989. That’s a positive factor which I believe will continue in the years to come.

2. More Conservative

Lots of people have difficulty understanding how you get younger and more conservative. You do it by going two directions at once. You spell out what you believe in detail, you tell people what you believe in detail, then you invite them to join you. It’s as simple as that. And it works. In a world where all truth seems to be relative, men and women yearn for a church that will offer solid answers. We make no apology for being a church with the self-confidence that comes from knowing exactly what we believe.

3. More Contemporary

In saying that, I am not referring primarily to styles of worship. That has changed dramatically in the past and will no doubt change again. Who among us can say with certainty what style of worship we will follow in the year 2004? By contemporary, I simply mean that in the future we will continue to shape our ministry toward creativity and innovation and less toward simply maintaining the methods of the past. In that sense, our current two-service format is itself a contemporary format because we are attempting to shape our Sunday morning program to meet the needs of the people we see all around us.

4. More Aggressive

There was a time when churches like Calvary didn’t dare speak out on social issues for fear of alienating certain segments of the community. Perhaps that was a good strategy for some past day. However, I think the pendulum has swung 180 degrees. Now leading churches like Calvary must speak out because there is no other community institution that will stand for healthy moral values.

If we don’t speak out, who will?

Not the school board or the village board or the local papers. The church of Jesus Christ has been called by God to be the moral conscience of the community. That’s what it means to be salt and light for a darkened world.

5. Ethnically and Racially More Diverse

In saying that, I am not proposing that we try to become more diverse. I’m simply observing that as our village (and the surrounding communities) change, we are changing with them. This morning I took a good look at our growing congregation. We’re not lily-white anymore. That’s good. I see growing numbers of Hispanics, Asians and African-Americans attending our services. We’re becoming a “rainbow” congregation made up of people across the racial and ethnic spectrum. I for one am delighted about that trend and hope to see it continue. Looking at things from strictly a marketing standpoint, there is simply no future for an all-white church in Oak Park. Those days ended 25 years ago.

Ten Signs of Life

In light of all that I have just said, it is good to stop and take a careful assessment of where we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going. I’d like to focus on ten positive signs of God’s blessing on Calvary.

1. The Birth of a Prayer Movement

In my very first State of the Church message, I called for a deeper emphasis on prayer at Calvary. Most of you know that God spoke powerfully to me two years ago when I visited the YWAM base in Belize. While there God impressed on my heart that we should begin devoting a day each week to prayer. Shortly after I came back, we set aside Wednesdays as a day of prayer. We begin at 6:30 A.M. in the sanctuary with prayer for spiritual renewal, then we continue at 12 noon with prayer for the nations. Last week we prayed for Denmark, next week for Botswana, the week after that Rwanda, and on we go, each week using Operation World to pray for a new country. At 6:30 P.M. we pray around the tables after the Wednesday family meal. Finally, we meet in the chapel at 8:15 P.M. for prayer for healing.

All that came after my first trip to Belize. When I went back last year, the Lord did it again! He told me that if we wanted Calvary to go to the next level, we could only get there through prayer. He also gave me the vision to raise up 100 Praying Men and 100 Praying Women to serve as the spiritual warriors who would lay the foundation in prayer for further growth. After sharing that with the congregation, the Lord immediately gave us a great number of men and women who made a serious commitment to prayer. As of this writing, we have 157 prayer warriors, with more being added each week.

In addition, we are attempting to spend more time in prayer during our morning services. Many of our people have been deeply impacted by two books in particular—Prayer Shield by Peter Wagner and The Hour That Changes the World by Dick Eastman. All of this taken together reveals a new seriousness at Calvary regarding prayer and spiritual warfare.

