Make No Small Plans
March 11, 1990
Before we moved to Oak Park last August, someone gave us a copy of the Chicago Magazine’s Guide to Chicago. Nestled between the Title Page and the Table of Contents is this quote from Daniel Hudson Burnham, author of The Chicago City Plan: “Make no small plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.”
That quote has come to symbolize for me what Chicago is all about. It is a city of big dreams, big ideas, big plans, big projects. If a man has a new idea that he thinks he can make work, let him come to Chicago and see what he can do. The bigger the idea, the better. The harder he works, the greater the reward.
So here we stand at the threshold of a new decade, only ten years away from the twenty-first century and the beginning of a new millennium. Each day we pick up the paper to read of momentous, breathtaking changes sweeping the world—long-held ideologies replaced overnight, massive walls of prejudice crumbling to the ground, entire nations evolving from dictatorship to democracy.
Truly these are apocalyptic days. The world has changed more in the last year than in the last fifty years. And who can say where it all will end?
At Calvary Memorial Church, we have a ringside seat to watch as the world turns upside down. What enormous challenges and magnificent opportunities stretch out before us.
In their groundbreaking work Megatrends 2000, John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene summarize the future this way:
Before us is the most important decade in the history of civilization, a period of stunning technological innovation, unprecedented economic opportunity, surprising political reform, and great cultural rebirth. It will be a decade like none other that has come before because it will culminate in the millennium, the year 2000. (p.11)
What does it mean for us? It means that the world is changing all around us. We are wise if we see that and foolish if we don’t. The big world is changing and so is the small world that surrounds us. The Oak Park of the 1960s is gone forever, never to return. We don’t have the option of living in the past even if we wanted to. We either live in the here and now or we shrivel up and die.
Even more to the point is the fact that the pace of change is accelerating. That is, the world is changing faster and faster. What used to take decades to accomplish now takes a year or two; what used to take a year now can be done in a month; what used to take a month now takes only a day. Consider the recent events in Eastern Europe:
The revolution took— 10 years in Poland
10 months in Hungary
10 weeks in Czechoslovakia
10 days in East Germany
10 hours in Romania
Consider the events of this past week: The first meeting was held between East and West Germany to discuss reunification. The first free elections were held in the Soviet Union. A new record was set by the first airplane to fly across America in less than two hours. President Bush Appointed Dr. Antonia Novello as the first woman to serve as Surgeon-General. Former President Nixon made his first visit back to the House of Representatives. And perhaps the most significant event happened here in Chicago when Channel 9 announced they were taking new ticket orders to the Bozo show for the first time in ten years.
We do live in amazing times.
I repeat my thesis again: We live in a changing world. We are wise if we see that and foolish if we don’t. The world is changing all around us and we can do nothing to stop that. Every second spent trying to stop the pace of change is a wasted second. We have only two options: 1. We can ignore the changes and go on with business as usual. That will work for awhile. 2. We can anticipate the changes that are coming and be ready for them when they arrive. It’s really as simple as that—ignore the future or get ready for it.
We at Calvary are faced with precisely those options tonight. We have completed 75 years of ministry. What will the future hold for us? What direction will we take? What kind of church will we be in the next ten years? As the world changes around us, we must change to meet the changing demands of a changing world. But where? And how?
Lessons From Our History
Most of you know that I am very interested in our history. Let me suggest two lessons from it: 1. We are a fundamentalist church by heritage. That word is unfamiliar to many of you but it goes back to the fundamentalist-modernist controversy in the major denominations. Our ancestors wanted a church free from denominational control which would major on the clear teaching of the Word of God. So they founded the Madison Street Church in 1915. And early on they invited the noted Bible teacher A.C. Gaebelein to come and speak in answer to some of the prevailing false doctrines in the Oak Park area.
That’s very helpful to know because it tells us that the people who founded this church were rock-ribbed, hard-nosed and uncompromising when it came to the teaching of the Bible. They were fundamentalist—not in the negative sense of a hypercritical spirit—but in the sense that they were devoted to the fundamentals of the Christian faith—the inerrancy of the Bible, the deity of Jesus Christ, salvation through the blood of Christ, and so on.
That helps us in 1990. Our heritage is fundamentalist and we should not be ashamed to say that. It means that we are not going to vote on what we believe. The faith that has taken us this far will take us the rest of the way. It has survived two world wars, the atomic age, the space age and the computer age. It is the faith handed down from our fathers, the things most surely believed among us, the faith once delivered to the saints and the pillar and ground of the truth. Our faith rests upon the Word of God and represents who we are and what we believe. That faith has stood the test of time. We cannot change it. We will not change it. We stand by it.
