This Must Be the Place:
May 31, 1998 | Ray Pritchard
Seven times in nine years I have given a State of the Church address to Calvary Memorial Church. In my first message I quoted the famous words of Daniel Burnham, architect and author of The Chicago City Plan: “Make no small plans. They have no power to stir men’s blood.”
I have tried to follow that advice from the very first day. Over these nine years together we have seen God do some amazing things in our midst. The church has expanded in almost every direction possible. We could talk about numbers or dollars or new ministries—and in every case the report would show positive growth. Or we could talk about what really matters—changed lives—and there we would discover thousands of people touched by Jesus Christ through the local, national and worldwide outreach of this congregation.
A few months ago the elders and the staff began talking in earnest about writing a new mission statement for the congregation—one that would capture the flavor of our ministry and help us stay on target. After much discussion the staff submitted the following mission statement to the elders for their consideration: Helping people in our community and around the world discover the life-changing power of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Let’s break that statement down and look at it piece by piece:
1. Helping people … discover. That implies a journey that begins the moment you trust Christ and continues for a lifetime.
2. In our community and around the world. Suggests both a local focus (but not limited to Oak Park—”community” is a broad term meaning everywhere our people live) and a world focus.
3. Life-changing power. This sounds like Romans 1:16—”the gospel is the power of God for salvation.” It touches the heart of what the church is all about—the business of life-transformation. It implies evangelism, conversion, discipleship, worship, service, and being molded into the image of Christ.
4. A personal relationship. Emphasizes the importance of personal conversion through faith in Christ. Helps people see that it’s not religion but Christ who saves us.
Everything the church does can be found in that 21 word statement. It’s all there—worship, prayer, praise, Bible study, education, discipleship, outreach, and world missions. I hope that one year from now every man, woman, boy and girl in this church can say those 21 words by memory.
“In the Black” by $112!
So what is the state of the church in 1998? I believe it is very good indeed. Our church is healthy, growing, expanding, deepening, and enjoying an unusual season of God’s blessing. We now have over 2000 people on our church rolls—many of whom travel great distances to be here on Sunday morning. The two highest attendance days in our history have come in the last nine months. On the financial front, I can tell you that A) last November we paid off the first mortgage on the church—over two years ahead of schedule, and B) even though our expenses last year totaled over $1 million, we finished 1997 “in the black” with income exceeding expenditures by a whopping $112, and C) we recently received the largest bequest in the history of our church—totaling $325,000. It came from the estate of a woman who died over 30 years ago and named Calvary in her will. The money was held in trust for her sister who died a couple of years ago. The elders have designated a “tithe” of that amount—$33,000—to be given to Christian ministries locally and around the world, and D) our giving has been above budget for the first five months of 1998.
I have been your pastor for nearly nine years now and can testify that there has never been a dull moment. We’ve been through a lot together—good times and hard times and lots of in-between times. I’m old enough to realize the truth of Ecclesiastes 3:1, “To everything there is a season.” Tonight we meet together in a season of God’s obvious blessing. But nothing lasts forever, time rolls on, the kids grow up and move out on their own, church members come and go, and the good times come and go as well. In giving this report, I exhort the congregation to give God the glory—all of it all the time. Let us not think that our present state is due to anything good in us—our wisdom, our cleverness, our hard work, our ingenuity, our courage, or anything else in us. Let us rather remember the phrase Soli Deo Gloria—To God alone be the glory—and let that be our watchword.
I. Ten Signs of Life
Many good things are happening at Calvary these days. Recently I asked the staff to list ten signs of life in our congregation. These are positive trends or events that give evidence of God’s blessing. Here are some of the things we talked about:
A. Last Fall we paid off the mortgage on the church. Thanks to a generous bequest from someone who attended Calvary years ago, we were able to pay off the remainder of the mortgage over two years ahead of schedule. This has freed up thousands of dollars to spend in direct ministry.
B. Our youth and children’s ministries continue to prosper. Each week hundreds of children and teenagers attend Sunday School, Awana clubs, Caraway Street, Power Connection (Junior High), and Allied Force (Senior High). Let me speak not as a pastor but as a parent who has had children in all those programs. I can testify firsthand to the fantastic job our teachers and youth leaders are doing week after week. It’s no secret that many people list our youth programs as one of the top reasons why they choose to attend Calvary. My hat is off to Bev Kvasnicka (Director of Children’s Ministry), Darol Davis (Junior High director), and Craig Steiner (Pastor of Student Ministries), and to secretaries Gert Woomer and Cindy Todd for their tireless efforts on behalf of our children and teenagers.
