In 1999 the keys to the Kingdom at St. James were given to me on June 27 at a Service of Installation. That means that I will have completed 15 years of ministry at this place as of June 27, 2015.
Phase I of God’s plan was to update the St. James infrastructure. We raised 2.2 million dollars and attacked an aging and inadequate school building adding 100 new seats and a gym on a new fourth floor as well as updating fire and safety systems. For the next ten years our major ministry emphasis was to reposition the school’s education product to attract the new families moving into the neighborhood and staying longer in the city. Our priorities were:
- To find and keep the best faculty possible.
- To separate grades from first through middle school.
- To implement a middle school concept and education quality that parents could see as a destination that prepares their children for the competitive high schools in Chicago.
We have been successful. Our staff is first rate with an average tenure of seven years. Grades 1-4 are single graded and middle school employs a departmentalized model of classes. Our students are competitive and attend schools from Chicago’s selective enrollment high schools to Culver Academy to St. Ignatius. God has been very good to us.
We completed the task addressing the needs of the church building, the parsonage, and landscaping five years ago. Both public buildings are fully accessible. We have optimized the footprint of our property for the sake of the Gospel as best we could. All the glory goes to God.
With explosive growth over the first ten years we have succeeded in Reaching Out with the Love of Jesus in ways I never imagined. Over 220 weddings, more than 450 baptisms, hundreds of adult confirmations, people have continued to hear of the love of Christ.
In 2007 we entered the second phase of this generation. With the rewriting of our Constitution and By-laws we assumed a policy based governance model preparing us for the changing contexts of urban ministry. In 2012 we turned our attention toward a new building program. This time though, we didn’t have to have a capital campaign for brick and mortar.
This time our building program is about hearts and minds. While we grew in congregational size, and got younger in average age, we have not been as effective developing Acts 2 type disciples out of as many as possible. Acts 2 type disciples are:
- Disciples that reflect God’s image in all that they do.
- Disciples that serve God and neighbor through exemplary stewardship and responsibility.
- Disciples that do Life Together in meaningful ways.
- Disciples that understand that the Fellowship to which you belong is God’s means to changing the world and then living as if it makes a difference.
Phase II is about cultivating a culture of disciple making. It is the other half of our mission statement; Building up the Body of Christ. So far we have focused our Sunday worship teaching around two campaigns to increase Bible literacy as we preached through The Story and walked through the entire Bible in a year.
This year our emphasis is on understanding our life together as we learn what God’s purpose is and what the community of church is supposed to look like through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Next, beginning September 2015, we will journey with Peter and Paul and witness the growth of the church through the Acts of the Apostles.
Over the next ten years there are some exciting plans to continue God’s work. They involve the School, the Church, and the neighborhood.
The critical targets, or areas of emphasis, are:
To increase our community profile we have created an online magazine from the Maverick, which completes the transition from print to electronic information. This magazine style blog will be content driven to tell our story and provide education and resources to the community. This new tool will be linked through our website, which gets a face lift this summer, and will be used to drive content for a social media plan designed to increase our presence in the community for both Church and School. Maverick Magazine begins an evolution to delivering the gospel through 21st century media for St. James.
Our vision for this next 10 years is to strengthen our educational quality to be known as a destination for families who want a small school, high quality academic education teaching Christian character that makes disciples of our students. This is a positioning move. The pieces are basically in place with one exception – we are the best-kept secret in Lincoln Park. Maverick Magazine is an important tool to alter this reality. The missing piece is the involvement of the community to follow and share content.
To continue to drive academic improvement we will align our School Improvement Plan (part of our accreditation process) with our faculty professional development and school leadership structure. To do this we have engaged Ms. Sheri Meyer as our educational consultant to review, recommend, and align our product with our purpose and values. This process has begun and should be completed sometime this summer.
One of the outcomes from Sheri’s effort will be to write new education leader job descriptions. With this new structure and description in place we will by God’s hand bring in a new Education Leader for the fall of 2016 which makes this next year Warren Gast’s last year of full-time service before retirement.
After 40 years of continuous service to our Lord here at St. James, Warren will hang out the “gone fishing” sign. To give thanks for his years of service we will dedicate this next year to Warren and celebrate his ministry at St. James School with special events throughout the year.
Which brings me to educational improvements. To be competitive in this market we have to differentiate ourselves from others by our strengths. We will never compete on the size of our facility, open space for soccer fields, or natatoriums, but we don’t have to because God gives us something else.
What makes St. James special is that our students matter. They are children of God redeemed by Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit to be citizens of two Kingdoms. They are being disciplined here to serve God in the estates of their God defined vocation here and after they leave.
Our greatest asset is the development of each student to be life long learners and critical thinkers able to solve problems creatively and lovingly as children of God. The education product is not our outcome. The education product serves our outcome, the student.
Our faculty teaches language arts, writing skills, science, math, the arts, music, health, physical education, and faith formation at a very high level. But, we must still reach higher. Our current curriculum has a competitive hole with no foreign language offered in first – eighth grade. We plan to work with the Fellowship Assembly at our annual meeting to fund a new position for language instruction.
This new offering will be what we call a “special” as opposed to a core academic class. We will expose students in grades 1-4 to the Spanish language and culture. For students in grade 5-8 we believe that Latin will improve their language arts skills translating to better reading and writing and most importantly provide help in preparation for Standardized testing.
One of the tensions with having a curriculum that serves the whole person is that there are limitations imposed by the daily schedule. Additionally, we have great opportunities by living in the city to learn outside the classroom through field education opportunities and projects requiring longer blocks of time than a 40 or 50 minute period.