There is an interesting corollary to that point. Our fundamentalist heritage gives us the courage to do some things that other churches can’t—or won’t—do. We are not afraid to apply the Word of God to contemporary social issues and various false and heretical ideas. This church had its beginning in a heritage of protest against compromise. I see no reason to change that, and there’s certainly a lot more to protest today than there was 75 years age. To be specific, when we take a stand against Gay Rights or Abortion-on-Demand, we are doing exactly what the founders of this church did in the early days.
There is a second part to our history which is most instructive: 2. We have a long history of flexibi-lity in our methods. For instance, over the years we have changed our name twice—both times to help us reach more people. And we relocated in 1977 from Madison Street to Lake Street—a move which put us on main street and allowed the rapid growth of the past ten years. But even going back as far as Pastor Fardon in the 30’s, we read that he started a men’s Bible study in the Oak Park YMCA because he wanted to reach more men for Christ. Over the years we have sponsored a long series of meetings, special speakers, dramas, seminars, retreats, programs and concerts—all with the goal of helping us reach more people. (Our Crossroads service on Saturday night is the latest case-in-point. Modeled after the Willowcreek seekers service, it has attracted a steadily-growing crowd. The founders of Calvary would be shocked to hear the rock music, but they would applaud the clear presentation of the gospel.)
And that’s one of the nice things about our history. It shows that while we are fundamentalist in our theology we are not fundamentalist in our methods. We know what we believe but we aren’t the least bit afraid to try new and different ideas. What a wonderful combination that is. It explains why this church comes to its 75th birthday with enormous vigor and excitement.
A Brief Personal Note
And that leads me to make a brief personal note. On this coming Thursday I will have been your pastor for seven months. It seems a lot longer than that. In many ways it has not been a typical beginning. And I am quite happy about that.
Most of you know that it was a difficult decision for us to come to Calvary. There were a lot of factors involved. I had never seriously thought about moving to the Midwest or to the Chicago area. In fact, I thought God wanted us to go to Tucson. After all, the weather’s nice out there and I know the area a little bit. But God had other ideas.
And now we’ve been here for seven months. How do we like it? We love it here. People always seem surprised when we say that, but that’s how we feel. I love living in Oak Park, I like the excitement of this area, I like the incredible opportunities. Hanging around Chicago makes you feel like something big could happen at any moment.
But most of all, we love this church. I think sometimes people worry about us and how we are adapting, but if you don’t believe me, just ask Marlene or the boys. We have never, ever been loved and cared for like we are here. You have overwhelmed us with your kindness. From the first moment, you reached out your arms and took us in. No pastor ever had such a welcome. And it has not stopped. That’s the amazing part. Not a day goes by without someone saying, “We love you and we’re glad you are here.” That makes it easy to get excited about the future.
No pastor ever had a better staff. It is joy to work with the godly men and women who serve at Calvary. They are capable, dedicated, loyal and creative. They aren’t afraid to try new ideas and, by the same token, they aren’t afraid to tell me when something just won’t work. They constantly challenge me to excellence in every area.
On a very personal note, I think God had a reason for making it so difficult for us to decide about coming here. It is part of my nature to struggle for a long time over difficult decisions. I wrestle, I vacillate, I debate, I wiggle and waggle, but when I finally make up my mind, then there are no doubts.
And I have no doubts that God wanted me to come to Calvary. No doubts at all. I believe God called me to be your pastor and I look forward to many more years together. What’s more, I feel very honored to be your pastor and I thank you for your support.
Purpose-Based And Strategy-Driven
Now back to the main point. We are fundamentalist in theology and flexible in our methods. Where does that leave us in 1990? Actually it leaves us in a very good position. When you look out across our congregation, you can’t help but be impressed with the incredible assembly of talented and gifted people God has brought together in this time and in this place. The possibilities are virtually unlimited.
Here is a key phrase as we move into the turbulent, exciting decade of the 90’s: We must be purpose-based and strategy-driven. I borrow that phrase from my friend Dennis Baker in California. It simply means that in everything we do there must be a very clearly defined purpose. That is, it is not enough to simply have a choir, have a worship service, have a youth ministry and have a missions program. We must articulate clearly and precisely what we are doing and why we are doing it. It also means that our strategy must arise from our clearly-stated purpose. Simply put, we cannot simply say, “We’ve always had Boys Brigade or the Prime Timers always meet on Sunday or we’ve never used guitars on Sunday morning or we have to have a Sunday night service because we’ve always had one.” Now, as historical data, all those facts are interesting and they must be considered in the overall picture. They aren’t unimportant. 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 and dying as the church slips into irrelevance. In the end, that is far more painful.
