I delivered this report at our annual meeting on Sunday night. I wanted to make it today’s blog post in the interest of informing those who could not attend.
Overall, I praise God that I sense before the Lord that the state of Orlando Grace is better than it ever has been for as long as I have served among her leadership in one way or another since January of 2001. I base that on the following considerations.
First, we are at peace and have been so consistently for nearly ten years. Not only that, but our commitment to and proficiency in the biblical practices of peacemaking continue to increase. This is no small matter, particularly in a season when, for going on two years now, we have undertaken the construction of a facility. That we have experienced only a very few bumps along this road in the way of disagreements and, to my knowledge, have resolved those impasses where necessary through conflict coaching and mediation, is a great mercy to a church that wants to reflect the unity in the Godhead by the unity of its people. I plead with us to see this project to the end with a high commitment to preferring others over ourselves and guarding ourselves from trampling one another underfoot as we may zealously campaign for a preference or concern for how something is done or what it looks like.
Second, and this is related to the first consideration, we are a people committed to godliness of behavior, agodliness more and more fueled by the power of the gospel to transform us and not our own legalistic effort. A combination of elements seems to have converged to help us in this regard. My own regard for the importance of the gospel and the need to motivate from the gospel and only the gospel both in my preaching and in pastoral care is something the Lord has drilled into me, sometimes quite painfully, over the last year like never before. The influence of the Acts 29 Network has contributed to that for me personally, and though we still have yet to forge officially a strategic alliance with an association, denomination or network, whether Acts 29 or some other entity, even informal cooperation with these churches serves us well to this gospel end.
In addition to that, curricula like How People Change in our growth groups and other gospel-shaped resources serve to keep us from experiencing more bouts of gospel amnesia than we might otherwise suffer. Our leadership is more focused on the gospel than ever before and I believe we as a people are orienting our lives more thoroughly around the gospel as well. This is huge and must ever remain a principal concern for the wellbeing of our assembly. For this reason and by God’s mercy and His providence, our experience of church discipline has remained confined for quite some time now to only steps one and two of Matthew 18:15-18 and only rarely has even the threat of step 3 – tell it to the church – come into play in the shepherding of our people. In that God is holy, and means for His church to reflect that holiness in the way it conducts itself in the world, this too, I believe makes me a happy pastor and servant in His church, saying much indeed is well.
Third, our march toward building our first-ever church home has resulted in our taking a hard look at areas of weakness and seeking to address them with God’s help. For example, we have tackled our weaknesses in community by multiplying growth groups. We now have more than ever before with nine different groups total, I believe. The Soul Talk curriculum of the fall quarter equipping hour and the Graces of Gospel Shaped Community sermon series last year saw us make strides also in learning better how to love one another. And I watched our people come through heroically in most recent crises in the Mangrich and Willson households where we put our best loving feet forward to those facing crushing need. As the church is meant to mirror the love within the Godhead, this growth in community and love, not the only expressions mind you, but some of them, stands out as a reason for rejoicing.
Another significant way we have improved as we think about opening a building, doubling our space, and likely growing in significant ways, is the overhauling of our Christian Education and nursery/childcare ministries. The addition of the Praise Factory program for children as a gospel-shaped curriculum is enormously important in the way our church comes along side of our families in educating their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. The addition of Katie Fairey to our staff as the coordinator of the nursery ministry, along with Evan her husband’s help and the help of a number of others has led to a far better stewardship of the protection and welfare of our little ones that should make us all sleep better at night knowing that those most vulnerable in our midst have policies and procedures in place to secure their best of care.
Much progress has been made in the realm of discipleship as well. Kudos to the CE evaluation and subcommittee chaired by Will Powell as they have led us into our three year scope and sequence adult equipping hour curriculum overseen by Scott Devor and launched in January of this year. We now possess an identifiable, strategic curriculum for adults that addresses a comprehensive number of classes and emphases that once completed constitute legitimately a body of knowledge, if consistently applied in everyday life, that will contribute to our living more than ever as fully devoted followers of Jesus.
Operation Nehemiah, what we have called the rebuilding of the walls at OGC ever since our last major conflict in the summer of 2012, while largely finished, continues in some strategic ways. Building a facility and having our own church home has always been one of the nine action steps related to that campaign for church wholeness and health. We are drawing so close to completing arguably the most challenging of those steps. We gave last year in hard work to it. We are giving this year in even harder work to it. When concluded, and I remind you we have undertaken the task in a recession economy with nearly everyone pitching in through sacrificial giving so that God gets the glory and not us, we will no longer be an invisible entity in the community but rather possess a visible and permanent presence that will result making ministry in the community more viable in so many tangible ways. And we, the covenant members of OGC, during this season are the ones who have gotten to do this. No one else. It has been our privileged stewardship. No one will regret that reward. Heaven will make amends for every sacrifice.
Of course there remain concerns for the future. We have ministry areas that need leadership. I am pleased to report that there are some women who have been praying about stepping into leadership of an overall women’s ministry at OGC. We hope in this year to form a women’s ministry team. If you have an interest in serving on that team for a year or so, let your elder know. Similarly, we have someone interested in taking point in a local outreach team, a team which has been somewhat dormant due to a lack of leadership other than my own limited time to contribute to it. And this leads to areas of concern related to completion of Operation Nehemiah that lie before us.
- Continued growth in a missional commitment as a congregation. Whether that means church-wide and/or group participation in mercy ministry or other strive-for-the-welfare-of-the-city kinds of initiatives, or the commitment of each covenant member to pray for unbelieving people and to engage them in the places where we live, work, and play, or initiative evangelism in public places and from door-to-door for those who thrive in that kind of thing, we need to continue to turn up the heat on the thermostat of our commitment to outreach. Praise God that I hear more and more people asking for prayer for lost people, their sharing their faith with lost people, and making time to build relationships so that there is opportunity to be salt and light and reap souls where God might bring a harvest.
- We must solve our staffing issues with the potential of losing three of four support staff in Greg, Evan, and Katie. As you can imagine, this is number one on my list of concerns in a year when the obligations of ministry will likely spike with the opening of our facility that we would lose such valuable servants. That being said, I am trusting God that He has replacements in such a case or volunteers or both, who will come to serve in strategic ways in our church. We will not lack His supply.
- We still need to pursue affiliation options and pray for God’s direction in this regard. That being said, I rejoice that between the Spurgeon Fellowship and Acts 29 regional Gospel Cohort, we are not isolated. We have churches to whom we can turn if we have need and to whom we can lend aid if necessary.
- In 2013, Lord willing, we need to tackle the first-ever revision of our by-laws. Something to look forward to as God leads.
I am certain a great deal more could be said about the state of OGC. However, concerns notwithstanding, God has been very good to us and we have every reason to trust that He will do nothing but good to us in hard and sweet providences alike in the days ahead.
Praise be to His excellent name.