2. The Increasing Fellowship Among Evangelical Christians

So many good things have happened in this area in the last year. I believe God is calling the body of Christ to come together for praise, fellowship, and bold witness for Jesus Christ. Partly as a result of our involvement in the “domestic partnership” controversy, God has brought together a strong and growing coalition of evangelical churches in our area. During the first three months of this year, we hosted monthly prayer breakfasts that drew representatives from 13 different churches, including Raleigh Washington from the Rock Church, Charles Cooper from Hope Community Church, Bill Winston from the Living Word Christian Center, David Steinhart from Forest Park Baptist Church, Peter Blakemore from Harrison Street Bible Church, Reed Heckmann from Woodside Bible Chapel, John Montgomery from the Village Church, Timothy Fung from the First Chinese Bible Church, Harry Parker from First Baptist Church, and Rich Latta from First Presbyterian Church of River Forest.

Last year we joined with 700 believers from 26 churches in Mills Park for Exalt ‘93, a festival of public praise. It was the largest public demonstration for Jesus in our area in 1993. Behind the scenes, Cliff Raad has been working on the committee dedicated to bringing Luis Palau to Chicago for a huge citywide evangelistic outreach in 1996. Our church has joined with many others to observe the National Day of Prayer, “See You at the Pole,” the “World’s Largest Pizza Party” with Josh McDowell, and in just a few days we’ll join with Judson Baptist Church and Hope Community Church for an Easter Sunrise Service. We’re also delighted to work with Jerry Rose and TV-38 and with Joe Stowell and our good friends at WMBI on a variety of cooperative projects. One of our happiest associations is with the ChicagoCare Near West Pregnancy Center (which we helped start two years ago). Under the leadership of Soo Ai Kudo, we formed a Community Impact Committee with the help of Penny Pullen of the Illinois Family Institute. Finally, I would note that each Wednesday night our youth ministry and our Awana programs attract large numbers of children and teenagers from area churches that cannot run a program on their own. We count it an honor to serve other local churches in this way.

3. Our Continued Determination to Stay Out of Debt

Most of you remember that two years ago we decided to kick the “credit drug.” For many years we had a $50,000 line of credit at a local bank. Whenever our offerings dipped, we simply picked up the phone and the bank loaned us any amount we required up to $50,000. If we needed, say, $10,000, it was only a phone call away. That process kept us in debt and never feeling the need to balance our budget. After much soul-searching we took a deep breath and decided to stop borrowing money. We kicked the credit drug cold turkey.

That was two years ago. From that day till this we haven’t borrowed a dime or a dollar from anyone for any purpose. Last year we paid nearly $40,000 in short-term loans and $75,000 on our last remaining mortgage. At the current rate, we’ll be completely debt-free in 1999.

As I write these words, we have just embarked on Phase II of our Renovation Program. We hope to raise $213,000 above and beyond our regular offering this year. But even if it takes us longer than we expected, we are not going to borrow money to finish this campaign.

It hasn’t been easy to kick the credit drug, but I can testify to God’s abundant supply of our financial needs ever since we took this step of faith. Sometimes our cash reserves have been very low indeed, to the point that we have occasionally wondered how we would pay our bills. But each time God has come through for us.

I’m extremely proud of our congregation for taking this step of faith in an age when it would be much easier to keep on borrowing money.

4. The Success of the Contemporary Worship Service

This time last year the contemporary service had not yet begun. I had high hopes and more than a few worries. Would we have the right leadership? Would our people support two different services? Would we be able to sustain a quality contemporary service week after week?

The results are now in and we can say that the contemporary service has been an unqualified success. It hasn’t been easy—in fact it has required an incredible amount of work to sustain a lay-led worship service week after week.

For about four months the two services were roughly equal in attendance. Then in July the contemporary service began to grow. At this point it is always larger than the traditional service, sometimes much larger, sometimes twice as large. As we track first-time visitors, we have discovered that we have five to seven new visitors in the contemporary service for every one new visitor in the traditional service. A similar ratio applies to first-time decisions for Christ.