C. Record Attendance Days. Last September, 1398 people attended the Celebration Sunday at Oak Park-River Forest High School. We broke that record on Easter Sunday 1998 when 1467 attended our services.
D. Becoming a Regional Church. In my first State of the Church message (1990), I predicted that Calvary would increasingly become a “regional church” drawing attenders from a wide geographic area. That’s certainly come true. One thing I didn’t foresee is that God would allow us to serve many other churches in our area through our various ministries. One of the most satisfying aspects of our ministry is the knowledge that children and teenagers from many other churches attend our youth ministries. In the last few years we’ve also served the larger body of Christ through the conferences and seminars we host, through our partnership with the Moody Radio Network, TV-38, and through books and radio/TV interviews.
E. Compassion in Action. Although many of our people are involved in community affairs, we have known for some time that we could and should do more in an organized way, especially to the hurting, the poor, and those with serious family problems. Recently a group called Compassion in Action has organized to help us show the love of Christ in tangible ways in our community. This group will help us in three ways: 1) By promoting missionary partnerships with existing Christian ministries, 2) By creating new ministries sponsored directly by Calvary, and 3) By encouraging Christians to be salt and light within existing secular organizations. God is calling us to get involved in the hurts of the world around us.
This week three of us from the staff spent several hours with Glen Kehrein, director of Circle Urban Ministries in the Austin community. We’ve had a long and a friendly relationship and have joined with them in their work of rebuilding their community in the name of Jesus. Glen took us through several buildings—once abandoned and used by drug pushers—now being rehabbed and turned into affordable, low-cost housing. The only word I can think of to describe what we saw is the word miracle. But it’s not a miracle like the parting of the Red Sea, it’s a miracle of love, compassion, dedication, sacrifice and prayer. It is a miracle made possible by faith that believes in God to move mountains of impossibility. We agreed that Calvary should join with Circle Urban Ministries in a closer partnership in the future.
There are so many ways each of us can make a difference. Many people from Calvary invest time and money in the work of Circle Urban Ministries. Some share Christ in the Chicago jails. Others give to Operation Angel Tree. Some take in foster children or AIDS babies or counsel at a crisis pregnancy center or work with single parents or minister to those with life-threatening illnesses or care for the widows in our congregation. 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.
F. Our partnership with the larger body of Christ. Over the years God has allowed us to work together with many local churches and organizations in advancing the cause of Christ. Some who read this will remember the Unity Walk with the Rock Church, the Exalt celebrations in Mills Park, the Say Yes Campaign with Luis Palau, the annual Hike for Life, the National Day of Prayer service at the public library, a pulpit exchange with Pastor Art Jackson of Judson Baptist Church, our continuing long-term relationship with Moody Bible Institute, and the three buses that took 100 men from many local churches to the Promise Keepers Stand in the Gap rally in Washington, D.C. We’ve had the privilege of working with Pastor David Steinhart of Forest Park Baptist Church, Pastor Raleigh Washington of the Rock Church, Pastor Bill Winston of the Living Word Christian Center, Pastor Timothy Fung of the Chinese Bible Church, Pastor Larry Pilkington of Emmanuel Bible Church, Pastor Jim Musgrave of the Living Word Church, Pastor Jeff Babbe of Elmwood Park Bible Church, Pastor Harry Parker of the First Baptist Church, Pastor Dave Frederick of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, Pastor John Taylor of Grace Bible Church, and our fellowship with the Village Church, Woodside Bible Chapel, the First Presbyterian Church of River Forest, and Harrison Street Bible Church. I am glad to mention these pastors and churches by name because Calvary has greatly benefited from their friendship.
G. The spiritual eagerness of the congregation. Sometimes when I’m asked how I ended up at Calvary I tell people that it happened by accident. One Sunday in May, 1989 I flew in from Texas to be the guest speaker—totally unknown to the congregation. When I flew back home, I commented to my wife that Calvary seemed like a nice church—and as far as I was concerned, that was the end of it. Little did I know that through that one sermon God had made a connection that has lasted now for almost ten years. After all these years as your pastor I am still amazed at the eagerness of this congregation to hear the Word of God. Week after week I stand to preach—I suppose it has been nearly 400 times—and I can still sense people leaning forward to hear God’s truth proclaimed. Calvary is a preacher’s church—made so by many decades of hearing the Word of God with joy—and I am fortunate to be your pastor.
