by Richard H. Bliese, President, Luther Seminary
God is calling us to focus like lasers on God's mission. How instructive, then, that the New Year always begins with the season of mission, Epiphany. However else we celebrate the New Year, and however else we imagine the church's business plan shaping up in the coming months, God's mission must be its driver, its heart and its unique starting point. By "mission" I don't mean the mission projects that we do when our congregation is strong enough and has some discretionary income to spend. I mean mission understood in terms of the Kingdom of God in our midst; that is, I believe that the Holy Spirit is giving us TODAY the power to be part of that kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. "Come Lord Jesus, and bring your Kingdom." The Lord's Prayer is, therefore, at its heart, a call to mission.
Since I spent so many years in Chicago, I liked shopping at Sears Roebuck. In fact, so too did MANY people. Because of its success, the company built its headquarters at Chicago's center. I can really identify with that tower. In 1973, the Sears Tower was completed as the tallest building in the world. At the time, Sears was at the height of its power. That building rose out of a great sense of confidence. But as soon as it was built, Sears began its long decline. Gradually, its business model stopped working.
Just a few years ago, Sears and Kmart merged. Together they are smaller than Wal-Mart. Now, the Sears Tower is only the third tallest building in the world—and it's not even called the "Sears" Tower anymore.
My analogy is meant to point not only backwards to the threat of stagnation in denominations, synods, seminaries and congregations, but to the future opportunities for ministry that the Spirit is creating. Isaiah had a similar vision in exile (Isaiah 64). The temple back in Jerusalem "has been burned." But, and here Isaiah sees divine handy work at play, God is doing a new thing:
"Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
We are the clay, and you are our potter;
We are all the work of your hand." (Isaiah 64:8)
Many of us have the hardest time changing because we were so successful in the past. We had so much invested in a particular business model of ministry. Like clay on a potter's wheel that's been collapsed, the recession dramatically revealed our weaknesses. But the Spirit will be working hard in 2012 re-forming the church for service to God's Kingdom in Jesus Christ. Look through these pages for some stories of these "new creations." The master potter is at work.
Re-form us for your mission, O Lord. "Tear open the heavens and come down ... so that the nations tremble at your presence!" (Isaiah 64:1-2)