Therefore, I call upon the leaders of all our ministries to use this Year of Preparation to make your ministry purpose-based and strategy-driven. I call upon our leaders to begin 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 Big Picture
Someone may ask what the overall direction of the church will be in the years ahead. That’s a fair question and I have spent many hours formulating an answer. In fact, I have been working lately on a mission statement for the church—a statement which would encapsulate the essence of who we are and what God has called us to do. I am not prepared to give you a final result tonight, but I will say the following things:
I think in general God is calling this church to a bolder, more aggressive ministry. I think our location almost demands that of us. We aren’t on Madison and Wisconsin any longer. We are on Lake Street—the “main street” of Oak Park. We are in the buildings which formerly housed one of the prestige churches of this area. If you go back and study the history of the First Presbyterian Church, you will find that in the early days of this century, it was one of the most important Presbyterian churches in all the Midwest. There was a tradition of greatness here long before we arrived.
And when we bought these buildings, we inherited some of that tradition. Furthermore, when W.G. William-son designed the sanctuary, he meant it as a major statement to the community—”An important church worships here.”
I am saying that when the old church burned down in 1977, it was God’s way of saying, “It’s time for you to move on. You’ve been here long enough.” And when we moved into this facility—with its heritage in the community—God was saying, “I’ve got a bigger job for you to do.”
Let’s face it. We are one of the leading evangelical churches in this region. There are many other excellent churches in this area, to be sure, but we are among the leaders. God has given us a position from which we can speak to the near-western suburbs of Chicago.
That leads me to a major conclusion. In the future, we must begin to think of ourselves as less of an Oak Park-River Forest Church and more of a church for this entire region: Roughly the area bounded by Park Ridge on the north, Austin on the east, Cicero and Berwyn on the South and the fringes of Oak Brook and Elmhurst on the west.
Let me give you some interesting statistics: I took the 1965 Directory from our 50th Anniversary Yearbook and divided the names to see how many had an Oak Park-River Forest address and how many did not—excluding those who lived in some other state. The breakdown goes like this: In 1965 roughly 55% of our people came from OPRF and 45% came from another local community. Then I did the same thing with our latest listing—the one that will be in our new photo directory in April. In 1990 only 41% of our people come from OPRF and 59% come from somewhere else. That means we are already a minority OPRF church and the majority of our people are driving in from somewhere else.
I predict that the OPRF percentage will continue to drop in the years ahead—down to 38% by 1993 and settling somewhere around 33% by the end of the decade.
This finding has many implications for the future:
1. We must begin to think regionally—not simply locally. Many of the issues that affect OPRF may have little impact on the majority of our people.
2. We must expect that many of our people will drive great distances to come to church and therefore:
a. many of them will only come one time a week. That means whatever we want them to get, they’ve got to get in one shot. We won’t get two chances a week with many of them.
b. we need to think about clustering our events so that people aren’t being asked to come back again and again during the week.
c. we ought to consider upgrading our kitchen so that we can serve more meals, making it convenient for our people to be involved in various evening ministries.
d. Providing adequate parking will become a major issue in the future. People driving 30 minutes to church do not want to walk ten more minutes after parking their cars. At present, with our attendance between 750-800, we have just enough parking to get by. When the attendance grows to 900 or higher, providing adequate parking space will become a major challenge.
3. As our congregation becomes even more far-flung, the role of the Shepherding ministry becomes even more critical.
4. We should consider the possibility of a major new initiative in the area of small group ministry as a way of helping our people get to know each other on a more personal basis.
The Big Ten
There is much more to be said, but lest I put you completely to sleep, I hasten on to some specific areas for your consideration. I am going to simply take 10 crucial areas and make comments about where we need to go in the future.
1. The Building Renovation. As I have already indicated, when God moved us to Lake Street, he did it because he was preparing us for a bigger, bolder and more aggressive ministry. This magnificent facility was meant to house a great church. This is a building which was meant for big dreams, big hopes, big visions, and big ideas. It is our primary vehicle for reaching this entire region. Without it, we would still be down on Madison Street. With it, we can speak to the near-western suburbs of the city of Chicago.
Therefore, we must pay whatever it costs to maintain this facility. It is part of what God has called us to do. When we voted 106 to 4 back in 1979 to buy this facility, we were voting to do whatever it takes to keep it in good shape for ministry. That includes maintaining the sewer system, it includes painting the sanctuary, it includes refurbishing the choir room, and yes, it includes tuckpointing the tower. It is all part of the heritage God has given us—not merely to protect as a museum piece but also to maintain as a living testimony and as a base from which to reach an entire region for Jesus Christ.