H. The vitality of our missionary program. In my early years at Calvary I felt that we needed to raise up a new generation of missionaries and of missionary supporters in order to maintain a strong outreach into the 21st century. At our last missions conference it hit me that nearly everyone on our missions committee is under the age of 40. And we have new candidates “in the pipeline” for the next three years at least. This year we will give $228,000 through our budget to world missions and thousands more to support a variety of short-term missions trips. This year four of our pastors will spend time on the mission field: Bob Boerman (Costa Rica), Craig Steiner (Mexico), Davis Duggins (Honduras), and Marlene and I plan to visit Nigeria in late October. I hope the day soon comes when 100 of our people will spend time in short-term missions projects each year.
I. A happy, harmonious staff. After 20 years as a pastor, I understand more than ever the importance of having people on staff who enjoy their jobs and who like each other. It took us a few years to reach that point, but God has indeed given us a spirit of joy, cooperation, and mutual respect. Anyone who attends our Tuesday staff meetings will probably go away thinking that all we do is tell stories and laugh together. We give each other room to grow, there is freedom to be creative, and there is also the freedom to say, “This isn’t working right. Can you help me?” How the staff relates to each other sets the tone for the entire congregation, which explains a great deal about the joy people feel when they attend our services on Sunday.
J. People coming to Christ. I said earlier that we are in the business of life-transformation. We believe that every life can be changed by the power of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Recently we sponsored Christian illusionist Andre Kole for a special performance at Lund Auditorium on the campus of Dominican University. When challenged to invite their friends, our congregation responded with enthusiasm. Over 1100 people attended the “magical spectacular” with 102 indicating they were making a first-time commitment to Jesus Christ, along with five who indicated a rededication and 55 who asked for more information about the Christian faith. As exciting as those number are, it’s even more exciting to realize that those who made decisions for Christ came because someone invited them. This is what the church is all about—helping people in our community and around the world discover the life-changing power of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
The Chairman of the Board
British novelist Graham Greene once wrote, “The door always opens and lets the future in.” Recently Frank Sinatra died. Did you know that he was born only a few months after this church was founded in 1915? Think how much has changed in nine decades. During this century we have seen two world wars, the Great Depression, the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War, and the rise and fall of Communism. One hundred years ago radio was a dream, television unheard of, and personal computers the stuff of science fiction. Come to think of it, 100 years ago there were hardly any automobiles and very few electric lights. Today we have fax machines, cell phones, pagers, laptop computers, cable TV, and satellites that can locate your car from outer space and give you on-board driving directions to anywhere in America. Ten years ago the World Wide Web didn’t exist, today there are hundreds of millions of web pages on the Internet. In the old days—say back in 1991—almost no one had e-mail. Now hundreds of people at Calvary use it to communicate with their friends around the world.
Recently I’ve been reading a fascinating book by George Barna, noted Christian pollster, called The Second Coming of the Church. In it he reports that the pace of change has accelerated to the point that society now reinvents itself every five years. He believes the church must do the same or face oblivion by the middle of the 21st century. Many of the assumptions we’ve taken for granted simply will not hold true in the future. Changing times call for churches that can respond with strong biblical faith and the courage to adjust to the needs of the moment.
II. A Look Ahead
A few months ago I jotted down my dreams for Calvary in 1998. I’ve been using this as part of my personal prayer list for our church.
A. Hire a Pastor of Worship & Music. Well over a year ago the elders approved making this a full-time position instead of part-time as in the past. Since then we’ve received over 75 resumes from qualified candidates around the country. Once or twice we’ve been close to finding the right person (or so we thought), but something always seemed to come up. I hope you’ll join me in praying faithfully that this position will soon be filled.
B. Establish a major presence on the Internet. Five years ago I had never heard of the Internet—and had barely heard of e-mail. Today I have a list of over 150 church members and over half our missionaries who correspond with me regularly via e-mail—and the number grows every week.
Here are some fascinating facts about the Internet just released by the Commerce Department (and supplied to me by Randy Birkey):
Internet traffic is doubling every 100 days.
There are now 100 million people using the Internet.
The “digital economy” is growing twice as fast as the US economy.
