Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I hope I am one of the first to wish you and your family a blessed and joyous Advent and Christmas season. I pray that the presence, peace, power, and praises of our God fill each of you as you prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior in the coming days.
As I prayed about the theme for my annual Christmas letter to you, I felt compelled to share the following phrase. Have you heard it said that, “Before someone knows they have a friend in Jesus, they first must know what a friend they have in you?” Although this statement may not seem to make sense at first glance, I truly hope that, after reading the following, it will.
Our Michigan District is blessed to have congregations which daily minister to their members and meet the needs of those in the communities they serve. They have continued to respond to an ever-changing society. Our congregations have continually adapted to changing demographics, new and expanded forms of communication (social media), advances in technology, varying worship styles, etc. while maintaining our Biblical foundation, our subscription to the Lutheran Confessions, and the centrality of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
With all that is trying to change and influence us, it is these few powerful and inspiring words that help to comfort, sustain, and propel us: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Yes, it is this certainty, among an ever-changing environment, that has purposed our congregations in their efforts to continue to disciple the saved and reach the lost, and to do so without compromising our theology, confession, and practice. Praise be to God.
While we may think that our experience as LCMS Lutheran Christians today is unique, we also know that our forefathers embraced the same theological and Scriptural foundations that bear the truth of Jesus that is needed in our culture today. Throughout the generations, new and innovative missional ministries have been developed in order to help congregations prepare for, and meet, the spiritual and societal needs of their members and communities. We have adapted before, and we will continue to adapt in the future.
Rev. Mitch Vogeli from Chesaning, Michigan states it this way: “In our culture today, very few un-churched people start out looking for a church service. They are, however, longing for a place to feel cared for, and a place where they can care for others. And when they meet Jesus there, it all makes sense.”
Dear friends in Christ, my question to you is this: what can we do today to help others meet Jesus? The answer in part lies in what I shared in the beginning of my letter: “Before someone knows they have a friend in Jesus, they first must know what a friend they have in you.” With this statement challenging and shaping further discussion, I would like to share with you several of the missional ministries the Michigan District supports to help accomplish this in three different communities.
The first is Acts 2 Enterprise (A2E) – Detroit. This urban ministry led by Rev. Christopher Bodley has impacted the Detroit community for over three years through a variety of ways that, while meeting societal need, have also led and encouraged individuals and families toward developing a relationship with Jesus. Probably the most well-known ministry of A2E is the Summer Sports Camps/VBS programs which impact hundreds of children in Detroit each year. Other ministries of A2E are Soft Skills Employability Readiness programs, Technology Training and Availability, Neighborhood Beautification, the purposeful development of Quality Indigenous Leaders, Educational Programs and Mentoring, an annual Urban Institute, and numerous Community partnerships, to mention a few.
Another is A2E – Flint. We have all heard of the extreme difficulties being experienced in the city of Flint during the past couple of years. Under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Bradley Yops, LCMS congregations in Flint and surrounding communities have partnered to help make a difference on Flint’s east side. Franklin Avenue Mission is housed in the former Calvary Lutheran Church. Congregational members gather several times a week to minister to the needs of the community in a variety of ways that clearly show community members they are loved and cared for while introducing them to Jesus.
The final example is that of A2E – Pontiac. In a community filled with crime, poverty, joblessness, and little hope for many, Rev. Dietrick Gladden, his wife Rebecca, and a faithful team of local missionaries continue to work daily at St. Paul Community Lutheran Church to make a major difference in the lives of community residents. The plethora of services provided to community members are far too many to list, but everything that they do is done to introduce Jesus into their lives. The continual growth of Pastor Gladden’s congregation is evidence of this.
We praise God for each of these above-mentioned Innovative Missional Ministries, as well as for numerous others that have already been developed or are being considered by Michigan District congregations. They are constructively helping their communities, while at the same time doing something even greater—introducing individuals to Jesus.
As you give thought to, and pray about, your annual Christmastime gifting and make year-end giving decisions, I would like to ask you to consider a gift, or a longer-term pledge if you are open to doing so, to support Innovative Missional Ministry in the Michigan District. Your generous gift will continue to support ministries such as A2E in Detroit, Flint, and Pontiac, as well as others that will be developed through LCMS congregations in communities throughout the District in the future.
I have included a response form on the next page for your use when sending in your gift and/or your pledge. The Michigan District Church Extension Fund is providing a 10% match to every gift given to our Here We Stand campaign. Your gift will receive that match. Thank you for helping others know what a friend they have in you, as together we help them learn what a friend they have in Jesus.
Rev. Dr. David P. E. Maier, President
Michigan District, LCMS
P.S. Please pray about what you can do personally to help others learn what a friend they have in Jesus.
Photo by ronniechua/iStock.