Many good things have been accomplished in the last ten years. But so much more needs to be done. This facility is in remarkably good shape for its age, but if we want to continue to use it in the next generation, we must now begin a major renovation. In my opinion, such an effort will take four or five years to complete and will cost at least $1 million. But we don’t have to do it all at once—we can do it a little at a time.
A committee has been appointed and is already hard at work to lead us in this area. You will hear more about it in the days to come. The building is not the most important thing, but it is where we have to begin because it is part of the reason we are becoming a regional church.
2. The Sunday Services. As I already indicated, our general goal is to be Purpose-Based and Strategy-Driven in every area of ministry. How does that apply to the Sunday services? On Sunday morning our purpose is Worship and Spiritual Challenge. On Sunday night, our purpose is Fellowship and Instruction. Therefore, 1. We meet in the sanctuary on Sunday morning and in the Dining Room/Heritage Room on Sunday night. 2. We have a printed order of service on Sunday morning and none on Sunday night. 3. On Sunday morning, we have a choir, ushers and a pipe organ; on Sunday night we use choruses and an overhead. We also have a fellowship/refreshments time after the service. 4. On Sunday morning the sermons cover a wide variety of topics; on Sunday nights, we do chapter-by-chapter Bible study. The services are distinct because their purposes are distinct.
As we move into the future, I would like to see a greater note of celebration on Sunday morning. I would be happy if there were more joy in our worship. In particular, I think we could stand to be a little less heavy. Let the choir rock out from time to time. Make it easier for new people to understand what we are doing. Use more congregational participation. Lighten up the music by mixing in more praise choruses with the great hymns. Let Sunday morning become a great celebration service where multitudes gather for a joyful, exuberant service of worship and praise.
3. Sunday School. Here is an area of vital importance. My philosophy about the Sunday School can be stated in a few brief sentences: As the Sunday School prospers, the church prospers. A strong Sunday School produces a strong church. It is the engine which makes the entire church go forward. Furthermore, the Sunday School is not an organization of the church. It is the church organized for teaching, fellowship, and outreach. Everything we do—except for corporate worship—can be done through the Sunday School.
Right now our Sunday School is doing better than ever. In the future we will do better yet. We currently have seven regular adult classes and two elective classes which just finished meeting. I have challenged Dan Spisiak to have 10 regular adult classes by this fall and at least two elective classes.
In order to do that we will need to consider creative alternatives, such as having some classes meet off campus or at 8:00 a.m. before the first service. In the future, we will be following a Two-Track approach in adult Sunday School—regular age-graded classes along with periodic electives open to all ages.
4. Missions. It almost goes without saying that Calvary is a missions-minded church. Even is those early days when the church was extremely small, the charter members set aside money for missions. Since then, dozens of our people have gone to the mission field. This year we will spend $163,000 on missions, a figure which is larger than our entire budget only a few years ago. Our commitment to world missions is as strong today as it has ever been.
That must not change. But there is a problem looming on the horizon, a problem so great that if we do not solve it, our missions program will eventually shrivel and die. It is this: The younger generation at Calvary does not have a strong burden for world missions. They believe in it, they know it is biblical, but they do not have the deep personal interest in it that the older generation has.
This problem is not peculiar to our church. Churches across the country are discovering that Baby Boomers lack a vital concern for world missions. An article in the March 10, 1990 issue of World magazine quoted Bill Waldrop of the Association of Church Missions Committees as saying that, “there is a new reality emerging in the local church today. While there are exceptions, the new reality is characterized by a Baby Boomer pew that is increasingly disinterested in missions.”
What can we do about it? One basic observation is that Baby Boomers—unlike earlier generations—are not particularly moved by things like missionary conferences. The Baby Boomers want hands-on experience, not second-hand reports. Talking about missions will accomplish very little.
What will work is getting the younger generation out to the mission field for short-term trips of one or two or three weeks. That will make a difference. The Baby Boomers are experience-oriented—they have to see it and feel it and touch it before it impacts them.
Therefore, I believe that one of our major priorities in the 1990s must be to send all of our key younger leaders to the mission field. This year for the first time all three of our fulltime pastors will visit the mission field. This summer I am going with our teenagers to Haiti. Later this year a group of our men will visit Leningrad to help renovate an evangelical church in the heart of the city. Next year I hope we can send out four or five groups.
My goal is that within four or five years short-term missions experience will be considered a prerequisite for any leadership position in the church. That is, we would be able to say, “Phil Newton—Two weeks in Spain, 1991,” or “Joanne Hale—One week in Alaska, 1992.”
5. Every-Member Ministry. I learned something new this week at the NAE convention in Phoenix. I heard John Maxwell from San Diego talk about the importance of involving everyone in the congregation in some form of ministry. He said it this way: “Don’t count attendance or membership. That doesn’t tell you anything. Count the number of people involved in some kind of ministry. That’s the key statistic.”