I conclude that God is using our contemporary service to reach a new and younger generation for Jesus Christ. It has also introduced a significant portion of our congregation to a deeper and more meaningful style of worship. Finally, it has allowed a whole new group of people to get involved in public leadership on Sunday morning.

Our overall worship attendance has jumped nearly 200 people in one year—from 700 to 900. Nearly all of that increase has come from new people attending our contemporary service. If present trends continue, I expect we will offer a third service (which would be a second contemporary service) sometime in 1995.

5. Our New System of Leadership

In November 1992 the church approved our new constitution, which returned us to the system of elder leadership that we had for the first 61 years of our existence. The new constitution also made provision for a group of deacons and deaconesses at Calvary. In April 1993 eight men were installed as our first elders under the new system: Dan Hoeksema, Len Hoppe, David Hoy, Dick Jahns, Bruce Lavenau, John Sergey, Ian Smith, and John Tahl. It has been my privilege to serve with these men as a fellow-elder. I do not have words to adequately express what a difference it has made to have elders leading our congregation. Week after week we pray together, lifting up the people of Calvary before the Lord. I have seen these good men weep for broken marriages and homes in crisis. I have seen them agonize over issues of church discipline. They have visited the sick, comforted the hurting, prayed for those in need, ministered to those coming forward on Sunday morning during the invitation, laid hands on the sick, admonished the unruly, and in every way proved themselves to be true shepherds of God’s flock. Never have I served with a more godly or competent group of men. I trust their judgment completely and count it a joy to serve with them.

During the year we installed 13 deacons/esses: Gary Risley (Men’s Ministry), Soo Ai Kudo (Community Impact), David Morris (Facilities and Finance), Ed and Chris Keuer (Missions), Jan Miller (Women’s Ministry), Wayne and Catherine Watkins (Senior Adult Ministry), Joe Guevara (Small Groups), Gary Olson (Ushers), Phyllis Elliott (Sunday School), and Fred and Erlene Hartman (Awana).

These men and women are all doing splendid work in their different areas. I would anticipate adding another 6-8 deacons/esses before the end of 1994, and still others in the years to come. We may soon see the day when we have 30-40 godly men and women serving in this way.

When we started our constitution revision process, we said that one benefit would be to involve many more people in various areas of church leadership. That certainly has come true, and I think it is one reason why Calvary has prospered so much in the past year. When ministry is given back to the people, God’s work always goes forward.

6. The New Family Spirit

At this point I am thinking about our brand-new Wednesday night program. Ever since coming to Calvary, I’ve dreamed of offering a family-style meal on Wednesday nights. I was told, “It can’t be done. They do that down South, but no one in Chicago does anything like that. We’re all too busy. No one will come for the meals. Our kitchen isn’t adequate. How will we take reservations? Who will cook the meals? Who will clean up the Dining Room?” And on and on it went.

Then along came Cliff Raad, my right hand man, the man who at the age of 70 has more energy than I have at 41. He never met a project he didn’t like or a dream he couldn’t turn into reality. More than anyone else, he is responsible for bringing our Family Night program into being.

Last September we began by offering a simple meal at 5:45 P.M., followed by prayer around the tables at 6:30 P.M., followed by five adult education classes at 7:00 P.M. (along with Awana, Allied Force, and Sanctuary Choir practice).

What has been the result? Each week over 200 people join together for a home-cooked meal. We eat, we talk, we share, we laugh, we tell stories, we commiserate, we exaggerate, we expostulate, we catch up on the news of the week, we discuss how the Bears/Bulls/Blackhawks/Sox/Cubs are doing, we share the latest funny thing our children/grandchildren did, we meet some new friends and greet our old friends.

So many people have commented on what a difference the Wednesday night program has made in our church life. We’re a family now and not just a group of people. Wednesday night is not just a program; it’s an oasis in the middle of the week. Our church is closer now, happier now, friendlier now, and all our Wednesday programs have prospered because we’re taking the time to eat together and pray together.