10 million people in the US and Canada bought something online by the end of 1997—up from 4.7 million just six months earlier.
Internet commerce now accounts for 8% of the Gross National Product.
Electronic commerce will reach $300 billion by 2002.
It took radio 30 years to reach an audience of 50 million, TV took 13 years, the Internet took only four years.
As Randy says, “Where else can we spend $2000 and potentially reach 100 million people with the gospel?” The answer is: Nowhere else. I firmly believe that Calvary must invest money now to establish a strong presence on the Internet. The reason is simple: The Internet (and its successor technologies) will become a major world communications force in the next ten years. Already many experts foresee a day when television, radio, telephone, cell phones, fax, and personal computers will merge into a general home communications information center. Even though I’m no expert, it’s obvious even to my untrained eyes this is starting to happen.
It seems to me that our church has a wonderful opportunity to establish a presence on the Internet that will enable us to have a global impact. While I believe that the CMC web site can offer many benefits to our congregation (and to prospective attenders), I don’t see that as the chief market (at least not immediately). I believe we should view the Internet as a global communications tool that will enable our church to minister in various ways to millions of people scattered around the world.
Although you may not know it, Calvary already has a functioning web site. You can find it at www.cmcop.org. Already you can find out about our various ministries, check the church calendar, download sermons, send in prayer requests and questions, and even order books through our web site. You can also find out about goods and services offered by members of our congregation.
I can see the day coming when technology will allow us to broadcast all our services live over the Internet and reach an audience of millions of people. I also see the day when our site receives thousands of “hits” from seekers, Christian workers, and pastors from all over the world who want to tap into our library of resources. I see chat rooms, Q & A forums on Christianity, and various interactive ways in which we can touch people in places like Mauritius and Zimbabwe and help them spread the gospel.
We’ve only scratched the surface of what we can do on the Internet. I believe that within five years nearly every person at Calvary will have Internet access and that virtually all our visitors will as well. At that point, the Internet will become a major tool for communication with the church body—perhaps the main tool we’ll use to keep in touch with each other. By taking the necessary steps now, our church can establish a strong national and global presence in the marketplace of ideas.
C. Consider planting a new church. In the last few months a few of us have been considering planting a new church in Dearborn Park—just south of the Loop. Our research has revealed two critical points: 1) This is one of the fastest-growing areas in Chicago, and 2) There is no viable evangelical church in Dearborn Park—and none is planned so far as we know.
Urban scholar Ray Bakke notes that the world is moving to the cities. In 1900, 8% of the world’s population lived in cities; by the year 2000 that number will be 50%. Dearborn Park represents only one of many areas in Chicago that need an evangelical church. I cannot say categorically that God is leading us to start a new church in Dearborn Park. I do believe it is God’s will that we plant churches somewhere, sometime, somehow. After all, if a few courageous souls hadn’t planted a church in Oak Park in 1915, we wouldn’t be here now.
A few days ago I received the following message in an e-mail from Deneen Banker, our missionary in Albania:
I was also very encouraged to read in the bulletins that you are praying and discussing about starting another church in Chicago. I’ve prayed for this off and on since last September. I believe it is so important not to keep all that Calvary has learned, the great people with their gifts—all in one place.
I want the congregation to know that I am willing to back up my words with my own commitment. If the Lord leads, I am willing to leave Calvary and become the first pastor of a new church—in Dearborn Park or anywhere else for that matter. I may not be the best person for that job (I’m probably not), but I’m willing to do it if that’s what it takes. And that is what it takes to plant new churches—pastors, elders, deacons, Sunday School teachers, and other mature Christians willing to step out on faith to reach others for Christ. Why should this surprise us? We’ve been sending missionaries to the ends of the earth for 83 years to do the same thing. By the way, I’m in favor of intentionally planting three to five churches in the next ten years and sending out as many as 500 of our people to help those new churches get started.
D. Establish a Personal Ministry Time. For several years I have wanted a time when people could pray with the elders and prayer partners at the end of our worship services. This has been a longtime dream of mine because it gives our people a chance to respond to the work of the Holy Spirit and to pray with and for one another. After some excellent training by Pastor Larry Korbus and Jim Reed, we saw many individuals respond during our first Personal Ministry Time in March. I hope that this can eventually be a regular part of our worship services. As someone said, “It makes the church feel more like a family,” which shouldn’t surprise us since true prayer always unites God’s people.