(He doesn’t mean that literally. He counts attendance just like we do. But his point is well-taken. The number of people actively involved in some form of ministry tells you more about your church than the weekly attendance does.)
To help us do that, we will be taking several steps in the near future:
1. Pastors Brian Bill and Bill Miller will be taking an inventory of all the various ministries of Calvary and of who is involved in each area. That will give us a rough idea of where we stand.
2. Then, beginning on Sunday, April 1, I will start a brand-new sermon series on Spiritual Gifts. The series—which will last through June—will examine the various ministry gifts in the New Testament so that you can understand how each gift functions in the local church. And on Sunday, April 22, we will make available to you a Spiritual Gifts Inventory—an actual test you can take—which will help you discover your spiritual gifts. You will be able to discover not only what your gifts are, but where you can use them at Calvary.
3. Later on we would like to incorporate the Spiritual Gifts Inventory as a regular part of the Membership Seminar at Calvary. Ideally, each person joining the church would be immediately matched with a ministry opportunity so that when we introduce each new member, we would also tell where he (or she) will be serving in the body.
6. Family Spirit. A couple of days ago a friend came by to see me. He mentioned a buddy of his who excuses his alcohol abuse with these words: “You gotta live.” Then my friend looked out the window and said, “It’s a crazy world out there.” He’s right. It is a crazy world, only it’s not out there any more.
More and more, we are seeing broken people coming into the church—people coming to Christ from incredibly bad situations. Not a week goes by that we on staff don’t talk to people about substance abuse, sexual abuse, homosexuality, broken homes, and dysfunctional families. Sometimes the pain is so great that all we can do is simply sit and listen.
Thirty years ago it wasn’t that way. Our society was still hanging together and that meant that most of the new people came to church from decent family situations. But that’s all changed now.
When people come into the church now, they need to be healed and made whole again. That means they need the church to be like 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 and who will help them get better.
In the years ahead, the family spirit will become even more crucial as more and more men and women join our fellowship. People these days don’t care about “religion” or about “joining a church.” They want a family where someone really loves them.
A. We need a warm, accepting, open atmosphere on Sunday morning since that’s when most of our new people come to church. This touches everything: How we handle visitors, how many greeters we have, the kind of music we sing, how easy it is for people to meet each other, how Sunday School classes welcome new members, and so on.
B. We should consider instituting a Wednesday night family meal in the fall.
C. We should initiate a major new thrust in small groups this year. More and more I see this as crucial for our church. Perhaps we would take one Sunday night a month and set it aside for small group ministry. We already have a number of small groups meeting throughout the church, but we need many more.
D. We must elevate the role of our Shepherding ministry. Right now we have 19 Shepherding couples under the direction of Cliff Raad and Bill Miller. Each couple stays in touch with families in their ministry area. Although this ministry is only a year old, it has had a profound impact in helping us take care of our people.
E. We will probably need to start a counseling center sometime in the next year or two. We basically are working on a three-level plan. Level one is the Shepherding ministry. Level two is the Calvary Counseling Corps—laymen and women who are trained in Christian counseling. They will eventually handle much of the pre-marital counseling and even some of the marriage counseling. The pilot group started training last September. This fall we will open that ministry to the congregation. Level three is the Calvary Counseling Center—a full-time program staffed by trained, professional Christian counselors. I think this will become a reality in the next year or two.
7. Evangelism. Things have changed in the area of evangelism over the years. A generation ago, revival meetings were in. Today they are as far out as you can get. Door-to-door evangelism is certainly not dead, but in some places it seems to work well and in other places not so well. Twenty-five years ago Sunday School attendance contests brought in hundreds of new people, but in 1990 that seems like a relic from the dark ages. The same thing is true of the bus ministry.
What does work today? Concerts work pretty well, and so do well-done special outreach banquets. Ditto for seminars aimed at special niches (divorce-recovery, how to manage your finances, parenting seminars). Preach-ing that is need-centered, life-related, and very practical works well. Anything which stresses relationships will probably work—especially with the Baby Boomers. Interestingly, a well-planned, relevant, contemporary worship service is a good draw for the unchurched. They will come to church, but not for business as usual.
Back to Megatrends 2000 for a moment. Chapter 9 is entitled “Religious Revival of the Third Millennium.” It begins with this sentence: “At the dawn of the third millennium there are unmistakable signs of a worldwide multi-denominational religious revival.” (p. 270). To be sure, Naisbitt and Aburdene make no distinction between a revival of New Age religion and a revival of genuine Christianity. They point out that most of the growth in the next decade will come from Baby Boomers who are giving church a second try.