7. The Changing Colors of Calvary

Although our congregation has been historically white, that is slowly changing. Take a look around next Sunday. You will find various races and ethnic groups represented in our midst, especially among the young people who attend the contemporary service. This is all to the good because the world is changing all around us as more and more people move to Chicago from around the world.

A few weeks ago I ran across some startling statistics that put this into perspective: Greater Chicago has over 8 million people. That is more people than Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Nevada, Utah, and Alaska combined. Chicago has a larger population than 42 states and 100 foreign countries. There are currently 20 Buddhist temples and 75 mosques in Chicago. Every nationality and every language is represented here. There are 36 newspapers published in foreign languages. Greater Chicago is home to: 1.25 million African-Americans, 1 million Hispanics, 500,000 Poles, 250,000 Greeks, 200,000 Ukrainians, 150,000 people from India, 100,000 Filipinos, 90,000 Koreans, 50,000 Romanians, 50,000 Hungarians, 25,000 Haitians, 20,000 Chinese, and 15,000 from various Southern Asian countries. Ships from 24 nations dock in Chicago. Over 9 million people visit Chicago each year as tourists or business visitors.

Finally (and here I am quoting from Vernon C. Lyons, who provided these statistics), “Chicago boasts the world’s largest commercial building, tallest apartment building, the nation’s largest hotel, the world’s tallest bank, the largest post office, and the tallest building and ought to have the greatest missionary effort to reach these vast multitudes with the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” To that one can only say Amen.

A few days ago I attended the Luis Palau planning meeting. In the front of the room was a map of Greater Chicago divided into about 30 different areas. Guess what village sits at the very center of the map? Oak Park! In view of our central location, and in view of the multi-ethnic nature of Chicago, it shouldn’t surprise us that as we reach more people for Christ, our colors are beginning to change. This to me is a sign of God’s blessing as we sow the gospel seed far and wide and therefore begin to reap an increasingly diverse harvest of people.

8. Our Burgeoning Youth and Children’s Ministry

Over and over again parents tell us that they came to Calvary because we offer something positive for their children. Recently Craig Steiner (our high school pastor) reported that nearly 2/3rds of our regular high school attenders come from families who don’t attend our church. Something similar is happening in our junior high ministry. In Awana the percentage is close to 50%. What a fantastic mission field God has placed at our doorstep. Week after week we minister to nearly 400 children and teenagers. Eventually many of them come to Christ and bring their families with them into the fellowship of the church.

Several people deserve special mention: Frank and Rebecca Arellanes for their unflagging zeal and constant enthusiasm; Jeff and Michelle McQueary for building the best junior high ministry we’ve ever had; and especially to Fred and Erlene Hartman who have continued to lead Awana week after week despite Fred’s ongoing battle with cancer. Some weeks he has come right from chemotherapy to Awana because he didn’t want to miss being with the kids. We’ve all seen him hobble along, sometimes so haggard that it was painful to look at him. And yet there he is, week after week, ignoring the pain and serving the Lord. Look up the word “hero” in the dictionary. It will say, “See Fred Hartman.”

9. The Success of Our Family Ministry

A little over a year ago Bob Boerman came to me with a dream that had been growing in his heart. After 15 years in youth ministry, Bob felt that God was calling him to work with families. He saw so many problems that could only be addressed by getting to the root cause within the family itself. For him, youth ministry had become a kind of “rescue mission” in which he was spending huge amounts of time helping teenagers recover from divorce, broken homes, family dysfunction, parental neglect and adult abuse. Why not start a ministry that would encompass the family as a whole?

Slowly he began to put together his plan. He consulted with leading experts around America. He searched the Scriptures for biblical principles. He asked God to give him guidance.

