Lent is Not American

(By Pastor Jared Oldenburg, previously published in the March 2015 edition of the Forward in Christ Magazine)

For centuries fasting, self-denial, prayer, and repentance have characterized Lent. This stands in notable contrast to just about every other holiday in America.

NOT A SPENDING HOLIDAY

Most American holidays are marked by consumption, indulgence and a celebratory mood. For the Fourth of July we celebrate our freedom with grand cookouts and by blowing things up. We purchase Mother’s day gifts and go out to brunch. There are Halloween parties and candy to appease the kids who so adoringly offer the threatening ultimatum, “Trick or Treat.” We buy chocolates for our sweethearts, gifts for our fathers and even throw parties in honor of an Irish Christian missionary.

All of these, of course, are not even in the same realm as Christmas. During the winter holidays, as the report calls them, Americans spent roughly 600 billion dollars in 2014. If you are doing the math at home, that averages out to around $1,900 per person in the United States.

From a retail perspective, Lent is not even a “B-level” holiday. Lent doesn’t exist. According to the report, Lent falls way behind St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween and even the Super Bowl. (more…)

Restaurant Week & Friends

If you and your friends have never enjoyed Restaurant Week, it is about time you do.  Many of the most exclusive restaurants in Denver open their doors for a set price or $60 per couple. Being, well, ah…as frugal as I am, we made sure to go to one of the most expensive restaurants on the list-The Capital Grille. This is the real deal. It has perfect steaks, woodwork all over the place, delicious dessert, a wine list that a huge wine list, assistant waiters with matching jackets, hot after-dinner-towels, tiny crumb brushes for the table cloth. (I think the French term for this is Le Seriously?)

 On top of all of this, there is the wine corking ceremony.  If you are unfamiliar, here a basic run down from someone who has witnessed it all of twice: First, you order the wine (the most expensive bottle was something like $600 and the lowest bottle was $28). So not to embarrass myself, I selected something closer to the middle…$30.  Next, the waiter opens the bottle at the table. Then the waiter smells the bottle. Then he hands you the cork to smell, while he is putting a taste in your glass. Then you swirl it, give it another smell and finally test it. Then, if it is satisfactory, you give the OK for the pouring to continue. This seemed slightly over the top for our particular bottle of wine, but I was thankful Chris went through the trouble.   In the end, we felt special.

This is not a normal dinner for Aimee and me or the ten friends that joined us. Despite the surroundings and circumstances, I think one of the best things about having friends is that you only feel out of place for a minute. It is not long before you start to enjoy their company rather than notice what is happening around you.  I am not sure what heaven will be like with all the feasts that the Bible promises, but I know you will be with friends and the greatest of those will be Jesus. “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15

Houston, Prepare for Launch

Houston, Prepare for Launch

There are really about a thousand ways you can start a church. Some (in my opinion) are good and some, well, not so great.  To tip my hand a little, anything involving clowns, carnies or pyrotechnics is bad.  What follows is not some breakthrough model for church planting. What follows is simply an explanation of the approach we are taking to start Eternal Rock.

Before we get into too many details, some general church planting principles ought to be laid out.  First, it is generally good to start a church in the fall because many people are settling down into some routines after a busy/distracted summer.  Second, if you are going to write about planting your church, make sure you use exaggerated blog titles that make it sound like you are about to send something to Mars. Third, in this day and age, it makes some sense to get to know/serve a community first and launch second.

Alignment (July-December)

Up until this point, our primary goal has been to locate mission-minded WELS members who would like to help our effort.  It is not that we don’t care about the unchurched, but instead we figure we can best serve and reach the unchurched in the future if we strengthen our core group.  To help us align, we chose to go through the book Essential Church.  The book is not gospel truth, but it did provide some great points for discussion.  It looks like we have just over 20 adults who are committed to our efforts and excited to help make it happen.

Prelaunch I (January-May)

Starting in January, our primary goals will move towards the planning aspects of launching a church.  This will be divided up into two types of meetings: Launch and Planning.

Launch

During the Launch meeting, we will be sharing the Eternal Rock mission:  “Follow Jesus: Live Love.”   The first meeting will cover the mission of Jesus and in turn our mission as a church.  During successive monthly meetings, we will be explaining and expanding each of the parts.  For example, “Follow Jesus” would mean follow Jesus through worship and by studying His Word.  During the meetings, we will discuss/present what this will look like at our new church.   Anyone who may want to be involved is invited to these meetings. The first is January 16th at 4:00pm at the Castle Oaks Church (across from Nike) in the Castle Rock Outlet Mall.

Planning
If you think of the launch meetings as casting a vision for the new church, the planning meetings will focus on the business end of launching a church.  Couples and individuals will be encouraged to focus on either worship, outreach, education, or service as we get ready to have our first preview service in May.  If the Launch meetings focus on what it will look like, the planning meetings will focus on what it will take to make it happen.

Prelaunch II (May-August)

During this time we will be holding worship once each month.  The weeks between preview services will allow us time to follow-up on guests and make any necessary changes (location, timing, equipment, etc.).  This is also a time when we will start to emphasize outreach and service to the community.  Not only will we have something to invite people to (worship), but we will also be mobilized to do some things in the community.