That’s good news for Calvary if we are wise enough to seize the moment. Consider what happened last week-end: We had three separate outreach events within a 24 hour period. On Friday night 70 high school students attended an overnight event. On Saturday morning 240 women came to the women’s spring luncheon. On Saturday night 186 people attended the Crossroads service. All three events were specifically designed for outreach. The total attendance was 496. A great many of those were unchurched or only nominal Christians. That’s exciting because it says that Calvary is becoming more and more oriented toward reaching the lost.
Five quick recommendations:
1. Several months ago at my direction, Pastor Brian Bill completed the most extensive study ever done on attracting and holding visitors to Calvary. His final report was nearly 40 pages long and contained a number of specific proposals on how we can better care for our Sunday morning visitors. The board members have each received a copy of Brian’s report. I recommend that we take steps to speedily implement his proposals.
2. Pastor Brian has set a goal for 1990 of training 300 of our people in how to lead someone to Christ. This would not be general training in evangelism, but very specific training in a simple method for leading a friend to Jesus Christ. I recommend that we support him in this effort and clear his schedule so that he has enough time to get the job done.
3. I recommend that we provide a fairly steady stream of meaningful outreach events throughout the year so that the challenge of reaching our community is always set before us.
4. I recommend the establishment of a publicity committee to help us advertise our special events and noteworthy ministries.
5. I recommend that we consciously inject a spirit of evangelism into our Sunday morning services by using a well-chosen blend of great hymns, contemporary choruses, less classical music, more congregational participation, a clear presentation of the gospel somewhere in each service, and an invitation (as often as possible and in various forms) to trust Christ. Unchurched people respond well to worship which is joyful and exuberant and presented in a warm, informal context that says, “We love you.”
8. Prayer Ministry. This is a particular burden of my heart. All these new ideas are just that—new ideas and nothing more. Without the help of God nothing of eternal worth can be accomplished. That’s why we need some kind of prayer ministry at Calvary.
In particular, I would like to see us appoint a Prayer Ministry Task Force to develop ways and means of encouraging an ongoing ministry of prayer. In earlier generations, the saints would have special days of prayer and often whole nights of prayer. We’ve gotten away from that over the years. I would like to see us get back to it.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we set aside one day each quarter as a Day of Prayer at Calvary? We should do that and we should also observe occasional days of fasting and prayer. In addition, the Task Force could examine ways to encourage personal prayer (perhaps make prayer journals available to the congregation); it could also consider ways and means of establishing an ongoing prayer chain or perhaps setting up a special telephone prayer line where our members could call in each day and hear a brief devotion and a list of our congregational prayer needs. In any case, we need to do more to encourage our people to pray.
9. Christian Action. In general, we need to be more involved as salt and light in our community. As I have already noted, God has given us a unique position from which to speak to this entire area. In the next few years, we can make a major impact for Jesus Christ. We can do it in two ways:
1. By speaking out on the crucial moral and social issues of our day. A list would include homosexuality, abortion, pornography, the drug crisis, the breakdown of the family, the negative influence of much modern media (radio, TV, movies, music), the fight for religious freedom and the growing secularization of American culture. Unfortunately, we live in a day of rapid moral decline. If you doubt that, there are two excellent, recently-published books you should buy and read carefully:
Chuck Colson. Against the Night. Servant Publications, 1989.
Carl F. H. Henry Twilight of a Great Civilization. Crossway Books, 1988.
Again, I think we should appoint a Christian Action Task Force whose primary responsibility would be to keep the congregation informed on the various moral/social issues on a regular basis. Along that line, I have made a personal commitment to speak to the congregation from time to time on these issues. One particular thing we’re trying to do is to spend one whole Sunday in the fall on the Creation-Evolution controversy. I’ve been talking with the Institute of Creation Research in San Diego about bringing in either John Morris or Duane Gish in September or November. We’ll let you know as soon as the date is firmed up.
2. By getting more involved in ministries of compassion. I’m thinking here of our recent, highly successful Sunday night service with Raleigh Washington, Glen Kehrein, and the folks from Circle Urban Ministries. I’m also thinking of our Target Ministries, our prison outreaches, and the Angel Tree Project. In the future, we may have an opportunity for an evangelically-oriented AIDS hospice here in the Oak Park area; we may also have the opportunity to support a Crisis Pregnancy Center somewhere in our area. I trust we will do more to support a broad range of ministries of compassion. Not only will it help us as a congregation, but it will aid our evangelistic efforts as people see that we are willing to back up our words with our actions.