Out of it has come the most exciting new ministry at Calvary in many years. Over the past few months we have seen many young couples go through the “Growing Kids God’s Way” program, others through the “Preparing Your Teenagers For Sexuality” film series, still others have attended one of our many marriage retreats. And in just a few weeks over 50 men will attend the Promise Keepers Conference in Indianapolis and later this summer 175 people will attend Calvary’s first-ever family camp at Green Lake, Wisconsin. All this is just the beginning of an outreach that will include counseling, peer group support, regular family fun nights, and a variety of special conferences.

It would be fair to say that Bob’s greatest burden is to help men in our congregation become godly husbands and fathers. We talk a lot about men being the spiritual leaders at home and in the church, but until recently we haven’t done much to give them practical help in those areas. That’s beginning to change, and as it does, we will see God increasingly raise up an army of men who will be equipped to lead their families for God.

10. Our Flourishing Missions Program

Everything you need to know about our commitment in this area may be summed up in two words: Fred Stettler. He died in Switzerland last October at the age of 93. He left America in 1926, sent out by this congregation to minister in Europe. When he died, he had served 67 years as a missionary. And we had supported him through those 67 years, our giving unbroken across the decades.

The month after he died, we approved three new missionary couples for service: Shannon and Cathy Caughey (Swaziland), Glen and Jane Fitzjerrell (the Chicago gangs), Tim and Deb Carpenter (Zaire). Those three couples are the same age as Fred Stettler when he left us so many years ago.

Very soon we’ll send out more missionaries—Larry and Linda Burk to Swaziland, Mark and Karen Edwards to Costa Rica, Tom and April Drost to New Tribes Candidate School. This summer Greg and Carolyn Kirschner will attend SIM candidate school in view of future medical missions in South America or Africa.

None of these new missionaries can “replace” Fred Stettler. You don’t “replace” a man who served for 67 years. But it does mean that as the Lord promotes his faithful servants to heaven, he is raising up new heroes for the next generation.

Along that line, nothing pleases me more than to see our short-term missions program flourishing. Last year we sent three teams to Mexico and one team to Haiti. Our people also traveled to Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, the Philippines, Indonesia, Nigeria, Peru and Russia on various missionary projects. Each year more of our people get involved in God’s work overseas. We spend thousands of dollars supporting these trips because we’ve learned if someone visits Peru, he’ll have a heart for Slovakia. If you show him Haiti, he’ll pray for India. If he visits a hospital in Nigeria, he’ll see the whole world.

These ten signs of life are only the tip of the iceberg. Many other ministries could be mentioned—our Sanctuary Choir, the Children’s Choirs, the Calvary Counseling Corps, our Men’s and Women’s Bible studies, the superb work being done by Wayne and Catherine Watkins in Senior Adult Ministry, the just-formed Hospitality Ministry led by Larry Korbus, our drama team, the Men’s Ministry, the Women’s Ministry, the marvelous work being done by John Sredl who oversees our Buildings and Grounds department, our Sufficient Grace Support Ministry for those with physical disabilities, to name only a few.

The Big Three For ’94

What things remain to be done? In the short run, I see three areas of concern. We must …

1. Hire a Minister of Music and Worship

This remains my #1 short-term goal. Our needs are unique. For many years Calvary has been known as a church with a strong music program. We have a wonderful choir, a magnificent pipe organ and a historic sanctuary that calls forth dynamic worship. Many people were first attracted to our church because of our Sunday morning services. Now we have two worship services—one contemporary, one traditional—that enable us to reach more people than ever before. We need a music minister who enjoys both traditional and contemporary worship, who can move easily and willingly between both services, who enjoys the challenge of ministering in a diverse, flexible, fluid, changing ministry context. Above all else, he must have a heart for true worship no matter how it is expressed in its various outward forms. He must be comfortable with who we are and where we are going as a congregation. Is there such a man in all of America? The answer is yes, we just haven’t found him yet. When we find God’s man, he’ll be the perfect fit for Calvary.