E. See all three worship services filled to overflowing with hungry hearts. The last phrase is crucial because we don’t want to fill services simply for the sake of filling empty seats. We’re asking God to send us multitudes of people with hearts hungry to know the Lord. I believe we’re not far from the day when we will see all three services packed with believers and seekers whose hearts have been touched by the Holy Spirit and who are eager to hear the Word of God.
F. Ministry partnership that touches inner-city Chicago. For many years Calvary has worked with various ministries that touch the inner-city, such as Circle Urban Ministries, the Rock Church, Inner-City Impact, Prison Fellowship Angel Tree Project, Youth For Christ Juvenile Justice Ministry, and Breakthrough Urban Ministries. I believe that we need to strengthen those ties in the days ahead and to find ways to unleash more and more of our people to creatively touch the millions of people who live just a few miles to the east of us.
G. Five new missionary families from our congregation. I’m praying that God will raise up five new couples (or singles) from our congregation who step forward and answer God’s call to vocational missionary service. At first that seemed like an impossibly large goal, but I’m told that we currently have ten serious candidates who have indicated a desire to serve God on the mission field. May the Lord multiply that number until it reaches 25, 50, and even 100 more people from our church stepping out for the harvest fields of the world.
H. Oak Park Christian Academy (OPCA) to have 100 students and $150,000 in its Building Fund. I realize that OCPA and Calvary are separate organizations. But they are one in my heart. It’s hard for me to explain how I feel about the school so let me mention something Glen Kehrein of Circle Urban Ministries told me when I spent time with him earlier this week. Several years ago Circle founded a Christian school called the Circle-Rock Prep School. Right now they have 80 students in kindergarten through the second grade and plan to add a grade a year all the way through high school. Glen’s wife, Lonni, serves as the administrator of the school—a situation I understand completely. During our tour Glen spoke with obvious pride about the school and their vision for the future. Why did they start it? “Because we got tired of burying kids in our youth group. We realized we had to reach more of our children and reach them sooner and give them a stronger foundation in Christian truth.” Then he added these words: “This is the best thing we’ve ever done.” Their vision is the same as ours—to raise up a generation of young people who will be strong Christian leaders who can change their world for Jesus Christ. They are doing it in Austin and we are doing it in Oak Park.
And I feel the same way Glen does. After eight and a half years in Oak Park, I regard the establishment of this Christian school as the single most important accomplishment of my ministry in Oak Park. On June 10, OPCA will have its very first graduating class as Samantha Avery and Chris Eaton graduate from the eighth grade. I remember that three years ago tonight we had only five students signed up for the first year of classes. We opened in September 1995 with 19 students, grew to 41 students the second year and to 58 students this year. We’re on track to have 80 students this Fall—and we could have 100.
Oak Park Christian Academy is a miracle school. Every time I see the schoolchildren walking through our halls, I thank God that parents in this area who want their children to be educated in a truly Christian school now have that option.
III. Particular challenges we face
Let’s think for a moment about some of the particular challenges we face in 1998. Once again I’m going to lean on some observations made by our staff.
A. Crowded conditions
In 1989 our worship attendance stood at 550 in two services. Today it averages around 1100 in three services. This year we will have 1400 events on our church calendar—double the number from eight years ago. We have limited parking (a problem for Oak Park in general), limited space, crowded nurseries, larger than ever membership seminars, rising building usage, and multiplied ministries. In a sense, these are good problems because they reflect a growing congregation—but they are problems nonetheless.
B. Transient congregation
Early in my ministry at Calvary my predecessor, Don Gerig, visited one Sunday night. After the service ended, he and I chatted for a few minutes. He told me that during his years Calvary had become a transient congregation with people moving in and out all the time. He predicted that this trend would continue in the years to come. That night I didn’t fully understand his words, but 8 years later they seem to me to be entirely true. Our surveys tell us that 65% of the congregation has been here for less than five years. We know that many people drive great distances to worship here—some from downtown Chicago, others from Park Ridge, Oak Brook, and Schaumburg. These days we’re attracting more singles and more single parents. We also know that few people will stay in this church for more than ten years; a great many will be here three to five years and then move on.