10. New Opportunities. In this final category, I want to mention two possibilities.
1. Christian day-care at Calvary. Day-care is one of the hottest topics in society today. Just pick up your newspaper or turn on the TV. Or read about the debate in Congress. Day-care is one of the issues of the 1990s. People are looking for safe, convenient, affordable ways to take care of their young children. Anyone who can provide it will meet a great need in society. In his book FutureScope: Success Strategies for the 1990’s and Beyond, Joe Cappo says the following:
As the working-mother scenario expands in the next decade the demand for reliable quality child care will become crucial. Child care is destined to develop into a major challenge for industry and government, as well as for parents, in the 1990s. (p.101)
We expect that all forms of child care services will grow rapidly during the 1990s… With two-income families, the cost of such services is less important than the degree of confidence and peace of mind generated with the parents. (p.102)
There is a great opportunity for us in this area. We have a vast educational area which is mostly unused during the week. No doubt some modifications would have to be made to meet the state requirements. But the door is wide open and we already have many people in the congregation who could help staff this program. And there are many, many families in our area who would gladly send their children to a first class, safe, evangelical day-care center.
This is an idea whose time has come. I recommend we begin right now investigating the possibility of starting something in this area by next September. Along the same line, we should investigate starting a pre-school and kindergarten program along with a day-care center.
2. A Christian Day-School System for this entire region. This proposal is akin to the last one. If we can start an evangelical pre-school or a kindergarten, then one logical next step would be to eventually stretch it out to the first grade, the second grade, the third grade, and so on.
But I propose that we think much bigger than that. I propose 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 (K-8) which would feed into a evangelical Christian high school here in Oak Park. Such a system would be:
Multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural
Filled with deeply devoted, highly trained 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
How would such a system work? Well, you begin by establishing your first elementary school in Oak Park. Then you expand west to Elmhurst, south to Cicero and Berwyn and east to Austin. (In fact, the Austin one is very possible because Circle Urban Ministries owns what used to be St. Sienna High School. They have a huge auditorium, perhaps a dozen large classrooms and a cafeteria. That part of the building is not yet reno-vated, but it could be if the money were available.)
The key is to establish your elementary schools and then let them feed into the high school in Oak Park, thus providing a student base large enough to support an excellent high school program.
To be further specific, I believe Calvary could—in the beginning at least—easily house a K-8 elementary school. The high school would not be housed here. Another church in the area would be a possibility. An even better possibility would be to find a suitable property for the high school in the Oak Park-River Forest area.
It is part of my vision that by establishing a truly first-class, truly excellent Christian school system in our region, we could provide a model for churches around the country, especially churches in urban areas. We could show them that it can be done.
The interesting point is that we would only be doing what the Lutherans and Catholics have done for many decades. Evangelicals have built a lot of mom-and-pop Christian schools in local churches. While I do not deny the genuine good such schools have done, I think we should strive for a much larger, much bolder, much more comprehensive goal.
Let’s not build a Christian school just for Oak Park and River Forest. Let’s build an evangelical school system for the near-western suburbs of Chicago. Let it be based in Oak Park and let it catch the flavor of excellence our village is known for. And let it come from the strong evangelical base of Calvary Memorial Church.
Would such a school have any appeal? I believe it would have a vast appeal to hundreds of families. Many would send their children because of the academic excellence, many because of the Christian emphasis, and many because of deteriorating public schools in our area. The reasons would be as varied and diverse as the families from which the children would come.
It is important that I add a purely personal note at this point. You need to know how I feel about the great debate between public schools, private schools, and home schools.
1. I believe the issue of where and how you school your children is a matter of personal choice. I do not believe the Bible absolutely mandates one way above another. Therefore, I believe one family may choose public school, another Christian school, and yet another may choose to home school. All three may be doing what God wants them to do.
2. I therefore believe that we ought not to judge one another in this area. We aren’t all alike, our children aren’t all alike, our views of the world aren’t all alike. This is an area where we need to exercise great Christian courtesy toward our brothers and sisters who may see things differently.
(Incidentally, I ran across an excellent book called Schooling Choices, edited by Wayne House and published by Multnomah Press in 1988. In it, a public school educator, a professor of Christian Education, and a leader in the home school movement each present their different viewpoints and each respond to the viewpoints of the other two. It is the best and most balanced discussion in print today and I highly recommend it.)
3. In general, I believe in freedom of choice and educational pluralism. That is, I think parents are well-served when they have a wide variety of schooling options for their children. That, I think, is not only good for the parents, but it is good for society as a whole. And I think that the public good is not served when public schools are the only viable option for parents. (Interestingly, the trend in public education is toward that point of view. Nowadays we have magnet schools, gifted schools, cluster schools, and so on. In my opinion, that is very healthy. It offers still more options and thus meets the needs of more families.) By the same token, I don’t think that a community with only parochial schools or Christian schools is well-served either. The broader the range of options, the better.