2. Complete Phase II of our Ongoing Renovation Campaign

When completed, Phase II will give us new lighting, improved sound, a raised and rebuilt platform, a new baptistry (our first in-house baptistry since the old church burned down in 1977), a handicap-accessible narthex bathroom, an enclosed east entryway, and a computer-operated signboard on Lake Street. These changes will vastly improve our ministry ability. The new platform will restore the sanctuary to its original sight lines and will provide a large surface for doing big productions, such as concerts, dramas and musicals.

3. Establish a Third Sunday Morning Worship Service

This third service would actually be a second contemporary service. Given the current rate of growth, I predict we will need to add a third service sometime in the next 12 months. We are held back only by the need to recruit the necessary worship leaders, musicians, ushers, greeters, and Sunday School teachers. We also need to have our Minister of Music in place to insure the quality of all three services.

In all these things our goal should be the same: To reach more people for Jesus Christ. That’s why we are in business. Out beyond these four walls an entire generation drifts aimlessly, cut loose from 200 years of moral values. We have to reach our own generation if we are going to make a difference for the future.

Long-Range Projects

Last year I listed a number of projects I thought we should undertake in the next few years. I’m going to repeat most of that list here, along with comments about one special project.

1. Buy the condominium building to our west and convert it to low-cost housing for retirees and returning missionaries.

2. Plant several spin-off churches in other Chicago suburbs.

3. Begin a concert series that would bring excellent Christian artists, musicians and communicators to Oak Park.

4. Establish a Calvary Scholarship Fund to enable worthy students to reduce the cost of attending Christian college or seminary.

5. Begin a media ministry by broadcasting the morning messages on a weekly program on WYLL and by doing weekly commentaries on TV-38.

6. Complete the process of making Calvary fully handicapped-accessible.

7. Establish an Endowment Fund to ensure the long-term financial stability of the church.

8. Purchase a shuttle bus to enable us to use remote parking lots as our attendance continues to grow.

9. Establish “sister church” relationships with a black church, an Asian church and a Hispanic church to enable each of us to reach out across cultural barriers with the love of Jesus Christ.

The Oak Park Christian Academy

10. A Christian School for the Western Suburbs. No project is so close to my own heart as this. Early in my pastorate I shared the vision for a Christian school that would be evangelical, excellent, ethnically diverse, and affordable. As I saw it then, such a school would serve as a useful option for parents who wanted another choice. Our children deserve the possibility of attending a school that offers Christ-centered education, where every class begins with prayer, where the Bible is respected as the inerrant Word of God, where every teacher knows Jesus Christ personally, and where the things we teach on Sunday morning could be reinforced in the classroom during the week.

I fully understand that not every child would—or should—attend such a school. Many parents would choose the public schools for a variety of reasons. Earlier in this message I said that we must not abandon the public schools. But I don’t think it’s an “either-or” proposition, but rather a “both-and” situation. We need Christian teachers, staff, administration, and students serving as salt and light in our public schools. We also need a first-class Christian school to serve as a testimony to this area that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (Proverbs 1:7)

When I first proposed establishing a Christian school, my ideas were greeted with stunned silence and a general chorus of, “You’ve got to be kidding.” But the times have changed. In just 4 years, the moral climate has shifted so dramatically that it no longer seems outlandish to suggest that we need a Christian school in Oak Park.

To those who doubt, let me ask one question: If you were 25 years old and about to start your family, how would you feel about putting your children in the public schools of this area when your first child starts first grade in 6 or 7 years?

Without going into great detail, let me simply tell you that at long last something is happening in this area. Two months ago a small task force consisting of Cliff Raad, Lois Catrambone, Bruce Lavenau, and myself began meeting. Last Thursday our little group (with the exception of Lois who was out of town due to the death of her mother and with the addition of Jeff and Claudia Eaton) met with Paul House, the founder and principal of the Aurora Christian School–the premier Christian school in all of Chicagoland. Starting with 82 students in 1974, they now have 900 students in pre-K through Grade 12 on a multi-million dollar campus. They are fully accredited, nearly all their students go to college, every student takes a Bible course every day, Christian values are integrated into every subject, they have high standards, low tuition, they have operated in the black for 20 years, they attract students from over 100 churches, they have a high-quality sports and music program, and they don’t take a dime of government money. On top of that, they have excellent relations with the various state agencies and with the public schools in their area.