We are seriously considering lengthening the school day this coming fall to 3:30 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. And on Wednesday closing the formal school day at 4:00 pm. Other than creating 108 more hours of instructional time, this allows for various types of block scheduling whereby learning opportunities requiring longer blocks can be flexibly scheduled. Examples of this include field education, assemblies, plays, learning fair projects, etc.
While this is still in the formation process we plan to hold an informational meeting within the next month to share with parents what this might specifically look like at all grade levels and listen to their comments.
God’s vision for us is that united with Christ we make disciples of all nations. We are successful at baptizing and teaching, but we struggle with the obedience part. We should not be surprised that humans have always struggled with this. That is why it is called sin. Our desire to control separates us from God.
Discipleship is the process of learning to live out our identity and purpose through God pleasing stewardship. As we align our worship and fellowship life we will experience opportunities to serve each other and our neighbors. Our life together presents opportunities for witness and proclamation that serve God.
We are greatly blessed to be in the position that we are in. Remembering what God has done here in the generations before us provides encouragement and support to continue the hard work fighting against a post Christian culture.
God, from the earliest days of Abram and later through Moses and finally through Christ, has commanded celebration of His work. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper commemorating Christ’s death and resurrection is a key example. Celebrating the Resurrection at Easter and the Nativity at Christmas are other obvious celebrations.
We are blessed to be living in a time with much to celebrate. In the next five years we will plan, implement and honor a number of important milestones.
Warren Gast – 40 Years of Ministry
As mentioned earlier, next year will be dedicated to God’s servant Warren Gast. Beginning with a special worship service in the fall to commemorate his commissioning as a called church worker to a special event honoring his 40 years in ministry at St. James later in the spring, we have the opportunity to give thanks for how God works through us to touch other peoples lives with the Gospel of Christ.
500th Anniversary of the Reformation
The 500th anniversary of the Reformation begins on October 31 in 2017. A small group of council members has already begun to brainstorm some things we might be able to do to share the message of faithful adherence to God’s word to our neighbors.
We need to plan education events for adults and children, worship events, music events, and outreach events to focus ourselves on living in the legacy reflected in our name as Lutheran Christians.
150th Anniversary of St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church
The 150th anniversary of St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church and School U.A.C. will be on June 25, 2019. As with the Reformation celebration, this birthday year provides us the opportunity to celebrate, educate, and serve our neighbors. How we do this will be determined by us as a congregation to maximize the opportunities to live out our identity and purpose through our stewardship.
To do this we need committees of people to help plan and implement those plans. In the months ahead we will begin to share ideas and pray for God to reveal His wisdom for our celebrations. It is our goal, the goals of the gospel, to involve as many of God’s people at this place as possible. This is an opportunity to live in relationship with each other in ways that maybe you haven’t experienced.
No work comes without its challenges. And in God’s church we have a powerful foe who will work to derail us, usually through us. The culture is devolving from a Christian friendly culture to one that at time seems to selectively persecute some of our beliefs and doctrines. How will we respond? What will happen if the government’s need for new revenue removes our tax exemption status?
Already the new minimum wage law in Chicago posses a challenge as under our current formula we will have to increase our lowest waged employees by a net increase of as much as $40,000 in 2016.
As mentioned already, the addition of a new faculty position and principal in 2015 and 2016 respectively will increase our expenses to deal with issues like housing and relocation that we haven’t faced for 40 years.
The rule of thumb is that once average weekly worship attendance reaches 250 people a congregation needs to add a second Pastor. This is based on a 1960’s model of the church. Our model is quite different from then as worship attendance doesn’t define the size of the community as it did years ago. We have too many people to care for with only one Pastor.
We had a second pastor as recently as two years ago and left the position vacant until we understood what our need looked like. We are now in a position to know our need and the reality is that we will not be successful at our mission objectives without the right staff in place. This adds an additional cost to ministry.
None of this considers the escalating cost of benefits, cost of living adjustments, meritorious compensation or surprises we don’t see today.
The largest portion of our revenue comes from tuition, but tuition doesn’t cover the full cost of the school. God provides the rest through the Fellowship. I have witnessed great generosity from many people over the last 15 years. I have also witnessed the wealth that many have who do not live their identity and purpose through God pleasing stewardship.
We, as a Fellowship, need to search our hearts and souls to hear the voice of God and follow Him responding with grace, mercy, sacrifice and generosity. God has provided all that we need to fund our church. As a whole we should pray for God’s Spirit to open our hearts and be faithful by setting the right priorities and be consistent in our first fruit proportional giving.
After 15 years it is time for us to develop a process of congregational reflection to determine what God’s will is for us next. The last time the congregation went through such a process was during the vacancy before I was called. Learning to understand where God is working and how He intends to work requires thoughtful reflection and examination.
Over the next five years we intend to do just that, reflect and examine what God will do through us. This will not only prepare us for the next ministry phase, but prepare us for the next called Senior Pastor avoiding a long and difficult vacancy.
The first part of the process is to use a successful and proven tool from Natural Church Development to benchmark who we think we are over a number of years to track perception and growth in eight specific areas of ministry performance.
The data collection began on Sunday, March 22 when a group of congregational members completed a survey of their perception of the ministry. This group will retake the tool over the next few years to understand how we are changing and what our critical needs will be. The data will be used to structure a planning process for what we do after the year 2020.
It is an exciting time for St. James and for myself as your Senior Pastor. I continue to be excited by the opportunities to touch your lives with grace and forgiveness. I am confident that God will lead us to where he wants us to be, and I am thankful for where we have been and where we are going together with Christ as our leader. God’s Blessings and may His will be done.