Launch (September 2011)

Sometime after Labor Day we will launch our weekly services.  The idea is that by this service date and with the help of the preview services, we will have the location, signage, welcome, timing, equipment, etc, ready so we can focus our greatest efforts on reaching those who are far from God.

Church can be like a Chili Cook-off

This past Sunday at our mission meeting we studied the concept of a structurally simple church. Basically, A simple church has the end goal in mind and has sequential steps in place to make that end goal happen. In a church the goals can vary, but essentially they include a member who worships God, is growing in faith and fellowship with other believers and is living their faith through witness and service. That is a lot to cover! Since we also had a chili cook-off, I think it might be possible to illustrate the basic concept of a simple church by comparing it to a chili cook-off. Obviously, this is a stretch, but the goal of a chili cook-off is much simpler so it is easier to illustrate

To start, you must have your end goal in mind. For our cook-off, the goal was for everyone to enjoy a variety of chili and ultimately pick the best chili. The most important aspects of the cook-off are people enjoying themselves and, of course, chili.

Simple structure needs to be put in its place. Rarely is structure the most important part of an event. In this case, structure is not as important as either enjoyment or chili, but a simple structure was important because it helped everyone to have a good time and it helped us enjoy the chili. I will try to explain how below.

Clarity—without clarity, we would be in trouble. What if people did not know what the event was, what to bring, how to vote, or even where it was being held? It may sound rudimentary, but in our cook-off scenario, the invitation made the process clear. Every family was to bring chili to my house and a winner was going to be chosen at the event.

Movement-is the concept of sequential steps in a process that help people move toward the end goal. In a church, if your goal were to have people growing in their faith, it would be helpful if you had logical steps. For example, you may expect a member to move from a Bible Basics class, to a membership class, to a small group or Sunday Bible class and maybe ultimately help lead one of these classes. If new member does not know these steps or does them out of order, you are going to run into frustration.

I will not get into all the details, but to have a successful cook-off there is a certain beneficial order to the process: Cooking, bringing, set-up, tasting, voting, declaring.

Focus–the commitment to abandon those areas that fall outside the simple ministry process. In our case, there was no pumpkin carving, Luther seal coloring, or even requests to bring desserts. Why? Although these could have been fun, the end goal was clear and these other items would have simply confused the process. This is the most difficult part of a simple structure because everyone needs to be on the same page—seeing the same end goal.

If we as a group can put this much thought into the structure of a chili cook-off, is there any reason we would not put in exponentially more time and thought into the structure we use to make disciples through God’s Word? The answer to that question seems pretty simple.

Eternal Rock Brief History

2009–September–The WELS Board for Home Missions decides to fund the exploratory mission in Castle Rock, Colorado.  This decision is based on funding and the presence of an interested core group of families that live in and around Castle Rock.

2010–May–Pastor Jared Oldenburg, at the time serving the church he started in Covington, WA, accepts the call to serve as the church planter for the Castle Rock Mission.

2010–July–Pastor Oldenburg arrives with his family (wife, Aimee and three kids Isabella, Paytra & Owen).

2010–August–first mission meeting to discuss schedule and general goals for the mission.  It is determined that the group will meet every other week and read/study together the book Essential Church.  The first meeting had 20 adults.

2010-September–New name!  Eternal Rock Lutheran Church. The other finalists were Rock of Life and Christ Our Rock.  New website is launched at http://www.eternalrock.org the same month as well as a serving Castle Rock task force.

2010–October–Serving Castle Rock task force starts the process of a “Community Needs Assessment” and makes plans to interview community officials and serve the community.

2011–January–Launch meeting at Castle Oaks Covenant Church.  Monthly meetings focused on Worship, Grow, Serve & Reach.

2011–July–First “preview service” at Castle Rock Middle School. These services are once a month in order to test equipment and facilities.  The window between services allow us time to make changes or order new/different equipment.

2011–September–First Service weekly worship service  at Castle Rock  Middle.  Forty-five people in attendance.

2011–October–First Grow Group semester starts.  Studies are based on the sermon from that Sunday. We have three Grow Groups.

2011–December–We have our first “Serve Sunday” on Christmas Eve morning (Sunday).  We made 1000 lunches for the homeless in Denver.

2012

  • JAN-Rock Kids begins (Sunday School). Our children’s program that meets every Sunday (except the first Sunday we have family church) after the children’s message until 11:15am.
  • FEBRUARY
    • Monthly individual meetings/training with coordinators begins (leadership development)
    • “Go public” with more advertising
      • Mailing of 6000 postcards for the Sundays in Lent and another 6000 for Easter
      • Facebook advertising
      • Increased encouragement for members to invite friends.
  • JUNE-Organized canvasing with church members and MLC students
  • OCTOBER-Over 35 signed up for fall Grow Group Semester
  • DECEMBER
    • Over 100 people attend Christmas Eve Worship
    • Welcome 10 new members
    • Started researching land and building options

       2013

  • February-Over 40 signed up for our 4 different Grow Groups
  • March–Our get to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection with our most attended service to date!