How do they do it? Mr. House emphasized the importance of prayer: “Pray as much as you plan. If you need it, get on your knees and ask God for it.” Could we establish such a school here in Oak Park? “Yes, but you must decide that you will pledge your very lives to make it happen. Nothing less will suffice. Otherwise, you will give up when the difficulties begin piling up.”

The Jordan Principle

In his book Hang Time: Days and Dreams With Michael Jordan, author Bob Greene comments that Jordan never spoke about how much winning that first championship meant to him. Jordan explained that it’s hard to talk about things close to your heart because you’re always afraid people won’t understand. Or they won’t take you seriously. Then Bob Greene added this sentence: “There are only two reasons not to speak of something. Either because it means nothing or because it means everything.”

In my own case, I have never spoken about this dream except during my State of the Church messages because it means everything to me. I have found it hard to speak publicly about this because it is so close to my heart.

But a few weeks ago it suddenly hit me that if I could leave just one legacy as your pastor, it would be to see such a Christian school established in our area. I cannot say at this point when it will happen, but I believe it is God’s will, and I intend to move forward to see the Oak Park Christian Academy open its doors for the children of our area. I am praying to that end and working to that end and asking God to make it come to pass.

Happy to Be Here

It is time for me to bring these remarks to an end. I believe the state of the church is good precisely because I believe the Head of the Church is alive and well. We serve the same Lord as our founders. The promises that brought this church into existence are still good today. The same gospel they preached is the gospel we preach today. We have the same Bible and the same Holy Spirit. And I trust that we have the same willingness to stand apart from the prevailing winds of public opinion if need be in order to be faithful to God.

I hope you are happy tonight because I am happy to be your pastor. For all the problems that surround us, these are great days to be alive. What awesome opportunities, what incredible open doors, what vast fields of human need lie all around us. When we think of all that God has done, his faithfulness over the generations, his ability to provide for us through some very trying times, his mercy to us when we didn’t deserve it, the countless prayers he has answered, we ought to be the happiest people on the face of the earth.

Life Has Been Good

Many years ago a man named R.E. Nicholas served as an elder of this church. It is no exaggeration to say that he is more responsible than anyone else for the development of the modern village of Oak Park. He served for many years as a trustee of both Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College. Toward the end of his life, he wrote a little book called Life Has Been Good. In it he tells how after many years of attending a mainline church, he joined the Madison Street Bible Church in the 1930s when it was just a struggling, unknown and overlooked congregation. These are his words:

We felt led to become members of a smaller church known as Madison Street Bible Church, a strong missionary church with workers in Africa, Switzerland, Central America, South America, Mexico and home mission work in Kentucky. Madison Street Church was organized about 1913 and its first pastor was Rev. Louis A. Talbot.

The name of Madison Street Bible Church was changed to Calvary memorial Church in 1959. Additions to its buildings have been made from time to time, and its membership and effective work have grown substantially. The ministers have been godly men who believed the Bible and preached the unsearchable riches of Christ.

Many young people have gone out from this church to become missionaries, ministers, or Christian teachers. More than one minister has said that he and his family were never so happily situated as at Madison St., Oak Park. (pp. 57-58)

I never met Dr. Nicholas but his words apply to me. I am glad to count myself among the many pastors who can say, “The happiest days I have ever spent were right here in Oak Park serving this wonderful church.”

Let us rejoice in the blessings of God. Let us move forward into the future with confidence, with joy, with bold determination to impact this generation for the Lord. As long as Jesus Christ is alive, the state of the church will always be good.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?