Several conclusions are obvious. If it seems like you don’t know many people on Sunday morning, you’re right. You don’t because the congregation keeps changing. It also means that we’ve got to package our ministries so that we can help people faster than before because we won’t have extra years to work with them. It’s important to see ourselves as one link in God’s great chain of ministry. We’re going to train leaders for many other churches—and some of them are going to train leaders for us. Finally, because we’re in an urban area, we have to learn how to say Hello and Goodbye all the time. If you’re looking for a church that never changes, you’ll probably need to find a church in a small town in the country.
C. Changing demographics
Several years ago our Family Ministry Team conducted an intensive churchwide survey to discover who comes to Calvary and what our churches needs to look like in the next few years. The results were startling.
We have a young congregation—84% are under the age of 50—and the average age is dropping, not rising.
We are highly educated—95% have some education beyond high school and a large majority have education beyond their college degree.
We show increasing racial and ethnic diversity.
Our congregation is very mobile and widely scattered.
We are very busy people. We find it difficult to balance career, home, school, church and community demands. More and more, we want a church that offers a great many options packed into a relatively small time period.
D. Postmodern cultural confusion
Are you familiar with the term “postmodernism?” That’s a phrase describing a world in which there are no moral absolutes and where tolerance of others is the highest virtue. We see this viewpoint all the time in discussions of divorce, euthanasia, homosexuality, and abortion. “I know you think abortion is wrong for you, but that doesn’t make it wrong for anyone else.”
The recent debate about the Gay Registry in Oak Park demonstrated again the moral corruption of our community. Those who dared to speak out against the registry were derided as right-wing homophobic bigots who wanted to force their narrow-minded religion on everyone in Oak Park. The irony is that the whole controversy started because homosexual zealots wanted to force their evil agenda on the rest of the community.
IV. How will we respond to these trends?
A. Prayer must become central in all we do. In some ways I feel encouraged about this because we have a prayer ministry with over 100 prayer warriors. For the last few years we’ve had a prayer room under the sanctuary so that prayer warriors can pray together during our worship services. But there is so much more that can be done. I’m praying for a group of men and women who will volunteer to help Pastor Davis Duggins oversee this important ministry. Prayer must be more than a slogan or a theory or even a doctrine. Prayer must become the heart and soul of the church if we are to fulfill the mission God has given us. What if we said we weren’t going to start a worship service until we had enough people in the prayer room? If we wouldn’t start without ushers or worship leaders or a preacher (or workers in the nursery), why start without having people in the prayer room?
B. We must unashamedly proclaim the truth and challenge people to respond. The people who founded this church were rock-ribbed, hard-nosed and uncompromising when it came to the teaching of the Bible. They were devoted to the fundamentals of the Christian faith—the inerrancy of the Bible, the Trinity, the deity of Jesus Christ, and salvation through the blood of Christ by grace alone through faith alone.
That helps us in 1998. Our church is built on the Bible and we should not be ashamed to say that. What does that mean for a congregation in Oak Park at the end of the 20th century? Among other things, it means that our message will often come into conflict with the prevailing views in our village. We understand that many people will not share our views and that some will outright oppose us. And a few may even try to silence our witness or marginalize our influence. We also recognize that not everyone will love us for speaking up for the truth.
Be that as it may, we will continue to declare God’s truth and we will continue to apply God’s Word to the moral and spiritual issues of the day. This means that we will speak out in favor of the unborn, against legalized abortion, and against the expansion of gay rights. It also means that we will stand up for heterosexual marriage and will defend the much-maligned “traditional family” as the best way to raise children today.
Beyond that, we are committed to preaching the gospel in all our ministries and to emphasizing Bible doctrine as the foundation for all our teaching. As Professor David Well puts it in his booklet, The Bleeding of the Evangelical Church, we must become “passionate about truth.” This means standing up for the truth and rebuking evil wherever it rears its ugly head.
In many ways God has allowed us to become a lightning rod in our community. Even our adversaries (and there are a few here and there) know who we are and what we believe. Sometimes our name pops up in a negative way in a newspaper column or in a letter to the editor. And occasionally you may meet someone who makes a cutting comment about Calvary. My advice is simple: Don’t worry about it, don’t dwell on it, don’t let it get to you. As my friend Howard Harvey says, You only get flack when you’re flying over the target. Keep on doing good to everyone and let the Lord take care of the critics.
