The following is a message from our District Apostle, published in the Autumn 2011 VISION newsletter.
I would like to communicate openly with you about the future of our NAC-USA district and your local congregation. As you know, we have begun a district wide strategic planning process that addresses the circumstances in each congregation and creates a road map to greater congregational health. The name for this planning process is Stepping Forward. By its very nature, this type of planning is proactive and far reaching. It will shape the direction of our church for years to come and position our congregations to thrive and grow.
As the process picks up momentum, I would like each member to feel included. This article may seem a bit unusual in its length and detail, but I wanted the entire plan to be summarized in one document and be transparent to all. It also may seem a little business like and corporate sounding. However, we live in demanding times that require us to utilize the most effective and forward thinking techniques available under the direction of our Chief Apostle and the continual prompting of the Holy Spirit. Everyone should understand the process we used in developing Stepping Forward.
At the conclusion of this article I am hopeful that we will all share a common understanding of the following questions:
Why are we doing this? What are the benefits?
What are the steps in the process and how will it affect me?
How do I participate in the process and offer my suggestions and feedback?
So let us begin our exploration with a few thoughts about strategic planning. Many of you may have engaged in this process within your workplace and understand the steps. For those who have not, let me provide a simple summary:
A strategic plan requires us to intentionally visualize exactly what we want the future to be and then do only those things that will bring our future vision into reality as efficiently as possible. It also requires us to stop doing those things that will not bring our future vision into reality. We can be inspired by the verse from Proverbs in the New King James Bible: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
A good plan has specific steps that must be taken in the right order and another verse from Proverbs will provide a useful perspective: “A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).
Here are the steps that we must take together, always seeking the Lord’s direction:
As reported in the Spring edition of this newsletter, this process has been under way for some time and I would like to share our progress to date. Let me use the steps above to give you a progress report and describe what you can expect to experience in the future.
STEP 1: Our New Apostolic Mission and Vision Statements perfectly define the church we want to become. It is for this reason that we display them prominently in all our church buildings.
A church in which people feel at home and, inspired by the Holy Spirit and their love for God, align their lives to
the Gospel of Jesus Christ and thus prepare themselves for His return and eternal life.
Reaching out to all people in order to teach them the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to baptize them with water
and the Holy Spirit. Providing soul care and cultivating a warm fellowship in which everyone shall experience
the love of God and the joy of serving Him and others.
We can distill these statements down to one overarching objective: Create healthy New Apostolic Christian congregations for our members because thereby we will grow (first in spiritual maturity and then in numbers) and be completed for the return of Jesus Christ. I hope you won’t grow tired of seeing the following graphic, but I feel strongly that this is the road map that leads us to readiness for the return of Christ!
Now let’s get very specific. A healthy congregation should provide the following benefits to those who make up the body of Christ. These four bullet points describe the very essence of Stepping Forward and should guide our thinking, our actions and our decision making for the foreseeable future.
• A sustainable structure where a critical mass (sufficient numbers) of dedicated ordained ministers and members engage their spiritual gifts and talents to serve one another and their community in the love of Christ.
• A culture that is based upon the Gospel of Christ; members who learn to live like Christ and ministers who lead like Christ.
• Inspirational, worshipful divine services comprised of prayer, music, a powerful message authored by the Holy Spirit, and an enhanced Holy Communion experience with Christ.
• Warm pastoral care that provides the teachings of Christ and support for the daily challenges of contemporary life for members of all age groups.
STEPS 2 AND 3: Our district leadership teams (apostle, bishop and district leader) have been working diligently to objectively assess the condition of our congregations in relation to the four items above through the use of a SWOT analysis. We know we have room to grow in all areas and our planning will address these deficiencies aggressively. Over the course of time, one or all of the team members will be visiting your congregation to share their findings and present their preliminary plans to enhance congregational health. They will likewise answer your questions and gather your feedback regarding the proposed future direction of your congregation. We will create multiple ways for your voice to be heard directly and comfortably. Finally, they will then work with your suggestions to craft final decisions.
Let me pause for a moment and provide some caution and some clarification. Clearly, we are blazing new trails here and some may be uncomfortable or unfamiliar with the style or the methods we are suggesting. Let us be honest and address directly the areas that may cause us some anxiety.
Firstly, we are not accustomed to integrating the feedback of the membership into congregational decisions. In years past, this was not encouraged and thus, we are not experienced at being collaborative. It is a skill that we must learn in order to Step Forward and while our first steps may be shaky, I am convinced that we will grow together. Please be aware that gaining consensus is much more difficult than being autocratic (a fact that every parent will understand). Ultimately, this will test our culture of living and leading like Christ. Much compromise, peacemaking, tolerance and love will be necessary. At the end of the day, decisions will be made that we believe will benefit the greatest good, knowing of course that not everyone will agree with all things.
Next, please recognize that some of our deficiencies are rooted in or made worse by our unsustainable structure. In many areas, we are simply spread too thin. The result is not healthy; lives spiral out of balance, and the quality of the divine service experience and our pastoral care is weakened despite often heroic efforts by our ministers and members. On the one hand, each congregation needs a minimum critical mass to be sustainable and to deliver the critical benefits that will transform us into the Bride of Christ. But on the other hand, we must also be sensitive to the unique circumstances of each locality; we cannot use a cookie cutter approach. Some of the planning will revolve around creating new congregations with improved structure.
STEP 4: The implementation stage will depend on the complexity of the plan and may take some time to fully complete. Plans involving new buildings or capital improvements will be evaluated and prioritized based upon our financial realities across the entire country. Not every plan can be fully implemented at the same time.
In addition, every plan will contain provisions to implement the Work of Ministry initiative, to provide preaching and pastoral training for our ordained ministers, to identify and support our youth in entering ministry and to begin the process of integrating our congregations more completely into our communities. These activities are ongoing with no completion date other than our spiritual completion and Christ’s return.
STEPS 5 AND 6: Our progress towards our objectives must be continually measured. As circumstances merit, adjustments will be made to keep us on course.
Please allow me to conclude with this thought. I believe that we are in a transitional moment of great importance to our church in the USA. We have two distinct groups of members that are equally loved by our Savior Jesus Christ, and who can look forward to the day of His return with equal expectation.
Our more traditional members have built our church to its present stature and have demonstrated a single minded commitment to the Lord over many decades. You were born and raised in an era with sharply different norms and customs than we see in our contemporary world; both inside and outside the church. You are dearly loved and your expectations are respected. To this group, we make a commitment that our planning is 100% within the certainties of our New Apostolic doctrine based upon the Gospel of Christ, and the security of our Chief Apostle’s leadership. Further, our plans are designed to make our congregations stronger and more impactful and meaningful to your children and grandchildren. You may feel secure that you are integral and irreplaceable members of the body of Christ. Your zeal and your spiritual gifts are needed more than ever for our completion.
Our more contemporary members should also feel that we fulfill our mission statement: to be “a church in which people feel at home and inspired by the Holy Spirit and their love for God, align their life to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and thus prepare themselves for His return and eternal life.” To this group we make a commitment to “pass the mantle” and we encourage you to step forward and take ownership in the future direction of our congregations with the same dedication as your forbearers.
In addition, our plan is to make the future congregational tent as big, as tolerant and as all-encompassing as the grace of Jesus. Perhaps this is what Isaiah meant when he said: “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings; do not spare; lengthen your cords, and strengthen your stakes. For you shall expand to the right and to the left, and your descendants will inherit the nations, and make the desolate cities inhabited” (Isaiah 54: 2-3).
To both groups, I would close with the words of Christ: “that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13: 34-35). -LRK