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As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.
My command is this: love one another as I have loved you.
- John 15: 9, 11-12

I went to a workshop in early October presented by the Lakeshore Center (Camp) and the Presbytery. It was entitled Congregational Vitality 101. We talked about what research said was present in congregations that are healthy. It is true that no one congregation has 100% of these markers, but the more you have the better. As you read this list consider which are strengths and which need some growth here at First Presbyterian Church in Lake Park:

Focus on Faithfulness over Sustainability. Stewardship is about worship not maintaining the institution. Doing God’s work is emphasis and resources (money, talent, building) are a tool to that not a primary focus by themselves.

Christian Education happens for all ages, not just children. There is a desire and opportunity among adults, teens, and kids for learning about the faith and discussing Bible and Christian issues together and in small groups. Multigenerational Formation happens. We all grow deeper in our faith.

Outward Incarnational Focus. The main thing the church does and thinks about is the larger community and things outside its membership, not primarily its members. Mission is local and global, and is involved not just sending money. The community can answer this question—“How would we be less without that church?”

Servant Leadership is empowered. Shared leader ship and grassroots in origin. Clergy and staff are not the ones doing most ministry but instead working to equip others for ministry.

Spirit-Inspired worship. Worship is not for entertainment and both inspires and challenges folks. Worship and prayer are emphasized and encouraged as community time for the membership and others. God is present. Scripture is central.

Intentional Authentic Evangelism. Members actually talk about Jesus in workplace, at home, in community. Not “preachy” but faith is real and God is reason folks do EVERYTHING they do. Faith makes a difference.

Caring and Nurturing Relationships among Members. Even as the outside is the focus, folks by default care for each other, are nonjudgmental toward each other, accept all who join. Grumbling and in-fighting are at a minimum and the community stands up to the “church bullies” yet accepts and loves them too. Visitation is not just the pastor’s job, and folks know each other.

Ecclesial Health. Elders pray often and regularly, together and alone. Teams work cooperatively and session guides not dictates. Pastor is facilitator and minister not CEO. Stewardship is about using tools for mission, not about hoarding wealth.

So how did we do? And it is a “we not them, it is a we not me.” All areas, even strong ones, take energy and time and can always grow in the Spirit. And we are all responsible for the church together—it is not “their fault” but ours. Notice it doesn’t say—best financial stability, growth in numbers, long range strategic or marketing plan, or charismatic pastor. To be a healthy and thriving congregation starts with and continues with Jesus and His call and works by build- ing our faithfulness to that call as a faith family. Talk to the elders and me.  Pray.  Be the church!

- Pastor Tim

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