C. We should encourage the development of highly-targeted ministries. Perhaps it would help to think of the church as a kind of one-stop shopping mall for your spiritual needs. We already have many targeted ministries: single moms, parents of teenagers, apologetics, prayer walks, Golden Heirs, Vision Quest, Two by Two class, Hospitality Team, Weigh Down Workshop, financial counseling, Compassionate Care ministry, divorce recovery groups, addiction recovery support groups, Growing Kids God’s Way, Women’s Ministry, Men’s Ministry, Promise Keepers groups, mid-week Bible studies, and elective classes such as our recent classes in sign language and New Testament Greek.
In the 21st century Calvary will be a church made of many smaller parts. More and more we are becoming a church with many smaller congregations within it. That means that no one—including me—will know everyone else in the church—and that’s okay. The days are long gone when everyone knew everyone and no one could miss church without the rest of the congregation knowing about it. Not only are those days gone, they aren’t coming back. In the years to come our church will become increasingly far-flung as people drive long distances to attend our services.
This certainly means that communication will become an even larger issue in the future. Experts say that in a large group you must repeat the same message six or seven times before people “get it.” This isn’t a comment on intelligence (or the lack thereof) but a reflection on the media bombardment that makes it hard for an announcement to “break through” to people.
D. We will continue to be crowded and must find ways to creatively cope with the problem. It may interest you to know that week to week parking is the number one complaint both of members and visitors to Calvary. On some Sundays people are walking up to six blocks to attend our services. The problem becomes acute during the winter months when the sidewalks and streets are covered with snow and ice. We are actively looking at several short-term solutions, including remote parking, shuttle service, and reserving more spaces for our visitors.
E. We must equip our people in the basics of the Christian faith. Many years ago—30 or 40 years ago—most of our converts and new members came into the church with a general knowledge of the Bible and the Christian faith. Such is no longer the case. As a society, we are reaping the results of a post-Christian mindset. Today people come to Christ bringing with them enormous emotional baggage, family dysfunction, and almost total biblical illiteracy. This means we must spend enormous time helping baby Christians deal with family issues, marriage problems, and a startling lack of biblical knowledge.
There is no going back to the “good old days.” We must not assume that everyone who comes here understands what we believe or that they will easily understand our worship and teaching. Sometimes we’ll have to help them figure out how to use a Bible and what to do during a worship service.
Here are five experiences all our people should have:
Vital, life-transforming worship.
Caring relationships with other believers.
Solid grounding in Bible doctrine and the basic how-tos of the Christian life.
An opportunity to discover and use their spiritual gifts.
Equipping to share Christ in their world.
Ironically, one price of reaching new people is that we must teach and re-teach the basic truths of the faith. We must be prepared to meet people where they are and lead them step by step toward spiritual maturity. (By the way, this means being patient with new believers and new members who don’t understand and who may ask questions about things we tend to take for granted.)
F. We must find ways to connect people to each other and to the church more effectively—for Bible teaching, fellowship, caring, and evangelism. Two years ago we began transitioning from adult Sunday School classes to a concept called Adult Bible Fellowships (ABF). Under the leadership of Pastor Davis Duggins, our adult classes now are organized to provide opportunities for prayer, small group ministry, social events, service projects, and help in times of crisis. A good ABF functions as a mini-church. It’s a place where new people can make friends and where longtime members can find a way to minister to others. As Pastor Davis says, ABFs are “the first line of defense” at Calvary to meet the real needs of our people. In the last year, weekly ABF attendance has increased, but we know that 75% of our adults are not regularly involved in an ABF. I’d like to see that double in the next two years.
Recently Pastor Bob Boerman and Lynette Hoy presented a proposal recommending a major expansion of our LifeCare Ministry. This ministry is designed to help people in need or those going through a personal crisis to move toward problem-solving, spiritual growth, great dependence on Christ, and eventually learn how to minister to others going through the same kinds of problems. In short, this ministry takes people in crisis, helps them find biblical solutions, and then equips them to help others in the future. This is an idea whose time has come. I predict the LifeCare ministry will eventually touch hundreds of lives and be the instrument for bringing Christ’s love to many hurting people.
G. We must recommit ourselves to the theological importance of reaching people for Christ. Note the phrase “theological importance.” I am saying that we as a congregation must reaffirm our belief in the lostness of the human race and that the only hope for anyone is through personal faith in Jesus Christ. Recently I heard Erwin Lutzer, pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago, state that one of the burning issues for the future will be whether or not evangelicals still believe that conscious faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation. Do we believe that the lost are really lost? Do we believe that Jesus is truly the only way to God? Do we believe that it is only through conscious faith in Christ that people are saved? Or will we capitulate to the spirit of the age which suggests that evangelism is rude, insensitive and unnecessary? We must resist the “creeping universalism” of our age. Let us enter the new millennium boldly preaching Christ as the only hope for this generation.
