There is little doubt that as the Church reaches out people who have not heard the Good News of Christ Jesus, it depends on disciples of Christ who have passion for ministry and ability to speak with the power of the Holy Spirit. Even as we are primed and ready to carry out Jesus’ Great commission, the Church must always recognize her chief purpose. The goal of 1517 congregations by 2017 is certainly motivation for NALC evangelism, but we must not allow it to overshadow our chief mission, to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and make disciples.
I remember reading a book in college by Tom Peters titled The Search for Excellence that points out several issues we as a church might face. In the era of reconstruction following the American Civil War, no business matched the financial and political dominance than that of the railroad. Trains dominated the transportation industry of the United States, moving both people and goods throughout the country as new frontiers were explored and settled. Railroads became the life blood and the supply line to the western states and territories. Those who ran the railroads enjoyed power and prestige as their investments yielded great returns.
Then something new came along, the automobile. Incredibly, the leaders of the railroad industry did not take advantage of their unique position to participate in this marvel of transportation development. The automotive revolution was happening all around them, and railroad owners did not use their industry dominance to take hold of the opportunity. In his book, Peters points out that the railroad magnates did not understand what business they were in. They thought they were in the train business, but in fact they were in the transportation business. As time passed them by, so too did their opportunity because they couldn’t see what their real purpose was.
If at the turn of the twentieth century railroad owners understood they were in the transportation business and not the train business, we might be driving a Gould rather than a Ford. Instead, the railroads were used as a tool to transport materials for building automobiles as well as distributing the finished product. The railroad is still a vital industry, but one has to wonder what might have been if those leading the railroads so many years ago had understood their business and purpose.
At our NALC Convocation in Pittsburgh we passed a resolution setting the goal of 1517 congregations by 2017. This goal is challenging and it is admirable. Yet, even as we have set this goal before us we cannot forget our chief purpose upon which we established the NALC, to go into the world making disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. For just as certain as we forget our purpose and focus on this newest goal, we are in peril of going the way of the railroad. The NALC will still be a vital ministry, but we will run the risk of missing a unique opportunity and become yet one more mainline Church in decline.
Many of us have already begun discussing how we will go about planting new churches. Others have asked if there is some overall strategy or plan. Personally, I think that being swept up in the fire of our convocation we might have acted a bit hastily in setting this goal. Be that as it may, I too raised my hand in the affirmative so I must do my part. It is exciting to be a part of a church recognizing the power of the Holy Spirit moving throughout its leadership and congregations. It is also exciting to be a part of a church intending to go out into the world with the confidence that as we go, Christ goes with us.
As we do these things we must always remember our identity as God’s children, sinners redeemed through the precious blood of our Lord Jesus and sent out into the world for the sake of the gospel. We must remember our purpose; we are not simply church planters. The NALC is a church called to baptize, teach and make disciples. 1517 is only a number. No matter what comes of our efforts over the next four years, we will welcome those newest among us, serve those whom God places within our midst and continue teaching, baptizing and making disciples. As we minister according to our purpose, in all we do and say it is God who will be glorified.