My ideal educational environment would be one in which there were:
—Truly excellent public schools
—Truly excellent evangelical Christian schools
—Truly excellent Catholic schools
—Truly excellent Lutheran schools
—Truly excellent private schools of every variety
This whole notion of options is, in my opinion, not only biblical but thoroughly democratic. It is based on the American tradition of pluralism and diversity, in which families have the maximum number of good choices in educating their children.
4. I am not in favor of asking parents to take their children out of the public schools nor am I in favor of asking Christian teachers to leave the public school system. Far from it. We need more Christian teachers and more Christian principals to be salt and light for Jesus Christ. As a practical matter, even if we start a Christian school system, there will still be more Christian students and teachers in the public schools—for many different and good reasons. That’s perfectly fine with me. As I said, I’m in favor of providing more options, not closing off options we already have.
That said, I still think we ought to do it. There is a great need here which we at Calvary could begin to fill. Obviously there are many challenges to face, questions to answer, and problems to solve before this could become a reality. And yet I believe God could enable us to do all of it in the next ten years.
I have written at some length about this—not because it is the most important thing or because it is first on the list of things we need to do—but rather because it is the heaviest burden on my heart. I say that as a father who dreams great things for his three boys. I say that as a pastor who wants the best for the multitude of wonderful young people in our church. I say that as a friend and neighbor who believes that first-class evangelical Christ-ian education would be a boon and a blessing to this region.
If we do it, it will take time and money—time out of an already-busy schedule and money we may not feel like giving. It will take years to get the whole system up and running. Some people will not see the need.
Is it really worth it? I believe it is, but only if we are in it for the long haul. By definition, education is for a lifetime. The real payoff of a Christian school system won’t come in three or four years (although the value would be evident by then). Nor does the payoff come when the kids are 17 or 18. The real payoff comes about 30 years down the road—in the year 2020. By then, all of our kids will be grown up and long gone. But the fruit of a Christian school system will be clearly seen in the next generation.
I look ahead to the year 2020 and I see a multitude of kids now grown up—kids from all walks of life, from a dozen communities, rich white kids from River Forest and poor black kids from Austin and Hispanic kids and Asian kids, all of them grown up now. The youngest is perhaps 25 and the oldest perhaps 45. All of them were educated in an atmosphere of prayer and an awareness of God. They were taught that all truth is God’s truth. They were taught that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (Proverbs 1:7) Almost all of them went on to college. There are doctors and lawyers and a whole host of godly businessmen and women, along with a few pastors and some missionaries. They were taught the Word of God along with all their other subjects. Now they are grown up and school is far behind them. But they are thoroughly Christian, committed to reaching the world for Jesus Christ and unafraid of the secular world. In short, they are high-impact players for Jesus Christ. All of them came from the school system we established 30 years earlier.
Is such a vision truly possible? Yes, but it will take time and money and a 2020 vision that can look 30 years into the future and see what can be done.
The Day Of Visitation
In the Old Testament, there is a particular phrase which is used to describe a time when God visits his people with unusual power and blessing. Such a time is called a “day of visitation.” The result of a day of visitation is a revival of prayer, love, outreach, joy, fervency, optimism, and power from on high.
I believe that God gives churches days of visitation. We have had 3 obvious ones in our history:
1. In the mid-30s under Pastor Fardon
2. In the mid-60s under Pastor Gray
3. In the early 80s under Pastor Gerig
I am asking God to do it again at Calvary in the 90s. But keep this in mind: A day of visitation is a gift from God. When it comes, it doesn’t last forever. Therefore, the most important fact is to enjoy it while you have it so that you can look back with joy and not with sorrow over missed opportunities.
Will the 90s be a day of visitation for Calvary Memorial Church? All the elements are here—an incredible location, a wonderful history, a great collection of gifted people, and a remarkable blend of young and old. There is commitment here. There is godliness here. There is vision here.
Is all this for nothing special? Is it just coincidence? No, God never works that way. We are here for a higher purpose. As the lights go out all around us, we are here to shine in the darkening night. I think we are here for some greater purpose beyond anything we can understand. This church has all the ingredients to be a mighty force for Jesus Christ. The seeds of greatness are here.
Will the 1990s be our day of visitation? I think it might happen. When we come to the Year 2000, what will we look back on? Will we be able to say, “Those were the greatest days we ever had?”
If that is indeed our destiny—and I believe that it is—then let us move forward with faith, courage, and vision to take our whole region for Jesus Christ. Let us do it in his name and by his power. Let us do all for God’s glory. In doing it, we will make no small plans; they have no power to stir men’s blood.