H. We need to do some long-range planning for the next five to ten years. That includes a comprehensive plan for ministry and staff development, financial planning, determining the upper limits of our growth at this location, and our vision for new ministries such as church planting and possible relocation. Several months ago the elders appointed a blue-ribbon task force to look into the long-term building expansion possibilities. This task force—chaired by Dick Jahns—was asked to creatively investigate how we could develop our property to the maximum for the glory of God.
If our congregation grows at a rate of 5% for the next ten years, we will average 1600 in worship, which will pose enormous challenges given how crowded we already are. Although this task force is in its early stages of work, they are actively considering such things as: 1) Converting the east lot to a multi-level parking lot, 2) Building a new youth center, 3) Adding a floor to the west wing, 4) Adding a floor to the east wing, 5) Possible expansion of the sanctuary to add 500-700 more seats, and 6) Buying additional property. Obviously, all of these options will be expensive and take years to properly plan. We believe it is good stewardship to fully develop what God has given us—and to be as creative as possible in using what we already have.
A Personal Word
One other point and I am at last finished. Many people have asked how long I intend to stay as pastor of the church. Every time I go away for a Sunday someone asks if I am candidating at a bigger church. As you can tell from my words tonight, I enjoy living in Oak Park, I like Chicago, and I feel right at home as the pastor of Calvary Memorial Church. This isn’t a perfect church and I’m not a perfect pastor—which means we’re a pretty good fit for each other. I do believe the future is bright for this congregation and I also believe Oak Park needs a strong evangelical church—although not everyone in our village shares that assessment.
As for me personally, I have a happy wife who takes great joy in her work at the Christian school and three fine sons who bring me great joy—and sometimes turn my hair gray. I enjoy getting up and coming to work each morning to serve with the best church staff in America. Yes, it’s true that I do have my down days and my moments of frustration and days when I’d rather live in a cottage on the banks of the Big Bear Creek in Franklin County, Alabama, but those days are few and far between. It’s true that now and again I hear from other churches—but the mere thought of moving and starting over again makes me exhausted. Plus my family has informed me that it’s OK with them if I move but they intend to stay here in Oak Park and will be glad to visit me four times a year.
I’m here because God called me here. I’ll be here until he taps me on the shoulder and gives me further instructions. That tap hasn’t come, I’m not looking for it or hoping for it. I get up every morning and commit myself to doing God’s will the best way I can, understanding that he can interrupt my plans any time he wants because as I’ve told you many times in the last year—he’s God and we’re not. So that means I’m happy to be here and plan to be here as far as I know for many years to come.
A Church in the Heart of America
In the early days of Oak Park, the first settlers talked about this village as a kind of continental divide. They were partly jesting and partly telling the truth. Between the east coast and the west coast, name the most important city in America. It’s Chicago without question. No other city comes close. Look at a map of greater Chicagoland as it stretches from Wisconsin to Indiana. What city do you find at the very center of the map? Oak Park. Study a map of Oak Park. What is the central east-west artery in our village? Lake Street. Look at Lake Street carefully. It contains two major areas—the Scoville Park area and the Lake-Harlem mall. One evangelical church sits squarely between those two downtown areas–Calvary Memorial Church.
Here we are—the largest evangelical church in this area, in the center of Oak Park, in the middle of Chicago, in the heart of America. More and more, I believe those things happen only by God’s design. I believe he has raised up this church in this crucial location “for such a time as this.” From 931 Lake Street we can speak to the nation.
Years ago I heard about a country store on a lonely road miles from any town that put this sign on the front door: “There’s no place like this place near this place, so this must be the place.” That’s the way I feel about our church. There’s no place like Oak Park and no place like Calvary, so this must be the place.
We live in a day of great challenge and enormous opportunity. In ourselves we are certainly not sufficient for these things. But it is “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). God has not brought us this far to cause us to fail. He has never failed us throughout 83 years of history. He will not fail us now, and by his grace, we will not fail him.
What a great place to be. What a fantastic time to be alive. To God alone be the glory! Amen.